INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — NRA President Oliver North lost a power struggle Saturday inside the hierarchy of the organization during its annual conference in Indianapolis and announced he would not be returning as the gun group’s leader.
In a letter read to the NRA’s Annual Meeting of Members at the Indiana Convention Center, North wrote: “Please know that I hoped to be with you today as NRA president endorsed re-election. I’m now informed that will not happen.”
The letter was read by NRA 1st Vice President Richard Childress, who told the audience inside the Sagamore Ballroom, “I just found out last night at seven o’clock that I would be standing here standing in for the president.”
At the head table on the stage in front of the NRA members sat Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre next to an empty chair with a placard indicating that was to be North’s seat.
In a letter published by the Wall Street Journal Friday evening, LaPierre informed the group’s 75-member Board of Directors that North called on him to step down amid lawsuits and allegations of misspending.
LaPierre characterized North’s demand as, “styled, in the parlance of extortionists, as an offer I couldn’t refuse. I refused it.”
Following the reading of North’s letter to the membership, the meeting carried on as usual, with LaPierre ignoring the controversy and instead launching into broadsides aimed at the State of New York for its investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status.
It wasn’t until Childress called for a resolution to adjourn that the membership erupted from the floor in an internal dispute that reflected the pent up frustrations of the NRA’s rank-and-file with its longtime entrenched leadership.
“We have a right to be heard, every member, and adjourning in advance of affording us that right is a violation of the bylaws,” said Warren Prince, an NRA member from Pennsylvania.
“And I demand the right to be heard,” shouted Joshua Prince, who described himself as a “Million Dollar Donor.”
Childress appeared clearly befuddled by his unexpected ascension to the podium and repeatedly leaned on his parliamentarian over the course of the next hour. Debate raged over secrecy, questionable spending, media scrutiny and the very existence of the organization.
Frank Tate, a member from Wayne, Pennsylvania, put forth a resolution that listed a litany of financial impropriety and self-interest dealing allegations before declaring: “Therefore be it resolved on this 27th day of April, 2019, the members… do hereby express our disappointment and frustration and lack of confidence in Wayne LaPierre’s ability to guide the Association out of the dangerous mess he has created and call for his immediate resignation. And be it further resolved that we members here gathered also have no confidence in members of the NRA Board of Directors who serve on the audit committee, the finance committee and the executive committee who were directly tasked with oversight of the operations of the organization and its finances and failed to identify and correct these long-running discrepancies that have cost our association tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars and put it in such a precarious position.”
The resolution asked that its language be printed in the NRA’s official journal within six months.
“We’re in a fight for our lives. We don’t need the internal distraction. We need to be focused externally on winning battles, not internally cleaning up messes,” said Tate from the floor.
Joshua Prince returned to the microphone to ask whether the NRA board could investigate its longtime leader of four decades and, in effect, itself.
“There is a conflict with the Board addressing these issues as members of the Board, even in the statement of Oliver North, are involved in these self-dealing issues. Therefore the board cannot consider this matter,” he said. “It is for the members, we, the NRA members, to consider these issues.”
While the inquiries of the disaffected members was met with widespread support, the response was not nearly unanimous.
The members were warned that some of North’s allegations involved ongoing litigation and would be subject to discretion or debate only during an executive session.
“If this is a matter that should not be discussed in front of the media,” said Adam Kraut of Pennsylvania, “perhaps we should ask the media to leave the room because last I looked, the sign outside said this was a meeting of the members. So I would ask, Mr. Vice Chairman, that we would ask the media to leave the room, and we would have the debate that the members deserve to have.”
The only media allowed in the room were the cameras from NRATV, which live-streamed the meeting on its website.
“Anything that is said here today is going to be public knowledge,” said Tom King of New York. “Therefore I feel going into executive session is not a method of keeping this out of the media, and it should be given to the various committees of the NRA to handle.”
“There is clearly an issue at hand with the letter from Lieutenant Colonel North right at the start of this meeting,” said NRA Member Jonathan Blattman. “This is in the public. This is in the media already. Our dirty laundry is being aired.”
Legendary NRA lobbyist and former president Marion Hammer took the microphone to counsel against the public family feud.
“The lifeblood of this organization is on the line," Hammer said. "We are under attack from without. We do not need to be under attack from within.”
Another member from Alabama argued that the NRA was in its “best financial state ever,” with 5.5 million dues-paying members.
