It’s easy to draw up an organization chart, but organizations are run by humans, and the human side often explains far more than a chart.
NRA’s executive leadership, The EVP. At the top, as Executive Vice President, is Wayne LaPierre. He’s been EVP for so long that only a few directors can remember an NRA without him as head. Harlon Carter and Neal Knox, the men who created the modern NRA, are mere history. Harlon is a bronze bust in the headquarters building, and Neal is a bogey-man of legend.
From the first, LaPierre was in far over his head. He was educated in politics and made his living in lobbying. He had zero training and experience in lobbying, and now he the supreme leader of what became a $350 million a year corporation. It was as if you took a not-particularly-bright private and gave him command of a brigade. “What do I do now?”
La Pierre’s handlers, the real power. He reacted by relying on “handlers” and hoping they knew how to handle things. They made all his decisions. In theory the board elected LaPierre EVP, in fact they elected his handlers, Angus McQueen and later Bill Brewer. He became a figurehead while they dictated his decisions. During the bankruptcy proceeding he testified that he was traveling for fundraising 40 weeks out of the year. Add time for a vacation, and you can see he’s rarely in the office. This is a $350 million corporation, and the boss is never there! Even if the boss is honest, his underlings are free to do as they please. Announce all the reforms you want, the underlings are still free to loot.
His handlers are what mattered, and they paid themselves very well. At the end, Angus McQueen’s firm was handing itself $40 million a year for publicity that few ever saw. His firm controlled NRA internal politics, excluding directors that it saw as threats to its control. The board itself knew that for any director to question Ackerman McQueen, even privately, was professional suicide. All NRA employees knew the same. Let it be rumored that you’d raised questions and you’d be standing in the unemployment line. Today of course the Brewer law firm has taken over that role, and is handing itself the tens of millions that formerly went to McQueen. LaPierre and the board follow it as blindly as they had followed McQueen. File for bankruptcy? Sure. You swindled us into supposedly approving bankruptcy? No problem. Put five million in a trust account that only you control? Where do we wire the money?
McQueen saw LaPierre as his meal ticket, and so made him the Face of the NRA, the one unifireable man. His giant picture dominated annual meetings, his columns (written by others) headed each magazine. McQueen wanted its meal ticket to be seen as indispensable to NRA. There was no “succession plan” such as all major corporations have; that might make him seem dispensable.
Other salaried officers. They don’t matter. On paper they are elected by the board, in reality the board does whatever LaPierre’s handler wants. Treasurer Woody Phillips was elected and re-elected for tens of years. He was replaced by the honest Craig Spray. When LaPierre’s handlers decided to dispense with Spray, LaPierre gave him a phone call (his office is on the same floor) and told him he was out. No mention of asking the board about it.
When LaPierre decided to make John Frazer both Secretary and General Counsel (while telling others that he wouldn’t hire Frazer to handle a parking ticket), the board nodded and elected him to those posts. No one dared ask, “is he qualified? He has two years of legal practice, can he be top legal dog to a major corporation? What doe he know about all the issues he’ll confront, not for profit corporation law, big contracts, corporate tax law?”
When LaPierre decided to make Josh Powell both his chief of staff and head of General Operations (that is, in charge of 90% of NRA’s budget, everything but ILA), the board did the same without question. No one dared point out that NRA had never had one man fill two high-level jobs like that, or ask how one person was supposed to do two intense and full-time jobs. LaPierre’s handler wanted it, it must be done, do not ask a question or you will be punished.
The rest of the staff. Their lot is simply explained. NRA is an “at will” employer. Any boss can hire or fire an employee at will, with or without cause. Building security shows up at your door and escorts you to the parking lot, your belongings will be mailed to you, your computer access is terminated now.
Nobody dares complain, except behind closed doors with a trusted friend. The whistleblowers here had a lot of guts, but even they dared not move until the new treasurer, Craig Spray, indicated he was interested in hearing about problems. Now, everyone sees what happened to Spray and knows that era is over. If your boss wants to waste five or ten million, process the paperwork and shut up. If he wants to spend $6 million on a mansion for the LaPierres, don’t ask if that is legal or suggest the board should approve. To raise a question might indicate you weren’t a team player, and endanger your job.
The price for this is constant discrimination suits. You fired this woman or this minority, where’s your basis? Does she have written job requirements, and an evaluation to show she didn’t meet them? “She asked too many questions” or “she dared say that my pet project was a waste of money” are not good answers. NRA endures and pays out on all those suits as a price of doing business this way, and giving the bosses total control.
If you’d like to know how completely LaPierre is controlled by his “handler,” you can read (or not waste your money on it, and read it here) the book “Inside the NRA,” by LaPierre’s former Chief of Staff, Josh Powell. At one point, he says, he and LaPierre met with Angus McQueen to discuss the cost of the “internet TV” show NRATV.
“I was just asking basic questions that anyone who is paying $50 million for a TV channel would ask. . . Angus just blew up at Wayne and me, screaming profanities and claiming we didn’t know what we were talking about. “Wayne, I will cut you f__king tongue out if you do anything to NRATV!” Angus refused to budge an inch.”
Powell walked out in disgust, but LaPierre stayed behind to accept the verbal thrashing. Angus had called LaPierre a “f__king poodle,” and he seems to have sized him up correctly. The all-powerful CEO of Angus’s biggest customer, the man who is handing him $40 million a year, took it.
That says all you need to know about how completely LaPierre’s handler controls his mind. You want $40 million? You got it. Fire this employee, they’re fired. Get rid of this director? I’ll talk to the nominating committee.
We’ll talk about the board of directors next.