Wildfowl hunting in California, where a state-wide ban on lead will come into force. Photo: Diana via Flickr.
Hunting for Truth - we respond to the NRA's retraction demand
11th July 2014
The National Rifle Association has demanded that The Ecologist retract important elements of a story we ran about the threat to condors from ingesting spent lead ammunition, and the NRA's opposition to a lead ban. We publish our response.
We request that you print a retraction and correct this substantial reporting error in your headline and throughout the body of the text.
On 7th July, The Ecologist published an article about the need to stop the use of lead ammunition in order to give Californian condors a sustainable future, entitled 'Eat lead! Condor survival versus National Rifle Association'. The article begins:
"Ample peer-reviewed science says that the number one threat to condor survival is lead poisoning from eating bullets and pellets in carcasses, reports Dawn Starin. But the powerful NRA is fighting hard against bans on lead ammunition."
It continued: " ... the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has always disputed the links between lead-based ammunition and condor deaths, 'oppose any attempt to ban lead ammunition for any hunting'.
"The NRA has even set up its own website Hunt for Truth, to fight any bans or restrictions on lead ammunition. It argues, for example, that the lead found in condors does not arise from ammunition but from other environmental sources, such as fragments of lead-based paint - but fails to cite any peer-reviewed science in support of its claim."
A demand for retraction from the NRA's lawyers
Today The Ecologist heard from lawyers Michel & Associates, apparently acting for the NRA although this is not explicitly stated. They wrote:
"Your recent article 'Eat lead! Condor survival versus National Rifle Association' published on July 7th was incorrect is stating that the NRA has ' ... set up its own website Hunt For Truth' in order to ' ... fight any bans or restrictions on lead ammunition'.
"The Hunt For Truth website is owned and operated by the Hunt For Truth Association, a non-profit corporation, in order to help protect the rights and traditions of hunters throughout the U.S. It is supported by a coalition of wildlife and natural resource conservation groups within the hunting and shooting sport industries (full description HERE).
"Ms. Starin compromises her analysis by failing to authenticate her claims and subjugates her duty to verify her facts, in favor of creating a salacious headline and defaming a convenient target. The National Rifle Association does not own or operate the website Huntfortruth.org.
"We request that you print a retraction and correct this substantial reporting error in your headline and throughout the body of the text."
Michel & Associates - legal kingpin of the US gun lobby
Michel & Associates' website lists the NRA as a client: "Michel & Associates, P.C. has one of the most recognized and well-respected firearms law practices in the nation. For years, we have helped our clients to achieve their goals ...
"Our clients include the National Rifle Association, the California Rifle and Pistol Association, law enforcement agencies and officers, industry trade associations, gun shows, importers, manufacturers, distributors, dealers ... and individuals who face firearms-related federal or state licensing and compliance issues or criminal charges."
A Google seach on michellawyers.com for Hunt for Truth Association also reveals that Michel & Associates includes that organization as a client and has acted for them on numerous occasions.
NRA points to Hunt for Truth
The Ecologist originally went to the NRA website in order to confirm its policy on lead ammunition and condors. However after searching on that topic we were directed to the NRA-ILA page Big Condor Trouble Brewing for Hunters in Oregon: Join the Hunt for the Truth About Lead Ammunition and Hunting.
Note - NRA-ILA is the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, described as "the lobbying arm of the NRA".
The page directed us to Hunting for Truth: "Do not be misled by anti-hunting activists pushing their extremist agendas against lead ammunition and hunting. Learn the real facts and truth behind the all-out assault on lead ammunition throughout the United States at www.HuntforTruth.org
"To stay up to date on the lead ammunition and hunting debate, visit NRA-ILA and subscribe to HuntForTruth.org. Join the hunt for the truth regarding lead ammunition and hunting, as we expose the misinformation being spread by anti-lead ammunition groups and animal 'rights' activists in their campaign to ban lead ammunition and hunting."
The implication to us was clear and unambiguous - the NRA's position on lead ammunition was stated on huntfortruth.org.
Who owns the huntfortruth.org domain and its content?
