A Rift in the Gun World
BROOKE GLADSTONE On this week's On the Media, groups pushing for fewer controls on firearms are weighing in on coronavirus restrictions. Why?
CHRIS HAXEL At the end of the day? Gun rights is not about hunting. It's about a response to tyrannical government.
VAL FINNELL Politics, plain and simple is the adjudication of power. It's who rules whom, simple as that.
JOHN BURKE The Second Amendment is very clear. Shall not be infringed. Period.
CAROLYN RICKER If Wayne LaPierre is going to get $20000 Armani suits from Beverly Hills, they can pay some legal fees.
AARON DORR I don't know how many times I've been asked by media outlets, don't you guys do guns? What's your big deal on this coronavirus issue? Why don't you stay in your lane? And I have had so much enjoyment telling media outlets all across the country that, you know, our lane is freedom and we just don't give a dang. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE A deep dove into the no compromise gun rights movement after this.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. On November 3rd, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. V. Bruen, the case that could provoke the most significant update to gun laws since District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. In that landmark hearing, the court upheld the interpretation of the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to own a gun for personal self-defense. Bruen challenges a century old New York state law requiring anyone who seeks to publicly carry a handgun to show quote "proper cause" before they can get a license to do so. If those restrictions are rolled back, cities will be forced to respect the same permissive gun rules that we already see in rural and conservative areas of the country. All this, of course, will be music to the ears of many, many gun groups around the country who've been pushing for just this kind of legislation to dig deeper into the world of gun rights activists. I'm handing over the hour to NPR reporters Chris Haxel and Lisa Hagen. In the run up to the 2020 elections, they produced a Pulitzer Prize winning podcast called No Compromise, in which they documented the growing rifts in the gun rights world.
GUN ACTIVIST Full defiance of tyranny is so alive and well in the great Keystone State. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania Thousands of people are protesting outside the state Capitol. Coronavirus has been disrupting American life and killing people for almost two months. The governor here has ordered Pennsylvanians to stay home. Businesses are closed. Hospitals are packed. But Americans are stubborn people.
CHRIS DORR To all the haters who are watching the page right now. I hope this display of American love for freedom triggers all of you. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Chris Dorr started a Facebook page called Pennsylvanians against excessive quarantine, and 60,000 people joined almost instantly.
CHRIS DORR This whole Facebook page was started in order to get people to start fighting back against these tyrannical moves that Governor Wolf has been foisting upon the people of Pennsylvania. And I got to tell you, I was at the Ohio rally... [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN Chris Dorr doesn't actually live in Pennsylvania. He just started a Facebook page there. He also launched Ohioans against excessive quarantine.
CHRIS HAXEL Two of his brothers are in on it, too. They started reopen Minnesota and Wisconsinites against excessive quarantine. In just a couple of weeks each Facebook group had tens of thousands of followers spawning state rallies of their very own
LISA HAGEN Days after the Pennsylvania rally, the brothers post another video. This time with some buddies. They've got near identical banners behind them, a grainy image of someone aiming a tactical rifle.
CHRIS DORR Government and media never, ever, ever give back your rights without an absolute bloodbath fight. And that's what we're facing here guys [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL These aren't just random guys who don't like the government telling them what to do. These are seasoned gun rights activists.
LISA HAGEN You might be thinking, what could the 2nd Amendment possibly have to do with a pandemic? And you wouldn't be the only one.
AARON DORR I know how many times in the last couple days I've been asked by media outlets, Well, don't you guys do guns like, what's your big deal on this coronavirus issue? And why don't you stay in your lane? And I have had so much enjoyment telling media outlets all across the country that, you know, our lane is freedom and we just don't give a damn. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL That's Aaron Dorr, Chris's brother. The story of Americans protesting public health orders made headlines all over the world.
LISA HAGEN The reports read, like there was some kind of network of conservative activists secretly engineering what looked like organic grassroots protests, and the brothers were having a great time with that idea.
CHRIS DORR I told that idiot reporter, they're like, Are you guys being financed by the Koch brothers? I said, Oh no, no, you must have me mistaken. We're not the Koch brothers. All of America is Dorr brothers, and my goodness, we just want to get this country back. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN Ordinarily, state level gun rights groups can seem like small potatoes compared to the National Rifle Association, which most people think of as THE gun lobby.
CHRIS HAXEL But the truth is, there's a rift in the gun world, and it's growing, so we wanted to know why. When did so many gun owners start thinking the National Rifle Association is soft on guns. That NRA's stands for negotiating rights away? The Dorr brothers are part of a gun movement that's fundamentally distrustful of centralized government. It's the heart of what we're going to call the no compromise philosophy.
AARON DORR At the end of the day. Gun rights is not about hunting, it's not about sports shooting somebody. It's about a response to tyrannical government. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL After Aaron started the first group Iowa Gun Owners, his brothers joined in, along with a couple of friends. Patrick Parsons and Greg Pruitt. These five guys now run operations in about a dozen states, and they are always hustling to keep those audiences interested and donating.
