Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Why Oliver North is the Perfect Choice for President of the Extremist NRA

by Nomad

Back in 2011, Nomadic Politics ran a comprehensive examination into the life, career and- most importantly, the extreme ideology of  Lt. Col. Oliver North. It was entitled Along Came a Hero: The Oliver North Myth. Since I wrote that long long article, it has been buried in the archives.

About three weeks ago, I noticed that this article was suddenly picking up a lot of attention. Traffic is always welcome but I was curious why.
The other shoe dropped when the NRA announced that North was to be their president. Obviously, it was time for a revisit.

The Infamous Mr. North

For some late-comers, North might just be another scary-looking old man. However, to us old-fogies, the name is synonymous with political scandal and rogue elements of a deep state. North's rise to notoriety began in Ronald Reagan's deeply-troubled second term. Congressional committees were slowly unraveling the sordid details of the Iran-Contra scandal

If you were not around then, I try my best to summarize the sordid affair.  By the grace of investigative journalists and congressional committees, the American public learned that North and his associates had been running a rogue operation from the White House.
It involved illegal arms sales to Iran- which was at that time engaged in a bloody war with America's favorite strongman (at that time), Saddam Hussein. At the time, Iran was under an arms embargo.

In exchange, Iran promised to pull strings and help get hostages in Lebanon released. At one point, 25 Americans were being held by various clans within the Hezbollah organization.

The profits from these illicit sales were then used to illegally arm right-wing militia group, the Contras, who were attempting to take down a democratically-elected socialist regime in Nicaragua. All of this was, of course, done clandestinely and illegally. Through the Boland Amendment, Congress had expressly forbidden the Reagan administration from any adventurism in Central America.
Head of operations?
The charismatic gung-ho Oliver North, a "patriot" above the law.

Blunders, Lies and Pardons

It might have sounded like a splendid idea back in 1985 but the shortcomings for this arms for hostage arrangement soon became apparent. As a covert operation, the whole thing was a mess, characterized by a series of embarrassing (and amazing) blunders and misplaced trust in some shady characters who pocketed vast sums of money. 

More importantly, it was based on the unsound premise that Iran- an avowed enemy to the "Great Satan"- could be relied upon to keep its word. It soon became apparent that the arms for hostages plan would only lead Iran to abduct more Western hostages. Reagan claimed to know nothing about the illegal arrangement and continued to tell the American public that the US did not negotiate with terrorists.

Some speculated that there was nothing "rogue" about it. It was alleged that Reagan's cabinet systematically withheld information from Congressional investigators to conceal their chief's role in the affair. They further concluded that Reagan authorized his aides to defy Congress and secretly arm the US-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Here's a moment in the Iran/Contra hearings where North gets a "dressing down" by Senator George Mitchell in closing remarks.

Mr. North was eventually convicted of three federal felonies — receiving an illegal payment, obstruction of a Congressional inquiry and destroying official documents. However, an appellate court held that his testimony delivered under Congressional immunity may have affected jurors and reversed one conviction. 

Thanks to a convenient loophole, North's convictions were vacated and reversed, and all charges against him dismissed in 1991. (That reversal of justice has allowed North to claim he was never convicted and was never guilty of any crime.)

As the post notes, President George Bush, Sr. (who happened to be vice-president during the Iran-Contra operation )  would later go on to pardon Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger. along with five other Iran/Contra defendants. The Weinberger pardon marked the first time a President ever pardoned someone in whose trial he might have been called as a witness because the President was knowledgeable of factual events underlying the case.

To those of us who watched the proceedings, it was indisputable proof of exactly the kind of due process that Republicans have long put their faith in. To be above the law and if exposed, pardon your way out of it.

Before I move on, there was one more thing worth pointing out. During the Iran/Contra hearings, one of the investigators asked a question that clearly rattled North.

Considering where North has finally ended up, that hasty suppression of information ought to send a chill down your spine.

Post Scandal North

Following this, one would think North would have faded into obscurity. Not so.
In 1990, North used name-recognition to found a 501(c)  foundation called the Freedom Alliance. According to its mission statement, the organization's aim is
"to advance the American heritage of freedom by honoring and encouraging military service, defending the sovereignty of the United States, and promoting a strong national defense."
In reality, its aims were less hyperbolic. The group was supposed to provide support for wounded combat soldiers and provide scholarships for the children of service members killed in action.

Around 2003, Sean Hannity and Oliver North teamed up and raised over $10 million for the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund through Freedom Concerts and donations from The Sean Hannity Show and its listeners.

Some critics charged that the organization was much more of a profit-making tool than a true charity. That was something both Hannity and North strongly denied.

