Former NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, a rising right-wing radio…

Gun Rights

OUTSIDE OF DALLAS – Dana Loesch strides with purpose in chunky black unlaced boots. Past the wrought-iron chandelier and red upholstered dining-table chairs that evoke some medieval castle. Alongside the “predator wall” of horned creatures (mostly fakes), then a leopard-print banquette that seems only slightly smaller than a compact car.

She was once the punk-rock chick with her head shaved and a nose ring. She was the Ozarks kid, who hewed to her family’s Democratic Party roots, volunteered for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and voted for Al Gore in 2000.

Two decades later, she is a scourge of the left, operating from a high-end home broadcast studio in this 7,500-square-foot, gated manse appointed in what she likes to call “Goth Liberace” style. Her undisclosed location is so closely held that she’s been known to ask visitors to sign nondisclosure agreements lest she be found by haters from her days not so long ago as the caustic, alternately reviled and adored, face of the gun lobby.

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She slides casually into her anchor’s chair, accustomed as she is to producing an avalanche of content – the highly rated national radio program, the simulcast, the television show on Pluto TV, the podcast, the newsletter, the best-selling books.

It takes just seconds to mic her up – a screen pulsing in front of her, a rack of firearms from one of her sponsors on the wall – and she’s ready to launch into a radio program that has positioned her as one of the leading contenders to assume primacy in the fabled 12 to 3 p.m. Eastern time slot left open for the taking by the death in February of Rush Limbaugh.

She is 42, slender, with penetrating dark eyes and a sharply defined jawline. By now she’s gotten used to being called a “gun hottie.” She dismisses the label as an attempt to diminish her and undermine the fact that even though she relishes talking about gun policy, the overwhelming majority of content she produces is about other topics, including election law, foreign policy, gender identity and criticism of pronouns used by transgender people, to name just a few.

As the seconds tick down to airtime, Loesch’s husband, Chris Loesch – her abundantly bearded manager, studio designer and theme-music developer – walks in and sees something amiss.

“What happened to the grenade?”

Once the disarmed prop has been positioned in camera view, it’s showtime. In St. Louis and Indianapolis – in Kansas City, Mo., Las Vegas, Richmond, Va., and so many other places – car radios and streaming platforms will be tuning in at various times throughout the day.

An audience, estimated in the multiple millions, listens as she channels “flyover country” grievances against the “coastal elite” whom she paints as devotees of “Cuban-Indonesian fusion restaurants, appletinis, juice bars, and SoulCycle.” Legacy media organizations – which she has accused of loving mass shootings for the ratings – are a favorite target. She was on it when CNN host and fortunate son Anderson Cooper speculated that insurgents who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 would be “going to go back to the Olive Garden and the Holiday Inn they’re staying at, and the Garden Marriott.”

“That was just some snottiness,” Loesch told her listeners.

She connects with listeners by deploying a polished delivery, citing a blizzard of data, then pivoting for effect to the cadence of her backwoods youth. It’s an approach that has driven her ascendance: She recently was named the sixth most important person in talk radio by the industry bible, Talkers magazine, witha roughly estimated audience of 6.5 million a day, a figure that is difficult to calculate with precision or confirm, but would be larger than many cable news programs.

Lately she’s been hammering mask mandates. In an interview, Loesch (pronounced LASH) said she has not been vaccinated, citing health issues that surfaced not long ago, though she doesn’t rule out the possibility of getting the shot someday. On-air, she tells her listeners that she doesn’t oppose vaccines. But she has contributed to an aura of mistrust by frequently referring to what she describes as unanswered questions about possible side effects (menstrual cycle problems, heart inflammation), most of which have been dismissed by leading health experts as exceedingly rare or unproven. Vaccine advocates have blamed misinformation, especially in right-wing media, for the lower vaccination rates in red states.

All the while, she’s leavening the mood by sprinkling anecdotes about family life, pop culture references, silly news briefs and updates about the latest medical woes of her pets. She is a voracious researcher, but her on-air delivery feels spontaneous, at times meandering, more a conversation than a stilted monologue.

“She has something different,” says Catherine Allen, a survivor of the 2018 Parkland, Fla., school massacre who once appeared at a televised town hall with Loesch. “She is pretty. She is well spoken, she’s somebody who you want to listen to. I didn’t like what she was saying. But you couldn’t help but pay attention to her.”

