Sometimes it feels as though the current moment in American history is unique. At other times, there’s a disquieting déjà vu—for example, this week, when Daniel Ortega, the Nicaragua Sandinista leader, and Ollie North, the American Marine who funneled weapons to his right-wing opponents, the Contras, are both in the news.
Ortega, now president once again, is holding on for bare political life amid protests in his country. North, it turns out, is about to take over another controversial, oft-protested body: The National Rifle Association announced Monday that North will be its next president.
From a certain angle, North’s ascension is a peculiar choice for the NRA, both given the current political moment and given North’s own history. North came to national prominence in the Iran-Contra affair, in which the U.S. illegally sold weapons to Iran—violating an arms embargo—then funneled the proceeds to the Contras, who were fighting Ortega’s left-wing government. North, a Vietnam veteran, was then a lieutenant colonel serving on the National Security Council. He was charged with various felonies related to Iran-Contra and convicted of three. The New York Times editorial board tartly panned his verdict: “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.” As it turned out, North’s convictions were reversed and vacated altogether because a judge ruled that the prosecution had used testimony North offered Congress under an immunity agreement.