In a National Rifle Association of America ad broadcast last year, the organization’s spokesperson Dana Loesch made a frightening message directed at Democrats, the media, and left-wing protesters.
“The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth,” Loesch said, while staring directly into camera. It sounded like a call to violence against liberals.
The ad aired on NRATV, the NRA’s own round-the-clock television channel and political propaganda machine. NRATV streams its content 24-7 on its website and streaming services Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and YouTube. Audio programming for NRATV is available on SiriusXM radio, iHeartRadio, and iTunes, according to the NRATV website.
These tech companies would have little incentive to part ways with a “publisher” like the NRA, because the gun group provides media platforms with free content, which the streaming companies use to draw viewers to their platforms — in some cases selling ads or otherwise monetizing audience attention. As tech companies expand their digital offerings, the NRA is only too happy to provide fodder for viewers, exploiting those companies’ desire for cheap content.
Now, public anger at the NRA has turned towards the video streaming services that, nearly two weeks after the Parkland school shooting, continue to host the channel.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Everytown for Gun Safety wrote online letters to Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV, and started an online petition calling on the streaming services to drop NRATV for its promotion of “dangerous conspiracy theories,” racially charged rhetoric, and “violent demonization of the NRA’s political opponents.”
Apple, Google, SiriusXM radio, iHeartRadio, and Amazon did not respond to ThinkProgress’ requests for comment Monday.
In a statement on Monday, Roku spokesperson Tricia Mifsud said the company isn’t promoting NRATV or being paid to distribute it, nor does it have a commercial relationship with the NRA. She said Roku does not censor content based on viewpoints but will remove channels if it violates company policies that prohibit the publication of content that is unlawful, incites illegal activities, harm, threaten, harass, bully, or defame any end user or constitute hate speech” or “contain false, irrelevant or misleading” content.
“To our knowledge, NRA TV is not currently in violation of these content policies,” Mifsud said. “While the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint.”
“We welcome Moms Demand Action and other important groups to use our platform to share their messages too,” Mifsud added. Neither Moms Demand Action nor Everytown for Gun Safety currently has its own 24-hour television channel with which to counter the NRA’s message.
YouTube, which also hosts NRA and NRATV channels, has rules in its community guidelines that would ostensibly ban a lot of content produced by NRATV. This includes “violence against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity, or whose primary purpose is inciting hatred on the basis of these core characteristics.”
NRATV lets the NRA skirt laws on lobbying
The station was never meant to be a TV station in the traditional sense — designed to inform or entertain — when it launched with the name NRA News in 2004. It was designed from the beginning to act as a propaganda arm of the gun lobbyist giant. By launching a media company, the NRA found a way to lobby the public — and elected officials — while avoiding new political spending limits and restrictions on “soft money” spending close to an election, according to the New York Times at the time.
Executive President Wayne LaPierre told the Times, the lobbying group had “every bit as much right to provide news and information to the American Public” as Disney does through CNN and News Corporation does through Fox News. “If you own the outlet, you can say whatever you want. This an act of defiance, but it is completely in keeping with the law,” LaPierre said.
The content in NRA News’ early years touched on a range of gun topics, featuring a photographer who helped create a calendar of women holding handguns and interviewing former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) about a bill he proposed that would prevent the state from collecting social security numbers from people applying for hunting licenses. But the NRA used their platform to promote political views, as well: The popular talk show Cam & Company interviewed border patrol officers and criticized the United Nations and U.S. humanitarian relief efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
NRA News rebranded itself as NRATV in 2016, and in the months leading up to the presidential election, ramped up its political coverage and acted as a political mouthpiece for pro-gun Republican candidates and far-right policies across a range of topics. The lobby group used the online channel to spread its message and influence the election.
NRATV is right-wing political propaganda disguised as TV
Over the years, NRA News and NRATV acted as a soap box for conservative personalities railing against LGBTQ rights, minorities, women, and — above all — liberals, whom the channel portrays as enemy number one.
At the 2012 Republican National Convention, NRA News interviewed Tony Perkins from the anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council who railed against Washington, D.C. gun laws, the Obama administration’s “hostility towards religion,” the Affordable Care Act, and the media’s coverage of a gay rights activist shooting a security guard at his organization. He claimed there would have been more media coverage had it been a Sunday school teacher that shot up an LGBTQ center. He also talked about how it was important for Evangelicals to vote in the 2012 presidential election to protect “Judeo-Christian Values.”