And it’s just that sort of appeal, a knack for making it impossible for audiences to look away, that makes Allen think Loesch is a “dangerous” foe.

She is hard-wired to offend – not to apologize. Over the years she has applauded the U.S. Marines who were caught on video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. “I’d drop trou and do it too,” she said. And she laid into Chelsea Manning, the former soldier imprisoned for disclosing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, after Manning received hormone treatment and underwent surgery to transition from male to female. Loesch said that just because Manning “put some red lipstick on, poorly applied, and a very poor smoky eye bad dye job, that don’t make you a chick. So don’t appropriate my sex.”

“There’s no line Dana Loesch won’t cross,” Shannon Watts, founder of a group that advocates for legislation to reduce gun violence known colloquially as Moms Demand Action. Loesch, for her part, has said the name of Watts’s group sounds like a “porno” title.

In the nation’s balkanized media landscape, many Americans on the left had never heard of Loesch until a tumultuous stint as spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, a period when she appeared in dystopian videos warning of apocalyptic protests and gun-snatching politicians. (She left that role in 2019, when there was a split between the NRA and the advertising firm that employed her to work with the gun rights organization.) Some in the media who were mentioned by name considered the videos threatening, though Loesch shot back on social media that they were misinterpreting promos about a show on media bias.

While so many blue staters hadn’t been paying attention, Loesch had been developing, over the course of the past seven years, into a powerhouse conservative influencer. She is, by far, the highest-ranked woman in a field that has been dominated by older White men whose audiences are inexorably dying off.

“I’m able to talk about issues in ways that men can’t,” Loesch says one evening in a home office decorated with framed cover shots of her in Guns & Ammo magazine and another of her saluting from the cover of a St. Louis weekly in colonial-era garb above the headline “Patriot Dame.”

Rush Limbaugh’s death created an opportunity and a test for Loesch. Since then, her footprint expanded significantly when she was picked up by the radio and streaming giant Audacy. The deal, which signaled a major bet that she could become an even bigger force nationally, meant she would replace Limbaugh’s show in multiple important markets. She is being introduced to listeners who might know her only as a Second Amendment crusader, rather than the host who has been delving into myriad topics for years.

She’s taking on newcomers, such as former U.S. Secret Service agent Dan Bongino, a social media juggernaut and entrepreneur who says he’s airing on 300 stations. Buck Sexton and Clay Travis, a duo signed by Limbaugh’s former syndicator, recently launched a program that airs on 400 stations. The others boast more stations and more listeners, but the question is whether they can hold them. Loesch has the built-in asset of a longtime audience and a record of high ratings.

“Her star is rising,” Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, said in an interview. “Dana Loesch has a great opportunity to raise her profile.”

– – –

It begins for Dana Loesch in the Missouri Ozarks – a speck of a place called Hematite with a restaurant she says was actually named “the Rest’urnt.”

Her memories are populated by “liquoriffic aunts” and an “Uncle Junior” who favored brown polyester leisure suits, aviator glasses and a gold pinkie ring and whose real name was a mystery to all. For “a spell,” she writes in her book, “Flyover Nation,” the phone directory didn’t trifle with some people’s full names, simply listing them with nicknames like “Clunker,” “Boots” and “Speedy.”

No Dana Loesch origin story would be complete without a shotgun-wielding grandpa. Hers lived in a “bolthole in the Ozarks,” ate raccoons and squirrels, and taught her to shoot.

Loesch’s parents split up when she was young, and she’s been estranged from her father, Paul Eaton, for many years now. (Their relationship is so contentious that Eaton once called a radio station where she worked threatening to sue because he claimed she was lying about him. She says he has trolled her on social media. “Dana’s a mean person,” Eaton said in an interview. “She’s coldblooded.”)

Emotionally scarred by her troubled home life, Loesch came to “hate” men.

“I didn’t trust the lot of them,” she said in an interview.

She moved with her mother, who was in search of decent-paying work, to a scruffy neighborhood in St. Louis. One night, while she was doing a favor for a friend by selling merchandise for an industrial-electronic rock band at a club in St. Louis, she met her future husband, a heavy metal musician himself.

