Hate at the NRA

NRA board member Anthony Colandro has repeatedly raged against Islam, immigrants and the 'New World Order'

Hello, and welcome to The Informant, a new publication about hate and extremism in America, written and edited by me, Nick R. Martin.

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I want to start out with a major thank you to everyone who read the debut issue of The Informant on Monday. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and it’s clear my article about neo-Nazis in Michigan struck a nerve. I’ll be publishing part two of that investigation next week.

Now onto today: This is first time I’m bringing you a special intelligence briefing on the world of hate and extremism. These briefings, which come out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, mix original journalism with links to articles and analysis to ensure you remain up to date on all major developments on the beat. Read The Informant and you will never be behind on this critical topic. That is The Informant promise.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s in today’s issue:

  • In advance of the National Rifle Association’s winter board meeting later this week, I have an exclusive report on one of its board members, Anthony Colandro, and his history of using hateful and conspiratorial rhetoric on Twitter.

  • A private-prison employee in Nevada has been outed as a user of the neo-Nazi message board Iron March. Now the private-prison company is investigating.

  • Anti-government groups and militias are turning their attention to Virginia amid the possibility that the state could pass tougher gun safety measures.

  • Elliot Kline, the former leader of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, reported to custody in Charlottesville, Virginia, after being found in contempt of federal court.

  • The white nationalist group Patriot Front was busy putting up propaganda in Brooklyn the same weekend tens of thousands of people were standing up against anti-Semitism in Manhattan.

Hate at the NRA

Anthony Colandro likes to brag about the diversity of customers at the gun range he owns in Woodland Park, New Jersey.

In a Facebook post last year, he called his business, Gun For Hire, “the melting pot of gun ranges.” And in an interview in July with the website Bearing Arms, he described 60 percent of his customers this way: “Hipsters, millennial, lesbians, gays, from Orthodox and Hassidic Jews to Sikhs to everywhere in between – we don’t discriminate here.”

His Twitter account tells a different story. For years, Colandro has used the handle @guns4hyr to spew anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT slurs. He has called Islam a “parasitic cult” and described its followers as “cockroaches” and “savages.” He has also raged against “multiculturalism,” “globalism” and immigration.

It would be one thing if Colandro was just a small business owner with bigoted ideas.

But he’s also a board member for the National Rifle Association.

Colandro was elected to the board in April for a one-year term. There, he serves alongside some of the biggest names in the organization, including Oliver North, Ted Nugent and Allen West.

Now, Colandro is attempting to gain even more power within the NRA by campaigning for a three-year term, which would keep him on the board until 2023. His biggest endorsement has come from disgraced former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. Ballots for board elections go out to NRA members beginning this month.

The NRA in the past has shown a high tolerance for hateful rhetoric from at least one board member, Nugent, who has called Jews who support gun safety measures “nazis in disguise” and who pushed the racist “birther” conspiracy theory about President Obama. But he is one of the biggest celebrities in the organization.

In advance of the organization’s winter board meeting this week, I’ve uncovered dozens of tweets Colandro posted in recent years that could test how much the NRA is willing to put up with from one of its lesser-known board members. (The organization did not return a message seeking comment on Monday.)

In a brief interview by phone on Monday, Colandro stood by many of his tweets but said that others were being taken out of context. He also insisted his rhetoric on Twitter didn’t come from a place of hate. As proof, he put forward his love life.

“As a matter of fact, I'm dating a Jewish girl now,” Colandro told me. “I've dated African-American. I've dated Spanish, Caribbean, been married to a Portuguese. I've dated Muslim women from four different Muslim countries, four different predominantly Muslim countries.”

Muslims in general have been one of the main targets of Colandro’s Twitter rage in recent years. In our interview, Colandro insisted he only targeted “radical Islam.” But that assertion was contradicted by his tweets.

“No such thing as a moderate muslim,” Colandro wrote in a May 2017 tweet. “They are a parasitic cult that is colonizing the west.”

When I read that tweet back to him, Colandro sounded exasperated.

“Oh my God. That was three years ago, so I don't know,” he said. “I don't know what mindset I was in when I wrote that.”

It was hardly the only posting directed at Muslims more broadly.

Here’s a small sampling of Colandro’s anti-Muslim tweets, including some in which he described followers of the religion as “cockroaches” or used other slurs:

Colandro’s ire was not reserved for Muslims alone. He also raged against “globalists” and “globalism,” terms that are seen by some as anti-Semitic.

“Globalist Elites beware the end is near,” he wrote in a September 2018 tweet.

“Wow, the adults are back in charge and successful business leaders running the show and not globalist, socialists. Love it!” he wrote in a May 2017 tweet.

Colandro also invoked Jewish billionaire George Soros in May 2017 while responding to a CNN tweet about former President Obama.

“What did SOROS pay the big O for that speech?” he tweeted. “Globalism and multiculturalism = we all die together.”

In our interview, Colandro again invoked his Jewish girlfriend while denying that there was any anti-Semitic intent to his tweets.

“I never heard globalism compared to Jews. I've never heard that. That's news to me. My girlfriend right now is Jewish,” Colandro told me. “I'm talking about globalism. I'm talking about the rich repulsive socialist elites that run this country, the first tier that run this country, the political class and the rich people and the Hollywood types that basically look down upon us, the unwashed masses.”

