The graphic video imagines the shooting death of a young woman during a home invasion.
That much is not in question.
What is in question: Whether the short film by a Second Amendment activist crosses a line by violently portraying the fictional death of a real-life student protester.
Since the four-minute video, “Never Met Her,” was posted to YouTube two weeks ago, it has drawn outrage – including from at least one gun-rights group – for its violence and unapologetic targeting of campus-carry opponents.
The short film’s creator, Brett Sanders, is a self-described “Freedom Fighter” who insists the video was a reasonable vehicle through which to present his pro-gun views.
But one student activist, 19-year-old Ana Lopez, says she has been particularly unnerved because the actress in the video bears a strong resemblance to her.
In the video, the actress enters an apartment, sets a large sex toy down on a table, settles on her couch and turns on the television.
On the fictional screen is actual Fox-affiliate news footage from an Aug. 24 rally at the University of Texas at Austin, where members of Students Against Campus Carry protested a new state law allowing guns on campus. They’re seen holding sex toys, part of a campaign with a NSFW name.
The young woman’s phone rings, and the caller ID shows that it’s “Rosie Zander.”
“Oh, my God, did you see us on TV today?” the woman asks the caller. “We’re going to go viral. We might get to meet Shannon Watts!”
Rosie Zander is the name of a UT student who has been a prominent activist against campus carry. Shannon Watts is the founder of the Moms Demand Action group.
The young woman hangs up after the fictional chat. Outside, a black man is shown approaching her apartment, walking past a “Gun Free UT” sign.
Hearing the commotion, the young woman darts back across her living room to grab the sex toy, then aims it at the intruder as he bursts through the front door.
As he advances, he notices she is armed with a sex toy. He removes a bandanna from across his mouth, calls her a “[expletive] liberal!” – and shoots her in the head.
Blood splatters against the wall, spraying a framed “Moms Demand Action” sign.
Lopez, a UT sophomore and co-founder of Students Against Campus Carry, said she was “disgusted” by the video.
“We activists are used to hateful messages and statements meant to demean our cause,” she told The Washington Post. “However, this video is, so far, the worst threat I’ve seen.”
She and others have called the video a “snuff film” that crosses the line by explicitly threatening those who have spoken out against allowing guns on campus.
“At first I thought that it was just a poorly made rebuttal to our protest,” Lopez said. “And then I skipped forward and I saw the subject shot in the head with the sex toy fall to the ground next to her. Of course I was disgusted.”
She said it was her friends who pointed out that the actress looked a lot like her. Lopez noted that the young woman in the video had a similar hairdo and was wearing a T-shirt like the one Lopez had worn at the August protest.
After the video was released, Lopez discovered a Facebook post from one of Sanders’s friends, pointing out Lopez as the “doppelganger” of the actress.
Lopez said she has since filed a report with UT campus police and notified the Austin and Frisco police departments.
She didn’t only see the video as a personal attack, she said; it was an open call for violence against all anti-gun activists.
“Everyone knows that this wasn’t just a little jab,” Lopez said. “This was a huge invitation to attack us and anyone in opposition to campus carry”
She added: “The people who film and distribute these threatening messages toward young, female activists – they’re revealing that they’re not interested in our safety. They just want to keep us in our place, fearful . . . and they’re using guns and violence to do that.”
The video was written and directed by Sanders, a 32-year-old Frisco resident who gained some notoriety this year for paying a $212 traffic ticket with pennies.
Frisco is a suburb of Dallas, about 225 miles north of Austin. There, Sanders is an IT professional and maintains a website that highlights articles that are anti-government and anti-police. In his online bio, he describes himself as a “notable first and second amendment advocate” and a “voluntaryist” or Libertarian rather than an anarchist.
“I think we should all be left alone,” Sanders said. “I really just stand against the initiation of force, the initiation of violence.”
The video he made, however, was intended to be violent, he said.
“Yes, it was violent, it was graphic, and I really hope that it took people by surprise,” Sanders told The Post. “This is a real, violent threat that we’re facing. They have no concept that they could, in fact, be a victim at any given time.”
Sanders said he conceived the idea Aug. 28 as a rebuttal to the sex-toy protests. It was filmed the following Tuesday at a friend’s apartment in Plano, another suburb of Dallas, then quickly uploaded to YouTube.
Sanders then promoted the video on Twitter, tagging the Moms Demand Action group and posting a wry elegy over the death of the girl depicted in the film: “A moment of silence for this young lady. She was way too young.”
“Sadly,” he wrote in another tweet, “@MomsDemand lost a good soldier tonight. RIP dildo girl.”
“The whole point of the video is to basically eviscerate gun-free zones and the dangers of gun-free zones,” Sanders said. “We basically played out their idea. Their idea is to disarm everybody, arm everybody with a sex toy and hope for the best.”
Sanders called the idea that he intentionally cast someone who resembled Lopez “absurd.”
“I didn’t even know of Ana Lopez, never heard of Ana Lopez, didn’t even know what she looked like,” he said.
The actress, credited as Staci Wilson, is the daughter of a friend who agreed to be in the film, he said. Wilson could not be directly reached for comment, though Sanders forwarded a statement on her behalf.
“My dad pitched the idea of the video to me and it sounded like an interesting way of countering the gun control protest so I agreed,” the statement read. “I was surprised to be accused of portraying Ana Lopez, but other than that the fuss was expected. I look forward to playing a role in the sequel.”
Sanders was also criticized for having a black actor, Eric July, play the role of armed intruder.
Last week, Sanders told Texas Standard that he did not regret casting July and said that “statistically, African Americans are more prone to create violent crimes. It does play into the stereotype, whether we like it or not.”
As Texas Standard noted, FBI crime data actually showed that white people committed 59.4 percent of all violent crimes in 2014; black people committed 37.7 percent of all violent crimes.
Moms Demand Action denounced the video as the product of groups on “the extreme fringe of this debate.”
“And for too long, these radical activist groups have been the loudest voices at the statehouse in Austin, pushing through a dangerous agenda of guns everywhere at any time with no questions asked,” Emily Keown of Moms Demand Action’s Texas chapter wrote in an op-ed for the Austin-American Statesman.
In a blistering statement, one gun-rights group, Students for Concealed Carry, also denounced the video – and in particular, the film’s choreographer, Murdoch Pizgatti, who previously helped organize a “fake mass shooting” on the UT-Austin campus.
“Pizgatti is neither a policy wonk nor a serious political activist,” Brian Bensimon, Texas state director for Students for Concealed Carry, said in the statement. “To say that he is on the fringe of the gun rights movement would be to give him too much credit. He is a publicity hound who cares about nothing more than seeing his assumed name in print. All parties to the campus carry debate, regardless of position or affiliation, have a duty to stand up to such reprehensible behavior.”