Oliver North is the new president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and an old bête noire of In These Times. Recall that this is the man who, in 1987, lied to Congress about his role in providing weapons to Iran in exchange for money (and the release of Americans held hostage by Hezbollah) and then using the profits from those arms sales to illegally fund the Contras in Nicaragua. He was eventually indicted on 16 felony counts and convicted on three, including lying under oath to Congress.
In December 1987, In These Times covered the report of the joint House-Senate congressional investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal. Peter Kornbluh wrote:
The seamy side of the Iran-Contra scandal — the administration’s collusion with terrorists, mercenaries and dope peddlers — is conspicuously omitted. … Both the scandal and the report offer conclusive proof of Congress’s selfinduced inability to make covert operations compatible with American democracy, and the unfailing dedication of America’s national security managers to keep things that way. Moreover, the report documents the extraordinary threat to the American way of life that these operations portend. Buried on page 390 is the report’s most significant observation: The type of operations being run by Reagan and his men represented “the path to dictatorship” for the United States. Yet instead of calling for a national debate on the compatibility of covert operations with a constitutional democracy, the report endorses paramilitary wars such as the ongoing one in Nicaragua. … Ignoring the overwhelming evidence of institutional criminality, the committees conclude: “The Iran-Contra affair resulted from the failure of individuals to observe the law, not from deficiencies in existing law or in our system of governance.”
Under the Trump administration, North has again been busily blazing “the path to dictatorship.” This time, he teamed with ex-CIA officer John R. Maguire (an Iran-Contra veteran) and Blackwater founder Erik Prince to pitch the White House on a private intelligence service that would report directly to the president and the CIA director. According to The Intercept, North and company tried to sell their scheme as a way to counter the influence of “deep state” bogeymen. The White House has denied any meetings took place.
With North at the helm of the NRA, Trump now has one of his avid supporters leading an army of gun-toting wingnuts. The two men share a disdain for the rule of law. They also are united in their enmity for Bill and Hillary Clinton. In 1994, North, his felony convictions set aside on a technicality, ran for U.S. Senate, challenging Virginia’s Sen. Charles Robb.
As Robert Parry reported in June 1994 for In These Times, at the Republican state convention, North set his sights on the Clintons and the “20-something kids with an earring and an axe to grind” who had taken over the White House. “Today, we send the Clintons and their cronies a simple but unmistakable message,” North told the crowd. “This is our government. You stole it and we are going to take it back.”
And, like Trump, North is a stranger to the truth. In the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas on May 18, the new president of the NRA blamed the 10 deaths not on guns, but on drugs: “Many of these young boys have been on Ritalin since they were in kindergarten.” That may be the case; the 17-year-old shooter, however, was not one of them.
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.