WASHINGTON, D.C. — LaPierre knew what notes to hit to satisfy the hard-liners. At the annual meeting in 1993, LaPierre told the members, “Good, honest Americans stand divided, driven apart by a force that dwarfs any political power or social tyrant that ever before existed on this planet: the American media.”
Democrats in Congress and some Republican allies passed an assault-weapons ban in 1994. That fired up the NRA base. The NRA’s rhetoric grew harsher. Out on the political fringe, the militia movement grew in influence, as anti-government activists warned of black helicopters carrying federal agents dressed like ninjas. The militants cited the 1992 shooting deaths of two civilians in a federal raid at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the 1993 siege by federal agents of a religious sect’s compound in Waco, Texas, that culminated in a fire killing 76 people.
John Magaw, then the head of the ATF, recalls trying to set up meetings with the NRA to discuss gun issues. “They would not answer. They would ignore us.”
It was personal, too. Once, Magaw says, he saw LaPierre waiting to board a plane at Dulles International Airport in Fairfax County, Va. They were at the same gate.
“I went over to pay my respects and say hello,” he says. “He just turned and walked away. He wouldn’t talk to me.”
The NRA did not make LaPierre or any other NRA official available for an interview for this report.
Everything seemed to be going the NRA’s way in the aftermath of the 1994 midterm election, when Democrats were drummed from the House en masse. But then came Oklahoma City.
Timothy McVeigh’s April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people, including 19 young children in a day-care center, and although the NRA had nothing to do with the terrorist attack, the association’s strident anti-government rhetoric drew national attention. News reports focused on a fundraising letter, signed by LaPierre and sent to NRA members before the bombing, that said the new assault-weapons ban “gives jackbooted Government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us.”