tin foil hat conspiracy theory
TTAG managed to get a hidden camera inside the latest Trace editorial meeting. (Shutterstock)
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If you’re looking for a website like QAnon, but catering to gun control advocates, you will enjoy some articles from The Trace, a gun control website founded and funded by Michael Bloomberg. In August, The Trace presented a conspiracy about the amicus briefs filed in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. The article was reprinted by Politico. Will Van Sant, The NRA’s Shadowy Supreme Court Lobbying Campaign, Politico, Aug. 5, 2022.

The 12-brief conspiracy

The Politico reprint of the Trace article opens with snazzy graphics. Forty-nine amicus brief were submitted in the Bruen case: “12 of those briefs were filed by people or institutions who had received millions of dollars from the NRA, a Trace and Politico Magazine investigation found. Only 1 brief disclosed the financial connection.” According to Van Sant, “neither the justices nor the public were told that 11 of these ostensibly independent voices owed their livelihoods in part to the NRA.” Let’s look at some of his examples. …

According to Van Sant, it was “shadowy” for the League’s 2021 brief not to disclose in that brief that the League’s president had, years before, headed an organization that received NRA grants. …

A similar situation arises for former NRA General Counsel Bob Dowlut. He retired from the NRA several years ago, when he turned 70. In Bruen, he penned an amicus brief for the Bay Colony Weapons Collectors. According to that organization’s head, Karen McNutt, Bay Colony paid Dowlut a “nominal sum” and his work was essentially pro bono. She said “I don’t think the NRA was funding this in any way. And I don’t think Bob was getting any money to do this.” Van Sant does not dispute these facts, but he nevertheless calls Dowlut “shadowy” for not disclosing his former employer in the brief.

Then there’s Stephen Halbrook, a private practitioner in Virginia. Starting in the 1980s, he represented the NRA in numerous cases. In those cases and others, he has compiled a 5-0 record in the Supreme Court.

While Halbrook has authored many NRA briefs, his amicus briefs in recent years, including in Bruen, have been on behalf of the National African American Gun Association. No surprise, since Halbrook has done more than any other scholar to research and describe the Reconstruction Era history of gun control laws aimed at disarming the Freedmen, and the congressional response. See, e.g., Stephen P. Halbrook, Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms (2d ed. 2010).

According to Van Sant, because the NRA has been one of many clients in Halbrook’s private practice, he was “shadowy” for not disclosing in a 2021 amicus brief for a different organization that the NRA has also been a client.

Even former Solicitor General Paul Clement is purported to be in on the “shadowy” conspiracy. Clement, the winning attorney in Bruen, joined the board of the Bradley Foundation in 2020. Van Sant writes:

“In 2020 and 2021, Bradley made grants totaling $2 million to groups that filed pro-NRA amicus briefs in Bruen. Grantees included the Independence Institute, Kopel’s Colorado think tank, which received $300,000 during those two years, and the Claremont Institute, which received $200,000 during the same period.”

This was news to me, and unsurprisingly so since I don’t work in Development. When the Independence Institute’s staff are preparing a grant application with a Second Amendment angle, they do ask me for supporting information. I inquired about the Bradley grant and was told that $150,000 annual Bradley grants were given in 2020 and 2021. I was informed: “These funds are restricted to” particular other policy centers at the Independence Institute “and do not fund 2A work at all.” “So this [Trace] article doesn’t have all the facts.” Van Sant had not bothered to ask us.

Van Sant traces his grand conspiracy to a January 2018 meeting of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund. According to the minutes of the meeting, the Fund approved a grant to the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association for the case that eventually became Bruen. Like many of the lawyers named in Van Sant’s article, I attended that meeting. NRA members can attend CRDF meetings, and before the pandemic, many pro-Second Amendment lawyers, including me, often attended the thrice-annual meetings of the NRA board and related committees. There, we talked shop, exchanged ideas, and so on.

But Van Sant sees something more. This January 2018 meeting was the birthplace of the grand conspiracy of the supposedly “coordinated” amicus briefs three years later in Bruen. A typical CRDF meeting involves presentations for several dozen grant proposals, most of them involving attorneys representing defendants caught up in unfair enforcement of local gun laws, ranges resisting attempted closure by local officials, and the like. The CRDF board then goes into executive session to consider the grants, and the visiting lawyers and other NRA members must leave the room. …

In October 2021, Van Sant apparently thought that he had discovered a scoop: the Independence Institute, where I work, has received substantial grants from the NRA Foundation. This is not exactly news. The Independence Institute respects the privacy of all our donors, and we disclose them to the extent required by law. However, if a donor chooses to disclose, we will confirm the donor’s statement. For years the NRA Foundation has disclosed all its grants, including the amounts, in its annual reports and public filings.