“Multiculturalism” was another target of Colandro’s tweets. The term has become a bogeyman of far-right extremists and is often used as a code word for diversity.

Below are a few examples of Colandro’s use of the term. The first was a reply to Canadian alt-right figure Lauren Southern:

I pressed Colandro on what he meant by the term. He said he believed that immigrants from other countries should have to learn “American culture.”

“Multiculturalism, if it's not applied properly and if you overload any type of society with too much other culture, it might tend to take it over,” he told me. “I don't necessarily think we should have television in Spanish and people should be taking drivers' licenses in other languages. I believe when you come to this country and make it your country, you should fully make it your country.”

I noted to Colandro that his gun range advertises that it provides instructions in a dozen different languages. I asked him whether that was a sign that he believed diversity of cultures was good for his business but bad for society. He told me no, and that the languages other than English were for “tourists” from other countries. But he also acknowledged that at least some of his customers who don’t speak English are likely U.S. residents.

I also asked Colandro about his tweets mentioning a so-called “New World Order.” As the Anti-Defamation League has explained, the phrase is popular among anti-government extremists who believe there is a secret agenda afoot to disarm and enslave Americans.

Colandro was pretty much on board with that conspiracy theory.

“My idea of the New World Order again is globalists where we want to have one country, the entire world as one country, one monetary system and maybe one ruler, similar like to the EU, applied across the entire world,” he said. “I believe that. We hear about all these rich people like Bezos and Tim Cook and other billionaires out there, I believe there's a level above them that we don't even know about that pull most of the strings that happen in this world and they would love that New World Order, full-globe globalism.”

Finally, I asked Colandro about his repeated use of an specific anti-gay slur in his tweets.

In a tweet in January 2017, for instance, Colandro wrote this: “I would slap the taste out of his elitist faggot mouth!” It’s unclear who he was referring to since the account to which he was replying has since been suspended.

Colandro told me he doesn’t see the term as anti-gay.

“I use that word all the time,” Colandro said. “I don't use it as a gay slur. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Everybody says that. We call each other that. All men call each other that, joking around.”

At no point did Colandro apologize or express regret for his tweets.

“I'm an open book. I'm not going to deny anything,” he told me. “My stuff is out there. My history is out there. I'm good that way.”

After we got off the phone, Colandro posted another tweet. It was an advertisement for his gun range.

ICE contractor and Iron March

VICE reporter Tess Owen had a report Monday about a senior employee of a private, for-profit immigration detention center in Nevada who’s been outed as a member of the now-defunct neo-Nazi message board Iron March.

From the report:

Travis Frey, 31, is currently employed as a captain at the Nevada Southern Detention Center, which is run by private prison behemoth CoreCivic and contracted with ICE.

Frey joined Iron March in 2013, and posted at least a dozen times between 2016 and 2017 while he was working as head of security at a CoreCivic jail in Indianapolis, which was also authorized to house detainees on behalf of ICE.

Now, Owen is reporting that Frey has been put on leave while CoreCivic investigates the matter.

Frey is the latest person that VICE has been able to identify based on the massive November leak of data from the neo-Nazi message board, which was shut down in 2017 under what’s been described as “mysterious circumstances.” Previously, the news outlet ID’d three members of the military who were one-time Iron March users.

All eyes on Virginia

Last week, I told The Trace that I’d be keeping an eye on what’s happening in Virginia as state lawmakers consider passing new gun safety laws. The reason? Neo-Nazis and militia groups alike have been using the situation to rile up their members.

Now, The Washington Post has taken a deeper look at the militias and pro-gun types that are planning to show up for a protest on January 20 at the state capitol. The organizer of the protest, Philip Van Cleave of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, has the key quote in the article:

“Hopefully it’ll not be another Charlottesville,” Van Cleave said, blaming police and state planning for the violence that erupted during 2017’s Unite the Right rally around a Confederate statue. Counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people.

Speaking of Charlottesville…

White nationalist Elliot Kline, who helped organize the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, turned himself in to U.S. marshals on Monday after a judge found him in contempt of federal court.

The development is a victory for Integrity First for America, the organization spearheading a lawsuit against the neo-Nazis and white nationalists who put together the rally. Many of the defendants in the case, such as Kline, have been uncooperative in turning over documents and digital data related to “Unite the Right,” which has clearly frustrated the judge.

“This suit makes clear that there will be serious consequences for orchestrating racist violence – and that there is no running from accountability,” IFA’s executive director, Amy Spitalnick, said in a press release. “The court has repeatedly demonstrated that there will be real penalties, including jail time, for the defendants if they continue to flout their discovery obligations.”

Caught in the act

An estimated 25,000 people showed up on Sunday in Manhattan to rally against anti-Semitism following a spate of attacks against Jews in New York and New Jersey.

During the same weekend, however, members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were spotted hanging a banner from a bridge in Brooklyn to promote their deeply anti-Semitic organization. The action prompted hundreds of Brooklyn residents to join hands in a seperate rally against hate, which also took place on Sunday.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins of the anti-racist One People's Project obtained photos of two of the men who were apparently involved in the banner drop and posted them on Twitter on Monday.