September 21, 2020
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about the lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General against the NRA, but you might be wondering what’s really going on.
Let’s walk through the minefield, but first, let me remind readers that the NRA will finally be hosting a Members’ Meeting for 2020 on October 24th in Tucson, Arizona, to be immediately followed by a Board of Directors meeting. I’ll include more details about the meetings at the close of this article. Also, worth noting, the most important election in modern history will be held just over a week after these meetings. I urge all NRA members to attend the meetings in Tucson, if at all possible, and anyone who loves liberty, to get even more active in doing whatever you can to block gun control extremists from taking over Congress and the White House.
Now on to the mess in the NRA. To begin with, it’s not just one lawsuit. The NRA is involved in a maze of lawsuits. In response to the suit by the New York Attorney General, the NRA has counter-sued New York State. In addition, the Association filed suit against New York Governor andrew Cuomo back in 2018 for trying to prevent banks and insurance companies from doing business with the Association. There is also a suite filed bye the AG of Washington, D.C., this one against the NRA Foundation. And there are several other lawsuits that have been filed over the past year involving the NRA’s long-time PR firm, Ackerman McQueen.
All of this litigation and related activity, has been costing NRA members a lot of money. A year ago, during the September Board of Directors meeting, Wayne LaPierre estimated that the whole mess had cost the Association between $80 and $100 million as of that point in time. Since then, several keystone NRA programs, including Carry Guard and NRA TV, have gone belly-up, and NRA members have been paying a single law firm something in the neighborhood of $2 million a month. Then there is the lost revenue from wealthy members who have withdrawn pledges and regular members who are withholding donations until they see some sort of stability and accountability return to the Association. Not to mention the tens of millions of dollars that have apparently been squandered or shoveled into the pockets of a select few top NRA executives, and their pals.
If you haven’t yet read the entire NY complaint against the NRA and its “leaders,” I urge you to take the time to do that. The complaint is about the size of a cheap detective novel, with some 194 pages, and it goes into great detail about the rampant self-dealing, cronyism, nepotism, incompetence, and old-fashioned graft that the NY investigators say has been going on at the NRA for at least the past 3 years, and which some of us have been warning about for much longer than that.
Print it out or load it into your phone or tablet for bathroom reading. You may find it useful to be near your plumbing as your read it.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. The NRA leadership – paid staff and elected officials – has engaged in an active disinformation campaign pushing a narrative that the charges detailed in the suits, the suits themselves, and those of reporting on the matter, are all just politically-motivated attacks by political enemies and people like yours truly, who have a personal axe to grind with the current leadership of the NRA.
The suits against NRA from the NY AG and the DC AG, absolutely are politically-motivated hit-jobs intended to hurt the Association, and hurt Republicans – especially Donald Trump – in the November election. There’s no question about that. BUT, the fact that the suits are politically motivated, does not mean they are baseless. In fact, the investigations leading up to the filing of the suits, were extremely thorough and well done. They have substantial documentation along with depositions from key players and whistle-blowers from inside NRA. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the accusations of inappropriate and potentially criminal misuse of NRA funds, are well-founded and significant, regardless of the motivations of the investigators or those of us reporting on them.
Most readers probably know that my father, Neal Knox, was a leader of the Cincinnati Revolt in 1977, then became Executive Director of NRA-ILA, and later became a member of the NRA Board of Directors. In 1997, Dad was First Vice President, in line to become President the following year, when he and a majority of the Board got into a power struggle with Wayne LaPierre and NRA’s long-time ad and PR agency, Ackerman McQueen (Ack-Mac). That didn’t end well for Dad and his allies on the Board, as LaPierre and company brought in Charlton Heston to bump Dad from his Vice Presidency, and over the following several years, purged Dad and his allies from the Board.