The first law review article to note the funding was written in 1998 by Carl Bogus, a law professor at Roger Williams College who advocates for gun control. “Libertarian think tanks and the National Rifle Association (NRA) generously funded the research of activist authors such as Stephen Halbrook, Don Kates, and David Kopel.” Carl T. Bogus, The Hidden History of the Second Amendment, 31 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 309, 316 (1998)

So when the Washington Post asked me about NRA grants in May 2013, I answered accurately, and the Post described the Independence Institute as “a legal think tank that receives NRA funding.” As debate begins, Senate background check proposal for gun sales lacks necessary votes, Wash. Post, May 2, 2013. To be precise, the Independence Institute is not solely a “legal” think tank. We work on many issues in many ways, and legal work is well under 10% of our total output. In response to other media queries about NRA donations, Independence Institute President Jon Caldara has repeatedly stated that the Institute is “proud” to receive support from “America’s oldest civil rights organization.” …

As I pointed out to Van Sant in an email exchange this summer, there was no NRA Foundation grant when I wrote the Bruen brief in April-June 2021. Yet he refused to correct his November 2021 article The NRA Paid a Gun Rights Activist to File SCOTUS Briefs. “Point me to the sentence that is factually incorrect,” he wrote. The sentences that are factually incorrect begin with the first paragraph:

The NRA Foundation has paid an attorney and Second Amendment activist to write favorable briefs in Supreme Court cases, suggests a hacked document released on the dark web last week. Since 2019, that attorney has submitted two briefs backing an NRA affiliate in cases before the court, including one involving New York’s gun licensing requirements that is being heard today. The briefs did not disclose the funding, allowing the NRA to buttress its affiliate’s arguments while concealing the effort from judges and the public.

There are two falsehoods in this first paragraph. First, there was no NRA Foundation grant when I wrote the Bruen brief.

Second, the Independence Institute has never been an “affiliate” of the NRA. An affiliate has some sort of official relationship. For example, the Colorado State Shooting Association is an affiliate of the NRA. Therefore, the NRA Competitions Division recognizes scores from CSSA shooting matches just the same as if the match had been conducted by NRA itself. The think tank where I work, the Independence Institute, has solicited and received grants from the NRA Foundation. That doesn’t make us an “affiliate,” just as we are not an “affiliate” of any other donor.

Although Van Sant refused to correct his November 2021 article, his August 2022 article did include the fact that there was no NRA Foundation grant when I wrote the Bruen brief.

— David Kopel in The Paranoid Style in Gun Control Politics

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    • The MSM stories labeled as conspiracy theories are usually confirmed as news 6-24 months later (Ex. Russia collusion and Cov19). Sometimes it’s the very next day. See New York Times claimed “conspiracy theory” story about Konnech founder and CEO Eugene Yu. He was arrested the very next day. Yet people still think the NYT is the gold standard. They’re a joke.

  1. The NRA is the anti-gunner’s Boogyman. These organizations and their political mouthpieces attribute waaay more power to the NRA than it effectively wields. The venerable NRA does offer a focus for all their angst and hoplophobic fears…especially when there is a corrupt cadre of expensive buffoons living large at the Member’s expense that the anti’s can point to. I wish that I could support the good – instructional and safety – parts of the NRA separately from the LaPierre group of leeches…unfortunately, all monies donated are “filtered” through Wayne and his group of lavish sycophants.

    • They focus on the NRA because the NRA became an effective fund raiser for their political opponents. That’s why they don’t go after the other 2A orgs with the same aggressive zeal.

      It’s a similar situation with Fox News. Most lefties don’t understand that Fox is mostly establishment center right. Fox is a gateway drug to conservative media. But their audience dwarfs all other right wing media.

      • Once upon a time they might have nominally been marginally “Right” of Center (with all their “far and balanced” BS). They are firmly in MSM territory today.

      • Their audience dwarfs all other media, period. Fox News gets over 50% of ALL news viewers, and often completely dominates several times slots for ALL television viewing.

