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How the NRA laid the groundwork for the deadly Capitol riots

The deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6 brought together a wide variety of right-wing militia groups and fringe conspiracy theorists, officially united by former President Donald Trump's false narrative that the 2020 election had been stolen. But the ideology that connected these groups in the first place was cultivated for decades by the National Rifle Association, gun violence prevention groups say.

"The violence that we saw at the Capitol, the firepower that they brought with them, may not have been part of the NRA's call. But they're responsible for getting us to this moment," said Nick Suplina, managing director for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. "They should not be allowed to distance themselves from the Frankenstein monster that they've created. This is the NRA's handiwork. Years of conspiracy peddling, fear-mongering that the government is going to come take your guns and your freedom, and the call upon Americans to do something about it, to take action, that's what we saw on Jan. 6. That base of militia groups and white supremacist groups and other extremists has been listening to the NRA's talking points for years, and we saw it play out."

A new report from Everytown detailing findings in police documents shows that officers seized more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition and arrested nine people on weapons charges.

"Quite honestly, that is a likely undercount given the fact that Capitol Police were unable to stop and search everyone," Suplina said. Capitol Police detained only 14 people during the riot, leaving federal investigators to scour social media and hundreds of thousands of tips to identify possible suspects. More than 150 people have been charged since.

"I knew they had guns — we had been seizing guns all day," D.C. police officer Daniel Hodges told the Washington Post. "And the only reason I could think of that they weren't shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost."

Police later discovered some rioters had their own arsenals at home as well.

"Many of the people at the Capitol were armed," Suplina said. "There was enough ammunition seized at the Capitol to shoot every member of the House and Senate five times."

The NRA's rhetoric has long been tied to violent groups. Many mass killers have echoed the words of NRA chief Wayne LaPierre in their "manifestos." In the 1990s, LaPierre repeatedly railed against the "abuses" of the federal government following the standoffs at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, calling for people to "take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government."

In 1995, LaPierre referred to federal agents as "jack-booted government thugs" and warned supporters that it was no longer "unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black stormtrooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens."

Days later, Timothy McVeigh, a former NRA member, bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City that housed an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) office, killing at least 168 people.

Numerous NRA board members have also been linked to militia groups.

"At that moment in 1995, the NRA could have said, 'Oh boy, we've overdone it. We've oversold this. We're changing our rhetoric,'" Suplina said. "But they kept it up and intensified it for another two decades, right up until the days before the insurrection at the Capitol."

Some of the members of the Capitol mob, including Richard Barnett, the man who posed in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, have been identified as gun activists, the Everytown report said, citing charging documents and social media posts. William Calhoun, who threatened a "war" over the election, proudly wore an NRA hat in his Twitter profile photo and organized at least one gun-rights rally following the election. Joe Biggs, a Proud Boys leader who led a group of rioters at the Capitol, has been repeatedly mentioned as a member on the NRA website. Len Guthrie, another man charged with illegally entering the Capitol, described himself as a "lifetime NRA member" and shared the "insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment" on his Facebook page, according to the report.

The NRA did not comment on the riot until generally condemning "all unlawful acts" in a social media statement nine days later.

"The NRA has publicly condemned the tragedy that occurred at the U.S. Capitol. It is disappointing but not surprising that Everytown now seeks to exploit that event and the tragic loss of life to attack law-abiding gun owners," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said in a statement to Salon.

He added: "Everytown's assault on the Second Amendment is being firmly rejected by the American people. The recent rise in lawful gun ownership is a referendum on Everytown, Michael Bloomberg, and all who seek to dismantle constitutional freedom."

But gun violence prevention groups say the NRA can't run from its past.

"For years, we've been watching the NRA take this very extreme position about gun rights and being willing to say things like, 'Obama's not only going to take your guns away,'" said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center. "They have overtly said, 'Government agents are going to break down your door and take your guns away and haul you off to prison.'

"They've actually pivoted in the last couple of years, very aggressively, to saying, 'What you need to fear is the government. The government is the enemy and your guns are the only thing protecting you from a government that you can't trust.' That's been NRA messaging." The Capitol siege, Thomas argued, was the "logical end" of that process.

While the NRA seized on Obama's attempts to implement gun control measures in the wake of numerous school shootings — especially the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 children and six adults were killed — Trump and his allies echoed the group's rhetoric for years, including in the moments leading up to the attack on the Capitol.