As soon as Dad was out of the leadership, LaPierre’s salary started going up, basically doubling from around $200,000 in 1996, to over $400,000 in 1999, then $600,000, then $800,000 and rising. Not long after Dad’s death, when I took over The Firearms Coalition, I wrote several articles about LaPierre’s exorbitant pay, and his compensation was briefly rolled back a few thousand dollars, but then resumed its upward trend, breaking $900,000 and passing through $1 million per year. In 2015 LaPierre received over $5 million due to a retirement fund payout that I still don’t understand. The retirement fund was frozen due to lack of funds a couple of years later, after LaPierre, Chris Cox, and Woody Phillips, the Treasurer had all received major cash-outs. In 2017 LaPierre received $1.4 million in official compensation and that was upped to $2.2 million in 2018. They have yet to report his compensation for 2019 or 2020.
During that time, LaPierre’s grip on the Board of Directors grew tighter and Ack-Mac’s influence and responsibilities within NRA grew too, as did their paycheck.
In 2014, one of the Nominating Committee’s nominees for Board of Directors was a guy named Josh Powell, who few of us in the rights community, or the broader firearms world, had ever heard of. Somehow he managed to win a seat on the Board, beating out numerous candidates with more impressive resumes, but he was only on the Board for a short time before he was hired away to become LaPierre’s chief of staff, in charge of special projects. One such project rolled out in 2016. It was a new Basic Firearms Training curriculum, which included an online video component. They called it “Blended Training,” but their cadre of thousands of certified firearms instructors called it outrageous, insulting, and dangerous.
Then, while the Education and Training Division was still in turmoil over the “Blended Training” controversy, the NRA rolled out Powell’s signature program, which NRA promised would be a new flagship and revenue generator; NRA Carry Guard. The program was a combination of a self-defense insurance policy, and advanced defensive firearm training. It was introduced at the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Atlanta in 2017, and, after millions of dollars and man-hours invested, died an ignominious death in 2019.
The problems with Carry Guard were legion, and it didn’t take long for politicians, bureaucrats, and regulators to start pointing many of these problems out. Some of the criticisms of the program were just politically-motivated nit-picking, with regulators coming up with new interpretations of their existing regulations, just to harass the NRA, but other problems were pretty serious.
New York State led the charge, accusing NRA of acting as an insurance broker, selling without a license, selling an illegal product, and failing to get all of the paperwork done that they said should have been done. It was a huge mess, leading to NRA having to sue their insurance carrier. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo found that it was fun to bash the NRA and the media gave him good press for it, so he started calling on banks, insurance companies, and other critical businesses, to stop doing any work for the NRA.
This directly resulted in the first major lawsuit between NRA and New York, with NRA suing Cuomo for using his office to punish a political enemy. It is a First Amendment case, and it is still ongoing, with Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James engaging in some fancy dance moves in attempts to slip out of the mess they stepped into with their very public hatred of the NRA. Even the ACLU came out in support of the NRA on this one.
At about the same time that Carry Guard was being launched, NRA Director and President of the NY State Rifle and Pistol Association, Tom King, was warned that Cuomo and company were on the war path, looking for ways to go after the NRA. King passed this information on to Wayne LaPierre, and LaPierre took the warning seriously – eventually. Perhaps the first thing he should have done was to double-check all NRA activities in New York, to ensure that every “i” was dotted and every “t” crossed in any business that the Association might be conducting in the state, but it boggles the mind to try and understand why a warning was even needed. It’s no secret that the NRA is reviled by many politicians and bureaucrats of a leftish persuasion, and many of these politicians and bureaucrats have demonstrated a willingness to use their positions to harass and abuse individuals and groups that they don’t like, so it’s difficult to understand why the Association wouldn’t have covered and reinforced every angle that such enemies might use to attack them. While it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback, this seems like a no-brainer, like making sure all of your players have helmets and shoulder pads before taking the field in a football game.
In any case, the warning about being targeted by New York, is credited with prompting Wayne LaPierre to seek out a well-connected attorney to help guide the Association through the pitfalls of a challenge by the NY AG’s office.
The attorney LaPierre found to save the NRA (and LaPierre) from New York, was a slick NY lawyer named Bill Brewer. Brewer had a reputation for solving problems with backroom deals and trick plays. He had expanded beyond New York a few years prior, opening up offices in Dallas, but still had offices and significant connections back home. He also had some pretty significant connections in Texas, Oklahoma, and inside the NRA, as his wife’s maiden name was McQueen. Her father was none other than Angus McQueen, founder of Ackerman McQueen.