LISA HAGEN To do that, they need content. That's why back in January of 2020, they and 20000 other gun rights activists gathered in Richmond, Virginia, to protest Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam sweeping new gun control legislation.
CHRIS HAXEL Thousands of people are watching live. It's a pro-gun bonanza that the brothers can turn into a flood of content for weeks. Videos, articles, memes, many of them identical and posted simultaneously across their network of Facebook pages, which is great if you're pro-gun and stuck at home. See if you care about this rally, you could watch CNN.
NEWS REPORT Ahead of today's demonstration, the governor declared a state of emergency and banned all weapons on Capitol grounds. But outside that secured area, many demonstrators were heavily armed. Look at them, they look like soldiers there. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Or you can skip the media.
UNKNOWN DORR BROTHER Beautiful patriots...
CHRIS HAXEL And watch Facebook....
UNKNOWN DORR BROTHER Look at them. This is what keeps governments at bay, is what keeps tyrants at bay. It's what keeps criminals at bay right here. We love it. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL A guided tour from people you trust for five minutes or five hours.
VIRGINIA ACTIVIST 1 You've got the fake news media, helicopters and stuff flying around. They'll probably do here today what they do at Trump rally.
VIRGINIA ACTIVIST 2 Yeah, hundreds of people showed up.
VIRGINIA ACTIVIST 2 Hundreds of people. And then they'll show some video clips from 4:30 this morning. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Now, if you're a Missourian watching, say, the Missouri Firearms Coalition page, you think, look at our hometown guy on the ground. Aaron's giving me a tailored virtual experience.
AARON DORR We know how insane guys like Peter Meredith are. All the rest of these people in the capital, that's the Jill Schupp's, these radical nutjob socialist idiots who once you disarm us. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL But he does that for Iowans, too.
AARON DORR Well, if they ever had the votes to do it in Iowa, they would do it. They would do it. And that's the lesson here today. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Now, the Dorr brothers and their friends aren't the only gun rights group, with there's 'no compromise' philosophy. We found active organizations in 36 states. Some are independent. Others are part of Dorr style networks.
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GUN RIGHTS GROUP MEMBERSHIP AD ...Or donate to this case. You can do so with the link on the screen...
GUN RIGHTS GROUP MEMBERSHIP AD $10 month program, after the third month, you get a unique cap. You can't just buy this hat right? You have to be a Liberty member to get the hat. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN These brothers are just one faction in a whole anti NHRA movement, but they get a lot of people talking. And the more we heard, the more we realized. The story of the Dorrs might help explain what's changing about gun culture... And America.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, Lisa and Chris traveled to meet some of the Dorr brothers' supporters. This is On the Media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. This hour, we're airing an extended excerpt of the NPR series No Compromise. Here's co-host Chris Haxel
CHRIS HAXEL To really understand people who want no gun regulations at all. What we're calling the 'no compromise' gun rights movement, we can't just focus on its leaders. we got to meet some followers, right?
LISA HAGEN To do that, I drove down to Coweta County, Georgia, about 40 miles out of Atlanta, headed toward Alabama to a brown house at the end of a windy road.
CAROLYN RICKER So, like I said, my house is very plain. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN As I step inside Carolyn Ricker's House, my eye immediately gets drawn to this...
LISA HAGEN ...Ooo look at all!.... [CONTINUES UNDER]
...pegboard covered in spools of different colored thread. Beautiful little workplace.
....Are you the sewer?
CAROLYN RICKER Yes. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN This is where she comes when everyone in her family leaves for work to pull up Facebook.
CAROLYN RICKER You know, I'll be doing something by hand and then I have to. I take a seam and then I knit a few rounds. I shoot a few rounds [LAUGHS]
LISA HAGEN Between stitches. That's how she watches her live videos.
CAROLYN RICKER And it's just fun because we're all part of this community. It's like pulling up your hot chocolate and sitting down, Okay, we're here together, you know, and you have that sense of community.
LISA HAGEN Videos like this:
PATRICK PARSONS Hollywood left wing Democrats who hate your guts and hate my guts, who want to kill babies, eat them for dinner and then choke down one of your AR15s and steal it from you. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN This is the Dorr brother's partner in Georgia, Patrick Parsons.
CAROLYN RICKER He's obnoxious, and I say that in a kind way.
LISA HAGEN Parsons runs Carolyn's local 'no compromise' group, Georgia Gun Owners.
PATRICK PARSONS The NRA is selling you out.
LISA HAGEN Patrick typically puts out a few videos a week. Carolyn says she tries to keep up with all of that.
CHRIS HAXEL On average, that's about two and a half hours a week
LISA HAGEN Spent stitching and listening.
PATRICK PARSONS They all want charity over your rights, your God given right to defend yourself and your family. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Listening and stitching.
PATRICK PARSONS we need to go for the kill. Now, get the government out of the gun business now. Lead.... [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN In almost every one of these gun videos on Facebook, there's a point where the guys do shout outs
PATRICK PARSONS Stewart is here, the great Johnny Lowe is here from McDuffie, Georgia. Bill is here.... [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN It's like a ritual. It reminds me of that moment in church where everyone greets each other.
