Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, National Rifle Association top executive Wayne LaPierre decried opponents of President Donald Trump as the “violent left” and accused them of seeking to destroy the United States.
LaPierre, who took the stage to Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City,” called on NRA members to rise up against “radical political elements,” including anarchists and Marxists, “who literally hate what America stands for.” Images of chaos played on two large screens behind him as he spoke.
“We face a gathering of forces that are willing to use violence against us,” he said.
Just hours earlier, from the same stage in the ballroom of the Gaylord Hotel, in Maryland’s National Harbor, Trump praised the NRA in a speech focused in large part on attacking the media, which he accused of pushing a “false narrative” about his administration.
LaPierre kept up the attack. He accused the “leftist media” of planting “cultural IEDs” to “dehumanize” NRA members and Trump supporters, and of “blowing the winds of violence.” He played an old news clip that captured him arguing with a CNN anchor, claiming on air that the network had pushed a “fake story” about assault weapons. The clip caused the crowd to erupt into applause.
The NRA leader’s message to CPAC echoed a fiery video posted by the NRA on Tuesday. In the one-minute ad, LaPierre urges the NRA’s millions of members to mobilize against “the forces who conspired” to keep Trump out of office, and who are now working to undermine his legitimacy. Trump, LaPierre said, “has no more powerful ally than the NRA.” The video was accompanied by the Twitter hashtag #counterresistence.
“The left is enraged,” LaPierre stated on Friday, and its “message is absolutely clear: They want revenge.”
The NRA knows something about rage. For the last eight years, LaPierre’s public speeches have been characterized by angry denunciations of the Democratic Party, of former President Barack Obama, of the media, and of advocates of gun control. At the NRA’s 2014 annual meeting, LaPierre promised his audience that the upcoming midterms would be a “bare-knuckled street fight” against Democrats. Without evidence, he repeatedly accused Hillary Clinton of seeking to confiscate law-abiding gun owners weapons.
LaPierre’s attacks on protestors and the media drew support from conference attendees. Cody Leach, 18, a freshman at the University of Alabama, wearing a suit and a red “Make America Great Again” hat, said the speech left him “very satisfied.”
“It is the NRA’s job to correct the narrative because no one else can do it,” said Leach, who identified himself as a lifetime member of the group. “The media is so unfactual.”
The NRA clearly sees the Trump presidency as a chance to further its agenda. The gun group’s top federal legislative priority is a bill that would make concealed-carry permits obtained in one state valid everywhere in the nation. Trump expressed support for the measure in policy paper released during the early stages of his campaign, writing “the right of self defense doesn’t stop at the end of your driveway.”
The NRA proudly endorsed Trump in May, earlier than any other candidate in the gun group’s history, including Mitt Romney and John McCain. It was an especially significant moment: The NRA was by far the most prominent conservative organization to endorse Trump, whose campaign many considered toxic.
“We were going door-to-door and running TV ads when no other group in America was fighting,” said Chris Cox, the group’s chief lobbyist, on Thursday before introducing Vice President Mike Pence to the CPAC stage. “Because NRA members knew the soul of our country was at stake.”
The NRA proceeded to spend over $30 million — more than any other outside group — to help elect Trump to the White House. As a result, the group’s influence appears to be growing in the White House.
On February 1, LaPierre sat next to Trump in the Roosevelt Room at a meeting of conservative leaders to discuss Neil Gorsuch, the president’s nominee to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. When making introductions, Trump singled out LaPierre with a flattering comment that acknowledged the NRA leader’s clout.
“And, Wayne, I would say they know you,” Trump said. “Perhaps they know you better than they know me.”
In the president’s Friday speech, he explicitly acknowledged the close relationship between the NRA and his administration, signaling once again that he will embrace the gun group in a manner far more overt than past Republican presidents.
“We will protect our Second Amendment,” he said, before singling out and praising LaPierre and Cox. “They are great people. They love our country.”
LaPierre, who spoke in front of a sparse crowd, asserted that protests could give cover for terrorist attacks — and that they may also pose a broader public health concern.
“What happens when terrorists tag along with a flashmob protest at your airport?” he asked, before citing the threat that a protest blocking a freeway could lead to deaths among people who experience heart attacks, and who can’t be quickly reached by ambulances.
At one point, he included an unsubstantiated claim that Mexican cartels are working with “100,000” gang members in Chicago. He endorsed Trump’s warnings about danger posed by refugees and undocumented immigrants. As The Trace has reported, the NRA has long stoked fears of illegal immigration, terrorism, and urban crime — themes that the new president has adopted as his own.
LaPierre attributed to his critics shortcomings often leveled at the NRA. After showing videos of violence by protestors, he complained about news networks last year replaying images of violence among attendees at Trump rallies.
Toward the end of the speech, LaPierre reminded the audience that during the election “gun owners helped put President Trump over the top.” He said the media compared the NRA’s vast monetary support to “arranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” before concluding, “but we’re still standing here, and we have President Trump’s back for the next eight years.”
The message was well received.
Jamal Omar, a North Dakota State student sporting an NRA hat, said the NRA’s role as counter resistance is necessary: “You need to know who is trying to hurt you, who is trying to take away what you love. Our rights are under attack. People are trying to take guns away. We need to know who is on our side and who is not.”
Another lifetime NRA member, 70-year-old Noel Benoist, described LaPierre’s speech as “motivational,” adding that the executive “didn’t back away from anything.”