NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch: “The Me Too movement thing was an attempt to hijack real trauma … and use it as a vehicle for political purpose”
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National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch dismissed new findings that a school-based discipline program called Promise was not responsible for the Parkland, FL, school shooting after pushing the allegation for months that the program allowed the shooting to happen.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz had been referred to Broward County’s Promise program, an alternative option for students “who have committed a behavioral infraction that would normally lead to a juvenile delinquency arrest” in 2013 after he vandalized a bathroom in an area middle school. Despite claims that referring Cruz to the program contributed to the failures to report his behavior to law enforcement, a commission set up to investigate the mass shooting concluded the program was “irrelevant” to Cruz’s ability to obtain an assault weapon and carry out the massacre.
During the months following the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead and 14 others injured, NRA spokesperson and NRATV host Dana Loesch repeatedly shredded the “Obama-era” Promise program during her show, Relentless. During the May 29 edition of her show, Loesch suggested people should protest outside the house of President Barack Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, because it was his “Promise program initiative that assisted this murderer.”
Loesch said “the real story” behind the Parkland shooting is Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie “worrying about the appearance of complying with an Obama-era Promise program” which ultimately “guaranteed that this murderer’s red flags would being completely overlooked” during the June 1 edition of Relentless. Four days later, she insisted Duncan’s “policies that were implemented that coddled this murderer failed” Parkland students.
One day after the Miami Herald reported the commission’s findings, Loesch did a segment on the commission’s work that discussed the Promise program but ignored the revelation that it was found to have no causal relationship to the shooting. From the July 11 edition of NRATV’s Relentless:
KERRY PICKET (NRATV CORRESPONDENT): Now, Cruz was sent into the Promise program despite initial denials from the school’s officials. But back in March, The Associated Press reported local Florida officials once suggested they wanted Cruz forcibly committed to a mental institution via Florida’s Baker Act two years before the Stoneman Douglas massacre, but their advice was never heeded. According to documents obtained by the AP, Cruz cut himself with a pencil sharpener and told a fellow student he wanted to buy a firearm. Cruz also told another student he had drank gasoline and later vomited. Dana.
DANA LOESCH (HOST): Wow, yeah, those I think are -- that coupled with everything else that we know, the whole body of evidence that has to deal with his mental health and then of course the violent threats -- what was it -- some of the family members had said that he had held a gun to peoples’ head before, he had hit his mother so hard he knocked teeth out of her mouth. It is amazing, A) that she intervened and B) that there was not enough material there existing already for either mental health professionals or even law enforcement to act when prosecutors say under Florida state statute you could have gotten him for a felony because of the threats and because of all of the stuff he demonstrated health-wise. You could have had him Baker Act-ed. I’m wondering, because I know that there is still an investigation ongoing, but I mean, with all of this discussion about red flag laws, this -- I mean, you couldn't have been more obvious about it if you took out a billboard in Times Square. Are they going to answer for actually not following up on what is clearly actionable items according to every prosecutor from Florida that I’ve spoken to and I think you as well have?
PICKETT: Well, here’s the thing is that this particular school safety commission, they are going to be meeting tomorrow as well as the following day to discuss not just the questions that you’re bringing up but also questions as to why, for example, law enforcement, why their communications were so shoddy, specifically the radio communications between law enforcement. As well as the mental health history of Nikolas Cruz. So this is something that this particular commission really wants to clear up. Now, something else too, the Promise program. A lot of people wonder why this hasn’t been eradicated yet. It looks like the Promise program is going to stay, but it looks like it’s going to be reformed in some way, shape, so we’re going to have to wait and see what happens with that.
LOESCH: Reformed in some way? And I’m sure we’re going to get details as to how they’re going to quote-unquote “reform” that program?