We also performed a WHOIS search to discover the registrant of the domain huntfortruth.org. This reveals that the legal registrant for the domain is none other than Michel & Associates.
We also find that the copyright notice on the foot of each web page on the site reads: "COPYRIGHT © 2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED - Michel & Associates, PC." Apparently huntfortruth.org is, in fact, none other than Michel Associates - or possibly a client that has chosen to hide behind them.
Further, a search for 'NRA' on huntfortruth.org gives four pages of results, most of them news items about NRA lawsuits on the lead and ammunition question.
These results also show that the editorial line taken by huntfortruth.org is consistently supportive of the NRA. Here's just one example: 'NRA PRESENTS EVIDENCE TO CA FISH AND GAME COMMISSION ON THE BLOOD LEAD LEVELS OF CALIFORNIA CONDORS IN 2009'.
About Hunt for Truth
Michel & Associates referred us to the web page huntfortruth.org/about-us/. Here we read the following:
"In response to the threat posed to hunting and recreational shooting sports, the NRA and CRPAF [California Rifle and Pistol Association Foundation] engaged the expertise of the environmental and civil rights law firm of Michel & Associates, P.C., along with reputable scientists, experts, consultants and volunteers to defend lead ammunition and our traditional hunting heritage.
"Since 2003, these professionals engaged in the extended process of investigating, procuring and analyzing tens of thousands of documents from public records requests concerning the California condor, Bald and Golden eagles, Mourning dove and other wildlife ...
"As this investigation continued, numerous other individuals and groups opposing the attempts to ban lead ammunition became involved in gathering and supplying information about the lead ammunition debate ...
"The effort grew into a coalition of like minded groups opposing lead ammunition bans. A central repository for sharing the information gathered by these groups became critical, and in 2011 HuntForTruth.org was launched.
"The research and information presented through HuntForTruth.org has raised serious questions about the purported causal-link between traditional ammunition and lead poisoning and/or mortality in California condors and other wildlife. Many groups and individuals now support the mission of HuntForTruth.org.
"The involvement of these coalition partners lead to the founding of the HuntForTruth Association, a non-profit California corporation, in 2013. Independently, and through the efforts of the HFT Association and HuntForTruth.org, wildlife and natural resource conservation groups within the hunting and shooting sport industry continue to review various regulatory threats to traditional hunting and recreational shooting."
So what does all that tell us?
- First, that the NRA and the CRPAF provided the initial impetus that resulted in the huntfortruth.org website.
- Second, that they engaged Michel & Associates for that purpose;
- Third, that the huntfortruth.org website predates by two years the formation of the HFT Association.
- Fourth, that the HFT Association and the HFT website are considered by the authors of huntfortruth.org to be separate entities. And who are those authors: of course, Michel & Associates, who claim copyright on its content.
We also find on the CRAPF website that "CRPA Foundation works hand-in-hand with NRA to develop and implement a California strategic litigation plan ...
"To implement that litigation plan, CRPA Foundation and the NRA have formed the California Legal Action Project (LAP). The NRA/CRPA Foundation Legal Action Project (LAP) is a joint venture partnership between the NRA and CRPA Foundation to advance the Second Amendment rights of firearms owners in California ... "
But what of Hunt For Truth Association? A search of the California registry of charities does reveal a record. This shows that a it has received a Corporate or Organization Number of 3598830, dated to 9/11/2013. However its Registration Status: is 'Not Registered' and it has no registration number. No papers relating to HFT Association are available.
Oh yes, and its address is shown as "180 E OCEAN BLVD STE 200, LONG BEACH CA 90802". Which just happens to be the address of Michel & Associates.
- there exists a close relationship between NRA and CRPA/CRPAF, including collaboration on litigation via LAP;
- The NRA and CRPAF were the joint initiatiators of huntfortruth.org;
- and they engaged Michel & Associates to work on the project;
- Michel & Associates represent at law NRA, CRPA, LAP and HFT Association;
- Michel & Associates appear to be one and the same as huntfortruth.org - the domain is registered to them, and they claim copyright on its content.
