written by Valerie Morales
Seventeen months ago, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch made the news. She appeared at the CPAC conference in Maryland in front of an enthusiastic audience of conservatives. Boldly she told them- as if she was fluent in racial normalities- that the media was hypocritical. They loved crying white mothers but ignored grieving black ones. Her conflation of grief and preference went viral, not because it wasn’t true. But, because it was.
The messenger matters though. It was easier for Dana Loesch to curate racial shame with a tsk tsk rather than immersing herself in the grimy pool of gun violence. It is, as we have come to expect from the NRA, nothing more than political gamesmanship and using one group to guilt another group. That Loesch failed to identify the roots of white privilege and black sorrow illustrated her complicity.
And one other thing. Invisible beneath Loesch’s fiery rhetoric was what she was protecting: a ramshackle NRA infrastructure, a bleeding wound.
Some seventeen months after Loesch’s self-serving magniloquence, the NRA is an organization in chaos as leadership has fractured, millions of dollars have been misspent, trust is crumbling, and for the first time in what feels like eons, there is a workable strategy to bring the NRA to its knees by forcing them to dissolve. And it all may come crashing down because of a Brooklyn woman who got her law degree at Howard University.
We need more women with fire in their belly. Don’t be paralyzed by fear-turn your high heels on, put your red bottoms up, and just go seize it” (Letitia James, NY Attorney General)
Tish James doesn’t suffer fools. When she became Attorney General of New York she put Donald Trump on notice. Every part of The Trump Organization will be investigated, and her powers are broad via The Martin Act of 1921 that allows her to investigate any financial transaction that takes place in the state. Trump can tweet from here to kingdom come but she won’t be bullied. But, it is what Tish James is doing to the NRA that has rattled nerves. She is going after them because, well, she can. And God is in the details.
The charter for the NRA was written in New York in 1871 and it describes the organization as a charity, not a lobbying group. Charities are not allowed to engage in political activity. But the NRA as we know it is a political lobbying organization, if not by the mission, then by the behavior. So, are they perpetuating tax fraud? Have they manipulated their tax-exempt status for their own prurient needs, this organization of men? That is the Tish James investigation.
Some history. In 1975, the NRA created the Institute for Legislative Action. They then formed the Political Victory Fund to influence lawmakers with financial benefits. After 1991, when lobbyist Wayne LaPierre was named executive vice-president, the focus was the Clinton administration’s gun control policies. The NRA was officially partisan. It was political.
The first president they endorsed was Ronald Reagan. In the 2008 elections, they spent $40 million including $10 million to defeat Barack Obama. In 2012, 88% of Republicans and 11% of Democrats received a contribution. In 2013, 51% of Congress had received a donation. In 2016, the NRA raised $366 million and spent $412 million for political reasons.
Brooklyn born Letitia James has the organization nervous. She is the first black woman attorney general in the state of New York and she is a true crusader intent on making the powerful accountable. She was an NYC Council member for over a decade, representing Brooklyn. She received her law degree from Howard and was a public defender, representing those with inadequate financial resources, the ones who mass incarceration (as policy) victimizes. She worked with stressed constituents who complained about predatory lenders. It has set her up nicely in her exhausting battle with the NRA. They are the predator no one has been able to strangle.
Jessica, aged 6. Olivia, aged 6. Avielle, aged 6. Dylan, aged 6. Madeleine, aged 6. Jesse, aged 6. Grace, aged 7. Noah, aged 6. Ana, aged 6. Emilie, aged 6. Charlotte, aged 6. Chase, aged 7. Jack, aged 6. Benjamin, aged 6. Catherine, aged 6. Josephine, aged 7. Daniel, aged 7. James Mattioli, aged 6. Caroline, age 6. Allison age, 6. Victoria, aged 27. Lauren, aged 30. Dawn, aged 47. Mary, aged 56. Rachel, aged 29. Anne Marie, age 52. Nancy, age 52.
When Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, after murdering his mother Nancy, he was carrying with him, by default, the moral equivalency of the National Rifle Association. Before that moment the NRA had spent millions making it possible for the Lanzas of the world to acquire and stockpile assault weapons to use at their convenience. Lanza’s cruelty and slaughter highlighted the NRA’s greed. The mentally unhinged, the unstable, the defiantly cruel, the toxic, had at their disposal weapons that could slaughter dozens within minutes because they paid for them. The moral argument has always been obvious. But the patriarchal leaders of the NRA and their publicity machine Ackerman McQueen (who employed Dana Loesch) were consistently unapologetic towards victims of gun violence, particularly abused wives and parents, suburban teenagers, and black inner-city innocents.
Po Murray, chairwoman of Newton Action Alliance, a former Sandy Hook parent said, “the NRA’s position after Sandy Hook was completely insensitive and so out of touch when we were going through such a significant amount of trauma.”
2,400 days ago when 1st graders lay in their own blood, slain without remorse, like a nerve to the light the paganism of the NRA was exposed. The NRA worshipped dual Gods: money and guns. Since that catastrophic moment of insidious grief when the NRA veil was pulled back- a liberating moment for us to see who and what they were- their internal bickering over messaging, money, and a coup attempt, all rooted in second amendment narcissism, has fragmented the organization into jagged pieces.
