Academics and the media are two of the country’s “greatest domestic threats”, the National Rifle Association chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, argued on Friday, prompting outrage from the left.
Some compared LaPierre’s comments to fascist rhetoric, or to attacks on the Cambodian intelligentsia by the Khmer Rouge. One comedian tweeted: “You always read about Americans getting shot because their loved ones kept loaded academic elites in the home.”
But in Atlanta, at the annual meeting of an organization that claims more than 5 million members nationwide, LaPierre’s comments resonated with members who had come to browse “15 acres of guns and gear” in the exhibition hall.
Brad Ashby, a 54-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, said on Sunday he “absolutely” agreed with LaPierre, and saw academia as “the biggest threat”.
Ashby’s son, who had come to the meeting with him but did not want to be named, is a freshman at a public research university in Nebraska. In November, Ashby said, one of his son’s professors, who is Jewish, compared Trump to Hitler and said he “had never been so scared in all of his life”. His son’s religion course taught that “everything in the Old Testament is an Aesop’s fable and not to be believed,” he added, suggesting that: “Christianity is a bunch of crap.”
In a political science class, Ashby’s son said, a teacher asked students about organizations they were part of and said with a “gasp” that another student had said he was a member of the NRA.
Although he was happy to hear liberal views in college, said Ashby’s son, he felt professors were so determined to push their views that there was not room for a conservative perspective.
Ashby called his son’s experience “absolutely outrageous” and said he saw a similar trend in the media, where private opinions were warping what was published.
“Walter Cronkite was as liberal as could be but you never knew that until after he retired,” he said.
“I agree 100%,” said Tammy Magill, who runs a business that sells clothing designed for concealed weapons carriers. She said teachers were pushing “socialist values”. Her son, she said, successfully sued the University of Michigan for unfairly denying funding to his libertarian group while claiming it did not fund political events in general.
At the same time, college was not preparing young Americans for the workforce, Magill said. As an employer, she found college-educated millennials difficult to work with. Students came in with a degree in “psychology or gender studies” but did not know how to balance a checkbook or use accounting software.
Millennials “who didn’t go to college have a much better set of values”, she said.
And it was not just college that she said was the problem. “If I had kids again, I would not raise them in the public school system,” Magill said.
‘Bernie is a political predator of young voters’
LaPierre, whose rhetoric led to him being dubbed a “gun nut” and a “loon” after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, expressed his dissatisfaction with liberal teachers and academia in dramatic terms.
“An entire generation of Americans could be lost,” he said, to teachers who taught “national shame” rather than celebrating American exceptionalism. “The radical left in this country have hijacked too many of our schools and colleges, and now they’re trying to hijack our youth.”
An effort by “academic elites” to “salt the soil of fertile young minds” had succeeded, he said. “The result is an emerging generation of citizens with warped minds. When their turn comes, how can they possibly lead?”
The rise of Bernie Sanders was proof that this radical agenda had worked, LaPierre suggested. “Bernie is a political predator of young voters who were lied to by schoolteachers and college professors.”
LaPierre attacked “leftist zealots” for waging an “intense war” against President Trump, as part of a “larger war being waged right now against truth in America”, in which the media were “PR flacks for the destruction of our country”.
“It’s up to us to speak out against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites and media elites. These are America’s greatest domestic threats,” he said.
Civil rights advocate Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, called it “a truly frightening and incendiary statement”.
Many NRA members expressed an overall feeling of bias and inaccuracy in news coverage. A common complaint was that positive depictions of gun owners – for instance, those who used their guns to protect themselves or their families – never made it to the national news, while stories of horrific attacks with guns did.
Some said they saw political bias and distortion in the media as a bipartisan problem, fueled more by a constant stream of fact, fiction and propaganda on social media than by media organizations.
“Legitimate organizations I don’t think are a threat,” said Joe Baker, a firearms instructor from Georgia.