After ducking the controversy over National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel," NRA leaders at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference tried to shield the organization from the fallout over those comments.
While some NRA supporters criticized Nugent, three NRA board members sought to downplay his actions and his connection to their organization, suggesting he isn't viewed mainly as an NRA representative or brushing the controversy off as unimportant.
Nugent issued the slur during a January interview, but the comments received new interest last month when Nugent campaigned with Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. Following days of negative coverage for both Abbott and Nugent, including condemnations from GOP leaders, Nugent offered a half-hearted apology, though "not necessarily to the president," for his "subhuman mongrel" comment. He then attacked Obama as a lying, law-breaking racist who engages in Nazi tactics.
Former NRA president and current board member David Keene said the "subhuman mongrel" comments do not reflect on the gun-rights organization because "Ted is seen as Ted more than as an NRA board member."
Grover Norquist, another NRA board member, said the comments were "not a good idea," but added they are not bad enough to hurt the NRA's image because Nugent is viewed differently than other NRA leaders.
"He's a rock star and people know he's talking as him and he is talking outrageously," Norquist said following a CPAC "meet and greet" he hosted for fans. "If an establishment Republican said that, you'd go, 'whoa Nellie.' Rock stars and hip hop artists are cut some slack in American society."
Despite their attempts to suggest Nugent's comments don't reflect directly on the NRA, as a musician and conservative commentator, Nugent is to many the public face of the organization. He has had a longstanding relationship with the group, serving on its board of directors since 1995. In the group's 2013 board elections Nugent was second only to Fox News contributor Oliver North for most votes in favor of reelection.
After the 2012 meeting, Nugent drew the attention of the Secret Service for saying he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected as president. An NRA memo indicated that he was paid $50,000 by the group for a "spoken presentation" in 2011. Nugent has also recorded the song "I Am The NRA," which includes the lyrics: "If you hate tyrants and dictators and are ready to give freedom a whirl/Celebrate the NRA and the shot heard round the world."
Oliver North denied knowing about the "subhuman mongrel" comments during an interview at CPAC. He accused Media Matters of trying to instigate criticism from him. Questioned at CPAC's radio row, North said, "I'm not necessarily sure how to take your word for what he said since I didn't hear it I am not going to comment about it."
The New York Times used the upcoming 2014 congressional elections to revive the lazy analysis that candidates who support stronger gun laws will be punished at the polls.
Since the 1994 election, the media -- often aided by flawed analysis from Democrats -- have baselessly claimed that an all-powerful National Rifle Association will motivate angry voters to defeat candidates who defy them.
This week the Times revived this tired claim when it suggested that the Democratic push for gun violence prevention is a political loser for the party:
Generally, however, the Democrats' Senate majority is at risk, which helps explain why the party has not tried to revive gun-safety legislation proposed after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. Few issues have hurt Democrats more among working-class white men over time.
While the Senate has not revived its gun-safety legislation after it failed to clear a procedural vote despite the support of 55 senators, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he plans to bring the bill back to the floor in 2014. Moreover, the Times' lazy analysis about the current political impact of stronger gun laws is simply unfounded.
Democratic Gun Policy Has Overwhelming Public Support. The policy that most Senate Democrats voted for in 2013 -- expanding the background check system to cover almost all gun sales - is incredibly popular with voters of all demographics, garnering support of up to 90 percent of respondents in several polls, even in deep red states. Even strong majorities of Republicans support the passage of the Senate bill.
Gun Safety Opponents Took A Political Hit After The Legislation Was Blocked. Senators of both parties who opposed the background check bill saw their political standing decline in the wake of their votes, including Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) -- who became "one of the most unpopular Senators in the country" after he told the mother of a victim of the Aurora theater shooting that he supported expanded background checks then voted against the bill -- along with Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). In each case, between 36 percent and 52 percent of voters said they'd be less likely to support their senator because of their vote.