"So much of the rhetoric and the kinds of speeches that we heard from Trump and [Rudy] Giuliani and other people on that stage, leading to the march from the Ellipse and the White House to the Capitol, is absolutely consistent and fueled by NRA rhetoric," said Kris Brown, president of the gun violence prevention group Brady. That rhetoric, said Brown, "is all about this notion that the gun is the essential tool to take down a tyrannical government."

In an effort to sell more guns, the NRA has "painted a picture of a dystopic universe" akin to "Mad Max: Thunderdome," Brown said.

Speeches delivered at the rally that preceded the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, Brown added, were loaded with NRA talking points. "If you add guns, extremism, misinformation and white supremacy together," she said, "the natural conclusion of that, the alchemy of those things, makes Jan. 6 and Liberate Michigan and [the protests in] many other state capitals not a notable event but an inevitable event."

Though the groups that came together at the Capitol have espoused a wide range of grievances, gun rights are at the heart of their ideologies.

"The militia groups that were there, some of the far right-wing white supremacist groups that were there, the flags saying, 'Come and take it.' All of this is part of the vocabulary that the NRA has been pushing for years," Suplina said. "The NRA has adopted and really fueled the insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment, this notion that your right to bear arms is actually about taking up arms against a government that you believe is violating the Constitution or your rights. And what we've seen is just how dangerous that is. Because who's the arbiter of that decision? The answer is, a mob at the Capitol that has been fed lies about elections or gun confiscation taking up arms because they think it's their right to do that. And that's why guns are relevant. They were there, and they are the reason that people showed up there."

Discussions of an armed revolt started long before Trump called his followers to Washington in an effort to stop Congress from making President Joe Biden's election official. An analysis commissioned by Giffords found 17 million mentions of guns and related terms in reaction to election-related events in the months leading up to the vote. These discussions often focused on coming to the polls armed, defending the election and preparing for violence surrounding the results.

Thomas said she wasn't surprised to see how much overlap there was between the different groups who discussed guns because "those connections have been intentionally drawn by groups like the NRA."

"One of the things that's really interesting to us is the way it all fits together," she said. "This idea that they're being pitched: 'You need to be afraid of your guns being taken away. You need to be afraid of the governments and how they're going to strip away your rights.' And the idea that you as an individual, or as a part of these groups, have an individual responsibility. They frame it in terms of fighting tyranny, but really what they're doing is pushing people to fight legitimate government on an individual basis, using guns as a tool."

The number of mentions of guns was "astounding" and is likely an undercount given how many of these groups operate in private on the internet, according to the report.

"When you couple it with the threats and with the aggressive extremism, it's a huge risk," Thomas said, adding that there may never have been "a more dangerous moment than we're in right now."

While militias have echoed NRA rhetoric for years, newer online-based fringe groups like QAnon and the Boogaloo Bois have adopted a similar ideology.

"It's all lodged in the same rhetoric and the same theory," Suplina said. "There's a deep conspiracy to rob you of what you care about most, and the only response is a violent reckoning. That is the QAnon 'Storm.' That is the Boogaloo call for inciting a civil war. And the fact is, again, that the NRA's language is not seen as hysterical by many of the people who hear it. They are hearing it as a call to action. We see it in QAnon. We see it in the Boogaloo boys. We see it in the militia groups."

The Giffords analysis found a lot of overlap between QAnon and other groups on the topic of guns.

Many of these groups accept "absurd premises with regard to what's happening in our government," Thomas said, but also a "secondary piece, which is that it's your responsibility to help trigger this overthrow." Thomas said. "It imparts this sense of distrust, to the point of requiring you to help with this civil war, or revolution in the case of the Boogaloo Bois or the Proud Boys. I think QAnon has a lot of those same messages. That you, individually and in connection with this group, whatever that group is, have to get involved in helping spur this revolution."

Though the NRA spread its talking points through magazines and other media for years, its foray into NRATV marked a turning point in its rhetoric. Hosts on the network repeatedly stoked anger and fear as a way to draw viewers.

"You don't need to look much further than that to see that the NRA has helped build this framework of conspiracy backed by extreme acts of violence, and brought it into mainstream discourse," Suplina said. "NRATV for years was talking this talk. I think they need to be held accountable by being named as a cause of this. We honestly are not going to fully deal with this problem until we recognize the role of the NRA."

The NRA cut ties with NRATV in 2019, calling it "racist," amid a legal dispute with the group's longtime PR firm Ackerman McQueen, which operated the network. The NRA has since filed for bankruptcy in New York, where state Attorney General Letitia James has sued to dissolve the group over allegations of illegal self-dealing. The group has claimed that it is financially solid and intends to move to Texas to set up shop there. That, however, could backfire in bankruptcy court.

