AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A former top executive from the NRA has written a tell-all book called "Inside The NRA." Joshua Powell paints the gun rights group as a corrupt organization whose top leaders stole millions of dollars from rank-and-file gun owners. NPR's Brian Mann has covered the NRA and gun culture for years, and he joins us now.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right. So you have read Powell's book and I know that you talked to him about it. Were there any surprises for you?
MANN: You know, the NRA has this very closed, secretive leadership. So for those of us who've studied the NRA from the outside, this is a fascinating read. Powell confirms some of the harshest criticisms that have been leveled against the gun group over the years. He says corruption, infighting and mismanagement have pushed this powerful conservative group into what he describes as a death spiral.
JOSHUA POWELL: It's going to be a slow death, I believe. Whether the NRA comes out on the other side in some shape or form is to be determined. And the person who takes over the NRA after Wayne's gone, you know, will have a real mess to clean up.
MANN: And Powell mentions Wayne there. He's talking about Wayne LaPierre, the longtime head of the NRA. Powell was LaPierre's second in command for three years but now says in his book his boss and mentor was diverting donations for personal use, effectively stealing from the NRA's supporters.
CHANG: And has the NRA responded to these allegations in the book?
MANN: So they declined NPR's request for an interview but sent a statement describing Powell's book as a fiction. They downplayed his role at the organization and say he was fired earlier this year for misappropriating funds. That's a claim Powell denies. I should say the NRA has also broadly rejected allegations detailed in a lawsuit filed last month by New York's attorney general, Letitia James, that seeks to dissolve the gun group entirely. New York alleges the NRA is basically a criminal enterprise that siphoned off these charitable contributions for years. They say Powell was part of that himself. In a statement, NRA President Carolyn Meadows described New York's lawsuit as a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend. But Powell's book does echo many of that lawsuit's claims. He says NRA executives acted like movie gangsters. And he compares their lifestyle to the characters in the film "Goodfellas." Obviously, the courts will have to sort out whether any of those executives broke the law.
CHANG: And what does Powell say about gun owners themselves - I mean, the 5 million NRA members whose contributions and votes have basically given this organization so much power?
MANN: Yeah. What Powell writes is that the NRA helped radicalize many gun owners. That's his description. He says this ties back to the question of money. What he claims is that the NRA and executive director Wayne LaPierre realized they could raise - operation going if they scared gun owners, playing to their darkest fears.
POWELL: The term pour gasoline on the fire is from Wayne's lips to God's ears and was used regularly. If you're pandering to the fringe of the gun movement and you beat it into their head that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are going to jump out of a black helicopter and take their guns and jackbooted thugs are just around the corner, it's very easy to raise money off of fear.
MANN: Yeah. So Powell acknowledges that while inside the NRA he made no efforts to shift this narrative about guns. He now describes that view as extreme and says he has regrets about his behavior there.
CHANG: Of course, a lot of the gun debate in recent years has been shaped by mass shootings, many of them at schools like in Newtown and Parkland and on and on. Powell was close to the NRA as they have responded to these horrible events. What did he see?
MANN: Well, he says basically the reality of the violence was often overruled by politics. Here's what he said about that.
POWELL: I have two daughters at the time of Sandy Hook that were in elementary school. And, frankly, it took me till the end of that day to come to - aground of what really happened, which, you know, it's an event that changed our country. Remorse is probably a good word. I am remorseful about some of the time that I spent there.
CHANG: That is NPR's...
MANN: And now Powell says he does support some gun control measures.
CHANG: That is NPR's Brian Mann on the new book "Inside The NRA" by Joshua Powell.
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