Recently revealed documents leave an impression of NRA greed and back door deal-making. Consider that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre billed Ackerman McQueen $70,000 for a trip to the Bahamas, just weeks after Sandy Hook when the nation was in a frozen shock. The NRA explained it as a business expense, that LaPierre’s job was to meet with donors and fundraisers. According to documents, LaPierre also billed Ackerman McQueen $275,00 for his wardrobe and $18,000 for a driver when he was in Europe. According to the NY Times, the NRA had to depend on $200 million dollars in cash infusions to balance the finances
Quiet as it was kept, a holy war was brewing inside the 150-year-old NRA. Except it wasn’t that holy.
The annual conference in Indianapolis registered a 9.6 on the Richter Scale of oh damn, things are a mess in the NRA. NRA President Oliver North didn’t seek another term. Worse, North didn’t even attend the conference. His stunning remarks came via a letter and he let his empty chair be his silent scream.
After North’s announcement, NRA members and donors fell into a stony silence of disbelief and for some, outrage. For months, they had read and absorbed the lurid stories about secret deals within the upper echelon of Ackerman McQueen, and inane spending. After the North bombshell, a group of members proposed a resolution. They were in this very public mess because CEO and VP Wayne LaPierre was irresponsible. If North wasn’t going to be there, they wanted LaPierre gone too.
The resolution went nowhere but there was a very public debate that illustrated how far the NRA has plummeted. Members were angry and vocal. The public beating of the NRA in the press, not because they were an organization that eroticizes guns, but because the senior leadership lusts after money and stuff, and has mismanaged other people’s money and stuff, was a fireable offense. Someone had to be accountable. The anger was transparent in the room. One member who supported LaPierre called it a hanging. The dissonance was heady. North’s exit brought the members to near-anarchy, but dead children could only elicit polite shrugs.
Separate from North being forced out, LaPierre surviving a palace coup, and negative press in NRA friendly publications, donations have leveled off and the NRA has had to manage their debits and credits with cash infusions. They were outspent in the mid-terms by gun control advocates which points to a softening of their message, a quieting of their bully pulpit.
Loyal sycophant Christopher W. Cox was suspended which turned into resignation. Cox was the chief lobbyist for the NRA for the past 17 years. He was accused of supporting the coup against LaPierre. Cox’s resignation was a huge blow because Cox has deep relationships with donors and fundraisers. He was the one who announced the NRA’s support of candidate Donald Trump in 2016. He’s not easily replaced.
Then came the lawsuits. The NRA sued Ackerman McQueen citing a refusal to turn over financial documents related to fiscal mismanagement. They also questioned the billing of $40 million to Ackerman McQueen in 2017.
Ackerman McQueen sued the NRA in a countersuit, implying that the NRA was using a “frivolous” reason to end a contract. The questions in pretrial depositions will most likely include financial mismanagement, greedy behavior, and the why of massive legal fees.
Cleaning house affected NRATV. The content had troubled executives for awhile. They felt it strayed too far afield from second amendment issues. They shut it down in June and relieved Dana Loesch of her duties on their behalf.
Suddenly, the NRA was vulnerable.
When she was a Public Advocate, Tish James went after gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson and their enablers. TD Bank had given the gun manufacturer over $300 million in loans and James encouraged customers to protest by severing ties with the bank. She then asked the SEC to investigate Smith & Wesson who James targeted because Smith & Wesson guns had been used in high profile killings.
Specifically, James wanted the information Smith & Wesson was shielding from investors, such as how many of their guns were responsible for crimes, what steps they were taking to prevent their products from being used in crimes, and what was their strategy for “bad apple” gun dealers.
Appropriately, Trump has gone after Tish James for trying to “destroy the NRA”. But in this particular instance, Trump is not being his normal over-reactive self. It is a very real possibility that Tish James destroys the NRA.
If the NRA is found to have violated their non-exempt tax status, Tish James can remove the board of directors. Or, force the NRA to settle a large punishment sum. Or, in the extreme, force them to dissolve altogether. She has already sent the NRA a letter instructing them to preserve all financial documents. She followed that up with subpoenas. The NRA has been told by advisors to prepare for dissolution.
Because they abused their non-exempt charity benefit the NRA may be ruined. But that’s not why children are dead. Children are dead because the NRA embraced guns everywhere, even in the hands of the evil and sick. They celebrated ownership while distancing themselves from consequences.
Without remorse, they ignored the legacy of Sandy Hook and what it represented and the consequence of dead 6 and 7-year-olds. Now it is their turn to pay their penance. They are forced to atone by losing what they cherished, just as the Sandy Hook parents lost what they cherished. It’s not the same cost, not nearly the same. But, even as it is not everything, it is something.
With the fate of the NRA in the hands of Letitia James, what remains for the rest of us is a caption nearly seven years old: Grief. Horror. Catastrophe. But not politics. The epilogue of Sandy Hook is that children were not loved as much as gun objects were adored. Guns had a higher relevance and agency in the culture than innocence and perfection.
As a choice- children or guns?- it was never equal.
And so now that the earth has started to shift back to normal, we can stand for the voiceless and speak for the invisible. The NRA and their predation is no longer that light on a hill that never wanes to dark. Their selfishness has come full circle, a self-inflicted wound exposing it all to the public. Greed here and lust there, and empathy nowhere.
It makes this near NRA plunge off a cliff somewhat satisfying. They denied justice, accountability, and empathy to the parents of dead 6 and 7-year-olds. They mocked the nation’s misery and ignored their complicity and were greedy to a fault. They trafficked in graves, in weeping mothers of all colors, and in blood. It’s inescapable, so many NRA hands shepherding the dead. And that’s the beautiful biblical irony of the NRA influx in the summer of 2019. You harvest what you plant. Dirt with a stench or petals kissed by the sun. Death or life. Kindness or tragedy.