The embattled National Rifle Association just appointed a new president amidst frequent boycotts of the gun lobby group. Their selection, however, is likely to ignite even more controversy after a tumultuous three months.
Oliver North, best known to Americans as the National Security Council aide responsible for selling weapons to Iran under the Reagan administration, is set to take the helm of the NRA. In a statement, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre lauded the decorated Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart honoree as a “legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator, and skilled leader.”
North was brought in to add some star power (ala former head Charlton Heston) as the organization fends off criticism following the February shooting on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Survivors of that attack, which left 17 dead, have led a national movement for gun reform in the weeks since.
Around two dozen companies have since severed ties with the NRA.
But despite high hopes that North will see them through the storm, he brings his own set of matching baggage to the organization. The new NRA head also compared LGBTQ rights to slavery during a bizarre 2014 speech delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
“Some say that we must ignore social issues, like the definition of marriage and the sanctity of life, [and] religious freedoms,” he told audience members at the annual right-wing gathering, delivering a rambling, 10-minute address. “I say those are not social issues. They are deeply moral and spiritual issues and they should be a part of America’s elections.”
North added that the abolitionist movement of the 19th century is a lesson to the Republican Party of today.
“In the 1850s, a political party was born on the idea of a great moral issue: human bondage, the abolition of slavery in America,” he continued. “If we as conservatives cease to be a place where people of faith and those who believe in strong moral values can come, we will cease to be a political force in America.”
The former Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel further denounced the Obama administration for allowing gay and lesbian troops to serve openly in the military with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010.
North claimed that soldiers aren’t “laboratory rats in some radical social experiment.”
These remarks aren’t surprising given previous comments about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He claimed that striking down the law would lead to “NAMBLA members” joining the military and army chaplains being forced to conduct same-sex marriages.
“This isn’t about rights,” North said. “This isn’t about fairness. It’s all about national security.”
But the one-time Reagan official has a long history of taking below-the-belt jabs at members of the LGBTQ community. North joked during a GOP fundraiser in 1993 that he wasn’t able to get through to President Bill Clinton via the White House switchboard until he “disguised his voice with a lisp,” as the Williamson Daily News reported.
When queer advocacy groups took issue with his remarks, North shrugged off the criticism: “If it angered some subset, that’s their problem.”
It’s possible that the conservative’s views have evolved in the two and a half decades since he made those jokes to a Virginia crowd. But if they haven’t, the truth is that North will fit right in with his NRA colleagues.
NRA board member Ken Blackwell claimed that attacks on “natural marriage” were responsible for the 2014 Isla Vista shooting, in which Men’s Rights activist Elliot Rodger murdered six people. Blackwell, a senior fellow at the hate group Family Research Council and member of Trump’s transition team, also predicted that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to pedophilia.
Fellow board member Ted Nugent once referred to homosexuality as “despicable.”
“I got to tell you, guys that have sex with each other’s anal cavitieshow can we offend guys that actually have anal sex?” Nugent said in a 2000 appearance on the Fox News show Hannity and Colmes. “Don’t you think that might offend some of us who think that’s despicable?”
More recently, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox took aim at transgender people at the organization’s annual meeting in 2016.
“Everything we believe ineverything we’ve always known to be good, right and truehas been twisted, perverted and repackaged to our kids as wrong, backwards and abnormal,” Cox said.
“Who are our kids supposed to respect and admire?” he continued. “The media tells them Bruce Jenner is a national hero for transforming his body while our wounded warriorswhose bodies were transformed by IEDs and rocket-propelled grenadescan’t even get basic healthcare from the VA.”
LaPierre will remain on staff at the NRA as the vice president and CEO, according to the Associated Press.
Photo via Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call