The Promise program was the first agenda item on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission’s July 10 meeting. According to the Miami Herald, commission chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the commission found that the program “would never in any way, shape, form, would’ve affected his ability to buy that AR-15.” He went all to call claims that the program contributed to the shooting “a rabbit hole” and a “red herring” and explained that even if Cruz had been taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center and charged with a first-time misdemeanor instead of entering the Promise program, his punishment would most likely have been community service which would have no impact on his ability to buy a gun.
During the July 13 edition of NRATV’s Relentless, Loesch referenced a tweet Runcie wrote in which he echoed the commission's finding and said she questioned “how much” she believes him. She went on to place blame squarely on the superintendent, saying if the findings are true, “wouldn’t that just mean that it was his own personal incompetency then that contributed to this instead of a bad program? I mean, that seems like it’s worse.”
Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, right-wing media have attempted to downplay the odds that, if confirmed, Kavanaugh would cast a deciding vote on abortion rights. In reality, Kavanaugh’s background demonstrates that he will most likely be key to overturning or further gutting Roe v. Wade -- and such an outcome would have devastating consequences for abortion access in the United States.
On July 9, Trump nominated D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy left after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in late June. Kavanaugh’s name was included on a list put out by the White House that was “preapproved by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.” According to New York magazine, this list was “extremely important to Trump’s relationship with the conservative movement and particularly with conservative Christian leaders.” Subsequently, anti-abortion groups praised Kavanaugh’s nomination as an opportunity to finally overturn Roe v. Wade and put an end legal abortion. And despite right-wing media’s gaslighting, Kavanaugh's record demonstrates that he will likely do just that.
In 2017, Kavanaugh dissented in a case involving an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen (called Jane Doe) who was in federal custody and wanted to have an abortion. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement was prohibiting Doe from leaving the facility to have an abortion because the agency did not want to “facilitate” the practice.
Beyond the substance of his opinion in the Jane Doe case, others have pointed to Kavanaugh’s reliance on “coded language” as evidence of his underlying intentions about abortion rights.
Kavanaugh’s decision in Doe’s case, as well as his previous comments on abortion-related matters, also demonstrate that he might leave Roe on the books while still obliterating abortion rights.
Even before Kavanaugh was officially nominated, right-wing media were already claiming that a Trump-nominated justice wouldn’t be that bad for abortion access. However, with Kavanaugh on the court, a decision gutting or overturning of Roe is likely and would have devastating consequences.
Although some (including Trump) have argued that overturning Roe will only return abortion regulations “back to the states,” this would functionally outlaw abortion across large parts of the country.
Independent of how abortion is regulated, economic and logistical barriers that already impede access will only grow worse in a world without Roe. As Carole Joffe, a professor in the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at the University of California, San Francisco, explained:
Geographic areas without access to abortion place an extreme burden on the disproportionate number of abortion patients who are poor (50 percent are below the official poverty line and another 25 percent are classified as low income). Besides having to pay for the procedure, they need the funds to pay for lodging (some states have waiting periods of 24 hours or more, necessitating overnight stays), child care (about 60 percent of abortion patients are already parents) and of course for the travel itself. And this journey also involves confronting one or more days of lost wages as well.
Regardless of state regulations, conservatives have recently attempted to push federal regulation on abortion. As author and lecturer Scott Lemieux explained for Vox, “a Republican government with slightly larger Senate majorities than it has now would be able to pass national abortion regulations” that could outright or effectively ban abortion.
Despite the threat that Kavanaugh poses to abortion rights, right-wing media have been busy gaslighting viewers in an apparent attempt to paint Kavanaugh as a “moderate” or otherwise suggest he wouldn’t overturn Roe:
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Immediately after Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court, NRATV, the media arm of the National Rifle Association, cheered a dissent he wrote that argued bans on assault weapons are unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. That view is far outside of mainstream legal thought.
