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  • NRA’s denial it has illegal ties to Russia hits stumbling block with revelation of FBI investigation

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The FBI is investigating whether Russian money was illegally funnelled through the National Rifle Association (NRA) and spent on activities to support the election of Donald Trump as president.

    Citing two sources, McClatchy reported on January 18 that “FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA.”

    Noting that the NRA’s spending on the 2016 presidential race dwarfed the association’s previous efforts, McClatchy reported that at this time “the extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.”

    The McClatchy article also corroborated previous reporting by Bloomberg on Torshin’s involvement in money laundering in Spain, revealing that the news outlet has reviewed a summary of a “still-secret report” that “links Torshin to Russian money laundering and describes him as a godfather in a major Russian criminal organization called Taganskaya.”

    Media Matters’ routine monitoring of NRATV, the NRA’s news outlet and chief messaging mechanism, has found that the gun group has largely avoided the Trump-Russia collusion issue. (One exception was in February 2017 when an NRATV segment claimed that the reporting on the issue was a “concerted effort with Obama loyalists” who are “trying to destroy America from the inside.”)

    The NRA has, however, denied illegal ties with Russia. In a July 2017 video focused on attacking The Washington Post, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield said that “for years” the paper “has tarnished gun owners in an effort to take away our Second Amendment freedoms. The fake news outlet even went so far as to make the blatantly false claim that the NRA had illegal ties to Russia.” (The article in question described relationships between the NRA, Torshin, and other Kremlin-connected Russians, but did not allege illegality.)

    Ladd Everitt, the director of gun safety group One Pulse for America, has written extensively about ties between Torshin, the NRA, and Trump. According to his research, Torshin attended the NRA annual meeting for four consecutive years beginning in 2013 after forging a relationship with past NRA president and conservative activist David Keene. In 2016, Torshin was introduced to and spoke with Donald Trump, Jr. during a private dinner at the NRA’s annual meeting where the gun organization endorsed Trump for president.

    Following the NRA’s 2015 annual meeting in Nashville, TN, at which Trump delivered a speech, Torshin praised Trump for being an NRA member:

    Additionally, according to Everitt, “The NRA has also gone to Moscow, most notably in a December 2015 trip to meet with Torshin and Russian defense minister Dmitry Rogozin. The large NRA delegation included Keene, radical sheriff David A. Clarke and gun manufacturer Pete Brownell.” Brownell is now the president of the NRA.

    The McClatchy report comes amid the NRA’s full-blown attack against Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who recently criticized Trump. Even though Flake has been a key NRA ally in blocking overwhelmingly popular gun safety legislation, after he criticized Trump in a speech, NRATV reacted by heavily promoting a video that labeled the U.S. senator a “turncoat” and called him the new “Dmitri Shepilov, Stalin’s leader of Pravda and head of the state propaganda division.”

  • NRATV host carried a gun in public, despite admitting he "could not hit water if I fell out of a boat"

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Grant Stinchfield, the host of a news program for the National Rifle Association’s media operation NRATV, made on-air comments that he was “embarrassed” by how poor a shot he was until he recently participated in an NRA training and insurance program. Previously, Stinchfield had repeatedly talked about carrying a gun in public wherever it was legal to do so while encouraging others to do the same. Stinchfield’s admissions undermine the NRA claim that permissive concealed carry laws are a benefit to public safety and highlight how these laws often allow poorly trained people to carry guns in public.

    During the January 2 edition of NRATV’s news show Stinchfield, Stinchfield said his News Year’s resolution is to “always be carrying because I got lackadaisical at times last year about carrying my gun with me. If you don’t have it with you, it’s not going to do you any good.” Over the next weekend, Stinchfield took part in the NRA Carry Guard gun training program. Launched in 2017, NRA Carry Guard sells gun trainings and insurance policies packages. Policyholders are able to recover costs associated with shooting someone under some circumstances, including legal and “clean-up” expenses.

    After he completed his training, Stinchfield told NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch he was “embarrassed” that he had “a real hard time hitting the target” and may have been affected by “the stress of it all” during his first day of training. From the January 12 edition of NRATV’s Stinchfield

    DANA LOESCH: So Grant, what did you think of Carry Guard training?

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): So you had to told me to be prepared that they were going to yell at me, and they were going to make me -- and guess what?

    LOESCH: No no no, hold up, hold up. You are being so dramatic about this. I just said that during some of the drills they’re going to yell, that’s all.