This relationship looked sketchy to NRA watchers, especially as Brewer’s long record of large and repeated political contributions to anti-gun Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton and Beto O’Roark, came to light, and his massive billing to NRA began to be revealed. Most thought it was just another case of NRA insider chicanery, bringing in Angus McQueen’s son-in-law to suck more millions out of NRA coffers, but it soon became apparent that there was some serious friction within the family, especially when NRA dropped a bomb shortly before the Annual Meetings in Indianapolis in 2019, announcing that they had filed suit against Ackerman McQueen for refusing to cooperate in internal audits.
According to the official NRA story, after Tom King’s warning about New York coming after them, Wayne and Brewer launched a series of internal audits and a “good governance” campaign within the NRA. During this process of making sure all of NRA’s ducks were in a tidy row, the story goes, LaPierre and Brewer ran into some problems collecting some critical information from one of NRA’s primary contractors – Ackerman McQueen. Not only did Ack-Mac refuse to provide detailed billing statements and receipts for invoices charged to the NRA, they dug in their heels and actively worked to obfuscate and derail LaPierre’s fact-finding mission, so the NRA was forced to file suit against their long-time vendor.
Of course, Ackerman McQueen tells a somewhat different story. In a sworn declaration, Revan McQueen, Ack-Mac’s CEO, says there was a long history of animosity between his father, Angus McQueen, and his brother-in-law, Bill Brewer. According to the declaration, which was filed in an effort to force Brewer out of lawsuits between Ack-Mac and NRA, Brewer was acting aggressively and disrespectfully toward Ack-Mac, demanding access to accounts and other information related to other Ack-Mac clients, having nothing to do with NRA. McQueen claimed that the aggressiveness intensified after Angus McQueen was diagnosed with lung cancer and turned the reins of the company over to Revan. He related repeated instances of LaPierre telling him and other Ack-Mac employees that Brewer “had him boxed in,” and suggesting that going against Brewer could result in LaPierre going to jail. McQueen also claimed that Brewer used his father-in-law’s illness and treatments as a way of leveraging more pain, anger, and humiliation on his in-laws.
McQueen said that there appeared to be a strong, personal connection between LaPierre’s Chief of Staff, Josh Powell, and Bill Brewer, indicating that Powell and Brewer might be working in cahoots to either “take over” the NRA, or to bankrupt and destroy the organization, along with destruction of Ack-Mac. It’s worth noting that Powell retained his position – and $900k salary – at NRA for months after it was clear that he was responsible for the Carry Guard debacle and had created many more problems than he ever solved, including at least two accusations of sexual harassment. Many speculated that Powell was being kept on as a way of buying his silence, but now people are speculating that Powell might have cut a deal with NY AG Letitia James. He recently announced a pending “tell-all” book about the internal corruption at the NRA. We’ve yet to see whether the book will contain any real revelations, or just rehash the information that’s already in the public domain.
According to McQueen, Ack-Mac participated in at least 3 audits or financial reviews with representatives of NRA between 2017 and early 2019, and at the conclusion of each one, NRA appeared to be satisfied with their answers, with no further questions, and never requesting any additional documents. He says the lawsuit accusing them of being uncooperative and withholding critical information, came as a complete shock to them. This could be a pivotal issue that should be relatively easy to prove. If Ack-Mac was uncooperative, the NRA should be able to produce copies of demand letters requesting information that Ack-Mac refused to provide. If no such letters exist, how can they hope to prove that Ack-Mac has not cooperated?
At this point, the NRA is involved in at least five main suits and as many as a dozen second or third-order related suits, including a suit against former NRA President Ollie North, trying to force him off the NRA Board of Directors. They also sued North to deny him NRA coverage of his legal fees in the other suits, and sued to try and allow NRA attorneys to be present during North’s deposition in the NY AG investigation. Attorneys I’ve spoken with have been appalled by some of the briefs filed by the Brewer firm, saying they read more like press releases than legal briefs, and that there is nothing in any of these cases that carries the hallmarks of a top-flight law office.