PATRICK PARSONS There's Alan Cobbtown, Jim and Ro – Max nice shirt. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Each video is usually dedicated to a main topic some liberal attack or Republican betrayal.
PATRICK PARSONS There are nasty, moderate anti-gun Republicans lurching around. They are going to dump you and your secular rights in a grave and keep their power [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN Doesn't have to be a local issue.
PATRICK PARSONS We are talking the Mexican murder rate. This is information you will not hear on fake news, CNN and MSNBC, and most of the time, Fox News. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN To something that gets that blood up
PATRICK PARSONS You are a slave to government. That's what you love, and that's what you're [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL And if you're into the 'no compromise' gun rights fight, nothing gets the blood up quite like the National Rifle Association.
PATRICK PARSONS A lot of people say, Well, you guys are dividing the gun movement, but remember NRA with Wayne LaPierre, they have decades now of financial impropriety. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN The last couple of years have been bad for the NRA. Investigations, public infighting and all kinds of stories about Big Boss Wayne LaPierre spending money on himself.
PATRICK PARSONS Italian patent leather shoes probably made for him specifically on some frickin cow over in Italy or something. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN Carolyn Ricker, our Coweta County mom, used to be a member.
CAROLYN RICKER They got my one hundred and five dollars for a three year membership and they're not getting another dime. And I am not contributing to their legal fund because if Wayne LaPierre is going to get $20000 Armani suits from Beverly Hills, they can pay some legal fees.
CHRIS HAXEL Let's get a quick fact check out of the way because we're going to hear about these suits a lot. According to leaked NRA documents, LaPierre spent $39000 in a single day at a Beverly Hills menswear boutique. Couldn't tell you if that was just one suit or some cufflinks or what. The point is he makes and spends a whole lot of money running what's supposed to be a nonprofit.
LISA HAGEN And either way, custom suits aren't what drove Carolyn away from the NRA. Parkland was.
ANDERSON COOPER In yet another American town, which today became the site of yet another deadly school shooting [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN A high school shooting in a Florida suburb where an expelled student shot and killed 17 people. The whole country reacts.
NEWS REPORT Enough is enough. That was the message from waves of high school students across the country today, as they poured out of schools across football fields and into the streets to demand action on gun violence. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN All the outcry brought attention to this one policy: red flag laws. The idea that if someone might be about to harm themselves or someone else, there should be a way to take their guns until they're better.
MIKE PENCE To literally give families and give local law enforcement additional tools... [CONTINUES UNDER]
LISA HAGEN That's Mike Pence at the White House in 2018, just after the shooting.
MIKE PENCE But the ability to go to court obtain an order and then collect not only the firearms, but any, any weapons. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL It felt like a rare moment of possibility for supporters of gun control
LISA HAGEN and a really jarring time for folks like Carolyn. So she's seeing all this talk about new gun regulation and thinking what is going on with the NRA?
CAROLYN RICKER I emailed them and I got nothing back. So what tell me about these red flag laws? What are--there was nothing on their site. There was nothing. They just went dark, and I never got a satisfactory answer back. And so when they called for a fundraiser to get more money, I said: here's the message, and you can give this to Mr. LaPierre, when you are ready to fill my inbox with angry tirades and reasons why we shouldn't have red flag laws, then I will listen and I will be happy to continue to support you. And until that happens, no. Don't. I mean, just no.
CHRIS HAXEL When you're advocates, don't deliver in a moment like that, you feel like you've been fooled.
PATRICK PARSONS And Patrick, he keeps people in the loop because of his challenges. He doesn't expect us to be, 'yes, dear' dummies and go along with it. It's this is what's happening, look for yourself. Do this for yourself. This is empowerment. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL That word empowerment is interesting. For her, watching the videos makes her feel powerful, more powerful anyway than cutting the NRA and another chuck.
LISA HAGEN Carolyn told me one time about this thing that happened in her neighborhood that she immediately wanted Patrick to know about.
CAROLYN RICKER Well, in this neighborhood we had somebody try to steal an engine. The thief was held at gunpoint until the cops got there. That, to me, was very responsible. He did not shoot anybody. He just said, You're going to stay here, don't move. I've got the police on the way. And he was taken into custody and everything was fine.
LISA HAGEN And you called Patrick at that?
CAROLYN RICKER Yeah, I did. I called him and he actually answered the phone. I mean, you know, there's no hero worship there, but I was surprised that he did because I was just going to leave a voicemail. [LAUGHS] So that's OK, what's on your mind? And I told him, he's like, OK, cool, you know? So it was all very professional, very cordial. I mean, he's a, he's a decent guy.
LISA HAGEN It also strikes me as the opposite of your interaction with the NRA.
CAROLYN RICKER Mm-Hmm.
