Who's Who At This Weekend's NRA Annual Meeting
Far-Right Conservatives And An NFL Star Converge On Indianapolis
On April 25 the National Rifle Association kicks off its three-day annual meeting, hosted this year at the home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, which will feature far-right conservative media figures known for extreme rhetoric.
Tourism officials expect more than 70,000 attendees at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium for the meeting, and attendees will be able to peruse more than 400,000 square feet of exhibition space to enjoy “over 600 of the most spectacular displays of firearms, shooting and hunting accessories in the world!” As in years past, the NRA expects that roughly 80 percent of attendees will be men.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America -- part of the newly launched 1.5 million member Everytown for Gun Safety organization -- is planning on bringing 100 mothers and 20 gun violence survivors to Indianapolis in order to urge NRA leadership to support requiring background checks on gun sales.
Attendees can also view a number of presentations, the most prominent of which include the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, the Annual Meeting of Members, and the Stand and Fight Rally. The NRA-ILA forum will feature several prominent GOP officials including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Far-right conservative figures are a mainstay of these annual meeting events. During last year's Stand and Fight Rally, keynote speaker Glenn Beck depicted then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is Jewish, in a Nazi salute, leading to condemnation from Jewish groups. Other presentations at the 2013 meeting reaffirmed the NRA's hardline stance following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including the claim of new NRA president Jim Porter that President Obama would seek “revenge” against gun owners.
In addition to the NRA's own bombastic CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, this year's meeting will feature Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin, radio host Mark Levin, religious hardliner Franklin Graham, and others known for their extreme right-wing rhetoric:
Mark Levin, Syndicated Radio Host (NRA-ILA Leadership Forum)
Mark Levin is a conservative commentator best known as the host of The Mark Levin Show, which is a nationally syndicated radio program by Cumulus Media Networks. Levin delivered a video message at the 2013 annual meeting in which he claimed that the Second Amendment protected a “well-armed militia” in case “the federal government got out of control.” (The Second Amendment actually calls for a “well regulated militia.”) Levin is known for his inflammatory commentary, including the recent claim that the “key” to a Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016 would be "her genitalia." He has also accused Obama of abusing children, compared marriage equality to incest, polygamy, and drug use, compared supporters of the Affordable Care Act to Nazi “brown shirts,” and advocated for Obama to be impeached.
Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., Milwaukee County Sheriff (NRA-ILA Leadership Forum)
David A. Clarke Jr. is the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin and an outspoken defender of the NRA. When Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expressed skepticism the NRA would make meaningful contributions to gun safety following the Sandy Hook mass shooting, Clarke used his office to issue a scathing press release that claimed, “Barrett uses the mass murder of children, and people slaughtered attending movie theater and shopping malls to deflect attention away from his own underperformance.”
During a 2013 appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show, Clarke addressed Jones' claim that “the Obama Marxist types want to start a civil war in this country” by confiscating guns, stating, “I believe that if somebody tried to enforce something of that magnitude you would see the second coming of an American Revolution, the likes of which would make the first revolution pale by comparison.” Clarke also stated during the interview that he would not attempt to enforce a direct order of that kind, because he didn't “want to get shot.” In 2013, Clarke said he was “honored” to be named “sheriff of the year” by a radical anti-government group whose leader recently made headlines for his plan to use women as human shields during a dispute between a lawless Nevada rancher and the Bureau of Land Management.
Wayne LaPierre, NRA CEO and Executive Vice President (Annual Meeting of Members)
Longtime NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is well known for his over-the-top conspiratorial and paranoid rhetoric that invariably supports the proposition that Americans must join the NRA in a life or death struggle to save freedom in America. Most notable among his conspiracies is his yet-to-materialize claim of the existence of a “massive Obama conspiracy” to destroy and repeal the Second Amendment.
In a typical performance at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, LaPierre cited “knockout gamers” and “haters” as just two reasons Americans need greater access to guns, while also raising the specter of societal collapse brought on by “vicious waves of chemicals” or some other calamity. In 2013, LaPierre was widely ridiculed for both his response to the Sandy Hook mass shooting as well as a paranoid, inaccurate, and racially charged op-ed that recommended buying guns and joining the NRA in order to ensure “survival” in the face of “Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals,” the threat of “Latin American drug gangs,” and “the possibility of Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest or natural disaster.” A $25,000 contribution to the NRA meeting in Indianapolis secures two tickets for a private breakfast with LaPierre.
Chris Cox, NRA Institute for Legislative Action Director (Annual Meeting of Members)
As director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, Chris Cox leads the NRA's lobbying efforts. Cox also serves as a media surrogate for the NRA. In recent appearances on Fox News, Cox had advocated against new gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety and against Obama surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy. (The NRA opposes Murthy because he, like most doctors, believes gun violence is a public health concern.)
Cox has also been the source of false information about the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, an effort to curtail illegal international arms smuggling, and conspiratorial claims about the post-Newtown U.S. Senate proposal to expand background checks on gun sales. At the 2012 NRA annual meeting -- as controversy brewed over the shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin -- Cox bemoaned “post-media hysteria” and promised the NRA would defend Stand Your Ground laws nationwide.