On July 9, President Donald Trump announced Kavanaugh, a judge on the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, as his nominee to fill the seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy and praised his “impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and ... proven commitment to equal justice under the law.” Trump picked his nominee from a shortlist of four right-wing federal appeals court judges, and a mounting number of Democratic senators have announced that they will oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislation Action -- the NRA’s lobbying arm -- put out a press release on July 9 applauding Kavanaugh as an “outstanding choice” and highlighting his “impressive record that demonstrates his strong support for the Second Amendment.”
In a 2011 challenge to D.C.’s assault weapons ban, known as Heller II, Kavanaugh split from the rest of the D.C. Circuit Court and wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that “semi-automatic rifles, like semi-automatic handguns, have not traditionally been banned and are in common use by law-abiding citizens for self-defense in the home, hunting, and other lawful uses.” He went as far as to claim that “a ban on a class of arms …. is equivalent to a ban on a category of speech.”
Based on this position, Kavanaugh would consider bans on the type of firearms most typically used during mass shootings -- including those used in recent massacres in Parkland, FL, Sutherland Springs, TX, and Las Vegas, NV -- unconstitutional. This view is entirely at odds with how federal courts have ruled on the issue. According to The Washington Post, “no federal appeals court has ever held that assault weapons are protected” by the Second Amendment.
NRATV host Cam Edwards immediately celebrated Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion, tweeting that it was “a better reasoned argument than the majority opinion.” During the July 10 edition of NRATV’s Stinchfield, host Grant Stinchfield suggested gun owners and NRA members “take this appointment as a reward for our hard work” and hailed Kavanaugh as a “strong dissenting voice in the court’s decision to unfortunately uphold the D.C. ban on so-called assault weapons.” NRATV host and spokesperson Dana Loesch said she was “very pleased” with Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion during her show Relentless later that same day.
Edwards joined Stinchfield during the July 11 edition of Stinchfield to continue to praise Kavanaugh’s Heller II dissent:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): So, Cam, you’ve been in and around this for a long time. Most of us are looking at the [District of Columbia v.] Heller go-around number two. Dianne Feinstein mentioned it, this was when Kavanaugh dissented in the D.C. ban on so-called assault weapons. Have you looked through that ruling? What does it tell you about Kavanaugh?
CAM EDWARDS: I have looked through the ruling, Grant, and it’s a great decision. I mean, it’s a great opinion by Judge Kavanaugh. I wish that his opinion had carried the day because he actually looked at what the Supreme Court said in Heller and McDonald [v. Chicago]. And he said, look, it doesn’t matter if I like these gun control laws or I don’t like these gun control laws. What matters is that, under the precedent set by Heller and ratified by McDonald, so we know that these Second Amendment protections don’t just apply to infringement by the federal government, D.C.’s blanket ban on the most commonly sold rifle in America today doesn’t pass constitutional muster. And he made a very commonsense argument. He said, look, in the Supreme Court said in the first Heller case that you can’t ban semi-automatic handguns because those are in common use by millions of Americans for lawful purposes. Well, what’s the difference between a semi-automatic handgun and a semi-automatic long gun? They’re both in common use, both owned by millions of Americans for lawful purposes. If you can’t ban one, you can’t ban the other.
Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion is a radical interpretation of the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Supreme Court struck down D.C.’s handgun ban in a 5-4 decision. The 2008 ruling, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, explained that the Second Amendment right is “not unlimited” and that there is no “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Specifically, the Heller opinion said that “dangerous and unusual” weapons can be banned under the Second Amendment, which is the rationale federal courts have relied upon in upholding bans. In April, a federal district court judge (who was appointed by Ronald Reagan) rejected a Second Amendment challenge to Massachusetts’ assault weapons ban by positively citing Scalia’s language from Heller that explained cases where gun ownership can be limited.
Kavanaugh, however, has signaled he would advance the NRA’s interpretation of the constitutionality of assault weapons bans, which defies mainstream legal thought.
But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?
Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?
On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”
Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.
After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.
Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."
Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.
One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning.
Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.
Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.
Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:
If it was possible to make the Fourth of July any better I leave you with this:
CNN Loses In Quarterly Ratings To Home And Garden Television https://t.co/mvqtnbtkPM
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 3, 2018
He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:
A total disgrace. An embarrassment to themselves, to journalism, to their networks, and to anyone associated with them. https://t.co/OeDupG2bIr
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) June 12, 2018
Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)
He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.
He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.
This Pruitt flap is absurd. Obama EPA officials spent as much or more on travel. And career EPA ethics officials say he paid "reasonable market value" for the condo, and leasor had no business in front of EPA. The press might at least try to pretend it didn't have two standards.
— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 3, 2018
He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.
Trump has done more good for the black community in 18 months than Obama did in 8 years
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) May 12, 2018
According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:
In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”
Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.
In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) November 10, 2011
Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.
In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:
Climate alarmists refuse to debate or leave their facts at home when they do....http://tinyurl.com/d2qs66
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) April 6, 2009
On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures.
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) December 2, 2009
And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) November 30, 2015
This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:
Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.
Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.
Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:
During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.
Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.
The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."
It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.
In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.
Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?
In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."
But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."
Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.
Over the past week, NRATV, the National Rifle Association’s broadcast outlet, covered a litany of stories during its hourly live updates but ignored the police shooting of a Black veteran who had a license to carry a concealed weapon in Portland, OR.
Billed as “live news updates,” NRATV’s Stinchfield airs for 10 minutes at the top of every hour, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Throughout the past week, the show failed to report that Portland State University campus police shot and killed 45-year-old Jason Washington outside a local bar on June 29. Washington was trying to break up a fight and dropped his legally owned firearm on the ground. According to CNN, police officers can be heard in a witness video shouting “drop the gun” repeatedly before firing several shots. The university released a statement that same day confirming that the Portland Police Bureau has launched an investigation into the shooting and that the two officers involved are on “paid administrative leave.”
The show did, however, cover a range of other stories, including:
The “Abolish ICE” movement:
The “utter disgrace” of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein:
The border situation:
“Pretty little socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
Protests on the Fourth of July:
Immigrants being discharged from the military:
NRA spokesperson and NRATV host Dana Loesch mentioned the shooting twice during her hour-long show, Relentless, but during both segments she implied that Washington could have avoided the killing by not getting involved in the situation. During the first segment, on the July 2 edition of her show, Loesch referred to the incident as “tragic” but said she was “never going to keyboard quarterback what police are doing” and asked, “Should he have been in that position, even though he was being a good samaritan, because he was carrying?” During the second segment, on July 3, Loesch asked her guest, “Should someone be doing that [intervening in a fight] if they’re concealed carrying and it doesn’t look like this is going to disrupt into something fatal?” and the guest replied, “No, no, no.” Loesch also said, “When police are already there on scene, I think you have to question, do you need to be involved anymore at that point?”
Loesch’s comments are similar to remarks she made after 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot during a traffic stop. Loesch said at the time that Castile did not deserve “to lose his life over a stop” and the incident was “awful and avoidable,” but she also implied that Castile was partially to blame by highlighting missteps she said he made such as not having his handgun permit visible.
Turning Point USA, the student-aimed conservative organization that raises its money by stoking fear among rich conservative donors about the alleged liberalization of college campuses, will host its fourth annual Young Women’s Leadership Summit June 14 through 17. Slated to address the young women attending is a roster packed full of misogynists.
While Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is perhaps most famous for a laughable 2017 stunt in which its members donned adult diapers and sat in oversized playpens to express their outrage over safe spaces, its stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Despite TPUSA’s lofty goals, the organization’s events are often little more than sophomoric spectacles designed to fearmonger -- often via Fox News airtime -- about the supposedly leftist leanings of U.S. colleges. But the group also has a more sinister history that includes hosting serial harassers and defending racists. Overall, TPUSA is focused on combating “political correctness,” and conferences like the Young Women’s Leadership Summit are one vehicle used to accomplish this goal.
