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NRA lashes out at boycott movement as United, Delta and other corporations cut ties

Delta and United join a growing list of companies cutting ties with the National Rifle Association. (Video: The Washington Post)

If the #BoycottNRA movement were a land invasion, it would have blitzed across the lightly defended countryside of corporate America in the past three days, pressuring United Airlines, Best Western, MetLife and at least a dozen other companies — one after another — to do away with discounts and perks for National Rifle Association members.

But the boycott inspired by the Florida shooting massacre has stalled at the first stronghold of resistance: None of the video-streaming giants, Apple, Google’s YouTube, or Amazon (the company’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns the The Washington Post) have acknowledged a petition and viral demands to take NRA videos offline.

If they do, and the world’s largest tech corporations effectively declare the NRA a pariah, boycotters have proposed plans to advance on the gun rights group’s power centers: its political capital and massive funding, which for decades have made the NRA one of the most feared lobbies in the United States.

Or the boycott could end here and, ultimately, fail to change U.S. gun laws or culture, as other anti-NRA campaigns have failed before.

The Sandy Hook Prologue

The campaign went viral after the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a legally purchased AR-15 rifle in Parkland, Fla.

But the campaign has a prequel: a similar movement launched six years ago, when 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Gun-control advocates failed to hobble the NRA in 2012, which resisted calls for tighter gun laws then, as it does after all mass shootings. Nor was there anything like the string of corporate boycotts we see today. But as The Washington Post wrote at the time, the Newtown shooting accelerated Democratic politicians’ desertion of the NRA.

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The organization, which often says it is simply protecting the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms, used to enjoy bipartisan political support. “I worry the NRA has become a captive of the Republican Party.” Rep. Gene Green, a Texas Democrat who supported the NRA, told The Post in 2012. “In the long run, it will be weakened.”

After the Sandy Hook campaign, as CNN noted, the NRA’s contributions to Democratic politicians dropped to almost nothing. By 2017, the NRA was producing apocalyptic videos that had almost nothing to do with guns and instead accused Democrats and reporters of tilting the United States into “organized anarchy.”

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Campaign

While the #BoycottNRA hashtag has floated around social media for years, the movement exploded after a former student who owned at least 10 guns was accused of shooting up the Parkland high school this month.

One of the first tweets to go semi-viral was posted by a self-described retired principal. A few days later, a combination of gun-control activists, teenage shooting survivors and liberal groups had turned the hashtag into a full-blown pressure campaign.

Any corporation with even a tangential affiliation to the NRA was called out, with lists circulating across Twitter.

First National Bank of Omaha, one of the largest private banks in the United States, may have been the first to bow to the calls for boycott. The bank announced Thursday, a week after the shooting, that it would discontinue its “NRA Visa Card,” which had given the orgnization’s members 5 percent back on gas and sporting-goods purchases.

The rental car giant Enterprise followed suit a few hours later. “All three of our brands have ended the discount for NRA members,” effective March 26, the car rental company wrote Thursday afternoon on Twitter. Hertz, Avis Budget Group and TrueCar would soon join Enterprise, as would North American Van Lines and Allied Van Lines.

The companies faced a backlash from gun rights supporters, but only a few corporations on the boycott list resisted. By the end of Friday, Symantec had announced that NRA members would have to pay the same price for its anti-virus software as everyone else. Chubb Limited insurance announced the end of a policy for NRA members who faced lawsuits for shooting people — Chubb called the program “NRA Carry Guard,” while critics had labeled it “murder insurance.” The global insurance company MetLife ended its NRA member discount. Best Western and Wyndham Hotels announced that they were no longer affiliated with the group.

Delta Air Lines held out against the pressure — for a few hours.  A spokesman at first defended Delta’s flight discounts to the NRA’s annual convention in Dallas in May as “routine” for large groups. The airline “has more than 2,000 such contracts in place,” a spokesman told the liberal outlet ThinkProgress on Friday night.

Come Saturday morning, Delta abruptly discontinued the discounts and asked the NRA to remove the information about the perk from the convention website. United Airlines released a nearly identical statement two hours later.

Some companies have held out. FedEx, for example, still gives NRA Business Alliance members up to a 26 percent discount on shipping expenses.

Still, by the end of Saturday, more than a dozen of the country’s larger corporations — representing the travel, software, insurance, banking and hospitality industries — had all abandoned the NRA.

Nothing like that had happened after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, or any other gun massacre in modern U.S. history.

The next battles

In a statement released Saturday afternoon, the NRA accused the corporations that dropped their discounts of “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice,” but also dismissed the significance of their snubs.

“Let it be absolutely clear,” the NRA’s statement said. “The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.”

