The National Rifle Association, which proclaims its devotion to the Second Amendment and the rest of the Constitution, announced that Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North will be its next president. How perfect.
The New York Daily News reports: “North’s nomination will likely draw rebuke, considering his involvement in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal, in which senior Reagan administration officials covertly sold weapons to the arms-embargoed Iranian regime, and used the proceeds to fund the right-wing Contras guerrillas in Nicaragua. The scandal left a dark stain on Ronald Reagan’s administration, although congressional committees found no evidence to suggest that the president himself was aware of the shadowy deals.”
North was convicted on three felony counts for his part in the scandal that rocked the Reagan administration (including misleading Congress and ordering that documents be destroyed), though he had his conviction overturned on the grounds that his congressional testimony, obtained under a grant of immunity, may have tainted the jury. So, naturally, he now will lead a group that touts its devotion to law and order and the Constitution.
After his conviction was vacated, North launched a failed Senate race in Virginia and later became a fixture on Fox News and in the rest of the right-wing media universe. He has embraced a variety of crackpot positions (e.g., pro-nuclear proliferation, and backing Erik Prince’s proposal to form a private army) and conspiracy theories (e.g., speculating in 2013 that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction, and accusing President Barack Obama of paying ransom to terrorists who captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl). Think of him as a more physically fit Sean Hannity.
North is the ideal person to be the public face of the NRA. Loopy conspiracies, victimization and extreme anti-government rhetoric are now becoming commonplace for NRA figures (including spokeswoman Dana Loesch, who accused the media of loving mass shootings) and among the right-wing universe that thrills to the Conservative Political Action Conference, absorbs hours of Fox News and hangs on the words of right-wing talk shows. Ranging far beyond gun rights, it has become a hotbed of anti-government conspiracy theories: Wayne LaPierre, the group’s chief executive, earlier this year declared of the Democrats, “If they seize power, if the so-called European socialists take over the House and the Senate and, God forbid, they get the White House again, our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever.” In the venom-soaked, anti-fact world in which these people operate, North is a truth-teller and a hero.
It is no surprise, then, that LaPierre gushed in a statement announcing North’s new role, “This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became president of our association. Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader. In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our president.” He’s right, of course. With the possible exception of Stephen Bannon or Hannity himself, there are few media gadflies as adept as North at selling hokum and stoking anger within the Republican base.
North’s ascension to the NRA’s presidency is but one more sign that the genteel, fact-based and constitutionally sophisticated Republican Party is a thing of the past. The louder, the crazier and the less fact-bound, the bigger the audience on Fox News or at NRA gatherings. North is a symptom of the infection that has spread throughout the Republican Party. Unfortunately, it’s no longer clear the GOP can recover.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a center-right perspective.