About Larry Pratt
Larry Pratt stands at the intersection of guns and Jesus, lobbying for absolutely unrestricted distribution of firearms while advocating a theocratic society based upon Old Testament civil and religious laws. A pivotal figure in the rise of right-wing militia, or “Patriot,” groups, he spoke at the notorious 1992 “Gathering of Christian Men” in Estes Park, Colo., where 160 neo-Nazis, Klan members, anti-Semitic Christian Identity adherents and others arguably laid the groundwork for the militia movement that would explode in 1994. He believes that white Christians must arm themselves for self-protection in the inevitable social implosions and riots that are soon to come.
In His Own Words
“We are looking at a major assault on the right to keep and bear arms, and it is kind of reminiscent of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, where they used doctors as part of their torture routines and got people sent to the camps for improvement of their mental health."
—"Talk to Solomon Show," 2013
‘While the United States has forgotten its success in this area, other countries have rediscovered them. It is time that the United States return to reliance on an armed people. There is no acceptable alternative."
—Armed People Victorious (comparing militias during the American revolution to death squads in Guatemala), 1990
"The right to keep and bear arms is just as important today as when the Bill of Rights was drafted. The right to keep and bear arms will be important until Christ comes again, because until then, people will be sinful. Crooks will steal, and murderers will kill, and government officials will tyrannize. The common thread is man presuming to make himself into a God."
—"Tools of Biblical Resistance," 1983
During his nearly 40-year tenure as executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA), Larry Pratt has positioned the organization as a more radical alternative to the National Rifle Association (NRA). This radicalism is reflected not only by an absolute "no-compromise" stance on gun control, but also by Pratt's ties to the militia movement, white supremacist organizations, and Christian theocrats. Nonetheless, with the support of GOA's 300,000 members and a Beltway lobbying effort, Pratt continues to be heeded by some in Congress and the national media.
Born in Camden, N.J., on Nov. 13, 1942, Pratt graduated from American University with a political science degree. When he joined GOA in 1976, it was just one year old, a spinoff of Gun Owners of California. That group was founded by California state senator Bill Richardson in response to proposed legislation that would have banned all handguns in the state. Richardson, who was chairman of the California Senate Fish and Game Committee, led a successful effort to defeat the legislation and subsequently expanded the organization nationally.
Under Pratt's stewardship, GOA has steadfastly opposed any efforts to restrict the ownership and availability of firearms. Although it is small compared to the NRA’s 4 million members, GOA's outsized influence helped pushed the NRA into opposing proposals such as universal background checks for all gun purchases, which the NRA supported until 1999.
Nevertheless, if it restricted itself to the politics of gun control, GOA would be just another right-wing voice inflaming Second Amendment paranoia. But Pratt has extended the issues far beyond hunting and self-defense, injecting radical religion and racist politics demagoguery into the debate.
In 1996, Pratt was forced to resign as co-chairman of Patrick J. Buchanan's presidential campaign when it was publicized that he had been a speaker at the 1992 Gathering of Christian Men in Estes Park, Colo., where he rubbed shoulders with neo-Nazis, Klansmen, adherents of the anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology, and other radicals. The gathering was held to formulate a response to the Ruby Ridge standoff in northern Idaho earlier that year between federal agents and white supremacist Randy Weaver; a U.S. marshal and white supremacist Randy Weaver’s wife and son were killed during that 11-day mountaintop confrontation. The gathering was organized by the late Pete Peters, a pastor of Christian Identity, which posits that Jews are biological descendants of Satan and people of color are subhuman. Among the 160 Estes Park attendees were Aryan Nations leader Richard G. Butler and former Aryan “ambassador” and Ku Klux Klan leader Louis Beam. Many analysts see the Estes Park meeting as critical to the formulation of the militia, or “Patriot,” movement that would explode nationally in 1994.
Pratt's attendance as a supposed "moderate" on the radical right was based partly on his authorship of a 1990 book entitled Armed People Victorious. That book is thought to have introduced the concept of citizen militias to the radical right. It included a detailed study of the "citizen defense patrols" used in Guatemala and the Philippines against Communist rebels — murderously brutal patrols that came to be commonly described as death squads. Pratt's speech in Estes Park offered a scenario for how similar militias could be organized in the United States.
This was not a one-time dalliance with radical racist politics for Pratt. The following year, in 1993, he spoke at the “Jubilee Jubilation” in Sacramento, Calif., an event sponsored by the Christian Identity newspaper Jubilee, where he again shared the stage with Louis Beam, a key architect of the revolutionary doctrine of “leaderless resistance” that today is embraced by many terrorists of the extreme right. Pratt was also a frequent guest on Pete Peters' talk show.
On the day after Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah federal building was bombed in 1995, Pratt spoke to a group of 550 so-called “Christian Patriots” (including Pete Peters) at the International Coalition of Covenant Congregations Conference at the Lodge of the Ozarks in Branson, Mo. Pratt's topic was the "Biblical Mandate to Arm." Also in 1995, Pratt edited a book of essays entitled Safeguarding Liberty: The Constitution & Militias, with the theme of constitutional guarantees for the formation of non-governmental militia groups. The next year, it emerged that Pratt was a contributing editor to a periodical of the anti-Semitic United Sovereigns of America, and that GOA had donated money to a white supremacist attorneys’ group.
