January 31, 2023
Over the past three years, Annual Membership in the National Rifle Association appears to have declined by some 40% or more, while revenues have been effectively cut in half. Meanwhile, the NRA is spending the lion’s share of what money remains on a single law firm fighting, not for Second Amendment rights, but to keep top-level executives out of jail and in control in the face of credible allegations of corruption and mismanagement of funds, while simultaneously cutting back on core services that constitute the Association’s reason for existence.
And It’s All My Fault
Okay, it’s not all my fault alone. It’s also the fault of others who, like me, have reported on the NRA’s troubles and raised questions about the NRA’s leadership. At least that’s what members of the NRA Board of Directors, and defenders of Wayne LaPierre have been saying. They attacked me and a handful of others, including current NRA Director, Judge Phil Journey and blogger, John Richardson, at the 2022 Members’ Meeting. When a resolution was introduced praising Wayne LaPierre, a number of Directors rose, not just to praise LaPierre, but to decry us as “the enemy within,” questioning why we “hate the organization so much.” Director Tom King of New York denounced the “multi-generational” attacks on the Association, and Director Jay Prinz of Montana criticized an unspecified “son of a bitch,” for tearing the organization down. You see, according to them, it’s our reporting and questioning that has pushed people away from the Association, not the documented corruption, lying, excessive legal expenses, cronyism, and utter failure to stand by the Association’s core mission and principles. They also put some of the blame on COVID, inflation, the war in Ukraine, Joe Biden – basically anything they can think of, other than their own actions.
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As I said back in April of 2019, I expected many NRA Board members to focus on the messenger and ignore the message, but I hoped that there would be enough people of integrity on the Board to see past the personal attacks on us and our supposed motives, and actually look at the mounting evidence of serious problems. How wrong I was. I then wrote that the Board had only two choices. They could either make a public show of cleaning house; remove the entire “leadership team,” review and renegote all of the Association’s major vendor contracts, investigate and take corrective actions on all of the allegations being made against the Association and its “leaders,” and commit to full transparency to the members and the court, or they could circle the wagons around Wayne LaPierre, and keep circling all the way down the drain, taking the entire NRA down with them.
Unfortunately, the Board chose the “circling” option, and my predictions continue to prove out. In any sane enterprise or institution, cratering revenue and collapsing membership numbers – regardless of the reason – would warrant instant dismissal of the CEO. Credible accusations of corruption would, at the very least, warrant immediate suspension until the charges could be thoroughly investigated and cleared up. Yet here we are, three and a half years later, and the Board continues to vehemently defend LaPierre and company, vilifying anyone who dares to challenge – or even question – “leadership’s” actions, and dogmatically marching on toward inevitable destruction. In that time, LaPierre’s story has changed repeatedly. As each new charge has come out, LaPierre’s response has followed a consistent pattern. He starts with indignant denial, accompanied by attacks on anyone who makes or repeats the charge. Eventually, the response morphs into partial admission accompanied by some shaky excuse – and more attacks on the messenger. This is followed by more admissions and new excuses, some restitution, and additional attacks on the accusers. The excuses remain subject to revision indefinitely.
This has actually been going on much longer than just the past three and a half years, though. Many of the current problems were raised all the way back in the mid-1990s by my late father Neal Knox, then a vice president of the Association. In response, LaPierre, with the help of NRA’s long-time PR firm, Ackerman McQueen, and their other client, Charlton Heston, staged a mutiny, wresting total control of the Board away from Dad and his allies, leading to the growth and expansion of the corruption. Then, in 2017, LaPierre learned that New York Attorney General Letitia James planned to launch an investigation into the Association, prompting LaPierre to hire attorney Bill Brewer to help derail the AG’s plans. By strange coincidence (or perhaps no coincidence at all), Brewer is the son-in-law of Angus McQueen, a founding partner of Ackerman McQueen, who died in 2019 as this fight heated up. Brewer and LaPierre claim to have found a number of issues that the NY AG could use against the Association, prompting a major revamp of the NRA’s various contracts and vendor invoicing and payment policies.
This review and realignment, which was conducted with little Board involvement, led to an argument between Brewer and his father-in-law’s company, which was the NRA’s largest outside vendor, billing the Association in excess of $40 million per year at that time. The argument led to NRA filing suit against Ack-Mac, demanding itemized invoices going back several years. At the same time, Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun propaganda mill, The Trace, hired an experienced investigative reporter named Mike Spies, giving him the assignment to look into rumors that were swirling around, and “dig up dirt” on the NRA. His digging was successful, and he published his findings in The New Yorker magazine in April, 2019, just before the Annual Meeting of Members. AG James launched an official investigation a short time later.
LaPierre’s immediate response was to claim that he was the victim of false, politically motivated attacks and an attempted coup by his former allies at Ackerman McQueen, along with their allies inside the NRA, including ILA Director Chris Cox and then NRA President Ollie North. He argued, through Board surrogates like Directors Scott Bach and Marion Hammer, that he was the hero who had found and fixed serious problems inside the organization, and that Ack-Mac was retaliating against his “course corrections” and trying to seize control of the Association. He then launched a scorched-earth campaign, purging North, Cox, and anyone else who had expressed concern or failed to come to his immediate defense.
