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Four years ago, Donald Trump and a raft of Republican Congressional candidates were buoyed to victory, in part, by a record $50 million election spending bacchanal financed by the National Rifle Association. 

This cycle, things are different. For one, the NRA faces its own legal and money troubles arising from allegations of widespread financial malfeasance and corruption. The gun group appears to have done some belt-tightening by plunking down about half of what it paid out in election expenditures at this point in 2016. 

We sought to analyze the NRA's spending amid this slowdown — if, for no other reason, than to understand its priorities. I figure that, when cash becomes scarcer, institutions tend to focus on the things that matter. 

This led me to a little-known political canvassing firm called Stampede America. According to Federal Election Commission records, the NRA has spent nearly $2.5 million on its services, making it the group's third-largest vendor. 

On its own, Stampede America seems unremarkable: The Florida group pays people to push Republicans and right-leaning gun owners to cast votes. 
       
But Stampede America is very much not operating in a vacuum. The firm is a close affiliate of Stampede Consulting, a company that shares top executives with the group and has a history of using the same Florida address. In fact, the NRA spent more than $220,000 on the consulting affiliate last year, according to FEC documents. That firm has been tied to allegedly illegal poll monitoring practices conducted by the RNC in Nevada in 2016, and an RNC scheme to dilute Democratic votes in Montana earlier this year. 

And there are questions about Stampede America’s get-out-the-vote practices. One of its services is known as “Election Day Operations.” That’s a term for a professionalized poll monitoring, where political operatives get familiar with county election boards, including the people who are in charge of verifying voter signatures, as well as watch the polls on Election Day. 

The purpose, one of the operation’s architects told me, is to weed out fraud and irregularities. But with Trump stoking confusion over absentee voting, there are concerns that this is a way to keep people from voting. “It’s important to think about the compounding effects of voter intimidation and suppression tactics that are being deployed,” Dr. Nazita Lajevardi, a political science professor at Michigan State University, told me. You can read my story here. —Kevin T. Dugan, Trace contributor 
WHAT TO KNOW THIS WEEK

Fresh data shows that far-right vigilantism is becoming less common but potentially more violent: While incidents of harassment, intimidation, and violence have fallen since the summer, a rising share now involves firearm use

Militia activity is increasing ahead of the election, with the threat most pronounced in five states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Wisconsin — according to a report from MilitiaWatch and ACLED. It defined militia activity as anything ranging from organizing to violence.

Despite the Trump administration’s assertions that left-wing radicals from cities are the chief drivers of violence at urban protests this year, an Associated Press examination of nearly 300 people indicted on federal charges related to demonstrations found no official ties to antifa groups. Those charged espoused both left- and right-wing viewpoints, while many who were indicted traveled in from suburbs.

Two-thirds of domestic terror acts or plots in the first nine months of this year were attributed to far-right groups, while one-fifth were attributed to far-left groups, a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found. The CSIS said left-wing violence, though still less of a threat, had  notably increased this year.

Federal prosecutors indicted a Texas man and self-described member of the far-right “boogaloo bois” for rioting during George Floyd protests in Minneapolis. He was charged with firing more than a dozen rounds from his AR-15 into a police precinct. Prosecutors say they were able to track him down because of his online affiliation with a boogaloo believer who was charged with the May murder of a federal security officer in Oakland.

A 19-year-old with a van full of guns and explosives mused about assassinating Joe Biden in May, federal prosecutors say. The teen, who was allegedly obsessed with mass shootings, was indicted last month on separate charges of child pornography.

An association of police chiefs in Michigan said the secretary of state’s directive banning the open carry of guns at polling places on Election Day has no legal basis. The state attorney general replied that if local sheriffs won’t enforce the ban, state police will.

Americans’ views on “defunding the police” vary widely depending on how they define it: When people interpret the movement to mean police abolition, an overwhelming 91 percent of respondents oppose it, according to an annual poll. But when it’s seen as a reallocation of funds to social services, 49 percent were in favor while 50 percent were opposed.

Police were 39 percent more likely to fatally shoot mentally ill people in small and mid-sized areas, according to a Washington Post analysis covering the last six years. 

