Inside the Decade-Long Russian Campaign to Infiltrate the NRA and Help Elect Trump
Femme fatales, lavish Moscow parties and dark money – how Russia worked the National Rifle Association
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Illustration by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
In November 2013, the president of the National Rifle Association, David Keene, was introduced as an honored guest at the conference of the Right to Bear Arms, a gun lobby in Moscow. "There are no peoples that are more alike than Americans and Russians," Keene said. "We're hunters. We're shooters. We value the same kinds of things." Keene underscored his friendship with Alexander Torshin, a top politician in the ruling party of Vladimir Putin; for the past three years, Keene said, "I've hosted your senator Alexander Torshin at the National Rifle Association's annual meetings." In words that now carry a darker connotation, Keene insisted, "We need to work together."
Torshin, now 64, is a roly-poly politician, perhaps five feet six, with thick glasses and a passion for borscht – "like medicine!" he once tweeted. A member of Putin's right-wing United Russia party, he served in the Russian senate for more than a decade, forging close ties to Russia's internal security service, the FSB, which awarded him a medal in 2016. His embrace of Keene, says Steven Hall, who served as chief of Russian operations for the CIA until 2015, was about more than forging "an international brotherhood of the NRA."
As part of Putin's "active measures," Hall says, Russia has attempted to influence right-wing and populist factions abroad, preaching unity around social conservatism: "'We're both religious-based countries – we have the Orthodox Church that's a big deal for us.' " The Russians, Hall believes, "made a natural transition in the United States to the NRA"; over time Putin became determined to exploit the American gun lobby "and decided Mr. Torshin is going to be the guy to do it for him."
Keene proved an easy mark. A career lobbyist who advised presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Mitt Romney, he was a longtime chair of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the annual CPAC convention. NRA board member Grover Norquist has praised Keene as "a conservative Forrest Gump" who's been at "the center of all things conservative for decades." Keene, with a sweep of white hair, owlish glasses and a patrician bearing, might move in cutthroat political circles, but friends say his personality runs against type. "He's like a teddy bear," says Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, who has known Keene for decades. "He's not hard-edged at all. He's a gentleman." (Keene did not respond to multiple interview requests.)
Torshin and Keene forged a quick friendship. "Just a brief note to let you know just how much I enjoyed meeting in Pittsburgh during the NRA annual meeting," Keene wrote in a 2011 letter later obtained by anti-corruption activists in Russia. Extending a personal invitation to the following year's event, Keene added, "If there is anything any of us can do to help you in your endeavors . . . please don't hesitate to let us know."
Torshin's "endeavors" included a plan to back a gun-rights group in Moscow. "We will start organizing our own Russian NRA," Torshin soon tweeted. The NRA president seemed flattered, seeing Torshin as a powerful Russian eager to build a gun organization that mirrored his own, and even secured a Russian translation of the NRA charter.
But Russia experts believe Torshin's interest in U.S. gun culture masked a dark, ulterior motive. "It's all a big charade, basically," Glenn Simpson, founder of the research firm behind the infamous Steele Dossier, testified to the House Intelligence Committee. Much of what passes for civil society in modern Russia is, in fact, controlled by Putin. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a January 2018 report on "Putin's Asymmetric Assault on Democracy," which describes how the Kremlin has "sought to co-opt civil society by 'devot[ing] massive resources to the creation and activities of state-sponsored and state-controlled NGOs."
Some of these faux grassroots groups buttress the Kremlin's domestic agenda. Others are projections of Putin's foreign policy. Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, says it is common for Russian groups that "appear to be independent" but are "really Putin groups" to build relationships with civic groups in Western democracies, like the NRA – "to have tentacles," Cardin says, "to try and influence public opinion here in the United States. It is certainly part of Putin's MO."
Hall agrees. "The idea of private gun ownership is anathema to Putin," he says. "So then the question is, 'Why?' " Why was a pro-gun campaign being hatched by a leader in Putin's own party? The answer, according to Hall, is that Putin was baiting a trap. "He's reaching out to attract the NRA, specifically, over to Russia."
The FBI is now investigating whether Torshin, the current deputy governor of the Russian central bank, illegally funneled cash to the NRA to support the election of Donald Trump, according to a report by McClatchy that has sparked a probe by the Federal Elections Commission. Moscow's NRA connections have also become a focus of House and Senate Russia investigators. In his House testimony, made public in January, Simpson pointed to "Russian banker-slash-Duma-member-slash-Mafia-leader" Torshin and his "suspicious" protégé, a young gun activist named Marina Butina. "It appears the Russians," Simpson said, "infiltrated the NRA."
