NPR’s Tim Mak on the NRA’s troubles — “The Takeout”

After the end of the Civil War, the National Rifle Association (NRA) established itself as not just the preeminent gun rights organization in the U.S., but also as a key player in electoral politics.  

But faced with the growing political clout of gun control groups and a lawsuit by the New York State Attorney General alleging financial crimes by top officials, the NRA has had to file for bankruptcy. In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic fueled layoffs and salary cuts, and the organization now finds itself ducking for cover.

NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak has been following the NRA for years, and in his new book “Misfire: Inside the Downfall of the NRA” he details the alleged corruption inside the NRA, accusing its top leaders, including CEO Wayne LaPierre, of redirecting millions in gun rights advocacy donations for their personal gain. 

“This is a book about basic accountability and transparency,” Mak told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett in this week’s episode of “The Takeout” podcast. “It’s a book about how folks who are members of the NRA who are sending in five, ten, fifteen bucks a month to this organization that ostensibly is supposed to, you know, favor their policy goals, a lot of that money’s going for millions of dollars in private jets, lavish meals for executives, trips to the Bahamas, six figures in suits for Wayne LaPierre, the head of the organization.” 

image2.jpg
NPR’s Tim Mak talks with Major Garrett on “The Takeout,” November 2021. Screen grab

In 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit seeking to disband the NRA, claiming that the organization and some of its top executives diverted over $64 million intended for NRA operations to enrich families and close associates. The NRA, a nonprofit organization, is chartered in New York. 

In January, the NRA moved to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, attempting to relocate its headquarters to Texas from Fairfax, Virginia. That effort failed in May, however, after a federal judge dismissed the group’s effort. 

Mak pointed to the NRA’s hardline pro-gun stance after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting as key to the organization’s decline in power. 

“After Sandy Hook, they decide they’re going to be kind of not just the gun organization, but a ‘freedom’ organization — one that’s engaged in the culture war — and that worked for a number of years in order to boost fundraising and membership during the Obama years. It was very, very successful. But that becomes their undoing in the years after that,” Mak said, pointing to the growth of gun control groups which in recent years have outraised and outspent gun-rights groups. 

Mak also reported on the NRA’s relationship with its marketing firm, whicheplayed a crucial role in covering up the expensive dinners and spending from members and others in the NRA, as well as the power struggle that formed between LaPierre and former president Oliver North. 

To flesh out his reporting over the four-year-long investigation, Mak said that he was able to acquire secret court depositions that illustrated what it was like to be in the room for some of the NRA’s most crucial meetings and moments, but not without some drama. 

“During the beginning of the pandemic, during the worst days, a source indicated that the source was willing to provide some of these documents. You know, public transit is closed, can’t get an Uber, can’t get a cab. I don’t have a bike, so I end up renting a moped and driving for what seems like hours and hours to the middle of nowhere to this parking lot,” Mak said. “The source shows up in the parking lot, rolls down the passenger window and says the documents are in the passenger seat. So, I reach in taking care, of course, not to breathe into that car, reach in, grab the documents, put them in my backpack and I moped away.” 

Mak said being provided with those documents was critical to his book because “they’re like the gold standard of evidence” because in depositions “there are legal consequences to not telling the truth when you’re under oath.” 

Highlights: 

  • The book: “This is a book about basic accountability and transparency… It’s a book about how folks who are members of the NRA who are sending in five, 10, 15 bucks a month to this organization that ostensibly is supposed to, you know, favor their policy goals, a lot of that money’s going for millions of dollars in private jets, lavish meals for executives, trips to the Bahamas, six figures in suits for Wayne LaPierre, the head of the organization… I have spoken to a ton of NRA members while reporting out this book. You know, we had 120 plus interviews with people inside the NRA universe all of whom agree with those sorts of people in terms of the Second Amendment and the right role of firearms in our society. They still spoke to me and I’m telling many of their stories, you know, as you know, as an investigative reporter, one of the basics is gaining people’s trust and convincing them, ‘Hey, I’m going to be able to convey your stories with fairness and accuracy.’ And I’ve been able to do that repeatedly with people who are inside the NRA and so on.” 

  • NRA’s current predicament: “I think it’s really facing the greatest crisis it’s ever faced in more than 150 years of existence…. We’re talking about a revolt from some of its own members who are demanding change in the leadership of the organization. Protests from directors on its own board a financial crisis that’s so serious that in 2018, they almost couldn’t make payroll… And then they have the New York attorney general and other investigations into their financial misconduct. The New York Attorney General, after a long investigation, found more than $60 million of misspending inside the organization by Wayne LaPierre and other senior officials, and said in in a lawsuit it filed that it was going to try to dissolve the NHRA completely.” 

  • NRA post-Sandy Hook massacre: “After Sandy Hook, the NRA takes a real aggressive turn to the right, and they decide that they’re much less interested in what have traditionally been their most valuable strategic partners, those Democrats who are willing to come to their side. After Sandy Hook, they decide they’re going to be kind of not just the gun organization, but a quote ‘freedom’ organization. One that’s engaged in the culture war. and that worked for a number of years in order to boost fundraising and membership during the Obama years, it was very, very successful. But that becomes their undoing in the years after that.” 

  • Getting the documents: “During the beginning of the pandemic, during the worst days, a source indicated that the source was willing to provide some of these documents. You know, public transit is closed, can’t get an Uber, can’t get a cab. I don’t have a bike, so I end up renting a moped and driving for what seems like hours and hours to the middle of nowhere to this parking lot. The source shows up in the parking lot, rolls down the passenger window and says the documents are in the passenger seat. So I reach in taking care, of course, not to breathe into that car, reach in, grab the documents, put them in my backpack and I moped away.” 

Executive producer: Arden Farhi

Producers: Jamie Benson, Jacob Rosen, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson

CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin 
Show email: TakeoutPodcast@cbsnews.com
Twitter: @TakeoutPodcast
Instagram: @TakeoutPodcast
Facebook: Facebook.com/TakeoutPodcast

Shaer This Post