Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, a central figure in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980s, has been named president of the National Rifle Association.
“This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became president of our association,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said. “Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader. In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our president.”
North will assume the presidency in coming weeks and has retired from Fox News, where he was a commentator.
“I appreciate the board initiating a process that affords me a few weeks to set my affairs in order, and I am eager to hit the ground running as the new NRA President,” he said in a statement.
North, 74, worked on the staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House when some within the administration arranged to sell U.S. arms to Iran in exchange for hostages and diverted part of the proceeds to help Nicaraguan contra forces. That type of aid was banned by Congress.
North was convicted in 1989 of charges including obstructing Congress, unlawfully mutilating government documents and taking an illegal gratuity. He was fined $150,000 and was given a three-year suspended sentence and two years’ probation.
A federal judge dropped the criminal charges against North in 1991.
“I want my grandkids to say that Granddad was a person who taught me how to fight the good fight, how to finish the race, how to keep the faith,” North said. “You see, that’s the most important lesson of all: We’re in a fight. We’re in a brutal battle to preserve the liberties that the good Lord presents us.”
North was an active Marine for 22 years. He hosted “War Stories with Oliver North,” a series of military history documentaries on Fox News, and worked as a contributor for the network before retiring Monday.
He ran for Senate in 1994 as a Republican in a bitter race against Democrat Charles S. Robb in Virginia. North and Robb were in a statistical tie fewer than two weeks before the election when former first lady Nancy Reagan blasted North, saying he lied about her husband’s role in Iran-contra.
“Ollie North has a great deal of trouble separating fact from fantasy,” Nancy Reagan said at the time, “and he lied to my husband and lied about my husband, kept things from him that he should not have kept from him.”
Robb won the race by three percentage points. North was one of the few Republicans to lose in the 1994 election, when the party took over Congress.
North is taking over the NRA presidency as the organization has been directly challenged by students, activists, corporate America and politicians in the wake of a February shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.
“Perhaps the NRA is feeling the pressure from the past few months to change their leadership, but it’s downright baffling that they’d choose to install a walking lightning rod at the top of the organization,” said Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Instead, they are doubling down on a polarizing leadership style that serves only the interest of gun manufacturers at the expense of real American freedom — the right to live life without the fear of being shot.”
NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch tweeted that North is a “total warrior for freedom” and “the last person that anti-gun advocates would want as the new president of the NRA board.”
The organization’s 147th annual meeting drew tens of thousands of people to Dallas last weekend; President Trump and Vice President Pence addressed the meeting Friday.