It’s been a cage match behind a curtain, a duel in the darkness, a knife fight in a fog bank.
I’m talking here about the battle in the C-suite at the National Rifle Association. You know, the fellows who duck low in times of public slaughter made possible by the gun culture they promote, then emerge to scuttle any toughening of gun laws in the aftermath of those entirely predictable mass murders.
And it’s a brawl that might just end the NRA’s phony reign as supposed tribune of the everyday hunter, sportsman, and gun owner.
Not so long ago, the NRA was proudly playing political vigilante. After all, it had spent some $30 million to help elect Donald Trump and had the new president deep in its pocket. So much so that after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff members, when the president held a summit with congressional leaders and had the temerity to assert on national TV that he wasn’t scared of the NRA, the NRA’s top leaders came to the White House for a meeting and promptly declared that its mischievous puppet — um, the president — actually did not favor additional gun control measures.
But how the mighty organization has fallen! First, roguish Iran-Contra figure Ollie North, elected NRA president in May 2018, turned on the organization’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre, the person perhaps most responsible for turning the NRA into a paranoid, conspiracy-theory-peddling Oz machine. Recall this million-dollar-a-year-man’s unhinged screed at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference: A Democratic Party infiltrated by European-style socialists was scheming to destroy the Second Amendment — and as a means to even more sinister ends!
“Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eliminate all individual freedoms,” he thundered
All of them. Each and every one. Zippo. Gone.
According to LaPierre, North warned him that unless he resigned, damaging information would be released about him. What sort of information? Well, seemingly, that LaPierre had billed more than $200,000 in wardrobe expenses and $240,000 in travel, including a variety of foreign trips, to the NRA’s incestuously chummy ad firm, Ackerman McQueen, which was later reimbursed by the NRA.
But North had his own lucrative, no-heavy-lifting financial relationships with that firm, and LaPierre used that to sow doubts with the NRA board. Thus it was that, at its April convention, a letter from North was read to the membership announcing that North wouldn’t be renominated as president.
Now, with New York Attorney General Letitia James investigating the NRA’s spending practices, its nonproft status perhaps in jeopardy, one would think LaPierre would be on thin ice himself. After all, a joint probe by The New Yorker and The Trace delivered news that might shock anyone naive enough to believe the NRA is the tireless champion of the average gun owner rather than a self-dealing, C-suite-enriching outfit: “A small group of NRA executives, contractors, and vendors has extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements.”
With its finances apparently in free-fall and its membership plummeting, the NRA announced this week that it is shutting down NRATV, the purveyor of gun-nutty programming and conservative cultural anger. Still, on Tuesday, LaPierre won another (in)fight, this one with Chris Cox, the NRA vice president who, as its lobbyist, was its liaison to the political world and the Trump camp.
His apparent sin: conspiring with North against LaPierre.
So the NRA remains Wayne’s world, at least for now. Which is to say, as it supposedly looks to refocus its efforts on its core mission, it might want to adopt as its slogan that old Paul Simon classic, “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
Still, one has to wonder: Have the scales dropped from the eyes of the everyday gun guy or gal who really believed the NRA fund-raising hysteria about stop-at-nothing gun-grabbers, and so have ponied up to keep this gang of gunmen in big salaries, pricey suits, and fine travel?
And if not, what will it take?