The National Rifle Association has named Oliver North, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel known for his role in the Reagan Administration-era Iran-Contra scandal, as its new president.
He will replace Pete Brownell, CEO of firearms accessory maker Brownells, leading the pro-gun organization in a few weeks. North has already stepped down from his contributor role at Fox News.
North’s tenure comes as the NRA faces intense scrutiny from politicians, students, corporations, and gun safety advocates following a series of high-profile mass shootings. Opponents criticize their organization’s opposition to gun control and its success in lobbying lawmakers to scuttle anti-gun legislation.
Here are five things you need to know about North.
1. He was a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal
North was one of the participants in the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal, which happened during President Ronald Reagan’s second term. The Reagan administration secretly sold arms to Iran (despite an arms embargo) and funneled the funds to rebels in Nicaragua–even though Congress had passed legislation prohibiting giving funds to the Contras.
After news of the sale broke, North was dismissed by Reagan. He testified before Congress about his role in 1987.
2. He was convicted of three felonies relating to his role in Iran-Contra affair that were overturned
In 1988, North was tried for his role in Iran-Contra and convicted of three felonies a year later for accepting an illegal gratuity, ordering the destruction of government documents, and aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a Congressional inquiry.
“Oliver North won’t go to prison even though he lied to Congress, shredded White House documents and accepted a $14,000 security fence from an Iran-contra arms profiteer,” according to a scathing New York Times editorial in 1989. “His punishment of 1,200 hours of community service, $150,000 fine and three years’ suspended sentence doesn’t fit his felonies.”
A federal judge overturned the conviction in 1990.
3. He has served on the NRA board for years, and is a board favorite, according to NPR
North is a popular figure within the NRA. He received the most votes as a board member in 2016, and he was in the top two in 2013, according to MSNBC. “This year, as in previous years, the top two vote-winners in NRA elections have been Oliver North and Ted Nugent,” MSNBC reported.
4. He ran for the U.S. Senate in Virginia in 1994 and lost
North ran as a Republican in an unsuccessful Senate campaign against incumbent Sen. Charles Robb (D). During the election, former First Lady Nancy Reagan had harsh words for North, saying, “he lied to my husband and lied about my husband.”
“Ollie North–oh, I’ll be happy to tell you about Ollie North,” Reagan said in an interview in 1994. “Ollie North has a great deal of trouble separating fact from fantasy.”
5. His election baffled gun control advocates
Gun safety organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence responded to the news about North’s election to the NRA’s presidency by decrying the organization and North’s past scandals.
“For an organization so concerned with law and order, picking a new leader who admitted that he lied to Congress is a truly remarkable decision,” Brady co-president Avery Gardiner said in a statement. “Now, the gun lobby–which has enshrined concealed carry reciprocity as one of its absolute top priorities–will be led by a man who’s own concealed carry permit was revoked because he was ‘not of good character.’”
Everytown for Gun Safety president John Feinblatt said in a statement to Fortune that North’s election is “the clearest sign yet that the NRA is floundering in the face of plummeting popularity, scrutiny into its Russia ties, and state lawmakers who are defying the gun lobby left and right”
“The NRA doesn’t need a new leader–it needs an entirely new direction,” he continued.
The NRA, however, praised North as a “gifted communicator and skilled leader.”
“This is the most exciting news for NRA members since Charlton Heston Became President of Our Association,” NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre said in a statement.