Oliver North, the new head of the National Rifle Association, has a controversial past as the central figure in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair — a scandal in which the Reagan administration illegally sold arms to Iran with the intent to use proceeds to fund rebels in Nicaragua — but he has also courted controversy for his views on gay rights.
In a speech at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, North, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, compared fighting against gay rights to the abolitionists’ fight during the 19th century against slavery.
At a time of achievements on LGBT rights and rapidly changing views the year before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality nationwide, North ended his speech by urging conservatives not to abandon social issues.
“Some say that we must ignore social issues, like the definition of marriage, the sanctity of life, religious freedoms,” North said. “I say those are not social issues, they are deeply moral and spiritual issues and should be part of America’s elections.”
North continued: “In the 1850s, a political party was born on the idea of a great moral issue: Human bondage, the abolition of slavery in America. If we, as conservatives, cease to be a place where people of faith and those who believe in strong moral values can come, we will cease to be a political force in America.”
Years after President Obama signed repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” North also engaged in veiled criticism of openly gay service, using language borrowed from the Family Research Council about letting LGBT people in the military.
“The members of our armed forces and their families deserve better than being treated as laboratory rats in some radical social experiment,” North said.
The speech in 2014 was covered by Secular Talk Radio’s Kyle Kulinski, who at the time said “if that’s your idea of moral values, you’re an idiot.”
“Not only is there no comparison, if anything the opposition position on those issues is more like opposing slavery,” Kulinski said. “To be in favor of gay rights and to try to treat people equally under the law. That is definitely a movement that is more in line with the idea behind the abolitionists of treating people equal and treating people right.”
Those anti-gay remarks weren’t new for North, who as a Fox News commentator was a regular figure at CPAC as well as the anti-LGBT Voters Values Summit hosted each year by the Family Research Council.
Years before that speech, North in 2010 wrote an op-ed for the National Review in which he criticized then-Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen for coming out in favor of gays in the military and suggested troops who disagree with that can “find another place to work.”
“Such a cavalier response to a U.S. senator’s serious inquiry may play well in the press and in the current commander-in-chief’s office, but it illuminates a deeply misguided commitment to political correctness and foreshadows serious adverse consequences for our national security,” North wrote. “If tens of thousands of troops now serving in the finest military force the world has ever known vote with their feet in the midst of a war, we’re all in deep trouble.”
Also in 2010, as reported at the time by ThinkProgress, North told Sean Hannity on Fox News allowing openly gay people in the military was tantamount to letting pedophiles in the armed forces.
“Now, here’s what’s next,” North said. “NAMBLA members, same-sex marriages. Are chaplains in the U.S. military going to be required to perform those kinds of rituals? Do they get government housing?”
ThinkProgress’ Igor Volsky wrote at the time, “The irony of a convicted felon who lied about diverting proceeds from arms sales to a rebel group in Nicaragua supporting a policy that forces gay and lesbian servicemen to lie about their sexual orientation was lost on both Hannity and North.”
That past seems to be a perfect fit for the NRA despite attempts from the organization to profess LGBT inclusion in recent years and support for the LGBT gun group Pink Pistols.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said the new hire is “the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became president of our association.”
“Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader,” LaPierre said. “In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our president.”
According to the NRA, North will depart as a Fox News commentator before taking on his new role — a process the organization’s board of directors initiated Monday morning.
Jason Lindsay, founder and executive director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, said North’s opposition to gay rights and prominence in the Iran-Contra affair “will suit him well in his new position as the president of the NRA.”
“The NRA is on a quest to dismantle our nation’s gun safety laws and stands in complete opposition to any new reforms, despite public opinion and the tragic human cost,” Lindsay said. “Of particular concern to the LGBTQ community is North’s inflammatory statements regarding the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which he implied would lead to pedophiles being admitted to the armed forces. His previous actions and statements make clear that this is not an individual who should have a leadership position in any organization, but is not a surprising choice for an organization as disastrous to public safety as the NRA.”