“It’s time for Wayne LaPierre to retire,” Gun Talk Radio’s Tom Gresham wrote in his newsletter, repeating an opinion he’d already introduced on the air. “I have put this off for a while as I waited to see how events would develop.”
Also sharing in responsibility for the organization’s woes, per Gresham, are officers, directors, staffers and vendors for what is “at least malfeasance, and it might even be corruption ... Whether he directed it, was part of it, or just didn’t see what was happening, this all metastasized under the watch of Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. The buck stops there.
“Take your millions and retire,” Gresham concluded. “Do the right thing.”
Tom was always nicer than I am about such matters, more willing to give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll state flat-out NRA needs to fire LaPierre and turn its legal team loose on finding ways the executive vice president has breached his fiduciary duties in order to “revisit” contractual pension obligations “owed” him if he does bail. Because thanks to his “leadership,” they’re going to need the money.
That’s not even the main reason why I believe LaPierre will “not go gentle into that good night” and give up the reins voluntarily. I think he’s riding a tiger and hanging on for dear life. I don’t think he dares let go lest it turn on him when he falls.
Let me back up a second and qualify my analysis and predictions. A frequent admission I make is none of us has a crystal ball, and this article may no sooner be submitted for publication than some inside development I don’t know about renders it moot. So I’ll hedge my bet and say if LaPierre does step aside, it will be because of a combination of internal pressure along with assurances that his costs will be covered when the New York and Washington, DC, legal jackals now circling and closing in spring for his throat. That’s why I think he’ll be loath to give up control, with his ability to command all available resources for when that happens.
So how did we get from there to here?
The late-April 2019 Annual Meeting seems like it took place in another life with Wayne La Pierre taking the stage in a show of confident unity with then-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox and the President of the United State, Donald J. Trump. The banners hanging in the exhibit hall that included then-NRA President Oliver North as well as the lineup of NRA-TV “stars” gave most members no cause to think about trouble in paradise, with war in Heaven breaking out.
The members might not have been caught so flat-footed if more of them stepped out of the echo chamber and studied enemy communications on occasion. A week-and-a-half before the Annual Meeting, The Trace published a report “in partnership with The New Yorker” on NRA’s troubled finances and its problematic relationship with Ackerman-McQueen under the title: “Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA - The organization’s leadership is focused on external threats, but the real crisis is of its own making.”
“Oh, but that’s The Trace,” some who prefer to dismiss the report countered, pointing out the entire venture is dependent on Michael Bloomberg money and funding from the left, and that its entire purpose is to proselytize for citizen disarmament. That’s all true, but it’s also a logical fallacy to automatically dismiss facts that can be independently verified because of who it is revealing them. While I’d definitely look out the window if they told me the sky was blue, if it really was, I’d have to admit it.
Members giving thunderous applause to LaPierre, Cox and Trump should have also realized something was amiss from a huge development revealed a week before the Bloomberg/Trace exposé. Per an April 15 O’Dwyers PR/marketing news report, “The National Rifle Association has sued long-time ad agency Ackerman McQueen and its Mercury Group PR unit for allegedly failing to turn over its business records to justify its billings ... that Ackerman and Mercury are contractually obligated to provide.”
If you look closely at the photos of the three on stage, the only one who really looked like he was having the time of his life was Donald Trump, and why not? He’d just redefined the legal term “machine gun” by executive fiat resulting in hundreds of thousands of gun owners either surrendering their lawfully acquired property or becoming federal felons (not to mention opening the door for future Democrat presidents to put that precedent on steroids). He had endorsed “red flag laws” by recommending “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” Yet here he was with an audience of (disarmed) NRA members committed enough to shell out extra dough to hear him tell them what they wanted to hear, and they couldn’t clap hard enough and cheer loud enough.
LaPierre and Cox, of course, knew the dam was about to break. They knew Ollie North was about be forced out as president with him charging corruption, and Wayne countercharging extortion. And they knew allegations were about to explode into the wider world about expensive suits, exotic travel, sweetheart deals, and other executive perks, which is why LaPierre loyalists started circling the wagons at the Member Meeting, disallowing questions.
Amidst this turmoil, “LaPierre was re-elected unanimously and unopposed by the NRA Board of Directors,” Cox re-appointed, their officer allies were elected, giving new president Carolyn Meadows bragging rights to claim ““The Board stands behind Wayne...”
And like all “good” Democrats embracing the “never let a crisis go to waste” philosophy of scorched earth politics of personal destruction, New York Attorney General Letitia James launched an investigation into NRA (that’s where the Association is incorporated).
Meanwhile, the LaPierre loyalists’ fabricated show of unity notwithstanding, the charges against the EVP left Joe NRA Member wondering why he was being continuously bombarded with increasingly desperate fundraising appeals, and if he didn’t really need that ten or twenty dollars more than Wayne & Co. did. Especially since part of the revelations involved massive amounts of money going to a lawyer, William Brewer, who had been sanctioned for ethical violations, and given substantial aid and comfort to candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Some members also scratched their heads when they heard about a reportedly gorgeous young intern allegedly afforded special benefits by LaPierre, including an apartment. That hardly seemed to be a standard offering for that everyone in that pay grade. Stipulating that we don’t really know if anything untoward or inappropriate took place, the young lady at the center of the storm has stayed quiet and surprisingly, there hasn’t been much follow-up investigative reporting to find out more details. I know I won’t be surprised if it turns out she has lawyered up and been incentivized to share what she knows with state investigators, and with others interested in an exclusive.
