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.