TPUSA’s website invites “young, conservative women” to apply to attend the summit, and it promises to deliver “professional development and leadership training,” as well as opportunities to network with fellow young conservatives. While at first glance, the event seems to be about women's empowerment, the slate of speakers scheduled to present says otherwise. The roster includes people who publicly support misogynistic policies, routinely dismiss the importance of issues that advance gender equality, and use dangerously sexist rhetoric. Here is a breakdown of 10 of those speakers and their histories of anti-women messaging:
The founder, chief fundraiser, and public face of TPUSA, “boy wonder” Charlie Kirk has a long history of attacking feminism and a tendency to dismiss and mischaracterize the problems women face. He is also ever-ready to complain about girls intruding on sacred male spaces like the Boy Scouts.
Kirk seems to delight in frequently claiming that there is no gender wage gap (there is). According to his tweets, not only is the wage gap “one of the most dangerous and divisive lies in today’s time,” but “by every metric women are doing much better than men in America.”
At first glance, Fox’s Jeanine Pirro seems an obvious choice for the summit. As the first woman elected to serve as the district attorney in New York’s Westchester County, Pirro spent years working on behalf of abuse survivors, often women and children. Since her years as DA, however, Pirro has seemingly turned her back on abuse victims, using her Fox show, Justice with Judge Jeanine, to downplay sexual misconduct allegations.
When Pirro’s former Fox colleague Gretchen Carlson reported then-Fox CEO Roger Ailes’ many instances of severe sexual misconduct, Pirro aggressively defended Ailes, dismissing Carlson’s lawsuit as “absurd” and describing Ailes as a “no-nonsense guy.”
In October 2016, Pirro was quick to defend then-candidate Donald Trump after the release of an Access Hollywood video, which caught him bragging about sexually assaulting women. Two days after the video was released, Pirro dismissed Trump’s violent remarks as “locker room talk" and "frat house language." She also proudly announced that the video did nothing to change her vote, and that Trump was still an undoubtedly better choice than “double-talking woman” Hillary Clinton.
NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch is a remarkably bad choice to speak at a women’s conference, considering her numerous glib comments about rape, her mischaracterization of issues that advance gender equality, and her cruel attacks against transgender women. Additionally, Loesch has openly ridiculed college-aged women, the demographic TPUSA’s summit is aiming to capture, for wanting access to contraceptives.
After conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh aimed misogynistic insults at Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law student who testified in front of Congress about access to contraceptives, Loesch launched a barrage of heinous attacks against her. She denounced Fluke as unable “to control her sexual urges” and claimed that Fluke had testified that she “simply cannot stop getting it on.”
Loesch then extended her attacks to seemingly include all college-aged women who want access to contraceptives, ridiculing them for acting “like they’re nymphos” and dismissing young women's call for contraceptives coverage as "insulting to the original spirit and intent of the suffrage movement."
Loesch has been quick to fearmonger about false reports of sexual assault (which researchers say make up only an estimated 2 to 8 percent of allegations), and she came immediately to the defense of former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) after he claimed that it’s “really rare" for women subjected to "legitimate rape" to become pregnant.
In addition to her trivializing rhetoric on rape, Loesch has made careless and insensitive comments about gender, including claiming that some women “wouldn’t know what masculinity was if it hit them in the face."
According to Loesch, the gender wage gap is “an absolute myth.” And after actress Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay describing her own experience with pay inequality, Loesch denied that “sexism” played a role in Lawrence’s experience, instead accusing Lawrence of having a “self esteem issue.”
Loesch also claimed that Manning was given “preferential treatment” and an “unnecessary surgery” when she received hormone therapy while in prison. In reality, hormone therapy is medically necessary, and to say otherwise simply serves to dismiss the health needs of transgender women.
Former Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Guilfoyle has repeatedly used her platform as a Fox News host to make misogynistic and demeaning remarks, and she has spoken out in support of street harassment.
