July 31, 2023
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(Tombstone, Arizona, July 27, 2023) Don’t get too excited, it happened in 1987 and his name was G. Ray Arnett. Knowing and remembering history is important. In the case of the NRA, it’s interesting and enlightening to review the events of the past, such as 1987, when the Board of Directors suspended the Executive Vice President and CEO of the Association, without pay, eventually forcing him to resign. These events are even more interesting in light of the current NRA Board’s inaction.
In January 1985, G. Ray Arnett, a former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks in the Reagan administration was temporarily appointed as Interim Executive Vice President of the NRA. The appointment had been in the works for months, but came unexpectedly early during the January Board meeting, when Harlon Carter, in the 4th year of a five-year term, suddenly announced his immediate resignation and retirement. Under the NRA Bylaws, a vacancy in the EVP position is supposed to be filled by the Executive Director of General Operations until such time as a suitable replacement can be found and duly elected. Nonetheless, Gary Anderson, then ED of General Operations, turned down the job, preferring to stay far away from the internal NRA politics involved. Someone nominated J. Warren Cassidy, the Executive Director of NRA-ILA, the lobbying division, and someone else nominated Arnett, who had been previously suggested by an executive search firm. That firm had “discovered” Arnett sharing a DC apartment with then-NRA President Howard Pollock. In a not-even-close vote, Arnett was elected.
A few months later, after the usual celebrity promotion of Arnett in NRA publications, he was nominated at the Annual Meeting of Members in Seattle to serve a five-year term in the EVP office. Also nominated was my father, Neal Knox, the former head of NRA-ILA and the architect of the Cincinnati Revolt of 1977. Again, the vote was not-even-close, and the “Interim” was dropped from Arnett’s title.
A year and a half later, Arnett was suspended without pay and locked out of the building. The basis of the suspension was a series of accusations involving Arnett’s unilateral actions, particularly the firing all fifteen members of the Public Education team, and replacing them with contractors from NRA’s PR firm, Ackerman McQueen. Rumors of a personal relationship between Arnett and a much younger, female NRA employee, and charges that he was frequently absent from Headquarters to attend hunting trips and other personal business, using NRA funds for personal enjoyment also played into the decision.
In the end, the NRA negotiated Arnett’s resignation in return for a cash payment of $150k (his salary for one year), and reimbursement of $40k in legal fees, along with continued use of a company car and a few other such perks for the following twelve months. Of course there’s much more to the story than was ever reported in official NRA publications, but even taking into account the broadest and most damning list of charges against him, including that, while he was EVP of NRA, he had been fined for shooting waterfowl from a boat under power, and had once written a character reference letter in support of a Minnesota man convicted of smuggling cocaine, the accusations against Arnett didn’t come close to those of the current administration.
Arnett was replaced by NRA-ILA Director J. Warren Cassidy, who promoted Wayne LaPierre to be his replacement at ILA. Cassidy’s turn in the Executive Vice President’s office didn’t fair much better than Arnett’s though. He was criticized for being too willing to compromise with gun control activists in Congress and was accused of sexual harassment of female NRA employees. That last charge included the payment by NRA of a half-million-dollar settlement in a lawsuit. Cassidy also presided over a significant decline in membership and revenue for the Association. He was forced to tender his resignation in February 1991, and was replaced by a reluctant Gary Anderson, still head of General Operations, until the Members’ Meeting that April, where LaPierre was promoted to the EVP position.
That same year, Neal Knox and a slate of other reform-minded candidates were elected to the NRA Board of Directors with the help of Harlon Carter, who penned a short message in support of the reformers and endorsing Neal Knox in Guns & Ammo magazine. With Carter’s support, the reform slate shifted the balance of power on the Board, and demonstrated that power shift by, among other things, refusing to work with Democrats and squishy Republicans on “improving” the nascent Clinton “assault weapons” ban. LaPierre was painted by the media as being the “hard-liner” replacement for Cassidy, and he immediately launched a campaign to distance his administration from his recent predecessors’, relabeling the Association as the “New NRA,” and reviving and refreshing the popular Ackerman McQueen ad campaign of the early ‘80s with the modified slogan of “I’m the New NRA.”
The expensive re-branding effort slowly gained steam as LaPierre took a much more aggressive stance in the public square, reviving the “War on BATF” that had been so successful in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. At the same time, he ramped up spending on fundraising and membership recruitment efforts to an unprecedented level, using a variety of sweepstakes, giveaways, and direct mail programs. Most of these new advertising and promotion strategies were handled by Ackerman McQueen, and Angus McQueen, the firm’s co-founder and principal, quickly became LaPierre’s closest advisor.
Over the following 29 years, LaPierre’s connection with, and dependence on Ackerman McQueen grew, as did Ack-Mac’s bills and LaPierre’s paycheck, along with revenue and membership numbers. The success came at a price, as he kept the Association teetering on the edge of solvency much of the time. The chummy relationship with Ack-Mac ended abruptly in 2019, when the NRA filed their first suit against the PR firm claiming they had not provided enough information on the $40 million per year the NRA had been paying them.
When the article came out exposing LaPierre’s financial misdeeds, and much of the extent of his questionable alliance with Ack-Mac, the rift between NRA and Ack-Mac became a chasm, with both sides pointing fingers, leveling accusations, and filing additional lawsuits. That part of the scandal culminated in the NRA paying Ack-Mac some $12 million to settle the various suits. Whether Ack-Mac ever provided detailed accounting information, as requested in the original NRA suit has never been made clear, but that would make for some very interesting reading.
All of this brings us up to the present day, where we have an NRA EVP under a cloud of very credible accusations of self-dealing, cronyism, breach of Association bylaws and policy on multiple fronts, nepotism, unreported conflicts of interest, and even suggestions of sexual impropriety with $6,000 per month charged on LaPierre’s Ackerman McQueen credit card for a luxury apartment allegedly for a female intern. Meanwhile the Board dutifully rubberstamps anything LaPierre asks and has reelected him five times since the accusations first became public. This is a pretty stark contrast to the Boards that fired Arnett and Cassidy for infractions that don’t come anywhere close to the current situation.
The NRA Board is responsible for creating and enforcing corporate policy. Over the years, they’ve adopted internal policies that are in-line with corporate best practices, and at times, history tells us, they’ve enforced those policies with harsh efficiency. Yet for the past 20 years or more, they’ve allowed Wayne LaPierre to ignore and flaunt those policies. There used to be a saying in politics that the only things that could prevent an incumbent member of Congress from being reelected, were him to be found in bed with either a live boy or a dead girl. Democrats have since disproven that theory, but it makes one wonder what LaPierre would have to do to face any sort of discipline from this Board?
About the Author
The Firearms Coalition and the Knox family have been reporting on and working to push the NRA in the right direction, for almost 50 years. Neal Knox led the Cincinnati Revolt in 1977, founded The Firearms Coalition to counter NRA duplicity in 1984, raised the alarm about shady fundraising and questionable spending in 1996/‘97, and continues to report on problems inside the Association, always with the objective of making it stronger and more effective. You can support those efforts by going to FirearmsCoalition.org.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.