By Dan Gifford
There's simply no other way to say what must be said about the National
Rifle Association's current predicament. In sum, the NRA's financial and
public relations (PR) ailments are so glaringly plain it's difficult to
understand how they could have been allowed to happen or continue sans
something akin to criminal intent. Phrased another way, it appears a
number of top executives have turned the NRA into a cult of personality
gravy train on which they are livin' rather large.
As an award winning former network investigative reporter specializing
in financial fraud and official corruption, I'd noticed the red flags of
corruption like high executive lifestyles and arrogance years before
having my suspicions confirmed by political media consultants like Roger
Stone and his late partner, Greg Stevens. Their insider information
confirmed the NRA had become a cult of personality that allowed
Executive Director Wayne LaPierre to lie to the NRA board and soak the
organization for the benefit of himself and his buddies at the NRA's
advertising and PR firm, Ackerman-McQueen (AQ).
The NRA board had told LaPierre to end the relationship with AQ during
the mid 1990s after catching the scent of gross AQ overcharges and other
corruptions. So LaPierre literally did as told. He dropped AQ and hired
the Mercury Group (MG) advertising agency. What he didn't tell the board
was that MG was wholly owned by AQ. Later, at the behest of some NRA
board members, I mentioned that duplicity in publications such as
Chronicles. Chicanery of that sort is potentially ruinous to the NRA's
tax-exempt status existence and possibly its existence at all.
Technically, the NRA's present money problems are the result of fund
raising shortfalls. But it's the NRA's own bloated to corruption level
executive salaries, perks and unconscionable payment of AQ's high fees
that have made the NRA's massive robo call campaigns and discounted
memberships necessary as a way to acquire cash. The result is an NRA
that is a classic case of ye olde teeter totter money rhyme that when
one's outgo exceeds one's income, one's upkeep becomes one's downfall.
The NRA's income is further pinched by hostile government and activist
actions. All that and more is now being chewed over and possibly
resolved by litigation and legislation.
Other issues regarding the face the NRA presents to the public need to
be resolved by its 76 member board. That's way too large a body, in my
opinion, for effective association governance of any NRA money
corruptions or its boneheaded public relations practices that have
created nigh impossible to change negative public perceptions that are
the stuff of Saturday Night Live mockery.
Among the many examples, there was the NRA TV episode that showed
its AQ public relations strategist, Tony Makris, shoot an elephant in
the face and then toast the kill with champaign. The champaign toast has
apparently been scrubbed from the internet leaving only great white
hunter Makris (left) and his guide proudly standing by the dead
pachyderm. Public outrage canceled the TV show but the anger continues.
It's a classic example of NRA cultural tone deafness made worse by
Makris' incomprehensible response.
MAKRIS WITH DEAD ELEPHANT
Makris said his critic's outrage was a “very unique form of animal
racism” akin to Hitler's racial doctrine. "[T]hey said but [elephants
are] so big and special and they're smarter," Makris said. "And I went,
you know, Hitler would have said the same thing."
In another example of NRA convoluted thought, association spokesperson
Dana Loesche dressed Thomas the Tank Engine, the children's cartoon
character, in Ku Klux Klan robes on her NRATV show to make a point that
is equally as befuddling as Makris'.
LOESCH NRA TV
Loesch blasted "Thomas & Friends" for partnering with the United Nations
to increase diversity on the program by introducing two new female
characters, one of which was painted with an African-inspired face. She
then showed them on screen wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods while on flaming
train tracks. "That's where it gets really strange to me, said Loesch.
"Am I to understand this entire time that Thomas and his trains were
white? Because they all have gray faces. How do you bring ethnic
diversity? I mean, they had to paint what I guess they thought was some
sort of African pattern on the side of Nia's engine."
Loesch appeared as the NRA's spokesperson shortly after several
association board members had asked me for suggestions about shaping up
the NRA's media image. I don't know if my points for a new spokesperson
had anything to do with her hiring or whether it was the fact that she's
a good looking woman someone at AQ, her actual employer, was smitten
with. If that's it, it's a whole lotta smitten since she's paid over a
million per year by AQ, according to published accounts. Whatever the
reason she was hired, Loesch is the wrong face for the NRA in today's
culture. So is Wayne LaPierre.
The right face for the NRA is one that doesn't fit LaPierre's pop
culture stereotype of the angry white male nor his projected anger of
insecurity. That latter one leads to a bit of favored Freudian sexual
association smuggery anti-Second activists love to make.
I have never met LaPierre, but both times I saw him speak, he entered
the room surrounded by men in blue blazers. He then left their
protection to mount the stage where he gave an angry rant to the shilled
cheers of his blazered entourage. When finished, he did what in my
sideshow working days was called the walk of indignation into the
protection of his blazered entourage which protected him from contact
with attendees as it whisked him outta the room. Most have seen that
walk shtick before without realizing it has several purposes. Those can
range from shaming an audience into handing over more money to a faux
intimidation to hide insecurity, which I suspect LaPierre has in large
LaPierre must be kept from public view if the NRA is to cease being an
attackable lampoon and successfully advocate for a portion of the
Constitution the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on which I was a
five year board member, foolishly won't defend. What is the face the NRA
needs? Take a look at the faces of those responsible for the 2nd
Amendment's major Supreme Court gains as an individual right equal to
The late Don B. Kates was a civil rights attorney with radical lawyer
William Kunstler and a former law professor. Kates was a "Freedom Rider"
against segregation in Mississippi. Both he and his wife were arrested
and suffered mightily in jail there. That background gave Kates the
credibility with the liberal-left establishment that controls academia
to shame its esteemed anti-Second law professors into admitting that the
Second guarantees an individual right to guns with which to defend
themselves against the sort of government tyranny blacks experienced.
Thanks to Kates, many ivory tower eggheads saw the Second was an
individual right that is as vital to American's scheme of individual
freedom as the rest of the Constitution they defend. Because of Kates'
efforts, those professors wrote law reviews that formed the intellectual
foundation for future 2nd gains.
ROBERT LEVY CSPAN
The big future gain came when PhD Robert Levy of the libertarian Cato
Institute think tank got the case before the Supreme Court that
established the 2nd Amendment as an individual right.
Both Kates and Levy had something going for them nobody I am aware of at
the NRA has. They both had academic and street cred with the
liberal-left establishment that controls academia and the media. Neither
could be dismissed outright or falsely smeared as right wing, racist nut
cases as can Loesch, Makris or LaPierre. that means none of them or
anyone like them should be the face of the NRA if it really wants to
protect Second Amendment and other constitutional rights.
The person the NRA should have as its face, as I have noted in other
venues, is a person with serious civil libertarian academic cred and the
institutional relationships that go with that. In addition, the NRA face
should be one with the gravitas to hold center stage and have a sharp
tongue to put down the disingenuous sophomoric commentary that
characterizes so much anti Second sniping.
My choice would be a pro-Second British barrister (and yes, there are
some) who is not overbearing, but who can weaponize both rhetoric and
the natural deference we American colonists somehow feel toward our
cousins from the mother country. In addition, this ideal NRA face should
be capable of producing pointed op-eds and serious, academic quality
prose about law and history in support of constitutional Rights --
particularly Rights as an interwoven barrier against the totalitarian
desires of the politically powerful and clever. Finally, this face
should be able to socialize in favored power centers and have the
ability to make friends, and more friends, and still more friends.
Start the casting call!
Dan Gifford is a national Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated film producer
and former reporter for CNN, The MacNeil Lehrer News Hour and ABC News.