NRATV host fabricates claim Sen. Kamala Harris and other Democratic presidential hopefuls have called NRA members “terrorists”
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Melissa Joskow / Media Matters
A public feud between the National Rifle Association and its longtime ad firm Ackerman McQueen is escalating, creating a bizarre dynamic in which the ad firm continues its role producing the NRA’s media outlet even as it wages a scorched-earth campaign against the group’s leadership. Supporters of the Ackerman faction are now leaking embarrassing information about NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre that could threaten his job as well as the NRA’s tax-exempt nonprofit status. Yet NRATV continues to put forward a facade of normalcy.
The first public sign of trouble between the NRA and Ackerman -- which have worked together for nearly four decades -- was revealed in a March 11 article in The New York Times. Noting that NRATV “has adopted an increasingly apocalyptic, hard-right tone, warning of race wars, describing Barack Obama as a ‘fresh-faced flower-child president,’ calling for a march on the Federal Bureau of Investigation and comparing journalists to rodents,” the Times quoted NRA board members, including past NRA President Marion Hammer, expressing concern about NRATV’s direction. The Times reported that LaPierre was “livid and embarrassed” after NRA national spokesperson and Ackerman employee Dana Loesch aired an episode of her NRATV show -- first reported on by Media Matters -- that depicted Thomas the Tank Engine in a Ku Klux Klan hood in an attempt to criticize the children’s television show Thomas and Friends for adding diversity to its cast of characters.
Then in April, the NRA sued Ackerman in Virginia state court, alleging that the ad firm has not fulfilled its contractual obligations to the NRA. The NRA’s complaint mentioned that it paid Ackerman $42.6 million in 2017 alone and alleged that Ackerman refused to turn over metrics that could be used to evaluate NRATV’s effectiveness and that it would not provide full details about a contract with then-NRA President Oliver North to produce an NRATV series. (The NRA would later update its legal complaint to accuse North of duplicitously attempting to draw a salary from both the NRA and Ackerman.)
The conflict between the NRA and its own advertising firm came to a head during the 2019 NRA annual meeting, when a series of events pitted LaPierre and Brewer Attorneys & Counselors -- an outside legal contractor that allegedly costs the NRA nearly $100,000 per day -- against North and Ackerman McQueen. (Another strange aspect to the infighting: William Brewer, the CEO of Brewer Attorneys, is the brother-in-law of Ackerman McQueen CEO Revan McQueen.) As the meetings were unfolding, North sent the NRA board a letter alleging LaPierre participated in various financial misdeeds. LaPierre responded by accusing North of attempting to extort him and said he would not resign. In the end, LaPierre was reelected by the board of the directors, while North was ousted from the presidency after acknowledging he did not have the support of the board.
That outcome appears to have done little to stem the infighting. In one recent major development, on May 10, the letter that North sent to the board leaked and its embarrassing claims about LaPierre’s spending became public. In recent years, LaPierre often used Ackerman to pay for things that the NRA would later reimburse. Among the expenses: more than $274,000 in clothing purchases from a single Beverly Hills, CA, clothing boutique, including as much as $39,000 spent in a single day, and an additional $267,000-plus for travel and rent, including $18,300 for a car and driver during a trip in Europe and $13,800 to rent an apartment for a summer intern. The letter also highlighted legal fees charged by Brewer that North said were exorbitant.
NRATV has continued its regular broadcasts during this infighting, with no mention of any of these new developments. Ackerman has produced the NRA’s media operation since 2004, when the outlet was originally called NRA News. In 2016, NRA News changed its name to NRATV and massively expanded to become a 24/7 online broadcast. NRATV has three shows that broadcast live on weekdays; the rest of the airtime is filled with rebroadcasts, prerecorded series, and other videos from the massive NRATV archive.
