The right-wing media's conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was hatched as a nefarious plot by the Obama administration to impose draconian gun control upon the United States has been debunked by an independent investigation into the failed gun trafficking sting.
According to a report issued by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, there is "no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization." This is consistent with a June 2011 report by Republican congressional staff, which found that "The operation's goal was to establish a nexus between straw purchasers of assault-style weapons in the United States and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) operating on both sides of the United States-Mexico border." From the OIG report (emphasis added):
ATF's Phoenix Field Division, together with the U.S. Attorney's Office, bore primary responsibility for the conduct of Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. While we found no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization, we concluded that the conduct and supervision of the investigations was significantly flawed. For reasons described in Chapters Three and Four, the Phoenix and Tucson offices adopted and adhered to a strategy that deferred taking overt action against subjects, even when evidence of the illegality of the purchasing activity was overwhelming, and we concluded, did so without adequate consideration of how that strategy placed the public at risk and what measures could be taken to minimize that risk. Further, as the case progressed, there was no discussion about whether the goals of the investigation should yield to what should have been an imperative to end the firearms trafficking taking place.
The Inspector General also specifically found no link between Operation Fast and Furious and plans to regulate firearms. According to the report, there is "no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation." The report also found that then-Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson did not use Fast and Furious as a justification for an ATF-backed reporting requirement for the sale of multiple assault rifles that went into effect in August 2011. From the report (emphasis added):
Melson told the OIG that the impetus for the long gun reporting requirement came from him, though he could not recall the date that he asked his staff to pursue the matter. He also stated that when he discussed the long gun reporting requirement with staff at ATF Headquarters, "[n]o one ever suggested that [Operation Fast and Furious] was being done for purposes of supporting our position on the long guns," and that he did not make any decisions concerning the case in order to increase the likelihood that the long gun reporting requirement would be implemented. We found no evidence that contradicted Melson's statements to us concerning the long gun reporting requirement; and no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation.
This report directly contradicts baseless claims made about Fast and Furious by members of the right-wing media and National Rifle Association leadership.
It has been more than three years since a conservative campaign waged in the media and in the capital hounded a decorated analyst named Daryl Johnson out of his job at the Department of Homeland Security. That campaign, sparked by a leaked report Johnson authored on the increased threat of right-wing domestic terrorism, was an early and telling flashpoint in the Obama administration's fraught relationship with the right. There is a neat political symmetry, then, in Johnson's return to Washington this week in the waning months of the president's term.
On Wednesday, Johnson will speak to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the topic of "Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism," delivering the same warning that made him a prominent right-wing whipping boy during the early days of the Tea Party. In a sad reminder of Johnson's vindication, a survivor of last month's Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting will join him on the panel.
If Johnson's exchange with elected officials this week does not involve some sort of apology or contrition, it should. Following the release of his report, DHS slashed staff assigned to studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, which Johnson says led to his own resignation. The years since this inelegant end to Johnson's public service career are pockmarked with acts of non-Islamic domestic violence -- violence defined by the exact characteristics listed in Johnson's report.
That April 2009 report, written under the imprimatur of DHS' Department of Intelligence and Analysis and running nine bullet-point pages, was brief but sober. Using recent history as his guide, Johnson argued that the sharp economic downturn triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, in combination with the election of the country's first black president and intensifying debates over immigration, gun control, and abortion, all set the stage for an uptick in violent right-wing extremism. Citing the growth of the militia movement in the 1990s that culminated in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (until 9/11 the worst act of terrorism committed on U.S. soil) he implied that the agency's near all-absorbing focus on al Qaeda and Islamic terror was misplaced.
Leak of the report to the notorious birther website WorldNetDaily produced what appeared to be a well-coordinated furor on the right. Newt Gingrich called for Johnson's firing. Rep. Peter King called for hearings on Obama's DHS. Leading conservative senators penned letters of protest. And the conservative media responded as if martial law had been declared on July 4.
In retrospect, the timing of the media attack on Johnson looks significant. His report, entitled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment", was leaked in early April of 2009, when the Tea Party movement was in boost phase. The contents of Johnson's warning did not concern non-violent activism around taxation or policy issues, as even a cursory reading made clear. But a conservative funhouse-mirror version of the report was a perfect match for the Tea Party scene's persecution complex and band-of-rebels self-image, in which ordinary Americans were being forced to organize in defense of the last shreds of American freedom.
