By Jeff Knox
(January 17, 2018) On January 15, Marion Hammer, NRA past president and a current member of both the Board of Directors and Executive Council, published an outrageous editorial on Ammoland Shooting Sports News warning of current and past threats to the NRA, and listing a slate of candidates she supports for the upcoming NRA Board of Directors election.
Marion is free to endorse any Board candidate she likes. But in her endorsement she can’t rewrite history to suit herself, nor can she expect to cast aspersions on the motives of good people without challenge
In her screed, Ms. Hammer carefully avoids naming names, but anyone who has been paying any attention at all to NRA politics – past and present – knows exactly whom she is referring to.
She begins with muddy praise for the stalwart NRA members who staged a revolt at the NRA Members’ Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1977. It was the night when the members wrested control of the NRA from a hidebound and self-perpetuating management and put the Association on the road to being the premier defender of the human right to armed self defense. Then she jumps forward to 1997 to talk about an attempted “coup” by a group of “dissident malcontents,” but fails to mention that both actions were staged by many of the same people, and for many of the same reasons.
I put “coup” in quotes in the second instance because the group that she claims was staging the “coup” was actually the duly elected Officers and Directors attempting, unsuccessfully, to exercise their fiduciary responsibility against actions by paid staff and key contractors with multimillion-dollar contracts.
The 1997 fight was not a coup; it was a mutiny.
In contrast to Cincinnati, the prize in 1977 was not the heart, soul, and destiny of the NRA, but control of the organization’s checkbook and prudent management of its resources. The goal in both instances was to give the members control over their NRA. The 1997 action included First Vice President Neal Knox, Second Vice President Albert Ross, and a majority of the NRA Board of Directors.
But, history is written by the victors, so the attempts of the Board of Directors to demand fiscal accountability from their hired staff was later reported as a “coup.”
The core issue was how the NRA’s PR company, Ackerman McQueen, was drawing millions of dollars a month from the organization and improperly controlling NRA staff. The Board directed Wayne to sever ties with Ack-Mac, and Wayne promised to do so, then claimed to have done so, by bringing in a new PR company called Mercury Group. The “new” PR company turned out to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Ack-Mac, with all of the same players in all of the same positions, still bleeding the association of the same millions of dollars.
The Finance Committee responded to the charade by calling an emergency meeting to demand accountability, demand dismissal of Ack-Mac, and require the treasurer to pull NRA’s meager remaining funds out of risky investments.
Marion Hammer, as President of the Board, used her power to push that meeting into executive session in order to quash the reports from the meeting, then at the subsequent Board meeting, used her power to quash debate, spread disinformation, and bully members to her position.
Read her editorial. She brags about her use of heavy-handed tactics.
Many on the Board wanted to fire Wayne for his duplicity. Neal Knox was not among those. He simply wanted Wayne to obey the instructions of the Board, but he was willing to use the threat of firing Wayne as a lever to force him to comply, and he was willing to follow through on the threat if Wayne balked. But Wayne, backed by Ack-Mac, other vendors, and allies on the Board, many of whom had business dealings with vendors, had sown enough confusion to keep the Board from forcing him out. The bylaws required a 2/3 majority vote to fire the EVP, and while a strong majority was in favor of firing him, they couldn’t muster the 2/3rds needed to actually do it.
Rather than taking my word for what actually happened in, and leading up to that meeting, you can get the story from one of Wayne and Marion’s staunchest allies in that fight, writer/director, and NRA Board member John Milius, who was interviewed by a reporter for the Washington Post in 2000, and provided a stunningly frank description of the machinations he and others engaged in.
He also described the situation as a coup attempt, then said;
“So we used our best techniques: lying, cheating and disinformation. I didn’t tell the truth for weeks.”
The story goes on to describe how Milius and Ack-Mac manager Tony Makris invited a “Knox loyalist” out to dinner in LA, and convinced him that Wayne would be willing to go quietly if he were provided with a large enough severance package.
As anticipated, the “Knox loyalist” spread the word that he had brokered a deal that would save face for everyone, and began lobbying for Wayne’s severance. But when the meeting commenced, Wayne rose publicly to declare himself shocked! that the Knox faction would stoop so low as to try and bribe him.