Little Evidence Shows Guns Are An Electoral Loser For Democrats. While the myth that the NRA is capable of punishing Democrats who support stronger gun laws has been bandied about for two decades, a closer look at electoral results reveals that the group's impact is minimal. After reviewing the results of every House and Senate race in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010, Paul Waldman determined that both the NRA's endorsement and its spending has virtually no impact on congressional election results. And despite spending more than it ever had before in 2012, the NRA's chosen candidates were devastated. The NRA failed to achieve its main goal, the defeat of President Obama, and also backed the losing Senate candidate in six out of its top seven targeted races. Over two-thirds of House incumbents who lost their seats were endorsed by the NRA. One study found that less than one percent of $10,536,106 spent by an NRA political group went to races where the NRA-backed candidate won.
A Pro-Gun Safety Candidate Won Virginia's Governorship in 2013. The 2013 gubernatorial elections provided an excellent test case for the theory that support for sensible gun laws damages Democratic candidates. In Virginia, a quintessential swing state in the South, Democrat Terry McAuliffe ran on his support of expanded background checks and defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who opposed that policy. Guns were a major issue in the campaign, to the surprise of media observers who considered it a loser for McAuliffe -- shortly before the election, The Washington Post wrote of him, "For once, a Democrat is talking tough about gun control, as if daring the National Rifle Association to take him on." McAuliffe wasn't the only Virginia Democrat to win statewide while championing stronger gun laws. After Mark Herring was elected Virginia's Attorney General, his campaign manager attributed the victory to ignoring the conventional wisdom and running on Herring's "strong record and advocacy for sensible gun legislation." Both Democrats withstood hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending from the NRA.
It is no secret that National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre is known to use over-the-top conspiratorial and paranoid rhetoric to make it appear that the NRA is constantly locked in a life or death struggle to save America from nefarious forces -- while also raising a few dollars in the process.
LaPierre offered more of the same at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where he fearmongered about large-scale societal collapse and attacks by terrorists, "knockout gamers" and "haters." According to LaPierre, Americans are buying guys because "sooner or later reckless government actions and policies have consequences." Even worse, opponents of the NRA are purportedly supporting Hillary Clinton for president "to finish the job, to fulfill their commitment, their dream, of fundamentally transforming America. Into an America that I guarantee you won't recognize." In typical fashion, LaPierre positioned the NRA as salvation for a collapsing America, promising the gun rights organization "will not go quietly into the night."
Here are five over-the-top moments from LaPierre's speech:
1. LaPierre On America Becoming Too Dangerous For Children To Play Outside
"All across America, everywhere I go, people come up to me, and they say, 'Wayne, I've never been worried about this country until now.' And they say it not with anger, but they say it with sadness in their eyes. 'I've never been worried about this country until now.' We're worried about the economic crisis choking our budgets and shrinking our retirement, we're worried about providing decent healthcare and a college education for our own children. We fear for the safety of our families. It's why neighborhood streets that were once filled with bicycles and skateboards and laughter in the air now sit empty and silent. In virtually every way, for the things we care about most, we feel profound loss. We're sad, not because we fear something is going wrong, but because we know something already has gone wrong."
Speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, conservative columnist Ken Blackwell, who also holds leadership positions at the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Family Research Council (FRC), used health care reform to compare the Obama administration to a "totalitarian" or "authoritarian" regime and conspiratorially claimed that Obamacare was designed to "destroy the family" and "silence the church."
Blackwell, Ohio's former Secretary of State, sits on the NRA's public affairs committee and has served on the organization's board of directors. He is also the Senior Fellow for Family Empowerment at FRC, an organization designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-gay hate group.
When asked about the "unintended consequences" of Obamacare during a panel discussion titled "Healthcare After Obamacare: A Practical Guide for Living When No One Has Insurance and America Runs Out of Doctors," Blackwell spoke of a "deliberate strategy by the Obama administration to fundamentally take over that section of our economy" before comparing the current administration to an oppressive regime:
From CPAC 2014:
BLACKWELL: It is really hard for me to talk about unintended consequences around Obamacare because I actually think the consequences that we are experiencing are part of a deliberate strategy by the Obama administration to fundamentally take over that section of our economy.
