Saturday, June 07, 2014

Why and How SeaWorld Lost the Roundtable Debate Badly

Finally, SeaWorld decided to talk.

It did not go well for them.

After months of debate over orca captivity stirred up by the documentary Blackfish, and months of the world's largest keeper of captive killer whales refusing to participate, the company was finally persuaded to sit down at a table and engage the issue with their critics, in the form of a remarkable roundtable discussion sponsored by Voice of San Diego and titled, "What SeaWorld and 'Blackfish' Mean for San Diego."

The roundtable, which was held Thursday in San Diego (you can watch the entire discussion here), featured SeaWorld veterinarian Todd Robeck, a senior animal trainer at SeaWorld named Kristi Burtis, former UC San Diego professor Susan Gray Davis, who has analyzed the park's business model, and Dr. Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, a veteran orca biologist. It was hosted by Scott Lewis and Lisa Halverstadt of Voice of San Diego.

Getting them to even engage in an open debate was an achievement. When Blackfish aired on CNN last year, SeaWorld refused to even come on air to discuss the film and its contents. Rather than expose itself to open questions, it chose to counter the film with an in-house spin campaign that revolved around a dishonest website it titled, "The Truth About Blackfish."

But more recent developments -- including pending legislation now in the backrooms at the California Legislature that would outlaw orca performances in the state and require SeaWorld to begin returning its orcas to the wild -- seem to have had their effect, and so when Voice of San Diego suggested this forum, SeaWorld finally deigned to open up and finally deal with the debate.

The company probably regrets this now. If you break down the hour-and-a-half discussion, it becomes fairly evident why SeaWorld has so assiduously avoided an actual debate over the facts with their critics, because whenever their representatives tried to make some kind of factual point, they either were blown out of the water by their critics' tart factual counters, or they wound up looking foolish as they fumbled about with charts and graphs.

They fumbled about when confronted with a question about the negative health effects of captivity for orcas. They had to admit that they had published misleading material. Their claims to offering "education" to children and substantive research in the scientific community were exposed as shams. 

In the end, the best they could muster was a strangely emotional appeal to their audience's children and the ostensible benefits that SeaWorld offers them, marking an odd nadir in the debate. It seemed particularly ironic, given that SeaWorld is prone to accusing their critics -- who were resolutely fact-oriented throughout the discussion -- of relying on emotional appeals.

Moreover, on the really central questions in the debate, SeaWorld came off as incompetent and dishonest. The apotheosis of this came when Robeck -- who is chief of SeaWorld's breeding program -- evaded the seemingly softball question: "Is it really your contention that there are no health effects to being in captivity?" [The video atop the post features this moment.] Robeck first attempted to deflect disingenuously, and then spent the next several minutes pulling out charts and graphs that he claimed proved that, with their improvements in the care for the animals, their orcas lived as long as orcas in the wild now -- all of which Rose deftly punctured in a brief and devastating retort.

There were many other telling moments in the debate. Another key question -- SeaWorld's claim that its "animal ambassadors" provide a unique educational moment for children -- came fairly early in the discussion, and what was revealing was how shallow and facile SeaWorld's claims were in the face of hardnosed academic findings that their "education" was really just a facade for marketing the park and its experience, while the truth about animals such as orcas and dolphins is distorted and sometimes outright false.

Similarly, SeaWorld's oft-touted claims that it conducts research that benefits orcas in the wild too (see Sam Lipman's superb debunking for more on this) was trotted out, and promptly became a fiasco when Rose pointed out that, for a company that holds the largest collection of captive orcas in the world (not to mention one that is awash in money), a mere 50 research papers in 50 years' time is an output that can only be described in one word: "pathetic."

The sharpest illustration of the dubiousness of SeaWorld's claims came during the discussion of orca dorsal fins. SeaWorld has claimed [see No. 42] that "Nearly one-quarter of adult male southern resident killer whales in the wild have collapsing, collapsed or bent dorsal fins." Yet anyone who has studied the southern resident killer whales -- here's a complete catalog, so you can see this for yourself -- knows that not a single one of these whales has a collapsed fin.