    • @Old Guy in Montana Yup. It’s nice to have a bogeyman that the lefties can cry about, but the real effective forces for change are the state level groups. I live on the border of two states so I belong to both of their state level gun rights groups, as well as GOA and the Second Amendment Foundation. The left makes sure to fund lots of individual organizations to wage a war of attrition for all their pet causes – we need to do the same.

    • It is said the NRA wishes it had the power and influence it has according to the anti-gun industry.

      We have the same issue downunder with the “cashed up gun lobby” influencing politics. In reality the “cashed up gun lobby” is a mix of industry, clubs, associations, and even some government bodies.

  2. So the NRA is responsible for the Bruen case? Well, there goes the anti-NRA narrative among so-called 2A advocates.

    • I haven’t forgotten that the NRA tried to scuttle the Heller decision, or that they supported both the NFA and the GCA – hence the pejorative slogan “negotiating our rights away”. NYSPRA is the organization that got Bruen through – they may be an NRA “affiliate” but they’re state level and not wasting money on fancy suits or mistresses. The NRA is that smarmy kid with his own agenda on the group project who does very little then tries to take credit for everything at the last minute. F Wayne La Pierre and his board of cronies.


    • Hey, Ralph –

      Check this video out by a Houston lawyer, he raises some interesting questions –

      “Toledo Lawyer’s Chapter – The Future of the Second Amendment”

    • Never mind what the perp used in Uvaldie. It was haphazard adults who bought into the Gun Control BS that disarmed the schoolhouse and made sitting ducks out of children.

      It does not matter if the perp was bare handed or armed with a toothpick, etc. What matters is those children were defenseless. That’s not the perp’s fault or the firearm’s fault or the police fault, etc. The children and the school were clearly unprepared and incompetent adults did nothing about it all during the time when the weather was calm.

      • The incompetent school officials were the last in the line of failed defense. Doors left open, doors that would not lock and were reported as such but were never addressed. The schools version of the Keystone cops dropped the ball as well. Was an avoidable catastrophie.

    • Ralph,

      The NRA has, in its ENTIRE existence, done two things well: (1) develop and provide truly exceptional firearm and firearm safety training programs, and (2) p*** away members’ dues on “lobbying” (i.e., paying off Wayne the Thief’s friends) and paying for Wayne’s suits and his side piece.

      Defend them if you want; the rest of us have learned better. Until they divest themselves of that lying, thieving goniff, I wouldn’t pay them a cent. They should go back to the OTHER thing they do well, like training.

      • I am an Endowment member, however, I have often wondered about who is doing the printing and mailing for all the pieces tha this my mailbox and yours. I wonder why the same board members are re-elected time and time again. I wonder WLP hasn’t been fired with all the revelations about profligate spending on personal items. What we don’t see is flying first class which few members can afford, staying in suites at luxury hotels, again a “necessary” expense. I have resolved that not another penny will come from my checkbook until WLP is gone together with his crony board members. This year my contributions have gone to GOC, GOA, SAF, CRPA and CCRKBA which is another suspect organization in my book. I don’t know how much longer I will be shelling out cash to them. I think their cut will go to SAF.

  3. If the Leftist Scum ™ want to blame someone or some entity for the sledge-hammer ‘Bruen’ gun rights case, they need to look no further than the scum that run their party leadership.


    Because they chose to run the only candidate for President who could have lost the 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump.


    We could just have easily had President Bernie Sanders, but, noooooooooooooooo!

    Suck on it, Leftist Scum. Suck on it good and hard, because you could have had a Supreme Court that could have reversed every 2A gain we made with ‘Heller’ and ‘Mc Donald’. You could have literally banned the future sale of every center-fire semi-auto, magazine-fed rifle, the Court could have declared the 2A was a group right, not a personal right, but you blew it.

    You blew it by choosing Hillary, and now *we* get to laugh last, and best.

    And if you think the ‘Bruen’ decision was bad? Just wait until the lower court 2A victories start to mount. You’re gonna cry, cry, cry, all the way home… 😉

    • “We could just have easily had President Bernie Sanders, but, noooooooooooooooo!“

      In this you are correct. Sadly, undue influence was exercised and Hillary Clinton was nominated.

      Hillary and the Dem leadership had a second chance, announce Bernie as a running mate to build, as did Lincoln, ‘a team of rivals’.