"If you are a solvent entity, bankruptcy court can't be used to shed yourself of litigation you just don't like," Brown said. "We are very eager to make sure that the interests of the American public are represented here, because the American public cares, as taxpaying individuals, how nonprofits are run in this country. And what's clear from the allegations in Tish James' complaint is that the NRA has not been run as an organization that is consistent with the law. They think they're above the law. They think they're untouchable."

Gun violence prevention groups have also called for lawmakers to step up in response to the Capitol riot and the growing threat from violent extremists. The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday warned of a "heightened threat" of violence from groups potentially emboldened by the Capitol attack.

Thomas said Giffords is pushing to expand extreme risk protective orders, which are typically used to remove guns from people dangerous to themselves or others, for example, to "disarm an extremist who we have evidence is making specific threats or coordinating an attack, pending a hearing." The group also believes that hate crime laws should be expanded so they could be used for "removing guns or at least preventing violence or similar types of acts."

But many of these reforms are no different than the ones violence prevention groups have demanded for years with limited success.

"There's things that have to happen. For one, guns don't have a place in our democratic discourse," Suplina said. "There should not be guns at Capitol buildings or grounds or at protests or at polling stations. Both Congress and state legislatures should take those issues up immediately, and many are.

"But more broadly, the problem of armed extremism can't be dealt with without dealing with the gun laws that had been kept weak by the armed extremists," he added. "Background checks have a lot of good uses, but one of them is to stop prohibited people from obtaining firearms. We know that some of the folks arrested at the Capitol were former felons and would not be allowed to legally own guns. We know that those guns which completely cut the background check system — or any check at all — out of the process are quickly becoming the guns of choice for militia groups and white supremacist groups because they're untraceable, you can make them at home, and there's no paper trail."

Brown argued that leadership on the gun issue has to start at the top and expressed disappointment that President Joe Biden did not discuss the link to guns when discussing the risk posed to the country by white supremacy and extremism in his inaugural address.

"If you want to reduce the peril of those kinds of extremist groups to democracy and to the free and fair election process, to racial justice and all of those things, you have to also say how you're going to tackle the issue of guns," she said. "You can't tackle those issues without also addressing the role of guns. We want the administration to say that."

Brown said strengthening gun laws was critical to democracy: "I want to be free to share my views in a public square without being intimidated by someone who's standing next to me with a semiautomatic weapon."

"That weapon speaks to me. That weapon chills my voice, it chills my First Amendment right," she said. "In that sense, it matters to our democracy. If we want the ability of everyday Americans to exercise their voice in the public square, and that includes voices who think guns should be everywhere, then guns can't be part of that equation. That chills our ability to have a conversation about what needs to happen, and that's the essence of our democracy."

State GOPs still pushing Trump’s fraud lies, promoting QAnon and calling Capitol riot 'false flag'

Despite former President Donald Trump's departure from the White House and disappearance from social media, state Republican parties are still promoting pro-Trump conspiracy theories and moving further right than ever. Some Republican lawmakers have seized on the unfounded voter fraud narrative to try to impose new voter restrictions out of concern that widespread voting could hamper their electoral chances.

The Arizona Republican Party on Saturday voted to censure Gov. Doug Ducey, a longtime Republican Trump ally who fell out of favor when he refused to question his own state's election results and certified President Joe Biden's win in the state. The measure, which focused on Ducey's delayed coronavirus restrictions, did not mention his decision to certify the results, though it came up often among the state's Republicans. The Arizona GOP also censured Cindy McCain, widow of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who opposed Trump. The party also re-elected chairwoman Kelli Ward, who backed Trump's baseless legal crusade and filed a "meritless" lawsuit to overturn the results of her state's election.

The Hawaii GOP on Saturday defended the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, which appears to have motivated many members of the pro-Trump mob at the deadly Capitol riot who donned QAnon gear, on its Twitter account.

"We should make it abundantly clear — the people who subscribed to the Q fiction, were largely motivated by a sincere and deep love for America. Patriotism and love of County (sic) should never be ridiculed," one tweet said. Another added that people "who followed Q doesn't deserve mockery," referring to the anonymous 4chan poster who claimed to be a government insider dropping unfounded clues about a secret, cannibalistic Democratic cabal of child-traffickers and the mass arrests Trump was ostensibly planning.

