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Hullabaloo


Monday, July 16, 2018

 
Trump's Russian gun nut

by digby



So, the FBI arrested Russian NRA enthusiast Maria Butina. It is apparently not part of the Mueller probe which is interesting.

Back in January, I wrote about Trump and the NRA for Salon:

By December of 2015 it was obvious that presidential candidate Donald Trump, whom most people still considered just an entertaining gadfly, had a very friendly attitude toward Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump complimented Putin for his strength and his leadership, which he often contrasted with Barack Obama's. He denied reports that Putin had critical journalists killed, defending his admiration for the man by simply saying “I think that my words represent toughness and strength."

wrote about it for Salon at the time, pointing out that while Trump seemed out of step with what most of us thought was the standard GOP position on the Russian leader, Putin-philia was a phenomenon among a certain sub-set of right wingers. Marie Cogan of the National Journal had chronicled the "Secret American Subculture of Putin-Worshippers" back in 2013, profiling conservatives who saw the Russian president much as Trump did: a manly contrast to the feminine, weak (and black) American president. When the shirtless Putin was pictured allegedly catching a 46-pound pike, posters on Free Republic swooned with envy:

“I wonder what photoup [sic] of his vacation will the Usurp­er show us? Maybe clip­ping his fin­ger­nails I sup­pose or maybe hanging some cur­tains. Yep manly.”

As it turns out it wasn't just those who hated Obama for being a "metrosexual." Other factions of the conservative movement had taken a liking to the Russian government and its right wing policies. Ed Kilgore at New York magazine noted back in 2016 that some Christian conservatives liked Putin, naming Franklin Graham, National Organization for Marriage leader Brian Brown, and American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer among the leaders who appreciate Putin's Islamophobia and hostility to gay rights.

White supremacists have been connecting with like minded white nationalists in Russia for some time. All the top American neo-Nazis from Matthew Heimbach to Richard Spencer have spent time in Russia and extol the virtues of its white homogeneity. None other than former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke has spent considerable time there. Duke has said that Russia is the “key to white survival."

Since so much of the hardcore right that supports Donald Trump is also very friendly toward Putin it should come as no surprise that gun rights zealots are equally enamored of the macho, white nationalist Russian leader. He is their kind of guy. And they are Russia's kind of guys too.

The Washington Post reported last spring about the remarkable outreach to American right-wing activists by a man named Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker and purportedly close Putin ally who is suspected of international money laundering by the Spanish government. One of the Americans with whom he connected was a Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV, who had longtime business interests in Russia.

Preston introduced Torshin to David Keane, former head of the NRA and president of the American Conservative Union. With a partner named Maria Butina, they began a Russian gun owners organization which sponsored events and competitions, to which prominent American gun activists were invited.

Last July Richard Engel, NBC News' chief foreign correspondent, and NBC's Kelly Cobiella broadcast a program called Guns, God and Russia in which they interviewed Preston and he made a revealing comment about why he and the far right are so enamored with Russia:
We're very similar people. In fact, you could take many Russians and put 'em in a room with people who are from Nashville, Tennessee and everybody kind of looks the same.
The white people anyway.

It was a bit surprising when the NRA enthusiastically endorsed Trump earlier than usual in the process. He wasn't a member, didn't hunt and hadn't been in the military. He did talk tough on the campaign trail about gun rights and he spoke out both in favor of "law and order" and vigilantism, which isn't something you see every day. The gun lobby backed Trump early and strong, and when he won they took credit, especially for the ad buys in the states that made the difference in the Electoral College win. The NRA massively outspent their previous election record, using a division that is not required to disclose its donors.

According to the Center for Public Integrity just before the election:
In October [2016] alone, about one of every 20 TV ads in Pennsylvania has been sponsored by the NRA ... and in Ohio, the organization is responsible for about one of every eight TV ads that have aired so far in October.
They also financed a sophisticated and expensive ground operation in the states Trump won with a razor-thin margin. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre had good reason to take credit for Trump's upset.

Evidently, there have been suspicionsamong the Washington press for over a year that the NRA had received a bundle of Russian cash and on Thursday, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy reported that the FBI is investigating whether the aforementioned Alexander Torshin may have funneled Russian government funds to his friends in the NRA to help elect Trump.

The House and Senate investigations have also been on the trail of the Torshin-Butina-NRA connections. They have also followed up on clues in the Russia probe that touch on Russophile Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., Trump foreign policy aides J.D. Gordon and Sam Clovis, and conservative activist Paul Erickson, who reportedly tried to set up meetings among the various players, including Trump. In fact, Erickson and Butina are partners in a shadowy business whose purposes and activities are unclear.

It's unclear where all this may lead, but if it is true that Russian money was used to help finance the NRA's ad campaign, somebody's got some explaining to do. All these right-wingers may love Vladimir Putin's policies against gays and Muslims, appreciate his manly physique and endorsement of gun violence and mayhem. Perhaps they look forward to a friendly white nationalist alliance to keep all the "shithole countries" in their places. But that desire wouldn't excuse election interference or accepting foreign money to help finance an election campaign. If the Mueller investigation has the NRA in its crosshairs, that fate could not have found a more deserving target.


By December of 2015 it was obvious that presidential candidate Donald Trump, whom most people still considered just an entertaining gadfly, had a very friendly attitude toward Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump complimented Putin for his strength and his leadership, which he often contrasted with Barack Obama's. He denied reports that Putin had critical journalists killed, defending his admiration for the man by simply saying “I think that my words represent toughness and strength."

wrote about it for Salon at the time, pointing out that while Trump seemed out of step with what most of us thought was the standard GOP position on the Russian leader, Putin-philia was a phenomenon among a certain sub-set of right wingers. Marie Cogan of the National Journal had chronicled the "Secret American Subculture of Putin-Worshippers" back in 2013, profiling conservatives who saw the Russian president much as Trump did: a manly contrast to the feminine, weak (and black) American president. When the shirtless Putin was pictured allegedly catching a 46-pound pike, posters on Free Republic swooned with envy:

“I wonder what photoup [sic] of his vacation will the Usurp­er show us? Maybe clip­ping his fin­ger­nails I sup­pose or maybe hanging some cur­tains. Yep manly.”

