Chad Loder chose to celebrate a friend’s birthday on New Year’s Eve with a favorite pastime — going to the shooting range.

For the festivities, the group of friends picked Discount Gun Mart’s firing range near Mission Valley, which they heard would welcome people from marginalized groups. That detail was important to Loder and the others, about a dozen in all, since most are queer, transgender, Black or indigenous.

Why this matters

Growing concerns over extremism in the gun community can deter people from firing ranges, where safe weapons handling is practiced.

But months later, they say their experience after they departed the range has left them in fear for their safety and the safety of their families.

About two hours after leaving the range, a Twitter account that espouses right-wing views started posting about the friends’ location. Video footage published online three weeks later shows an associate of the American Guard, a group with white supremacist ties, yelling at a rally that she got the friends’ names and numbers from Discount Gun Mart.

The friends haven’t been able to prove how exactly their whereabouts and activities became public, but they believe it occurred after a Gun Mart employee recognized Loder as a left-wing activist. Loder has garnered attention for exposing members of hate groups and documenting people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

State law requires businesses to protect customers’ personal information from unauthorized disclosure and to inform them of any breaches of their data.

Despite attempts to contact the range, the friends have not gotten reassurances that their personal information — including phone numbers, home addresses, dates of birth and driver’s license numbers — is safe.

“The entire incident has been traumatizing not just for me but for my friends, several of whom were first-time shooters,” said Loder, who is non-binary and uses “they/them” pronouns. 

“The complete lack of a timely and transparent response from the shop’s ownership is completely unacceptable,” they added.

The friends’ ordeal, which started that night at the firing range, illustrates what can go wrong when two trends in American gun culture converge.

More people from marginalized groups are turning to firearms for protection in an increasingly hostile political climate, underscoring the need for welcoming spaces to practice safe gun use.

At the same time, some hate groups are publicly and fervently supporting Second Amendment rights and organizations. That can scare people from underrepresented backgrounds away from the spaces where gun users gather, including shooting ranges.

A longtime gun owner, Loder now worries that stepping foot into nearly any firing range could lead to them being targeted for their beliefs or identity.

Discount Gun Mart in San Diego is shown on May 24, 2023. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

“We are trusting these businesses with our physical safety and with our sensitive private information,” Loder said. “It just takes one employee to cause an immediate and critical danger.”

A 40-year-old company, Discount Gun Mart operates a combined gun store and range in San Diego, as well as a second store and range in Santee. It claims to maintain the “largest inventory of firearms in Southern California, with thousands of guns in stock, ready to sell.”

Discount Gun Mart’s owner declined to comment for this story or explain any steps it took in response to the customers’ concerns. However, two weeks ago, after months of silence, Loder’s attorney said he was contacted by the gun mart’s insurance company, which told him an employee responsible for the incident had been fired.

Loder’s attorney, Ken White of Brown White & Osborn, said the insurer did not clarify how the breach occurred or if the group’s data is now secure. He described the call as “extremely insufficient.”

“This is extremely unusual and bizarre,” White said. “I’m just flummoxed.”

An evening at the gun range

When Loder drove down from Los Angeles for the birthday celebration, they were looking forward to teaching friends how to shoot. The hour-and-a-half they spent at Discount Gun Mart went by as expected, with Loder offering pointers and helping others with their technique.

But when Loder was checking out, something unusual happened. An employee returning Loder’s driver’s license seemed to recognize them, according to a letter Loder’s attorney sent the gun store in January.

The employee commented that Loder was a “long way from home,” the letter said, which struck several of the friends as unusual and concerning.

“Her tone and expression suggested some sort of interest in Mr. Loder and their personal information,” the letter said.

That evening, right-wing social media accounts — with a history of targeting transgender people and progressive policies — posted about Loder and their friends. One Twitter account said Loder was spotted in Mission Valley that night with “well-known members of SD Antifa.” Another Twitter user, whose videos celebrate his own violent clashes with protesters, wrote: “Heard Chad Loder is in town gonna head downtown to say hi!”

Loder’s friends are not associated with Antifa, Loder said, but were unnerved by the posts.

