Former NRA President Duped Into Speaking At Parkland Parent…

Mark Greenberg
3 min readJun 24, 2021


Gun Violence

A gun control organization duped two high-profile gun advocates into speaking at a phony high school graduation ceremony with a sea of empty chairs meant to represent the children who were shot and did not finish school.

Change the Ref, an organization founded by Patricia and Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting in 2018, published videos of the stunt on Wednesday.

The NRA hosted a graduation ceremony in Las Vegas for the graduating class of James Madison Academy, a non-existent school, and invited David Keene, an NRA board member who served as the organization’s president from 2011 to 2013, as well as John Lott, an author and gun rights activist.

According to BuzzFeed News, both men delivered their remarks during what they were told was a rehearsal, resulting in videos of the men addressing a sea of empty seats representing the estimated 3,044 students who should have graduated this year but did not because they were killed by guns.

Both speakers praised founding father James Madison, the fictitious school’s namesake, for proposing the Second Amendment and slammed efforts to implement gun safety measures.

“Ironically, if the men had conducted a proper background check on the school, they would have discovered that it is a forgery,” a Change the Ref spokesperson told BuzzFeed.

Lott referred to his time working in the Justice Department during the Trump administration, saying that “gun control advocates and Democrats will fight you tooth and nail.” Lott described people who were unable to buy guns due to laws pushed by those groups as “law-abiding citizens who wanted to get a gun.”

Lott told NBC News that his comments were taken out of context and “selectively edited,” and that he drove 1,000 miles from Montana to deliver the remarks.

Lott also told BuzzFeed that he was encouraged to speak about James Madison and background checks, and that he was promised $495, the cost of a flight, but never received it.

While the graduation was a ruse, the pain felt by thousands of families who’ve lost children to gun violence was, according to Oliver, real.

“We lost Joaquin three months before his graduation, and we know exactly how it feels to be there and receive the diploma without your child,” Oliver explained, adding, “Because we understand that, we know there are a lot of people going through that right now.”

The mission of Change The Ref, according to their website, is to raise awareness about mass shootings in order to reduce the NRA’s influence on a federal level.

“By bringing the NRA’s corrupt maneuvers to buy lawmakers to light, we hope to inspire solutions that are critical to healing the lifelong grief of mass shooting victims, survivors, and their families,” it said.

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Mark Greenberg

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