- HFT Association exists as a California corporate body, but has yet to be registered as a public benefit organisation, and resides at Michel & Associates.
Elsewhere on the web
Other authors have made a clear link between huntfortruth.org and the NRA. For example, Media Matters ran a story on 8th August 2013 entitled 'NRA Pulled Its Science-Denying Website That Claimed Lead Ammunition Isn't Poisoning Endangered Wildlife' which relates:
"The NRA's newly launched campaign to oppose a California legislative proposal to ban lead ammunition for hunting, Hunt for Truth, has already been pulled from the Internet along with an accompanying NRA press release announcing the initiative ...
"In a move bizarrely reminiscent of its 'anti-gun' enemies list, the National Rifle Association announced a new plan Friday to target scientists, environmental groups, government regulators and individuals who favor banning the use of lead in gun ammunition.
"The targeted attacks are part of Hunt for Truth.org, a newly revamped effort by the nation's largest gun lobby to block attempts to regulate the use of lead in bullets ... "
Slashdot also relates, in 'NRA Launches Pro-Lead Website', that "The National Rifle Association has launched a website defending the use of lead ammunition against scientists and environmental organizations who argue that lead bullets are poisoning the environment and tainting game meat with a known neurotoxin" - linking to huntfortruth.org.
The website AllGov.com also has a story, 'NRA's "Hunt for Truth" about Lead Ammunition Leads to California Zoos', which states:
"The National Rifle Association (NRA) has spiffed up its website devoted to the Hunt for Truth 'behind the assault on traditional lead ammunition,' where it has compiled lists of 'propagandists' and purveyors of 'faulty science' it must overcome to defeat proposed California legislation." - again, linking to huntfortruth.org.
Back to our letter ...
So, back to the letter we received from Michel & Associates. It claims that "The Hunt For Truth website is owned and operated by the Hunt For Truth Association, a non-profit corporation".
It is unclear that the The Hunt For Truth website is owned by and operated by the Hunt For Truth Association - it appears in fact to be an emanation of Michel & Associates. The domain is registered to them and its content is copyright to them.
However we also know that it was originally launched on behalf of NRA and CRPAF (perhaps among others), who were presumably (perhaps among others) paying Michel & Associates' costs.
We also know that there are several (at least) easy-to-find mentions on the web that huntfortruth.org is the NRA's website - and if the NRA is so desperate to deny this link, why has it not acted against those other website owners?
It is unclear that Hunt for Truth Association is, in fact, a true "non-profit corporation". It exists as a corporate body, but official records show that it has yet to be officially registered as a public benefit organization.
As for the author "defaming a convenient target" it is highly deniable that any defamation was involved:
- the views and policy of the NRA on lead ammunition and that of Hunt for Truth appear to be indistinguishable;
- The NRA's NRA-ILA website directs readers to huntfortruth.org to discover the NRA's policy on lead ammunition;
- and the NRA was at the very least instrumental in the setting up of huntfortruth.org.
"The National Rifle Association does not own or operate the website Huntfortruth.org." In a very narrow interpretation, this appears to be true. The domain is not registered to them and we have no evidence that the NRA is directly responsible for its content.
We have therefore made a small correction to the original article which now reads: "The NRA has even been instrumental in setting up a special purpose website Hunt for Truth, operated by its lawyers Michel & Associates, to fight any bans or restrictions on lead ammunition."
However the NRA and Michel & Associates have questions to answer:
- Who was Michel & Associates' client when they set up huntfortruth.org in 2011?
- Who has paid the ongoing costs of the website?
- Who are the controlling powers of the Hunt For Truth Association?
- Who has paid and is now paying the costs relating to the Hunt For Truth Association, and the huntfortruth.org website?
- Is there any difference at all between the views and policies of the NRA and those expressed on huntfortruth.org on the matter of lead ammunition?
If The Ecologist receives answers to these questions showing that our reporting on this important topic is wrong, we will of course make all necessary corrections.
Meanwhile, our own hunt for truth continues.
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