When the National Rifle Association announced election results in August, it welcomed Donald J. Bradway as a new member of its board of directors. Known in right-wing circles as a prepper and a survivalist, Bradway also appears on the leaked membership rolls of the Oath Keepers — an anti-government militia, steeped in right-wing conspiracies, whose members have engaged in armed vigilantism. His ascension to the NRA board highlights a troubling crossover between the nation’s most powerful gun lobby and the anti-government militia — which have increasingly come into ideological alignment.
A retired firefighter/paramedic who lives in Idaho, Bradway has a handlebar mustache, sports Hawaiian shirts and speaks in a booming baritone, with a cadence that hints at Rush Limbaugh. He has been open about his Oath Keepers membership in the past. Following a controversial rally in 2013, Bradway spoke to the Associated Press on behalf of the militia. And while running for a seat on the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee in 2014, he touted himself as “Vice President of the North Idaho Oath Keepers.” In an email, Bradway tells Rolling Stone he’s “no longer affiliated” with the Oath Keepers in a formal capacity. But he hastens to add: “I consider myself to be an ‘oath keeper,’ as I’ve never ‘untaken’ the oath.”
Bradway was no rogue, write-in candidate. His inclusion on the ballot for the board of directors was vetted by the NRA Nominating Committee, which described its “serious responsibility” to select “candidates who are the most dedicated, best qualified, and have the expertise and freedom to best serve the needs of the NRA.” NRA watchdogs call Bradway’s move into the governance of the gun lobby shocking — but not entirely surprising. “The NRA and Oath Keepers both traffic in similar extreme rhetoric,” says Justin Wagner, Senior Director of Investigations for Everytown for Gun Safety, “about tyranny and the necessity of guns to overthrow the government.”
On the surface, the Oath Keeper agenda is about standing up against “unconstitutional” orders. But in practice, the militia’s members are often spoiling for a fight, and have used their muscle and training to oppose lawful outcomes of America’s democratic process. “The trap of the Oath Keepers is that they talk about ‘constitutionality,’” says Alex Friedfeld of the Center on Extremism. “But it’s not rooted in any legal merit. It’s just shaped by conspiracy.”
Oath Keepers played a key role in the insurrection of Jan. 6 that attempted to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s election. Members responded to a call from Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes who wrote: “It is CRITICAL that all patriots … get to D.C. to stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight to defeat the enemies foreign and domestic who are attempting a coup.” Eighteen Oath Keepers have been indicted on federal conspiracy charges relating to the siege of the Capitol. (There’s no evidence linking Bradway to the events of Jan. 6.)
A similar duality exists inside the NRA: Its executives and lobbyists project a slick, corporate image inside the Beltway, but the gun lobby has also long stoked the fires of right-wing militancy among its membership, spreading conspiracy theories that Democratic administrations have secret plans to confiscate Americans’ weapons. As far back as 2006, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre wrote a book, playing off the New World Order conspiracy theory, warning readers that the United Nations was coming for their guns. “The gun lobby has, for years, amplified the conspiracy theories and dangerous rhetoric that has allowed the extreme right to make its resurgence,” says Wagner of Everytown.
In addition to his Oath Keeper roots, Bradway has been a high-profile member of the American Redoubt movement, whose adherents view the mountain northwest — including Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and the Eastern-halves of Washington and Oregon — as a haven for conservative Christian survivalists. He was profiled by the Washington Post in 2016, which noted Bradway had fled California (overrun by “leftists and non-Constitutionalists and anti-freedom people,” he said) for the more ideologically simpatico confines of Idaho. The article described how Bradway had sold his stock portfolio to buy precious metals, and had stockpiled food and arms in preparation for an anticipated social collapse.
Looming anarchy was the theme of a three-day “Self Reliance” rally that Bradway helped the Oath Keepers organize at an Idaho state park in 2013. Attendees were reportedly urged to arm and train themselves for impending lawlessness. Matt Shea, a militant state representative from nearby Washington, urged the crowd “to prepare for the inevitable collapse.” He added: “You have to stand up for what is right — even if it means you have to stand up to your government.”
Bradway recently stepped down from his post in local Republican politics, but he’s become a booster of Idaho’s loose-cannon lieutenant governor Janice McGeachin. (When Gov. Brad Little briefly left the state in May, acting governor McGeachin abruptly voided all local covid mask mandates; on his return, Little blasted McGeachin for an “abuse of power” and an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.”)
The rise of Bradway to the NRA’s board is just one sign of extensive cross-pollination between the NRA and the Oath Keepers. A Rolling Stone review of the purported Oath Keeper membership rolls finds nearly 70 individuals who signed up for the militia up touting their bonafides as NRA-certified firearms instructors. Several of these NRA-vetted individuals expressed a desire to teach others to take up arms. “Would be able to help train members in… marksmanship,” one Texan wrote. “I am a certified firearms instructor with the NRA,” wrote an Oath Keeper from Colorado, highlighting his “strong desire to empower people through education.”
The NRA has kept close company with the militia from its early days. The Oath Keepers were founded in 2009, and a defense of gun ownership has been at the core of the group’s ideology. The militia asks its members to swear by a 10-point oath, the first of which reads: “We will NOT obey any order to disarm the American people.” (The rest of the oath quickly detours into conspiracy theories, for example: “3. We will NOT obey any order to detain American citizens as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’”)
In 2010, the NRA promoted a second amendment rally — hosted on the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing — where Oath Keepers founder Rhodes was a top speaker. “Our role is not to be obedient to who happens to be the leader,” Rhodes told the crowd, dismissing then-president Barack Obama. “Our role is to defend the Constitution and the republic.”
For years, the Oath Keepers were welcomed to run a booth at the NRA’s annual Great American Outdoor Show, in central Pennsylvania. LaPierre took a selfie the Oath Keepers’ state chapter president at the event in 2014. As memorialized on the Oath Keepers news feed: “Our public relations with the NRA was greatly benefited when Wayne LaPierre stopped by the Oath Keepers booth to thank them for participating in the show.” In 2018, Oath Keepers founder Rhodes reportedly spoke at a “Friends of the NRA” banquet in New York.
Rolling Stone asked the NRA about Bradway’s election, and whether the group is comfortable having someone on its board with ties to the militia that created havoc at the Capitol. Andrew Arulanandam, managing director of NRA Public Affairs, did not address Bradway directly, but responded: “The NRA is not affiliated with any of what occurred on Jan. 6, period.”
Asked about the prevalence of Oath Keepers who enrolled promoting their NRA certifications and training as helpful to the antigovernment militia, Arulanandam countered: “The NRA is the leader in promoting the legal and proper use of firearms, personal safety and security, and hunter education. Any suggestion to the contrary is reckless.”
As a new member of the NRA board, Bradway is taking on responsibility for the gun lobby’s governance at a time of crisis. The NRA is under fire in New York, where the nonprofit is chartered, for alleged self-enrichment by senior executives. New York’s attorney general is seeking to have the NRA dissolved.
The NRA has a sizable board of directors: 75 members serve 3 year terms — with 25 elected in a given year. (A 76th seat is elected annually). Officially, the board is tasked with charting the direction of the NRA, holding senior staff accountable, and overseeing the NRA’s enormous, nearly $300 million annual budget. However the NRA board has been long been criticized as acting as a rubber stamp for LaPierre & Co.
Bradway may preach a doctrine of extreme self reliance, but when Rolling Stone asked him to speak about his role on the board, he did not show a strong independent streak — deferring instead to the organization he’s supposed to be overseeing: “I’ll have to contact the NRA,” Bradway wrote, “to discuss what I’m able to discuss with you.” He did not get back to us.