Leading right-wing media figures grasped this. They hyped and excoriated the DHS report as a sign of the Obama administration's master plan to smear and repress his conservative opposition. Although Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is the only proper name mentioned in the report, and although DHS had previously issued reports on violent leftwing extremism, T-shirts and signs proudly proclaiming "domestic terrorist" soon emerged as staples of the Tea Party scene.
During an appearance on NRA News, Jim Wallace, the executive director of Gun Owners' Action League, the state firearms association of Massachusetts, suggested that strict gun laws did nothing to curb gun violence in his home state of Massachusetts. Wallace, who is also a candidate in this year's National Rifle Association Board of Directors elections, went on to deny that crime guns are trafficked into Massachusetts from states with weaker laws.
To the contrary, trace data made available by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) indicates that the majority of crime guns traced in Massachusetts originate from states with lax gun laws.
During the segment, Wallace also referenced supposed attempts by the media to "hype up" the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and a July 20 massacre at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead and scores injured. From the September 14 edition of Cam & Company:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: Because even in Massachusetts running explicitly on a "we need more gun control platform," I mean if that's your campaign you're gonna be facing an uphill battle? Is that--?
JIM WALLACE, GUN OWNERS' ACTION LEAGUE: Oh, absolutely. There is no doubt about it. You know the one thing that has been helpful -- and I don't know if [Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs executive director] Scott [Bach] has seen it as much as I have, I know we have talked about it-- is that no matter how much the general media tries to hype up issues like what happened in Florida with Trayvon Martin and so forth and in Colorado, for the most part, unless they are rabidly ignorant, the general public really gets this now--
WALLACE: --that random acts of stupid violence like this are occurring because of the people that we're allowing on our city streets. They are not occurring because guns are supposedly easily accessible. They understand for the most part now that times have changed, they've lived through in Massachusetts almost a decade and a half of severe gun control--
WALLACE: --with incomprehensible laws. And gun crime has gone up. So what do we do from there? "Oh, we blame New Hampshire," says the Mayor [of Boston Tom Menino]. Well, you know New Hampshire's crime rate is pretty low, mayor, so where are you going to go? I remember one time debating one of the mayor's people on the radio and he said, "Well, you know, we have the strict laws here, but it's the other states that are the problem." And they said, "You know people can go across the border to New Hampshire and legally buy guns." Well first of all that's incorrect. There are 13 legal steps you have to go through to get a gun from New Hampshire to Massachusetts.
WALLACE: But, being that said, you know, he said, "You can go to Georgia and buy them at gun shows." And I said, "So, okay, what you're saying is the mayor has the most loyal criminals in the country. Because they will travel a thousand miles to get a gun, but they will always come home to commit the crime."
WALLACE: So, you know, they are very friendly to criminals in Boston.
From the September 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Loading the player reg...
The Daily Caller has again strayed into ethically murky waters concerning its relationship with the National Rifle Association. A September 5 post in the online publication's "Guns and Gears" section urges its readers to help the NRA identify businesses that may be violating a Texas law forcing most private employers to allow guns on company property.
In fact the post, titled "Texas: Please Help The NRA-ILA Identify Non-Compliance Among Employers on One-Year Anniversary of Texas Parking Lot/Employee Protection Law," is copied verbatim from a NRA Institute for Legislative Action press release.
The Caller is asking its readers to submit evidence of noncompliance, including copies of employee handbooks, directly to the NRA:
In order to comply with this law's provisions, most employers in the state have amended their policies to allow the transportation and storage of firearms in locked, employee-owned motor vehicles parked on company-controlled parking lots. However, the NRA needs your help to ensure that no hard-working, law-abiding Texans remain disenfranchised by employers who refuse to abide by this law. Please notify the NRA-ILA by email of any examples of company policies that continue to violate the spirit and intent of the statute (if possible, please provide a scanned copy of the actual policy from your employee handbook) and any instances of employees being disciplined or terminated under such policies.
Please contact NRA-ILA at SLocal@nrahq.org about alleged violations of this law. We have already received information about companies that are misinterpreting the law or ignoring it altogether. The NRA-ILA will monitor and investigate those situations to ensure that your rights under the Parking Lot/ Employee Protection law are protected. [emphasis in original]
The Associated Press and CNN recently debunked an op-ed featured at The Daily Caller that suggested a recent ammunition purchase by the Social Security Administration evidenced an Obama plot to kill American citizens en masse. The bizarre theory is hardly the first conspiratorial idea to be promoted on the opinion page of The Daily Caller.