    GRANT STINCHFIELD: All right, well they did yell during the drills. So, but meanwhile, so me, because I am very dramatic about things, I’m waiting to just get attacked with a verbal barrage and so the whole time I’m thinking that this is going to be what happens, and it never happened. [...] And the first day, I’m embarrassed to say, I had a real hard time hitting the target, I was low and right on everything, from gripping down on my right hand and maybe just the stress of it all. By the third day, I finished tied for second in my shooting test.

    The NRATV host also interviewed his Carry Guard instructors and admitted to them that during the first day of training, “I could not hit water if I fell out of a boat.” When he asked the trainers whether they were “worried about me even coming close to passing this course,” one of them replied, “I honestly thought you would shoot a little bit better when we first started,” before saying that Stinchfield improved throughout the training.

    Despite having difficulty hitting his targets during the training earlier this month, Stinchfield previously said during a November NRATV broadcast that said he carries his firearm “everywhere I am legally allowed to”, and has repeatedly maintained that concealed carry holders “make everyone around them so much safer,” even in states that have repealed requirements to obtain a permit before carrying a gun in public.

    It is very worrisome that the NRATV host, who claims to carry wherever he is legally allowed to, was admittedly such a bad shot before taking a voluntary three-day training program. The state of Texas, where Stinchfield is based, only mandates between four and six hours of in-person or online instruction to obtain concealed carry. The range component of the training only requires the applicant to shoot a total of 50 rounds at three different distances.

    Research into the impact of allowing people to carry guns in public has demonstrated that these policies are actually associated with increases in crime, particularly aggravated assault. While NRA markets its Carry Guard program by promoting the notion that graduates will be able to take out mass shooters, there is no evidence that concealed carry is an effective deterrent to public mass shootings. 

  • NRA’s news outlet says it's “fake news” to say there are over 30,000 U.S. gun deaths each year because the figure includes gun suicides

    NRATV’s Grant Stinchfield: “It is a number thrown around like confetti”

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Grant Stinchfield, the host of the National Rifle Association’s news show, included what he called the “overused 30,000 gun deaths a year” statistic in his top three “fake gun news” stories of 2017, claiming that gun suicides -- which account for around two-thirds of the figure -- don’t count.

    There were 36,252 deaths in the United States in 2015, according to the latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Of those, 22,018 were gun suicides.

    Stinchfield, who hosts a news show for the NRA’s outlet NRATV, cruelly claimed that including suicides within the term “gun deaths” was “fake news,” calling the statistic “deceptive” and used by the media to “wage war on gun ownership”:

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): So 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year for us here at NRATV, exposing and correcting fake news has, yes, become a full time job for us. The devious and deceitful media are not letting up. So while President Trump released his top three fake news stories, I want to officially release mine. All related to fake gun news, of course.

    [...]

    STINCHFIELD: The final fake news of the year comes in the form of a statistic, the overused 30,000 gun deaths a year. The left never mentions that two-thirds of those include suicides. Yet it is a number thrown around like confetti. And it’s deceptive to say the least. From The Washington Post to The New York Times, they all use it to wage war on gun ownership. It’s all fake news.

    Stinchfield’s claim that “gun suicides” don’t count in gun death totals ignores a vast body of research proving that firearm availability has a direct impact on successful suicide attempts.

    According to Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a review of 90 long-term studies found that “even when narrowing the field to studies of serious attempters,” the vast majority of people who survived a first suicide attempt “did not go on to die by suicide.” Yet those who attempt suicide by firearm rarely get the chance to continue their lives, as they are successful in their attempts 82.5 percent of the time.

    A July 2016 study in the American Journal of Public Health also found that states with the highest gun ownership levels also typically have the highest suicide rates. In 2011, the National Institute for Health found that the mere presence of a gun in the home can increase the likelihood of a successful youth suicide.

    Alternatively, removing firearms from the immediate access of a suicidal person has resulted in a 68 percent drop in the number of gun suicides. Harvard University’s Means Matter campaign has focused on limiting firearm access for suicidal individuals in crisis.

    Not counting gun suicides as “gun deaths” has been pushed as a right-wing talking point before, but it has no basis in logic. As psychiatrist and Georgetown University professor Liza Gold explained to The Trace, “Firearm violence is firearm violence. Let’s say you work in a hospital and you have 100 people with lung cancer, and 50 percent of them have it because they were smokers. Are you going to say to the smokers, ‘Your cancer is not as important because you were smoking and you should have known better?’ I don’t think so. You treat them exactly the same. So, firearm violence is firearm violence, whether it’s committed against oneself or committed against others. It’s all bad.”

  • The National Rifle Association’s first year as Trump propagandists

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Standing before a raucous crowd of supporters in April 2015 during the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, the group’s longtime leader Wayne LaPierre snarled into the microphone, “Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough!

    One and a half years later, LaPierre got his wish as an aging white man again captured the presidency.

