“The head of the National Rifle Association can’t shoot, can’t schmooze, and has the backbone of a chocolate eclair.”

Says a former board member—yet commands one of the most influential right-wing organizations in politics. -From Tim Mak’s book Misfire: Inside the downfall of the NRA

I, and many others, Oliver North included, have often scratched our heads at how someone as weird as Wayne rose to the top spot within the organization, but how he got there is very telling of his character.

In the swirling madness of America’s gun debate, a seismic shift has just occurred at the heart of its most storied institution. The National Rifle Association, a fortress of firearms fervor, finds itself leaderless as Wayne LaPierre, its long-standing CEO and career lobbyist, steps down. This isn’t just a change of guard; it’s a narrative ripped straight from the pages of a political thriller, where even the staunchest of allies turn foes in the face of unbridled extremism.

The Weirdness of LaPierre 

Originally a Democrat, like a substantial portion of the National Rifle Association’s longest-serving staff, Wayne was active with the Roanoke Democrats in college but declined a job offer from the office of Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Instead, he got a job at the NRA. The NRA building at the time was right across the street from the Democratic National Committee, and so he walked right in and ran into some staff that he knew from his work in politics. They were looking for a Democratic lobbyist, so he signed on right away.

Wayne is a clumsy, meek, spastic man with a weak handshake, those who know him personally say. When he first started at the NRA, he was known for his wrinkled suits and detached gaze. Yet he was repeatedly promoted despite displaying no sense of professional ambition or charisma. After starting as a state-level lobbyist in 1978, he was promoted to head the state-level lobbying department in 1979 and then to direct the NRA’s federal lobbying the next year.

It was like pulling teeth to get him to take a promotion, said John Aquilino, the NRA staffer who helped hire Wayne in the 1970s. “I’ve talked people out of murder, and this was harder,” Aquilino said, recalling when he approached Wayne to head up the NRA’s federal lobbying department. “Gee, I don’t know,” Wayne replied. It was only through reverse psychology that Aquilino was able to get him to agree: after Aquilino told Wayne not to worry about the promotion after all, Wayne was a lot more interested in the role.

Wayne is an awkward egghead type, and it’s not hard to imagine that with a few different twists of fate he would have ended up as a college professor teaching political science, rather than rising to become one of the nation’s most controversial gun rights advocates. He had a soft spot for children and was employed as a substitute special education teacher in Troy, New York, with poor and developmentally disabled students. In 1973, he started a Ph.D. at Boston University but dropped out to help a Democrat run for the Virginia state legislature; a few years later, he received an M.A. in political science from Boston College.