The study that SeaWorld cites, in fact, is a study by Dr. Ingrid Visser of a single small population found in the waters of New Zealand, and who are not even remotely related to southern residents. And even then, as Melissa Cronin at The Dodo explained, it grossly misinterpreted that dataset: "Only one orca had a collapsed fin in the study, but SeaWorld confused fin abnormalities with collapsed fins in an attempt to make the public think that dorsal fin collapse is normal among orca whales. The park also neglects to use updated research that has been published in the years since by Visser and others."

Appropriately, Visser was outraged at the misuse of her research: “I hope, that as a scientist yourself and as the Director of Research at SeaWorld,” Visser wrote in an e-mail to SeaWorld's research Dr. Judy St. Leger, “you can see how wrong this misrepresentation is – not only to inform the public by distorting the facts but also misrepresenting the data by not presenting it in context.”
/> And sure enough, in Thursday's roundtable, Todd Robeck -- at the end of a robust discussion of orca dorsals in which the veterinarian also mistakenly claimed the fins are made of cartilage, then retracted that when called on it -- acknowledged directly that this information was "misleading," and appeared to suggest that SeaWorld regretted making the claim.

Yet even though Robeck acknowledged directly that the claim by SeaWorld was false and misleading (and also indicated an astonishing ignorance of the wild orca's natural history), the claim remains up on the SeaWorld site. Anyone visiting "The Truth About Blackfish" even today (being June 7) will still read this false claim in the "Blackfish Analysis" (not to mention the risible assertion that there's no evidence wild orcas live with their mothers their entire lives -- see No. 24).

Finally, the debate became truly telling when the debate turned to the question of "water work" displays in which trainers get into the water with orcas -- something that SeaWorld is currently forbidden from doing, per the order from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration that followed the death of Dawn Brancheau, the focus of Blackfish.

This included a brief moment of hilarity when Burtis, at the end of an enthusiastic rant about how totally awesome it is to work for SeaWorld, because everyone always asks how they can get her job, cluelessly opines: "I don't know too many jobs where people are asking, 'Hey, how do I get a job writing for Voice of San Diego?'"

To which host Scott Lewis quickly retorts: "All the time." The audience bursts out in laughter.

Then, Burtis' enthusiasm is turned on its head, offered as evidence that, indeed, SeaWorld really is not about education by Dr. Davis, who offers some keen insight into just how important these shows are to SeaWorld's entire business model.

As she explains, the shows with trainers are the essence of SeaWorld's brand, not any "education" or "research" or "animal rescue" fig leafs (worth noting: SeaWorld has never yet participated directly in the rescue of a wild killer whale, except when it was taking one captive). What SeaWorld is selling is not an understanding of the animals, but a spectacle -- the jaw-dropping sight of seeing a relatively tiny human mastering these gigantic creatures and seemingly controlling them.  

After all these telling blows accumulated, the SeaWorld spokespeople were only left, in the end, with an emotional appeal. And even that failed.

It came at the closing, as everyone gave their final thoughts. As they had throughout, Rose and Davis were calm and thoughtful and referenced the science and business acumen behind their positions. But when Burtis and Robeck took their turns, it was get-out-your-hankies time.

First, Burtis referenced the plight of one of her admirers whose fragile health and well-being were bolstered by her visits to SeaWorld and the time she spent with killer whales, suggesting that the animals had special healing qualities (something we thought only the hippies and psychics believed). And then Robeck became severely choked up as he tried to explain how special SeaWorld is to children -- pulling out a picture of his 9-week-old son on his iPhone at one point -- and then asserting, in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary (not to mention a paucity of substantiating evidence), that the knowledge gained from keeping orcas captive would be critical to helping wild orcas survive.