CHRIS HAXEL Lisa lives in Atlanta, so it's natural for her to focus on Patrick's Group, Georgia Gun Owners. Since I'm in Kansas City. I pay more attention to the Dorr groups in Missouri and Iowa. I sent Facebook messages to a bunch of people who comment on the videos. Aaron Dorr makes for the Missouri Firearms Coalition and only one person wrote back. John Burke. We ended up talking on the phone about maybe doing an interview. He was polite but cautious. John is in a militia group called Three Percenters, and he didn't really want the interview to be about that. Also, you know, people in the gun world don't trust the media, and in some ways, that's fair. It's true that a lot of reporters don't know much about guns. They call an AR15 assault rifle, use the word clip when they mean magazine, and for some reason seem to think semiautomatic is an important word when talking about a handgun. It drives me crazy, too. So anyway, I told him it's my job to cover guns. I like hunting. I even used to be in the army, jumped out of airplanes and shot lots of guns. I think I can give you a fair shake. John agreed to the interview and invited me to his home near Lake of the Ozarks. Looking back, I was feeling pretty good about talking my way into this interview. But as it turned out, it wasn't really me who convinced him to do it. It was Aaron Dorr. Just for radio purposes here, can you say and spell your first and last name,
JOHN BURKE First name is John, J-O-H-N, last name is Burke B as in boy, U-R-K-E.
CHRIS HAXEL And just for clarification, is Carla going to be participating?
CARLA BURKE I'm going to try to keep my mouth shut.
CHRIS HAXEL Carla Burke is John's wife, they moved from the Chicago suburbs to Missouri when they retired. They like being outdoors. They said they barely watch TV anymore, but they are big fans of Aaron Dorr whenever they get a Facebook notification for one of his videos.
JOHN BURKE Missouri Firearms Coalition is having a live watch party. OK?
CARLA BURKE Everything else is on pause.
CHRIS HAXEL Or if they get a notification that a reporter wants to do an interview, they check with Aaron to see what he thinks. When they tell me that, I'm like, 'Oh, really?'
CARLA BURKE Yes, because we check you out too!
CHRIS HAXEL Good, Good!
JOHN BURKE I told you right up front, I will research, dig and pull threads, you know?
CARLA BURKE So that was the first thing he did and...was check with Aaron.
JOHN BURKE If I did something like that with the NRA. It would never happen. You know...
CHRIS HAXEL Just like Carolyn Ricker in Georgia saying she's fed up with the NRA, the Burkes are not happy about Wayne LaPierre and his wardrobe.
JOHN BURKE I don't think as a member of the NHRA, my money is being best used by him buying a $50,000 suit.
CARLA BURKE Especially if he's using it to stab us in the back.
JOHN BURKE Yeah. [SIGH]
LISA HAGEN I like how every time we hear about those fancy suits, they get more expensive. Yeah.
CHRIS HAXEL Anyway, as we're sitting in their living room, John tells me they started to get interested in guns back in Illinois.
JOHN BURKE Illinois law is really stupid. You've got to unload it. You've got to make sure it can't fire. The ammunition has to be completely separate than the firearm. They both have to be locked in separate containers. The range is three blocks from our house. Why are we busting our butts doing all of this work to go three blocks?
CHRIS HAXEL They just found this stuff to be really onerous, and they didn't want to deal with it anymore.
JOHN BURKE The Second Amendment is very clear. Shall not be infringed.
JOHN and CARLA BURKE: Period.
CHRIS HAXEL John and Carla tell me gun politics are a big reason they decided to retire here in Missouri. John can shoot targets off the back porch and the neighbors don't care.
CARLA BURKE We were seriously digging into the state laws and political climate. That was a big factor...
JOHN BURKE Definitely.
CARLA BURKE ...In us choosing Missouri.
CHRIS HAXEL The Burke's tell me again and again. They. Do. Their. Research. That research is how John found the Missouri Firearms Coalition.
JOHN BURKE We came across the Dorr Brothers and we really liked what they were saying. We really liked that they were in Jefferson City. Physically in Jefferson City. Not just firing off an email or sending a letter or something like that. They were actually on the steps of the Capitol, actually physically being in the faces of the congressmen and the politicians and talking to them.
CARLA BURKE We like that they're not just offering lip service.
CHRIS HAXEL Boots on the ground, John says. They're talking about videos like this
AARON DORR I'm in the Capitol all day. Talk to probably 15 or 20 lawmakers on your behalf talking about SAPA, gun free zone repeal and the list of pro-gun priorities that we have this year. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Aaron is in a suit and tie under the vaulted Capitol ceiling in Jeff City. He's been making videos like this for about five years now.
LISA HAGEN He goes to gun shows, does rifle giveaways, posts, videos people send in of their kids target practicing. This boy's 10.
[SOUND OF GUNSHOTS]
CHRIS HAXEL Reposts of other people's footage, typically showing law abiding gun owners saving the day – do the best. To be honest, it's rare for Aarpm himself to break 10,000 views,
LISA HAGEN But this one did OK.
AARON DORR The bottom line is right now the city council here is scared. The anti-gun members of the council. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN He's standing outside in the snow suffering for the cause, which gets him almost as many views as that 10 year old at the range. But it's OK because remember Aaron's not alone.
CHRIS DORR Howdy, folks, Chris Dorr here for Minnesota gun rights, I wanted to give you a quick update on Senate file... [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN This is a family business.