The NRA spent an unprecedented $30 million to install Trump in the White House. Putin has a long track record of illegally financing nationalist opposition groups in the West. If the Kremlin's NRA outreach culminated in pumping vast sums into the group's coffers, America's lax campaign-finance regulations would have posed no obstacle. "There are so many ways that a group like the NRA could be used to channel Russian money into a race, it's shocking," says Robert Maguire, who investigates "dark money" for the Center for Responsive Politics. In a letter to Congress, the NRA has denied wrongdoing; it has not denied accepting Russian money.
The notion that the flag-waving NRA of Eddie Eagle has allied itself with the Russian bear, and the government of former KGB colonel Vladimir Putin, can be hard to fathom. But an investigation by Rolling Stone establishes deeper ties between the NRA and Russia than previously reported. The record reveals this union was the product of a sophisticated Russian influence campaign nearly a decade in the making. By November 2016, Torshin greeted Trump's election victory as a foregone conclusion, specifically pointing to his and the president-elect's joint connection to the NRA. "This striking personality has fascinated me for a long time," he tweeted, in Russian. "Was sure of his victory."
By Torshin's own account, his affiliation with the American gun lobby began around 2010, when he became a member of the NRA. His passion for firearms is genuine; Torshin counted Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47, as a friend, and has tweeted, "I love guns." Nearly as soon as Torshin joined the NRA, he began targeting the gun lobby's leadership, leaning on a friend, a Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV. "I've probably known him 10 years," Preston says of Torshin. "He's one of the finest people I know. He's a very capable, intelligent, honest man, a very devout Orthodox Christian, very serious about his faith."
Preston is a jovial Russophile. He studied abroad in Soviet Leningrad in the late Eighties on his way to an undergraduate degree in Russian language and literature. He has moonlighted as a vodka importer and a trader on the post-Soviet stock exchange. In 2006, Preston opened a sister law office in St. Petersburg, where his practice areas included "lobbying members of government bodies in the United States and the Russian Federation." Torshin met Preston through mutual Russian contacts, and he invited the lawyer to speak to the Russian senate in 2009. "I'm very pro-Putin, honestly," Preston says in a rich Southern drawl. "He's been fantastic for Russia."
Toshin (center) with Putin at an awards ceremony in Moscow, 2011.
Toshin (center) with Putin at an awards ceremony in Moscow in 2011. Konstantin Zavrazhin/Getty Images
A campaign banner from Putin's 2012 election hangs in Preston's Nashville office, also decorated with Russian nesting dolls of the Trump family. Preston believes Russia shares the values of the American South, but his own views are reactionary. He calls the Civil War "the War for Southern Independence"; the Confederate Constitution "an improvement"; and has blasted Lincoln as "a terrorist and a war criminal!" In 2013, he posted a meme on Twitter of Barack Obama looking unmanly in comparison to the buff, shirtless Russian leader. Preston wrote, "As long as U.S. is electing foreign-born presidents, I propose Vladimir [Vladimirovich] Putin."
The Nashville lawyer saw nothing odd about his Russian friend's desire to meet the NRA president: "Torshin is a gun enthusiast," he says. And although Preston attends the annual NRA meetings, he didn't know Keene personally. "I just called him out of the blue," Preston says. "I told him, 'Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of stuff. Happens to be a Russian senator.' "
The NRA welcomed the outreach. "Russia's essentially a gun-free zone since Bolsheviks took power," Preston explains. (Rifles and shotguns are commonly owned; handguns are tightly restricted.) "You have Russian politicians and other citizens working to change that. Senator Torshin is one of those people." He adds, "The obvious place to look, to see a successful gun-rights organization, is the United States and the NRA."
Speaking on the phone from Tennessee and Moscow, where he traveled in March to act as an observer of the presidential election of Putin – which independent monitors have called "a sham" – Preston flatly denies that his Russian friends were meddling in the U.S. election. "These allegations are laughable," he says. "I have no knowledge of it, never saw any indications. It's a red herring, man. Like when we were kids, they sent us on snipe hunts – a bird that doesn't exist."
But as early as 2012, when Torshin attended the NRA convention as a "VIP" guest of "the NRA President," his fascination with U.S. gun culture was twinned with an interest in presidential politics. That November, he was in Nashville as an observer of the contest between Obama and Romney. "I set that up," says Preston, but Torshin's bona fides with the rifle association smoothed his path: "My NRA card," he boasted on Twitter, "opened the doors to any polling stations for me." Torshin inspected electronic voting machines and election queues. Spotting posters of Obama hanging in one precinct – a violation of election norms – "Torshin, I think, snapped pictures and sent them to Moscow immediately," Preston recalls.
