When I decided to write a book about my life with guns and my time at the National Rifle Association, it was clear I would be stepping into the proverbial firestorm. I didn’t expect to be embraced as a hero—I am hardly that. I hoped, though, that my insider’s perspective could help both sides of the gun debate. But we live in a world where the loudest voices hijack the day. And in my short time standing up as a whistleblower, I have found that few leaders on either side really want to hear what I have to say about the true nature of gun violence and the deep corruption of the N.R.A.
On the left, I don’t pass the purity test. I was hoping I could bring folks to the center on reasonable solutions and explain how the gun lobby riles up the right to keep those reforms at bay. But unless I profess I’ve had a full road-to-Damascus conversion, I’m still part of what’s bad about guns. A New York Times reviewer told readers not to buy the book. Literally.
And on the other side of the coin, standing up to the National Rifle Association was clearly a breach of faith to the right. I’ve written a whole book about the fraudsters I worked with at the N.R.A., the ones who live by another tenet of conservative Grifter Inc., “Where’s mine?” I fully expect the N.R.A. to continue attacking me in the media.
A New York Times reviewer told readers not to buy the book. Literally.
The fact of the matter is, Letitia James, the New York attorney general who filed a lawsuit designed to dissolve the N.R.A., is only chipping at the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately she will no doubt uncover the same corruption within the management of the N.R.A. as I saw. (The A.G. has also named me as a defendant in the suit. I hope to resolve the state’s accusations and have offered my full cooperation in James’s investigation of the N.R.A.)
I’m not a saint, but I’m also not the biggest villain. You know who is? The man I worked with for three years: Wayne LaPierre.
LaPierre has run the N.R.A. for 30 years and turned the place into one of the most corrupt institutions in the swamp of Washington. In my book, I tried to explain how dishonesty became his true cause, leading him over the years to bill more than $275,000 in personal expenses—custom suits at a Beverly Hills Zegna—to the N.R.A. as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars for ritzy trips to the Bahamas, Palm Beach, Reno, and Lake Como. LaPierre was a master at depicting gun-reform advocates as the “coastal elite,” but he himself acted like a plutocrat, robbing every $45-dues-paying member to cover the costs of his own extravagance.
Ritzy trips to the Bahamas, Palm Beach, Reno, and Lake Como.
LaPierre quickly realized that the way to rouse the base of the N.R.A. membership was to make his rhetoric and his positions more extreme, more uncompromising, more fiery and fierce. In a way, he was Trump before Trump.
LaPierre has one tactic: sell fear to the gun owners of America. And when the N.R.A. is cornered, he makes empty promises to deflect blame. Look no further than post–Sandy Hook, when he pledged to sponsor a program to improve school security; four years later, little had been implemented. But LaPierre still raised money off that sham.
In a way, LaPierre was Trump before Trump.
LaPierre and his cronies have turned away from the tens of millions of law-abiding gun owners in this country and appeal instead to a far fringe of gun owners whose answer is no to every consideration around guns and gun-related crime. The N.R.A. for all practical purposes has become nothing more than a fundraising vessel to save LaPierre from the raft of legal trouble he’s brought on the association and himself. The reality is that he and the N.R.A. have painted themselves into a corner of fear and corruption and offer nothing to the gun owners of America, even when it comes to solutions to save lives.
And once again, reasonable Americans are caught in the middle. They are divided by our leaders and our media on this issue. The country has to cut through the rhetoric and the stoking of fear. The simple fact is solutions are available that will not infringe on gun owners’ rights. There are answers available to address mass shootings, suicide with a gun, or the gun violence that unfolds daily in our inner cities. These answers will not fit conveniently into a 60-character tweet.
I don’t expect to solve the gun-violence problem. But as the former No. 2 at the N.R.A., I can help expose LaPierre’s 30 years of corruption and cynical leadership. And that would be a step in the right direction.
Editor’s note: The N.R.A. has called Powell’s claims “fiction” and denied the allegations in the A.G.’s lawsuit. Powell left the N.R.A. in January, and the lawsuit, filed in August, is ongoing.
Joshua L. Powell’s Inside the NRA: A Tell-All Account of Corruption, Greed, and Paranoia Within the Most Powerful Political Group in America is out now from Twelve