If you really want to understand why the boys from Fairfax made Oliver North the new President of America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ a.k.a. the NRA, go to your video viewer and watch a remarkable documentary, A Perfect Candidate, which covered North’s 1994 campaign in Virginia for the Senate seat held by Chuck Robb. What made North competitive was an enormous amount of money raised through direct-mail from small donors; what made him a loser was the ‘independent’ candidacy of another Republican, Marshall Coleman, who was basically put on the ballot to pull mainstream Republican votes away from North.
What the documentary brilliantly highlights was the degree to which North’s campaign was based almost entirely on an appeal to white Evangelicals who gave North overwhelming numbers in rural counties, but couldn’t help him in urban areas, particularly the ever-increasing and ever more diverse areas around Washington, D.C. North actually set a record in that campaign for the amount of money ever raised for a statewide race, most of which came through the Evangelical, direct mail pipeline first created by Jerry Falwell and then increasingly exploited by the GOP and organizations like the NRA.
If you think I’m overdoing the connection between the connection between religion, guns and politics, here’s how North began his NRA address on the meeting’s first day: “Lord, we ask you to deliver us from our enemies, for your forgiveness for those things that we have done and failed to do when we stray from your word. Ewe beseech you for Godly, enlightened leaders.” According to the failing New York Times, the audience broke into sustained applause.
Over the last several months, I have occasionally heard vague murmurings from some of my more optimistic, gun-control friends that in the wake of Parkland that maybe, just maybe, the NRA might move slightly away from the crazy, extreme rhetoric of the Trump campaign. If anything, the decision to make Ollie North the group’s new figurehead (and chief fundraiser) should dash any such hopes. What Rev. Rachel Smith called ‘gundamentalism’ – the God-given ‘right’ to own a gun – has now become the NRA’s new watchword and will probably soon replace the ‘good guy with a gun’ as the organization’s favorite slogan embossed on the bumper-sticker pasted on the family car.
Give the NRA credit, okay? For an organization primarily dependent on membership dues, these guys really know their customers. Yea, yea, I know all about the so-called ‘blood money’ that comes from the gun industry. So let me break it to you gently, of the $300 million the NRA hauled in during 2016, somewhere around $260 million came from membership dues and nickel-and-dime donations to their NRA-ILA fund. In fact, the NRA’s political arm raised a record-breaking $2.4 million during March, of which $1.9 million was in donations of $200 or less.
I’ll never forget going to the NRA show in 1980, it was held in an arena not far away from Phialdelphia’s Constitution Hall. And the main speaker was none other than Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, who was in the midst of his campaign. The day he spoke happened to be the day I mostly spent hanging out with Jeff Cooper of Gunsite fame; neither he nor I even knew or cared that Reagan was in the hall.
The gun world and the rest of the world has obviously changed since 1980. We now use the internet for fundraising, the guy in the White House makes Reagan sound like a liberal, but we also have gay marriage – some battles you win, some you lose. Why should anyone be surprised that an organization which promotes the ownership of products still owned primarily by older, white men who profess the Evangelical faith and live in the South would make common cause with an older, white, Evangelical guy from the South named Ollie North?
And by the way, you might consider joining Ollie on a freedom cruise to Normandy in August to celebrate the sacrifices made for the ‘century’s greatest cause.’ The cruise is co-sponsored by the NRA.