NRATV’s news-of-the-day show Stinchfield has continued its focus on the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, which the NRA terms the ”disarmament primary.” A snapshot of “disarmament primary” segments broadcast on May 15 and 16 shows the type of unhinged and apocalyptic claims that host Grant Stinchfield routinely makes about Democratic candidates:
Stinchfield has also continued its regular attacks on the press. On May 16, Stinchfield ran three different segments on a local news story about preventing home burglaries. The reporter who wrote the story interviewed convicted burglars about what makes them more or less likely to target a home. According to the report, “That National Rifle Association (NRA) sticker on the door that once deterred burglars is now often viewed as a clue that valuable guns are in the home for the taking.” Stinchfield was apoplectic, apparently not grasping that the reporter wasn’t endorsing the interviewees’ views but was simply sharing what he was told. According to Stinchfield:
The bottom line is this: The reporter’s apparent bias toward guns and the NRA got in the way of telling a meaningful story with some good tips. His credibility is shot now, to me, and sadly, most people will miss that little shot across the bow that he fires at the NRA in this piece. But this is what we’re up against: a mainstream media waging an information war against us. “How dare you be an NRA member,” they say. “How dare you show it proudly. If you do, you’ll be burglarized.” Give me a break.
The theory that an NRA sticker could increase the odds of a burglary has come up in other recent local news investigations, and it has even been discussed in pro-gun media without allegations of a mainstream media conspiracy.
NRATV’s two other live shows, Relentless, hosted by Dana Loesch, and Cam & Co., hosted by Cam Edwards, were unremarkable on May 15 and 16 , featuring criticism of Democratic presidential candidates and discussion of gun issues. In one segment characteristic of Loesch’s tendency to sometimes veer into bizarre commentary, Loesch cautioned NRATV viewers to make sure not to leave guns behind in public bathrooms or else “the disarmament left” could “use an accident in an attempt to get rid of your Second Amendment rights.”
Dana Loesch reminds NRATV viewers not to leave their guns behind in public bathrooms so "the disarmament left" can't use incidents to "get rid of your Second Amendment rights." pic.twitter.com/Rdf7Bdj5jY
— Timothy Johnson (@timothywjohnson) May 16, 2019
Despite his ouster as NRA president, North remains a prominent face at NRATV.com. That appears to be because he still works for Ackerman; his NRATV bio page currently describes him as “Past NRA President, Host.” (North also appears to continue to serve on the NRA board of directors. He was reelected to a three-year term at the annual meeting in voting that occurred before the latest NRA infighting became public.) On NRATV’s “series” page, North is seen alongside his nemesis LaPierre.
The show that North hosts, American Heroes, is a major part of the NRA’s lawsuit against Ackerman. In an updated legal complaint filed against Ackerman, the NRA alleged that the series did not deliver as many episodes as promised and did not generate as much sponsorship revenue for the NRA as expected. The few episodes that North and Ackerman have managed to produce so far are available for view at NRATV.com. Just four episodes have been released since the series’s launch in November 2018.
The civil litigation between the NRA and Ackerman is in its earliest stages and there appears to be no end in sight for the gun group’s infighting. But for now, NRATV will continue to serve as the NRA’s messaging apparatus -- even as the PR company that produces it continues to cause massive public relations problems for the NRA.
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Turmoil within the National Rifle Association was on full display during its 2019 annual meeting, when President Oliver North was forced out of his position amid reports of infighting and budget deficits and accusations of financial improprieties. The extremist pro-gun organization has been in chaos for months, and the infighting spilled into public view in March following the publication of a report on the exorbitant amount of money the NRA spends on a media operation, NRATV, that aired a particularly odious segment leaving several board members and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre “livid and embarrassed.”
On the National Rifle Association’s media outlet, NRATV, host Grant Stinchfield blamed “liberal leadership” for a rapist who received no jail time -- even though the judge in the case is a registered Republican.
On April 25, a former school bus driver in Watertown, NY, received 10 years' probation and “the lowest level status on New York’s sex offender registry” after he pleaded guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl. When issuing the ruling, Judge James P. McClusky pointed out that the defendant “had no prior arrests and that there was only one victim in the case,” according to The Washington Post.