“All this yickety yack is a diversion,” he said.
A member from Kentucky said, “Everyone wants the truth.” A Colorado man professed his support for the organization but wondered where the NRA was during recent battles at the statehouse in Denver to curb gun rights.
One member referred to recent media reports of NRA infighting and allegations of misspending and declared that press coverage was essential to the debate because organizational leadership was “secretive.”
Finally, the question was called to end the raucous meeting. The resolution of dissatisfaction, specifically with LaPierre and the directors, was referred to the Board and its various committees for investigation.
State Senator Jack Sandlin, a Republican from Indianapolis and former Indianapolis Police Department commander, is a lifetime NRA member.
“I would say that the NRA, like any other organization that stands as a not-for-profit entity in our country, should have relatively open accountability to its members, and I’m looking forward to somebody in the organization stepping up and saying, ‘We’re going to take a look and give our members our report,’” Sandlin said.
During a pro-2nd Amendment rally at the statehouse, NRA member Ricky Rowland of Edinburg said he was unaware of the NRA leadership infighting but was interested in knowing how his dues were being spent.
“I understand people being upset wanting to know what’s going on and wanting to know where the money is going, if there’s faults and there’s things going on that’s not being showed to everybody,” Rowland said.
In reaction to the NRA internal battle in Indianapolis, Rachel Guglielmo of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, said, “We are definitely taking note with interest at the way that NRA leadership is falling upon each other, but we are very focused on our ongoing organizing work that is going to provide the counterweight to the problems raised by the NRA leadership over time.”
Legendary rocker and NRA Board Member Ted Nugent was among those in attendance at the members meeting.
Here is the full text of Tate's resolution:
Whereas the National Rifle Association exists for the benefit of its members and has a long illustrious history as the nation’s premier provider of firearms training and competition and as our country’s oldest and most effective civil rights organization and;
Whereas the various missions of the NRA are dependent upon the hard work and generosity of our members and volunteers who donate countless hours and tens of millions of dollars a year to help to defend our rights and sustain our long tradition of shooting, hunting, in defense of self, family and country and;
Whereas the NRA is chartered in the state of New York and subject to the laws of that state and authority of the governor and attorney general of that state who have declared their desire and intention to destroy our organization and;
Whereas recent revelations of questionable business and financial practices within the NRA regarding their dealings with various vendors and contractors who have received tens of millions of dollars from the NRA without clear oversight leading to a lawsuit against one vendor whom the NRA paid more than $40 million in 2017 and;
Whereas the NRA has filed a lawsuit against some of those vendors admitting they have paid large sums of the vendors money without detailed contracts, proper invoicing or anyway to effectively determine what was received in exchange for that money, and;
Whereas very similar issues were raised over 20 years ago involving the same vendor but were squelched and ignored and;
Whereas Wayne LaPierre was the executive vice president of the NRA 20 years ago when these issues were originally raised and actively opposed and blocked any investigation or corrective action at that time and during his long tenure as EVP of NRA has often supported and defended this vendor, their practices and other vendors and contractors who have similarly received awards from the NRA without demonstrating any substantial return on our investment and;
Whereas these highly suspect practices and failure to safeguard the assets of the association and its members have created serious vulnerabilities that can and almost certainly will be exploited by the hostile attorney general of New York and could result in the dismantling of the entire organization and;
Whereas the ultimate responsibility for the situation for the last 20 years rests with the executive vice president of the association Wayne LaPierre who receives over $1.5 million from the association every year and is reported to have a clause in his contract obligating the NRA to continue paying him the same amount as speaker and consultant after he leaves the NRA,
Therefore be it resolved on this 27th day of April 2019 the members of the National Rifle Association of America here gathered at the annual meeting of members in Indianapolis, Indiana, do hereby express our disappointment and frustration and lack of confidence in Wayne LaPierre’s ability to guide the association out of the dangerous mess he has created and call for his immediate resignation and be it further resolved that we members here gathered also have no confidence in members of the NRA Board of Directors who serve on the audit committee, the finance committee and the executive committee who were directly tasked with oversight of the operations of the organization and its finances and failed to identify and correct these long running discrepancies that have cost our association tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars and put it in such a precarious position and be it further resolved that a copy of this resolution and a brief description of its reception and passage by this body should be prominently published in the official journal of the association within six months of adjournment of this meeting.