In 2013, the National Rifle Association paid for a working vacation for its CEO Wayne LaPierre to shoot elephants in Africa for a TV series called Under Wild Skies, which aimed to promote the organization among hunters and to show off LaPierre’s skill with a firearm. The footage, obtained by the Trace and published on Tuesday by The New Yorker, was scrapped after NRA officials feared that it would be a disaster on both fronts.
The nine-minute clip, which conservationists have called “sickening,” features LaPierre on a hunt in Botswana’s Okavango Delta to take down African Savannah elephants, which were officially listed as endangered earlier this year. Once professional guides tracked down a group of the largest living land mammal, LaPierre “proved to be a poor marksman,” as Mike Spies documents:
After LaPierre’s first shot wounded the elephant, guides brought him a short distance from the animal, which was lying on its side, immobilized. Firing from point-blank range, LaPierre shot the animal three times in the wrong place. Finally, a guide had the host of “Under Wild Skies” fire the shot that killed the elephant. Later that day, Susan LaPierre showed herself to be a better shot than her husband. After guides tracked down an elephant for her, Susan killed it, cut off its tail, and held it in the air. “Victory!” she shouted, laughing. “That’s my elephant tail. Way cool.”
For three decades, LaPierre has led the N.R.A.’s fund-raising efforts by railing against out-of-touch “élites” and selling himself as an authentic champion of American self-reliance and the unfettered right to protect oneself with a gun. But the footage, as well as newly uncovered legal records, suggest that behind his carefully constructed Everyman image, LaPierre is a coddled executive who is clumsy with a firearm, and fearful of the violent political climate he has helped to create.
Though the trip was a disaster, the couple still wanted souvenirs. At Susan LaPierre’s request, body parts from the elephants were surreptitiously shipped to the U.S. — at one point, a man traveled two hours to Johannesburg to get the LaPierre’s names off the shipping crates containing the elephant remains. The bill for the shipping was in the name of a taxidermist who was paid to turn the elephants’ feet into stools in the LaPierre home.
The Trace and The New Yorker were also able to review a copy of LaPierre’s private deposition in a case involving an ad firm known as Ackerman McQueen, run by Angus McQueen, a close ally of the NRA executive. The sworn testimony shows the wide gap between the executive’s lifestyle and the rugged, self-reliant living championed by the organization:
When a lawyer for Ackerman McQueen asked LaPierre about the upscale suits, he said, “Angus told me, ‘Wayne, get wardrobe. Go get wardrobe.’ Angus actually set up the billing.”
The lawyer replied, “But, let me just say, you’re a big boy, right?”
“You can make your own decisions about what clothes you need and what clothes you don’t need,” the lawyer said. “You’ve been dressing yourself for a number of years.”
LaPierre then defended the purchases, arguing that he was the N.R.A.’s “primary brand spokesperson” and that he “didn’t see anything wrong with it” since his job required “looking good on TV in terms of your image.” He said that McQueen recommended certain types of suits. “There was a period where Angus wanted me in light suits because he thought that women responded better in light suits. There was another period of time where he thought my suits were outdated because style—style had changed.”
Throughout the era of American mass shootings, the National Rifle Association has successfully lobbied to stop meaningful gun-reform legislation from gaining traction. But thanks to decades of alleged self-dealing and fraud, the group is now facing an existential crisis after declaring bankruptcy in January to avoid regulators. Last August, New York State attorney general Letitia James sued the NRA to dissolve the group due to its reported corruption. Earlier this month, LaPierre revealed in a deposition in Texas, where the NRA filed for bankruptcy, that he hid out on a friend’s 108-foot yacht to avoid scrutiny after the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings. “This was the one place that I hope I could feel safe, where I remember getting there going, ‘Thank God I’m safe, nobody can get me here,’” he recalled.