But #BoycottNRA is not yet satisfied. By Saturday, the boycott push was focused on tech giants that stream NRA-produced videos — namely Amazon, Apple, Google and Roku.

NRATV, a 24-hour streaming channel, is sometimes accused of being the group’s propaganda arm. After the Florida shooting, the New York Times wrote, “its hosts spoke chillingly of leftist plots to confiscate weapons, media conspiracies to brainwash Americans into supporting gun control and a ‘deep state’ campaign to undermine President Trump.”

Subsequently, an online petition demanding that Amazon drop NRATV had amassed more than 100,000 signatures by early Sunday morning, with more added each second.

Some have also called for boycotts of any affiliated companies, including The Post. Bezos, who owns The Post, also owns Amazon.

Amazon, Apple and Google have not responded to questions from The Post about the calls to drop NRATV or publicly acknowledged the campaign by early Sunday.

But the NRA, which dismissed other boycott actions as trivial, released a dire video message (on NRATV), equating calls to shut it down with an attack on free speech.

NRA leaders also spoke defiantly at public appearances last week, blaming the fury against their organization on media manipulation.

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch said Thursday at a conservative political conference. “Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”

“They want to make us all less free,” NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre said when he took the microphone. The correct response to the Florida shooting, he said, was more armed security on school campuses — not fewer guns in the United States.

Wars to come?

Pressure campaigns have become a favorite tool of liberal groups during Trump’s presidency — from early efforts to boycott Trump-branded products to a Twitter campaign that identified and exposed people seen marching at a far-right rally in Charlottesville this past summer. Social media and Internet companies began to ban far-right personalities from their sites after that rally turned violent.

For all the companies that have signed on to the latest NRA boycotts, they have managed only to wipe out a few peripheral perks for the group’s members. The group claims 5 million members and tens of millions in annual revenue. According to Business Insider, it is funded largely by the gun industry, and it has converted much of that money into alliances and power networks across the U.S. political system.

How far the boycott movement will spread is unknown. But if it keeps up at the pace of the past three days, there are signs it could threaten the political and financial cornerstones of the gun lobby.

After the Florida shooting, a prominent City Council member in Dallas said the city no longer wants the NRA to hold its convention there in May — even though Fox News reported that officials in Kansas and Nebraska have invited the gun group’s business.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans have endorsed banning rifle sales to anyone younger than 21, which the NRA opposes. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) vowed at a town hall forum last week to keep accepting political contributions from the gun rights group — and was met with a loud round of boos. Even Trump has said that he expects the NRA to soon back new gun-control measures, according to Bloomberg News.

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NRA opponents would love to hobble the group’s revenue sources — not to mention the gun industry, which manufactures many of the hundreds of millions of guns in the country.

Although a long shot, the feat may not be as impossible as it once seemed.

The gun industry is supported in part by widely held public stocks. CNBC reported this week that some of Wall Street’s largest exchange-traded funds include gunmakers in their portfolios.

But since the Florida shooting, the investment giant BlackRock has been exploring ways of letting its clients disinvest from gun companies, Bloomberg News reported. And teachers in Florida are pressuring their pension fund managers to do the same.

Five days after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, financial writer Andrew Ross Sorkin made a proposal in the New York Times: Banks and credit companies could effectively stifle the sale of assault weapons — simply by prohibiting customers from using their cards and services to buy these weapons.

Credit card companies already ban the purchase of cryptocurrency and other products, Sorkin wrote. If Visa and MasterCard banned assault-style weapons, like the AR-15 used in Florida, “assault weapons would be eliminated from virtually every firearms store in America because otherwise the sellers would be cut off from the credit card systems.”

Some have also suggested that banks could throttle gun makers from the supply side, by cutting off credit. In the past, that proposal has been a nonstarter. In 2012, Snopes investigated a report that Bank of America was cutting off credit lines to gun manufacturers. A spokeswoman for the bank denied the report, saying it had no policies against doing business with the firearms industry and pointing to a $250 million deal with a gunmaker that month.

Six years later, amid the growing outrage over the Stoneman Douglas massacre, the bank’s rhetoric sounds a bit different.

Axios reported Saturday that Bank of America was “reexamining” its relationship with AR-15 rifle manufacturers that do business with it. “We are joining other companies in our industry to examine what we can do to help end the tragedy of mass shootings,” the bank said in a statement.

Correction: An earlier version of this report included AT&T among those streaming an NRA video channel. It does not stream the channel.

This story has been updated. Fred Barbash, Lindsey Bever, T.J. Ortenzi, Keith McMillan, Desikan Thirunarayanapuram and Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.

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