It was all strangely maudlin. But in the end, it was probably fitting. Because that was the best SeaWorld had, and it remains probably the only card they have left to play.

At some point, the heart-tugging narratives are going to have to contend with the cold reality coming their way. As Dr. Rose noted, "The market will speak." The truth is getting out, and no amount of tears or smears will change that. SeaWorld can either come to terms with the reality coming their way, or they can crawl back into their hidey hole and watch as their brand name goes the way of the Edsel.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Sovereign Citizen’ Is Suspected in Georgia Courthouse Shooting

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A man described by authorities as an antigovernment “sovereign citizen” entered a courthouse in suburban Atlanta this morning armed with multiple guns and explosives and opened fire. The man was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies shortly after wounding one officer in the leg.
Dennis Marx

According to Sheriff Duane Piper, the man, Dennis Marx of Cumming, Ga., drove up to the courthouse in his SUV and emerged from the vehicle with several guns and some explosives, and reportedly wearing a bulletproof vest and a gas mask. As he approached the entrance, he threw out homemade smoke grenades that briefly covered his approach with orange smoke, as well as pepper spray grenades and homemade spike strips.

Forsyth County deputy Daniel Rush
came out to confront Marx and was shot in the leg. Then, as Marx proceeded into the building, he was met with a hail of gunfire and was killed.

The wounded deputy, a 25-year veteran, was taken to a local hospital and treated. Sheriff Piper praised him, saying Rush’s actions stalled Marx long enough for SWAT team officers and other deputies to arrive in place and protect the people working inside.

“It would be a guess to think how many lives he saved had he not engaged him right there,” Piper said. “Mr. Marx’s intention was to get inside that front door and to take hostages.”

Piper said
that Marx was well known as a “sovereign citizen” to deputies at the time of the attack. Marx had a long-running lawsuit against the sheriff’s office over alleged unconstitutional raids on his home, and was due in court Friday morning to face marijuana and weapons charges.

Marx apparently had been living for the past week in a motel. When deputies went to his home, they found evidence that it had been rigged to blow up when law enforcement entered. Piper told a WSB-TV reporter he was confident the place had been set up as an explosive trap.

“We are quite certain it’s booby-trapped with the purpose of killing law enforcement,” he said. Piper noted that it appeared Marx had been planning the assault for some time.

Marx had been in trouble with sheriff’s deputies since at least 2011, according to the Forsyth News, when he was arrested on marijuana charges, as well as weapons possession charges. He had been suing the sheriff’s department for alleged civil rights violations and use of excessive force, and had filed papers in the suit using pseudo-legal language common to “sovereign citizen” court actions.

An amendment to the complaint he filed on April 2 alleged that a Forsyth deputy had caused a death in his family by setting events in motion that led to it.

“Plaintiff also has information and receipts to verify his statements to defendants regarding the seizure of plaintiff’s family’s property, leaving plaintiff and plaintiff’s family without the means to properly protect themselves and/or relocate, as is their Constitutional right, leading directly or indirectly to the death and/or murder of one member of plaintiff’s family,” the motion read.

A woman identified by WSB-TV as Marx’s attorney said she had recently withdrawn from the case because Marx had been dissatisfied with her representation. She said she had asked Marx to take a psychological evaluation, but he had refused.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

PBS’s Bonnie Erbe Accepts Award from Anti-Immigrant Group CIS

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Bonnie Erbe, the longtime host of the Public Broadcasting Service’s “To The Contrary” program, has long been a proponent of dubious claims that immigration depletes natural resources and worsens global warming, as well as an apologist for the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). So it was not really a surprise when CIS awarded Erbe its annual journalism prize this year for her “reporting on immigration’s effects on health care, poverty, and natural resources, as well as on birth tourism.”

Erbe, who was given the award Tuesday at a gathering at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., told the audience in her acceptance speech that she “no longer” considers herself a progressive, “because I don’t believe the progressives really support the environment.”