During the April 30 edition of NRATV’s Stinchfield, Stinchfield railed against McClusky’s decision, calling it an example of “liberal leadership” that “give(s) passes to the criminals.” Stinchfield went on to say that “actions have consequences,” which is “a staple of the justice system, unless of course you’re a liberal”:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): You’ve got to be kidding me. Really? He made the choice to do what he did. He made the choice to change that 14-year-old girl’s life forever, and somehow the judge buys into the fact that he’s sorry and we should feel sorry for him? No jail time needed? This is what liberal leadership is: Give passes to criminals. While the victim’s mother clearly isn’t happy about all this. Quote -- is what she says: “He took something from my daughter she will never get back and has caused her to struggle with depression and anxiety. I wish he would have received jail time for the harm he caused to my child.” We all do, at least those of us with common sense and those of us who believe actions have consequences. A staple of the justice system, unless of course you’re a liberal.
The National Rifle Association’s media arm, NRATV, broadcast a false retelling of the April 27 California synagogue shooting in order to credit an armed worshipper with “almost instantly” stopping the incident. In fact, the gunman was confronted and chased out of the synagogue by an unarmed worshipper.
On April 27, a 19-year-old gunman opened fire in the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego, CA, killing one and injuring three others. According to witnesses, the gunman’s semi-automatic rifle jammed and that gave U.S. Army veteran Oscar Stewart an opportunity to chase him out of the building before another worshipper, Jonathan Morales, an off-duty Border Patrol agent, fired several shots at the gunman’s car. Stewart told The San Diego Union-Tribune that he “screamed as loud as he could” to startle the gunman before chasing him out to his car. Stewart then began punching the gunman’s car before the agent advised him to move out of the way so he could fire on the vehicle. The gunman was arrested a short time later after he pulled over and called 911 on himself.
In a manifesto that he allegedly wrote before the shooting, the gunman claimed responsibility for setting a nearby mosque on fire in March, and championed previous hate crimes including the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand and the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, PA.
During the April 29 edition of NRATV’s Stinchfield, host Grant Stinchfield erroneously claimed “the shooter was almost instantly chased out of the sanctuary by an off-duty Border Patrol agent with a gun.” He went on to say “That confrontation, I am convinced, prevented the shooter from killing others,” failing to mention the rifle malfunction or Stewart, who had actually rushed the gunman:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Religious leaders across America are on edge as a deranged, hate-filled teen entered a California synagogue killing one woman and wounding three others, including the rabbi. There is so much not being reported about this story that needs to be. This synagogue actually trained for an active shooter situation. The rabbi says that training saved lives. The shooter was almost instantly chased out of the sanctuary by an off-duty Border Patrol agent with a gun. No matter what you say, that confrontation, I am convinced, prevented the shooter from killing others. Then, even with all the California gun laws, the shooting still happened. With guns bans and waiting periods, mandates for classes, this vile human responsible still managed to get a gun and go on this rampage. These are the stories the mainstream media refuses to cover. Sometimes there are brief mentions of these issues, but almost always buried at the bottom of the piece. The strength of Americans is what should be celebrated after this horrific loss.
In the wake of the Christchurch shootings on March 15, Loesch also ran with an early and ultimately false report that a “good guy with a gun” fired at the gunman and stopped the incident. The gunman in that incident was actually confronted by a man who threw a credit card reader at him, but Loesch never issued a correction for her claim.
The National Rifle Association’s media operation NRATV aired a tweet sent by an obviously fake Bernie Sanders account, with NRATV host Grant Stinchfield falsely claiming that Sanders asked on Twitter, “Who cares about a few terrorists?”
The April 25 broadcast of NRATV show Stinchfield had a segment on Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) position that all people in prison should be allowed to vote, regardless of the crime they were convicted for. Stinchfield mentioned that entertainer Cher had criticized Sanders' proposal on Twitter and creduously quoted a fake Sanders account that had responded to Cher's tweet. The account using the name “President Bernie Sanders” and the handle “@Ryan35186771” had written: “Why are you playing into this? Who cares about a few terrorists?”
Stinchfield represented that Sanders actually sent the tweet, saying, “It may be one of Bernie Sanders’ responses to Cher that is the most offensive. ‘Who cares about a few terrorists,’ he writes.” The NRATV host went on to say: “We care, Bernie Sanders and your supporters. We care about terrorists not voting from behind bars. The 5 1/2 million members of the NRA care because we love this country”:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): The fact is it may be one of Bernie Sanders’ responses to Cher that is the most offensive. “Who cares about a few terrorists,” he writes. Who cares about a few terrorists? I would argue the family members of hundreds of victims of the Boston bombings, that’s who, all of us who lived through 9/11, who knew people who died there and felt it first hand, what jihad means and what it is: Death to America. We care, Bernie Sanders and your supporters. We care about terrorists not voting from behind bars. The 5 1/2 million members of the NRA care because we love this country.
