A new report from gun safety nonprofit Everytown found that one-third of this decade's mass shootings were done by people motivated by white supremacist views or teachings. The group examined media reports and evidence from each mass shooting between 2009 and 2019.
"For decades, the gun lobby has not only enabled access to guns by anti-government and white supremacist extremists through its advocacy against common-sense gun laws, but has also worked to harness their fixation on guns to shore up its own political power; in doing so, the gun lobby has amplified extreme-right politics to new and broader audiences," the report read.
"The gun lobby’s rhetorical, political, and sometimes organizational overlap with the extreme right—from the militia movement of the 1990s to the 'boogaloo bois' of today—has yielded dangerous and, at times, catastrophic results," the report added.
For decades, gun lobbyists, including Gun Owners of America executive director emeritus Larry Pratt and NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, have stoked fear and continue to foment violent ideologies tied to gun ownership, according to the Everytown report.
Other studies have drawn ties between a web of gun lobbyists and violent extremist groups, but the Everytown study dives into how the movements have evolved since the beginning of the administration of former President Barack Obama.
With Obama's elections in 2008, gun lobbyists saw an opportunity to marry traditional white supremacist terror groups with anti-government ideologies, masking the need for guns to preserve "freedom" and "traditional values," the study stated.
Throughout Obama's time in office, LaPierre and others became famous for tying the former president's desire for gun regulation directly to his Blackness, harping on his "otherness" and combining it with conspiratorial fears of government takeovers.
NRA became well known for releasing dozens of ads exemplifying "the rhetorical trifecta of grievance, otherizing opponents, and a veiled call to violence," according to the report.
The study includes a quote from Reverend Sharon Risher, whose mother was one of the nine people killed by white supremacist Dylann Roof in 2015.
“On June 17, 2015, the racism that had followed us for our whole lives where I was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, caught up to my mom: A white man filled with hate and armed with a gun murdered her and eight other African Americans, including two of my cousins and one childhood friend, while they prayed in Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Church," she said.
"It was the same church where my mom first saw me preach, sitting in the front row and saying, ‘Amen, that’s my baby.’ Racism is a killer. My mom was killed with a gun that the shooter never should have been able to purchase," she added.
She spoke about how a specific law that the NRA pushed allowed Roof to have access to the gun used to kill her mother.
"He was prohibited from buying a gun and should have been stopped in his tracks, but because of a loophole backed by the National Rifle Association, allowing a gun sale to go forward when a background check takes longer than three business days, he was able to buy one anyway and take nine precious lives,” Risher said.
The NRA-backed rule, now called the “Charleston loophole,” allows gun sales to proceed by default after three business days—even without a completed background check. Roof was legally barred from having guns but was able to buy his gun because the background check had not been completed within three days.
The report also explores the longstanding ties between traditional gun lobbyists and white supremacist militias. Pratt frequently spoke at white supremacist rallies and the NRA has spent years turning white supremacists like Randy Weaver into heroes.
"NRA leaders also deployed racist rhetoric to denigrate President Obama, with one board member calling him a 'subhuman mongrel' and LaPierre declaring that “eight years of one demographically-symbolic president is enough,” the report stated, adding that the NRA "was Donald Trump’s largest outside backer in 2016, spending more than $30 million to help get him elected."
"The president and his allies in the gun lobby have promoted xenophobia, racism, fear of outsiders, and fringe conspiracy theories, rousing white supremacist and anti-government activists across the country" the study noted.
The study notes that by 2017, it became clear to both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that lax gun laws exploited by white supremacist groups were a serious problem, writing in a joint report that “firearms likely will continue to pose the greatest threat of lethal violence by [white supremacist extremists] due to their availability and ease of use.”
By 2019, the Department of Homeland Security said “one of the most potent forces driving domestic terrorism” in the United States, according to the report.
As Blavity previously reported, FBI Director Christopher Wray has testified before Congress multiple times to warn lawmakers about the growing threat that heavily armed white supremacist groups posed to police departments and law enforcement.
With the election of Trump, the NRA kickstarted the now-defunct NRATV, which spent millions disseminating messages that tied Trump's opponents to the need for guns.
"Hour after hour, NRATV broadcast fear-mongering, conspiracy theories, and thinly veiled racism. This messaging was amplified by a slick social media operation and various influencers who shared content across right-wing digital spaces," the study read.
"The content was so toxic that even the NRA admitted, after it shuttered the operation, that the network was 'viewed as a dystopian cultural rant' that even 'some NRA leaders found distasteful and racist,'" the study added.
These efforts by gun lobbyists have contributed to the sophistication of modern white supremacist terror groups, which the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have both called one of the biggest threats facing the country internally.
These militia groups are now well-trained, well-armed and actively working to conduct attacks. Two weeks ago, the FBI arrested 13 men who had planned to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the state's government, according to CNN.
The same group was also sketching out plans to kidnap Virginia governor Ralph Northam. Millions were alarmed when a video of their very sophisticated training runs for the kidnapping was leaked online.
The NRA and other gun lobby groups have only accelerated their inflammatory messaging since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of what spurred the potential attacks on Whitmer were her efforts to limit the spread of the virus through lockdown measures.
These measures were protested violently when armed white supremacist groups like the Michigan Liberty Militia and Michigan Proud Boys descended on the Michigan capitol house.
Other states, like Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, saw similar protests, according to the study, and gun lobby leaders actively stoked emerging fears over racial violence and overbearing government control by urging the purchase of guns. Gun sales have skyrocketed since March, according to NPR.
Even gun ownership among Black people increased during the pandemic, as Blavity previously reported.
"The NRA and its leaders praised the armed protesters and seemingly used fears about the pandemic to encourage new gun sales. These efforts included an NRA promotional video that depicted looting as a woman brandishing an AR-15 said, 'I know from history how quickly society breaks down during a crisis… and we’ve never faced anything like this before, and never is the Second Amendment more important than during public unrest,'" the study noted.
"Not to be outdone, Gun Owners of America produced an apocalyptic video—in the midst of national protests over racial justice and police brutality—glorifying roving bands of men with AR assault-style rifles purportedly keeping the peace from looters, with the catchphrase 'This is why you need the Second Amendment,'" it added.
In August, LaPierre sent out a terrifying letter to NRA supporters that shows the group is planning fearmongering if Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden wins the coming election over Trump.
In his letter, he spoke of the government confiscating guns after the election and said "only the NRA has spent decades building an army of grassroots activists to take our pro-gun message to every corner of America."
What is this nonsense, @NRA?
“Unless you fight back starting right now, you face the real threat of having your guns forcibly confiscated by the federal government after the next collection.” pic.twitter.com/hGK5IbM15X
— Mark Bauer (@MarkBauer) August 29, 2020
“Wayne [LaPierre], and the rest of the NRA executives, have consistently invoked that old bogeyman—that any regulation is tantamount to the overthrow of American life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That Democrats or people in favor of gun control, however modest, are trampling the Constitution," the report read.
"Indeed, the NRA is already turning up the rhetoric. In a recently uncovered fundraising letter to members, LaPierre warns of 'armed government agents storming your house, taking your guns, and hauling you off to prison' in language that worryingly echoes his words in the fundraising letter the NRA sent to members mere days before the Oklahoma City bombing," the study stated.