The National Rifle Association gathered for 2019 Annual Meeting of Members last month amid a firestorm of rumors, accusations, and threats. It promised to be the most contentious Members’ Meeting in decades, and it didn’t disappoint on that score. But the gathering, which was preceded by rumbling thunder, leading into lightning cracks and howling winds, concluded with a hollow, unsatisfying whimper.
For months, news had been rumbling through various media outlets, of financial strife and disorder within the nations most powerful rights organization. Then, just days before the Members’ Meeting, the NRA filed suit against Ackerman McQueen, their PR partners of almost 40 years, with accusations of undue influence and expropriation of funds via murky invoices and hazy billing practices. Lightning struck again a few days later when The New Yorker published a blistering exposé of NRA’s finances and cozy deals enjoyed by some executives, contractors, and consultants.
All of this triggered a flood of speculation and uproar on blogs and social media among NRA members and the large contingent of pro-gun/anti-NRA advocates in the rights community. Even some members of the NRA Board of Directors made public comments suggesting that changes were needed.
On Friday, the day before the Members’ Meeting, as associated events were in full swing, President Trump and Vice President Pence both attended an NRA-sponsored, Leadership Forum and gave rousing speeches pledging their support for the NRA and America’s 100 million gun owners. They shared the stage with NRA Executive Vice President Wayne Lapierre and NRA President Ollie North. Everything was looking rosy. But later that day, a letter from LaPierre to the Board of Directors exploded in the media. The letter was remarkably similar to a letter LaPierre sent to the board in 1997, expressing “shock” that a member of the board would try to bribe or extort him into abandoning his post at the NRA. Specifically, the Friday letter claimed that Oliver North had called Wayne to threaten him with a damaging and embarrassing letter that Ack-Mack was preparing to send to the board.
The letter scandal blew up so widely in the media, that it eclipsed, for a time, an even more significant bombshell that dropped that same day. That came from the office of New York Attorney General Laticia James, announcing that they had served the NRA with instructions to preserve their financial and related records, and had begun issuing subpoenas in an investigation of the NRA’s tax exempt status and other matters. To many concerned observers, that announcement represented the triggering of a massive, slow-motion guillotine blade, falling inexorably toward the extended neck of the NRA.
In the Members’ Meeting on Saturday, Oliver North was a no-show. First Vice President Richard Childress read a letter from North expressing his frustration with current affairs at the NRA and stating that he did not intend to seek a second term as president. Childress was pressed into service to chair the meeting – a position for which he was ill-prepared, and in which he was clearly uncomfortable – and the meeting proceeded. Adam Kraut attempted to gain the floor early, trying to add an item to the meeting agenda, to assure the members had an opportunity to discuss the various accusations and other problems they’d heard about, but the Chair would not recognize him. Other attempts to raise questions during the meeting were ignored or silenced until the meeting reached the Resolutions portion of the agenda.
The first resolution wanted to thank President Trump for “un-signing” the UN Arms Trade Treaty. It passed handily, and then someone – presumably a member of the board – moved that the meeting be adjourned. This generated an immediate uproar from a good part of the crowd and protests from the microphones. The chair could have – and in my opinion, should have – refused to entertain the motion, as the business wasn’t finished, but it went to a vote and was defeated. That’s when the fireworks started. The next resolution, the one they’d hoped to avoid hitting the floor, was a call for a vote of “No Confidence” in Wayne LaPierre and the members of the Finance, Audit, and Executive committees, who are primarily responsible for overseeing his activities, and a call for their resignations.
Board members rushed to the microphones, insisting that these were not matters that should be discussed in an open meeting with media present, and called for the resolution to be referred to the Board of Directors. Supporters of the resolution, and others who wanted to find out what was going on in their association balked at that idea, and Adam Kraut suggested that the Chair order the media to leave the room. This was construed as a motion to go into Executive Session, and that matter was debated for quite some time, with several directors – most of them members of the Executive and Finance committees – rising to argue against going into Executive Session, and adding arguments against any discussion of the widely reported allegations of financial abuses. Eventually, the members voted not to go into Executive Session, and the motion to refer the resolution to the board, passed, effectively shutting down any further discussion.
Another back-patting resolution, this one from an ardent fan of Dana Loesch, calling for some sort of special recognition for her, was read and was also referred to the board for consideration. At that point, Directors again began rushing the microphones to move for adjournment. Realizing that the mood of the crowd had turned and that the majority of the members were ready to go look at the guns and gear in the exhibit hall, Adam Kraut beat them to the punch and made the motion. The members voted to close this time, and the meeting ended.
Then the grumbling and speculation turned to the Board of Directors meeting, scheduled for Monday morning.
When it finally came, it didn’t take the directors long to take their meeting into Executive Session, interrupting Mr. Childress’ report to close the meeting to everyone except directors and a handful of staff.
After several hours in closed session, with no news coming out of the meeting, then AmmoLand News reported that Wayne LaPierre had been reelected by a unanimous vote of the board. That report was soon corroborated by a post on the website for the American Rifleman, NRA’s flagship magazine. Which included more details, including the fact that First Vice President Richard Childress had declined to run for an officer position, Second Vice President Carolyn Meadows was elected President, Charles Cotton was elected First Vice President, Willes Lee was elected Second Vice President, and Chris Cox was retained as Executive Director of NRA-ILA. The official report focused on the word “unanimous,” as did all of the media reports.
The reaction on social media was angry and incredulous. After all of the damning evidence and tough talk from some on the board, how could they have possibly unanimously reelected Wayne LaPierre?
The reality is almost certain that the entire slate of candidates was offered up at once with a motion to confirm them by acclamation. This is a fairly common process under Roberts Rules of Order. The chair hears the motion and second, and declares; “Without objection,” and bangs the gavel. Done. It was probably several minutes before many in the room realized what had just happened. Too late for them to offer objections or change the vote. But that doesn’t explain why none of the directors are publicly challenging LaPierre’s subsequent assertions that the board is united in their support for him and his plans for the association moving forward.
In fact very little has been heard from anyone on the board since the meeting finally adjourned, some nine and a half hours after it started. Just the duration of the meeting indicates that there were some serious questions and debate. These meetings normally only last an hour or two at the most. So, between the length of the meeting, and the silence of the directors, it can be pretty safely assumed that some significant matters were raised, and that some of those matters were of such delicacy that any discussion of them outside of the closed board meeting, would do harm to the association, and potentially cost the seat of any director who strayed from the confidentiality agreement.
For the time being, I think it would be prudent for disgruntled NRA members and critics like me, to back off a little and see what happens. There’s nothing that a minority of the board could do to change the course of events that are on their way, and continuing to press them on the matter, doesn’t help the cause. It is to be hoped that we will at least see the tentacles of Ackerman McQueen steadily untangled from all NRA business, and some significant reforms imposed on how the association deals with contractors and consultants.
Lawyers will be tasked with keeping Attorney General James from doing any serious damage to NRA’s political apparatus until at least some time after the 2020 elections. Going through this debacle is bad enough. Trying to do it with an anti-rights Democrat in the White House and anti-rights majorities in both houses of Congress, would undoubtedly speed up that falling guillotine from New York.
We want to cut out the cancer without killing the patient, and while we didn’t get the dramatic changes we wanted, for now, that means stepping back to see whether any progress is evident and plan for the next round of treatments.