Erbe’s speech explicitly acknowledged the coordination of anti-immigrant activism among various organizations associated with CIS, including the “greenwashing” group Progressives For Immigration Reform (PFIR), and Numbers USA, which along with CIS and another nativist outfit, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, are all part of a network devoted to opposing immigration.

Erbe acknowledged that she works closely with CIS and Numbers USA, and openly accepts their frequently dubious studies as accurate: “We work with them on many projects,” she said, praising them for their growing influence, “shown by the growth of their website and email list they run a very necessary organization with now more than 2 million, I believe.”

She explained her thinking on immigration, saying she doesn’t have a problem with immigrants as people, but as a mass phenomenon: “Anyway, immigrants are fabulous. Immigrants make the best Americans. They work the hardest for the least amount of money. They contribute so much to this country,” she said. “But in the journalistic community, if you dare raise any negative impact of mass immigration that we have now, both legal and illegal, you are shunted aside as some kind of strange person who has – you know, has a very strange approach to reporting.”

Erbe said she became concerned about immigration mostly as an environmental issue, and came to part ways with liberals over the issue of overpopulation, “because they support open-border immigration, pretty much.”

“I certainly came of age as a progressive, but I am no longer a progressive because I don’t believe the progressives really support the environment, and to me, that’s the most important issue. If we don’t deal with climate change and human impact on the planet, there’s not going to be a planet in 50 years, it’s my personal belief,” she said. “And you can’t – you say that in journalistic or political circles, and people look at you cross-eyed. And some – and we get objections from viewers sometimes. We also get great, you know, emails saying, thank you for doing this; I have – I hear this nowhere else on TV. But we also get people who say – you know, call me bad names and say that our – that begins with R – and call us out for just reporting what are the facts.”

Those facts, as Erbe sees it:

We’re not dealing with the fact that we are the major contributors to greenhouse gases and what we do – and this is our cultural disadvantage, but when we do take immigrants from developing nations who have very small carbon footprints, we turn them into the rest of us, who have huge carbon footprints, and turn them into greater contributors to global warming.

And we need to do something somewhere. We’re not doing anything on any of the fronts. Immigration is just one of the fronts where we need to start controlling thing – things, but again, is anybody going to listen? Does anybody care? No.

This is not particularly new for Erbe. In the past, she has both praised CIS and its “studies”, and has ardently promoted the view (also long promoted by FAIR and CIS’s founder, John Tanton) that immigration causes environmental degradation in the United States. Indeed, much of Tanton’s work has entailed attempts to transform immigration into an environmental issue.

And Erbe noted at the end of her speech that she was donating the proceeds from her award to PFIR, whose main purpose as a “greenwashing” outfit is to argue against immigration on environmental grounds. Erbe appears to have bought into their claims whole.

The claim, for instance, that immigrants worsen carbon emissions, as ThinkProgress has explained, is based almost entirely on CIS studies that employ “deeply flawed methodology”:

The report claims that a person’s CO2 emissions is directly related to his or her personal income — so a person making $110,000 per year will emit 10 percent more carbon than a person who earns $100,000 per year under the report’s methodology. Thus, because the report claims that each Mexican immigrant earns 53.2 percent of the average U.S. resident, it claims that these immigrants must also produce 53.2 percent of the carbon emissions.

But this is simply absurd. If such a relationship actually did exist, that would mean that Mitt Romney, who earned $21.6 million in 2010 — or more than 600 times the average annual income according to the CIS report — also must have produced 600 times the CO2 emissions. That’s enough of a carbon footprint to fuel over 2,200 vehicles or power more than 1,400 homes for an entire year. Not even John McCain owns that many houses.

