The National Rifle Association can behave like a religious order: Its internal squabbles rarely spill out into public view. But on Friday, Glenn Beck, a Tea Party icon, aired his ongoing rift with one of the organization’s officials. During his radio show, Beck said many of his listeners would soon be receiving a ballot in the mail, which would ask them whether they wanted to recall Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, from the NRA’s board. It was the culmination of a quixotic crusade begun by Beck three years ago, when he alleged the advocate had unseemly ties to radical Muslims. He implored the NRA members in his audience to vote for Norquist’s removal.
“His connections to really, really dangerous people in the Islamist side is frightening and it needs to end and his influence needs to be dramatically reduced, at least in conservative circles,” Beck said.
For the NRA, the timing of Beck’s announcement could be considered less than ideal. Since early last week, the group has been dealing with a different public relations problem involving a prominent associate. On February 8, its most outspoken board member, Ted Nugent, took to social media to blame a dozen prominent American Jews for gun control. The comments were so indisputably hateful that even gun enthusiasts who revere the aging rock star called for his removal. And now the Norquist controversy has the prerogatives of the NRA in the spotlight again.
Norquist is one of the most influential conservative thinkers in the United States. A laissez-faire super hero, he has strong-armed the majority of federal Republican lawmakers into signing the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which contractually binds them to oppose tax increases of almost any kind. In the 1990s, he sought to spread his free-market ideas to the Middle East, believing that Muslim countries, which were anti-communist and conservative in nature, would make for natural allies. To further his efforts, he set up something called the Islamic Free Market Institute (IFMI).
Over two decades of such outreach, Norquist has at times crossed paths with people later identified as Muslim extremists. One such man was Abdurahman Alamoudi, a Yemeni-American who helped the Pentagon create its Muslim chaplain program and donated $20,000 to Norquist’s IFMI. In 2004, Alamoudi was brought up on terrorism charges and sentenced to 23 years in jail.
Beck began discussing Norquist’s Muslim connections in 2013, suggesting that he was responsible for “a lot of the Muslim Brotherhood stuff that goes on in the White House.” Two years later, in March 2015, Beck doubled down. He told his listeners that if Norquist remained on the board of the NRA, he would be forced to relinquish his membership.
“I don’t believe he’s out trying to destroy America, but his efforts and his work will lead to the destruction of America,” Beck said.
The host added that earlier that week he had spent an hour on the phone with Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president. LaPierre, he said, was planning to open an ethics investigation into Norquist’s activities.
“When it comes down to something this important, agents of influence … we do not take a risk,” Beck explained. “We cannot lose the NRA.”
The following month, in early April, Norquist was re-elected to the NRA’s board for a three-year term. A week later, he announced that he would voluntarily take a leave of absence from his position “pending the outcome of the investigation.” Meanwhile, over the summer, the recall process initiated by Beck got underway.
Next week, NRA members will receive their ballots. If the majority of voters agree with Beck, the board will be charged with finding an interim replacement for Norquist as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the NRA has yet to release the findings of its inquiry.
Whether Beck’s efforts will result in Norquist’s removal remains unclear, but there are certainly a number of gun owners who agree with his claims. A February 13 post on the firearms enthusiast site Ammoland sparked a rabid discussion among members who are in favor of the recall. “Norquist has to go now!” a poster called Tex wrote. “The NRA better press the issue on this too or they will lose tons of members, myself included!”
The NRA board, for its part, appears to be on Norquist’s side. Several long-serving directors, including past NRA president David Keene, have spoken out against the recall.
Norquist also has a fan in Ted Nugent, whose own NRA board status does not seem to have so far been jeopardized by his anti-Semitism. “If there was a Hall of Fame of Common Sense,” Nugent wrote in a 2012 op-ed for the Washington Times, “a huge statue of Grover Norquist would be at the front door.”
[Left photo: Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images; Right: AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley]