New NPR podcast explores the gun-loving brothers behind St. Paul anti-quarantine protest

What do guns, Trump, and wanting the COVID-19 lockdown over yesterday have in common? The Dorr brothers, it turns out.

What do guns, Trump, and wanting the COVID-19 lockdown over yesterday have in common? The Dorr brothers, it turns out. Facebook

Remember back in April, when a bunch of people with Trump flags gathered in a crowd outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, honked their car horns, and demanded the COVID lockdown end?

It was a moment worthy of its own story, one about economic hardship, wild misinterpretation of or outright contempt for public health mandates, and Jason Lewis’s bigass RV. But a particular part of that moment also caught the attention of national news media: the presence and social media agitation of three brothers: Aaron, Chris, and Ben Dorr.

The Dorr brothers have been galvanizing a massive network of “non-compromising gun rights organizations” across the nation, mostly powered via Facebook. They have one here in Minnesota, but also in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, New York, Iowa, and a heaping handful of other states. Ben was actually at the protest that day. 

For most, their arrival (and, based on news coverage, their ability to provoke grassroots protests everywhere at once) was probably pretty confusing. What did gun rights have to do with quarantine, and what did these three dudes and their huge Facebook presence have to do with Minnesota and Gov. Tim Walz?

NPR is taking a stab at those questions with its new podcast, No Compromise.

It’s hosted by reporters Lisa Hagen and Chris Haxel, who take listeners on a deep dive of all things Dorr and the new face of the gun rights movement. We get to hear the Dorrs make bespoke videos for multiple state Facebook groups at the same Virginia rally, meet their ardent fans, and learn what their particular appeal is.

And, for that matter, who their thorniest opponents are. Which may come as a surprise to some.

The Dorrs hate Democrats, sure. And they’re not exactly chummy with the media, either. But their favorite targets aren’t liberals or journalists. They’re hyper-conservative Republicans and the National Rifle Association (NRA) – people and entities that do a lot to give the average American relatively unfettered access to firearms.

But, as the Dorrs see it, not enough.

“We’re a lot more aggressive,” Aaron tells Hagen in Episode 1 – a rare moment when the journalists actually get a response from the brothers. They “don’t care” about being liked, and they’re happy to paint the NRA as a money-wasting, eager-to-compromise dinosaur that would rather stay in power than get stuff done. That goes for a lot of legislators they talk to their followers about, too.

One is Iowa State Republican Rep. Matt Windschitl, who met the Dorrs early in his career and theirs. Windschitl was trying to get some incremental gun rights legislation passed. The Dorrs allegedly told him they wanted a much more aggressive bill, and they wanted it now – something Windschitl knew would only crash and burn in the legislature.

“You don’t actually want to get this done,” Windschitl says on the podcast. “You’re going to call yourself a no-compromise gun group, but all you’re doing is creating this controversy. You’re starting a fire and saying you’re the only ones with the pail of water to put the fire out. That’s political anarchy.”

The Dorrs have been sending their followers to Windschitl’s inbox ever since, calling him an “assclown” and a “loser,” and, he claims on the podcast, taking credit for any progress he and his colleagues do make regarding gun rights – like the Stand Your Ground law he was instrumental in passing in 2017.

He called out the Dorrs personally that same year on the House floor, saying the brothers, for gun lobbyists, didn’t seem to do much lobbying at all, and were essentially running a “scam.”

“They go out and they tell folks that they are the only people down here fighting for Second Amendment rights,” he said. “Where are they? Why aren’t they registered on this bill? …You need and deserve the truth. Aaron Dorr is a scam artist and a liar, and he is doing Iowans no services or favors.”

He sighed.

“I feel better now.”

There’s more to untangle, of course. So far, we’re only three episodes in, and it’s still not clear how a guns rights movement can bleed so easily into quarantine protests and anti-abortion efforts. But Hagen and Haxel assure us that this is about more than guns. And what the Dorrs are doing may not be getting bills passed, but it’s martialing an eager, angry, and politically disenchanted public.

It’s doing something.

And while the Dorrs and their enterprises are about as Minnesotan as Fargo, after April, we can’t deny it involves us, too.