BEN DORR Hi folks Ben Dorr here. I'm from Northfield, Minnesota, and I'm the political director for Minnesota Gun Rights. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Working as a team makes it easier to cover more ground.
LISA HAGEN It's all working so well that they decided to launch their own national supergroup, the American Firearms Coalition. The Dorr's challenge to the NRA.
CHRIS DORR Okay, this movement, this no compromise. Grassroots movement is from the bottom up, and that's a big difference between the American Firearms Coalition and the NRA and some of these other groups. And I think that's been a big frustration from a lot of gun owners is they don't ever know what these gun groups are doing. But we tell you all the time, we're always live on Facebook. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN There are lots of gun rights groups in the US, some with a lot more money than the Dorrs, but unlike most of those groups, the brothers have mastered Facebook Live and built a following.
CHRIS HAXEL The Missouri Firearms Coalition has 130,000 followers on Facebook,
LISA HAGEN and in Georgia it's nearly 425,000. It's clear the Dorrs and their partners are connecting with their followers.
CHRIS HAXEL Which, according to Mark Zuckerberg, is exactly the point of these Facebook videos.
MARK ZUCKERBERG People watch live videos longer and make comments more than 10 times as much as on regular videos. People love going live because it's so unfiltered and personal, and you feel like you're just there hanging out with your friends. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL All it takes is one friend who follows the Missouri Firearms Coalition for these videos to start popping up on your News Feed. Compare that to something like NRA TV.
LISA HAGEN The NRA ran its own online TV network for four years before it pulled the plug. It was filled to the gills with that same tirade vibe Patrick and Aaron are serving, except from shiny gun celebrities like Dana Loesch.
DANA LOESCH The only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL But nobody was watching. The actual viewership was really low. I ask John and Carla Burke about NRA TV, and they're like, you know, they tried it, but they weren't into it.
LISA HAGEN And in Georgia, Carolyn Ricker told me the same thing.
...You just gave me a thumbs down.
CAROLYN RICKER I haven't seen it.
LISA HAGEN OK.
CAROLYN RICKER I mean, I haven't actively looked for it, and I haven't seen it. So it's kind of like I heard about it, but I don't know. I think I've seen a couple of items.
LISA HAGEN And how much did NRA TV cost to run a year paying all those stars, production, scripts?
CHRIS HAXEL $20 million, a year. And even with all that money, they still couldn't simulate the feeling of community that the gun guys get out of Facebook for a tiny fraction of that price tag,
LISA HAGEN which is something Facebook did on purpose. Just like John and Carla. Facebook's algorithm values authenticity or what looks like it.
CHRIS HAXEL It doesn't care about Hollywood production value. What it cares about is engagement. Comments, likes...
LISA HAGEN Anything that looks like people are genuinely interacting with each other, like P.T., Barnum said. There's no such thing as bad Facebook Live comments. The algorithm amplifies content it perceives as popular. So a Facebook Live video that gets lots of comments and shares.
GUN ACTIVIST Wendel says. You have become a shame and disgrace and gun owners. You need to go radical hatred. That's what you have. Wendel says. I have radical hatred [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN ...is more likely to be at the top of someone's newsfeed.
CHRIS HAXEL It's almost like the gun guys hacked the system or better yet used it exactly the way it was designed. Just not for friendship.
LISA HAGEN For what then? Hundreds of hours of videos, a splash of Facebook magic, familiar lineup of charismatic friends, each with their own special style but always circling back to the same central message.
CHRIS DORR This is government control top to bottom.
AARON DORR They all want charity over your rights, your God given right, your natural right.
PATRICK PARSONS As long as people are willing to sit governments willing to control,.
BEN DORR Stop their tyranny, to stop their government control,.
PATRICK PARSONS Tyrannical governments.
BEN DORR To Control.
PATRICK PARSONS Tyranny
BEN DORR To Control.
PATRICK PARSONS Tyranny. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, how the Dorr brothers used the threat of government tyranny to score political goals. This is On the Media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. And we're back with the final part of the story about the 'no compromise' gun movement. At the beginning of the hour. Co-hosts Chris Haxel and Lisa Hagen posed the question What could the Second Amendment possibly have to do with the coronavirus?
[AMBIENT SOUNDS OF A PLAYGROUND WITH CHILDREN]
CHRIS HAXEL This is a video of police officers and a group of angry moms in Idaho. It's April 2020, nearly a month into Governor, Brad Little's statewide stay at home order. Schools are closed. Toilet paper sold out. We don't understand this coronavirus thing and people are scared. And yet these moms go to a playground in Meridian, Idaho, ripped down some caution tape and let their kids have at it.
LISA HAGEN The moms are basically daring police. Try to enforce the governor's order.
ANGRY MOM 1 You're the line of enforcement on an order that, quite frankly, is unconstitutional.
POLICE OFFICER OK, this going to take up with the mayor and the parks director
ANGRY MOM 2 But you're enforcing it right now.
POLICE OFFICER Yeah,.