Think Progress also notes that data actually demonstrates that immigrants produce lower carbon emissions than their native-born citizen counterparts. “And as CAP Senior Fellow Andrew Light told ThinkProgress, even if we could suddenly remove the entire carbon impact created by immigrants, it would only decrease the U.S.’s carbon emissions by 7.32 percent in a good year. Clearly, immigrants are not to blame for the U.S.’s large climate footprint.”

Of course, that has not stopped CIS and its nativist cohorts from pointing the finger of blame, nor has it stopped Erbe from blithely aiding in that process. These views were adroitly satirized by Stephen Colbert a couple of years ago.

“I say, why stop with global warming?” he asked in a segment on the CIS claims. “There are so many problems on which conservatives and liberals can come together to blame immigrants. … So, liberals, conservatives, let’s make sure America continues to be a country people strive to come to, by kicking out the people who came here.”

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Attorney General Revives Domestic Terrorism Group, and Far Right Goes Wild

A photoshopped image of Attorney General Eric Holder at a right-wing conspiracist website
[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

After letting a special unit devoted to monitoring domestic terrorism fall dormant following the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced this week that it was reviving the group. The Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee will focus on extremists motivated by antigovernment and racial hatred, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Tuesday.

Predictably, pundits from the extreme conspiracist right, particularly antigovernment “Patriot” groups, worked themselves into a frenzy over the announcement, warning their followers that a “war on the white man” was about to come down from the Obama administration. A similar reaction greeted the 2009 leak of a report from the Department of Homeland Security that focused on the domestic radical right, with right-wing groups describing it as an attack on the political conservatives.

In his statement announcing the DOJ committee’s revival, Holder noted that this decision comes after more than a decade of focus on the threat of international terrorists, while a number of recent incidents have underscored that they are not the only threat. “We must also concern ourselves with the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of other causes from anti-government animus to racial prejudice,” Holder said.

news accounts noted the move appeared to be in response to such incidents as the April murder of three people at Jewish institutions near Kansas City, Mo., the bombing of the Boston Marathon last year, a neo-Nazi attack on a Sikh temple in 2012, and a number of similar attacks. Non-Islamic domestic terrorist activity has clearly picked up in the years since Barack Obama was first elected in 2008.

“We’ve been pushing DOJ to devote more resources to domestic terrorism for a long time, so we’re delighted that the Attorney General has taken this step,” said SPLC President and CEO Richard Cohen, who recently wrote a column for MSNBC describing how the committee was meant to meet on 9/11 but never did again.

The response was considerably less measured, however, when it came to right-wing media, particularly pundits inclined to promoting conspiracy theories. One far-right website, run by documentarian Pat Dollard, headlined the news story: “Holder Mobilizes Group To Wage War On The White Man.”

Over at conspiracist pundit Alex Jones’ Infowars website, there was little doubt about Holder’s intentions: “In reality, Holder’s task force will undoubtedly focus on the Obama administration’s political enemies, mainly returning military veterans, conservatives and those who identify with the Tea Party. Such groups have been increasingly linked to terrorism by multiple federal agencies. … Given the documented history of the federal government’s involvement in facilitating terrorism, the administration will likely do whatever it can to create the necessary scenario to bolster its executive power.”

The conspiracist website The Daily Slave was similarly hysterical, adding some personal vilification into the mix by claiming that Holder “only obtained his job because of his Black skin and his support of government financed terrorism,” and suggesting that he had been “accused of direct involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing back in the mid 1990s through his role in the Clinton regime.” (The only such accusations came from the extreme right and they were utterly baseless.)

“Simply put, this clown is an evil lawyer terrorist who should be tried for high crimes and treason,” The Daily Slave concluded. “His announcement of a task force to stop ‘homegrown’ terrorists is a joke when he himself is a terrorist criminal. This savage should be rotting in a prison cell.”

Another conservative website called The Daily Dose published a post claiming that Obama administration officials already “exhibit behavior consistent with that of despotic tyrants.”