“My immediate feeling was fear, disappointment (and) fear for my friends,” Loder said. “They are not really involved in activism, so my concern was that they might somehow get doxxed or harassed as a result of just being in proximity to me, which is not a good feeling.”

The days that followed passed by without incident. Then, video footage appeared online that caught the group’s attention. It showed protesters shouting outside a Santee YMCA denouncing a transgender person’s use of the women’s restroom.

A woman at the event misidentified a counter-protester as one of Loder’s friends, shouting: “I got your number because you were at Discount Gun Mart too. I got your name and f—ing number too, b—… You went up there and you f—ing shot with Chad Loder…. I got all your f—ing names.”

In video footage taken at a rally in Santee, Calif., on Jan. 18, 2023, protester Rebecca Wyrick can be heard shouting about receiving customer names and numbers of people who went to Discount Gun Mart. (Courtesy of Kelly Stuart). Warning: this video contains graphic language.

The woman mentioned that the group signed a waiver at the range and showed up half an hour late to the appointment. That was correct, according to Loder.

“I thought, wow, this is alarming,” Loder said. “Our worst fear has come true.”

The woman shouting at the rally was Rebecca Wyrick, according to several sources familiar with her, including eye-witnesses. inewsource also reviewed multiple videos taken of the encounter, including one where the woman yells “It’s Wyrick, b—!” at the person filming her.

Wyrick is an associate and supporter of the American Guard, an “extreme right-wing” organization, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Founded seven years ago in Indiana, the American Guard supports white supremacist and anti-immigrant views, and it was designated an “antigovernment” organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2021. 

American Guard members attend Second Amendment rallies, and the group promotes gun rights as one of its central focus areas, stating on its website: “Any attempted infringements on the second amendment are acts of treason.”

Another video of Wyrick was taken at a second rally outside the YMCA in January. A woman on the tape can be heard saying, “Tell Chad it was me.” A man she is standing next to indicates he knows where Loder lives and would stop by their house.

Video footage taken at a rally in Santee, Calif., on Jan. 21, 2023, features protester Rebecca Wyrick in a hat and face covering. (Courtesy of Kelly Stuart). Warning: this video contains graphic language.

The videographer, Kelly Stuart, who posts content online about extremist groups, attended both rallies and identified the woman in her videos as Rebecca Wyrick. So did Loder, who has been using digital forensic techniques to identify extremists for years.

Reached by phone at the Alpine Motor Sports store where she works, Rebecca Wyrick declined to comment. Her husband Kris Wyrick called back from the same phone number soon after, telling inewsource never to call again and falsely accusing Loder of illegal activity.

Kris Wyrick is a known member of the American Guard, according to the Anti-Defamation League. He made headlines in 2019 for posing with then-Congressman Duncan Hunter while holding up an “OK” hand sign, a symbol that can convey “white power,” although Wyrick has denied that intention. He’s currently on probation for pepper spraying Black Lives Matter protesters in Orange County.

inewsource could not find any criminal record for Rebecca Wyrick.

Loder, whose background is in cybersecurity, started tracking the alt-right movement in Southern California around eight years ago. Loder and the Wyricks have grown familiar with one another during that time, Loder said, but they have not personally interacted.

A viral 2019 photo of former U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter standing next to Kris Wyrick, who is holding up an “OK” hand sign, sparked controversy and backlash.

The friend group is not aware of any other threats or attacks against them in connection to the incident at Discount Gun Mart, but they said they are still scared something could happen.

Loder said they and their family have been threatened repeatedly by right-wing extremists. At one point, they said they were forced to live in a safe house when violent white supremacists showed up at their home.

“What’s happening is that the fascists are becoming more extreme in their beliefs and behaviors,” Loder said. “That’s truly dangerous. We live in dangerous times, especially for Black, indigenous, trans and queer people.”

Data security

White, Loder’s attorney, wrote to the owner of Discount Gun Mart urging an investigation and demanding Loder’s personal information be protected. 

He wrote again, and called several times, too. He didn’t receive a response.

“Although it certainly may not be their fault that a rogue employee or someone does something like this, you would think that they would want to make it right and reassure customers when some pretty scary people have wound up with their information apparently from this business,” White said.

