HOUSTON — Nineteen children and two adults were murdered at the Robb Elementary School, in part because the gun lobby has made it legal for 18-year-olds in Texas to buy weapons designed for mass killing.
But to hear National Rifle Association honcho Wayne LaPierre tell it, the real victim here is the NRA.
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LaPierre took the stage of the National Rifle Association’s governance meeting Saturday to the strains of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and delivered an angry address in which he painted the NRA as the target of “weaponized government.”
The NRA’s “Annual Meeting of Members” was held in the same 3,500-seat convention center arena where Donald Trump appeared Friday night, and read the aloud the names of the children massacred in Uvalde, each mangled Spanish pronunciation marked by the synthesized clang of a bell.
But if Friday’s events were staged for a nation-wide audience, Saturday’s meeting was dedicated to the internal politics of the NRA. Top brass sat in a row at a long table on the stage, rising to in turn to deliver fiery speeches. The event — which gives NRA members the rare chance to introduce and vote on resolutions demanding changes in how the gun lobby is governed — did not pack in the crowds. It was attended by perhaps 1,000 people.
LaPierre is a tall man with a swoop of gray hair. He wears rimless glasses and has piercing blue eyes. He took to the stage wearing his trademark corporate blue suit. And in a stark reversal from his own doleful speech on Friday, LaPierre barely mentioned the carnage in Uvalde.
Instead, the NRA honcho delivered a combative speech in which he painted the National Rifle Association as an “underdog” threatened by a liberal cabal.
LaPierre denounced politicians who have “weaponized government power against us” and seek to “permanently silence your voices.” He also blasted the media, whose “agenda” he insisted is to “generate hate against patriotic Americans like you and me.”
Ultimately, LaPierre vowed that the NRA would continue to fight to expand gun rights — “and not just in the face of tragic, horrible events when politicians and demagogues try to scapegoat us,” he insisted, “but every day — for weeks, for months, for decades.”
A Thwarted Rebellion
LaPierre isn’t just one of the most vilified men in America, he’s also opposed by a strident faction of NRA members, who attempted to force a vote of no-confidence in his leadership on Saturday, demanding his removal.
The effort didn’t succeed — it was thwarted by LaPierre loyalists on stage — but this rebel faction was eager to speak out against him after the meeting. “The only way to clear out a cancer, is to cut it out,” Robert M. Ryan, an NRA member from Arkansas, who wears a white Stetson, jeans and cowboy boots told Rolling Stone of the effort. “There is corruption at the NRA,” he insists. “It’s our NRA; it’s our money. They’re spending it on themselves.”
LaPierre’s alleged mismanagement of the NRA has sparked a high-stakes lawsuit by the Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, who accuses LaPierre of “self-dealing, abuse, and unlawful conduct.” And similar allegations broke through to the surface during the business portion of Saturday’s meeting.
When the executive speeches were over, the program turned to member resolutions. In theory these resolutions offer a mechanism for individuals and factions within the NRA to air grievances, demand answers, and impose accountability on senior leadership.
And LaPierre’s stewardship of the NRA has raised troubling questions. Allegations of corruption and self-enrichment by senior executives — including LaPierre who has already paid back $300,000 in “excess benefits” — form the basis of legal action in New York state.
That lawsuit failed to dissolve the NRA’s charter, but still seeks to impose new leadership at the organization, to ensure that the NRA adheres to its charitable purpose under the law. Attempting to avoid this legal scrutiny, the NRA sought to declare bankruptcy and reincorporate in Texas — a move that was tossed out in court. The New York attorney general has expressed a dim view of such moves, insisting that “board governance is broken and that the rot runs deep at the NRA.”
A LaPierre Lovefest
LaPierre is nothing if not an able infighter. He survived a coup attempt at the last in-person NRA board meeting in Indianapolis in 2019 by then-NRA president Oliver North, and LaPierre has since consolidated power, including on the board that ran this meeting and decided the order in which member resolutions would be put forward.
