I was hoping I wouldn’t have to post this, but now that we’re out of alternatives I’ll be as succinct as I can and attempt (no doubt unsuccessfully) to keep my most heated personal judgments to a minimum.
“A housewife and a cat will both chase mice out of the kitchen. But the cat wants more mice to come back.”
— Aaron Zelman
Somebody reminded me this week of that statement from Aaron, the late, great founder of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. That was how Aaron contrasted himself and JPFO with Alan Gottlieb and Gottlieb’s SAF/CCRKBA.
Aaron wanted to educate people so that victim disarmament would go away. He would have been thrilled to be able to close JPFO’s doors and say, “We’ve done it.”
On the other hand, he despised Alan Gottlieb and saw him as an opportunist who used scary mailings to turn SAF/CCRKBA into a fundraising factory. He saw Gottlieb as a person who needed and wanted “gun control” because that’s what kept the money and the publicity flowing.
Gottlieb certainly confirmed many of the things Aaron said about him when he supported the Manchin-Toomey (really Manchin-Toomey-Schumer) universal background check bill last year. He even boasted of having spent hours helping to write the bill.
Now, the JPFO board of directors has hatched a plan to hand JPFO over to SAF — a merger that is scheduled to be finalized next week if JPFO supporters don’t stop it.
At the end of this post, I’m going to ask you to take action and give you contact information. But first let me tell you what little I know.
One of the things I know — the biggest thing I know — is that a viable plan exists to keep JPFO healthy and independent. And so far the board won’t even acknowledge it.
On Thursday, August 14, JPFO’s managing director Doug Schuett sent the following to me and one other JPFO contractor:
Friday & Monday as a board we discussed our options for JPFO. Yesterday just before I left I did receive a merger agreement from Second Amendment Foundation that they are willing to merge JPFO under their organization and keep it as a separate entity. They are very interested in keeping the JPFO writing team and webmaster intact and be a seamless transition.
Other JPFO team members were told the next day.
Now, JPFO struggled badly after Aaron’s 2010 death, but in the spring of 2013, Doug was hired and began to pull the organization back from the brink. This wasn’t easy, but by May 2014, membership had more than doubled from its post-Aaron lows and contributions and sales were strengthening.
I started working for JPFO again last November after a long absence, and soon we had a team of excellent writers. Recently, Doug added a part-time PR director and an industry coodinator — great people with a long-time passion for JPFO — and we were in the process of bringing on a professional spokesperson. You couldn’t have wanted a better team, and Doug was a supportive boss.
Still, it wasn’t always easy. Nothing was ever certain, and there had been talk that at some point JPFO might have to give up its offices and move into Doug’s home. There was even talk of asking another group to take JPFO under its wing. But that talk never seemed serious; it was more like “someday we might …”
And that talk was never, ever, ever about SAF. Some of us would have howled the walls down had such a proposal ever been run by us. Everybody with any long-time connection to Aaron knew his contempt for Gottlieb and knew (even more importantly) that JPFO’s dedication to absolute hardcore gun rights could never live at peace with Gottlieb’s chronic compromising.
In June, sales and new memberships dropped off. Normal for summer, I gather. But tough for an outfit just pulling itself back from a long struggle. By this month, JPFO was facing a potential shortfall. But we’re talking low single digits k here. Not anything huge.
Still, the panic over this shortfall seems to have spurred one rogue board member — a man who has always been certain of his own absolute rightness, even when his actions repeatedly lead to disaster — to take it unto himself to offer JPFO to SAF.
JPFO has only three board members. Two of them have been around a long time and I’m sure have given excellent service to JPFO in the past. But they’re tired, worn out, and they haven’t been active in JPFO management for a long time. One of them has gotten himself into dire financial straits. They are simply exhausted and preoccupied. They are too weary to deal proactively with JPFO any more. Both have talked repeatedly about resigning from the board, but always end up hanging on.
And with a board of three, any two can prevail.
Thus it was that with no warning whatsoever and no attempt to bring the fantastic JPFO team in to help find creative alternatives, we had SAF thrust upon us.
And somehow, this newly announced deal was going to be finalized before the end of the month. August 26 or August 28 were the dates we were given.
You’re going to hear me say “apparently” and “seemingly” and “so I’ve been told” quite a bit in this post. Because since that abrupt announcement, it’s been impossible to get information from anyone who knows what’s happening. Questions go unanswered. Details shift. Nobody knows anything. No information can be counted on. Communication becomes more scanty and sketchy every day.
For a while, Doug continued to try to funnel information to us, but he really didn’t have any. Now there is just silence from the leadership.
