The NRA this past weekend promoted two top directors who have a history of making vile racist comments, spreading conspiracy theories, and enabling years of alleged fraud and wrongdoing by embattled leader Wayne LaPierre—who, among other things, has been accused of spending NRA funds on private jets for himself and his family, accepting free African safaris and yacht vacations without reporting them, and handing out no-show contracts to confidants.
At the same time LaPierre was handed a new term, attorney Charles Cotton and Willes Lee, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, were elevated to president and first vice-president of the struggling gun-rights organization.
“The NRA’s decision to re-elect Wayne LaPierre and other top leaders yesterday despite the detailed evidence of repeated fraud and self-dealing we have laid out in our lawsuit and during the bankruptcy trial underscores that board governance is broken and that the rot runs deep at the NRA,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement following the announcement. “For years, Mr. LaPierre and his lieutenants used the NRA and its donors as a breeding ground for personal gain and to live a lavish lifestyle, which is why they must be removed. Our fight for transparency and accountability will continue because no one is above the law.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, NRA lawyer William A. Brewer said, “The NYAG continues to wage a fully transparent PR campaign against the NRA—openly leveraging the power of her office to attack her political opponents. Viewed for what it is, it is easy to understand why those who support the First Amendment rights of all citizens have criticized the NYAG’s pursuit to dissolve this 150-year-old organization.”
Although LaPierre usually commands the most ink, his newly-minted deputies are both problematic choices as well.
Cotton, a lawyer from Houston, Texas, has chaired the NRA’s audit committee since at least 2017. Yet, according to James, Cotton and the committee “failed to perform its statutory, bylaw, and charter responsibilities,” adding that the board “displayed a sustained and systematic failure to exercise their oversight function and stood by as various laws were violated.”
In addition to what appeared to be a wholesale failure to properly oversee the NRA’s audit committee, Cotton has often not been kind to those suffering in the aftermath of mass shootings.
After nine people were shot and killed in 2015 at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church, Cotton blamed pastor Clementa Pinckney for his own murder, saying, “Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead.”
Following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and faculty were shot dead by 19-year-old suspect Nikolas Cruz, Cotton grumbled that groups lobbying for stricter gun laws were unfairly using “the sympathy factor of kids getting killed.”
“Wake up people and see what’s happening!!!!” Cotton wrote in an online concealed carry forum. “Bloomberg and Hollywood are pouring money into this effort and the media is helping to the fullest extent. We’ve never had this level of opposition before, not ever. It’s a campaign of lies and distortion, but it’s very well funded and they are playing on the sympathy factor of kids getting killed.”
And in response to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed 26 lives, Cotton wrote in a blog post, “The anti-gun response by all of those making up the Obama-Bloomberg Coalition was too rapid, too coordinated, too well-funded, and too consistent to have been an impromptu response to the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut… The shameful truth is that the Obama-Bloomberg Coalition used the Sandy Hook shootings as a Hollywood-like soundstage to launch their long planned attack on the Second Amendment.”
In the same post, Cotton railed against Michael Bloomberg’s using his wealth to advocate for gun safety, arguing the former New York City mayor can “easily afford to spend several hundred million dollars trying to deprive Americans of the right to self-defense. Coupled his wealth with that of George Soros, MoveOn.org supporters as well as Hollywood liberals, and it is clear that law-abiding Americans are facing the biggest challenge to their constitutional rights since the British tried to force us to keep flying the Union Jack.”
Some of the views expressed publicly by Lee, a strong supporter of LaPierre throughout his years of checkered leadership, may be even more troubling.
During the NRA’s thus-far unsuccessful bankruptcy proceedings, Lee confessed he had no idea that LaPierre was responsible for reimbursing the organization for $300,000 in excess benefits he improperly received. In court testimony this past April, Lee still continued to defend LaPierre’s judgment.
“Chicago genocide,” Lee tweeted last month, sharing a story about weekend shootings in the city. “Dems running the cities don’t care bc they hate you.”
“Jeepers. Worst insurrection ever,” Lee tweeted in March, two months to the day after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. “Pelosi should have better planted ‘evidence.’”
The following month, Lee took to Facebook with a rant against commercial air travel that cast aspersions on COVID inoculations.
“Airlines are part of the leftists’ drive to keep us masked, subjected, docile,” he wrote. “Asshats. Remind me why they are forcing y’all to inject experimental drugs into your arm.”
Last month, NRA board member Roscoe Marshall Jr. sued the group, calling for LaPierre to be fired.
“After years of mismanagement and political extremism, the NRA has chosen to elevate the same leaders who jeopardized the organization and betrayed its members,” gun safety activist Shannon Watts told The Daily Beast. “Instead of engaging in meaningful oversight, the NRA board is once again bending a knee to LaPierre, who gets his loyalists to be his bosses. Instead of cleaning house amid its ongoing legal chaos, the NRA keeps trying to put out its fires with gasoline, which will ultimately be its undoing.”