Those tweets were posted by Hawaii Republican vice chairman Edwin Boyette, who has since resigned and had his tweets removed. After stepping down, Boyette blamed "leftist activists and the Democratic establishment attempting to smash any critical speech they can not control."

The Oregon Republican Party last week approved a resolution "condemning the betrayal" of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in stoking the Capitol riot. The members who supported Trump's impeachment are "traitors" who "conspired" with "Leftist forces seeking to establish a dictatorship void of all cherished freedoms and liberties," the resolution said.

The Oregon GOP further claimed there was "growing evidence" that the Capitol attack was a "'false flag' operation" designed to "discredit President Trump, his supporters and all conservative Republicans," even though countless photos, videos, and charging documents show the mob was filled with Trump supporters egged on by the former president's own comments at the rally preceding the siege.

Oregon Republican chair Bill Currier said in a Facebook video last week that the state party is "encouraging and working with the others through a patriot network of RNC members, the national level elected officials from each state" to issue similar resolutions.

Indeed, Washington state's county Republican Party leaders have joined the push, calling for Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., one of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, to resign over his "indefensible" vote, according to the Associated Press. Republican leaders in Pennsylvania have also refused to seat a Democrat state legislator whose win has been certified by state officials.

The Wyoming Republican Party also issued a statement slamming Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for aligning with "leftists" to impeach Trump. The House Freedom Caucus is pushing to oust Cheney as the No. 3 Republican in House GOP leadership in response to the vote.

But Republicans are not just eating their own for insufficient fealty to the former president. Many Republican state lawmakers are moving to impose draconian new voting restrictions to combat the alleged widespread fraud that Trump's own Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and countless Republican judges have clearly said did not happen.

In Georgia, where top Republican state officials repeatedly pushed back on Trump's false claims about the election he lost, GOP lawmakers are pushing to impose a "bevy of changes," including limiting who can vote by mail and the use of drop-boxes, according to Politico. The state Senate's Republicans and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who drew praise for standing up to Trump's lies and pressure campaign, have called to end no-excuse absentee voting in the state. Others have called for voter ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Some Georgia Republicans have cited concerns over election integrity to justify their push to limit voting access, even though Georgia already has some of the most restrictive policies in place and has confirmed the "integrity" of the November vote with multiple recounts and audits.

Some Republicans have made statements similar to Trump's pre-election admission that expanding mail-in voting would hurt Republicans' election chances, even though down-ballot Republicans generally performed far better than Trump in November, and the incumbent president himself outperformed his poll numbers in several states, including Texas and Florida.

"They don't have to change all of them [voting regulations], but they've got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning," Alice O'Lenick, a Republican on the Gwinnett County, Georgia, board of elections said in a newspaper interview last week.

The chairman of the Texas Republican Party called for the legislature to make "election integrity" a top priority this session, calling to shrink the state's early-voting period. VoteRiders, a nonprofit group that helps voters obtain IDs to vote, predicted that at least five other states would move to impose new voter ID requirements, according to Politico. Republican lawmakers in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also signaled that they want to impose new voter restrictions, although Democratic governors in those states have the power to veto such legislation.

Myrna Pérez, who heads the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program, predicted that voting restrictions would be a top priority for Republican lawmakers, since polls show the party's voters believe the election was fraudulent even though it's been "proven time and time again that election fraud is rare."

"What I think will be the trend this year is attacks rolling back mail voting and attacks rolling back accommodations that happened in response to the pandemic, which we usually don't see," she told CBS News. "We usually don't see a lot of people wasting their time and energy on mail voting because the people that used it, liked it, and the states that use it a lot, really like it."

Voting restrictions are just one way state Republicans hope to win back power after losing the White House and both chambers of Congress but holding their majorities in many state legislatures. Republicans are poised to have the power to gerrymander nearly 200 congressional districts while Democrats hold control over the boundaries of just 73 seats. With the 2020 Census already expected to cost states like New York, California and Illinois seats in the House, Republican-led legislatures could further redistrict their way to power and make it extremely difficult for Democrats to keep their narrow House majority in the 2022 midterms, creating a scenario similar to the 2010 midterms during Barack Obama's first term.

"Although conservatives traditionally cast themselves as guardians of governing traditions and institutions, today's Republicans pride themselves on finding ways to subvert them," wrote Thomas Patterson, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "They're out of power in Washington, but the states determine most of the rules governing registration and voting. Republicans control half of the state governments and share control in half of the rest. Sadly, the lesson that Republicans took from their November defeat was that they hadn't gone far enough in their efforts to suppress the vote."

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