Justice & Civil Liberties

Issues ››› Justice & Civil Liberties
  • “Guns Down” Project To Fight Back Against Firearm-Related Voter Intimidation On Election Day

    Voters Can Text “GUNSDOWN” To 91990 To Report “Poll Watchers” Who Use Firearms And Other Means To Intimidate

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Amid heightened concerns about voter intimidation involving the open carrying of firearms at polling locations on Election Day, a project called Guns Down is providing a resource for voters to report intimidation to voter protection advocates and to share their experiences on social media.

    According to The Washington Post, “many election officials across the country are, for the very first time, bracing for intimidation or even violence on Election Day,” and these fears are compounded given that “most states have no laws regarding guns in polling places.”

    Under federal law it is illegal to intimidate people trying to vote with guns or by other means.

    Yet the Post reports that  “state laws about guns and voter intimidation are a patchwork of wildly varying regulations,” and determinations of violations of voter intimidation laws can be difficult to ascertain because each one is “a fact-sensitive, context-based decision,” according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler.(Further complicating determinations are discordant federal appeals courts rulings on what behavior constitutes voter intimidation).

    This state of affairs has created an opening for individuals who wish to intimidate voters with guns at the polls while retaining some semblance of plausible deniability concerning the legality of their actions.

    Voters who text “GUNSDOWN” to 91990 will receive information on a national voter protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) operated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Appropriate reports will be passed on to law enforcement and election officials, and voters will have the opportunity, if they feel safe doing so, to share photos of voter intimidation on social media.

    The project’s launch comes as several disturbing news reports raise the prospect of people carrying guns at the polls and engaging in other instances of possible voter intimidation -- including calls from racist far-right  media outlets for an “army” of white nationalists to “watch” the polls:

    • Talking Points Memo reported that “some armed Trump supporters have shown an interest in making their presence known at voting sites,” and quoted NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Deuel Ross saying, “The idea that people would be standing outside the polls with guns, or even inside the polls with guns, clearly has the potential to turn people away. There’s a long history of this.”

    • The Trace spoke to gun activists who said that “some gun owners will bring their weapons with them to vote in places where they are allowed to do so” but claimed that these people would not bring weapons for the purpose of intimidation.

    • Stewart Rhodes, the leader of extremist group Oath Keepers, announced “Operation Sabot 2016,” instructing members to “go out into public on election day, dressed to blend in with the public … with video, still camera, and notepad in hand, to look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” (A sabot is a device that helps keep a projectile centered as it passes through the barrel of a firearm or other delivery mechanism.) Rhodes told members not to bring guns, but the Oath Keepers are closely associated with open carry protests, including the open carrying of firearms during unrest in Ferguson, MO.

    • Virginia election officials are “worried about conflicts at the polls after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump urged his supporters to ‘watch’ others at the voting booths,” according to The Washington Post. The Prince William County electoral board pushed for a one-day ban on guns at polling places but was rebuffed by a Republican lawmaker who said the board did not have the authority to enact a ban.

    • White nationalist media including The Daily Stormer and its neo-Nazi founder, Andrew Anglin, and anti-Semitic “alt-right” news website The Right Stuff are planning to send “an army of Alt-Right nationalists to watch the polls.” According to Politico, the plans include setting up “hidden cameras at polling places in Philadelphia” and distributing marijuana and alcohol in the “ghetto.” Politico also reported, “The National Socialist Movement, various factions of the Ku Klux Klan and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all are deploying members to watch polls.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Socialist Movement “specializes in theatrical and provocative protests.”

    • Neo-Nazi news website Infostormer sent “a little message for the Kikes who monitor this site on behalf of the SPLC, [Anti-Defamation League], and various other evil organizations” that “on November 8th, we will have a legitimate ARMY of supporters out in the streets to show solidarity with President (he’s going to win this) Donald J. Trump,” while claiming that neo-Nazi poll watchers will not engage in any illegal activity. The author of the November 2 article also wrote that his “pet idea is more on the lines of convincing (successfully so far) low IQ subhumans and White traitors that the actual Election Day is on November 9th, absentee voting will be allowed in all states until 11 PM on the 8th, and that thousands of KKK members are sealing off polling locations in cahoots with law enforcement.”

  • NRA Repurposes Kids Board Game Candy Land As Shooting Target

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association released a spoof shooting target of the board game Candy Land called “Target Land” where shooters can fire on targets throughout a fantasy landscape containing the Peppermint Stick Forest, the Crooked Old Peanut Brittle House, Lollypop Woods, and other locations from the iconic kids game.