ANGRY MOM 2 That's your choice, right [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN This goes on for a few minutes until one of the cops has had enough. He starts counting down from five.
POLICE OFFICER Three. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN One mom sees her opening turns away from the cop, lifts her arms behind her back and says, arrest me for being at the park.
ANGRY MOM 3 Am I being arrested or detained? [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN She was arrested, trespassing. The quarantine playground story makes national news.
CHRIS HAXEL Bingo. Just the thing you'd be going for if you happen to be, oh, let's say. An anti-vaccination activists look into rally opposition against this new form of medical tyranny. This woman...
ANGRY MOM 3 Am I arrested or detained? [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Is Sarah Walton Brady. She runs Idahoans for vaccine freedom. A tiny Facebook group that shares 'theories' about vaccinations and the pandemic
LISA HAGEN As soon as Sarah got arrested. Dorr brother's pal Greg Pruitt started live streaming.
GREG PRUETT Hey, everybody! Greg Pruett here president of Idaho's second member alliance. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN He told his followers she was just like any other American. Frustrated with this fresh wave of government overreach.
GREG PRUETT ...and we're going to go down and protest the arrest of Sarah Brady in front of the Meridian City Hall. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN Meanwhile, folks on Reddit quickly tracked down Facebook posts that suggest it was a planned stunt with a name. The Tear the Tape Down event. Sarah Walton Brady has denied this.
CHRIS DORR Everybody's got a phone .Film them. Put them on the record. We call it confrontational politics. No harm intended physically whatsoever. It's simply politics. [END
AARON DORR At least for our organizations, we are steeped in the digital age, and the confrontational politics model where we... [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN The Dorr brothers and their pals are all about confrontational politics.
CHRIS HAXEL An ideology and a set of tactics, all laid out in a book written in the 90s by H.L. Richardson.
LISA HAGEN Here's Greg in Idaho.
GREG PRUETT And so I read confrontational politics, and it was just like a slap in the face like, Holy cow, we are doing this wrong, folks. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL It turns out the Dorrs don't just practice confrontational politics. Their teachers. For years, a group called Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership,
LISA HAGEN ...or FACL.
CHRIS HAXEL ...has held seminars across the country. Over the years, you can see Aaron and Chris Dorr listed as official instructors, along with about a dozen other gun rights activists.
LISA HAGEN The way it works is people pay 40 or 50 bucks to spend a day inside a meeting hall or hotel conference room, learning the same confrontational politics tactics the Dorrs use. The classes aren't really advertised outside far right circles.
CHRIS HAXEL We asked if they'd let a reporter in, but never heard back. The seminars are open to the public, so I decided to just sign up like anyone else with the understanding that if anyone asked, I would identify myself truthfully. I pulled up the FACL website and found a class scheduled the next day on the other side of Missouri near St. Louis. So the next morning, I pull into the parking lot of a church. There's a shoe propping open a door on the side of the building, so I walk in and find a friendly middle-aged woman sitting at one of those brown folding tables that every church seems to have.
CHRIS HAXEL Hi, how much is it?
VOLUNTEER It's 50 dollars at the door.
CHRIS HAXEL I give her the cash, fill out some paperwork and I'm on my way.
VOLUNTEER Thank you. And now if you... [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL I slap the name tag on my shirt, and scan the room. There's a PowerPoint slide on the projector says everyone must turn off our cell phones. That's what I'm using to record. So, off it goes.
OK, so a few hours after being told to turn off my phone, I'm free. I walked back out to the parking lot. My mind swimming in knowledge of confrontational politics. I hop in the car and call Lisa to tell her everything I can remember. While, it's still fresh.
The guy came out. Joe Neville talked about how he's from Colorado and he's a former political director for the National Association of Gun Rights, and also worked with Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
LISA HAGEN Those are more no compromise groups, but not the ones the Dorr Brothers run.
CHRIS HAXEL Once we got started, the instructor explained his theory on education. The idea that gun rights activists just need to educate people about how the Second Amendment isn't about hunting, it's about stopping government tyranny. This education, he says, is pointless. He brings up the example of his own Uncle Ralph, who is a gun but also belongs to the meat cutters union. So he always votes Democrat. And he basically was like, If I can't even convince my own family to stop voting Democrat, then I'm not going to convince other people. So like, education is just a rabbit hole that's not worth going down.
LISA HAGEN So if you're not trying to educate people, what are you..?
CHRIS HAXEL Confrontational politics isn't about appealing to a broad group of people. It's about leveraging voter apathy to impose your will on society. Most people don't bother to vote, especially in primaries. The instructor said only about 24 percent of the population really matters.
And then he was like eight percent of them are going to vote Democrat no matter what. Eight percent of them are going to vote Republican no matter what. Two percent of them are going to vote for some random party, no matter what or write in candidate, no matter what. So what's left? You got six percent? Wow. Really, what you need is three percent plus one to win to get your candidate or your issue. You need to find that three percent plus one figure out where they are. Figure out how to convince them to vote the way you want them to, and and then you get it.