I also won’t be surprised if Chris Cox decides it’s in his interests to unseat LaPierre from the tiger. We’ve read about him being suspected of siding with the “coup plotters,” then being suspended and resigning. We see he’s taken his power of contacts and access, and landed on his feet, launching a DC consulting firm.
We’re now seeing increased reports of directors and others not part of the loyalist faction complaining about having committee assignments taken away as Team LaPierre tightens its control and decides who will have access to what information. Again, we have The Trace, with its stipulated agenda, taking point on the reporting, but the information is finding its way out via other outlets.
And in a new development, speculation is running rampant over on the AR15.com forum with documents about LaPierre “running a shell company with a Clinton CPA,” with some perceiving significance and others not so much.
Again, we don’t know where any of this will lead. Perhaps LaPierre will be able to stay on the tiger’s back, although with the virtually unlimited resources at the disposal of New York State, which is out to get him, and now, Washington D.C., out to do the same, I’m not sure I’d cover that bet.
Nor do we know what the civil outcome will be with “Ack-Mac.” What we do know is the claims and counterclaims are being tried in New York, and that state officials will no doubt take many of their investigative cues from those.
Regardless of that, this dumpster fire, which may never fully be extinguished, happened on LaPierre’s watch and is one of his making. I won’t even make my argument, this time, on the many disagreements I have – with LaPierre and with NRA under his stewardship – in terms of “compromises” and outright betrayals of the right of the people to keep and bear arms. While he’s not responsible for NRA-backed infringements before he took the helm, he has never spoken against or tried to correct them. He has gone on, post-Columbine, to denounce arming anyone in schools besides police/trained security. He was a prime mover in selling "Project Exile" to NRA members, even though more than violent criminals could be caught in its net including principled Second Amendment defenders who would become felons for refusing to obey edicts ordering them to surrender their arms (In 2002, NRA actually said that's what "honest Americans" would do). While targeted to "[p]reviously convicted felons who possess guns and/or armed persons involved in drug or violent crimes," the U.S. Attorney's Office has explained: "When a police officer finds a gun while on duty, the officer can page an ATF agent, who is available 24 hours a day. ATF and the ... police, in consultation with the U.S. Attorney's Office, review the circumstances and determine if a Federal statute applies and whether Federal prosecution would provide the most effective incapacitation for the offender."
It's not hard to see how all kinds of incriminating scenarios could apply.
Note that NRA had initially opposed many of the laws someone could now be hanged with, so it's not hard to see how all kinds of incriminating scenarios could apply. And along with Cox, LaPierre gave green lights to federal bump stock “regulations” and “red flag” confiscations.
If it were my decision, I’d can him just for those, particularly the way they conflict with Association Bylaws “Purposes and Objectives.” But let’s just look at things from strictly a management perspective.
That NRA finally resorted – this year – to sue Ackerman-McQueen for allegedly not providing contractual financial deliverables leads to the question of what the hell has the EVP and the Board and staff been doing? They’ve been intertwined since the 1980s and it’s suddenly a problem now? Any CEO (and use of that term for LaPierre is a violation of the Bylaws, by the way) unable to control his organization’s finances is not meeting his fiduciary duties.
The other unmistakable sign of financial dereliction was revealed in LaPierre’s letter to members concerning the shutdown of NRATV.
“As many of you may know, we have been evaluating if our investment in NRATV is generating the benefits needed,” he wrote. “This consideration included the return on investment and the cost and the direction of the content.”
Hold the phone. NRA TV has been around for three years. Before that, it was NRA News. The top man is just now getting around to seeing if a significant cost center is worth having? They didn’t develop metrics for that before the project was green-lit, and monitor and adjust things after launch and thereafter? What does this guy do all day?
What he’s doing now is surrounding himself with a protective guard and purging any he suspects might be threats. And clutching for survival lest the twisting tiger unseats and turns on him...
Meanwhile, members keep getting those interminable fundraising solicitations, as signs are a critical mass will be holding out until Wayne is gone. As the dumpster fire continues to burn it’s fair to wonder at what point politicians, particularly in districts where the vote is close, will start to view NRA endorsements as guilt-by-association liabilities.
I plan one more piece in the near future, focused on what some are proposing is needed to save the NRA and what I think needs to happen administratively. I’ll also argue why all of that will ultimately prove fruitless as long as the “800 lb. gorilla” continues to treat the first 13 words of the Second Amendment as no more than a slogan.
As this draft is being submitted, news reports are noting the passing of Angus McQueen, 74, head of the agency at war with NRA. We’ll have to wait and see how – or if – that will affect the ongoing differences as well as the focus of state actors looking for weaknesses to exploit.
About David Codrea:
David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating / defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. In addition to being a regular featured contributor for Firearms Newsand AmmoLand Shooting Sports News, he blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” and posts onTwitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.