    A November 2 article from NRABlog suggests reinvigorating “boring” board games, including Battleship, Checkers, and Candy Land by turning them into targets for the shooting range:

    Here is the full “Target Land” target released by the NRA:

    The NRA previously appropriated children's fairy tales for pro-gun purposes, releasing Little Red Riding Hood (Has A Gun) and Hansel and Gretel (Have Guns) at its NRA Family website, leading to widespread condemnation and ridicule.

  • Network Morning Shows Barely Acknowledge Trump’s Possibly Illegal Tax Avoidance

    ABC, NBC, And CBS Morning Shows Cover Days-Old Clinton Email Story 15 Times More Than New Report On Trump’s Tax Avoidance Scheme

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & ALEX KAPLAN

    The network morning shows spent nearly half an hour covering the four-day-old story that the FBI found emails that may be pertinent to an investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but less than two minutes on a new report detailing possibly illegal actions Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took in the 1990s to avoid reporting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxable income.

    On October 28, FBI Director James Comey defied Justice Department rules and precedent to issue a short and vague letter informing Congress that the bureau had obtained and was seeking to review emails “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” regarding Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. Comey’s decision drew criticism from media figures from across the political spectrum and former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials. Yet during the morning of November 1, ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS’ CBS This Morning spent a combined total of nearly 30 minutes on this story and the impact it might have on election polls.

    Just yesterday, The New York Times explained that “thanks to a” possibly illegal tax maneuver Trump used in the early 1990s, he “potentially escaped paying tens of millions of dollars in federal personal income taxes” (emphasis added):

    [N]ewly obtained documents show that in the early 1990s, as he scrambled to stave off financial ruin, Mr. Trump avoided reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxable income by using a tax avoidance maneuver so legally dubious his own lawyers advised him that the Internal Revenue Service would most likely declare it improper if he were audited.

    Thanks to this one maneuver, which was later outlawed by Congress, Mr. Trump potentially escaped paying tens of millions of dollars in federal personal income taxes. It is impossible to know for sure because Mr. Trump has declined to release his tax returns, or even a summary of his returns, breaking a practice followed by every Republican and Democratic presidential candidate for more than four decades.

    Tax experts who reviewed the newly obtained documents for The New York Times said Mr. Trump’s tax avoidance maneuver, conjured from ambiguous provisions of highly technical tax court rulings, clearly pushed the edge of the envelope of what tax laws permitted at the time. “Whatever loophole existed was not ‘exploited’ here, but stretched beyond any recognition,” said Steven M. Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center who helped draft tax legislation in the early 1990s.

    Yet Good Morning America was the only broadcast morning show to cover this detailed reporting on the Republican presidential nominee possibly committing a crime, devoting two interview segments to the issue for a scant airtime of 1 minute and 47 seconds. The other two morning shows did not mention the Times report or Trump’s tax avoidance at all.

    The networks’ Sunday shows have demonstrated a pattern of ignoring investigative reporting about Trump in favor of hyping any recent news about Clinton. Now the networks’ weekday morning shows seem to be following the same pattern.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream transcripts for ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS’ CBS This Morning, with the keywords “Clinton,” “FBI,” “email,” and “Comey” for any comments about the Clinton email story, and the keywords “tax” and “taxes” for any comments about the Trump tax story. Any comments on either subject were then measured for time. At least one discussion covered both topics simultaneously.

  • NRA Furiously Tries To Attack Senate Candidate Who Assembled A Gun Blindfolded

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    A National Rifle Association attack ad targeting Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Jason Kander features a narrator who falsely claims Kander “voted against letting me defend myself at my apartment with a gun if I choose.” But the bill in question had nothing to do with whether people are allowed to defend themselves in the home with a gun.

    The NRA has spent nearly $3 million on the Senate race in Missouri, including almost $2.5 million in spending against Kander, and nearly $500,000 in spending supporting Republican incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt. Gun policy has played a significant role in the campaign since the release of a viral ad where Kander assembles a gun blindfolded while describing his experiences as a combat veteran in Afghanistan and explaining the need for background checks to keep guns away from terrorists.

    In an October 31 NRA ad, a woman identified as Jessica from Ballwin, MO, claims that “Jason Kander voted against letting me defend myself at my apartment with a gun if I choose.” The NRA ad cites a vote Kander made on House Bill 668 in 2009 while serving in the Missouri House of Representatives as evidence of this claim:

    JESSICA: If you’re like most people, you just want this election to end. So how do we decide? For me, it’s about respect. Jason Kander does not respect my right to self-defense. Jason Kander voted against letting me defend myself at my apartment with a gun if I choose. It should be my choice, because it’s my right. Don’t let Jason Kander take your rights away.