Stinchfield often broadcasts patently false information on his NRATV show. On Election Day 2016, Stinchfield read from and discussed an article in an NRA magazine about the supposed horrors a Hillary Clinton presidency would bring while urging people not to vote for her. The article -- which raised the prospect of Syrian refugees establishing an “Islamic State in the United States” culminating in a nuclear attack on U.S. soil -- was labeled “fiction” by the NRA magazine.
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A new article in The New Yorker gives an extraordinary glimpse into the NRA’s increasingly dire financial situation and an internal rift over the production of its media outlet, NRATV.
The article comes on the heels of news that the NRA is suing Oklahoma-based Ackerman McQueen, the group’s ad agency that also produces NRATV, for allegedly ignoring the NRA’s request for “access to records underlying its bills.” NRA President Oliver North also has a contract with Ackerman McQueen to host an NRATV show, and while the NRA says it must disclose and approve its top officials pay, the lawsuit alleges neither North nor Ackerman McQueen will share the details of their contract.
The lengthy April 17 article, written by Mike Spies of The Trace and published in partnership with The New Yorker, exposed more than a decade of financial problems at the NRA, reporting that “in recent years, it has run annual deficits of as much as forty million dollars.” The article points out the NRA spends less than 10% of its budget on firearms education, safety, and training, and instead focuses on “messaging,” using Ackerman McQueen to shape its “public identity” by “promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away.”
Several NRA figures, including North and NRA national spokesperson and NRATV host Dana Loesch, also have contracts with the ad agency, making it “difficult to tell” of the NRA and Ackerman McQueen “where one ends and the other begins.” According to the New Yorker piece, Ackerman McQueen is also responsible for turning NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre into a “ferocious critic of the political left” and creating “the Wayne cult of personality” around his appearances at NRA annual meetings and other conservative gatherings.
Tax documents obtained by Spies reportedly show “a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and venders” received “hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements.” One senior NRA employee went as far as to “describe a workplace distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed.” Meanwhile, the NRA, “in desperate need of funds, raised its dues for the second time in two years” and cut costs by eliminating “free coffee and water coolers at its headquarters” and freezing employees’ pension plans.
This reporting on the organization’s desperate financial state and the rift among its employees comes less than six months after layoffs hit the network and a little over a month after former NRA president and current board member Marion Hammer went on record to The New York Times that she and other board members "have questioned the value" of NRATV.
The NRA’s media platform has been a cesspool of bigotry and extremist talking points for over a decade. Those characteristics were on full display when Loesch shared an image on her NRATV program of the trains from the children’s TV show Thomas & Friends wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods to protest the show’s focus on diversity. The move reportedly left LaPierre “livid and embarrassed,” according to The Times.
This post has been updated for clarity.
Eight of the appearances were on NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch’s show
The National Rifle Association’s media operation NRATV has hosted anti-immigration activist Michael Cutler 32 times dating back to March 2018. Cutler, who worked as an agent for the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, has contributed a large number of articles to a white nationalist journal and has ties to other white nationalist-affiliated groups.
The NRA has long used immigrants as a boogeyman to rile up its supporters, and Cutler has become the organization’s go-to commentator for its inflammatory media operation NRATV. Since March 2018, Cutler has made 24 appearances on NRATV program Stinchfield, a news of the day program, and eight appearances on Relentless, which is hosted by NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch. Cutler’s most recent NRATV appearance was on April 15.
In addition to being a frequent NRATV guest, Cutler is a contributor to white nationalist journal The Social Contract. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the publication “routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists” and that the group, The Social Contract Press, that publishes the journal was founded “by John Tanton, the racist founder and principal ideologue of the modern nativist movement.” According to SPLC, The Social Contract Press “puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today's immigrants.” A search of the journal’s website returns 20 articles Cutler authored, including six articles published since 2017. In 2018, Cutler wrote an anti-immigration booklet for The Social Contract, the foreword of which was authored by Social Contract Editor Wayne Lutton. Lutton is “a stalwart on the racist speaking circuit” who has ties to white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, according to SPLC.
