NRA TV: inside the channel activists are urging Apple and Amazon to axe

Adam Gabbatt in New York

Gun control advocates plan boycott of streaming services that host channel, which presents itself as Fox News-esque outsider

The NRA’s TV channel stresses the organization’s size and the importance of guns to staying alive in the US. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As the National Rifle Association has come under increased scrutiny since the Florida school shooting, so too has its television channel: NRATV.

Activists and celebrities have led calls for Apple, Amazon, Google and Roku to remove NRATV from their streaming platforms, as companies have divested from the lobbying group.

The NRA’s video output, which mixes live commentary shows with mini-documentaries about heroism and antique guns, was little known before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, in Parkland, Florida. But the ensuing campaign, led by Moms Demand Action – which calls for stricter background checks and the banning of semi-automatic weapons – has dragged the channel, and some of its most prominent hosts, into the spotlight.

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NRATV launched in 2014, promising to be “the most comprehensive video coverage of second amendment issues, events and culture anywhere in the world”. The channel serves as the base for arguments the NRA and subsequently the right – including Donald Trump – produce in the wake of mass shootings.

On Monday, Grant Stinchfield, who hosts NRATV’s live morning show, was pushing the line that the NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch has been using in interviews following the Parkland shooting: namely that the sheriff and deputy sheriffs who responded to the shooting were to blame, not guns.

Blaming the sheriff has become necessary for the NRA, given its longtime insistence that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. In the Florida shooting there was a good guy with a gun – the Broward County deputy sheriff Scot Peterson – who failed to go inside during the massacre, which comes dangerously close to disproving the NRA’s case.

It’s a conundrum. But NRATV has found a way around this by labelling Peterson an incompetent guy with a gun – a message Trump has also used, most notably when labelling Peterson a “coward”.

Stinchfield, an angry white conservative in the mold of Sean Hannity, went even further as he sought to divert attention from the role of guns in the shooting. He spent hours on NRATV blasting the county sheriff, Scott Israel.

“The whole crew here at NRATV – all of us – has now come to the conclusion that the sheriff must be held accountable for his actions,” Stinchfield announced.

NRATV has shades of Fox News beyond the tenor of its hosts. The channel promotes itself as having the same sort of outsider status – regularly complaining that the mainstream media is untrustworthy and liberal.

It’s just that where Fox News might riff on immigration, healthcare and taxes, NRATV is all about guns.

The liberal media wants to “rile up their leftwing lunatic crowd to head to the polls and take away all our guns”, Stinchfield said on Monday.

Cam Edwards, who offers much the same thing as Stinchfield but with a beard, hosts NRATV’s live afternoon show, on which he “covers the fight for your second amendment rights”. He focused on activists’ attempts to disrupt an NRA dinner.

On Monday and Tuesday, the only time NRATV took in broader rightwing conversation topics was when Stinchfield improbably linked the so-called Benghazi controversy that the right used to attack Hillary Clinton with the Florida school shooting.

“We’re not learning lessons,” Stinchfield said. Israel’s response reminded him, he said, of the state department response after attacks on US facilities in Libya.

Along with the gun news and entertainment – some of NRATV’s mini-documentaries show people at shooting ranges and hunting in the bush – the channel also serves as a fundraising tool.

Viewers are regularly told to encourage friends to join the NRA, to ask lapsed members to contribute, and even to “sign your children up”, in Stinchfield’s words.

Stinchfield and Edwards also repeatedly mention the size of the organization, stressing its importance. Whether it is the “engaged passion of the 5 million members of the NRA” or NRATV’s hosts being “glad for the 5 million NRA members”, the audience are assured of their own importance.

Viewers are also taught how crucial guns are to staying alive in the US.

One feature, called “Carry Guard Daily”, focuses on people who have used a gun to resist crime. On Monday, Stinchfield shared two stories of how gun owners had shot people trying to break into their homes, both from early February.

A 2017 report by the Violence Policy Center, which analyzed data from 2014, found that there were 224 “justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm” that year. There were 21,334 gun suicides in 2014, according to the VPC, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 461 deaths from “accidental discharge of firearms” – including 74 children – in 2014.

NRATV doesn’t mention these statistics, instead relying on these occasional stands by homeowners to prove its case. To stress the importance of guns in the home, the channel has shows that demonstrate shooting tips for use under duress – glossily promoted with slow-motion footage of muscular men removing pistols from their waistbands and firing into the distance.

“The NRA has the right to spend some of its budget on its TV channel but these streaming services have the right to remove NRATV from their platforms,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.

The organization and others are organizing a 1 March boycott of Apple, Amazon and FedEx – the latter offers discounts to NRA members – to pressure those companies to cut ties with the NRA. The car rental firm Hertz and the hotel chains Best Western and Wyndham have all ended NRA discounts since the Florida shooting, as has Delta – after which Georgia’s lieutenant governor Casey Cagle, a Republican, threatened to block a tax break for the airline. The insurer Chubb, meanwhile, ended an NRA-linked program.

The NRA did not respond to questions about its viewership, but if Moms Demand Action has its way and Apple, Amazon, Google and Roku ditch NRATV, that audience is likely to drop.

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