“One of the chief offenders, Eric Holder, has just announced that he is coming after everyday American patriots, especially those who use the Internet,” it read, claiming that Holder is using recent terror incidents “as the premise to target both Americans and our right to freely communicate over the Internet.”

“One can expect that the domestic group comprised of those evil racist heterosexual redneck Christian veteran gun-owning crackas will be occupying most of the top positions and garnering most of the attention,” it concluded.

The commenters at these sites, just as predictably, were even more wild-eyed.  “Holder needs [to be] executed for treason and murder of the American People and their blood bought Constitution,” wrote “propel7” at Infowars. “He is nothing more than a degenerate NAZI. His end will be the same as Mussolini, at the hands of the People. Shove this up your Homo-grown ass.”

At Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, where the reportage was relatively restrained, commenter “timeryder” wrote: “This regime is now justifiably terrified that attempts to overthrow them and re-establish our constitutional government and the rule of law may occur. A nazi/Stalin regime like rule is about to begin where people will be arrested and detained without evidence but on suspicion alone. Unlike Germany, there are no allies to come to our rescue to stop it.”

While it has so far remained confined to far-right conspiracist sites, this sort of hysteria is reminiscent of the response in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a bulletin to law-enforcement agencies warning of recruitment of returning veterans by far-right extremist organizations and its potential to enable domestic-terrorist attacks. Then, a number of right-wing pundits from the mainstream denounced the bulletin for supposedly “targeting” veterans and smearing them, a narrative that dominated media reportage despite the efforts of then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to defuse the situation. Eventually, Napolitano caved in, withdrew the report, and publicly criticized its authors.

That response resulted, as the SPLC later reported, in the gutting of the DHS’s section on right-wing domestic terrorism and the retirement of the veteran analyst who headed it up, Daryl Johnson, from the agency. Most of the rest of his team, which focused on non-Islamic domestic terrorism soon followed.

As it soon emerged, the DHS bulletin in fact anticipated a substantial resurgence in right-wing extremism and its associated violence that began in 2009 and has only begun to subside slightly in the past year. The report also was somewhat prescient in accurately noting that some of the more lethal of these extremist recruits would be military veterans, an observation that became manifest in such incidents as the attack on a Sikh temple in 2012 by a neo-Nazi who was recruited while in the Army, and last year’s arrest of a group of Georgia radicals who organized a far-right militia unit while in the Army, eventually murdering two people in an attempt to hide their plans to commit terrorist acts.

Traffic on I-70 Halted over Obama Effigy Hanging from Highway Overpass

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Some person or group in rural Missouri with an apparent hatred of President Obama managed to briefly shut down morning traffic on Interstate 70 on Monday by hanging an effigy of the president from an overpass.

According to local news reports, the effigy – a mannequin wearing a rubber Obama mask – was spotted hanging from an I-70 overpass on Lefholz Road, near Grain Valley in the rural outskirts of Kansas City, at about 5:30 a.m. Deputies responded to remove the display and found what they feared might be a bomb attached to it.

“The item that we had, we thought possibly could have been explosive, so we went ahead and shut down I-70 is both directions to ensure that if it was explosive there was nothing that was going to cause a hazard to any passerbys, and once we removed that from the scene we opened up I-70 almost immediately,” Sgt. Ronda Montgomery, spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, told reporters.

The item turned out not to be a bomb, and the interstate was reopened after a couple of hours. The sheriff’s office continued investigating the incident.

“We are talking with neighbors and canvassing the neighborhood,” Montgomery said. “We are putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Political science professor Max Skidmore of the University of Missouri-Kansas City told WDAF-TV that political dissent is protected by the First Amendment but this action may have crossed the line by threatening the president. “It’s some person who is simply vicious and whose hatred overwhelms what little good sense he or she may have,” he said.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Open Carry Texas’ Tactics Too Extreme Even for the NRA

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

The spectrum of gun rights groups runs the gamut. But you know a gun group has gone too far when even the National Rifle Association is criticizing it. (Update: The NRA has retracted its criticism – more below.)

