On March 12, the National Rifle Association cancelled its annual convention because of the novel coronavirus. Eleven days later, news broke that the NRA would lay off staff and cut wages, which executive vice president Wayne LaPierre attributed to the pandemic’s impact on fundraising.
Those steps suggest that the coronavirus has had a real and detrimental effect on the NRA and that the organization appreciates its dangers. At the same time, however, the NRA also announced a partnership with conservative media outlet BlazeTV, whose headliners have questioned the gravity of the threat posed by COVID-19.
“We need cold hard facts that we can share with friends, family and co-workers — unfiltered and uncensored by the fake news media and extremist gun-control candidates,” NRA membership director Todd Grable wrote to readers in the latest edition of American Rifleman, the NRA’s flagship magazine. “That’s why NRA has partnered with BlazeTV — a news and entertainment organization for people who love America — to bring you up-to-date and honest information about the issues that will come to shape our nation in the years to come.”
How Coronavirus Shutdowns Are Affecting Gun Stores in Each State
BlazeTV was established in 2018 when two conservative media outlets, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and Mark Levin’s CRTV, merged. The network serves as a platform for right-wing media personalities to reach their audiences through streaming video, podcasts, and radio.
Last week, as the coronavirus death toll in the United States and the number of known cases grew exponentially, BlazeTV’s Steve Deace told his audience that America was risking another Great Depression “over a virus that, the more we learn about it, the less lethal it becomes.” He described a “cultural Pearl Harbor” in which leftists and pagans are using hysteria over the virus as “their weapon of mass destruction to deliver the last kill shot” to America.
NRA members can choose whether to receive American Rifleman, which has a print circulation of 1.7 million. The number of digital-only subscribers is not publicly available, so it’s unclear how many NRA members have been directed to BlazeTV for “up-to-date and honest information.”
The NRA’s membership skews older and male, a cohort for whom the virus has proven most lethal. On his March 24 show, Beck urged Americans “over 50” to return to work, “even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country, because it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country.”
Another BlazeTV figure, Steven Crowder, who has labeled the AIDS epidemic a hoax, offered this to his million Twitter followers on March 9: “How do I feel about the #COVID19 panic? I’m not participating. Carry on.” On his show the following day, Crowder cautioned that the situation could deteriorate, but added: “We may be totally fine by this point tomorrow!”
“It’s not as dire as the media want you to believe,” Crowder said later. “They create this hysteria without any context … so that they can pin the virus and the negative economic impact on Donald Trump.”
Levin described the virus as “serious” on his show this month, according to ProPublica, but also suggested that the threat is being exaggerated, pointing to 30,000 flu deaths this year. As ProPublica pointed out, epidemiologists say the coronavirus has a higher mortality rate than the flu and unlike the flu, there is no vaccine or approved treatment for COVID-19. Health experts have expressed fear that such comparisons could lead people to ignore life-saving guidance.
In its note announcing the BlazeTV partnership, the NRA encouraged its members to sign up for a free 30-day trial and offered $10 off a one-year subscription to BlazeTV.
The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.