In the face of condemnation over its fiery political videos, the National Rifle Association is gleefully escalating its culture-war offensive.
On July 9, it posted a new video to NRA TV, a website that disseminates original programming produced by the gun organization. In the nearly six-minute spot, Dom Raso, a former Navy SEAL, condemns protesters who have marched against the Trump administration, the Democratic politicians who have applauded the protest movement, and journalists who publish stories that are the source of so much outrage.
In a voiceover, Raso declares that liberals are motivated by “an extreme ideology.” The protests and increasing anger on the left reminds Raso, he says, of an overseas “radical Islamic country” where he’d served in the military. An excerpt of the clip was tweeted out with the hashtag #ClenchedFistOfTruth, a reference to another video produced by Dana Loesch, an NRA spokeswoman. Loesch’s video became the center of a media controversy in early July after some on the left said it endorsed violence against protesters.
The Raso segment is part of the “Commentators” series, which is sort of like “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney” for the Chris Kyle and Charles Bronson fan clubs. Commentators, in which Raso and Loesch regularly appear, is sponsored by Kimber, a high-end gunmaker best known for its expensive pistols.
A title card shown in videos included in the series reads, “The opinions expressed in the following video do not necessarily reflect the views of other individuals or organizations.”
While gun companies have long had a close relationship with the NRA, the organization has transitioned in the last decade from a straightforward interest group to something more like a mass movement of enraged conservatives. The Loesch and Raso videos are very much on brand for the new NRA. In February, for example, the NRA’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, said the group was leading the “Counter Resistance.”
Ruger and Sig Sauer are among the other major gun companies that have underwritten provocative videos produced by NRA TV. Notably, the gun makers are bankrolling content that often has little or nothing to do with firearms, instead stoking the fires of conservative political fear and cultural resentment.
Now, videos like Loesch’s have provoked a strong backlash against the NRA, with the Women’s March organizing a rally against the group at its Virginia headquarters and longtime members quitting in disgust. Gun companies, whose other marketing materials are typically apolitical or blandly patriotic, may have to ask whether they’re comfortable associating their products with such high-proof cultural politics.
They may risk alienating a sizable minority of their customer base. While the gun-owning population skews conservative, most are not NRA members, and many are even Democrats. According to a Pew survey released in June, Democrats account for 20 percent of the NRA’s membership and 39 percent of non-NRA gun owners. The Pew survey found that majorities of both gun owners and non-owners favor positions opposed by the NRA, including universal background checks for private sales and at gun shows.
It’s not clear if the gun companies who sponsor these programs condone the actual content or the larger cultural politics the spots advance. Ruger, Kimber, Sig Sauer and Hornady did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Neither did the NRA or Ackerman McQueen, the marketing company that produces much of the gun group’s media offerings.
Ruger, the largest gunmaker in the country by volume, sponsors a slate of programs under the NRA News umbrella, which actually predates the larger NRA TV entity. That includes the Frontlines newsmagazine series, which stars Oliver North, the Iran-Contra coordinator and right-wing hero. After ISIS terrorists killed more than 130 people in Paris in November 2015, Frontlines did an episode on the French “crisis of culture” which it said was brought on by Muslim immigrants.
Some of the NRA News programs have attracted other sponsors, as well. Cam & Company, a live chat show, is sponsored by the ammunition maker Hornady, in addition to Ruger. Cam, an amiable Virginian, leads his co-hosts on discussions of gun politics and culture at large. In just the past week, the show has featured segments decrying American history courses that note that the founders owned slaves and rueing declining attendance at Colonial Williamsburg.
Another NRA News show, “Defending Our America,” sponsored by Sig Sauer, showcases the stories of everyday people “who defend our borders, our cities and our values.” But the show doesn’t just focus on law enforcement or defensive gun use. An entire episode was devoted to “The War On Our Culture Led By Hollywood.”
While this us-vs-them framing permeates much of NRA TV, none of the content supported by the gun companies has caught on quite like Loesch’s culture-war spot. Other hosts are closely following her example, even rallying around that video in particular. On July 1, Grant Stinchfield, a regular NRA news and talk host and one-time Republican congressional candidate, devoted an entire four-minute clip to the controversy over Loesch’s “Clenched Fist of Truth” production. Stinchfield’s own video, titled We Don’t Apologize for Truth, was as brash and confrontational as the original video it sought to defend.
It began with a title card noting that it was sponsored by Ruger.