In the 1994 election, North unsuccessfully ran for the United States Senate as the Republican Party candidate in Virginia. As the post provides us with this juicy detail:
On the eve of the election, former first lady Nancy Reagan told a reporter that North had lied to her husband when discussing Iran-Contra with the former president, effectively stopping his campaign.
Since then, he has written several best-sellers and regularly appeared on the Fox News Channel.  North was the host of the television show War Stories with Oliver North from 2001 to 2016, and is a regular commentator on HannityAny time there was a war or a threat of war, Oliver North's haggard mug was sure to appear as a Fox News expert. 

In every respect, his public image rehabilitation was a smashing success. A whole generation of Fox News viewers never knew Oliver North's disreputable past.

The Proud Extremist

In 2009, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS/ I & A) declassified a report on the rise of right-wing extremism in the US. The report  warned:
"The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."
It went on:
The high volume of purchases and stockpiling of weapons and ammunition by right-wing extremists in anticipation of restrictions and bans in some parts of the country continue to be a primary concern to law enforcement. Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to right-wing extremists. DHS/ I & A is concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.
In reaction to this official statement by the DHS warning of right-wing extremism, North took it quite personally, despite the fact that neither he nor his organization were named as threats. He penned his 2009 rebuttal for the conservative press, calling the report an "egregious, unconscionable slander against those of us who are military combat veterans."  

In that article, North proudly wore the extremist mantle, twisting the DHS statement to match his own demagogic rhetoric. He wrote:
According to the U.S. government, I am an extremist. I am a Christian — and meet regularly with other Christians to study God’s word. My faith convinces me the prophesies in the Holy Bible are true. I believe in the sanctity of human life, oppose abortion and want to preserve marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
I am a veteran with skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat. I own several firearms, frequently shoot them, buy ammunition and consider efforts to infringe on my 2nd Amendment rights to be wrong and unconstitutional.
I fervently support the sovereignty of the United States, am deeply concerned about our economy, increasingly higher taxes, illegal immigration, soaring unemployment, and actions by our government that will bury my children beneath a mountain of debt.
North claimed the DHS warning was nothing less than an attempt to exploit exploiting Americans who have "strongly-held beliefs on everything from Christian faith to rising unemployment, U.S. sovereignty and the 2nd Amendment."
It vilifies those of us in these categories by references to neo-Nazis, racists, militias, white-supremacists, and other “hate groups.” Notably, the report includes a warning that Rightwing Extremism “may include groups or individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”
Cramming as many conservative talking points as he possibly could, there's no question that North won right-wing Bingo. But he was only beginning.
North closed his article by demanding that President Obama "publicly disavow this report and fire the officials responsible for issuing it." 

Obama was evidently unimpressed by the diatribe.

The Perfect Man for the Extremist NRA

In that respect, North- proud of his adopted extremist label- is perhaps the best choice for the NRA. It has itself, has become an extremist organization.

On behalf of the gun makers and gun sellers, the NRA has chosen to ignore recent polls that show that roughly 2 in 3 Americans now say gun control laws should be made stricter after a litany of mass shootings. The percentage of Americans who want more restrictive gun laws is greater now than after any other recent shooting. When millions took to the streets to demand reforms of gun laws, the NRA turned its back. 

If that were not extreme enough, revelations have emerged that at least one Kremlin-linked Russian politician- Alexander Torshin- cultivated ties with the  NRA. According to a report by NPR, the FBI is currently investigating whether Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016. 

North- a man forever proud of the things he ought to be ashamed of- surely must have been honored to be selected as the NRA's president and spokesman. In his first speech, North decided to come out swinging, smearing anti-gun activists like the Parkland high school protesters as criminals. In an interview, North told the Washington Times.
"They call them activists. That’s what they’re calling themselves. They’re not activists — this is civil terrorism. This is the kind of thing that’s never been seen against a civil rights organization in America."
Of course, the term "civil terrorism" is entirely made up and makes no sense at all. It's a contradiction in terms. Arranging demonstrations and peaceful protests, and petitioning your elected officials is called civic engagement. It's called democracy in action.

North went on to claim that anti-gun advocates- in this case, high school students demanding sensible gun laws- were engaging in a cyber-war and media war against the NRA.
"They’ve gone after our bank accounts, our finances, our donors, and obviously individual members. It’s got to stop. And that’s why the leadership invited me to become the next president of the NRA."
For an extremist like North, it is a match made in heaven. The NRA has offered him an ideal platform to spread exactly the type of message that the DHS warned about back in 2009.

The possibility of firearm restrictions and weapons bans would very likely attract new members into the ranks of right-wing extremist groups.  It could, the report predicted, "spur some of them to begin planning and training for violence against the government."

With the proper mix of fear-mongering and nationalist rallying, North will, in all probability, oversee the high volume of purchases and stockpiling of weapons by right-wing extremists.

Nothing could make the NRA happier.