Torshin also traveled to D.C., making two intriguing stops: one at the headquarters of the NRA, the other at the residence of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States whose frequent contacts with Trump campaign figures have raised red flags with investigators.
Over the next year, Torshin's access and influence in the NRA continued to grow. At the 2013 convention in Houston, Gottlieb recalls, Torshin was presented with the gift of a rifle. "3 thousand delegates of the NRA Congress, greeted me with an ovation!" Torshin tweeted. He also snapped photos of a ceremony for the "Golden Ring of Freedom," the NRA's high society for million-dollar lifetime donors, many of them gun executives. The group breaks bread in golden dinner jackets with elaborate crests embroidered on the breast pockets. They ring a replica of the Liberty Bell.
Outside the NRA bubble, however, senator Torshin was becoming infamous. Spanish authorities reportedly sought to arrest him at a 2013 birthday party for Alexander Romanov, a member of the Russian Taganskaya mob, now serving prison time for laundering money through real estate on the Spanish island of Mallorca. According to judicial documents reviewed by El Pais, Romanov referred to Torshin as "boss" and "godfather" on intercepted phone calls; Spain suspected Torshin had laundered 14 million euros through the purchase of a hotel on the island.
The birthday sting was foiled when Torshin didn't show up to the island. Charges were never filed. "Calling on Russia to arrest him would have been useless because Russia does not cooperate," a judicial source told El Pais. In a statement to the paper, Torshin denied any wrongdoing, insisting he'd never done business with Romanov or owned Spanish real estate. Torshin has acknowledged only social connections to the mobster; for example, he is the godfather of Romanov's teenage son. (Torshin did not respond to interview requests.)
In Moscow, Torshin had partnered with Marina Butina, who would become the face of gun rights in Russia. She gained national prominence in 2011, competing in the Youth Primaries of the Young Guard of United Russia – a political competition sponsored by the Kremlin to cultivate fresh political talent. Tall and poised, with a spiky brown haircut, Butina, then 22, had grown up with guns, learning to hunt with her father in her home region of Altai, in southern Siberia. Her platform in the contest included liberalizing Russia's gun laws. Torshin was captivated. He hired Butina as a special assistant. That same year, she became the founding chair of Russia's new gun group: the Right to Bear Arms.
In late 2013, Torshin and Butina hosted an NRA delegation, along with other American gun-rights activists, at a Right to Bear Arms convention in Moscow. A lavish affair, staged in an upscale convention center, the event doubled as a coming-out party for Torshin's young protégé. They arranged private meals for American guests, who feasted on Russian delicacies and downed flavored vodkas. Leggy models in mini-skirts put on a fashion show, flashing garter belts that doubled as conceal-carry gun holsters. "I was impressed with the grassroots movement they created," says Gottlieb, of the Second Amendment Foundation. "I wish we had as many good-looking young ladies involved in our gun-rights movement here in the United States."
For an upstart organization, the Right to Bear Arms' conference was crawling with Russian government officials. Torshin delivered the keynote address, and Butina presented him and a half-dozen other Russian politicians – including the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky – with honorary memberships. (Butina has denied taking even "one coin" in government money.) Leading the American cohort was the NRA's president, Keene, who delivered his address promoting Russo-American unity. In pictures, Keene posed next to Butina – now sporting long red hair – grinning like a schoolboy.
Putin did not attend, but those in the audience felt his influence. "I make the assumption that they have the blessing of more than just Alexander Torshin, because he's an upper-ranking member of Putin's party," Gottlieb says. "He's not going to do things that are going to upset Putin." (Despite this cleareyed assessment, Gottlieb rejects the notion that the Russians and the NRA were in cahoots in 2016.)
Right to Bear Arms' international outreach extended to John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador and longtime NRA activist, who now serves as President Trump's national security adviser. In late 2013, a video appeared online of Bolton delivering an address to Right to Bear Arms, as the group was pursuing a gun-rights amendment to the Russian constitution. (That campaign – like much of Right to Bear Arms' political agenda – has foundered.) Through his bushy mustache, Bolton praised Putin's autocratic country as a "force for democracy in the world," and encouraged the Russian activists. "Good luck on your journey," he said, "into a new century of freedom."
Torshin feted Butina, calling her "very young and talented. She is the youngest prominent public figure in the Russian Federation." Torshin also praised more than her political acumen, saying she had become "more beautiful" and "ideally slim." Hall, the former CIA officer, says Butina fits a mold: "The Russians are not stupid. It's a safe bet that there's more men in leadership positions on the conservative side of American politics in places like the NRA. If you are looking to attract people to your cause, guys would be more interested in talking to somebody like her. It's one of the old plays out of the KGB handbook."
