The National Rifle Association has chosen Oliver North, the disgraced marine officer who was one of the most public faces of America’s 1980s Iran-Contra arms scandal, to become its next president.
In a statement released Monday, the NRA announced that North would take on the leadership of the gun rights advocacy group once his business affairs “were put in order.” NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre hailed North as “a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader.”
The NRA has not had a bold-faced name as its president since actor Charlton Heston was in the position. The organization indicated it was looking for a prominent person “in these extraordinary times”. That presumably alluded to the grassroots campaign for stricter gun control laws that erupted after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, led by surviving students, and other issues facing the NRA.
North, a national security aide in the Reagan-Bush administration, was convicted in 1989 on three felony counts connected to the Iran-Contra controversy. This involved the United States government secretly selling arms to Iran, in breach of an embargo at the time. The dual purpose was to coax the Iranian regime to free US hostages while using the proceeds to skirt a ban and fund Contra guerrillas who were fighting the left-wing government in Nicaragua. North’s convictions were later overturned on a technicality.
Ronald Reagan was cleared by a congressional commission in 1987 of orchestrating a cover-up in what also came to be called Irangate. A number of top government officials were convicted, including national security advisors John Poindexter and Robert MacFarlane as well as assistant secretary of state Elliot Abrams. Pointdexter’s conviction was overturned on similar grounds to North’s, while MacFarlane and Abrams received pardons from President George HW Bush.
North has become a Fox News pundit as well as running unsuccessfully as a political candidate since leaving the US military.
The NRA has been vocal in opposing any new restrictions on gun ownership in the United States, most recently in the aftermath of Parkland, and the massacre at an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas last year. Donald Trump, who initially discussed meaningful gun reform in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, and accused politicians of being afraid of the NRA, quickly rowed back. When he spoke at the NRA’s annual convention in Dallas, Texas last week he pledged: “Your second amendment rights are under siege but they will never ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.”