    In a promotional video published by the NRA on January 3, three weeks before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, LaPierre stood before a shadowy backdrop at the NRA studios, looked into the camera, and said, “We are Donald Trump's strongest, most unflinching ally. The powerful partner he needs to get things done on behalf of American freedom. Join our ranks. Donate to our cause. And together, we will truly make America great again.”

    Though Trump had already won the election by that time, LaPierre still adopted a defiant and apocalyptic tone fitting of the NRA’s siege mentality; he castigated the press, called out conservative groups for abandoning Trump after he bragged on tape about sexually assaulting women, and warned viewers of enemies at every turn.

    During the presidential campaign, the NRA had broken its own spending records in Trump's support and now it was time for the organization to try to cash in. In the video, LaPierre claimed that Trump was “the most openly pro-Second Amendment presidential candidate in history” -- glazing over the fact that Trump previously supported several gun safety measures that would normally be disqualifying violations of NRA orthodoxy. 

    Despite Trump’s past stances, the NRA and Trump were the perfect political match. The then-president-elect and the country’s foremost gun group shared an affinity for culture war rhetoric, driven by white racial grievancesretrograde views of women, and anti-immigrant, anti-free press, and pro-authoritarian sentiments. They also shared a penchant for spreading division through fearmongering and peddling conspiracy theories.

    On Inauguration Day, the NRA flipped a switch, pivoting from a group that often raised the spectre of violent insurrection against a presidential administration it didn’t like to a group that now raises the spectre of violence against critics of a presidential administration it loves.

    Trump’s rise coincided with a radical change in tone from the NRA’s expanded media operations

    In its efforts to back the president’s every move during his first year, the NRA turned to its media outlet NRATV, the gun group’s primary messaging mechanism. The NRA has had its own media operation for 13 years. Launched in 2004, it was originally known as NRA News, and largely revolved around a weekday three-hour program inspired by talk radio called Cam & Company. In October 2016, the outlet was rebranded and expanded as NRATV, a 24-hour online stream of expanded live programming and pre-recorded segments.

    The personalities brought on to fill the airtime were decidedly Trumpian.

    The NRA hired Texas-based conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield to anchor the most prominent addition to the lineup, an eponymous news show providing hourly live updates in the morning and early afternoon. Stinchfield soon echoed Trump’s bellicosity, comparing a Jewish political opponent to a Nazi Gestapo member, suggesting that North Korea drop a nuclear bomb on California, and claiming that former President Barack Obama carried out an intentional plan to “inflict harm on America.” Another new hire was conservative commentator Bill Whittle, who had spent the previous year appearing on an “alt-right” web series to promote discredited theories about race and intelligence and to make racist claims, such as suggesting African-Americans are slaves of the Democratic Party, trading their supposed willingness to engage in voter fraud for welfare. NRATV also greatly expanded the role of NRA News’ Chuck Holton, who would go on to claim on NRATV that Black Lives Matter was poised to commit mass rape and murder against whites. 

    This new stable of personalities has cemented the media output of the self-proclaimed “oldest civil rights organization” as leading source of divisiveness in America.

    The NRA’s war on the right to protest the government

    Hand-in-hand with the hateful commentary on NRATV is a pattern of attacks on basic freedoms and rights in service of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. One of these instances was an outrageous attack on those who use their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly to speak out against Trump.

    Narrated by conservative radio host Dana Loesch, an NRATV commentator who was elevated to serve as the NRA’s national spokesperson in February, the one-minute spot depicted a dark version of America that is clearly at odds with reality. Using footage of isolated incidents of property damage and police confrontations, Loesch tarred the largely peaceful resistance movement as a violent force destroying America and delivered a line that was criticized as an incitement to violence against Trump critics: “The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” The message was clear: Stop complaining about Trump in the public square or face the wrath of the nation’s premier firearm group.

    The Washington Post reported that the spot had angered gun owners with its extremism, although the video found a fan in conspiracy theorist and Sandy Hook truther Alex Jones, who praised the NRA’s “more hardcore” direction. In response to criticism, Loesch and Stinchfield said the group would never apologize.

    The controversy seems to have only emboldened the NRA’s attacks on Trump critics, with follow-up videos employing similarly incendiary language to attack those who use their First Amendment right to protest the president, including one that claimed opponents of Trump will “perish in the political flames of their own fires.”

    Tellingly, when deadly violence was actually unleashed on peaceful protesters -- after a man who admired Hitler drove his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA, injuring 19 people and killing activist Heather Heyer -- NRATV was conspicuously silent.

