On Friday, the group Women’s March will stage an 18-mile trek from the National Rifle Association’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. The protest is the group’s most significant show of force since its dramatic inaugural-weekend demonstrations in January, which drew between three and five million people nationwide.
The march against the NRA is a response to a run of incendiary videos recently released by the gun group, which have been widely criticized for their portrayal of liberal activists as enemies of America who must be squashed. “They use their media to assassinate real news,” the NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch says in the first of the clips to draw broad attention. “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler.” The “only way” to repel the progressive resistance, Loesch concludes, is to “fight the violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”
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For Tamika Mallory, a Women’s March organizer, Loesch’s video was a dog whistle to NRA members and the gun owners it hoped to recruit with the ad, turning them loose to aggressively confront protesters. On June 28, she published an open letter to the NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, decrying the video as “a direct attack on people of color, progressives and anyone who exercises their First Amendment right to protest.”
The NRA’s response was to double down. The following week, Mallory countered by announcing her plan for a protest march kicking off at the organization’s main office in the Washington suburbs.
Over the phone, Mallory spoke with The Trace about what propelled her into her a showdown with the group, and what she hopes it will accomplish.
The NRA made it personal.
After the NRA saw Mallory’s letter, the group went after her by name. In a video posted to the group’s YouTube channel, Grant Stinchfield, an NRA talking head, urged “every member of the violent left who’s having a meltdown over Dana Loesch’s NRA ad” to “get over it, and grow up.” He added, “I’m talking to you, Tamika Mallory,” as the screen cut to a photo of her.
“When we first put the letter out, we thought the NRA would just call us to have a meeting, or tell us to kiss their ass,” Mallory said. “I had no idea they’d come out with an ad with my face in it. Once they did that? You don’t threaten us and think we’re gonna roll over.”
For Mallory, gun violence has hit very close to home.
Sixteen years ago, the father of Mallory’s son was fatally shot. She’s since worked with organizations working to reduce gun violence in New York, and at the national level. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, she served as an adviser on then-Vice President Joe Biden’s gun-reform task force. “This is a very natural and normal state for me,” she said.
The march is about more than an ad.
In her letter to LaPierre, Mallory demanded that the NRA make a statement urging the Department of Justice to indict the police officer who killed Philando Castile, the black Minnesota man fatally shot seconds after identifying himself as a concealed-gun carrier during a traffic stop last summer. A day after Castile’s death, the gun group released a vague statement describing the incident as “troubling,” and promised to say more “once all the facts are known.” The group has not publicly addressed the shooting since, despite urging from gun owners. Mallory argues that the NRA, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization,” failed to live up to that billing when it stayed silent rather than rally for justice at the death of a black gun owner.
She said she believes that the NRA should be more actively engaged in stopping the flow of illegal weapons into cities like Chicago and New Orleans. She pointed out that “no guns are made in those communities,” yet shooters find guns plentiful, thanks to unchecked trafficking. Mallory told Popsugar earlier this week that the NRA has “the blood of children in Chicago on their hands.”
It’s not an anti-gun protest.
Mallory says the protest isn’t anti-gun. It’s about the NRA being irresponsible with the influence it wields.
“When you have that power in your hands,” she said, “your messaging has to be around safety, it needs to be around de-escalation, it needs to be using the power you have to protect lives, not threaten them.”
There’s a reason the march ends at the Department of Justice.
Since Donald Trump entered the White House, he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have excoriated Chicago for its high levels of gun violence. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (acting on plans underway before Trump took office) deployed 20 agents to the city to aid law enforcement efforts to crack down on shootings. Mallory said she doesn’t agree with the DOJ’s current gun-violence reduction strategy there, which she characterized as “sending in more law enforcement to fight violence with violence,” and pointed to the city’s low homicide-clearance rate as a driver of retaliatory shootings.
“We’re going to say to the DOJ, while you’re on the ground in Chicago, how about solving some of these unsolved murders?” she said. “Because that work seems not to be ever done.”
She’s not sweating the headcount.
So far, only 1,000 people have RSVP’d to the march on Facebook. But sister marches are planned in Atlanta and New York — including one sponsored by Gays Against Guns — and the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP has signalled its support. “If it’s five people, it’s enough to raise our voices,” Mallory said.
“There’s no way to compare to what we did at the Women’s March,” she added. “There’s a difference between a moment in history, and a historical movement.”