On the third floor of the sprawling Houston Convention Center, high above the noise and crowds of the gun show at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, a luxury hospitality suite has been closed to normal RNA members. Rather, it was reserved for the gun lobby’s biggest donors, who belong to its “Ring of Freedom.” Here, the greats could escape the masses, sink into plush leather sofas, slump on refreshment tables and marvel at a surreal pair of massive taxidermy rigs, including that of a grizzly bear. killing a moose.
The NRA loves to bash ‘the elites’ – in Hollywood and in the media – whom it accuses of dragging the nation into what it describes as gun grabbing hysteria after a mass shooting like the one that killed 19 elementary school children in Uvalde, Texas. . The organization presents itself as a staunch defender of everyone against “the most powerful, deceptive and ruthless adversaries in the world”, as the NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre put it in a Saturday Speech to NRA Members.
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But at its annual meeting in Houston, the NRA held a high-end shadow convention for its own elite members and funders — many of whom are executives of gun manufacturers and sellers. These “Ring of Freedom” events highlight how the NRA has transformed from a pro-Second Amendment organization, focused on the freedom interests of its members, in a front group for the arms industry itself.
Today, the NRA is best understood as a strong supporter of the gun trade. The NRA does not sell guns, but it sells fear that sells guns – always warning its members of a rising tide of violence, against which they must be prepared to defend themselves with lethal force. Meanwhile, his lobbyist is on the mat in Washington and state capitals across the country to block restrictions on the types of guns dealers can sell and to open up new markets, including passing laws. on concealed carry, so that American gun consumers don’t. Don’t just buy one gun for home, but dive another to take to town. When school massacres occur, the NRA predictably pushes to expand weapons into another new market – the classroom – a move that could turn the nation’s more than 3 million teachers into arms buyers. fire.
The mass of NRA members at the annual convention is made up of ragtag crews. They dress in camo shorts and “Let’s Go Brandon” hats. Some sport bushy gray beards, tattoos and T-shirts with ripped off sleeves. The fashionable ones come with fitted tactical gear, but most wouldn’t look out of place in a NASCAR rally. Most have little interest in political meetings and training sessions on the upper floors of the convention hall. They came to see the massive gun display that the NRA’s business partners have assembled in the convention’s showroom on the first floor.
But if you look closely, you’ll also identify a rarefied group of NRA convention attendees who dress like they’re ready to race in the Kentucky Derby, decked out in tailored jackets and southern cocktail finery.
The NRA welcomes these well-heeled members into its Ring of Freedom if they pony up at least a thousand dollars a year. These people rub shoulders with the mega-donors of the gun lobby, who give over a million dollars for life, and are ushered into the “golden ring of freedom.” These folks, mostly gun industry CEOs, are given gold blazers, which mark them in the convention hall as VVIPs.
The annual meeting in Houston featured a list of private events for these greats that were not made public to rank-and-file NRA members. Ring of Freedom elites were invited to arrive a day early, stay in a special bank of rooms at the luxurious Marriott Marquis – replete with a rooftop “lazy river” pool shaped like the state of Texas and of its own “private airlift”. Walkway crossing the convention center, carefully avoiding crowds of protesters on the sidewalks below.
A calendar obtained by rolling stone says these NRA bigwigs began celebrating, Thursday, just two days after the Uvalde massacre, with a morning skeet shoot and a “Freedom Ring Partners’ Luncheon.” NRA”. (Participants were not disclosed, but the NRA lists among its “Top 10 Industry Allies” the likes of Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Taurus and Glock.)
On Friday morning, in the George Bush Grand Ballroom at the convention center, the NRA hosted its Freedom Ring Celebration Breakfast. A bouncer stood at the door to keep average members at bay, but from the door NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre could be seen on a large screen, along with Larry and Brenda Potterfield, founders of Midway USA, an armory online which was the main sponsor of the Convention. He awarded them the “NRA Defender of Freedom” award.
At noon, there was the annual Women’s Leadership Forum luncheon, attended by NRA members who appeared to be on their way to an upscale wedding reception, held in a gated room in the Marquis.
Amid Friday night speeches, when even Donald Trump and LaPierre performed mourning rituals for the children of Uvalde, the Potterfields – Larry in his gold blazer – were paraded on stage to highlight the power of money at the NRA. They were holding a huge check for $21 million, representing the sum of donations to the NRA from the dealership’s long-running “round up” program, which allows buyers to send small change from each purchase to the association of rifles.
That night, in the ballroom of the nearby Hilton, the NRA held a dinner and auction to benefit its lobbying arm, NRA-ILA. Attendees, dressed in new clothes – including a woman who wore boots that appeared to be made from real zebra skin – and gulped Perrier as they picked up their wristbands for a closed-door event billed as featuring “leaders of the Second Amendment, industry leaders and special guests,” to bid on finery at auction, including “engraved firearms, artwork, hunts, and one-of-a-kind items.”
On Sunday, the NRA’s “Grand Ole Night of Freedom Concert” was canceled after all performers pulled out, out of respect for Uvalde’s victims. The NRA did not know if its “cigar and bourbon reception”, scheduled to follow the concert, had taken place.
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