Oliver North says 100 million Americans own guns and that more of them need to join the National Rifle Association.
Mr. North, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, talk show host and now the incoming president of the NRA, said his first goal will be to add 1 million people “as fast as we can” to the organization’s membership, which is already at a record, approaching 6 million.
In an exclusive interview with The Washington Times, Mr. North described a challenging legal landscape for gun owners after former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens suggested repealing the Second Amendment and amid growing anti-gun propaganda in the wake of the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“They can do all the cyberwar against us — they’re doing it. They can use the media against us — they are. They’ve gone after our bank accounts, our finances, our donors, and obviously individual members,” Mr. North said. “It’s got to stop. And that’s why the leadership invited me to become the next president of the NRA.”
The NRA announced Monday that Mr. North, already a board member, would take over as president, giving the organization one of the highest-profile leaders in its nearly 150-year history.
Observers said it couldn’t be a coincidence, coming just months after Parkland, which sparked renewed gun control efforts on Capitol Hill and in a number of state legislatures, and an increasingly nasty tone toward the NRA.
Mr. North said the NRA is now the victim of “civil terrorism” after vandals splashed fake blood on the Virginia home of a top NRA official and other opponents aimed personal “threats” at NRA leaders and members.
“They call them activists. That’s what they’re calling themselves. They’re not activists — this is civil terrorism. This is the kind of thing that’s never been seen against a civil rights organization in America,” he said.
“You go back to the terrible days of Jim Crow and those kinds of things — even there you didn’t have this kind of thing,” he said. “We didn’t have the cyberwar kind of thing that we’ve got today.”
He said that contrary to claims from gun control activists, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — which he labeled “a travesty, a failure on the part of the local authorities and unfortunately the FBI as well” — hasn’t fundamentally changed the nature of the gun debate.
He said the young survivor-activists who have emerged as representatives for gun restrictions — and as fierce opponents of the NRA — are getting swept up by a broader propaganda machine.
“What they did very successfully with a frontal assault, and now intimidation and harassment and lawbreaking, is they confused the American people,” he said. “Our job is to get the straight story out about what happened there, and to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen again because the proper things are being done with the advocacy of the NRA.”
That begins, Mr. North said, with the NRA’s “School Shield” security program, announced after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, as an example of how the group is helping schools take steps to prevent massacres.
After the NRA’s defiant post-Parkland response, which included suing the state of Florida over new age restrictions for certain rifles, some corporations ended their NRA member discounts. Investment firms and banks are also re-examining whether they want to have any ties to gun companies.
In March, Citibank announced it would only work with retail clients if they required background checks for gun purchases and restricted sales for people under 21. Bank of America has also announced it’s backing away from clients that sell semiautomatic firearms.
To “counterpunch,” Mr. North said, he plans to recruit new members from his connections in the U.S. armed forces, as well as viewers and people he has interviewed for his longtime “War Stories” documentary show on Fox News.
He said the 23 million veterans and family members in the country is “a pretty big base.”
“My job is to motivate, inspire, encourage and tell the truth,” he said, though he acknowledged that some would-be political allies are treading carefully after the Parkland shooting.
“There are people running in fear from what happened down in Parkland thinking that the NRA is on its heels — it’s not,” he said. “What we have to do is assure them that being associated with the NRA is a good thing for their re-election chances. It’s a positive thing.”
Gun control groups have derided the NRA board’s decision to turn to Mr. North, saying it’s a thinly veiled ploy for publicity in the face of “plummeting” popularity.
Mr. North rejected that and pushed back against activists who chided him over his role in the Iran-Contra affair, which made him a public figure and then a major star in the conservative movement.
He was accused of selling weapons illegally to Iran and then moving that money to the Contras, a U.S.-backed rebel group seeking to overthrow Nicaragua’s communist regime. He was convicted of three felonies — related to obstruction of justice and reporting gifts — but they were vacated by a court over irregularities in the testimony against him and eventually dropped by prosecutors.
“They can say whatever they want — it’s ancient history,” Mr. North told The Times. “My reply is, I did my duty for Ronald Reagan just like I did it for every president since I was in the Marine Corps starting in 1961.”
Mr. North also waved aside comparisons to actor Charlton Heston, who was tapped to lead the NRA during the late 1990s during another period when the influence of the group was being questioned.
“I don’t want to be Charlton Heston — he was Moses. I’m a U.S. Marine. And I love Moses, and he was magnificent,” said Mr. North, who recalled “grousing” about bringing in Mr. Heston to “save” the group.
“And maybe he did,” he said. “I don’t think I have to save the NRA — I want to increase the size of the NRA.”