The Associated Press has published an article debunking the conspiracy theory that a recent ammunition purchase by the Social Security Administration (SSA) signaled an attempt by the Obama administration to impose tyranny upon the American people. AP reporter Stephen Ohlemacher identified conspiracy website InfoWars.com and the right-wing online publication The Daily Caller as prominent pushers of the theory.
It didn't take long for the Internet to start buzzing with conspiracy theories after the Social Security Administration posted a notice that it was purchasing 174,000 hollow-point bullets.
Why is the agency that provides benefits to retirees, disabled workers, widows and children stockpiling ammunition? Whom are they going to use it on?
"It's not outlandish to suggest that the Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest," the website Infowars.com said.
Another website, The Daily Caller, said the bullets must be for use against American citizens, "since the SSA has never been used overseas to help foreign countries maintain control of their citizens."
The clamor became such a distraction for the agency that it dedicated a website to explaining the purchase. The explanation, it turns out, isn't as tantalizing as an arms buildup to defend against unruly senior citizens.
The bullets are for Social Security's office of inspector general, which has about 295 agents who investigate Social Security fraud and other crimes, said Jonathan L. Lasher, the agency's assistant IG for external relations.
The agents carry guns and make arrests - 589 last year, Lasher said. They execute search warrants and respond to threats against Social Security offices, employees and customers.
Agents carry .357 caliber pistols, Lasher said. The bullets, which add up to about 590 per agent, are for the upcoming fiscal year. Most will be expended on the firing range.
On August 28, Media Matters called attention to a Daily Caller opinion piece by retired U.S. Army Major General Jerry Curry, who theorized that that each piece of ammunition purchased by the SSA "represents a dead American."
Curry speculated that the SSA ammunition could be used in a plot to kill members of the military and replace them with individuals loyal to the president. He then focused on other ammunition purchases by the federal government, suggesting that a larger ammunition purchase by the Department of Homeland Security constituted "enough ammunition to empty five rounds into the body of every living American citizen."
NRA News host Cam Edwards made a number of misleading statements during the August 29 edition of Cam & Company while discussing a call by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) to require a background check for nearly every gun sale in the U.S. Specifically Edwards' claim that MAIG's proposal would cause "an end to private sales of firearms" is blatantly false.
In fact, states with a universal background check law, which aims to prevent gun sales to felons and other prohibited purchasers, allow private individuals to sell firearms, so long as the purchaser undergoes a background check. For example, in California a private seller must conduct his or her sale though a licensed dealer who runs a check on the purchaser.
Twelve states -- Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- have passed laws creating additional requirements for private sellers, including running background checks, without outlawing the practice of private sales. Meanwhile states that allow sales without a background check create a market for widespread criminal activity.
From Cam & Company:
CAM EDWARDS: The advocates who have launched a media campaign in concert with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's group Mayors Against Illegal Guns met with [Attorney General Eric] Holder to push for, quote, "better background checks on the sales of guns, particularly those sold privately and at gun shows."
So in other words they are not calling for, as Politico says, better background checks. They are calling for an end to private sales of firearms. As you know, the gun laws in this country are the same for private citizens at gun shows or at their home. The laws in the country are the same for federally licensed firearms retailers whether they are at their brick-and-mortar store or whether they are manning a table at a gun show. The laws don't change based on the location.
During the August 27 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, producer Cameron Gray facetiously asked Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker if there had been any "crazy shootouts" since Wisconsin loosened its gun laws in July 2011. Gov. Walker stated that "none of the bad things we heard talked about" happened.
The exchange occurred during an interview from the Republican National Convention:
CAMERON GRAY, NRA NEWS PRODUCER: Governor, after you signed concealed carry in Wisconsin -- I was your first interview, it's good to talk to you again -- since then how has the Wild West been? How have the crazy shootouts been? How out of control are the shootings in Wisconsin? [laughter]
GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Well as you can imagine all the hysteria went just the opposite way. Actually, you know one of the most interesting things is when I go to deployments -- deployments of members of the National Guard from Wisconsin -- I get members of the National Guard that come up and thank me for that. And more often than not it's female members of the Guard who come up and thank me. And actually many times they pull out their concealed carrier card and ask me to sign it in person for them. But none of the hysteria, none of the bad things we heard talked about. Instead what we saw was law-abiding citizens having the ability to exercise the right to protect not only themselves but their family and property.
