This week, America has been taken aback by the National Rifle Association's ad politicizing President Obama's daughters. With this latest episode, it's become patently obvious that unhinged attacks are the NRA leadership's calling card. As pundits cover the obstructionism and handwringing of high-profile NRA executives like David Keene, it's important to take a look at lesser-known NRA leaders and understand just how far to the fringe the organization has moved in recent decades.
New investigative reporting by Frank Smyth in Mother Jones -- that complements my organization's Meet the NRA website -- reveals the NRA's eerie connection to the Newtown tragedy. Smyth discovered that the NRA nominating committee that plays a key role in deciding who is on the NRA's board is run by Newtown resident Patricia Clark, and also includes George K. Kollitides II, the chief executive of the company that made the AR-15 used in the shooting.
Then there is board member and .50-caliber sniper rifle manufacturer Ronnie G. Barrett, who provides further evidence that the NRA's leadership is committed to pushing unrestricted civilian access to weapons that belong on the battlefield. Guys like Kollitides and Barrett split the money with the NRA and America gets homicidal killers armed to inflict maximum damage.
Beyond its financial links to makers of military-style weapons, the NRA's leadership is made up of the worst types of extremists that America's conservative movement has to offer.
The threatening personal attacks of long-time board member Ted Nugent are both shocking and well documented. Nugent's election year message to "ride into the battlefield and chop [Democrats'] heads off in November" earned him a visit from the Secret Service, but no condemnation whatsoever from the NRA. Nugent's violent vitriol has been coming nonstop for decades, yet there's every reason to believe he'll be singing his "I Am the NRA" anthem at their 2013 annual meeting.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, now nationally known for his surreal post-Newtown press conference, is little better than Nugent. LaPierre openly foments anger at federal officials, having once referred to law enforcement agents at "jack-booted thugs." He also accused former President Bill Clinton of having "blood on his hands" for signing important gun violence prevention legislation into law.
LaPierre's inflammatory rhetoric is also openly insurrectionist. "We will never surrender our guns," LaPierre told the NRA convention in 2012. "When all is said and done, we may have nothing left but our gun rights. But that's the one right that gives us a fighting chance to reclaim freedoms lost."
LaPierre, however, looks like milquetoast next to NRA board member Bob Brown. Brown is the editor, publisher, and founder of Soldier of Fortune magazine. From the early '80s to the early '90s, nearly half a dozen contract murders were linked to ads run in the magazine. During this period, Soldier of Fortune also published a newsletter called The Resister, which was inspired by the siege at Ruby Ridge (where federal officials shot and killed two members of a white separatist family and a U.S. Marshal was shot dead). Timothy McVeigh was carrying a copy of The Resister when he was arrested for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
If Brown doesn't scare you, NRA board member Wayne Anthony Ross will disgust you. Ross was once nominated by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be the state's attorney general, but the state's legislature rejected his nomination when past controversial statements by him were made public.
At a meeting of Dads Against Discrimination at a Denny's restaurant, Ross was allegedly overheard saying, "If a guy can't rape his wife, who's he gonna rape?" and "There wouldn't be an issue with domestic violence if women would learn to keep their mouth shut." Alaska's former Public Safety Commissioner called on Ross to withdraw his nomination for attorney general in a letter saying, "Ross speak[s] and act[s] like the kind of bully I met many times when responding to domestic violence calls."
Ross has also called gay Americans "degenerates." On a proposal to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, he commented, "This bill seems to give extra rights to a group whose lifestyle was a crime only a few years ago, and whose beliefs are certainly immoral in the eyes of anyone with some semblance of intelligence and moral character."
And remember Oliver North, the National Security Council employee who was convicted for illegally selling arms to the Iranians and funneling the money to the contra rebels in Nicaragua? Yep... he's an NRA board member, too.
You get the idea, and there's far more to be found at MeetTheNRA.org. The bottom line is that the leaders of today's NRA are about promoting gun industry profits and an insurrectionist ideology that would have made our Founders' toes curl. Meanwhile, polling shows that the NRA's members are overwhelmingly open to commonsense gun regulation.
With the public finally learning more about the gun lobby, legislators who stick with the NRA's extremist leadership need to see the writing on the wall: They will be judged by the company that they keep.