The National Rifle Association (NRA) remains absolutely giddy over U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) aggressive investigation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) through the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. The investigation centers on a botched 2010 operation by the Phoenix Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) dubbed "Fast and Furious." In an attempt to bust high-level gun traffickers within the Mexican drug cartels, the division allowed approximately 2,000 guns to "walk" from gun stores in Arizona. Agents then lost track of the whereabouts of many of these guns, which began to flow into Mexico -- including two that were found at the scene of a shootout where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed.
Although we don't know all the facts yet, it's clear that "Fast and Furious" was an ill-conceived and reckless operation -- and it may have cost lives. It also cost two high-level officials their jobs -- on August 30, ATF acting director Kenneth Melson and U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke announced their resignations. New leadership can help refocus the agency on its mission--preventing all illegal firearms diversion from U.S. gun stores and gun shows with zero tolerance. Because this is also clear--the 2,000 guns that were allowed to walk in "Fast and Furious" represent just a tiny percentage of the high-powered firearms that are trafficked from the United States to Mexico in the course of a given year.
The NRA was not satisfied with the resignations of Melson and Burke, however, and have their sights set on a bigger target -- Attorney General Eric Holder. Despite the fact that there is no evidence indicating that Holder even knew about "Fast and Furious," the NRA has called on him to resign immediately.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has done an impressive job of feigning outrage in his condemnation of the operation, saying, "These guns are now, as a result of what [ATF] did, in the hands of evil people, and evil people are committing murders and crimes with these guns against innocent citizens." In the September issue of America's 1st Freedom, he referred to "at least 150 Mexican families grieving for loved ones lost because of the perfidy of agency 'leaders' wedded to a wacked-out-scheme."
The NRA's sudden concern about the illegal trafficking of guns to dangerous people couldn't be more hypocritical. It turns out the NRA knows quite a bit about "wacked-out-schemes" that allow "evil people" to hurt "innocent citizens" in foreign countries.
Today, Media Matters investigative reporter David Holthouse reported on the escapades of NRA board member and Soldier of Fortune magazine publisher Bob Brown. In 1983, Brown accompanied a team of mercenaries to El Salvador. The purpose of the trip was to provide training to the forces of fascist leader Roberto D'Aubuisson. Brown even went as far as engaging in combat missions alongside D'Aubuisson's death squads. Known as "Blowtorch Bob" for his torture techniques, D'Aubuisson's most high-profile victim was Bishop Óscar Romero, who was assassinated after speaking out about human rights abuses in El Salvador. Then, in September 1984, Brown sent over 100 men and $4 million in supplies to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Brown justified expending these resources by saying, "Those cretins in Congress won't do anything about [toppling the ruling, left-wing Sandinista FSLN party in Nicaragua]." Finally, there was Brown's boast from a 1986 editorial: "I've hunted terrorists with the Rhodesian African rifles and fired up a Russian fort in Afghanistan with the mujaheddin." The Rhodesian African rifles were a regiment that fought under the rule of white supremacist Prime Minister Ian Smith in Rhodesia from 1965 to 1979. Their campaigns targeted rebel forces in the country that opposed Smith's apartheid policies by advocating for universal suffrage.
Brown is not the only NRA board member with this type of past. Today, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence launched a new website, www.MeettheNRA.org, that takes a hard look at the people who run the NRA. We were surprised to learn that several of the NRA's board members have helped to foment violence against innocent civilians by personally supporting human rights abusers the world over. Consider the following:
- Grover Norquist. Americans for Tax Reform president and conservative activist Grover Norquist spent time overseas in the 1980s supporting anti-Communist rebel armies in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. According to The Nation magazine, "During the second half of the 1980s, Grover Norquist detoured from his tax work to engage in a series of safaris to far-off battlegrounds in support of anti-Soviet guerrilla armies, visiting war zones from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to southern Africa. Working alongside Col. Oliver North's freelance support network for the Nicaraguan contras and other Reagan Doctrine-allied insurgencies, Norquist promoted US support for groups like Mozambique's RENAMO and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA in Angola, both of which were backed by South Africa's apartheid regime (Norquist represented UNITA as a registered lobbyist in the early 1990s)." UNITA employed child soldiers throughout the Angolan civil war, including during the period when Norquist was a registered lobbyist for the organization. Although now a legitimate political party in Angola, Human Rights Watch once described UNITA as "a rebel group led by Jonas Savimbi, [that] killed, abducted, and terrorized civilians with impunity." RENAMO is estimated to have killed over 1,000,000 civilians in Mozambique.
- Oliver North. Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel/Fox News commentator Oliver North was a central figure in the Iran-Contra Affair. The political scandal, which came to light in November 1986, involved U.S. officials violating an arms embargo to sell weapons to Iran, and then using the residual profits to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua. North -- who was serving on the National Security Council in the Reagan administration -- oversaw the transfer of the arms profits to the Contras, who engaged in widespread human rights abuses, including the rape and murder of civilians. They also had links to drug traffickers. In July 1987, North admitted to lying to Congress and shredding important documents related to the Iran-Contra scheme, which he referred to as a "neat idea." He was later indicted on 16 felony counts before being convicted on three of them in 1989. The conviction was vacated in 1990.
- Roy Innis. Like Grover Norquist, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Chairman Roy Innis also backed the UNITA rebels in Angola. In 1976, Innis recruited a 600-man "peace brigade" to support the forces of Jonas Savimbi's apartheid-backed UNITA.
North also boasted of the personal relationship he enjoyed with Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega; and sought to bolster Noriega's image in exchange for his help in eliminating the Sandanistas in Nicaragua.
Innis recruited the force because he was a "supporter" of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who was backing UNITA in the conflict. Innis awarded Amin a lifetime CORE membership and claimed, "Ugandans are happy under General Amin's rule of Africa for black Africans" ... "He has the ability to make decisions, unlike other leaders who theorize but do not execute." In return, Amin awarded Innis Ugandan citizenship in 1973. Amin was a brutal dictator who is estimated to have killed 500,000 of his own countrymen during his eight years of rule. Asked how he could support Amin, a known admirer of Adolf Hitler, Innis replied, "We have no records to prove if Hitler was a friend or an enemy of black people."
Does Wayne LaPierre have pity for the innocent lives lost to these evil people in Africa and South America? Or is LaPierre's outrage reserved only for political and fundraising campaigns designed to discredit the agency that enforces America's gun laws? If LaPierre is serious about stemming the flow of weapons to criminals around the world, he had better clean his own house first -- as opposed to worrying about Eric Holder or anyone else at the Justice Department, whose misdeeds pale in comparison to those of his own board members.
This is the first in a series of articles I have written profiling the rogues gallery that makes up the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Learn more at www.MeetTheNRA.org.