(Reuters) - Wayne LaPierre was re-elected chief executive and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association on Monday, surviving a power struggle in which he was challenged by former NRA President Oliver North, who stepped down over the weekend.
The NRA board voted unanimously in favor of LaPierre, who has been with the NRA for 40 years and has helped convert it into one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States, expanding gun rights even as the United States has endured multiple mass shootings.
North, a revered figure in conservative political circles for his role in the Iran-Contra affair as an aide to President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, became NRA president a year ago. His presence lent a cachet to the largely ceremonial position that it had lacked since actor Charlton Heston resigned in 2003.
As the NRA held its annual meeting Indianapolis, North attempted to topple LaPierre, who appeared to be weakened by a series of crises over the past year. The organization was embarrassed by the revelation that it was infiltrated by an undeclared Russian agent. It filed a lawsuit against its longtime public relations partner. And it has clashed with New York state authorities, who have since opened an investigation of the organization.
North had hoped to be reappointed to another year as president, but his attempt to push out LaPierre backfired after he threatened to reveal allegations that NRA leaders engaged in financial improprieties.
Instead it was LaPierre who survived as the 76-member board voted unanimously to reappoint him on Monday, the NRA said in a statement. Once shy and unassuming, LaPierre has taken on a bulldog persona, arguing vehemently in favor of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Chris Cox, who has emerged as a public spokesman for the NRA along with LaPierre, was reappointed executive director for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
In addition, Carolyn Meadows, a conservative from Georgia who had been part of the NRA leadership, replaced North as president.
Those and other officers were elected unanimously and unopposed, the NRA said.
In a letter to the NRA board dated Thursday and disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, LaPierre said North had threatened to reveal embarrassing information about LaPierre and the NRA unless LaPierre resigned.
“Alarmed and disgusted, I refused the offer,” LaPierre said.
North resigned on Saturday.
Although LaPierre won, even some of his most ardent supporters such as the pro-gun website AmmoLand were wondering how much longer he should continue, saying, “right or wrong, he has become a lightning rod for criticism.”
“Wayne LaPierre will always be a hero in AmmoLand’s book for the pioneering work protecting and advancing the Second Amendment,” AmmoLand said in an editorial on Monday. “That said, it may be time for LaPierre to retire. Not immediately, but perhaps in 2021, after 20 years as Executive Vice President.”
The NRA, with more than 5 million members, is by far the most powerful and well-connected gun lobby in the United States. It has worked closely with legislators to protect firearms manufacturers from liability for gun violence and pushed a ban on U.S. health officials from promoting gun control.
Many NRA members have openly questioned the organization’s leadership after the New Yorker magazine last week reported the NRA paid $40 million to its longtime public relations and marketing firm Ackerman McQueen in 2017, citing tax filings.
The NRA has since had a falling out with Ackerman McQueen and is suing its longtime partner, alleging the NRA has been denied access to business records about how the money was spent.
Ackerman McQueen called the NRA’s lawsuit “frivolous, inaccurate and intended to cause harm to the reputation of our company and the future of that 38-year relationship.”
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Phil Berlowitz