Second Amendment

NRA, eschewing talk of guns, ratchets up rhetoric

James Rosen

Buoyed by soaring gun sales and a White House supportive of its efforts, the National Rifle Association has charted a new course in its messaging, employing the group’s sophisticated communications apparatus to attack liberal politicians and activist groups, as well as mainstream news outlets, without ever mentioning guns, rifles, or the Second Amendment.

“They use their media to assassinate real news,” NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch said, addressing the camera directly, in a minute-long video posted in April and brimming with images of anti-Trump protests turned violent.

“And then they use their ex-president to endorse their resistance, all to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia, to smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness. And when that happens, they'll use it as an excuse for their outrage.”

In a six-minute video posted on the NRA website earlier this month – a few weeks after a deranged liberal activist shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise at a congressional baseball practice – NRA commentator Dom Raso, a former Navy SEAL, again assailed Democratic officials, accusing former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and others of using propaganda to foment political violence.

Raso branded the movement that styles itself “the resistance” to President Trump and his administration’s policies a vehicle for promoting “an organized anarchy that’s becoming unmanageable,” and likened the tactics of the left to those of radical Islamic terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Contacted by Fox News, NRA officers declined to comment, saying they do not discuss their media strategy in public. But analysts and communications specialists said the shift in the thrust and tone of the group’s messaging was unmistakable – especially for a non-profit advocacy group that is already among the richest and most powerful in America, winning most of its policy battles and gaining new members by the day.

“There comes a point where advocacy groups or corporations or public figures get tired of being in the hands of journalists that don’t like them,” said Eric Dezenhall, owner of a Washington-based PR firm that bills itself as “the nation's leading high-stakes communications consultancy.” “And nowadays you can do something that you couldn’t do before, which is invent your own journalism. That wasn’t an option, really, twenty years ago.”

Howard Kurtz, the veteran reporter and host of “MediaBuzz” on Fox News, said the latest NRA videos were unlike any he had seen before, “very aggressive” in their positioning of the group as sympathetic to supporters of the new occupant of the Oval Office.

“These NRA videos embrace the Trump agenda and go after his critics,” Kurtz said. “No longer having a Barack Obama to campaign against, it wants to send a broader kind of message because it has a pro-Second Amendment president in Donald Trump.”

Yet he also thought the strategy “somewhat risky,” insofar as the group’s videos, he said, conflate peaceful protest with anarchy: “[It] could turn some people off politically who might otherwise be inclined to support the message of people being able to buy guns.”

When the Washington Post noted the pivot in an article headlined "NRA's Dark New Video Talks Politics, Not Guns," the group fired back with still another video, in which NRA host Grant Stinchfield excoriated the newspaper as "fake news" and questioned the credentials of reporter Alex Horton, the Iraq War veteran who wrote the story.

“They trot out a general assignment reporter, Alex Horton, to call Dom Raso's video dark, and they tell us we can't have an opinion unless it's about guns,” Stinchfield said. “We talk about more than guns because every freedom is connected if one is threatened, they all are threatened.”

Horton declined to comment to Fox News but posted a tweet shortly after Stinchfield’s video appeared asking what exactly the NRA host was “warning” him and the Post to beware. Stinchfield’s video contained no explicit warning to the newspaper or the reporter but did carry an exhortation that they should worry not about “how many guns are in our videos” but instead “about how many facts are in your articles.”

Liberal groups typically opposed to the NRA’s Second Amendment advocacy reacted, not surprisingly, with derision for the group’s retooled messaging. “You're a vicious hatemonger and ur ads are putting peaceful activists in danger," the group Justice League NYC tweeted at Loesch this week.

While declining to comment for this report, NRA representatives forwarded to Fox News recent published reporting on FBI statistics indicating that 2017 is on pace to be the biggest year ever for gun sales. 

James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show "The Foxhole." His latest book is "A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century" (Crown Forum, October 4, 2016).