On the morning of Saturday, April 14, 2012, things were going well for the National Rifle Association. The gun rights organization's annual meeting was in full swing. Bloggers crowed about record attendance at the St. Louis, Missouri event. Friday's “Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum” went off without a hitch--all 13 featured speakers were Republican men. Barack Obama was called a "post-American President," "incompetent," and the most "radically liberal" president since Jimmy Carter. But the most incendiary comments about the president had yet to come.
SATURDAY, APRIL 14
On Saturday afternoon, Ted Nugent, a member of the NRA's Board of Directors, addressed the NRA faithful. Nugent implored NRA members to support the Republican ticket in the fall, declaring, “Your goal should be to be able to get a couple of thousand people, per person who's here, to vote for Mitt Romney in November.” After that rather innocuous endorsement, Nugent turned his sights on President Obama, and things quickly spiraled out of control.
“If that dead Marine isn't worth it to you to demand that the enemies in the White House are ousted, then you probably ought to just move to France,” ranted Nugent. He continued, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that's funny? That's not funny at all. I'm serious as a heart attack.” Nugent then characterized the Obama administration as “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating,” before concluding his diatribe with a call for the audience to “ride into that battlefield and chop [Democrats] heads off in November.”
MONDAY, APRIL 16
TUESDAY, APRIL 17
Following widespread outrage regarding Nugent's inflammatory remarks at the NRA convention, the Secret Service confirmed that it opened an investigation into the aging rocker's comments. (On Thursday, the Secret Service announced that “the issue has been resolved” and the agency “does not anticipate any further action.” )
Without mentioning Nugent by name, Mitt Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul stated, “Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from. Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil.” This milquetoast response did little to temper the controversy surrounding Nugent's comments.
That same day Nugent addressed his critics during a radio appearance with CNN's Dana Loesch. He doubled down on his remarks while calling his message “100 percent positive.” Nugent then compared his rhetoric to that of Mitt Romney, claiming, “Mitt Romney knows what I'm saying is true. He puts it into words for him, I put it into words for me.” Nugent responded to criticism of his remarks by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz by calling her a “brain-dead, soulless, heartless idiot.”
Earlier that day conservative “model” legislation organization American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced that it was eliminating its NRA-chaired Public Safety and Elections task force. The task force played a role in promoting controversial Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” self-defense legislation nationwide. According to ALEC, the task force was disbanded so that the organization could focus on “policies that will help spur innovation and competitiveness across the country.” The NRA had previously sponsored ALEC's annual conference to a tune of $25,000. While in charge of the Public Safety and Elections task force, the NRA was able to take language nearly identical to Florida's controversial 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law and adopt it as “model” legislation, to be disseminated by conservative lawmakers across the nation. With the task force's elimination, the NRA lost one of its more valuable tools to push its legislative agenda on the state level.
It was also reported that day that Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, the recipient of an A+ rating from the NRA, vetoed legislation that would have allowed members of the public to carry firearms in city halls, police stations, county courts, and other public buildings. Contrary to the NRA mantra of firearms almost everywhere, carried by almost anyone, Brewer reasoned, “The decisions to permit or prohibit guns in these extremely sensitive locations -- whether a city council chamber or branch office staffed with state workers -- should be cooperatively reached and supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including citizens, law-enforcement officials and local government leaders.”
The NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) later issued a tepid response to the veto, stating, “The NRA believes that this issue needs to be addressed. We have and will continue to work with the Legislature, Governor and all interested parties toward a legislative solution in 2013.”
Just three years ago the NRA hosted its annual meeting in Brewer's home state of Arizona. NRA-ILA executive director Chris Cox heaped praise upon the newly appointed governor, swooning, “Even during the most difficult days, she has never wavered. She has consistently supported pro-gun legislative initiatives, like 'right-to-carry' ... During her service as Senate Majority Whip there was never a time when the members of her caucus didn't know which way to vote on bills that matter to gun owners. As Secretary of State she remained a close ally and valuable friend of the National Rifle Association. Now Arizona gun owners are fortunate to have her as governor.”