Butina, he says, "reminds me of Anna Chapman – the fiery redhead who was one of the illegals who was kicked out of the United States back in 2010." Chapman had lived in New York before being unmasked as a spy by the FBI; she pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent and was deported in a spy exchange – for the Russian double agent recently poisoned with a nerve agent in the U.K. Chapman now has a popular Instagram account in which she poses in revealing outfits, often with weapons. Butina has flashed a similar sex appeal, stripping down for a 2014 profile in GQ Russia – wielding a pair of pistols, wearing stilettos, a black leather jacket, and lingerie from Dolce & Gabbana – and posing as the cover model for the Right to Bear Arms glossy in-house magazine.
In early 2014, U.S.-Russia relations were cratering, following the invasion of Crimea. Torshin helped steer the legislation that officially annexed the territory, appearing with Putin at a Kremlin signing ceremony. But his relationship with the NRA was sunnier than ever. "Republicans are the bones of the NRA," Torshin tweeted in February. "Great political victories are ahead of you!" At the 2014 convention in Indianapolis, Butina met with the highest-ranking officers of the NRA – including, Rolling Stone can report, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president. She presented a plaque from Right to Bear Arms to then-NRA president Jim Porter, tweeting, "Mission accomplished." Her tour through the conservative elite included snapping selfies with former GOP presidential candidates Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.
As a guest of Keene, Butina joined the rituals of the Golden Ring of Freedom, even ringing the NRA's liberty bell. "To the right to bear arms for citizens of the whole world," she said as the bell sounded. Her first American trip, she blogged, culminated in "an experience at the Washington office of the NRA." Standing before the group's blue-glass headquarters, she posed for a photo with Keene.
Butina and Torshin soon began leveraging their NRA connections to gain personal access to GOP presidential contenders. Not yet a declared candidate, Trump addressed the NRA's 2015 convention in Nashville. "We need strength," Trump said. "We need people that are respected. Putin has no respect for our president." Torshin has claimed he met Trump in Nashville, and that Trump ribbed him: " So, you're from Russia – when are you going to invade Latvia?" The Trump White House has denied this encounter took place.
The Russians also rubbed elbows with Scott Walker, then a viable candidate, and the beneficiary of more than $3.5 million from the NRA over his career. Walker charmed Butina when they first met, she blogged, greeting her in Russian. "We talked about Russia," she wrote. "I did not hear any aggression towards our country, the president or my compatriots." Two months later, Butina traveled to Waukesha, Wisconsin, to attend Walker's official presidential launch.
Butina was not keeping a low profile. In June, she wrote an English-language op-ed about U.S-Russia relations for The National Interest, the foreign-policy magazine founded by neoconservative Irving Kristol. Butina staked out a case for regime change in America: "It may take the election of a Republican to the White House in 2016 to improve relations between the Russian Federation and the United States," she wrote. "As improbable as it may sound, the Russian bear shares more interests with the Republican elephant than the Democratic donkey." Citing the GOP's coalition of social conservatives, businessmen and anti-terrorism hawks, Butina wrote, "These are values espoused by United Russia, the current ruling political party in Moscow." The magazine identified Butina as the founder of "a Russian version of the NRA." Not included in her bio: Butina was still on the government payroll, as special assistant to Torshin, who by now was deputy governor of the Russian central bank.
Butina soon appeared in Las Vegas for Freedom Fest, a libertarian conference where Trump spoke. Barely a month into his candidacy, Trump had said little formally about Russian relations. "I am from Russia," Butina said in lilting English from a microphone in a ballroom at the Planet Hollywood casino. "If you would be elected as the president, do you want to continue the politics of sanctions?"
"I know Putin," Trump replied. "I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin. OK?" Then Trump gave an answer that was music to Kremlin ears: "I don't think you'd need the sanctions."
Butina's intelligence, drive and charisma won her powerful friends in the NRA. But she became remarkably close with one lifelong GOP activist in particular: Paul Erickson. Six-feet-four, with a bald crown ringed by graying curls, Erickson has a skier's build and greets fellow Yalies with a fight-song-inspired "Boola, Boola." A member of the same cohort of college Republicans that produced Norquist, Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and disgraced super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Erickson has enjoyed a vivid and varied career. A rabid anti-communist, he spent the summer of 1983 sending supplies to insurgents battling the USSR in Afghanistan. He has lobbied on behalf of Zairean strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, mounted the "Love Hurts" media tour for celebrity penis amputee John Wayne Bobbitt and was credited as an executive producer on Abramoff's 1989 B-movie Red Scorpion, starring Dolph Lundgren.