Cutler is also listed as a former fellow on the Center for Immigration Studies website. Like The Social Contract, CIS is a project of Tanton’s that has promoted white nationalism. Additionally, Cutler has written extensively for Californians for Population Stabilization, a group that employed a neo-Nazi and received funding from the now defunct pro-eugenics Pioneer Fund.
During Cutler’s April 15 NRATV appearance, he and NRATV host Grant Stinchfield fearmongered about the prospect of terrorism being carried out by undocumented immigrants. The appearance was typical of NRATV’s false characterization of undocumented immigrants as a public safety threat. Here are a few more examples from some of Cutler’s other NRATV appearances:
Beyond hosting Cutler, NRATV has relentlessly demonized undocumented immigrants. According to a Media Matters analysis, Stinchfield broadcast 54 segments that fearmongered about undocumented immigrants during the 2018-2019 government shutdown, which was a result of President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
NRATV also repeatedly promoted the conspiracy theory that claimed George Soros was funding migrant caravans. In October 2018, a gunman inspired by a similar conspiracy theory carried out a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. NRATV continued to promote the Soros conspiracy theory following the shooting. White nationalist talking points about immigration have also been broadcast on NRATV, including the claim that liberals are attempting to “import a new populace” from “the Third World” to replace U.S. voters.
The extremism broadcast on NRATV, which is produced by PR firm Ackerman McQueen for the NRA, may be causing a problem at the gun organization. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 15 that the NRA is suing Ackerman McQueen for allegedly failing to turn over information about NRATV metrics and other matters. As The New York Times reported, the lawsuit appears to be connected to concerns by some members of NRA leadership about NRATV’s inflammatory broadcasts:
Since Ackerman created NRATV in 2016, it has often been “perceived by the public as the voice of the N.R.A.,” according to the rifle association’s complaint. It has also taken on an apocalyptic tone, warning of race wars, calling for a march on the Federal Bureau of Investigation and portraying the talking trains in the children’s show “Thomas & Friends” in Ku Klux Klan hoods.
The New York Times reported this year that two prominent N.R.A. board members were among those voicing alarm inside the association that NRATV was often straying beyond gun rights. The Times article also revealed that Ackerman had a previously undisclosed financial relationship with [NRA President Oliver North].
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The National Rifle Association has filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma City-based Ackerman McQueen, which has been the group’s ad agency for nearly 40 years and produces the pro-gun extremist network NRATV.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit was filed on April 12 and claims that Ackerman McQueen “was obliged to provide access to records underlying its bills” but that as of halfway through 2018, some such requests from the NRA had been “rebuffed or baldly ignored.” The lawsuit also zeroes in on NRA President Oliver North, who has a contract with Ackerman McQueen to host the NRATV show Oliver North’s American Heroes. The NRA says it is required to disclose and approve its top officials’ pay, but that neither North nor Ackerman McQueen will share all the details of their contract.
The article highlights a split between the “pro-Ackerman McQueen faction” of the NRA’s board, who think the law firm leading the lawsuit is charging too much, and those who think it is “money ... well spent, because it’s for the survival of the NRA,” which reportedly includes Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.
Ackerman McQueen and the NRA have long had a symbiotic relationship. The NRA's lawyer who is handling the lawsuit is related to two top Ackerman officials, and some employees have worked with both organizations, either alternating or at the same time. The ad agency was responsible for some of the NRA’s darker videos and helped former NRA President Charleton Heston hone his imagine as he led the organization.
This latest bout of infighting, however, comes a little over a month after NRA board member Marion Hammer went on record to The New York Times questioning “the value of” NRATV network and less than six months after layoffs hit the network.
The NRA’s media platform has been a cesspool of bigotry and extremist talking points for over a decade. Those characteristics were on full display last month when NRA spokesperson and NRATV host Dana Loesch shared an image of the trains from the children’s TV show Thomas & Friends wearing KKK hoods to protest the show’s focus on diversity. The move reportedly left LaPierre “livid and embarrassed.”
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