Jim Porter, NRA President (Annual Meeting of Members)
When Jim Porter succeeded conservative activist David Keene as NRA president at last year's annual meeting, media headlines were all about a 2012 speech where Porter called Obama a “fake” president and said the Civil War was the “War of Northern Aggression.” At the 2013 NRA meeting, Porter mocked Obama as the “community-organizer-in-chief” and claimed that the president would seek “revenge” against gun owners. In keeping with the NRA tactic of baseless fearmongering about government gun registries, Porter falsely claimed in December that Medicare enrollees are asked about gun ownership in order to create a federal gun registry.
Oliver North, Fox News Host and NRA Board Member (Stand and Fight Rally/Book Signing)
Oliver North, the central figure in the Iran-Contra arms smuggling scandal, sits on the NRA's board of directors and during the 2013 annual meeting he was reelected with the most votes of any board candidate. North has been effusive in his praise for the NRA, terming the group “one of the greatest protectors of civil liberties that's ever existed on the planet Earth.”
In 1986, President Reagan dismissed North from the National Security Council after the public learned of his role in illegal arms sales to Iran that funded the human rights-abusing Contra rebels. Since leaving the armed forces, North has continued to offer commentary on military matters, often for Fox News. In a 2010 FoxNews.com column, North wrote that unlike Hitler and other dictators, Obama “may well succeed” in destroying the military through repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, a discriminatory military policy ended in 2011. North had also claimed the repeal would lead to members of the North American Man/Boy Love Association being accepted into the military.
Sarah Palin, Fox News Contributor (Stand and Fight Rally)
The pinnacle event of the NRA's annual meeting, the “Stand and Fight Rally,” will feature “special guest” former Alaska governor and current Fox personality Sarah Palin. After serving as Sen. John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election, Sarah Palin resigned as governor in 2009 and joined Fox News in January 2010, where, save for a brief hiatus in 2013, she has since served as a contributor. Palin's Fox tenure has included many false and outrageous statements, including endless promotion of the false claim the Affordable Care Act includes “death panels.”
After then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was injured in a 2011 mass shooting, Palin faced criticism for SarahPAC's prior decision to use crosshair targets to identify Giffords' and other health care reform supporters' districts on a map. Palin responded by continuing her use of gun-themed rhetoric and accusing critics of subjecting her to a “blood libel.” Palin is the recipient of multiple NRA awards including a custom AR-15 assault weapon.
Franklin Graham, Reverend (2014 Prayer Breakfast)
Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, will keynote the NRA's annual prayer breakfast. Graham is a mixed bag on gun issues. He blamed the Sandy Hook mass shooting on secularism but also said in 2013 that he supported expanded background checks on gun sales. His commentary on LGBT rights is more cohesive. Graham has repeatedly defended Russia's anti-gay crackdown and in a recent interview claimed that gays “recruit” children for “exploitation.”
In 2012, Graham made controversial remarks questioning whether Obama is a Christian. The previous year, he questioned whether Obama could produce his birth certificate. The Pentagon disinvited Graham from the 2010 National Day of Prayer event because of concerns about his anti-Islam commentary, which included the claim, "[t]rue Islam cannot be practiced in this country" because "[y]ou can't beat your wife."
Ted Nugent, NRA Board Member and Outdoor Channel Spokesperson (Book Signing/Special Presentation)
NRA board member, conservative columnist, and spokesperson for the Outdoor Channel Ted Nugent will once again appear at the NRA meeting, marking his sixth appearance in seven years. Nugent most recently made headlines for the cancellation of one of his concerts following ongoing backlash over his claim at a January gun show that Obama is a “subhuman mongrel.” (Nugent's slur of Obama and subsequent surrogacy for Republican Texas gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbot caused weeks of controversy and scrutiny of Nugent that led to the embarrassing revelation that he lied about his supposed law enforcement credentials.)
Nugent is not shy about using inflammatory rhetoric even while representing his causes. In addition to the “subhuman mongrel” comment, Nugent also compared Jewish film executive Harvey Weinstein to Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels while representing Outdoor Channel. In 2013, Nugent's NRA meeting presentation was closed to the press after he drew the attention of the Secret Service for saying at the 2012 meeting that he would be “dead or in jail” if Obama was reelected as president.
David Kopel, Independence Institute Research Director (Firearms Law Seminar)
David Kopel is the research director at the NRA-funded libertarian think tank Independence Institute and a frequent cover story contributor to the NRA's magazine America's 1st Freedom. In a 2013 cover story, Kopel advanced the conspiracy theory that the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty will be used by “the minions of tyrannical and thieving governments” to achieve “total disarmament of freedom-loving people all over the world.” In another instance of exaggerated rhetoric, Kopel compared a United Nations event that melted small arms used in war to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels order that books authored by Jews be publicly burned, and asked, “How long until a U.N.-declared official day of hate is celebrated with governments actually killing people?”
Adam Vinatieri, NFL Star (NRA-ILA Leadership Forum)
Four-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowl selection Adam Vinatieri most recently served as the kicker for NFL team the Indianapolis Colts. Vinatieri is presently the fifth leading scorer in NFL history and has an 83 percent lifetime completion rate. His former coach Bill Belichick has said, “He's a great player and a Hall of Fame kicker if there ever was one.” Vinatieri is a free-agent and has said he would “love” to re-sign with the Colts, but would also play elsewhere.