ATLANTA, GEORGIA — Until November, it was easy for the National Rifle Association to galvanize its members against a common enemy. Hillary Clinton appeared likely to ascend to White House, where she would destroy the Second Amendment, according to leaders of the gun lobby. This fear of Clinton drove up gun sales, boosted firearm manufacturers, and bolstered the NRA’s lobbying power.
But with President Trump’s win — unexpected even for many here at the NRA’s annual meeting — the group had to reorient itself around a new target able to drive just as much anger in its millions of members.
ISIS or other international threats may have been easy marks. But judging by the rhetoric used by NRA leaders and President Trump in Atlanta this week, the gun lobby has set its sights elsewhere: the media.
“It’s up to us to speak up against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites, and media elites. These are America’s greatest domestic threats” LaPierre told thousands of NRA members on Friday at the group’s Leadership Forum, explaining that the media is trying to destroy Trump and his administration.
“It’s up to us to speak up against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites, and media elites.”
Behind him, a screen showed clips of news reports on Trump and anti-Trump protests from across the country.
“Leftists media elites deliberately deceive and spin and twist the truth to grow their anti-American agenda,” he said. Later he asked: “When did the media stop being journalists and start becoming PR flacks for the destruction of our country?”
Taking it a step further, LaPierre told his members that the job of the NRA is to give “the media the big fat black eye it so often richly deserves.” Dana Loesch, a conservative media personality and NRA spokesperson, later used similarly incendiary language in a video segment, saying gun owners need to “fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth.” And Chris Cox, the group’s chief lobbyist, claimed that the media “drew their knives from the very beginning” and led a “vicious” attack against Trump.
The line drew huge applause from the audience, and a mention of CNN later in the event led NRA members to take to their feet chanting “CNN sucks.”
While attacks on the press are nothing new for the gun lobby, turning the media into enemy number one is a unique approach for the organization during a time of unified Republican control of government. And this is the first time that the NRA’s rhetoric so closely matches the president’s.
The NRA spent more than $30 million last year to elect Trump — more than three times the amount it spent on Mitt Romney’s campaign — and the investment paid off. Speaking on Friday as the first sitting president to address the NRA in over three decades, Trump confirmed his commitment to upholding the group’s agenda.
When it comes to attacking the press, the NRA appears ready to do Trump’s bidding. And its members are ready to fall in line.
Mark D’Arcangelo, an NRA member who came to the convention from Cumming, Georgia, did not appear interested in speaking to ThinkProgress until asked if he trusts the media. Then, he started talking, citing a report he said he read on the right-wing website American Thinker which said that 96 percent of mainstream media reports on Trump so far have been negative.
D’Arcangelo said he mostly watches Fox News, but will occasionally turn on CNN to see how the network spins its lies.
“It’s not an organized agenda; they just hate the man,” he said. “They still don’t understand, they completely don’t understand, why the man got elected.”
— NRA (@NRA) April 7, 2017
LaPierre and the organization’s political leaders have also used Trump’s win to bolster their claim that the media doesn’t know what it’s talking about. In a video released earlier this month, LaPierre claims: “Now the whole country sees you for the mockery we’ve always known.”
With similar thinking coming from the Trump administration in Washington, that kind of language could translate into policy when it comes to freedom of the press. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told ABC News Sunday that the president is open to considering changing the constitution so that he could sue journalists for unfavorable coverage.