Milius reported that LaPierre gamed the moment perfectly, and, with Marion’s help, was able to cling to his position as they headed into the Annual Meeting of Members in Seattle.
At that meeting, two unprecedented events took place: First, a person who received write-in votes in the Board of Directors election was deemed to be qualified to run for the 76th Director seat that is elected at the Annual Meeting. The bylaws said that only people who were candidates in the election were eligible, and that had always been interpreted to mean people who had been nominated by the Nominating Committee or by petition of the members, but this year it suddenly included anyone who had received any write-in votes. And by an amazing coincidence, one of Tony Makris’ PR clients happened to get some write-in votes. That client was Charlton Heston.
The second unprecedented event at that meeting was the election of a brand new Board member to the leadership. In a surprise move – which in retrospect should have been no surprise at all – Mr. Heston was nominated for the office of First Vice President, to run head-to-head against Neal Knox.
Heston won that election by 4 votes, and immediately left the meeting to jet back to LA and appear on a radio talk show, during which he repeatedly stated that it was inappropriate or civilians to own AK47 type rifles. He eventually learned his script better, and the following year stepped up to become President of the NRA.
In her rewrite of history, Marion is correct that the fight was primarily about money, and that one side was trying to personally profit off of the NRA. I believe that’s true, and here’s the record on that.
As a result of the “Knox faction” raising a stink about the NRA’s finances, the treasurer moved funds out of those risky investments right before the markets crashed. Over the next several years, NRA engaged in a barrage of cheesy sweepstakes, fire-sales on memberships, and heavy-handed direct-mail fundraising to rebuild their depleted coffers, eventually returning to solvency – and making Ack-Mac a huge pile of money in the process.
Marion Hammer, who has been paid by NRA to run the Unified Sportsmen of Florida since Neal Knox recruited her for the job back in 1979, saw her paycheck go up from $30k a year to $120k a year after she sided with Harlon Carter against Neal Knox in 1983, and it has been reported that it is now between $250k and $300k per year. So far as I am aware, she is the only director of a state organization to ever receive direct or indirect payment from the NRA.
In 1997 Wayne LaPierre was being paid about $250k per year, up from the $186k that had been paid to his predecessor a dozen years prior.
After Neal Knox and his allies had been purged from the Board (with “Don’t Vote For” lists published in full-page ads in NRA magazines – paid for by whom?), Wayne’s compensation jumped to $400k, then a couple of year later to $800k, leveled at around $900k for several years, and is now reported to be approximately $1.4 million, though a couple of years ago, due to some sort of retirement pay-out, he received a cool $4 million dollars.
Salaries of other top NRA officials have kept pace with Wayne’s.
As First Vice President of NRA, Neal Knox never received a salary. He had a small travel and expense account, and at one point he and Marion joined forces to ask the Board to approve a small stipend for them and other officers who dedicated a significant amount of time and talent working for NRA, but that modest request was turned down by their fellow Board members.
During the five years Charlton Heston served as President, he traveled exclusively by private jet and limousine. NRA paid for that, along with Presidential Suite accommodations, and private security.
There are definitely people with ulterior motives involved in NRA. Some accuse me of profiting because my organization, The Firearms Coalition, gets a slight bump in donations when I publish articles critical of NRA. That’s probably true, but my annual salary from The Firearms Coalition is less than what Wayne LaPierre is paid every month, so it’s a bit of a different ball park.
Marion offered her list of candidates she encourages you to vote for, so here is my list:
That’s it. While there are several other people, both incumbents and new candidates, whom I like and would be comfortable endorsing, this year I’m bullet-voting for Adam, and I encourage you to do the same. If there are others whom you know personally and appreciate, throw them a vote, but remember that if they are likely to be toward the bottom of the pile, a vote for them could bump Adam out of the running. There are even people on Marion’s list that I like and have endorsed in the past, but it’s probably a pretty safe bet to avoid voting for any long-term incumbent on Marion’s list. That’s probably the best way to push out the “enemy within.”
Another good idea is to ask every candidate to comment on Marion’s editorial. Simple question: Do they agree with Marion’s version of history, and do they think that people who are critical of the NRA leadership are trying to destroy the organization?
Go to AdamKraut.com. Read his bylaw proposals. Take action.
It’s your NRA. VOTE!