When all eyes turned to New Orleans, I thought, finally, things will change.
Ted Nugent in 2013. Photo by Larry Philpot.
The 1970s-era rock star and longtime National Rifle Association board director Ted Nugent lit a firestorm last week when he made a series of anti-Semitic posts on his Facebook page. Nugent accused prominent Jewish Americans of promoting gun control as part of a plot to disarm citizens and impose Nazi-like tyranny across the United States.
In response to criticism of his posts Nugent wrote, “what sort of racist prejudiced POS could possibly not know that Jews for gun control are nazis in disguise?”
Nugent has sat on the NRA board for more than twenty years. He’s also very popular among the organization’s leaders and members alike. Now, however, there is a movement from both outside and within the NRA demanding that Nugent finally be ousted.
But what casual observers of the gun lobby fail to realize is that the NRA’s own bylaws—withheld from the public, but obtained by The Progressive—make removing Nugent all but impossible anytime before 2017, and doubtful even after that. As I previously reported in Mother Jones, the National Rifle Association’s governing board of directors are elected through a tightly controlled nominating process, one that even former NRA directors have compared to a Soviet-style Politburo.
Previous efforts to recall NRA directors have dragged on for years, or have failed altogether. Nugent is up for reelection this year, but the bylaws that govern NRA board elections make it hard for any director with name recognition to lose. Eligible NRA members are asked to vote for up to twenty-five candidates out of no more than thirty officially sanctioned nominees. Nugent would have to end up being among the very least popular candidates not to be reelected.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how many members vote against him, only that he get more votes than a few others at the bottom of the pack.
Nugent could, of course, still step down voluntarily for the good of the organization. But his vigorous self-defense makes that seem unlikely. The NRA’s response to date makes it unclear whether they would even ask.
What is clear is that any effort to oust Nugent would divide the NRA.
Debbie Schlussel, a self-described conservative commentator, religious Jew, and gun rights advocate wrote on her blog site:
“Although thousands of people ‘liked’ and shared Ted Nugent’s scurrilous anti-Jewish screed and it drew a lot of anti-Semitic comments and support from Neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites, I’m very proud to note that many gun owners, particularly Christians and conservatives, posted comments attacking Nugent’s comments and disavowing them.”
It’s also unclear whether a movement to remove Nugent from the NRA board would succeed. “In this era of Trump, preceded by years of jackbooted PC thought policing, I don’t think the membership have much patience for ‘you can’t say that,’” wrote “Sebastian,” a Pennsylvania gun rights blogger and voting NRA member who wants Nugent off the board.
The NRA leadership, notably, has yet to weigh in. “Individual board members do not speak for the NRA,” spokesman Lars Dalseide told The Progressive, neither denouncing nor embracing Nugent’s remarks.
A few gun rights groups have denounced Nugent. Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, whose founder Nugent accurately states was a friend, recently posted on the group’s Facebook page that they were “appalled” at Nugent’s “deeply anti-Semitic comments.”
Another is Gun Owners of America, a much larger organization to the right of the NRA. The watchdog group Media Matters has linked longtime leader Larry Pratt to various white supremacist groups. But even Pratt denounced Nugent after his recent anti-Semitic rant.
“We’re very disappointed to see what Ted has done,” Pratt told the online magazine The Trace. “Gun Owners of America very strongly disagrees with his point of view.”
“Quite a few of the pro-gun people that I’ve spoken with today are simply done with Nugent,” wrote Bob Owens of the pro-gun website Bearing Arms. Owens stated that Nugent should apologize, and that if he wouldn’t, “then he has no business being on the board of an inclusive organization such as the National Rifle Association.”
This quote in particular has been repeated in The New York Daily News, The Washington Post, Huffington Post and Media Matters as evidence that gun owners at large are demanding the NRA oust Nugent from its board. On Friday, Charles C. W. Cooke in the National Review weighed in with a piece titled, “It’s Time for the NRA to Cut Ted Nugent Loose.”
But Cooke and other critics are all missing the same thing. The NRA could not cut Nugent loose even if most board directors wanted to. NRA bylaws that govern the organization have been written to maintain control over the board and to prevent challenges—more likely to come from the right-wing than from gun reformers.
“If they could, I’d say yes,” said the pro-gun blogger Sebastian in a public conversation with me on Twitter. But “NRA bylaws don’t allow it.” His Pennsylvania gun rights blog has long been sympathetic to the NRA. But many gun rights blogs have also been highly critical of the NRA for the way its leadership has long manipulated its own board elections.
“[T]he NRA insists on keeping election information and their board of directors shielded from public scrutiny,” noted Jeff Knox of the Firearms Coalition blog. “I don’t think most people who vote in NRA elections have much of a clue,” said Sebastian on Twitter. The process is so controlled that, in most years, fewer than seven percent of eligible NRA members bother to vote.
Similar to the way NRA bylaws control who gets elected to the board, the same bylaws control how a director may be removed once elected. Recalling a board director requires first the signatures of at least 450 eligible NRA members including 100 signatures each from three different states. But the signatures must be collected over the seven or eight month period beginning after the last NRA annual convention, held this past April in Nashville, and 150 days before the next NRA convention, taking place this May in Louisville.
So with May 20, the start of the Louisville convention, little more than three months away, it’s already too late for this year.
The signatures would then need to be validated, and, if enough were upheld, a hearing would be required within thirty days. If the hearing were to rule against Nugent, NRA voting members would be mailed ballots with pro and con opinions. Then, if a majority of responding voters were to mail back their ballots in favor of recall, that step would finally get Nugent off the board.
In other words, there is nothing that anyone can do to even start the process until nearly summer. Even then, the procedures would be sure drag on into 2017, to be decided perhaps at least a year from now, if at all.
Petitions to recall NRA directors have failed before. There has been an ongoing effort to try and recall Joaquin Jackson, a storied Texas Ranger who has acted in Hollywood films alongside stars like Tommy Lee Jones. In a 2005 interview Jackson said that he did not understand why any hunter would need more than five rounds. Jackson has been since derided as an “Elmer Fudd,” the bungling cartoon character whom NRA hardliners use to label those who fail to support the need for high-powered, high-capacity weapons.
Despite the decade-long effort, the former Texas Ranger remains on the NRA board.
This year another NRA director with even more name recognition faces a stronger challenge. In ballots slated to arrive this week, eligible NRA voters are being asked to vote for or against the recall of NRA director Grover Norquist. The prominent Republican and director of Americans for Tax Reform is accused of having ties to Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. Part of the concern is that Norquist’s wife is a Palestinian Muslim.
But the effort to recall Norquist has been in process within the NRA for nearly two years, and it also seems unlikely to succeed. “I urge you to VOTE NO on the recall of Grover Norquist,” wrote Todd Rathner last week on the Ammoland blog.
The lengthy bylaw requirements, of course, are one reason why Nugent is going nowhere. But another reason is that many eligible NRA members might still vote for the aging rocker despite his recent anti-Semitic remarks. Said Sebastian about his fellow voting NRA members, “People are not in a mood to be persuaded, or to think rationally about things like this.”
Frank Smyth is a freelance journalist who has written about the National Rifle Association for The Progressive, The Village Voice, The Washington Post, Mother Jones and MSNBC.com.