      History will not be kind to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

      • bernie is a real social-lists. Nobody in the dnc wants social-lism. They have progressed straight to fascism.

        Watch how history does the biden crime family and their supporters.

      • “History will not be kind to Donald Trump…”

        For gun rights supporters, history will have him as a god, thanks to his Supreme Court nominations.

        Likely even more than Reagan… 🙂

  4. I always follow the links from where these articles are originally posted and make an effort to leave comments. All of us need to do the same thing and we need to flood the comment section of articles like this with pro gun comments.

    • “we need to flood the comment section of articles like this with pro gun comments“

      Absolutely correct!

      May I ask the comments be reasonable, well-informed and free of juvenile or sexual insult. Avoiding any mention of killing political opponents would also be a good idea.

      • If we don’t have YOUR lying Leftist/fascist male bovine excrement to wade through, we all do pretty well. Consider sodding off to another site that supports your fascist ways and views. WE WILL NOT MISS YOU.

        Oh, and tell us again how Article I, Section 8 authorizes universal gun control, you idiot.

  5. So, the “We got them!” conspiracy turns out to be a nothing burger.
    All they had to do was some research, or real investigative journalism.
    There is a shocking idea.
    And people in the news industry are shocked to see the public lack of faith or trust in them when they print garbage.

  6. Exactly why shouldn’t nra fund lawyers writing briefs to scotus in 2a cases? All the gun control orgs fund the other side. Come and take it mfers, got plenty of lead to go around. Steal this election and shtf.

  7. Lets see, the Trace, funded by Michael Bloomberg who also funds other lawyers and groups who argued anti-gun in Bruen and other cases in which they did not declare this in their briefs is saying its a conspiracy because pro-gun submitted briefs in which they did not declare their funding?

    I didn’t know it was requirement to declare your source of income to be pro-gun and defend the second amendment.

  8. now let’s look at all the money bloombooger and the rest of those people with their eyes wide open to the 1%s in envy wishing they were, and in reality it dwarfs any monies that the NRA has put out. The article wouldn’t dare go there. if I keep going it’ll just be seen as a rant. but this I say, those 1%s are really the frightened sheep. they are scared of being like the rest of us. this is why firearms scare them. if SHTF they know they can’t stand above us if they can’t control us, starve us or hold out the medical help we may need and in some ways the movie Soylent Green shows how society will go in the large cities if SHTF.

  9. You hire a lawyer to present the best case he can for you. That doesn’t mean the court will accept it as a valid legal analysis. (Trump found this out the hard way with his challenges to the 2020 election results.) If the court accepted the amicus briefs, it means they agreed with the authors’ analysis.

  10. I love conspiracies, and conspiracy theories. One problem with all conspiracies is, they all fall apart quickly. The more people involved in the conspiracy, the quicker they fall apart. Someone should have picked up on this one years and years ago!!

    I guess this particular conspiracy theory is no stupider than some of the others. Flat earth, anyone?

    Of course, Occam’s razor suggests that there are simply a helluva lot of people who jealously guard their Second Amendment rights. Or, we could suggest that the real conspiracy started way back around 1770, when all those Founding Fathers were conspiring to rebel against England. I really don’t care how any person chooses to view this conspiracy, I’m just thanking God that it exists!!

  11. Standard Far Left Progressive strategy:

    1) Simple facts refute Far Left Progressive party planks.
    2) Far Left Progressives cannot win in the court of public opinion on the facts.
    — SO —
    3) Far Left Progressives therefore attack the character of their political opponents.

    This example is no different. Far Left Progressives could not possibly win the Bruen decision on the facts. So they tried (and continue to try) to win on emotion via painting their political opponents as corrupt and sleazy scumbags, banking on the notion that no decent person would side with corrupt and sleazy scumbags even if they are correct.

    Ben Shapiro pointed this out years ago. Simple facts refute virtually all Far Left Progressive party planks. Far Left Progressives know this and they know that they cannot win-over public support based on the facts. So, Far Left Progressives default to accusing their political opponents of being, “stupid, crazy, or corrupt,” and then counting on the public to refuse to support anyone who is “stupid, crazy, or corrupt,” regardless of whether that political opponent is right.

    • You cannot see a clearer example of the Far Left Progressive strategy which I outlined above than in the recent debate between Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance. Ryan tells the audience that Vance is a racist with the expectation that voters will refuse to support a racist. Vance reminds the audience that he has three BI-RACIAL children which makes it absolutely clear that he is NOT a racist.