BLACKWELL: Probably from their stand point, they've assumed -- they have assumed that the American people are asleep at the switch and what CPAC and organizations that are affiliated with this forum know that American people are wide awake and we are brighter than the administration gives us credit for. Look, if you go back over the whole span of human history and you look at authoritarian regimes, totalitarian regimes, or big welfare states had to do a couple of things, they've had to destroy the family and they've had to silence the church.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is fundraising for Republican Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo weeks after Texas gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott caused a firestorm of controversy for campaigning with Nugent after the NRA figurehead made a racist comment about President Obama.
According to a March 4 article in The Colorado Independent, Nugent sent a fundraising e-mail on behalf of Tancredo that asked for donations of $25 or more to be entered into a raffle for an AR-15 assault weapon. In a letter addressed to "Real Americans," Nugent warned that "Barack Obama and his radical America-hating leftist goons are perilously close to taking away our guns and nullifying the Second Amendment." According to Nugent, "Tom Tancredo is running for Governor in one of the most anti-gun states in the union, so he urgently needs our help. That's why we're giving away a free AR-15 to a fellow gung-ho supporter." Nugent praised Tancredo for "opposing President Bush's wasteful spending spree, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and of course, insane infringements to our sacred Second Amendment rights."
Nugent also sent a fundraising email for Tancredo in December where he wrote, "[L]ike you, I'm terrified by where Barack Obama and his radical America hating leftist goons are leading this great country."
Nugent's presence on the campaign trial recently caused headaches for a different Republican gubernatorial candidate. In Texas, Greg Abbott received widespread criticism for hosting campaign events with Nugent, who is also a spokesman for the Outdoor Channel, after Nugent recently termed Obama a "subhuman mongrel." Abbott was also widely criticized for campaigning with someone who had made numerous profane and derogatory comments about women, including calling Hillary Clinton a "toxic cunt" and "worthless bitch." Even prominent members of the GOP condemned Nugent, with Arizona Sen. John McCain adding, "That kind of thing is beyond the pale, and I hope that our candidate down there learned a lesson." Nugent eventually offered a disingenuous apology -- "not necessarily to the president" -- for his "subhuman mongrel" comment and Abbott stated publicly he had no plans to hold future events with Nugent.
Nugent's fundraising comes as Tancredo -- known for his hardline stance on immigration -- recently reversed his longtime vow to never campaign in Spanish. Nugent, however, is well known for his hateful and violent rhetoric against immigrants.
Facebook has announced new policies that aim to prevent illegal gun sales through the social media website, following a petition campaign by gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
In a March 5 posting, Facebook says it will post language where firearms transactions are set up that "clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations." Facebook will also limit postings about gun sales to users over the age of 18. Moms Demand Action reportedly entered into "formal discussions" with Facebook in February.
During the petition campaign, the National Rifle Association's media arm attempted to discredit Moms Demand Action by falsely claiming that the group's campaign sought to ban any gun-related speech on Facebook.
On the March 4 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company host Cam Edwards said it was "true" that Moms Demand Action was moving to "ban" pro-Second Amendment speech on Facebook. Edwards claimed that Moms Demand Action wanted to ban "a conversation" and suggested that the group sought to "ban fan pages or pages related to guns and the Second Amendment." Edwards concluded by claiming that Moms Demand Action are "not just anti-Second Amendment, oh no. Apparently they have issues with the First Amendment too."
On his radio show, also called Cam & Company, Edwards claimed on March 4 that there's a "real push" on "the left right now" for "a war on the idea of freedom of speech." He added, "For the left -- supposedly espouses tolerance and acceptance of others -- man there's a lot of oppression and intolerance I'm seeing these days."
Edwards' claims greatly mischaracterized the goals of the Moms Demand Action campaign. Furthermore the First Amendment constrains the government's restriction of speech, not a private company like Facebook. The social media network is free to create policies that seek to limit behavior it finds unacceptable, as it has already done through other community standards. (Right-wing media frequently misinterpret the First Amendment to accuse businesses of victimizing conservatives.)
Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano made the evidence-free claim that Attorney General Eric Holder personally approved low-level Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) undercover stings that have recently come under criticism because of their use of faulty investigative techniques.
