The National Rifle Association is facing collapse. Membership is plummeting. Investigations are opening. And victims of gun violence are holding the organization accountable for deaths all across the country.
All of this came to a head on Saturday during the NRA convention in Indianapolis, where a comedy of errors eventually led to the announcement that the gun group’s president, Oliver North, would not seek reelection.
Here’s how the NRA got to that point:
A Lack Of Fear Leads To A Lack Of Money
In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, the NRA’s then-president, Wayne LaPierre, blamed violent video games for the shooting and had the gall to suggest that more guns in school would have stopped the shooter.
In the years following, the NRA pushed hard against President Barack Obama’s ultimately failed plan to pass meaningful gun legislation. “Barack Obama Wants To Unilaterally Strip Your Gun Rights” read a threatening headline from an article by the NRA’s legal arm in 2016.
Framing Obama as an existential threat to gun rights worked for the NRA. Gun advocates who feared Obama was actively trying to disarm them gave the group enough money to spend more than $400 million to get President Donald Trump elected in 2016 — as much as the NRA had spent in every prior election combined going back to 1992, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But with Trump elected, there wasn’t the same manufactured fear for the NRA to exploit. As Vox pointed out, the group became a victim of its own success: In 2017, it reported a loss of $55 million in income as membership plummeted.
The NRA’s slowly declining income, along with the steady increase of mass shootings, led gun control groups to outspend the NRA in the 2018 midterm elections in which Democrats took control of the House.
A Sandy Hook Conspiracist Hidden In The Ranks
After the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead, an NRA official emailed a prominent Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist to call the shooting into question, a HuffPost investigation found.
NRA officer Mark Richardson emailed Wolfgang Halbig, a notorious harasser of Sandy Hook victims’ parents, a day after the Parkland shooting to falsely suggest there was a second shooter.
“Just like [Sandy Hook], there is so much more to this story,” Richardson said in an email obtained by HuffPost. “Twenty children and six adults were killed during the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. “[The Parkland shooter] was not alone.” He sent the email from his official NRA email address.
When HuffPost confronted him, Richardson doubled down, calling the possibility of a second shooter a “legitimate question.”
And while the NRA released a statement calling the conspiracies “insane,” the group stopped short of saying it would fire Richardson (his work email and phone number are no longer active).
A Massive Report Shows Financial Misdeeds
In a report released by The Trace in conjunction with The New Yorker earlier this month, reporter Mike Spies detailed internal documents and state filings from the NRA that illustrate the depth of the financial chasm it’s in.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were siphoned off to top executives and vendors, according to the report. And public relations firm Ackerman McQueen, which has worked with the NRA since the 1970s, appears to have its hands tight around the group’s neck. Tax filings for 2017 reveal that the NRA paid Ackerman McQueen more than $40 million that year.
The NRA took steps to cut down on spending in 2018 by doing away with free coffee and water coolers for employees at its Virginia headquarters. That was apparently not enough to stop the bleeding.
The group’s shady business practices led Marc Owens, former head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises, to tell The Trace that the “litany of red flags is just extraordinary” and added that without its tax-exempt status, the NRA would “likely not survive.”
An Attempted Overthrow Backfires
During the NRA’s convention on Friday, Trump took the stage to falsely claim he had stopped a “coup” against his presidency. It wasn’t true but foreshadowed an actual overthrow attempt by top NRA officials the following day.
In a surreal scene during Saturday’s convention, the NRA’s first vice president, Richard Childress, timidly read a letter from the group’s president, Oliver North, saying North would not seek reelection.
“I hope to be with you today as NRA president endorsed for reelection. I’m now informed that that will not happen,” North, who did not attend the convention on Saturday, wrote in the letter.
Following The Trace’s report that he was deep in bed with Ackerman McQueen, North had attempted to unseat top NRA executive Wayne LaPierre. LaPierre said he had received a letter from North on Thursday that threatened to go to the board with damaging information on him.
“The extortion was simple: resign or there will be destructive allegations made against me and the NRA,” LaPierre wrote in a letter to the board. “Alarmed and disgusted, I refused the offer.”
North’s plan backfired. The board instead ousted him, not LaPierre.
“Wayne LaPierre works for the NRA,” Marion Hammer, a former NRA president, told The Associated Press. “His loyalty is to the NRA. Oliver North is employed by Ackerman McQueen, a vendor of the NRA. And it is clear that his loyalty is to Ackerman McQueen.”
Blood In The Water
The NRA’s recent embarrassments could pale in comparison to what happens next.
Following The Trace’s report, Shannon Watts of the gun safety group Moms Demand Action said its parent organization, Everytown, had filed a complaint with the IRS over the NRA’s tax-exempt status.
Everytown “is calling on the IRS, Congress, and state charities regulators to investigate the [NRA], its officers and board members to determine if a pattern of financial mismanagement and self-dealing is so pervasive as to jeopardize their tax-exempt charity status,” Watts said in a Twitter thread.
The New York attorney general’s office said it was also launching an investigation into the group, which could further threaten its tax-exempt status.
“As part of this investigation, the Attorney General has issued subpoenas,” a spokesperson for New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement to CNN on Saturday.
And for all of the NRA’s work putting Trump in office, the president has only mustered a couple of tweets on Monday calling the investigation into the group “illegal” and “unfair.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) didn’t seem too concerned by Trump’s whining, according to a statement he released Monday:
“Unlike you, President Trump, New York is not afraid to stand up to the NRA.”