Pratt's worldview is heavily influenced by the tenets of Christian Reconstructionism, which is a particularly hard-line version of the larger movement of “dominionist” Christians, who seek to impose Biblical law on civil society. (Prominent dominionists include U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Gov. Rick Perry (R-Tex.), and retired Gen. Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council.) Reconstructionism is based on the writings of the late Rousas John Rushdoony, a kind of Calvinist on steroids who sought to impose Old Testament law on the United States, meaning, among other things, the death penalty for adulterers, abortionists, gays, blasphemers, idolaters, witches, and others.
Pratt's Christian Reconstructionist roots go way back. In 1983, he contributed an essay titled “Tools of Biblical Resistance” to the Reconstructionist publication "Tactics of Christian Resistance." In it, he wrote: "Clearly, the Bible is no longer available as the bedrock of law and society as it was for our founding fathers. In place of the Bible, the ultimate law in the America of the secular humanists has become the Supreme Court. In the name of a 'living constitution,' nine men and women have taken the authority to find rights that never existed and take away rights bestowed by God and set forth in the Constitution drawn up 200 years ago."
An “anti-Christian" government such as the United States cannot be counted on to protect the population, and by restricting gun ownership it is "trying to enslave the citizenry," Pratt reasons. He is fond of citing a biblical passage from the Book of Samuel as justification for a heavily armed American populace. As the story goes, only two people in Israel had swords, because the Philistines had banned them. After their empty-handed soldiers lost a battle, God permitted the Israelites to rearm and win a rematch.
“Today, the same goals of the Philistines would be carried out by an oppressor who would ban gunsmiths from the land. The sword of today is the handgun, rifle or shotgun,” Pratt wrote in a 1999 GOA column. “The sword control of the Philistines is today’s gun control of those governments that do not trust their people with guns.”
"The Old Testament also tells us a great deal about the positive relationship between righteousness, which exalts a nation, and self defense," Pratt continued. "It makes clear that in times of national rebellion against the Lord God, the rulers of the nation will reflect the spiritual degradation of the people and the result is a denial of God's commandments, an arrogance of officialdom, disarmament and oppression."
As a soldier defending "righteousness," Pratt sees guns as essential to that fight, which might come in the form of a race war. During a 2013 appearance on the "Talk to Solomon Show," posted on YouTube by Right Wing Watch, Pratt envisioned "some sort of social implosion" during President Obama's second term. "These folks in power are seeking that kind of confrontation, and it would be a wonderful surprise if it did not happen," Pratt said.
The show's host, Stan Solomon, predicted a coming race war that would take the form of attacks “on Christian, heterosexual white haves by black, Muslim and/or atheist — not that there’s much difference — black have-nots.” Any "white, heterosexual, Christian, working, married person" who doesn't have a gun faces "a substantial chance of being hurt and/or killed," Solomon said.
"I don't think there's anything stretching to say that," Pratt replied. "I think there are people that really want to bring violence about, because they see that as the engine of social change. That's exactly the target for the Alinskyites [a reference to social reformer Saul Alinsky]. And I think they must figure that they've got their guy in power, and they will then have at least some of the agencies of the police powers of the state at their back, and this is the time to go for it."
Defending American society from the "arrogance of officialdom, disarmament and oppression" is a busy job. When he's not hobnobbing with avowed racists and theocrats, Pratt makes regular mass media appearances, often in the wake of a mass shooting, or on the anniversary of one. Dour, contentious, and evasive, he argues against any form of gun control.
He suggested to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that instead of background checks for mentally ill people seeking to buy guns, those people should simply be institutionalized. CNN host Piers Morgan confronted Pratt with retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal's call for restrictions on assault-style weapons. Pratt was unmoved, replying that "the general and his troops are not going to be there to protect the average American, the military nor the police after social order implodes, after a hurricane, after an earthquake, during riots." Appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball" with host Chris Matthews, Pratt said teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., where a mass murder took place in late 2012, should have been armed. On "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace, Pratt argued for rolling back existing gun laws because they are too restrictive.
Pratt saves his most inflammatory rhetoric for interviews with right-wing media figures such as Alex Jones, Stan Solomon, and NewsMax's Steve Malzberg. Discussing the Trayvon Martin "Stand Your Ground" shooting with Malzberg, Pratt said the unarmed 17-year-old African American youth was killed because he had a "broken family."
While all this bombast plays to Pratt's GOA base, it is also effective in influencing mainstream lawmakers. In 2013, when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was parlaying with Democrats on a bill to expand background checks for gun buyers, Pratt mobilized GOA members in Oklahoma to torpedo the effort, according to The New York Times. The article also describes potential presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as Pratt's “key ally in the Senate,” adding that GOA contributed to Cruz's primary campaign. Another important GOA supporter is former Texas congressman Ron Paul, whose quote is emblazoned at top right-hand side of the GOA website: "The only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington."
Pratt was also personal friends with George W. Bush's attorney general, John Ashcroft, and they were both members of the Council for National Policy, a secretive invitation-only strategic planning organization for conservative Christians. According to The Guardian, while he was a U.S. senator from Missouri in 1998, Ashcroft withdrew his support for a juvenile justice bill when Pratt alerted him to provisions that would have increased penalties for gun law infractions.
Pratt has himself dabbled in politics, getting his feet wet as a Reagan delegate to the 1980 Republican convention, and in 1981 serving in the Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican from the 19th district. In 1994, he was defeated as a Libertarian party candidate for the Nevada State Assembly.
While GOA is Pratt's highest-profile organization, he has founded several less successful groups to further his aims. The Committee to Protect the Family, an anti-abortion organization active in the 1980s and ’90s, has shut down. U.S. Border Control, an anti-immigration group, is languishing in obscurity under new management. A third group, English First, is devoted to lobbying for English as the nation's official language. But its website appears to have been last updated in 2011.