On August 5 a white supremacist fatally shot six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin before committing suicide after being wounded by police. Four others were wounded in the attack.
A recent opinion piece appearing in the Daily Caller which suggests that the federal government is purchasing large amounts of ammunition with the purpose of killing American citizens is so deranged that even the conspiracy-peddling National Rifle Association has debunked the claim.
In the piece, which appears in Daily Caller's Guns and Gear section, retired U.S. Army Major General Jerry Curry wrote that "[p]otentially each hollow nose bullet" purchased by the Social Security Administration for its law enforcement arm "represents a dead American."
He then asked, "If so, why would the U.S. government want the SSA to kill 174,000 of our citizens, even during a time of civil unrest? Or is the purpose to kill 174,000 of the nation's military and replace them with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) special security forces, forces loyal to the [Obama] Administration, not to the Constitution?"
Turning to other ammunition purchases by the federal government, Curry wrote (with emphasis added):
In March DHS ordered 750 million rounds of hollow point ammunition. It then turned around and ordered an additional 750 million rounds of miscellaneous bullets including some that are capable of penetrating walls. This is enough ammunition to empty five rounds into the body of every living American citizen. Is this something we and the Congress should be concerned about? What's the plan that requires so many dead Americans, even during times of civil unrest? Has Congress and the Administration vetted the plan in public.
Obama is a deadly serious, persistent man. Once he focuses on an object, he pursues it to the end. What is his focus here? All of these rounds of ammunition can only be used to kill American citizens, though there is enough ammunition being ordered to kill, in addition to every American citizen, also every Iranian, Syrian or Mexican. There is simply too much of it. And this much ammunition can't be just for training, there aren't that many weapons and "shooters" in the U.S. to fire it. Perhaps it is to be used to arm illegal immigrants?
According to the NRA, which recently responded to Internet rumors about the intended purpose of the ammunition purchases, there is nothing unusual about the amount or type of ammunition being procured by the federal government.
In an August 24 press release, the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) compared the decision by the University of Colorado to house students who wish to carry guns on campus in separate dormitories than non-gun-carrying students to the infamous 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which announced the racist "separate but equal" doctrine.
The University of Colorado may want to check with its law professors on this one. The university system is releasing new Plessy v. Ferguson-like rules that would segregate its gun-owning students from the rest of their peers.
In doing so, the NRA-ILA drew a false equivalence between one of the most widely panned Supreme Court decisions and a school policy designed to prohibit access to firearms for students under the age of 21. While carrying a gun is a decision made by an individual, the law at issue in Plessy discriminated on the basis of the immutable characteristic of race.
Such a comparison by the gun organization minimizes the horror of segregation in America.
In Plessy, the Supreme Court voted 7 to 1 to uphold a Louisiana state law that required African Americans and Caucasians to sit in separate railroad cars while traveling by train. "Separate but equal" would stand for more than fifty years until it was struck down in Brown v. Board of Education.
The rationale behind the decision in Plessy was unabashedly racist; writing for the majority Justice Henry Brown stated that an African American person "is not lawfully entitled to the reputation of being a white man." The court concluded:
We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.
The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition.
The comparison made by the NRA-ILA recalls a tactic by far-right figures to compare Roe v. Wade to the Dred Scott decision that held African Americans were not citizens of the United States and were thus unprotected by the U.S. Constitution.
From the August 24 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player reg...
During an appearance on the August 22 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, guest Anthony Gregory, a research fellow for the Independent Institute, said he finds "it troubling that right after" mass shootings, people would want "an explanation as to why it happened, or how it could be stopped." According to Gregory, mass shootings only constitute only an "occasional tragedy" that cannot be prevented in "an open society."
CAMERON GRAY: You wrote an article in the Washington Times, "Gun control and the security illusion: Laws don't prevent crimes." Of course NRA News we talk about this subject, you know, on a nightly basis. You made points about the Sikh temple shooting, the Aurora, Colorado shooting, and of course every time mass shootings like that come up there is the gun control policy debate that rises up in this country. Tell us about the thesis of your article first of all. And tell us about, you know, what you say to people every time this national debate comes up, whether we need to be banning guns after a mass shooting like this.
