The National Rifle Association works hard on its image.
They'd like you to imagine that the NRA's board is made up of people who are primarily interested in hunting, target shooting, gun collecting, and other mainstream pursuits.
But in reality, the NRA leadership is largely a group of hard-core extremists, interested in far more than hunting a few deer. A new website, by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, introduces the board's members. You'll be surprised, if not shocked, to learn who they are and what they represent. Here's how the website describes them:
One only has to look to the NRA’s Board of Directors to discover that the organization is operated by a group of individuals who promote racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-immigrant animus, religious bigotry, anti-environmentalism, and insurrectionism. Some active board members have even had close relationships with brutal dictators in outside nations. Put simply, members of the NRA leadership no longer make for polite company.
Moreover, while superficially bipartisan, the NRA is closely aligned with the most extreme elements in the Republican Party and has brought a number of the GOP’s most influential operatives into positions of power within the organization. The GOP and NRA are now locked in a symbiotic relationship where Republican legislators advance the NRA’s extreme agenda while the NRA musters its hardcore supporters to serve as attack dogs for a wide range of conservative causes.
Some board members are well known, like Ollie North of the Iran-Contra scandal, now a Fox News regular, or Grover Norquist, the anti-tax zealot who wants to drown government in the bathtub, or Larry "Wide Stance" Craig,the former Idaho Senator.
Or Roy Innis, who has turned the former civil rights group Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) into his personal right-wing front group. Mother Jones says:
“CORE is [now] better known among real civil rights groups for renting out its historic name to any corporation in need of a black front person. The group has taken money from the payday-lending industry, chemical giant (and original DDT manufacturer) Monsanto, and ExxonMobil.” James Farmer, the founder of CORE, has accused Innis of running a “fraudulent” organization and called him “an American IdiAmin.”
More about him later.
Wisconsin's contribution to the NRA is the organization's president -- a role formerly played by the late Charleton Heston -- Fort Atkinson native David Keene.
Keene is one of those "local boy makes good" or "local boy goes bad" stories, depending upon your point of view -- has been a major player in conservative politics for decades and became a national player at a young age, as national president of the arch-conservative Young Americans for Freedom.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin law school, he ran for the State Senate in 1969 in a special election at age 24 -- with Richard Nixon's endorsement -- narrowly losing to Democrat Dale McKenna. He ended up working as an aide to Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Keene's been less successful playing presidential politics, working in losing campaigns for Ronald Reagan in 1976, George H.W. Bush in 1980 presidential race, Bob Dole in 1988 and 1996 presidential races, and Mitt Romney in 2008.
While he talks of fond memories of bringing his shotgun to school in Ft. Atkinson to maximize after-school hunting time Keene has become an elite hunter who was filmed by the TV show "Dangerous Games" hunting a cape buffalo in Africa. He fishes with Dick Cheney. (Supply your own punch line.)
Clearly, Keene is someone whose agenda is much broader than guns.
From December 1984 until last February, Keene served as chairman of the American Conservative Union, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots conservative lobbying organization, which rates members of Congress, and lobbies Congress on a host of conservative issues.
Remember Roy Innin, the CORE leader whose history includes support for the monster Idi Amin? While he was ACU chairman, Keene presented Innis with the John M. Ashbrook Award at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference and said, “There is no living American I admire more than Roy Innis.”
Predictably, Keene has had a few things to say about politics in his home state of Wisconsin:
In a February 28, 2011 op-ed for The Hill, Keene compared Wisconsin public school teachers who opposed anti-union legislation to University of Wisconsin-Madison students who spent their “waking hours doing drugs, demonstrating, occupying campus buildings and dreaming of revolution” during the 1960s.
Commenting on Wisconsin legislation that would largely eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees, Keene wrote, “[Republican Governor Scott] Walker is doing exactly what he said during his campaign would have to be done to save the Badger State from bankruptcy … That doesn’t make Walker an extremist, but a governor whose state books won’t balance because those who preceded him ignored those warnings and ultimately governed as if the ’60s would never end.
And so it goes.
The NRA is riding high in Wisconsin these days, with a long-coveted concealed carry law to take effect on Nov. 1, and a so-called "Castle Doctrine" bill -- a license to shoot to kill intruders on your property -- to be introduced this fall.
The public remains opposed to concealed carry by a wide margin, but lawmakers are intimidated by the NRA, despite the organization's dismal record in Wisconsin, where it consistently fails to beat officials it targets.
Maybe pulling back the curtain to reveal who's pulling the NRA strings will open a few eyes. One can only hope.
This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.