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NRA board members defend LaPierre’s push for Texas mansion

Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, speaks March 2 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. (J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post)

Half a dozen National Rifle Association board members rose to the defense of chief executive Wayne LaPierre on Wednesday, brushing off reports that he wanted the nonprofit organization to buy him a multimillion-dollar mansion in a gated golf club community in Texas last year.

The revelations of LaPierre’s interest in the luxury estate come as the gun rights group has been contending with allegations of lavish spending by top leaders. But several members said LaPierre’s support on the board has changed little since April, when he was reelected in what NRA officials said at the time was a unanimous vote.

“Wayne LaPierre has done a great job for the NRA,” said Wayne Ross, an attorney in Alaska who has served on the board for about two decades. “I hate to see him treated the same way President Trump is treated with all the false reporting.”

LaPierre, who has led the gun rights lobby for about three decades, is widely viewed as the face of the NRA, and questions about his leadership are often cast by his allies as attacks on the organization.

“This is a PR problem, if you will. Our critics know that to get what they want, they have to take down the NRA, and the most effective way to do that is to take down Wayne LaPierre,” said David Keene, a board member and past president. “I don’t think Wayne is at any risk. This is the sort of distraction we’ve had to deal with in the past.”

The Washington Post reported that LaPierre told associates he needed a more secure place to live because he was worried about being targeted after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He and his wife, Susan, were intensely involved in the selection of a potential property, a 10,000-square-foot estate with lakefront and golf course views in Westlake, Tex., on the market for about $6 million.

The NRA’s now-estranged ad firm, Ackerman McQueen, said LaPierre had sought its assistance with the real estate transaction, a proposal it said alarmed company officials. NRA officials contend that Ackerman McQueen suggested the real estate purchase and that it was ultimately rejected by top NRA leaders.

NRA chief sought purchase of $6 million mansion in wake of Parkland shooting

The Post sought comment on the proposed mansion purchase from the 73 current members of the NRA’s board, along with three who resigned last week. Most did not respond to requests for comment via email or phone.

Those who did rallied to the LaPierre’s defense, accusing Ackerman McQueen — which is locked in a legal battle with the NRA — of distorting details about the real estate discussions.

“This story is a big lie,” said Howard Walter, a retired Navy fighter pilot who lives in North Carolina and has served on the board for 21 years.

“It’s a total misrepresentation of the truth, but I can’t get into the details,” said Tom King, a board member and the president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. 

“They were just trying to find a safe house to put him in,” said LeRoy Sisco, a retired businessman in Texas who has been on the board for about 10 years. “Other people could use it, too. They were just saying that they needed to get him to a safe place.”

Keene and other board members said concerns about LaPierre’s security after the February 2018 massacre at the Parkland, Fla., high school were warranted.

“I know that to be true because I went through it when I was president after Sandy Hook,” said Keene, referring to the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children. “There were death threats.”

The only board member who criticized the potential mansion purchase was former congressman Allen B. West (R-Fla.), who was the first board member to call for LaPierre’s resignation in May. “The optics ain’t going to look good to the membership,” he said.

Since the vote of confidence for LaPierre in April, NRA leaders have justified his spending on designer suits and luxury travel as necessary business expenses. They have dismissed mounting dissent, including the recent resignations by three board members who had demanded an external audit, and downplayed the departure of key leaders such as veteran political strategist Christopher Cox.

Outrage over an investigation by the New York attorney general into spending by the tax-exempt group is also unifying board members. This week, the attorney for the NRA board received a subpoena asking all members for all correspondence and records related to NRA business, according to board members. 

“Personally, I think it’s harassment, and it’s kind of outrageous,” Ross said.

In one sign of rebellion among NRA supporters, Nashville donor David Dell’Aquila accused LaPierre of fraud in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Tennessee.

The complaint alleges that LaPierre, the NRA and the NRA Foundation have solicited donations for gun safety, training and the promotion of shooting sports but instead spent the money on “activity unrelated to the NRA’s core mission.”

Julie Tate contributed to this report.