In a bizarre 2014 endorsement of catcalling, Guilfoyle defended street harassment by arguing that society should “let men be men” and insisting that “men are going to be that way.”
Later in the same year, during a discussion about women voting, Guilfoyle asserted that “young women on juries are not a good idea” because “they don’t get it.” She went on to contend that they’d be better of going “back on Tinder or Match.com.”
Guilfoyle has also derided women who have abortions in the third trimester as “selfish and disgusting,” even though women who receive abortions that late in their pregnancies do so because of serious concern for the fetus or their own health and are thus often forced to make heartbreaking and terrifying medical decisions.
Katie Pavlich is an editor at the conservative outlet Townhall as well as a Fox News contributor. Pavlich has a history of using insensitive rhetoric and spreading misinformation about sexual assault as well as a tendency to espouse sexist tropes. In 2015, Pavlich gave a disastrous speech on sexual assault at Iowa State University, during which she insulted sexual abuse survivors and spread misinformation about the realities of sexual assault on campuses.
During the Iowa event, Pavlich argued that the incidence of sexual assaults on college campuses had been exaggerated and advanced the evidence-free notion that allowing students to carry concealed guns on college campuses could reduce sexual assault (the NRA is a sponsor of TPUSA’s Young Women’s Leadership Summit). She also made the wildly insulting claim that "lots of the time" women "make a decision about whether you are going to stop a sexual assault or not" before it happens and sarcastically apologized while disagreeing with a woman who shared that she was sexually assaulted as a child.
In 2016, Pavlich “guarantee[d]” that Russian President Vladimir Putin and “the Saudis” would find then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s voice “grating.”
Many of the speakers invited to TPUSA’s summit have served as Trump apologists, but perhaps none have done so as consistently as Republican National Committee spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany. In her constant defense of Trump’s sexist and violent rhetoric, McEnany has demonstrated her own indifference toward the sexism and abuse that women often face at the hands of powerful men.
McEnany defended Trump in the aftermath of the release of the Access Hollywood video, which contains Trump’s claims that when he sees a “beautiful woman” he will “just kiss” them and not “even wait” to speak to them first. The video also features Trump saying that “when you’re a star… you can do anything,” including grabbing women “by the pussy.” McEnany claimed that she didn’t “think [Trump] was condoning sexual assault.”
Fox’s Tomi Lahren has built a career out of making unapologetically cruel and anti-feminist rants. She has a long history of attacking women and empowerment movements, including during a speech at the 2016 TPUSA summit.
During her 2016 YWLS speech, Lahren attacked various groups of women and derided modern day feminism. About liberal women, she told the crowd, “You notice the difference between a conservative women’s conference and a liberal women’s conference, because y’all dress like women.” In reference to Hillary Clinton, she proclaimed, “Don’t tell Hillary, but you can wear a dress and still be a woman,” and then she called both Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) “men” based on the clothes they wear. She accused actress Lena Dunham of making false rape accusations, and she commented that Dunham was “somewhere getting undressed on HBO” and “no one wants to see that.” She described feminists as “barely women,” and she described the modern-day feminist movement as “all about “gimme -- it’s gimme this, gimme this.”
On another occasion, during a particularly vicious tirade, she described modern-day feminism as “the dumbest load of hypocritical crap ever masqueraded as an equality movement.”
In an interview with Playboy, in which she described feminism as “bad,” she implied that feminism attempts to simplify women into “wanting free abortions or free birth control, and by using a false statistic like the 77 cents on the dollar bullshit.”
In another instance, she slightly tweaked her previous definition of the feminist movement, arguing that feminism is in fact “about man-bashing & free birth control.”
Lahren once claimed female activists attending a planned “Day Without Women” protest were not “real women.” According to Lahren, “Real women don’t have to remind the world every single day that history once slighted us. Real women don’t wake up and skip work to march for abortions or paid contraceptives.” She added that she wasn’t sure about “a day without women, but I could use a day without this nasty feminist BS masqueraded as women’s rights.”