And one of the biggest lessons of this class was how to know when you're getting under the skin of the legislators. It's good when they stop being nice and start ignoring you. It's even better if they start to threaten you.
When this starts happening, this is when you double down. He's like, first, you rejoice and then you double down. And this was when he did the call out. What do you… he asks a question – What do you do if a politician does this? What do you do? Double down. If this happens and this happens, what do you do? Double down. Doubling down means never back down. Never apologize. Attack always. As long as you're smart about it. They have a tool for this called Red Fox Four. We'll get back to that in a minute.
LISA HAGEN Gun Owners of America and its offshoots have been teaching these classes for at least 20 years.
VAL FINNELL Confrontational politics is something a little different, something that people don't think about very much, especially conservatives. And it's the... [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN This is Val Finnell with Gun Owners of America.
VAL FINNELL Face to face lobbying is virtually useless. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN This footage is from 20 years ago. It looks like it's from an old camcorder, the kind parents used to film birthday parties in the 90s.
CHRIS HAXEL He says there are two strategies to get what you want out of politicians, and they're the same two I learned about in the class I went to. The first strategy is pleasure. Attack their enemies, help them campaign.
VAL FINNELL The second thing the politicians will respond to and is by far the most powerful force is pain, OK. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Elections are a great time to cause pain. The Dorr's and the gang love to brag about political graveyards come election time.
DORR BROTHER Dan Kirkbride - gone. Bill Pownall - gone. Michael von Flattern - gone. They are the spearhead of the anti-gun establishment here in Wyoming. Gone. They're gone... [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL What strikes me is this model of confrontational politics is really a blueprint for political insurgency. When you know you'll never have the majority on your side, aim lower. You can win with just three percent of the population as long as you're dedicated. There are a lot of people in this country who love guns and support the Second Amendment. Even within that group, only a small minority supports this defiant, no compromise position we see from the Dorr's. But when they follow the blueprint and get buy-in from a few people, they can accomplish a lot. When I went to the confrontational politics class, I was expecting the other attendees to be white guys, probably there to learn about guns. They were all white, but most of them were women. Soccer mom types. There for the same cause as that activist at the playground in Idaho: medical freedom. In other words, they were anti-vaxxers.
LISA HAGEN These confrontational politics classes are happening all over the country. This group Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership has held about 50 this year. In places like Melbourne, Florida,
CHRIS HAXEL Lewiston, Maine,
LISA HAGEN Big Lake, Alaska,
CHRIS HAXEL Glendale, Arizona. But the goal is not to make money. My class lasted all day and only cost 50 bucks. Jimmy John's lunch included.
LISA HAGEN The goal is to teach people how to build their own political organizations. After each class, attendees get a digital copy of the slides so they can spread the message too. In person or online.
CHRIS HAXEL Val Finnell recorded his class on a camcorder in the year 2000.
VAL FINNELL Politics, plain and simple, is the adjudication of power. OK, it's who rules whom? Simple as that. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN 18 years later, we found another group learning the same lessons. White nationalists.
IDENTITY EUROPA WEBINAR The goal is to change policy. And in order to change policy, you must possess power. And that's all politics is the adjudication of power. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL This is a webinar from Identity Europa or IE for short. It's a group that helped organize the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
IDENTITY EUROPA WEBINAR Also consider this top-secret information. We don't want this getting out to other organizations. We don't want them to understand what we're doing. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Again, the exact same slides from the class I went to. Don't bother educating people, that's a waste of time. Except his example is not about guns.
IDENTITY EUROPA WEBINAR So let's teach Nancy Pelosi about the rightness of white nationalism. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN Nancy Pelosi is not their target audience. This guy points to a poll that found eight percent of Americans support white nationalism. Extrapolating that number, he says 30 million Americans are open to the group's racist ideas. Math is a little off, but the point still stands.
CHRIS HAXEL He brings up Red Fox Four. We said we'd explain it, and here you go. Pretty cool name, but it's basically just a tool for cost benefit analysis.
IDENTITY EUROPA WEBINAR So here's an example. Creation of the ethno-state [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL He explains how Red Fox Four works. Weighing the pros and cons of overt messaging about the creation of a white ethnostate. He says ideally it would happen, but it's best to hold off. The message is too extreme for now.
LISA HAGEN Instead, he says, they should focus on something more subtle: immigration. Now, like we said, this was an unofficial webinar, but we know at least some racists have attended FACL classes in person. One's taught by Aaron Dorr,
MATT FORNEY I still don't think you should have multiracial children. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL This is Matt Forney. He's a blogger, professional troll and key figure in the formation of the alt right. And he writes a lot of racist, sexist garbage on the internet. After attending a FACL class in 2016, he wrote this on his blog.
LISA HAGEN Our instructor was Aaron Dorr, the founder of Iowa Gun Owners, which bills itself as Iowa's only 'no compromise' gun lobby. I can't write about the content of the class itself because farkle doesn't want leftists getting a hold of its secrets. Indeed, Dorr had to shut off our phones while he was lecturing, but suffice it to say that they have the goods when it comes to political operations.