ATF storefront sting operations -- where undercover law enforcement agents set up sketchy storefronts to attract drugs and firearms which are then taken off the street -- came under scrutiny in January 2013 with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's investigative reporting on a Milwaukee sting known as Operation Fearless. According to the Journal Sentinel, Operation Fearless "resulted in a string of mistakes and failures, including an ATF military-style machine gun landing on the streets of Milwaukee and the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen from its store." A follow-up report identified six other problematic storefront stings conducted by ATF.
The ATF has acknowledged flaws in the storefront sting process and has issued new guidelines that aim to prevent future debacles. At the same time ATF has also pointed to more than 250 convictions obtained and over 1,300 firearms recovered as a result of the stings. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is also conducting a review of four of the 37 undercover storefront operations conducted by ATF. The ATF is cooperating with the investigation and currently has no active storefront sting operations.
Fox News is trying to pin the blame for the failed stings on Holder. On the March 4 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy introduced the idea of Holder's supposed involvement in the stings by stating, "So it's a dumb idea, it's a bad idea, it's an illegal proposition. Okay, who's at the head of the Department of Justice? Eric Holder. Would this have been approved by him?"
Napolitano replied, "I don't know personally if it was approved by him, but it's almost inconceivable after Fast and Furious that something of this magnitude could happen without him knowing. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he had to approve it because it involved too much expenditure of money and too much manpower. They set it up in 40 different cities."
This baseless accusation is the latest attempt by Fox News to use failed ATF law enforcement operations as a way to bludgeon Holder.
Conservative website The Daily Caller published in its entirety an over-the-top fundraising pitch from National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre that suggested the only way to save America is to buy an NRA membership.
The March 3 column posted in the Caller's "Guns and Gear" section included the phone number for an NRA membership hotline and a link to a website where Caller readers can purchase a discounted NRA membership:
Like other material published by the NRA at the Caller, the fundraising pitch was filled with paranoid rhetoric based on the conspiracy theory that the Obama administration is plotting to confiscate privately owned firearms.
Controversy surrounding Republican Texas gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott's decision to campaign with National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent -- after Nugent called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" -- demonstrates how far-right media figures can damage the GOP brand.
While the Abbott campaign initially feigned ignorance of Nugent's hateful and alienating rhetoric, the "subhuman mongrel" slur received substantial media attention when it was made public in January.
As the controversy unfolded, Nugent, who is also a spokesman for the Outdoor Channel, was also widely derided for his profane and derogatory descriptions of women, leading some to point out that Abbott's campaign decision was at odds with the GOP's purported plan to provide better outreach to women and minorities.
A look back at the how the story progressed is below.
The National Rifle Association's Connecticut lobbyist detailed a plan to remove from office lawmakers who voted for bipartisan gun safety legislation following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and boastfully suggested that the NRA was responsible for the decision of two pro-gun safety legislators not to run for reelection this year.
The NRA's claims about being able to influence the outcome of elections -- often advanced by a lazy media conventional wisdom -- are overstated. In fact research has shown that the NRA's endorsement and campaign contributions have little impact on the outcomes of elections, clearly evidenced by the NRA's disastrous 2012 federal election spending where more than 95 percent of $18 million spent by the NRA went to elections where the NRA-backed candidate lost.
Appearing on an NRA News program, the NRA's Connecticut state liaison Anna Kopperud said that 2014 will be "the year where we pick up our baggage and move forward" and spoke of a need to "correct some of the wrongs that we saw last year" following the enactment of gun safety legislation in the state.
While requiring background checks on gun sales is overwhelmingly popular with the general public, members of conservative media have used false statements and paranoid rhetoric to fight legislation to require checks for more than 20 years.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, commonly known as the Brady Bill or Brady Act. Signed by President Clinton in 1993 after a multi-year legislative effort, the law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on customers to prevent felons and other dangerous people from acquiring firearms. While a legal challenge invalidated a waiting period requirement in the Brady Bill created so local law enforcement could process background checks, in 1998 the FBI-administered National Instant Criminal Background Check System was launched, allowing gun dealers to perform often instantaneous background checks on customers. Since then, the law has stopped more than 2 million gun sales to prohibited individuals.