Lahren condemned the 2017 Women’s March as a “vulgar display of hate and bitterness” and “a giant temper tantrum clogging our streets and hurting our ears and eyes.” She condemned the protesters themselves as “actual mean girls” and opined, “If only these marchers put this much time/effort into their families & life choices. Perhaps then they wouldn't have to glorify abortion.”
She complained about girls being allowed into the Boy Scouts.
The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro frequently misinforms his audiences about the obstacles women face, demeans and attacks transgender women, and serves as a reliable source of misogynistic commentary on multiple issues.
Shapiro has repeatedly denied the existence of a gender wage gap (once again, it's real). When actor Jennifer Lawrence discussed her experience with pay inequality, Shapiro claimed she was just “whining about a bad contract.”
He has dismissed the impact that having children has on women’s earnings potential.
Shapiro is against women serving in combat positions, tweeting: “Women SHOULD NOT register for the draft. National service is one thing. Combat? Come the hell on.”
He has claimed that “fewer women are interested in getting into tech because of all of the demands of work-life balance.”
In response to the 2015 edition of MTV’s Video Music Awards, Shapiro tweeted: “Feminism is apparently the proposition that women are empowered by showing their breasts, but men are sexists for looking at them. #VMAs”
Shapiro has launched numerous attacks against planned Parenthood, claimed that women who seek abortions are “kill[ing] their own children,” and denied that medical care received by pregnant women is part of “women’s health.”
TPUSA’s communications director, Candace Owens, is a vicious critic of the #MeToo movement. She has attacked its leaders and maliciously defamed and insulted victims of abuse. Owens has also maligned feminism and she often promotes sexist and demeaning tropes.
Owens has been a vocal critic of the #MeToo movement, which has helped elevate the voices of people who have experienced abuse and has led to the rightful downfall of numerous abusive men. Owens, however, has accused the movement of turning “sexual assault into a trend,” contended that its premise is that “women are stupid, weak & inconsequential,” and claimed the movement is at fault for men who won’t hire women. Owens’ attacks on #MeToo were so tone deaf and clueless that even conservative women condemned them, causing at least one conservative organization to pull out of the conference, and leading TPUSA’s Kirk to beseech attendees not to attack Owens publicly.
Owens also wrote that the “entire #metoo” movement was evidence of how “vicious and cunning women can be when they feel scorned.”
She argued that the leaders of the movement “were at one time willing to trade sex for career advancements” and accused them of leading a “political witch hunt.”
Owen’s has promised that her 2018 TPUSA speech will center on why she “hate[s] the #metoo movement.”
She has accused “modern feminism” of “singlehandedly (sic) deteriorating relationships and eventual motherhood” and argued that feminists “hate men” and are “miserable.” She also claimed that “if you believe in equality between men and women, you cannot be a feminist today.”
Owens has perpetuated sexist tropes with such statements as “Women are naturally jealous creatures. It’s not a trait they grow out of, they just get better at hiding it.”
She once relayed the “interesting theory” that “something bio-chemically happens to women who don’t marry and/or have children” to her Twitter followers. She offered comedians Chelsea Handler, Kathy Griffin, and Sarah Silverman as “evidentiary support.” In a similar vein, she noted that “the most vicious perpetuators of modern feminism almost never have any children.”
Right-wing YouTube star and Canadian professor Jordan Peterson advances a philosophy that demonizes and demeans women, refuses to respect the needs of transgender women, and shares videos that have been described as a gateway into the “alt-right” for men suffering from depression.
Peterson has argued for a hierarchical system built around gender and has condescendingly claimed that those who view our culture as an “oppressive patriarchy” simply don’t want to “admit” that the “current hierarchy might be predicated on competence.”