I have a number of questions for the NRA Board of Directors. They’ve somehow convinced themselves that Wayne’s quarter-million dollar, unreported clothing allowance is justifiable, along with his quarter-million dollars worth of luxury travel for himself and his extended family, and the $4,000 per month rent charged under the table to NRA for a luxury apartment for the attractive young intern that Wayne was so interested in – because she was a family friend – and all of the sweetheart deals given to his pals and their spouses, and all of the other chicanery that he’s been pulling for well over a decade, but how on earth can they even pretend to justify allowing LaPierre and NRA Secretary and General Counsel John Frazer, who are both named defendants in the NY lawsuit, be in charge of the NRA’s legal team and strategy in fighting that lawsuit? This is a battle for the very life of the NRA, which has been put at risk by the actions of these two men and a few of their associates. These men have an obvious and glaring conflict of interest. Allowing them to control the legal response of the Association is tantamount to giving the Exxon Valdez back to Captain Hazelwood and his crew to deliver the rest of the oil to the lower 48.
Many of us are at a loss to understand why LaPierre and Frazer are still employed by the Association, much less still manning the helm. There are a number of attorneys on the NRA Board, and the Board has a Legal Committee. This is who should be in control of the NRA’s legal response to New York, and I dare any member of the Board to publicly explain why that’s not what’s going on.
That’s just one of the many questions I have for the members of the NRA’s Board of Directors, and while I think there’s little chance of getting any sort of rational response from any of them, I’m going to do my very best to get my questions on the record at the Annual Meeting of Members, which has finally been re-rescheduled for Saturday, October 24, 2020, at 9:00 AM, in the Kiva Ballroom of the Loews Ventana Canyon Hotel, Tucson, Arizona, with a Board of Directors meeting scheduled for that same afternoon. No other official events or festivities are expected to take place.
NRA Directors were informed of this meeting by Secretary Frazer on around August 11th or 12th, but there was no mention of it on the NRA’s website as of September 4th, when this article had to be submitted for publication. Nor has there been any mention in any of the NRA magazines, even though the Bylaws specifically require that the time, date, and location of the Members’ Meeting must be included in two consecutive issues of the official journal, prior to the meeting. (Cue COVID excuse.)
I’m expecting that the three members of the Board of Directors that live in Tucson, all of whom are LaPierre loyalists, will try to leverage their networks, along with some help from the NRA Members’ Councils in California, to try and stack the Members’ Meeting. With the COVID situation, it’s likely that the hotel will have restrictions on the number of people allowed to be in the ballroom. Their website says the ballroom has a capacity of 1000, but I expect that number to be cut by at least 50%. There is a large, connected patio, though, so maybe that would provide some overflow space. It officially only requires 100 Voting Members of NRA to be present to constitute a quorum at an Annual Meeting of Members, so it’s a very good idea for people interested in attending and having any chance of being heard, to arrive early – perhaps very early.
As to the meeting itself, over the years, virtually all of the power that the members once had during a Members’ Meeting, has been removed. We no longer have the authority to remove officers, change bylaws, or give any orders to the staff or the Board of Directors. They don’t even allow members to ask questions about the reports of the officers. I expect the objective for this year’s meeting will be to get it over with as quickly as possible, with as little input from the members as they can manage. It’s likely that President Carloyn Meadows will turn the gavel over to First Vice President Charles Cotton, because he has more experience and a firmer grasp of how to run a meeting.
Realistically, the best the members can hope for during the Members’ Meeting, is to raise some serious questions and convince the spineless cowards that we elected to represent us on the Board, to do their duty and stop kowtowing to the machinations of Wayne LaPierre and Bill Brewer.
If you plan to attend the Members’ Meeting, please also plan on staying for the Board of Directors meeting. We’re also planning to have one of our famous “Knox Secret Meetings” on Friday evening, so look for information about that. It should be posted at www.FirearmsCoalition.org as soon as we can lock down the details.