So forgive me, but some of what I’m saying is conjecture or second-hand information and I’ll try to be clear about which parts are which.
I have been told that SAF is not even paying any money for JPFO — that they’ll gain possession (and control of JPFO’s inventory, membership rolls, reputation, and everything else) — merely for covering the projected August shortfall.
I don’t know if this is true, but I believe it is. If so, it gives you an idea of just what a panic, and what a complete disregard for JPFO’s future, history, legacy, and reputation is driving the merger plan.
Still, for those first few days, there was that one little comfort: that SAF planned to — wanted to — intended to — was going to! — keep the JPFO team intact.
The directors would all have to resign their positions. Doug would lose his job because operations would be moved to SAF headquarters. And I’d choose to leave because I wouldn’t work for Gottlieb. But others would stay on as long as Gottlieb didn’t try to force them to go along with his compromises. JPFO would go on and it would just be a bump in the road.
Then Monday evening, the 18th, I got a mournful message from Doug via his home email. It said in part, “SAF made no inquiries on keeping anyone, that was [board member] being [himself] with good intentions.” There had never been any discussion about keeping JPFO intact.
I don’t know how anyone could tell a flat-out lie to an entire organization “with good intentions.” But so it was.
Does SAF plan to keep parts of JPFO functioning? Impossible to know. Does SAF plan to dismantle JPFO and bury its bones in some gun-rights graveyard? Impossible to know. Does SAF plan to use JPFO’s resources and reputation to make more money? Of course. Does SAF plan to use the legacy of a great man for cynical, compromising purposes that would have Aaron rolling in his grave?
You can bet on it.
Will JPFO’s priceless, unique anti-genocide voice be lost? It will. Will JPFO, the only one of its kind, aggressive, and eternally principled, be allowed to remain what it has been and must be? No. There is no such thing as a JPFO run by the compromising “Mr. Manchin-Toomey.” It’s an impossibility. Say goodbye to the purest, most resolute, most attitudinal voice in gun rights. Goodbye forever.
Having been lied to changed everything. Knowing that the superb JPFO team would almost certainly be dismantled changed everything.
A plan takes shape
That same evening I fired a message back at Doug without even giving it any real thought: What if an “investor group” of sorts came back with a better proposal? Could we present it to the board?
Doug was in favor of trying — though I admit that by Tuesday morning the light of day made such a plan look difficult to me and I was sorry I’d even brought it up.
Nevertheless, over the next several days, such a plan almost magically coalesced.
A life member of JPFO (who has Aaron-like words about Gottlieb) offered to cover the August shortfall — and more. As long as JPFO remained independent.
Several JPFO people, a mix of Jews and Gentiles, started kicking around ideas — ideas for decentralizing operations, modernizing the group’s website, cutting costs, doing new things without huge investments. Not only did the ideas flow, but so did the offers to carry them out. Problems I’d seen as insurmountable suddenly became easy, thanks to the skills, willingness, and resources of several people already working with JPFO and totally dedicated to its cause.
It was amazing. JPFO people are amazing. Right away we could see that we had something that was going to work. Something that was totally JPFO-centered. People were volunteering to do things they’d normally be paid for. They offered to do things outside their normal scope. They turned aside compensation. They offered or gave their own money. All to save JPFO.
But the deadline looms
Knowing the terrible next-week deadline was looming, I immediately started pushing Doug to tell the board we had a counteroffer to present. Get a conference call together. Notify them by email. Let us bid to save JPFO!
One key element was to get the board to agree to cancel the SAF merger or at the very least to postpone it long enough to give us a chance not only to present our rescue plan but to examine JPFO’s financials and bylaws, formalize our ideas, and perform other due diligence.
Day after day, though … no conference call. No response from the board. Less and less communication from the normally loquacious Doug. Well, things are difficult. One board member is in therapy for his illnesses. The one most eager to sell us out just went to his sister’s funeral.
I’m sorry for everyone’s difficulties. But for months now it’s been like that. These two men, difficult as their lives are, cling to control of JPFO long after they’ve lost any real interest. The board appears to be selling JPFO out just because they personally don’t feel like dealing with it any more — which is not a reason! There are other people ready to attack JPFO’s very handleable problems with enthusiasm and commitment.
On Wednesday Doug asked me to email an outline of our proposal to all three board members, which I did — stressing the urgency of at least temporarily backing away from submersion in SAF to give us time.
To date, there hasn’t even been an acknowledgment that they’ve received the outline. Not so much as an, “It’s here and we’ll think about it.”