Like Keene, with whom he served on the board of the American Conservative Union, Erickson is a low-profile everywhere man, described by one friend as a "secret master of the political universe." He has helped run a number of GOP presidential campaigns, serving as national political director for nativist Pat Buchanan's 1992 run. (Erickson did not respond to repeated interview requests.) In 2013, Erickson joined the NRA's first visit to the Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow – the following September, according to Butina's blog, he returned to Russia, solo, to address her group on behalf of the NRA.
As she tracked GOP presidential candidates in 2015, Butina touched down, repeatedly, in South Dakota, where Erickson lives. In July, she lectured at a camp for young Republicans with Erickson by her side. That same month, the duo appeared on a podcast in Manhattan. Erickson regaled the audience with a creation myth about Right to Bear Arms worthy of a Silicon Valley startup. "Maria is very humble," Erickson said. "She started the Right to Bear Arms in the Russian version of McDonald's with friends, and her work became noticed by the highest levels of the Russian government." In September, the pair partied by the graveside of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Maryland. Butina wore a flapper's silver headband and a long string of pearls; Erickson carried a bottle of rum and a copy of The Great Gatsby.
At the close of 2015, Torshin and Butina invited a new delegation of NRA members to a Right to Bear Arms convention in Moscow. The crowd included faces familiar and new, including Keene; Pete Brownell, CEO of one of America's largest gun-sellers who is now the NRA's president; Joe Gregory, the chair of the NRA's Golden Ring of Freedom; as well as Trump surrogate and then-Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke. Erickson reportedly also attended.
The Russians put on a wintry spectacle – replete with ornate Christmas trees and white chairs tied up like presents with red ribbons. Arnold Goldschlager, a major NRA donor who also attended, would tell McClatchy, "They were killing us with vodka and the best Russian food." In a public filing, Clarke estimated Right to Bear Arms spent $6,000 on his hotels, meals, excursions and transportation around Moscow.
Maria Butina, founder of Russia's Right to Bear Arms, at an NRA convention in Nashville in 2015.
Maria Butina, founder of Russia's Right to Bear Arms, at an NRA convention in Nashville in 2015. Maria Butina/Facebook
In these same days, Putin himself was pursuing other angles of influence with the American right. The Russian president met with right-wing pastor Franklin Graham for a 45-minute exchange. And on December 10th, Putin infamously sat next to Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's future national security adviser, at an RT gala in Moscow.
As they lived the high life in Moscow, the NRA delegation kept crossing paths with top Putin cabinet officials. Clarke tweeted about a meeting with "the Russian Foreign Minister" – who is Sergey Lavrov. NRA members also convened with Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister of Russia who is in charge of the defense industry, and a subject of U.S. sanctions. But for the representatives of the NRA, geopolitics seemed a distant concern. This trip was all fun and guns. Sheriff Clarke tweeted photos from Russian gunmaker Orsis, delighting, "I test fired one of their sniper rifles."
The Russians, Hall believes, were seeking a "mechanism by which they can, sort of, control the NRA."
If NRA members were having a carefree good time, the Russians were almost certainly watching their every move, seeking leverage, says Hall. "The FSB is set up first and foremost to collect compromising information on people who might later be useful to the Russian government," he says. "It's not always that," he adds. "A lot of it involves establishing personal relationships that then could be leveraged into something different. That's where a lot of the dinners, and the toasting, and the private meetings start. This is something the Russians have done for decades."
The Russians, Hall believes, were seeking a "mechanism by which they can, sort of, control the NRA." They might start with the "friendly route," he says, "pulling the wool over the organization's eyes, getting them to buy into: 'Hey, we're both real conservatives at heart. Russia is actually a friend of the United States. Why can't we get past all of this ugliness?" The question is where the camaraderie ends. "Do they end up with a senior NRA guy who they formally recruited, who can now work clandestinely for them?"
Many recruits are oblivious of Russian influence – until it's too late. "They'll start it off with something seemingly innocuous," Hall says. "And then they'll move it as far as they possibly can. If they start hitting resistance, they might very well say, 'Let's not forget that trip to Moscow you took six months ago, where you had a few too many drinks and got a little too friendly with somebody.' That's there as well."
At the beginning of 2016, Butina and Erickson were taking their relationship to a new level. Back in South Dakota, they became partners in a limited-liability corporation called Bridges; in legal documents, Butina and Erickson list their address at the same suite in Sioux Falls, but the purpose and activities of Bridges remain opaque. According to a conversation between Erickson and reporters for McClatchy, the corporation, founded in February 2016, "was established in case Butina needed any monetary assistance for her graduate studies." (Months later, Butina would enroll in a master's program at American University.) McClatchy deadpanned this would be "an unusual way to use an LLC."
