A new lawsuit in the seemingly endless list of legal disputes stemming from the National Rifle Association’s slow implosion pits Wayne LaPierre against a longtime friend.
LaPierre and former Reagan-era deputy assistant defense secretary Tony Makris teamed up decades ago. That relationship now appears to be over.
Wild Skies Inc. – a TV production company – sued the NRA in Fairfax County circuit court on Wednesday, accusing the gun group of failing to pay it $17.1 million in fees to sponsor a hunting program that the company produced.
The lawsuit – first reported by the Wall Street Journal – seeks damages over breach of contract, and claims that LaPierre, his wife, and top NRA executives were given free hunting trips to Africa by the TV producer.
Makris hosted the program, called Under Wild Skies. NBC aired the program until 2013, when it got yanked after Makris responded to criticism of the hunting show from animal rights activists by proclaiming, on air, that “Hitler would have said the same thing.”
In the lawsuit, Under Wild Skies said that it’s been unfairly linked to Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s longtime ad firm with which it had a brutal, and very public falling out. The TV production company claims that the NRA began to punish it for its alleged ties to Ackerman by withholding payment.
Makris’s ties to Ackerman, at least, go beyond mere allegations. He has helmed Ackerman’s DC-based subsidiary Mercury Group since the mid-1990s, and worked closely with the NRA in that capacity.
Beyond that, Makris himself and LaPierre have been closely involved with each other going back even further.
In the mid-1980s, the two were linked in a scandal involving a shipment of M1 rifles left over from the Korean War back into the United States. LaPierre was accused of lobbying Congress and the State Department to allow the rifles to be reimported, the bulk of which were then to have been sold through a gun shop that Makris and LaPierre controlled.
“Tony was Wayne’s right hand guy,” longtime NRA member Jeff Knox, whose father mounted an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow LaPierre, told TPM.
Knox added that Makris was also responsible for “bringing Charlton Heston in” to the NRA, for which he served as a de facto mascot throughout the late 1990s.
The complaint alleges that Under Wild Skies provided LaPierre and others with elite hunting trips to Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana, and Uruguay. The firm claims that the NRA stopped payments in July, after sending a letter demanding information about the pair’s financial relationship.
“$17 million seems steep,” Knox noted.
In a statement to TPM, NRA outside counsel William Brewer said that the lawsuit was “without merit.”
“As its own lawsuit recognizes, Under Wild Skies is under scrutiny by the NRA for failing to meet its contractual obligations,” Brewer said. “Not surprisingly, rather than answer basic questions about its performance, the program and its principals resorted to a desperate lawsuit designed to generate headlines and deflect blame.”
Brewer added that the allegations around the safaris “were trips to extol the benefits of hunting and promote the brand of the NRA.”