July 19, 2018


Guns, God And Trump: How An Accused Russian Agent Wooed US Conservatives (Vera Bergengruen, 7/19/18, BuzzFeed News)

People who spoke to BuzzFeed News about their interactions with her, as well as a review of her interviews, writings and extensive social media posts, paint a picture of someone who knew how to push all the right conservative buttons.

Hers was a startlingly effective performance.

By the time she appeared on the popular radio show of evangelical author Eric Metaxas, who later endorsed Trump and served on his evangelical advisory council, her life story -- or at least what she said was her life story -- rolled off her tongue with practiced ease.

"My story is simple -- my father is a hunter, I was born in Siberia," she explained in the July 2015 interview, echoing previous talking points in which she often drew parallels to parts of the US, like South Dakota, where guns are "necessary for survival" to defend lives and property.

"That seems appropriate, somehow," Metaxas interrupted, sounding delighted, when she described founding her gun rights organization in a "Moscow version of a McDonalds," telling her friends "we need to fight for our gun rights."

"Wow, I just love the idea of this," he said. "To think...because you know, those of us in in America can be very parochial, we forget that the fight for liberty goes on for all around the globe in different guises."

Metaxas did not respond to a request for comment.

Butina also seemed to know exactly what a conservative evangelical audience would want to hear, earnestly speaking about the growing number of churches in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the "great history of Christian religion" that she had in common with US evangelicals, her audience.

"When we talk about Russian and American relationships, the main point is Christianity, in both countries," she told Metaxas.

According to the story she has told in Russian and English-language interviews, Butina was born in Barnaul, Siberia, in 1988. After graduating from Altai University in her hometown with a degree in political science and education, she started a small business selling furniture but "then moved to Moscow, where power and money is better," she wrote in an outline for a presentation she gave at the University of South Dakota in April 2015.

In Moscow, she began working for Alexander Torshin, a powerful Russian banking official and close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was sanctioned by the US in April, and founded her pro-gun "Right to Bear Arms" group in 2011.

Some experts say that the very existence of such an organization in Russia, which has stringent gun laws and little public support for loosening them, should have tipped off US authorities from the start.

"It just doesn't exist," Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and an expert on Russia's economic policy, said about what Butina and Torshin touted as a grassroots Russian gun rights group. "It's a ridiculous front organization with the purpose of infiltrating American groups and forging cooperation with the NRA."

That's the case made by US authorities. Over the course of five years, with the help of Torshin and and an as yet officially unidentified American ally, Butina relentlessly forged connections with NRA officials and others deemed to be influential in US policy. Long before she moved to Washington, DC on a student visa in August 2016 to study at American University, she had logged thousands of miles in trips from Moscow to Tennessee, Kentucky, South Dakota, Florida, Nevada, and Wisconsin to build relationships with pro-gun advocates and conservative groups.

As part of her efforts, she gave out honorary memberships to her Russian gun rights organization in the form of an ornamental blue and silver framed plaque, to people ranging from then-NRA president Jim Porter to Oleg Volk, a Tennessee-based photographer who makes pro-gun posters and graphics.

It went both ways - the connections she and Torshin made also visited them in Russia. David Keene, who served as NRA president from 2011 to 2013 as well as chairman of the American Conservative Union, attended her organization's event in Moscow in 2013. The next year, Keene invited Butina to the annual NRA convention, where she attended the group's annual Women's Leadership Luncheon as a guest of former NRA President Sandy Froman. A larger group of NRA and Republican officials was hosted by Butina's group in Moscow in December 2015.

Ideologues exist to be played.

Posted by at July 19, 2018 4:18 AM