    H.B. 668 wasn’t about self-defense inside the home. Instead, it was legislation that expanded the scope of permissible self-defense outside the home in a way similar to controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws. This fact is explained in a since-deleted 2009 notice on the NRA’s website urging NRA supporters to advocate for the bill’s passage, where the NRA explained H.B. 668 “would expand Missouri’s Castle Doctrine to now include your private property boundaries” -- meaning it would have expanded the self-defense protections already available in the home to outdoor property.

    Both before and after the passage of H.B. 668, Missouri has been considered a “Castle Doctrine” state, meaning that people do not have a duty to retreat when employing deadly force in defense of the home. Voting for or against H.B. 668 has no bearing on this fact.

    It is unlikely even that the kind legislation described by the ad -- a bill that would allow or disallow people to use a gun in the home for self-defense -- would be proposed or voted on by anyone. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion in the landmark 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding people to keep a gun in the home for self-defense -- meaning that the type of legislation imagined by the NRA in their anti-Kander ad would be a non-starter.

  • NRA Smears Maine Congressional Candidate By Distorting What She Said About Background Checks On Gun Sales

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    A National Rifle Association attack ad targeting Maine congressional candidate Emily Cain falsely claims that Cain called “restricting our rights” “the right thing to do.” But according to the newspaper article the NRA cites, Cain was speaking about expanded background checks, a policy that doesn’t infringe upon the Second Amendment. The article in question also explicitly notes that Cain “didn’t say she would restrict rights, saying she supports” the Second Amendment.

    In the October 31 ad released by NRA lobbying arm Institute for Legislative Action, a narrator says, “Politician Emily Cain called restricting our rights ‘the right thing to do,’” citing the October 15, 2014, edition of the Kennebec Journal:

    According to a review of the article in Nexis, Cain was speaking about her support for expanding background checks on gun sales:

    But on gun issues, they diverged, with [Emily] Cain supporting mandatory background checks on private gun purchases. [Rep. Bruce] Poliquin, who is endorsed by the pro-gun National Rifle Association, opposes that, saying Maine has a high rate of gun ownership and a low level of crime.

    "We need to protect our gun rights, not whittle away at them, as Ms. Cain says she will do," he said.

    Cain didn't say she would restrict rights, saying she supports the Constitution's 2nd Amendment, but called expanding background checks "the right thing to do" to reduce gun violence.

    There is no “right” to purchase a gun without undergoing a background check. In the 2008 landmark Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia described the Second Amendment as encompassing the right for law-abiding people to own a gun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. After describing the Second Amendment right, Scalia wrote that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on … laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

    During the Senate’s consideration of expanded background check legislation in 2013, a group of 50 constitutional law experts wrote that expanded background check legislation passed constitutional muster under D.C. v. Heller, noting, “Universal background checks, especially those conducted instantaneously through the National Instant Background Check System, do not impose a significant burden on law-abiding citizens.” In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, constitutional law expert and law professor Lawrence Tribe stated, “There is no serious doubt that requiring ... a universal background check would comply with the Second Amendment.”

    The NRA has spent more than $50 million on the 2016 presidential and congressional elections, in many instances on ads that are premised on serious factual falsehoods.

  • FBI Director's Letter Receives Criticism From Across The Political Spectrum

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Media figures from across the political spectrum are criticizing FBI Director James Comey for defying Justice Department rules and precedent to issue a short and vague letter informing Congress that the Bureau had obtained and was seeking to review emails “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” regarding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. The journalists and pundits called the timing of Comey’s letter “unfortunate, given its potential to affect a democratic process in which millions of people are already voting,” with some going so far as to say Comey’s letter “both disgraces and politicizes the FBI.”

  • Host Of NRA's New Pro-Trump Show: "Blame Minorities" For Gun Violence

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Grant Stinchfield, the host of a new venture from the National Rifle Association called NRATV, has written on social media that minorities should be blamed for gun violence and promoted conspiracy theories that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered and that “maybe Israelis” shot down a Russian passenger aircraft.

    Launched earlier this month, NRATV plays material from the NRA’s video archive 24 hours a day, with Stinchfield breaking in to give live updates. Many of the updates involve promoting the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and are branded with a graphic that says, “ELECTION COUNTDOWN: SAVE THE 2ND.” (Though Stinchfield, a conservative Texas-based radio host and former Republican candidate for Congress, previously authored a column in which he said he regretted voting for Trump during the GOP primary.)