The owner of Discount Gun Mart, Daniel Gray, said in a phone call with inewsource on May 22 that he was seeking advice from his attorney and could not comment on the allegations.

An excerpt from a letter sent by attorney Ken White to Discount Gun Mart on Jan. 23, 2023.

The next day, a claims adjuster for Discount Gun Mart’s insurance company reached out to White, he said, telling him that the gun mart had investigated the incident and fired an employee.

White said he does not know why the store owner did not reach out himself or why it took so long to hear anything.

“This merely served to emphasize that the store refused to respond to my client’s very pressing and legitimate security concerns for four months until it caught wind of publicity,” White said.

The gun mart’s owner would not confirm if a staff member had been terminated.

Discount Gun Mart is a member of San Diego County Gun Owners, a political action committee that advocates for data privacy protections for gun owners. The group wrote a letter to the state Attorney General last year demanding an investigation into an “egregious” leak of gun owners’ names, addresses, phone numbers and other personal information.

The organization holds regular events at Discount Gun Mart to recruit new members. Its executive director, Michael Schwartz, declined to comment for this story.

Safety and support

For new and prospective gun buyers, ranges offer a space to practice safe and responsible weapons handling, which can reduce gun-related accidents and injuries. But the links between gun culture and extremist ideology can deter people from ranges and shut them out from educational opportunities.

“When you’re excluded from the ability to practice or train with something like this, then what you have is a lethal weapon that is essentially sitting in your house with ignorance on its proper manipulation and handling,” said Karl Kasarda, the owner of a gun education video program called InRange TV. “That is the most dangerous thing of all.”

Kasarda said he has seen “an increasing number of extreme right-wing people” dominating spaces shared by gun enthusiasts. Some in the gun community have targeted him for posting videos about police brutality and the Underground Railroad on his YouTube channel, which has about a half-million subscribers.

And since coming out in support of the LGBTQ+ community, he said, he has received death threats.

“I think the extremists were always there, but the current zeitgeist of our society right now has sadly made them much more visible,” Kasarda said.

Gun ownership is on the rise among people of color, and Black Americans are purchasing weapons in record-breaking numbers. Though robust data is not available, anecdotally, people in the LGBTQ+ community also appear to be showing more interest in firearms in the wake of mass shootings and political attacks on their identities.

“It is difficult to find a safe space,” said Tasha Williamson, who started a group last year for BIPOC gun owners in San Diego. “We were highly concerned, because the vast majority of gun stores and gun shooting ranges are white-owned. This is a white industry. It is not very diverse.”

Local activist Tasha Williamson at Valhalla High School in El Cajon, Calif. Sept. 3, 2021. (Matthew Bowler/KPBS)

Williamson, a community advocate for police reform, said she purchased her first weapon last year after she received death threats, and she wants people of color to feel comfortable and safe with firearms.

She now holds shooting socials for her group at Discount Gun Mart, which was recommended to her by the San Diego County Gun Owners organization.

When Williamson saw the video online from the Santee rally, showing a woman shouting about Discount Gun Mart, she was immediately concerned, she said.

“It was devastating to hear,” Williamson said.

Williamson said she stopped her socials until she received reassurances from the range that her group’s personal data was not breached.

“I hope that there can be a resolution that prevents this from happening again and that people’s information is safe,” she said.

Loder said they have seen more of their friends from underrepresented backgrounds expressing interest in firearms over the past few years, including some of the friends who went to Discount Gun Mart in December. Loder wants to keep introducing people to shooting, they said — but this experience has changed their perspective.

In the future, they said they won’t go to a range unless it expresses an explicit, public commitment to protecting marginalized groups.

“If you are into guns and safe gun handling and firearms as a hobby, then it should be a safe place for you,” Loder said. “It’s unfortunate, because we’re Second Amendment supporters, too.”

“What an introduction to the hobby.”

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jill Castellano is an investigative data coordinator for inewsource. When she's not deep in a spreadsheet or holed up reporting and writing her next story, she's probably hiking, running or rock climbing. She also loves playing board games and discussing the latest chapters with her book club. Jill...