Liberty, AZ, USA – It was almost a year ago that I had a conversation with several other concerned NRA members about the curious case of Josh Powell.
It was shortly after the annual Fall Board Meeting in 2019, which had been hastily relocated from Anchorage Alaska to Northern Virginia, and we were speculating on why Powell hadn’t yet been fired. He had driven NRA’s Carry Guard program straight into the ground, costing millions and seriously disrupting the whole Education and Training Division in the process. He had multiple accusations of sexual harassment against him and had either created or had failed to rectify, serious problems within the NRA Competitions Division and among competitive shooters.
The consensus among our little discussion group, was that Powell probably had too much information about too many of the people and activities deep inside the NRA’s inner circle, and he was being kept on the payroll to keep him from sharing any of that information – either with investigators from New York and DC or with reporters and NRA members.
A few months later, Powell was finally fired, and several of us were looking for details on the outrageous severance package that we assumed he must have received to purchase his silence. Barring that, we expected another series of anonymously-sourced articles revealing sordid details of NRA executives behaving badly.
But Powell has surprised most all of us, with the announcement of his new book;
“Inside the NRA: A Tell-All Account of Corruption, Greed and Paranoia Within the Most Powerful Political Group in America.”
Powell says he rejected a handsome severance package because it included a strict non-disclosure agreement, which he wasn’t willing to sign. I interpret that to mean that LaPierre wasn’t willing to fork over enough to buy Powell’s silence, so he instead either relied on loyalty or the principle of all hanging together to avoid hanging separately. What a significant error. I suspect that Powell probably worked a deal with Letitia James’ office to allow him to publish the book without fear of legal complications, though it could be a simple bet that he thinks he can make more off of the book than he was offered in the severance package. But there’s always the possibility that someone like Bloomberg saw the potential of a resource like Powell, and offered him a quiet advance on a book deal.
Whatever the process, I have to wonder what could possibly come out in the book that isn’t already known? After all, the accusations in the New York suit are based primarily on depositions given to the NY AG’s office by various current and former NRA employees, including Powell. If he includes things in his book that he omitted from his deposition to NY investigators, he’d be opening himself up to charges of perjury or worse. But, as mentioned above, Powell might have cut a deal in advance, and there’s no doubt that he was present for a lot of meetings and events, the details of which will make for interesting reading.
Of course, whatever Powell says in the book will be dismissed by the NRA as merely the sour grapes of a disgruntled, former employee. I recall an NRA spokesperson saying that the organization doesn’t comment on works of fiction, in response to questions raised by unflattering depictions of LaPierre in Richard Feldman’s book “Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist.” There’s also the possibility that we’ll see Powell sued by LaPierre’s attorney, William Brewer, to either suppress the book or at least suck down the profits a bit. That legal action will, of course, be paid for with NRA members’ money.
For those who might not be familiar with Josh Powell, that’s not surprising. Powell appeared on the NRA scene, seemingly out of the blue, just a few years ago. Few people in the industry were familiar with him and virtually no one within the rights movement knew his name. Powell appeared on the NRA Nominating Committee’s slate of candidates for the Board in 2013, for the 2014 election. He was elected as one of the establishment candidates, but not long thereafter, he was offered a job in Headquarters as LaPierre’s right-hand man. Then, a couple of years later, in 2017, LaPierre fired the Executive Director of General Operations, Kyle Weaver. Weaver had worked his way up through the ranks of the NRA, as a dedicated, hard-working, true believer, and had begun to be mentioned as a possible successor to Wayne. Then suddenly, he was gone and Powell was being touted as the heir apparent. The only explanation LaPierre offered to Board members who asked about Weaver’s sudden departure, was that he couldn’t talk about it yet, but that it “had to be done,” and he’d disclose everything soon.
Soon never came, and to my knowledge, no explanation has ever been given as to why Weaver, the number two man in the entire NRA operation, had been summarily fired. What we do know is that Weaver appears to have continued receiving his full, $720,000 annual compensation for at least two years after leaving NRA. He now serves as Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Weaver was initially replaced by then-Deputy Director of General Operations, Joe DeBergalis, who was also recruited from the Board of Directors. He appears to have been paid $368,000 as Deputy Director, then $461,000 as Acting Director of General Operations, until he was replaced by LaPierre’s Chief of Staff, Josh Powell, who was already pulling down over $711,000. That jumped to about $920,000 after Powell took over General Operations.
Powell appears to be one of those guys with a reverse-Midas touch, as in everything he touches turns into something exactly the opposite of gold. He started in the outdoors industry in the catalog business, selling high-end “safari” and “expedition” clothing. He appears to have tried that in a couple of different iterations, all of which failed, leaving a trail of lawsuits and bankruptcies in his wake. At NRA, Powell took charge of the new NRA Carry Guard program, immediately stepping in excrement when he barred the US Concealed Carry Association and other groups that offered concealed carry insurance, from exhibiting at the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits. That created quite a brouhaha and was widely seen as petty and vindictive.
Things went downhill from there, with New York, then Washington State and then several other states, throwing penalty flags on Carry Guard and the sales and marketing practices being employed by NRA and its contractors. This led to a variety of fines, penalties, and lawsuits, costing NRA tens of millions of dollars. New York led the charge, but overplayed their hand, threatening any business that did business with the NRA. Their heavy-handed tactics were so egregious that even the ACLU came to NRA’s defense. This led to NRA suing New York and its governor, Andrew Cuomo. That suit is ongoing and has been ridiculously expensive for the Association.
Powell was never well-liked by NRA staffers or the Board of Directors. While he was often mentioned as being groomed to take the EVP position if Wayne decided to retire, several Directors told me in no uncertain terms that they would never allow that to happen. The only people Powell actually seemed to get along with were Wayne, his new attorney, Bill Brewer, and former NRA President Pete Brownell.
The revelations in Powell’s book could be interesting, after all, he was very close to LaPierre during a pivotal and contentious time, so there’s really no telling what sort of information he might have been privy to, but it seems unlikely that there would be a large enough market for the book to make it worth walking away from, what was probably better than a million-dollar severance package.
I’m hoping to procure an advance copy of the book, and I’ll let you know what I find.