Traffic stops for biking violations in Los Angeles County ended with an officer shooting someone 16 times in the last 15 years, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation. All 11 of the fatal victims were Black or Latino.
MORE FROM OUR REPORTERS

Gun festival boosts election conspiracy theories. A gathering of Second Amendment activists in Pennsylvania earlier this month organized by the sons of Sun Myung Moon, the controversial Korean religious leader, featured a smorgasbord of fringe far-right ideas, Champe Barton reports. Stephen Bannon, the former White House senior counselor and Breitbart founder, even made a special virtual appearance, in which he baselessly warned of a Democratic conspiracy to rob Donald Trump of the election through voter fraud. As The Trace has reported, election officials across the country have expressed concern over how fear mongering about vote fraud, which has been repeatedly debunked, might lead to instances of armed voter intimidation.
   
We keep the focus on America’s gun violence epidemic
   
       
       
   
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SPOTLIGHT ON SOLUTIONS

In recent years, several news outlets have launched reporting projects to examine different aspects of America’s gun violence epidemic. The most notable of these is Guns & America, a two-year-long national reporting collaborative involving reporting fellows at 10 public media newsrooms.

The latest such endeavor is the Kansas City Star’s Missouri Gun Violence Project, which debuted this week. Its first slate of stories explores how community mistrust of police fuels the cycle of gun violence in the city. Future stories will examine domestic violence in suburban Springfield and suicide in the state’s rural communities, as well as the racial disparity in homicide in Missouri, where Black people are killed at significantly higher rates. 

Reporters will enlist residents, faith leaders, public officials, survivors, and experts to get at the root causes of the state’s gun violence problem and elevate potential solutions. “Reporting on gun violence means listening to more than government officials,” reporter Jelani Gibson wrote this summer.

Projects like this are key because they go beyond the impersonal, by-the-numbers crime reporting that can desensitize readers, said Jim MacMillan, director of the Center for Gun Violence Reporting at Community College of Philadelphia. He also serves on the advisory board of the Missouri Gun Violence Project.

“I think it’s important for local news organizations to address gun violence, and solutions to gun violence, because of the potential impact they can have in actually preventing gun violence,” he said. “They’re raising public awareness and influencing policy, and that leads to practices that could potentially save lives.”

What excites him most about the project is the range of perspectives the project will capture, something he aimed to do when he launched the Initiative for Better Gun Violence Reporting last year. “If there’s a viable future for the business of journalism, it's got to be engaging communities,” he said. “And if you're going to engage communities, we've got to solve their problems.” —Jennifer Mascia, news writer
IN MEMORIAM
Photo: Jake Crandall/Montgomery Advertiser
An anti-violence activist in Montgomery, Alabama, has erected a billboard honoring 51 people who have been fatally shot in the city this year. Courtney Bishop said he was inspired to create the memorial, titled “That’s Somebody’s Child,” following the August death of 13-year-old Ceyeria Lee, who was killed when a relative unintentionally fired a gun in a park. At the unveiling last weekend, Lishona Smith came to honor her brother Erick, who was the first person murdered in Montgomery in 2020 — and one of the faces on the billboard. “It means a lot to my family, it really does,” she told a local news outlet. A city council member has agreed to fund a series of billboards around the city. 
MAY WE RECOMMEND

This searing profile of gun violence survivor who overcame his PTSD at the range. Paul Karns grew up around guns and shooting. But firsthand experiences with gun violence — including one in which he was shot and badly injured during a home invasion — left him shattered and afraid of guns. The Washington Post hauntingly traces his path through PTSD and his struggle with alcoholism. After nearly dying from his addiction, Karns slowly recovered his physical health. But the final step in his healing was to build up the nerve to face his fear of guns at the shooting range. The piece, at turns tragic and an ode to human resilience, focuses on the myriad ways that firearms deeply affect the emotional lives of Americans. —Tom Kutsch, newsletter editor
PULL QUOTE

“You can’t find a shooter for nothing. But you can find looters! That’s what we’re pissed off about.”
 
William Calloway, a community activist in Chicago, on the perception that city officials are more concerned about downtown property than gun violence in Black neighborhoods.
The Canon is compiled by Jennifer Mascia.

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