CHRIS HAXEL OK, there's one more quick lesson from confrontational politics something that didn't make sense when we first started watching the Dorrs and their friends. One day they say politicians can't be trusted. They're the enemy. But the next day you see Aaron Dorr or Patrick Parsons live streaming with a lawmaker.
LISA HAGEN Well, it turns out this paradox is built in to the confrontational politics model. See, you got to have at least one legislator on your side. Someone to introduce bills for you and make videos that show how hard you've been working in the State House. These people get a special label: champions.
DORR BROTHER We can. We can give you guys the chapter and verse on how many scuzzy politicians there are, but there's also some champions. Some absolute champion lawmakers out there, and we're proud to be very good friends with the best lawmakers in a number of states. And we're I know we're going to have... [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL The Dorrs and their friends do this everywhere, and remember, they started the national group, the American Firearms Coalition. When we were first reporting the story in 2020, we noticed that the Dorr Brothers found a champion who would trumpet their message on a national stage.
LISA HAGEN They found her right here in Georgia, where I'm based,.
MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE I'm running to stop gun control.
The Green New Deal.
And socialism. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN Back in the fall of 2020, when we released this podcast. Marjorie Taylor Greene was running for elected office. Her campaign ads sounded a lot like the Dorr Brothers live videos.
MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE They destroyed the NFL. They're destroying NASCAR. They're burning our cities and destroying our history. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN Which might be because... Surprise! The Dorr brother's partner, Patrick Parsons, worked closely with her campaign. Aaron's pitched in too. Marjorie Taylor Greene, showed up at events with dudes dressed in tactical gear and sporting three percent militia patches. Just weeks before the 2020 election, I caught up with her at a press conference and asked her about Patrick Parson's.
LISA HAGEN What's your relationship with Georgia Gun Owners and Patrick Parsons.
MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE Oh, I'm a lifelong member of Georgia Gun Owners and Patrick Parsons is... he's been a good friend of mine.
I tried one more question about Patrick raising tens of thousands of dollars off a North Carolina Facebook page.
MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE Thanks for coming out.
LISA HAGEN Do you care about that?
CAMPAIGN SUPPORTER 1 Care about America. Care about freedom. Care about life.
CAMPAIGN SUPPORTER 2 Good job Marjorie!
LISA HAGEN The campaign supporters surrounded us.
CAMPAIGN SUPPORTER 1 Care about our nation. Care about its people. Care about our history. Care about our heritage. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL And of course, Greene won her election and the no compromise crew stayed close. Greene chose Patrick Parsons to be her chief of staff, but in September, Parsons left Greene's side. He told her he's off to cultivate more America first political candidates.
LISA HAGEN Here's the thing. In all our many hours of watching gun video after gun video, we've never seen the Dorr brothers or their partners tricked out in tactical gear and loaded for bear. That's not what they do. It's not their lane. They're the mouthpieces and administrators of a philosophy. They're policy nerds. They take chaotic current events and run the details through a particular framework. The tyrannical government is coming for your guns, for your rights and your families.
BEN DORR This is a fight for our freedom. This is the fight for our life. This is no time to be super respectful. And Mr. Nice Guy, we need to kill these people. Politically speaking, through a love of God, in case you're totally tone deaf right now. These people need to be destroyed. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL When we first started reporting this story, we had no idea it would end up about anything other than just gun policy. But these loud, long Facebook videos about tyranny took us to a lot of other issues. Dismantling public education. Anti-vaxxers. The Aryan Nations. Anti-abortion activism. Homophobia. Militias. Well, militias, maybe we figured. And of course, downplaying the dangers of a pandemic.
CHRIS DORR Did ya'll see that? Oh, how wonderful, wonderful defiance of tyranny is so alive and well in the great Keystone state. [END CLIP]
LISA HAGEN We started at an anti-quarantine protest in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and we got to know the Dorrs.
AARON DORR But I know how many times in the last couple of days I've been asked by media outlets, Well, don't you guys do guns like, what's your big deal on this coronavirus issue? Why don't you stay in your lane? And I have had so much enjoyment telling media outlets all across the country that, you know, our lane is freedom and we just don't give a dang. [END CLIP]
CHRIS HAXEL Then some news. The virus found its way to the Dorr family. Northwest Iowa was facing a spike in COVID 19 cases, and the Dorr brother's grandfather died. He was a farmer. Ben Dorr posted a heartfelt goodbye on Facebook. Didn't say what the cause was.
LISA HAGEN It was Covid. We talked to some other relatives who confirmed it. And there's more. They say the Dorr Brothers mom tested positive too. Had to go to the hospital. Their dad, Paul Dorr, also got the virus door. Family members tell us they got really sick. Sorry to hear it. It's been a hard year for just about everyone.
BROOKE GLADSTONE No Compromise is hosted by Chris Haxel and Lisa Hagen, produced by Graham Smith and edited by Robert Little and is a production of NPR, KCUR, WABE and WAMU. To listen to all six episodes, and you should, go to NPR.org or wherever you get your podcasts. On the Media's executive producer, Katya Rogers edited the show. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios.
I'm Brooke Gladstone.