ANTHONY GREGORY: Well first of all I tend to find it troubling that right after a massacre like this everyone wants to have an explanation as to why it happened, or how it could be stopped. There is always this big public policy discussion that begins right away. It's not even a few days that people wait before they delve into this.And of course guns are a target in this discussion. Although I was careful in my article to point out that even many pro-gun people can sometimes overstate the case and overstate how much of a panacea ownership might be to prevent these massacres. Because, unfortunately, in an open society you're going to have an occasional tragedy like this, and I don't think there is any way to eliminate them 100 percent. But surely gun control doesn't stop them either. And there are many other problems with gun control. I think gun control exacerbates these types of tragedies. But they have all these other costs to society that I think are very horrible. The biggest one of course being the cost to individual liberty.
After arguing that mass shootings are a necessary cost of liberty, Gregory suggested that gun violence prevention, which he claimed involves "jailing people for owning guns, putting them in prison [and] prosecuting them," is "itself a form of gun violence."
During the August 17 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, host Cam Edwards teased a segment about a new University of Colorado policy to place students who wish to possess guns on campus in separate housing from other students by stating, "Segregated dorms. Yes. How progressive. We are back to segregation now."
After the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the University of Colorado could not prohibit students from possessing firearms on campus, the university announced on Friday that gun-carrying students who wished to use on-campus housing must live in a designated dorm located at a secondary campus in downtown Boulder.
That night Edwards, and guest James Manley -- an attorney who helped overturn the campus gun ban -- were quick to draw a false equivalence between the university policy and racial segregation during the 20th century in America.
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: The ban was struck down and today the University of Colorado announced what they are going to do with concealed carry holders who want to live on campus. Basically they are not going to be able to live in the regular dorms; instead the campus is going to push them off to a number of family housing units. Right?
JIM MANLEY, MOUNTAIN STATES LEGAL FOUNDATION: Right. It's sort of a policy of "separate but equal." If you want to exercise your Second Amendment rights you have to live in a segregated dorm essentially.
Far from the sinister motivation behind "separate but equal," the rationale cited by CU for its new policy is the avoidance of "potentially dangerous living situations."
School officials believe this new policy will prevent potentially dangerous living situations on-campus because many students who live in the dorms are under the age of 21 and can't legally carry a gun.
"With the potential of having a roommate that may appropriately have a concealed carry permit and then the gun being mishandled by another student or friend or something like that," said [Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Deb] Coffin.
As the university has noted, the vast majority of students who live in the dorms are under the age of 21, and thus ineligible to apply for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
If the National Rifle Association (NRA) is the most powerful interest group in Washington, then why did its poster boy in Congress, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), lose a Republican primary this week? According to an analysis of NRA power by The American Prospect contributing editor (and former Media Matters staffer) Paul Waldman, the result should not come as a surprise. Waldman studied congressional races in the four most recent election cycles and concluded that, despite the NRA's tenancy to puff itself up, both the organization's endorsement and campaign contributions offer no real benefit to congressional candidates.
In a campaign ad released in June, Rep. Stearns touted his endorsement by the NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF). Earlier this week, the NRA's website listed its endorsement of Rep. Stearns, although now the page is no longer accessible. NRA-PVF also gave Rep. Stearns $4,950 in contributions this election cycle, tying him for the seventh biggest recipient among Republicans in the House of Representatives so far.
He also did the NRA's bidding in Congress. In February 2011, Rep. Stearns introduced the NRA-backed National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 822). The bill sought to loosen restrictions on the carrying of firearms in public by forcing states to recognize the validity of concealed carry permits issued by other states.
Rep. Stearns had been praised by the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) as early as January 2009 for supporting the idea. In August 2011, as the legislation moved through Congress, the NRA-ILA issued a press release expressing strong support for H.R. 822 and credited Rep. Stearns with introducing the bill. In October 2011, the NRA-ILA issued a press release providing a progress update on H.R. 822 that referred to the legislation as "Stearns' gun bill." In November 2011, H.R. 822 was passed by the House.
The NRA and Rep. Stearns were clearly on the same page, but he lost anyways. According to Waldman the NRA simply doesn't give its candidates enough money to have a meaningful impact on their elections.