The timing of Bridges' founding is notable. Three days later, Torshin tweeted from Russia, sharing news of the Republican presidential race: "Maria Butina is now in the U.S. She writes to me that D. Trump (a member of the NRA) is really for the cooperation with Russia."
That spring, Erickson would attempt to broker a meeting between the GOP candidate and Torshin, with the hope that it would lead to a future sit-down between Trump and Putin. Erickson sent an e-mail to a top member of the Trump campaign in May, with the subject line "Kremlin Connection." (The message, obtained by Congress, was shared with The New York Times.) Erickson explained that "happenstance" and NRA connections had enabled him to "slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin." He informed the campaign that "Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump" and wished candidate Trump "to visit him in the Kremlin." Erickson implied that Moscow saw Hillary Clinton as "beyond redemption."
Referring to "President Putin's emissary on this front" – who The New York Times determined was Torshin – Erickson proposed an initial meeting would be possible between Trump and Torshin in Louisville, Kentucky. Timed with the 2016 NRA convention, Erickson wrote, the event weekend could be used by Torshin to "make 'first contact.' "
The NRA officially endorsed Trump in Louisville on May 20th, marking the gun lobby's earliest-ever presidential endorsement. Accepting the NRA's backing, Trump vowed, "I will never let you down." Torshin watched in the audience, later tweeting, "He was not simply endorsed at the NRA Congress at Louisville, it was unanimous. . . . the applause!"
Torshin, it seems, did not secure the face-to-face meeting with Trump. But the Russian banker did meet with the president's son, lifetime NRA member Donald Trump Jr., at a dinner during the convention. (Outreach from Russia was coming strong: Weeks later, in early June, Trump Jr. would sit down with another cast of Russians promising "dirt" on Clinton at Trump Tower.) In July, Torshin received his medal from the FSB.
Through Election Day, the NRA would spend more than $30 million in federally recorded funds on behalf of Trump. Citing two sources close to the gun lobby, McClatchy reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon suggest the true total may be far greater – $70 million or more – noting that Internet advertising, field work and get-out-the-vote campaigns are not documented in federal disclosures.
The source of the millions spent by the NRA is untraceable; the organization is a dark-money giant that can hide its benefactors. This privilege of secrecy is granted to "social welfare" organizations, whose primary purpose is not political. Despite its prodigious power in our elections, the NRA spends most of its money on other activities – from magazine publishing to gun education to NRATV.
"The NRA is routinely used as a conduit" for "sketchy" money spent on Republican politics, says Maguire, the investigator for the Center for Responsive Politics. "We've seen some of the groups in the Koch network give large, six- and seven-figure grants to the NRA – knowing that the NRA is going to spend that money on ads in an election," Maguire says. "They get away with it."
The Russians, Maguire says, could easily have funneled money into the NRA's coffers, using a similar pathway: "It is not surprising that the NRA would be used in that way." It might even have been legal, he says. The NRA is allowed to accept foreign cash; it's only forbidden from spending that money directly on U.S. elections. But in an organization as vast and varied as the NRA, cash is fungible. A legal, ostensibly apolitical donation to the NRA by Russia could have freed up other, unrestricted funds to spend on politics. It's also possible the gun lobby was duped. "The NRA may have been used without even knowing it," Maguire says. "Russians could easily set up a Delaware corporation, with a name like 'Americans for Gun Freedom LLC,' and give the NRA a $5 million check. The NRA would just say, 'Hey great, it sounds like our kind of people,' " and spend the cash.
The NRA did not respond to numerous requests to comment for this piece. In letters to Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, a lawyer for the NRA wrote that the organization is committed to "raise and spend our funds within the bounds of the law" and that it works to vet "significant contributions from unknown entities." However, the lawyer admitted that the NRA accepts donations from "foreign persons" to accounts not dedicated to elections – adding that money moves between election and nonelection accounts "as permitted by law."
Wyden tells Rolling Stone that "money in these accounts could be used to pay for ad campaigns and voter mobilization efforts," insisting that "the NRA has a public responsibility to disclose where their foreign donations are coming from." Understanding how "outside actors are directly or indirectly influencing the U.S. political debate," the Oregon Democrat says, "is critical to the preservation of our Democracy."
Torshin has blasted the accusations in the McClatchy exposé as "gossip from the media," taunting critics on Twitter to "produce concrete proof of my financing of the NRA (amounts of money, account numbers, dates). . . . I'm waiting!" On social media, Butina has argued her gun advocacy should be taken at face value, and not as evidence of the "long arm of the Kremlin" in the 2016 election. "Sometimes," she wrote, in a nod to Freud, "a cigar is just a cigar."