And still, the deadline looms.
I don’t actually know how realistic it is to think JPFO will irrevocably hand itself over to SAF by next week. I can’t be sure of what they mean by “finalized.” Who knows? There might be unexpected delays. Nobody can be sure about anything because we can’t get any information. Everything about this merger is secretive and authoritarian. All I know is that one of the few consistent pieces of information we’ve been given is that next week is the drop-dead date. So I have to believe it.
I told Doug I’d publically disclose what I know by Friday the 22nd if the board hadn’t agreed to postpone the SAF merger and hear us out by then. And here we are.
If you are a JPFO member or donor, ask questions. Demand answers. Don’t accept evasions or silence. Tell them you don’t want your personal information placed in SAF’s relentless direct-mail churn.
If you are a blogger who cares about gun rights, please blog what’s going on.
If you participate in forums that cover Second Amendment issues, please spread the word.
If you care about JPFO and you know others who do, tell them what’s being done behind their backs.
Please contact JPFO’s three board members and tell them what you honestly think.
UPDATE: There is now also an online petition you can sign!
Some people may believe the JPFO/SAF merger is made in heaven. If you think that, then by all means feel free to contact the board members and tell them, “Good going, guys. Don’t listen to that interfering b*tch, Claire Wolfe and those other guys. You just merge away.”
But if you think otherwise, tell them that, too. Politely, please. Don’t threaten, yell, or be profane (not that you would, anyhow). But tell them what JPFO really is to you — not just some disposable appendage of Gottlieb’s fundraising factory.
Tell them whatever is true for you. But if one of those truths is that you have supported a strong, hardcore, independent JPFO and you want no other kind, tell them that.
If you admired Aaron and consider the planned merger a betrayal of his life’s work, tell them that.
If you want your donations back because you now believe that you gave under false pretenses, tell them that.
If you want them to halt the SAF merger and give our alternative plan a fair hearing, tell them that.
If you want them to halt the SAF merger but do something else besides hear our plan, tell them that. I am not trying to push our particular plan. I’m telling you it’s the only active alternative to the SAF sellout, and it’s a good one, and it’s by dedicated JPFO people, and the board acts like it’s not even there. But if something even better could keep JPFO independent I’d be all for it and I think others who care about JPFO would agree.
Tell the board members as nicely and firmly as you can what they’re doing to your JPFO and what you think or realistically plan to do in response.
Ask them if they really want their own legacy to be “the men who sold out Aaron Zelman for a few shekels” or “the men who were too weak even to sustain what a giant built for them.”
One other thing I must stress: Funding is already available to cover JPFO’s August shortfall. While organizations like this chronically need donors, this isn’t a situation that a quick jolt of cash can cure. This is a problem of exhausted management and lack of vision. This is a problem of personal betrayal of Aaron’s work and JPFO’s ideals. August’s shortfall has only brought about a necessary change. But oh please G-d let us make the change wisely instead of stupidly and callously!
Contact the JPFO board
Executive Board Director
Robert (Bob) Meier — email@example.com
Senior Board Member
Bruce Bell — firstname.lastname@example.org
Board Member and Managing Director
Doug Schuett — email@example.com
UPDATE: And sign the new petition just created at the suggestion of one of JPFO’s sponsors.
I’d appreciate it if you’d go easy on Doug. This situation is not of his making and he has done a lot of good. But he’s also the person who can pull the board together for a decision, so he does need to hear from everyone who cares.
One final note
I resigned as a JPFO contractor yesterday, partly because I can negotiate with the board better as an outsider than as an underling (assuming I’m ever given a chance to) and partly because with this post I’m disobeying an order from Doug and can no longer take a JPFO paycheck in good conscience.
None of the people trying to rescue JPFO stand to make any financial gain from the new plan. Some may keep the positions and the assignments they already have, but everyone has volunteered to do more than their duties without asking for pay. No one stands to gain any extra compensation from this and some will end up losing. But they are willing to do that to save this unique voice in the gun-rights movement.
Also, it’s strictly my choice to speak out about this. I know one colleague agrees, but others may not. If I end up harming them or our plans in any way, I’ll owe huge apologies. It’s certainly possible that JPFO’s board members will be very upset by what I’ve just done. But if so, let them snub me — but not snub the plan to save JPFO. JPFO is bigger than petty grievances.
I will be glad to step completely out of the picture and out of JPFO’s future to save JPFO.
Anyone who would decide to merge JPFO into Aaron’s nemesis rather than accept a good proposal just because I irritated them would merely be proving how little they care about JPFO.