In her 2009 remarks, Brewer declared, “Make no mistake. Arizona is NRA country.” Whether that is true today is certainly up for debate. Brewer's veto of the NRA-backed guns in public buildings bill came on the day before the one year anniversary of her veto of NRA-backed legislation permitting guns on campus.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18
CNN contributor Erick Erickson reported that the NRA representative to conservative powerbroker (and NRA board member) Grover Norquist's weekly Wednesday meeting expressed outrage that ALEC had dumped the NRA. According to Erickson, “The NRA representative claimed that if ALEC was going to run away from the fight on these public safety issues, ALEC might just run away from other issues too, e.g. immigration.” The ALEC representative reportedly took issue with the NRA's willingness to defend legislation that it had helped enact. Erickson wrote, “At that point the ALEC representative pointed out that ALEC had actually sought help from the NRA on 'stand your ground' laws, but the NRA decided, yet again, to play it safe and wound up letting ALEC take the bullet.”
THURSDAY, APRIL 19
By Thursday morning, Nugent's NRA convention rant had been scrubbed from the NRA's YouTube account. That same day, Nugent authored a Washington Times editorial defending his actions. Nugent claimed, “By no stretch of the imagination did I ever threaten anyone's life, or hint of violence or mayhem.” The real culprits, wrote Nugent, were members of the “left-wing media” : "[I]n their ever-desperate scramble to divert attention from the crimes of their communist leaders, the Saul Alinsky 'Rules for Radicals' left-wing media and terminally liberal Democrats circled their battlewagons of deceit and hate and unleashed their tsunami of lies about me and everything I said." Reflecting on the controversy, Nugent concluded that he had “never been prouder.”
That afternoon, commanders at Kentucky army base Fort Knox cancelled Nugent's headlining appearance at a concert to be held on June 23, 2012. According to a post on the Fort Knox Facebook page, “After learning of opening act Ted Nugent's recent public comments about the president of the United States, Fort Knox leadership decided to cancel his performance on the installation.” A replacement for Nugent has not been announced.
Following the Fort Knox announcement, Bangor, Maine councilmember Charles Longo, Jr. asked that Nugent be removed from this summer's Bangor Waterfront concert series. Longo wrote that, “In the wake of one of the most fiery election seasons ever, I believe that this vitriolic, incendiary rhetoric has no place in our national discourse. Furthermore, I do not believe that we should give him a platform to stand on in the city of Bangor ... Mr. Nugent has proved time and time again that he will use any means necessary to keep him in the headlines, regardless of the shameful things he says.”
FRIDAY, APRIL 20
Reports surfaced that Nugent will plead guilty to illegally hunting a bear in Alaska in violation of the Lacey Act. In a plea agreement filed with the U.S. District Court in Anchorage, Nugent reportedly admitted that he shot and killed a black bear with a bow and arrow after previously wounding a different bear. Under Alaska law, a hunter that wounds a bear, but is unable to retrieve it, has fulfilled his or her bag limit for the season. Prosecutors have recommended that Nugent pay a fine of $10,000 and be banned from hunting in Alaska for a year. He will also have to a make a public service announcement, that will run during his “Spirit of the Wild” TV show, highlighting the importance of knowing hunting regulations.
Nugent was represented in court by fellow NRA board member Wayne Anthony Ross. A mainstay of Alaska politics, Ross was nominated for Alaska attorney general in 2009 by then-Governor Sarah Palin, but became the first state agency nominee to fail to be confirmed in Alaska history after being voted down by the Alaska Legislature. In opposing Ross, critics pointed to a letter he wrote that called gays "degenerates" and allegations that he said, “There wouldn't be an issue with domestic violence if women would learn to keep their mouths shut,” at an Anchorage, Alaska meeting of Dads Against Discrimination.
This was not the first time Nugent was busted for illegal hunting. In August 2010, he pled no contest to charges that he illegally baited and then shot an undersized deer in California.