While LaPierre and his apologists have made a big deal about LaPierre finding and correcting problems, they have ignored LaPierre’s obvious failure in allowing these problems to happen in the first place. It’s not as if LaPierre was a new guy who just came in and found things out of order. He’d been the CEO of the NRA for almost 30 years at that point, so any problems or bad policies that he “found,” had happened under his watch and were his responsibility. In an amazing display of chutzpah, in a recent court filing, LaPierre and Brewer referenced the major reorganization and “course corrections” implemented by LaPierre in 2018 and 2019, but they claimed that they couldn’t provide any details about what was actually done to “correct NRA’s course,” because Brewer was involved in all of it, and to reveal their actual actions and motivations would be a violation of attorney-client privilege.
Where’s the Trust?
Seriously – “Trust us. We’ve fixed everything, but we won’t tell you about it because of attorney-client privilege.” They actually made this claim to the court that’s supposed to decide whether NRA “leaders” have been, and are, responsibly handling NRA members’ funds. In their latest filing, NRA and LaPierre demanded a jury trial – in New York City! That’s right. They are demanding that a jury, which would almost certainly be composed of NRA-hating, Manhattan city-dwellers, should decide the fate of the NRA! That’s either the most idiotic move they could have made, or it’s some sort of master level, 4D chess that’s way beyond my ability to comprehend. Or perhaps it’s just the latest angle for delaying the trial and generating more opportunities for Brewer to log more billable hours. Brewer being paid seems to be the one constant throughout this debacle.
The NRA paid Brewer’s firm over $20 million in 2021, just for legal services, but the firm has also taken over the NRA’s PR and “crisis communications,” so it’s unclear exactly how much they’re being paid in total. Some reports indicate that the firm is drawing in excess of $40 million per year. And by the way, a good portion of those legal fees were for a First Amendment lawsuit against Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York, which LaPierre reported had already cost the Association over $100 million back in 2019. NRA lost that suit in 2022, but they’re appealing the decision, so the money keeps flowing out. They also spent some $10 million in an effort to avoid paying former NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox his contractually obligated severance pay. Cox’s contract stipulated that he would receive two years of his annual pay in severance, which amounted to a bit over $2 million. Not only did Brewer and NRA lose that battle, but they were also ordered to pay Cox’s multi-million-dollar legal fees as well. Then they sued the law firm that arbitrated the case – and lost again. So, over $10 million spent in an effort to avoid paying $2 million. Of course, as usual through all of this, Brewer still got paid.
Meanwhile, as NRA staff and services have been cut to the bone, and membership and revenue have been tanking, they paid LaPierre more than $1.1 million in 2021, and probably a bit more in 2022. That’s down a bit from previous years. In 2018 he was paid over $2.2 million, including a $500k “bonus” for his outstanding work. In 2019, he was paid $1.9 million, and in 2020 he received $1.66 million. So, he’s definitely feeling the pain of the recession…
At the NRA Board meeting in January, LaPierre rolled out a new budget. The details aren’t available, because it was done in a closed “Executive Session,” but all indications are that, in spite of the steady fall in membership and revenue over the past several years, the new budget anticipates increased revenue in the coming year and includes significant increases in spending. Knowledgeable insiders are predicting that the Association will be forced to file for bankruptcy by mid-summer of this year, right at about the time the New York suit is supposed to go to trial. Remember that two years ago, LaPierre, without consulting with the Board, filed for Chapter 11 protections for the Association, but after a trial and some stunning revelations about the internal workings of the Association – many of which were subsequently incorporated into the NY AG’s suit against the NRA – the bankruptcy was dismissed as having been filed “in bad faith,” primarily as a ham-handed attempt to get out from under the NY AG’s suit.
If the NRA files for bankruptcy again, it will be for real this time, and some are speculating that the “leadership” is actually intentionally overspending in order to bring that about. The theory is that under the protections of the bankruptcy court, they might be able to block the NY AG’s suit, and reorganize in Texas, where they would have a friendlier reception. The Board has already created a “Search Committee” to explore a move to Texas. As a native Texan, I can’t say that’s a bad idea, but the timing does seem suspect. The big disappointment and frustration is how much this whole mess has cost – in dollars, reputation, membership, and political clout – when it all could have been handled years ago, with little cost. I’m seriously doubtful that the Association, as we know it, will survive through the year, or if it does, that it will ever regain its former glory, but I keep praying that I’m wrong.
A Note from the Author
Background on the situation at the NRA, including past articles, court papers, and NRA’s IRS filings, can be found at Firearms Coalition website. It has been repeatedly claimed that I am critical of Wayne LaPierre because of a personal grudge stemming from his battle with my father back in the ‘90s, and for my own profit. As to the grudge, I don’t think that’s influencing my reporting, but that’s for you the reader to decide in your evaluation of the situation and my reporting. I write about this because I care about the NRA, its members, and its mission. As to personal profit, I expect that between the small fee Firearms News will pay me for this column, and the few contributions and subscriptions that might come in from angry current and former NRA members thanking me for reporting on this mess, I’ll make a few hundred dollars, not nearly enough to justify the time, effort, and heartache I put into it, or so my wife tells me.
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With that said, I’ll offer a shameless plug. If you’d like to help support my work, please consider subscribing to our newsletter, The Hard Corps Report. A new edition came out at the end of the year, and we’d be happy to send you a copy. Just visit FirearmsCoalition.org, make a contribution of any amount, and be sure to include your mailing address in the contribution form, or write to: The Firearms Coalition, PO Box 303, Tombstone, AZ 85638. – Thank you.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.
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