Palace Intrigue at the NRA Convention

Oliver North, now the former president of the NRA. (AP photo)

Remember Maria Butina? She’s the young Russian woman who was arrested last July for being an unregistered Russian agent, while going to graduate school in Washington D.C. Posing as an advocate for gun owners rights, she made a wide swath through the National Rifle Association (NRA), with prominent members of the NRA seemingly falling over each other to pose for photos with her and to bring her into the innermost circles of the organization.

In December she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent for a Russian official, and on April 26, a federal judge sentenced her to 18 months in prison for her actions, giving credit for nine months already served since last July. When she completes her sentence she will be deported to Russia.

When I’ve written about Ms. Butina earlier, I’ve raised the question of why haven’t rank and file members of the NRA stormed the gates at the NRA’s Washington DC headquarters, demanding the heads of NRA’s leaders for being so eagerly gullible about Butina.

As far as I can tell, NRA members haven’t stormed the gates over the Butina scandal, though some leaders did their best to downplay their complicity in the affair. Nevertheless, when the NRA had their annual convention in Indianapolis two weeks ago, some big cracks appeared in the NRA’s wall of solidarity.

It turns out that there is plenty of discord among NRA members right now.

In April, New Yorker magazine ran a lengthy (it was the New Yorker, after all) story on the NRA. The story covers how the organization that used to promote gun education, safety and training has become a “media company,” and that its avowed mission now amounting to just 10 percent of the NRA budget.

Integral to all this is an Oklahoma-based public relations company, Ackerman McQueen, which all but merged with the NRA. In fact, a couple people who have been spokespersons for the NRA, Dana Loesch and Colion Noir, are actually employees of Ackerman McQueen.  The now former president of the NRA, Oliver North, who became a darling of some conservative circles for taking the rap for President Reagan’s Iran/Contra affair and parlayed that to a career on Fox broadcasting, was getting a million dollar salary from Ackerman McQueen. The New Yorker story also told of NRA leaders getting extravagant salaries and fringe benefits. That relationship was fracturing, with NRA filing a suit over the firm’s billings.

So when NRA faithful went to Indianapolis last month, if they got tired of the huge gun show they could follow a palace intrigue unfold. Ollie North made a move to depose NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre. As reported by the Washington Post, North warned LaPierre that unless LaPierre resigned, he would release a disclosure of the NRA’s financial status, wardrobe expenses and extravagant travel expenses. LaPierre is said to have purchased $200,000 worth of wardrobe, charging it to an NRA vendor.

LaPierre didn’t take the charges meekly. He accused North of extortion in trying to force him out. When the dust settled, North was informed that he would not be nominated for reelection as NRA president. North left the scene, leaving a farewell message that a board member read to the convention.

North obviously attempted to depose LaPierre from his job as NRA’s leader without first lining up support from NRA’s 76-member board of directors. Succeeding North as president is Carolyn Meadows, previously 2nd vice president of the NRA, and chairwoman of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, an organization that maintains the country’s largest memorial to the Confederacy.

While LaPierre survived and continues as the NRA’s executive, there will be continuing legal issues with Ackerman McQueen, and some NRA members are grumbling that the organization should back away from politics and get back to being a firearms handling and safety organization.

While all that is going on, the State of New York is investigating the NRA’s continuing status as a tax-exempt organization (The NRA corporation is registered in New York).

Interesting times for the NRA, indeed.

Update – The NRA Board approved paying for LaPierre’s $200K wardrobe and trips to the Bahamas. Mighty generous employer.

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