      • From Pelosi’s “we need them to pick our crops”, Walker being called a “house N….” by Warnock supporters and the residents of Martha’s Vineyard coming together to expel the hispanic migrants from their island it’s clear the left prefers their brown people out in the fields and not in the house.

        • “the residents of Martha’s Vineyard coming together to expel the hispanic migrants from their island“

          Total disinformation, and the fact that the governor of Florida used taxpayer funds to pick up asylum seekers in the state of Texas, fly them through Florida to Martha’s Vineyard shows that Republican politicians are all too ready to commit both state and federal felonies using the taxpayers money, all to support their political campaign.

        • And then-Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom handed out Greyhound bus tickets to homeless people to get them to at least leave town, and hopefully the state as well.

          Similarly, the US Government has been shipping illegal aliens by air to various places, usually in the middle of the night to avoid attracting attention.

          What De Santis has done is to draw attention to the fact that a small minority of states are being forced to deal with the fallout of massive illegal immigration, an issue that should be dealt with either by all states playing an equal part, or by the Federal Government getting its immigration act together after more than 20 years of kicking the can down the road.

        • ““the residents of Martha’s Vineyard coming together to expel the hispanic migrants from their island“

          Total disinformation,”


          Martha’s Vineyard has a tourist economy, with several *thousand* hotel rooms, bed and breakfasts, yet they couldn’t cough up 30 rooms?


          Their web page proudly advertises how welcoming they are to immigrants, and the first fucking thing they do when just 30 of them show up, is get them the hell out of their town as fast as they could.

          Typical Democrat hypocrisy in action. They talk the talk, and don’t walk the walk… 🙂

        • MajorStupidity,

          I’m sorry, Leftist/fascist, propagandist liar says what????

          Go eat a bag o’ dicks, you Leftist/fascist liar.

        • LoD, lil’d and miner are fapping off in the empty cinema to BROS. The gay romcom so bad that even gays don’t want to see it. Both have probably made significant contributions to the film’s revenue.

    • “makes it absolutely clear that he is NOT a racist“

      Interesting concept, so Sen. Strom Thurmond’s half black children with his mom’s maid means Sen. Thurmond was not a racist, fascinating.

      The fact that JD Vance not only kisses trumps ass, he offers sloppy blowjobs to big tech billionaires, pledging to do their bidding in the halls of Congress.

      “Tech billionaire Peter Thiel had already donated a record-breaking amount of money to support J.D. Vance in the Ohio Republican Senate primary — but last week, the Silicon Valley tycoon decided he wanted to give even more.

      “Peter would like to make another contribution to the PAC, this time for $1.5 million,” a top Thiel lieutenant wrote to strategists running a pro-Vance super PAC in an April 26 email, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO. “We are planning to send the wire today, but before doing so I just wanted to confirm you have everything you need from us.”

      With that previously unreported donation, Thiel had given $15 million in total to bolster Vance — the largest amount ever given to boost a single Senate candidate. Thiel is a contrarian who became famous for making risky investments that paid off — and with Vance’s win in Tuesday’s primary, the PayPal co-founder and early Facebook financier struck it big again.“


      Already JD Vance has pimped himself out for $15 million, and that was just in April.

      One wonders what ‘return on investment’ Peter Thiel and his tech billionaire friends are expecting

      • Long ass off-topic rant just to say you don’t like the way the convo is going so everybody look over here. Good job.

  12. Well if that ain’t the pot calling the kettle black.
    Okay Trace now do a Bloomberg pays off so n so to get what he wants.
    Shit that would probably stretch clean back to Nazi Germany?

    That’s not the way to make an effective tin foil hat either. You have to have more angles. It seems like being the Trace theyd know all about deceptive angles.

  13. Hope this “conspiracy” results in millions of anti-gun advocates becoming too traumatized to continue working at their jobs.


    What does it matter who files an amicus brief; who funds it? A brief is on point, or it isn’t. All legal briefs have a point of view, and argument for/against. Putin, himself, could file an amicus brief, and claim it is from “Friends of The Supreme Court in the United States”. Such a brief would be subject to whatever review standards exist.

    All-in-all, whatever gives the Dims and anti-Americans the vapors is blessing.

  14. I quit Wayne and his sycophants five years ago and joined Gun Owners of America. They are far more effective in their fight for gun rights and don’t give an inch.

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