The first resolution? A dear-leader salute to Wayne:
Be it resolved that the members of the National Rifle Association of America, in convention assembled, does declare its profound support for the past, present and future leadership of its executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre.
The reading of that text was followed, in the convention hall arena, by nearly an hour of shout outs, props and praises for the embattled CEO, many of them delivered by loyalist members of NRA leadership, who queued up for a turn at the mic.
One prominent LaPierre backer, Janet Nyce, denounced Wayne’s critics as “the enemy within,” whom she blamed for taking “our beloved NRA down to her knees.” A former sheriff from Montana, who is also a board member, insisted he was “getting tired of these sons of bitches at every one of these meeting coming in and trashing Wayne LaPierre.”
Not every speaker was a lickspittle. An NRA member named Jerry — who touted his own second-amendment bonafides as author of the Texas “right-to-carry” law — took exception to the rhetoric calling LaPierre’s critics “enemies” of the NRA. “We have problems,” he said. “I believe that we’re whistling by the grave yard.”
“I mean look around at this forum,” he said, pointing to the two-thirds empty arena. “Would this be described as well attended?! Our problem is declining membership. Our problem is financial. Our problems are not just Letitia James,” he insisted, referring to the New York Attorney General. “Why are we not allowed to discuss substantive issues?”
When debate of the first resolution was finally capped — and the resolution passed, with a solid majority of members who held up cards in support — far-less flattering resolutions were read aloud by the clerk of the meeting.
One called on the NRA to settle its legal fight with the state of New York, including agreeing to a clean sweep of NRA leadership and appointment of an “outside overseer.” Another proposed an independent audit of 20 years of past NRA financial records, and the creation of a trust to receive payback of any misused funds. Yet another sought to place salary and travel expenditure limits on NRA executives like LaPierre.
But one-by-one these resolutions were shot down by NRA president Charles Cotton, who presided over the forum. Cotton ruled the resolutions “out of order” because, as he put it, they “invade the province of the board” and its officers to make such decisions. Cotton’s rulings prevented the the resolutions from coming up for a vote on the floor.
Robert Ryan, who had put forward many of the resolutions, lashed out in frustration. “They don’t want to hear from us,” he said. “They don’t want the truth to come out.”
(To avoid any misunderstanding: Ryan is not seeking to soften the firearms positions of the NRA. He’s a hardliner on guns, who is angry that the NRA and the Trump administration worked together to ban bump stocks — devices that make semiautomatic rifles fire more like machine guns — after the massacre at the 2017 concert in Las Vegas.)
A final resolution was brought by Jeff Knox — a prominent gun-rights activist, and Ammoland.com author, whose father helped stage a rebellion at an NRA meeting in the 1970s that turned a then-stodgy hunting organization into a hotbed of second-amendment fundamentalism.
Knox’s lengthy resolution, read aloud by the clerk, decried the recent declines of NRA membership, revenue, and assets — even as LaPierre’s pay has swelled, and the CEO enjoyed costly perks including private jet travel and lavish expense accounts. (It also — as a point of criticism — recalled LaPierre’s remarks after the Columbine massacre when the NRA executive demanded “absolutely gun-free” schools.)
The resolution concluded with a demand for LaPierre’s ouster: “We do hereby declare that we have no confidence in the ability of Wayne LaPierre to lead this organization going forward. [And] we call on him to resign his position of executive vice president.”
Yet Cotton found a way to dismiss this resolution too. Citing Robert’s Rules of Order, the parliamentary rulebook adhered to by the NRA, he insisted it was forbidden to bring up a censure motion of an officer during the same meeting where a motion to commend that person had already passed. Cotton ruled the resolution “out of order.”
Ryan was fuming after the meeting. “When it’s the purview of the board to decide what happens on the board, that’s corruption.” He insisted that the NRA was bigger than LaPierre, and that the NRA would do well to settle its lawsuit in New York.
For his part, Knox decried NRA leadership for the machinations that protected LaPierre, first teeing up a vote of praise to thwart Knox’s motion of no confidence:
“That was part of their plan,” he insisted.
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