    Commenting in October 2015 on a New York Times article about the 30-plus gun homicides that occur on an average day in America, Stinchfield wrote on Twitter, “Blame minorities killing each other not law abiding conservatives. Let's look harder at broken families not gun laws.”

    Stinchfield also suggested that Justice Scalia, who died in February, was murdered by President Obama:

    In November 2015, Stinchfield speculated about whether Israel, MI6 or the CIA may have been involved in downing Metrojet Flight 9268, a Russian passenger plane that exploded over Egypt in October 2015. ISIS has claimed credit for placing a bomb on the plane.

    Stinchfield has also asked on Twitter, “Does #ISIS have Tranny Jihadis?”:

  • NRATV Complains That Sexual Assault Allegations Against Trump Are Getting Too Much Attention

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A new media effort from the National Rifle Association is attacking the press for covering allegations of sexual assault against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

    During a broadcast of the recently launched NRATV, host Grant Stinchfield complained that national media were not talking about news stories where people defended themselves with a gun, but instead “they talk about Donald Trump's sexual allegations and all the like to get us to look some place else because they don't want to talk about the real issues that matter to America, because if those issues are talked about, there's no way Donald Trump loses.”

    The NRA, which has endorsed Trump, has spent more than $26 million on the presidential race, far surpassing the amount the group spent in 2012. The largest NRA ad buy of the election cycle featured a woman who defended herself against a male attacker with a gun, and the NRA has shown no signs of letting up in the wake of increasing allegations of misconduct against Trump.

    From the October 27 edition of NRATV:

    CAM EDWARDS (NRA NEWS HOST): We're going to be talking in our Hero of the Day segment today about an off-duty deputy in Massachusetts who is out to dinner with his wife when all of a sudden a guy runs in, he's got a knife, and he starts stabbing people in this restaurant. Nobody could have anticipated this attack. Thankfully that off duty deputy had his personal sidearm with him, and that off duty deputy was able to respond to that threat, was able to neutralize that threat, and save lives in the process. It's those types of stories, they never make the national news headlines, Grant, but they happen every day when you have citizens who are prepared to protect themselves, the people that they love, and those around them, if need be. 

    GRANT STINCHFIELD  (NRATV HOST): And instead what the media does, instead of talking about stories like that, because that is a story that affects women, gun ownership affects women, they talk about Donald Trump's sexual allegations and all the like to get us to look some place else because they don't want to talk about the real issues that matter to America, because if those issues are talked about, there's no way Donald Trump loses. 

    Previously:

    NRA Risks Complete Disaster Following Unprecedented Spending On Trump

    The NRA Is Trying To Reach Out To Women, But This Is How It Talks About Campus Sexual Assault

  • Media Matters And Civil Rights Groups Release Media “Field Guide To Anti-Muslim Extremists”

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Media Matters partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Center for New Community, and ReThink Media to release a journalist's guide to the network of anti-Muslim activists and surrogates spreading vitriolic rhetoric in the media and the best practices for countering these extremists’ misinformation.

    The report “profiles 15 prominent anti-Muslim extremists, many of whom are associated with organizations identified by the SPLC as hate groups,” who appear frequently in the media, “where they spread falsehoods that too often go untested.” Citing the “baseless” propaganda produced by these extremists who “have shamelessly exploited terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other things, to demonize the entire Islamic faith,” the full report details the way television news networks and leading newspapers have allowed these extremists to “routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods” about Muslims without providing any pushback. The report contends that the media have enabled these extremists to vilify American Muslims by accusing them of conspiring to “impose Shariah religious law,” thereby creating a false impression of the community and resulting in “hundreds of violent hate crime attacks” against them. From the October 26 report:

    Ever since the Al Qaeda massacre of Sept. 11, 2001, American Muslims have been under attack. They have been vilified as murderers, accused of conspiring to take over the United States and impose Shariah religious law, described as enemies of women, and subjected to hundreds of violent hate crime attacks. A major party presidential nominee has even suggested that America ban Muslim immigrants.

    Fueling this hatred has been the propaganda, the vast majority of it completely baseless, produced and popularized by a network of anti-Muslim extremists and their enablers. These men and women have shamelessly exploited terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other things, to demonize the entire Islamic faith.

    Sadly, a shocking number of these extremists are seen regularly on television news programs and quoted in the pages of our leading newspapers. There, they routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods, all designed to make Muslims appear as bloodthirsty terrorists or people intent on undermining American constitutional freedoms. More often than not, these claims go uncontested.

    [...]

    This misinformation and hateful rhetoric have consequences. When huge numbers of Americans believe that a majority of Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, it can hardly be a surprise that some percentage of them engage in hate crime attacks. After all, they learned of the threat they believe Muslims pose from sources who were presented by the media as authoritative experts.

    This country faces an array of complex and daunting problems, the threat of terrorism indisputably among them. Let’s not make them worse by allowing self-described “experts” to propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods. Our media, in particular, has the opportunity to present an objective picture that illuminates, rather than distorts, reality.

    The 15 anti-Muslim extremists profiled in the report are Ann Corcoran, Steven Emerson, Brigitte Gabriel, Frank Gaffney Jr., Pamela Geller, John Guandolo, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, David Horowitz, Ryan Mauro, Robert Muise, Maajid Nawaz, Daniel Pipes, Walid Shoebat, Robert Spencer, and David Yerushalmi. The report lists various false and extreme claims from the extremists and calls on the media to stop presenting the extremists as “authoritative experts” and allowing them to “propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods”:

    The anti-Muslim extremists profiled here have, between them, claimed that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies; asserted that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims including police are afraid to enter; suggested that there is a Muslim plot to impose Sharia religious law on U.S. courts; and claimed that President Obama is a secret Muslim. These claims, along with many others, have been shown conclusively to be false.

    According to the report, the media coverage of and interviews with these anti-Muslim extremists fail to contextualize their “defamatory and false rhetoric and their hate group associations” and thus don't tell their audiences that these extremists “are far outside the mainstream, and that their factual assertions are very often completely baseless.” The report includes best practices for media, noting that “too often, television networks, newspapers and other media organizations turn to these groups’ spokespeople as credible sources on national security, immigration and religious liberty, and valid counterpoints to real issue experts.”

    The report’s best practices include:

    1. Research the background of extremist spokespeople and consider other sources.

    2. If you do use anti-Muslim spokespeople, point out their extremism.

    3. Prepare to challenge hateful rhetoric and misinformation.

    4. Don’t rely on opposing guests to challenge extremists.

    To read the full report, click here.

  • Trump Surrogate Ted Nugent: Hillary Clinton Is A “Devilbitch,” “VOTE TRUMP!”

    Nugent, A Member Of The NRA’s Board, Has Called For Clinton To Be Hanged

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent called Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton a “devilbitch” moments after promoting a Donald Trump presidential campaign video that he appears in.

    In an October 27 post on his Facebook page, Nugent wrote of Clinton, “The devilbitch hates everything good about America! VOTE TRUMP!” while promoting an NRA attack on the Democratic nominee. The post came moments after Nugent shared a Trump campaign video, which he is featured in, that discusses hunting and the Second Amendment:

    In the Trump campaign video, which features a message from Trump and statements from a variety of gun regulation opponents, Nugent claims Clinton “will destroy the freedom that is uniquely American. Donald Trump will safeguard the things that make America the greatest place in the world.” Nugent has frequently called Clinton a bitch. Here is footage from an August concert where he said of Clinton, “That’s one toxic bitch, now why isn’t that bitch in jail?”:

    Earlier this year Nugent called for Clinton, as well as President Obama, to be hanged for treason. During primary season, Nugent promoted a fake video of Sen. Bernie Sanders graphically shooting Clinton, and added his own message, “I got your gun control right here bitch!” He has also called the former secretary of state a “toxic cunt.” In a 2007 concert video, an assault-rifle-wielding Nugent called Clinton a “worthless bitch” and said that she should "ride" on his machine gun.

    Nugent is associated with the Trump campaign despite his long history of making racist and inflammatory commentary. In 2016 alone, Nugent has promoted anti-Semitic content, used a racial slur against a Latino critic, promoted misogynist reasons why guns are better than women, and shared a racist meme advertising the fake moving company “2 niggers and a stolen truck.” In 2015, Nugent devoted an entire column to praising the use of the word “nigger,” even in a racist context.

    Nugent often uses his Facebook page to write testimonials for Trump that have sometimes included inflammatory commentary. For example, in an August post he called for “federal agents” to “coordinate the mass arrest they know they are sworn to make” -- presumably in reference to politicians he doesn’t favor -- and added, “When will America be America again? Trump November 2016 & WE THE PEOPLE raising hell onward!”