Since NRATV launched in 2016, correspondents and hosts have, in a literal sense, compared political views that oppose their own to terrorism. Last week, correspondent Chuck Holton compared liberals to ISIS because “they both hate America” and are for open borders, before the show’s host Grant Stinchfield cut him off saying he didn’t want to go there. Last August, during heightened nuclear tensions between North Korea and the U.S., Stinchfield apologized for a Tweet that appeared to invite a missile strike on Sacramento.
“Let’s send a note to North Korea that Sacramento changed its name to Guam!” Stinchfield wrote.
And last month, Stinchfield has also characterized the millions of women that marched throughout the country in the 2018 Women’s March as radical left-wing socialists who hate America.
“What’s most amazing about these women is their silly pink hats, of course. It’s also that they want to squash opportunity with their socialist agenda,” Stinchfield said. “This is an anti-American movement. They want to simply profit off hate. Hate for President Trump, hate for guns, hate for freedom and certainly hate for all of you.”
Guests and hosts on NRA News and NRATV were never shy about promoting ultra-conservative social views. In 2014, NRA Board member R. Lee Ermey — the former drill sergeant who appeared in the movie Full Metal Jacket and who has made a number of appearances on the channel throughout the years — claimed youth were committing suicide after being bullied because young boys in America were being “neutered” and didn’t stand up for themselves and violently fight back.
In January, Loesch went on a transphobic diatribe about Chelsea Manning and her run for Senate. She called Manning by her deadname, made a point of misgendering her, and said she was pretending to be a woman, according to Media Matters.
“I’m not going to suddenly pretend that this individual who is pretending to be a woman is a part of my sisterhood. He went through maturity and puberty as a male,” Loesch said. “Just because you get some boobs, and you put some red lipstick on, poorly applied, and a very poor smoky eye bad dye job, that don’t make you a chick.”
Echoing some of President Donald Trump’s favorite talking points, the channel promoted xenophobic ideas about immigration. After Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson was killed in a car crash in which an undocumented immigrant was suspected of drunk driving earlier this month, Stinchfield noted that several of his teammates, singling out cornerback Antonio Cromartie, kneeled for the national anthem during the season. He said by kneeling, they were rejecting Trump’s immigration policies that led to their teammate’s death, according to Media Matters.
“For all the Colts players who took a knee, and all the players in the NFL who did, do you now realize why we need to get tough on illegal immigration?” Stinchfield said. “Our nation’s failed policies are getting people killed. Your buddy, your teammate, is dead.”
Sometimes, the propaganda intended to give gun owners reasons to feel they were being persecuted in a historical context. A commentator in a 2014 NRA News segment incorrectly claimed the government was collecting data on gun owners that could be used confiscate their weapon and compared it to a report about Jewish people being targeted in Eastern Ukraine during WWII, according to Media Matters. Another NRA News commentary in 2014 argued laws regulating gun ownership were as unconstitutional as Jim Crow Laws.
Despite using much of its airtime to attack marginalized populations, NRATV and NRA News have attempted to say their pro-gun stances actually protect gays and lesbians and that people were racist for questioning why an African American person would want own a gun.
“There’s always kind of for me, been this undertone of like, ‘I want to protect you from yourself’ coming from a lot of anti-gun circles,” said Colion Noir, an African-American NRA News commentator in 2015. “It’s insulting and at worst, it’s racist.”
Last June, on the one year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Stinchfield baselessly claimed the gunman attacked the gay nightclub in Orlando, which killed 49 people because he knew there were “no armed security, there would be nobody else to fight back” and that he was taking advantage of “sheep that were just, sadly, trapped there.”
NRATV and White House say the same thing about mass shootings
Hosts and commentators on the channel over the years have repeatedly fallen back on the “good guy with a gun” theory — that more bystanders with guns can actually stop gun violence. It’s a talking point the White House is now promoting directly. Both the Trump administration and the NRA blame the media for distorting the facts around mass shootings.
Two years following the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., which killed 20 first graders and six adults, a commentator on NRA News claimed that the media blaming Bushmaster for manufacturing the semi-automatic weapon the gunman used during the attack was the same as blaming “Kleenex for the flu.”
Following the 2014 mass shootings at UC-Santa Barbara where a student killed six people, one NRA News commentator claimed the media’s usage of the phrase “shooter” in its headlines was misleading since the attacker also used a knife and a car during the attack.
Following the latest mass shooting in Parkland, Fl., NRATV hosts have attempted to deflect blame onto the Obama administration, the FBI, and the “mainstream media.” The solution to solving mass shootings in schools, according to the NRA, is by arming teachers, an idea that Trump is now promoting as the most effective White House response.
When the next mass shooting inevitably occurs, expect more of the same on NRATV, and listen for the White House to echo the gun industry’s favorite talking points.