She was 21 when she got pregnant and dropped out of college, and she never got a degree. (She also studied classical ballet for years.) Loesch was four months along and showing a baby bump when she and Chris Loesch married.

“I was having the dress taken out the night before the wedding,” Loesch recalled in the interview. Her maternal grandmother arrived for the ceremony and cracked: “So it is white.”

In those days, Loesch was far from the conservative firebrand she’s become. Like her family, she was a Democrat.

She began what she calls “a conversion” to the conservative movement, a process that was sealed by her reaction to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when she decided that conservatives would do a better job fending off terrorists. Joining the Republican Party alienated her from many in her extended family – a rift that still hasn’t healed. But her political evolution also left her with a conundrum: “Who are the cool Republicans?” she asked herself. “I don’t know any cool Republicans.”

– – –

There’s a through-line to Dana Loesch: She’s excellent at making people mad, whether organically (her fans’ take) or purposefully (her detractors’ take).

As a young mother, she wrote a blog called “Mamalogues,” then a St. Louis newspaper column. She revealed she was a gun owner and kept weapons in the home where she lived with her young children. She became, “quelle horreur,” controversial, she writes in one of her books. Her column ended in a very public breakup.

She became a local tea party leader but broke with the group over candidate choices. “I pushed on – out of anger, out of spite, out of pure punk rock defiance,” she wrote in one of her books.

It was a battle she took to the airwaves, where she earned a loyal following on a St. Louis radio station. It was there that she caught the attention of a prominent national radio consultant, David G. Hall, who had been looking for a voice that would appeal to a younger audience and more women.

Within 20 minutes of listening to her show for the first time in 2014, Hall thought, “Oh, my God, she’s funny – I could get her on a lot of radio stations – like this afternoon,” Hall recalled in an interview. Radio America, an Arlington, Va.-based syndicator, agreed and eventually took her national.

It didn’t take long for Hall’s instincts to be affirmed. WIBC, a station in Indianapolis, did something that seemed not only crazy, but suicidal: It replaced Rush Limbaugh with Loesch’s show, allowing talk radio’s most-listened-to program to migrate to a competing station. And they told listeners to Loesch’s show where they could find Limbaugh on the dial.

Limbaugh was still the undisputed king of talk radio nationwide. But in Indianapolis, Loesch crushed him in the ratings, Hall said.

She’d arrived.

– – –

Maybe it was Las Vegas (60 dead). Or Orlando, Fla. (49). Or Sutherland Springs, Texas (26).

They blur together now forLawrence Jones when he thinks back to his days as a reporter at the Blaze TV, the Texas-based network that lured Loesch away from her home state to host a program from 2014 to 2017. In the makeup room, Jones and Loesch were usually joking around. But not on those days. Those days when grieving mothers were on the screen.

“You see her go into this isolation,” said Jones, whose career had been given a jump-start when Loesch amplified a viral video he’d made about alleged Obamacare fraud.

“Are you good?” he’d ask Loesch on those days. She always answered, “Yes.”

“She does not want to show any kind of weakness,” Jones said.

Loesch is also ready with arguments she has down pat: The “Tragedy Caucus” wants to take your guns, mass shootings are often the result of federal law enforcement negligence in spotting warning signs, regular people need weapons to protect themselves from criminals, recidivism is a root cause of gun violence. She’s told her audience that Kyle Rittenhouse, a teen who will go on trial in November for shooting two demonstrators at violent protests in Kenosha, Wis., following the police shooting of a Black man, is innocent.

Even before becoming spokeswoman for the NRA, a post she held while simultaneously hosting her radio program, Loesch had cemented her position as one of the country’s most visible gun rights advocates. In 2014, she wrote a bestseller, “Hands Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America.” On the cover, she stands in profile in a tightfitting red dress. She laughs when asked about the pose.

“I mean, I’m not wearing a potato sack” – nor, she said, is she “dressed as a harlot.”

What was important to her wasn’t the dress, Loesch said, but her insistence that she be pictured with an AR-15, the weapon she calls “the most misunderstood gun in America.”

When her friend Roger Stone, the political trickster, was arrested in January 2019 on charges of lying to Congress, Loesch called him to commiserate, and also cracked that she was “disgusted” he had no guns to be confiscated.

She understands the power of branding. Implicit in her website images is the message that she’s not only fine with being known as the gun lady, but encourages it.

“I think there are worse things to be thought of,” she said.

Then she laughed.

How about being labeled a murderer?

“That doesn’t bother me either,” she said.

– – –

In fall 2018, a video of Southlake, Texas, public high school students chanting the n-word went viral, prompting a reckoning on race and a proposal to teach critical race theory (CRT), an intellectual movement that examines the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism, in the school district.

Loesch, who’d home-schooled her two sons (now 20 and 17) when they were young and later sent them to private schools, was infuriated. But unlike others who opposed the plan, she had a massive national platform – both on her radio show and when she decided to talk about the issue on Fox News.

“Her doing that is what woke people up,” said Leigh Wambsganss, an organizer of a CRT opposition group.

What had been a mostly regional controversy exploded nationally. Loesch met with members of the opposition group and advised them how to nail their talking points and avoid trigger words that angered liberals in media interviews, Wambsganss said. Months later, a slate of school board candidates opposed to the curriculum plan was elected to the school board.

If it wasn’t clear before, it was crystal clear then.

Dana Loesch has juice.

Her confrontational on-air and online persona can sometimes feel slightly out of step with the charmer Loesch can be in person. In the interview, she said that she hasn’t gotten into a physical fight since her schoolyard days and that she’s never drawn her gun in self-defense.

But in one NRA video she dripped disdain as images of fiery demonstrations scrolled behind her, intoning ominously, “they use their media to assassinate real news. . . . The only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”

Loesch’s penchant for provocation has made her controversial even within guns rights groups. Some NRA board members were critical when she used an image of cartoon trains in Ku Klux Klan hoods and robes in an NRATV segment deriding the producers of the “Thomas & Friends” children’s program for announcing plans to increase the show’s diversity by including a train with a non-White face. Loesch said she was making a point that the characters had gray faces, so it seemed unnecessary to her to make the proposed change.

More recently, on her radio program she has been critical of the National Football League for plans to play a song often referred to as the “Black national anthem.”

“Does everybody get their own national anthem?” she said. “Do the Irish people here – do they get a national anthem? What about American Indians? Do they get an anthem? What about Hispanics?”

In case anyone misses her point, one of her intro catchphrases says it all: “Shooting down woke culture one crazy headline at a time. It’s ‘The Dana Show’!”

– – –

During the dankest days of the pandemic lockdowns, Dana Loesch needed something to occupy herself. She took up crocheting. She became a Japanese anime obsessive. She smoked a tobacco pipe because “it smells like nostalgia.”

Theirs is a family of high and low tastes. They stash fine wines in a cubby with a door salvaged from an ancient wooden ship, a locale that also has served as a crouching refuge during Texas tornado warnings. They’re regulars at a pricey Italian restaurant where the sommelier knows exactly which red is their favorite. But they’re also devotees of Taco Bell. Burrito Supremes are her go-to.

There’s always something to rile her. She criticized the use of violence in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, saying it should never be a first option in settling national disputes. But she envisioned a time when all options could be exhausted and it might be appropriate.

“If God forbid I am ever called upon or prevailed upon to use my training and open my liberty vault and engage, there is no going back,” Loesch said the day after the Capitol attack. “It’s a choice pursued until the end with no mercy and no quarter and no foolishness suffered.”

Loesch was slow to come around on President Donald Trump, delivering scathing criticism of him, and first supported Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Big-name conservatives, such as Bongino, have been unabashed about their support for Trump running in 2024.

Loesch is not so sure.

“I want to see how things shape up,” she said.

She said she’d support Trump if he were the nominee, but she reserved her most glowing remarks for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R, who has become a hero to some conservatives for opposing mask mandates – even as the delta variant has caused a spike in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths.

Before he became president, Loesch introduced Trump at CPAC, the annual gathering of right-wingers. They shook hands.

As she was about to walk away, she paused and asked Trump if he wanted some of her hand sanitizer.

“I thought you’d never ask,” he told her.

They had bonded over their shared germaphobia.

Before the pandemic, Loesch was so worried about catching colds that would sap her voice that she would wear masks on airplanes. Now the government is telling her she should mask up to stop the spread of the virus.

She doesn’t want to do it.

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