During a discussion about the “incel” (short for involuntarily celibate) who murdered 10 people in Toronto, Canada, at least in part because of his antipathy toward women, Peterson suggested that the “cure” for violent men is “enforced monogamy” to ensure that lower-status men get to have sex with women.
Peterson has argued that “conscientious and agreeable women” are more likely to prioritize their families over their work.
He has questioned whether “feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance?” and asked, “Is it possible that young women are so outraged because they are craving infant contact in a society that makes that very difficult?”
He warned against women trying to “usurp” men.
Peterson ardently rejects the right of transgender people to be called by their prefered pronouns and insists that calling people by the pronouns they prefer won’t “do [them] any good in the long run.” In reality, misgendering is a cruel and dangerous act.
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National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch cited reporting about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) low penalty rate for firearms dealers who have violated the law, to disingenuously attack getting “the government involved,” because it’s not “doing their job.” But, Loesch ignored that the NRA championed a law that restricts the ATF's ability to regulate the sale of firearms and makes it extremely difficult for the bureau to take action against non-compliant arms dealers.
During the June 4 edition of her NRATV program Relentless, Loesch pointed to a June 3 New York Times article reporting that there were “11,000 inspections of licensed firearm dealers in the year starting in October 2016” and “more than half were cited for violations” but “less than 1 percent” actually lost their licenses. Loesch said these violations “should have resulted in actions by the agency” and that the government, which is “tasked with protecting innocents,” is “ultimately [falling] short of doing that job”:
DANA LOESCH (HOST): We’re told over and over that the solutions to all of the problems related to all forms of violence is to ban all of the things and to get the government involved. In fact, one of the favorite pastimes of the progressive left is to claim that they don’t want to repeal the Second Amendment, they just want the quote, unquote “universal background checks,” or to make sure gun sellers are held accountable for breaking the law.
LOESCH: All of these solutions depend on the government doing its job, but the problem is that they aren’t doing their job. The New York Times is reporting that the ATF, quote, “regularly find violations of the law, ranging from minor record-keeping errors to illegal sales of firearms.” But the ATF rarely does anything about it or at least does very little. According to this report, out of the 11,000 inspections of firearms dealers, more than half had violations that should have resulted in actions by the agency but in the end, less than 1 percent resulted in any real serious consequences like a loss of a license. Combine this with the failures of the FBI to follow up on leads or federal bureaucracies that have failed to, in any way, communicate with one another in order to prevent a prohibited possessor from purchasing a firearm, as happened in Sutherland Springs, as happened in Charleston, the same disturbing picture that we saw unfold in Parkland appears. A government, tasked with protecting innocents yet preventing us from protecting ourselves, and then they ultimately fall short of doing that job.
While the Times article claimed that many ATF “supervisors downgraded recommendations that the stores’ licenses be revoked,” it also noted the bureau is tasked with proving “that store owners not only violated the law but intended to do so,” which dealers “would almost certainly appeal.”
Loesch neglected to mention that the NRA actively supported the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act, which mandated that the ATF prove a firearms dealer is “willfully” breaking the law when selling to a prohibited person, limited the agency to inspecting over 135,000 active federal firearms licensees once a year, and mandated that the bureau reduce the penalty for inadequate records of firearms acquisition and sale from a felony to a misdemeanor.
On the nearly 25th anniversary of the 1986 law, NRA-Institute For Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm, cheered the passing of the bill as the moment “the gun rights movement really came into its own” and “NRA-ILA and other pro-gun groups … earned their spurs.”
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After nearly every school shooting, right-wing media scramble to find reasons why guns should not be blamed for gun violence.
After 10 people were killed during a mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, TX, pro-gun proselytizers in the conservative media sphere insisted that gun safety laws would not have prevented the shooting and instead pointed to other aspects of American culture that they said required reform. Here are some of the excuses right-wing pundits offered for the May 18 shooting:
In February, after the school shooting in Parkland, FL, claimed 17 lives, conservative media took the very same approach: