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N.R.A. Chief Takes the Stand, With Cracks in His Armor

  • April 12, 2021

“With Wayne’s leadership, the N.R.A. has always been a grass-roots organization,” said Todd Rathner, a lobbyist and N.R.A. board member, adding that the group has been adept at educating gun owners “on how to pick those candidates who best support their rights.” Its political muscle is felt most keenly in Republican congressional primaries, where candidates jockey to outdo each other’s Second Amendment bona fides.

“Those primaries sort out who has the purest Second Amendment DNA and who doesn’t,” Mr. Rathner said.

But Mr. LaPierre himself has been in retreat, less visible than he once was, and, he testified, “living under incredible threat.” He has found refuge on two luxurious yachts, Illusions and Grand Illusion, owned by an N.R.A. contractor — “the two illusions, grand and regular” as James Sheehan, a senior lawyer in the attorney general’s office, put it, though the more humbly named Illusions has four staterooms and two Jet Skis. The yachts were often in the Bahamas, where Mr. LaPierre also stayed at the Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island, or in Europe, where he said he needed to recruit celebrities.

Carolyn Meadows, the N.R.A.’s president, described Mr. LaPierre as a reformer in a statement for this article, saying he “has unapologetically pursued a course correction.”

On the stand, Mr. LaPierre comes across as an antiquated, absent-minded professor. He describes himself as unapologetically “old school.” He does not use a computer, preferring yellow legal pads. He does not text. He started reading emails on his phone only in the last couple of months. His answers in court wandered so frequently that he was often interrupted and implored to keep his focus by opposing counsel, as well as the presiding judge, Harlin D. Hale and even his own lawyer. (“Mr. LaPierre, it’s rare that I’m going to interrupt you, but stick to yeses and nos if possible,” one of his lawyers, Gregory Garman, interjected during his testimony.)

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