That’s the position that Open Carry Texas – which believes citizens ought to be able to pack any kind of heat in public and in just about any kind of setting, including bars and political conventions – now finds itself in.
Open Carry Texas first attracted public notice last week when the group’s armed members were banned from Chipotle franchises as well as Chili’s and Sonic restaurants after different chapters of the group entered eateries around the state bearing assault rifles and other firearms. That was followed by a series of subsequent episodes that upset local Texans, who accused the group’s members of bullying tactics and intimidation.

All that negative press coverage in a state like Texas appears to have motivated the NRA to express concern about the nature of the protests. The group, which supports “open carry” for handguns, on Monday issued a statement criticizing Open Carry Texas members for having “recently crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness.”

“[W]hile unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms,” the statement reads.

It continues: “Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”

There was good reason to question the motives of at least some of those involved, it turns out. A Marine Corps veteran and gun rights supporter, James Henry, got into an argument with Open Carry Texas supporters on Friday while filming one of their demonstrations in Dallas. He was followed and verbally harassed by members of the group, who videotaped him. Now the man is facing death threats and has to himself carry a weapon at all times.

“One said you’re going to wish you had a gun, boy, when I fill you with holes,” Henry told a Dallas TV station.” “I’m being used on this one side as a proponent for gun control which I don’t agree with and also being used as a proponent that I’m some crazy left wing guy, which I’m not,” he said. He just happens to find the Open Carry tactics repugnant: “That is not being ambassadors for responsible gun owners to support gun rights.”

That was followed by another recent incident in which a group of Open Carry Texas supporters showed up fully armed to protest a women’s anti-gun violence organization, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (MDA), at its regular meeting at a Dallas-area restaurant.

A spokesperson for MDA said that the four mothers who comprised the gathering were all inside the Blue Mesa Grill when the Open Carry advocates “pull[ed] up in the parking lot and start[ed] getting guns out of their trunks,” and then waited in the parking lot for the women to come out. The women remained inside instead, fearful of “inciting a riot.” The Open Carry advocates reportedly shifted their operation to a nearby Hooters after a couple hours.

MDA issued a statement decrying the Open Carry advocates as “gun bullies,” noting that the four mothers and remaining restaurant customers were “terrified by what appeared to be an armed ambush.”

The outrageous antics of Open Carry Texas’ supporters provoked a counter-protest at one of the group’s suburban demonstrations in North Richland Hills, where a man named Glynn Wilcox and his son showed up with signs opposing the group’s “intimidation.”

“While everybody has the opportunity to carry open arms, carrying them in a front forward sling and making a scene of it isn’t showing you’re trying to get rights,” said Wilcox. “You’re being a bully.”

Open Carry Texas’ stance amid all this controversy has been defiant. Rather than scale back its aggressive tactics, the group’s leaders recently called on delegates to arrive fully armed at the Texas state Republican convention later this summer.

As for the NRA, Open Carry Texas’ spokesmen thumbed their noses at the much larger organization and announced on Facebook that they were tearing up their memberships.

“It is unfortunate that an organization that claims to be dedicated to the preservation of gun rights would attack another organization fighting so hard for those rights in Texas,” it said. “Already, OCT members are posting pictures of themselves cutting up their life membership cards. If they do not retract their disgusting and disrespectful comments, OCT will have no choice but to withdraw its full support of the NRA and establish relationships with other gun rights organizations that fight for ALL gun rights, instead of just paying them lip service the way the NRA appears to be doing.”

Update: Media Matters reported Tuesday evening that the NRA’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox, retracted the group’s criticism of Open Carry Texas:

Cox said that the statement was “a mistake” and that “it shouldn’t have happened,” adding “our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners.” Cox also blamed the statement on a “staffer” who Cox said “expressed his personal opinion.” Referencing media interest in the statement, Cox termed it a “distraction.”