By Henry Morris ’21
On August 6, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association (NRA) seeking to dissolve the nation’s largest and most influential gun lobby. James said fraud and abuse are embedded into the NRA, an assertion emboldened by her claim that top executives, through a plethora of illegal activities, cost the nonprofit $64 million in three years.
These alleged activities include the funneling of millions of dollars to executives for personal uses, the awarding of lucrative contracts to close friends and family members, and the handing out of high-paying no-show jobs in order to purchase loyalty.
The lawsuit alleges the chief executive, Wayne LaPierre; former treasurer and chief financial officer, Wilson Phillips; former Chief of Staff and Executive Director of General Operations, Joshua Powell; and General Counsel, John Frazer, flouted several state and federal laws when they used the NRA as their own personal piggy bank. While this part of the lawsuit is currently only a civil action seeking the restitution of funds plus the barring of the four men from the boards of any New York charity, James has not ruled out a criminal referral. When questioned about the nature of the lawsuit, James said, “If we uncover any criminal activity, we will refer it to the Manhattan District Attorney.”
According to a statement by the Attorney General’s Office, her investigation found “a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive, and fraudulent.” Due to the pervasive nature of corruption, James stipulates that the total dissolution of the organization is required to wholly expunge the criminal behavior. However, legal experts are dubious that courts will agree on this point.
Sean Delany, a former head of the Charities Bureau in the Attorney General’s Office, said, “I think the facts are very strong, but I think the remedy of dissolution is a stretch, because the A.G. would have to prove that the organization is so rife with fraud that there isn’t anything sufficiently substantial in the organization’s charitable programs to make it worth saving.”
In response to James’s announcement, NRA officials have strategically utilized the divisive political climate in the United States to garner support from the right against the lawsuit. Rather than refuting each merit in the investigation, NRA officials including Wayne LaPierre are arguing the lawsuit is an attack by the radical left wing on American freedom and the Second Amendment. Carolyn Meadows, the president of the NRA, referred to the inquiry as “a power grab by a political opportunist,” a potential referral to James, who identifies as a lifelong democrat and in her campaign called the NRA a “terrorist organization.”
In the NRA’s 19-page countersuit, they said, “The New York Democratic Party political machine seeks to harass, defund, and dismantle the NRA because of what it believes and what it says.”
President Donald Trump, who received a $30 million donation from the NRA during his 2016 presidential campaign, said, “That’s a very terrible thing that just happened. The NRA should move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life.” The location of NRA, which is currently headquartered in Virginia, is irrelevant to James’s legal jurisdiction because the nonprofit was chartered in New York 148 years ago.
On Fox News and other conservative news outlets, the articles focusing on the lawsuit mainly discuss the defense of the NRA and the biases of James for the first few pages, and then at the end of the story mention the alleged serious misconduct by the NRA and its executives. More liberal news sources such as the New York Times reverse the order of the two sides. These conflicting narratives of a single story are emblematic of a political divide in this nation that has led to the distortion of truth. It is without doubt that Attorney General James had a personal agenda against the NRA, but these prejudices do not discount the disconcerting fraud discovered within James’s thorough investigation dating back to February 2019.