As it turns out it wasn't just those who hated Obama for being a "metrosexual." Other factions of the conservative movement had taken a liking to the Russian government and its right wing policies. Ed Kilgore at New York magazine noted back in 2016 that some Christian conservatives liked Putin, naming Franklin Graham, National Organization for Marriage leader Brian Brown, and American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer among the leaders who appreciate Putin's Islamophobia and hostility to gay rights.

White supremacists have been connecting with like minded white nationalists in Russia for some time. All the top American neo-Nazis from Matthew Heimbach to Richard Spencer have spent time in Russia and extol the virtues of its white homogeneity. None other than former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke has spent considerable time there. Duke has said that Russia is the “key to white survival."

Since so much of the hardcore right that supports Donald Trump is also very friendly toward Putin it should come as no surprise that gun rights zealots are equally enamored of the macho, white nationalist Russian leader. He is their kind of guy. And they are Russia's kind of guys too.

The Washington Post reported last spring about the remarkable outreach to American right-wing activists by a man named Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker and purportedly close Putin ally who is suspected of international money laundering by the Spanish government. One of the Americans with whom he connected was a Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV, who had longtime business interests in Russia.

Preston introduced Torshin to David Keane, former head of the NRA and president of the American Conservative Union. With a partner named Maria Butina, they began a Russian gun owners organization which sponsored events and competitions, to which prominent American gun activists were invited.

Last July Richard Engel, NBC News' chief foreign correspondent, and NBC's Kelly Cobiella broadcast a program called Guns, God and Russia in which they interviewed Preston and he made a revealing comment about why he and the far right are so enamored with Russia:
We're very similar people. In fact, you could take many Russians and put 'em in a room with people who are from Nashville, Tennessee and everybody kind of looks the same.
The white people anyway.

It was a bit surprising when the NRA enthusiastically endorsed Trump earlier than usual in the process. He wasn't a member, didn't hunt and hadn't been in the military. He did talk tough on the campaign trail about gun rights and he spoke out both in favor of "law and order" and vigilantism, which isn't something you see every day. The gun lobby backed Trump early and strong, and when he won they took credit, especially for the ad buys in the states that made the difference in the Electoral College win. The NRA massively outspent their previous election record, using a division that is not required to disclose its donors.

According to the Center for Public Integrity just before the election:
In October [2016] alone, about one of every 20 TV ads in Pennsylvania has been sponsored by the NRA ... and in Ohio, the organization is responsible for about one of every eight TV ads that have aired so far in October.
They also financed a sophisticated and expensive ground operation in the states Trump won with a razor-thin margin. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre had good reason to take credit for Trump's upset.

Evidently, there have been suspicionsamong the Washington press for over a year that the NRA had received a bundle of Russian cash and on Thursday, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy reported that the FBI is investigating whether the aforementioned Alexander Torshin may have funneled Russian government funds to his friends in the NRA to help elect Trump.

The House and Senate investigations have also been on the trail of the Torshin-Butina-NRA connections. They have also followed up on clues in the Russia probe that touch on Russophile Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., Trump foreign policy aides J.D. Gordon and Sam Clovis, and conservative activist Paul Erickson, who reportedly tried to set up meetings among the various players, including Trump. In fact, Erickson and Butina are partners in a shadowy business whose purposes and activities are unclear.

It's unclear where all this may lead, but if it is true that Russian money was used to help finance the NRA's ad campaign, somebody's got some explaining to do. All these right-wingers may love Vladimir Putin's policies against gays and Muslims, appreciate his manly physique and endorsement of gun violence and mayhem. Perhaps they look forward to a friendly white nationalist alliance to keep all the "shithole countries" in their places. But that desire wouldn't excuse election interference or accepting foreign money to help finance an election campaign. If the Mueller investigation has the NRA in its crosshairs, that fate could not have found a more deserving target.


Last March Mark Follman at Mother Jones noted this:


While researching the strange story of two Russian gun aficionados who cultivated Donald Trump’s presidential campaign via the National Rifle Association, we came across a little-noticed but noteworthy episode concerning Trump and US sanctions against Russia. Sanctions have been a source of extraordinary conflictbetween the president and Congress and a matter of clear significance to special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation.

Just a month after Trump announced his campaign for the White House, he spoke directly to Maria Butina, the protégé of the powerful Russian banking official and Putin ally Alexander Torshin. During a public question and answer session at FreedomFest, a libertarian convention in Las Vegas in July 2015, Butina asked Trump what he would do as president about “damaging” US sanctions. Trump suggested he would get rid of them.

“I am visiting from Russia,” Butina said into the mic.

“Ahhhhh, Putin!” Trump interjected, prompting laughter from the audience as he added a mocking riff about the current president: “Good friend of Obama, Putin. He likes Obama a lot. Go ahead.”

“My question will be about foreign politics,” Butina continued. “If you will be elected as president, what will be your foreign politics especially in the relationships with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy [sic]? Or you have any other ideas?”

After going off on Obama and digressing into trade policy, Trump responded: “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin… I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK? And I mean, where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.”

I have often thought it was such an incredible coincidence (and it may very well be!) that the NRA spent vastly more to help Trump win and they did it so strategically in the states Trump eked out an electoral college victory.

.