The National Rifle Associated admitted in a legal filing that its former media operation NRATV was viewed by NRA leadership as racist and that the project’s programming “often became viewed as a dystopian cultural rant.” That is true, but the messaging at NRATV was largely indistinguishable from the racist paranoid rantings of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.
The filing was made in one of the lawsuits the NRA is waging against its former ad firm, Ackerman McQueen, which produced NRATV until its demise in June 2019. The NRA is suing Ackerman in Virginia state court and Texas federal court as part of a months-long dispute between the leadership of the two entities. Ackerman McQueen has countersued and both sides are seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages. The NRA is also suing its former president Oliver North, who had a contract with Ackerman McQueen, in New York state court. Before an acrimonious split earlier this year that was kicked off during a fight over control of the NRA, the NRA and Ackerman McQueen were deeply enmeshed and had worked together to shape the NRA’s messaging over a nearly 40-year period. The NRA and Ackerman McQueen first launched a media operation in 2004, calling it NRA News. In the fall of 2016, NRA News was greatly expanded and became NRATV.
In an October 25 filing that alleges Ackerman (referred to as “AMc”) engaged in fraudulent billing practices, deceived the NRA about NRATV’s audience size, and violated the NRA’s copyright, among other claims, the NRA wrote, “As AMc’s bills grew ever larger, NRATV’s messaging strayed from the Second Amendment to themes which some NRA leaders found distasteful and racist. One particularly damaging segment featured children’s cartoon characters adorned in Ku Klux Klan hoods.” Indeed, during a September 2018 broadcast of NRATV show Relentless, then-NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch attempted to criticize the concept of diversity by depicting characters from Thomas & Friends in KKK hoods. As the filing notes, NRA leadership criticized the spot in a March New York Times article that reported LaPierre was livid over the segment. Yet the NRA didn’t shut down NRATV until June 25.
The NRA is correct that NRATV was racist. Among the many lowlights: NRATV once broadcast a segment fearmongering about the possibility of Black Lives Matter supporters committing mass rape and murder against white people in the U.S., repeatedly pushed an immigration-related conspiracy theory similar to the one that inspired a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and spent huge chunks of its broadcast time demonizing immigrants as violent criminals. This type of messaging inspired a prominent Neo-Nazi website to repeatedly laud the NRA and encourage the site’s supporters to join the organization in the hopes that gun-toting NRA supporters would carry out another Holocaust against Jewish people.
So the NRA is correct that NRATV was racist. But the messaging at NRATV was largely indistinguishable from public comments over the years from LaPierre. While Ackerman McQueen may have helped LaPierre write his speeches and opinion pieces, he, in the end, as the head of the NRA, chose to give them. Following Hurricane Sandy in 2013, LaPierre was widely criticized for using racist dog whistles while fearmongering about looting in an op-ed for The Daily Caller that argued gun ownership is necessary for survival. In 2015, during the NRA’s annual meeting, LaPierre infamously said of President Barack Obama -- and the prospect of Hillary Clinton winning the 2016 election -- “Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.” LaPierre is well-known for singling out prominent Jews as supporters of gun regulation, a messaging practice that has not gone unnoticed by neo-Nazis. The NRA has also stood by its most well-known board member, the virulently racist and anti-Semitic Ted Nugent, refusing to publicly criticize him, even after incidents such as the national controversy Nugent caused by calling Obama a “subhuman mongrel,” and his repeated use of the N-word and other racial slurs. The NRA is also well-known for refusing to advocate for Black gun owners who are shot by police, such as Philando Castile, a concealed-carry permit holder who was shot to death by a police officer in Minnesota in 2016.
The October 25 legal filing also cites another issue NRA leadership supposedly had with NRATV -- that the programming “often became viewed as a dystopian cultural rant”:
At the same time, the leadership of the NRA—especially Mr. LaPierre—began to question whether the messaging associated with NRATV’s live programming actually served as a benefit to the Association’s mission. As NRATV often became viewed as a dystopian cultural rant that deterred membership growth, NRA leadership requested greater directional control and coordination over the content of NRATV programming.
But no one does a dystopian cultural rant like LaPierre. One particularly noteworthy example was his 2014 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he argued America has become too dangerous for children to play outside, that “the entire fabric of society” was in “jeopardy,” that “knockout gamers” and “haters” were just two of the many threats Americans face, and that “waves of chemicals” could collapse society at any moment. In a remarkably paranoid video the NRA released before the 2016 election, LaPierre claimed Obama “transformed America into a sanctuary nation for felons, criminal gangbangers, drug dealers, repeat offenders, and illegal aliens,” that Obama attempted to “gut your right to shoot back at the terrorists he refused to kill,” and that he gave nuclear weapons to Iran. Prior to the 2014 election, LaPierre urged supporters to vote for NRA-backed candidates by claiming that “angry mobs” were rioting “just for the sheer hell of it” and warning that an electromagnetic pulse attack could kill “as much as 90 percent of the population of the U.S.” by bringing about the reemergence of “Third World” diseases like “amoebic dysentery, typhoid, [and] cholera -- killing our youngest and frailest family members.”
Gun safety organization Coalition to Stop Gun Violence compiled some of LaPierre’s more bizarre claims over the years in a video:
Even following the split with Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s message has remained extreme and paranoid. Following mass shootings in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, the NRA released a video in which LaPierre pushed classic NRA disarmament conspiracy theories and grouped together the people who carry out mass shootings with some of the people who seek to address gun violence by regulating firearms.