    NRA takes its attacks on the press to authoritarian heights

    For years, the NRA has regarded the media as a participant in a conspiracy by elites to attack gun ownership. While that has continued during the Trump administration, NRATV also began to advance the narrative that critical reporting on the president is oppositional to American values and -- bizarrely enough -- incompatible with the U.S. Constitution.

    Authoritarian claims about the role of the press since the launch of NRATV include:

    • positioning reporting on Trump’s admission of sexaul assault as part of “the mainstream media’s assault against freedom and the Constitution”;

    • claiming it’s “anti-patriotic” and part of a plot to “destroy our republic” to critically report on the Trump administration;

    • saying it was “anti-American” for media to report on Trump’s inflammatory comments on North Korea; and

    • wildly attacking specific outlets, including telling The New York Times that “we’re coming for you,” and claiming The Washington Post has a “role in the organized anarchy of the violent left.”

    NRATV gaslights the public with pro-Trump propaganda

    NRATV personalities have also been willing to serve as Baghdad Bobs for Trump by relaying patently false accounts of real world events. Among the lowlights:

    • purporting to offer a “direct quote” of what former FBI Director James Comey said about Trump and obstruction of justice during his testimony before Congress, but instead offering a fabricated quote that absolved Trump of wrongdoing;

    • advocating for the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by telling an alternate history of a racially charged prosecution Sessions spearheaded in the 1980s; and

    • tarring the Women’s March as violent by playing footage of a completely different protest where some participants broke windows. 

    What does the NRA have to show thus far as a result of these messaging techniques?

    The obvious question is: What has the NRA’s divisiveness on steroids in 2017 achieved for the gun group’s agenda? The answer is thankfully little -- at least thus far.

    With Republican control of the White House and Congress, it is expected that the NRA agenda would move forward to some extent; but there is no way it is moving fast enough presently for the NRA to be satisfied. The group’s number one legislative priority, a bill to force states to recognize concealed carry permits issued by all other states, has not been made law. It took until December for the NRA to convince Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to hold a House vote on the bill -- it passed, but with less support than a version of the legislation voted on in 2011. The measure has also lost support in the Senate, where the bill would need 60 votes, with several former backers saying they wouldn’t vote for the bill again. Hearings for the NRA’s second biggest priority, a bill which would deregulate firearm silencers, were canceled following the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) in June and the bill was then shelved by Ryan following the October Las Vegas massacre.

    Despite the lack of accomplishments in this first year, it’s important to always remember how intertwined much of Congress is with the gun lobby, making the advancement of NRA legislation a constant threat while anti-gun safety members hold a majority.

    The speed with which the NRA could advance its agenda also depends on the outcomes of future elections. Thus far, the NRA has been inept in its electoral activities in the era of Trump. In November, statewide elections in Virginia, the NRA-endorsed candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general all lost. The NRA was also unsuccessful in its attempt to make reported child predator Roy Moore the junior U.S. Senator for Alabama.

    While the NRA failed to secure several victories it surely thought it would achieve in its first year serving as a de facto media arm for the Trump White House, its luck could change in a moment’s notice. 2018’s nationwide elections are on the horizon -- and the NRA’s divisive messaging operations require continued vigilance.

  • Reported child molester Roy Moore gets an A grade from the NRA

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After staying quiet for most of the Alabama Senate special election campaign, the National Rifle Association has officially awarded Republican candidate Roy Moore an “AQ” rating.

    According to the NRA’s Political Victory Fund webpage for Alabama, Moore has an “AQ” rating, which the NRA reserves for “a pro-gun candidate whose rating is based solely on the candidate's responses to the NRA-PVF Candidate Questionnaire and who does not have a voting record on Second Amendment issues.” The NRA awarded Democratic candidate Doug Jones a “?” rating, which the group defines as “Refused to answer the NRA-PVF Candidate Questionnaire, often an indication of indifference, if not outright hostility, to gun owners' and sportsmen's rights.”

    Based on a search of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, the rating was posted some time after December 8, and comes just after the NRA quietly spent more than $54,000 against Jones while at the time not mentioning the race on its Political Victory Fund website. The organization’s “AQ” grade also comes around the same time as the Republican National Committee restarted funding Moore after previously cutting the campaign off, and after Trump announced his official endorsement.

    On December 1, the Moore campaign claimed that the NRA is “on board with us now” after supporting his opponent, Luther Strange, in the primaries.

    Moore is accused of having inappropriate sexual relationships with multiple teenage girls, one as young as 14, while he was in his 30s, including attempting to rape a 16-year-old girl.

    Through regular monitoring of NRATV, the NRA’s broadcast platform, Media Matters can report that the Alabama Senate election has not been a regular topic of discussion.