The NRA: Corruption, chaos, and civil war

“At the moment you could almost— almost— pity the National Rifle Association,” said Scott Martelle in the Los Angeles Times. The gun rights group has been “hemorrhaging money to the tune of $40 million” a year, and at its annual meeting last week, an ugly power struggle broke out among its leadership. CEO Wayne LaPierre accused President Oliver North of trying to blackmail him into resigning with a dossier of misdeeds, including excessive travel and expensing $200,000 on his personal wardrobe. This follows a devastating New Yorker exposé revealing a culture of “secrecy, self-dealing, and greed,” with NRA officers awarding themselves high sixfigure salaries and lavish benefits. Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating if the NRA illegally funneled money from a Kremlin-connected banker to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And last week New York state’s attorney general announced an investigation of the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

Clearly, the NRA is now “an organization at war with itself,” said Lisa Marie Pane in the Associated Press. For a century, it focused on hunting, firearms education, and gun safety. During the 1970s, it pivoted to Second Amendment rights, but in recent years its outside ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, has pushed it into culture war issues far afield of firearms, and it became an overly partisan organization. When the children’s cartoon Thomas & Friends added two female characters—one with a dark-skinned face—to its cast of talking locomotives, a mocking NRATV segment “featured several trains wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods and sitting on flaming tracks.” Now the NRA is suing Ackerman McQueen for allegedly failing to justify its $42.6 million billings for 2017. All this recalls Eric Hoffer’s famous observation, said Charles Sykes in “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

The NRA’s implosion could “hardly have come at a worse time” for Republicans, said Jim Geraghty in The cascade of mass shootings in America “has energized gun-control advocates.” Most Democratic House challengers in 2018 openly embraced gun control, and for the first time, pro–gun control groups outspent the NRA in an election cycle. In 2020, it appears President Trump is going to need all the help he can get. The big question is whether the NRA will be healthy enough to be a factor.