The law derives its name from President Ronald Reagan's press secretary Jim Brady, who was shot and seriously injured during an assassination attempt on Reagan on March 30, 1981, at the Washington Hilton. Reagan was shot in the chest and arm and underwent lifesaving emergency surgery. In a 1991 letter published in The New York Times, Reagan ruminated on the anniversary of the 1981 shooting, writing, "This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now -- the Brady bill -- had been law back in 1981." Jim and his wife Sarah Brady continue to advocate for gun violence prevention polices through their close work with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
PolitiFact reports that National Rifle Association board member and Outdoor Channel spokesperson Ted Nugent exaggerated his law enforcement credentials, which included his claim that he is "a cop in Lake County, Michigan" and that he "conduct[s] federal raids with the DEA and ATF and U.S. Marshals and the FBI and Texas Rangers."
In giving Nugent's claims a "pants on fire" designation, PolitiFact said none of the agencies mentioned by Nugent confirmed his participation in raids. The Texas Rangers issued a flat denial, telling PolitiFact, "In regards to your question about the Texas Rangers, that did not occur." The ATF, the federal agency tasked with enforcing gun laws, said "[w]e are not aware of him conducting any raids with us." The U.S. Marshals confirmed that Nugent had shot footage of a ride-along in 2005 when a raid was conducted for his Spirit of the Wild TV show, but that civilian observers of raids "cannot go with us into private residences."
PolitiFact concluded, "He is not a cop in Michigan by any conventional meaning of the word. No agency said that he presently plays any role in any of their raids."
While PolitiFact only rated Nugent's claims about his law enforcement credentials that were made during a recent appearance on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront, Nugent has also previously claimed that for decades he has received "official" training from elite military units.
Media covering the controversy over Republican Texas gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott's decision to campaign with inflammatory National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent are touting a poll showing Abbott with an 11 point lead as proof that Nugent has not hurt Abbott's campaign. But data collection for the poll ended on February 17, a day before the Nugent-Abbott controversy first received widespread attention.
On February 18, the day Nugent made two campaign appearances with Abbott, the Texas Democratic Party condemned Abbott for campaigning with someone who had recently called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel." A week-long media firestorm ensued that included condemnations of Nugent from prominent GOP figures, a disingenuous apology from Nugent, and a contentious appearance by Nugent on CNN.
On February 24, University of Texas/Texas Tribune released a poll conducted between February 7 and 17 showing Abbott leading likely opponent Democrat Wendy Davis 47 percent to 36 percent. 17 percent of voters were undecided in the poll. Notably, the polling covers a period when Davis was receiving largely negative press coverage because of a right-wing media smear campaign about her biography.
Still, members of the media have erroneously used the polling to offer insights about the impact of the Nugent controversy on the Texas governor's race.
From the February 25 edition of KFTK's The Dana Show:
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Facing widespread denouncement for calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel," Ted Nugent is promising to stop calling people names -- but with his promise still hanging in the air, Nugent labeled Obama a "liar" and suggested that the president is a criminal.
The NRA board member's promise came during an appearance on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront, where Nugent attempted to mitigate the firestorm surrounding his description of Obama as a "subhuman mongrel" and his subsequent (hollow) apology, which were criticized by politicians of both parties and some in the media. Nugent was originally scheduled to discuss this firestorm with Burnett last week, but, citing an illness, he canceled the appearance -- after comparing CNN to a Nazi propagandist.
On February 24, Burnett began the interview by asking Nugent to confirm that he apologized to the president for his remark. Nugent dodged the question, instead simply saying that he was sorry for "being part of that political discourse" with "street language." The interview went downhill from there.
Nugent claimed that "the president is intentionally disassembling the greatest quality of life in the history of the world" before concluding, "the president's a bad man."
According to Nugent, there was nothing racial about his "subhuman mongrel" attack. Nugent alleged that such an idea is "crap," as there is "not a racist bone in body." (For reference, Nugent previously argued that African-Americans could fix "the black problem" if they just put their "heart and soul into being honest, law-abiding, [and] delivering excellence at every move in your life." He's also written that "I'm beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War" and that "black communities across America" have a "mindless tendency to violence.")