Some members of Congress see the apparent Russian effort to turn the NRA as part of a larger, ongoing Kremlin offensive. "The tentacles of Russian enterprise in this country are deep and ubiquitous," says Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "The Russians are as close to being warlike as you can imagine, without bullets being fired." Putin, says Sen. Cardin, "uses an asymmetric arsenal in order to undermine our democracy and our institutions of democracy" – noting that "part of his game plan is to finance entities that he believes disrupt the unity of our country." Pointing to the gun lobby's polarizing role in our political culture, Cardin adds, "The NRA would be perfect."
https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/f ... mp-w518587
The NRA Says Gun Control Is Racist. They Would Know.
If the NRA wants to talk about race, they could start by talking about their history of promoting racist gun laws
Facing heightened scrutiny in the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the National Rifle Association has launched an all-out social media blitz aimed at undermining the student activists from Parkland and portraying gun control advocates as racially insensitive.
In a series of videos released ahead of last Saturday’s March for Our Lives event, NRA-TV host Colion Noir mocked and condemned the Parkland shooting survivors who organized the march, singling out David Hogg and accusing the teen of not caring about the safety of black Americans. Rapper Killer Mike, whose real name is Michael Render, joined Noir in one of the videos, defending gun ownership and accusing gun control advocates of not caring about shooting deaths when the victims are black. Render made the valid point that not all progressive activists are genuine allies of black Americans—but he did it while speaking on a propaganda outlet owned by the NRA, an organization that uses racism to stoke fear and promote gun policies that disproportionately harm people of color.
The talking point is not a new one. The NRA has a long history of invoking the racist origins of gun control as a rationale for opposing new gun laws while accusing gun control advocates of wanting to deny blacks the ability to defend themselves.
Beneath the cynical talking point lies an ugly truth: Throughout American history, gun laws—like many other areas of law and justice—have been motivated by racist fear appeals, shaped by racial prejudice, and executed in racially unjust ways. Of course, the NRA should be well aware of this, given that the organization has been at the forefront of the movement to design and pass laws that are racist both in intent and outcome.
Race, Guns, and the Birth of the NRA
Gun rights and gun control have always coexisted. During the earliest days of the country, the Founding Fathers established strict gun control laws that denied gun ownership to slaves and free blacks alike, as well as law-abiding white men who didn’t pledge loyalty to the Revolution. Meanwhile, those men who were allowed to own guns were mandated, under a 1792 federal law, to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition—and then, to report for frequent check-ins, where their weapons were inspected and registered.
As UCLA law professor Adam Winkler detailed in a 2013 article, the post-Civil War era ushered in a slew of new gun control laws. The primary aim of these laws was to disarm blacks as part of a broader effort to maintain white supremacy. This time period saw the passage of the Black Codes, which allowed states in the South to prohibit newly freed slaves from possessing guns.
“To enforce these laws,” Winkler explained, “racists began to form posses that would go out at night in large groups, generally wearing disguises, and terrorize black homes, seizing every gun they could find.”
Eventually, these groups converged under one name: the Ku Klux Klan.
The NRA, which also formed in the aftermath of the Civil War, got involved in politics and started actively promoting gun control legislation in the 1920s and 1930s, following in the footsteps of—and sometimes advocating for the same very policies as—the KKK. Among the first pieces of legislation they sponsored was the Uniform Firearms Act, a model law drafted by then-NRA president Karl Frederick. One of the provisions of the law stated that no one could carry a concealed handgun in public without a permit from the local police. Another provision laid out the requirements for obtaining a permit, stating that they would be granted only to “suitable” persons with a “proper reason for carrying” a firearm.
Much like the Black Codes, the Uniform Firearms Act was toothless without enforcement. For that, legislators turned to local law enforcement, which in many areas of the country—particularly the South—had forged informal alliances with the KKK. Not surprisingly, the “suitability” provision of the law was frequently used to deny gun permits to blacks and immigrants. As Winkler noted, it was this very law that allowed police to turn down Martin Luther King Jr.’s request for a firearm permit in 1956, after his home was firebombed.
The 1960s ushered in another wave of NRA-backed gun control laws, many of which were enacted in an effort to disarm black nationalist groups that had begun to take up arms to defend their communities during the tumultuous and often violent civil rights era. When the Black Panther Party (BPP)—whose members carried weapons to guard against police brutality — led an armed protest at the California capitol building in 1967, then-Governor Ronald Reagan responded by signing the Mulford Act, which prohibited open carry of weapons in public places. The NRA was among the groups that supported repealing open-carry laws in California to restrict black self-defense.
The following year saw the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon. The law banned “Saturday Night Specials”—cheaply-made handguns often confiscated in minority communities—and also expanded the licensing of gun dealers and barred felons from owning firearms. The NRA was not shy about taking credit for the law’s passage, touting it in the pages of American Rifleman, the group’s signature publication. While not stated explicitly, the racist underpinnings of the new legislation were not exactly a secret. As one critic commented at the time, the federal law “was passed not to control guns but to control blacks.”
The NRA’s Deadly Agenda
Like so many other areas of American law, gun laws are “race neutral” on paper, but not so much in their application—a reality that the NRA doesn’t want or care to talk about.
Consider the example of Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws, an extension of the Castle Doctrine that allows a person to use lethal self-defense—without the duty to retreat—wherever he or she “reasonably fears” serious injury at the hands of another person. First passed in Florida in 2005, SYG laws have now been enacted in at least 24 states thanks to an aggressive lobbying push by the NRA and its allies in the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
SYG laws are equitable on the surface—that is, they claim to offer the same rights to everyone, regardless of characteristics like race, class, or gender—but the statistics on SYG cases reveal stark racial disparities. The laws, as applied, result in a disproportionate increase in firearm homicide rates among people of color, while also making it easier for their killers to walk free.
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One study, published by the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, found that in states with SYG laws, 34 percent of white on black homicides are ruled justified, while just 3 percent of black on white homicides are ruled justified. Meanwhile, in states without SYG laws, the percentage of homicides ruled justified was not found to be associated with race.
Comparing states with and without SYG laws, the study found that white on black homicides were more likely to be ruled justified in SYG states than non-SYG states. However, the opposite was true for black on white homicides: In states with SYG laws, black on white homicides were less likely to be ruled justified than in states without SYG laws. Specifically, in states that enact SYG laws, white on black homicides have more than double the odds of being found justified (compared to states that don’t have SYG laws), while black on white homicides have less than half the odds of being found justified.
In another study, researchers looked at the outcomes of SYG cases in Florida from 2005 (when the law was enacted) through 2013. After controlling for other factors — such as who initiated the confrontation and whether or not the victim was armed — the analysis found that Florida SYG cases were half as likely to result in conviction when the victim was not white, compared to cases involving white victims.
The results of that study confirm earlier findings from a Tampa Bay Times analysis of Florida SYG cases, which revealed that the SYG defense was more than twice as likely to be used successfully when the victim was black and the killer was not black than when the victim was white and the killer was not.
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Of course, these statistics never make their way into the NRA’s talking points, nor are they considered by the NRA in its push for more states to adopt gun laws with racially disparate outcomes. Instead, the NRA deceptively cherry picks statistics and anecdotes that fit its narrative in an attempt to make these laws look more appealing to those who stand to lose the most from them. And when confronted by the deadly reality of policies like SYG, the typical response of the NRA is deafening silence. Even more cynically, when the NRA does choose to comment on issues involving race and gun violence, it often does so in a way that exacerbates the underlying biases and stereotypes that contribute to racial violence in the first place.
The Science of Racial Bias
Through their rhetoric and policy positions, the NRA celebrates vigilantism, encouraging people to take the law into their hands with a shoot first, ask questions later approach. They use fear appeals to scare people, and then tell us we need guns to protect ourselves from the overhyped threats they peddle. Years of research show that this is not only dangerous, but overwhelmingly likely to promote racially unjust outcomes.
One of the mechanisms that contributes to racially disparate outcomes in gun violence is shooter bias —a well documented phenomenon that refers to the biased propensity to “shoot first and ask questions later” when encountering a subject who is black. Researchers began studying this phenomenon after the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man shot 41 times by police who mistakenly thought he had a weapon. In a series of studies using a shooter simulation video game with college students, community members, and police officers, researchers found that subjects were quicker to respond “shoot” to a black target and “don’t shoot” to a white one, and that they were more likely to shoot unarmed black targets than unarmed white ones.
More recently, a 2015 meta-analysis by researchers at the University of Illinois found that people will shoot at images of armed black men more quickly than images of armed men of other races, and take more time to decide not to shoot when presented with an image of an unarmed black man.
“[W]e found two main things,” study author Yara Mekawi told NPR. “First, people were quicker to shoot black targets with a gun, relative to white targets with a gun. And … people were more trigger-happy when shooting black targets compared to shooting white targets.”
Moreover, shooter bias against blacks increased in states with more lax gun laws. As Mekawi put it, “in states that had relatively permissive gun laws, the shooting threshold for black targets was lower than for white targets.”
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Another line of research tells us more about the sociocultural factors and mental processes that contribute to shooter bias. Broadly, studies suggest that there are at least two primary sources of shooter bias. First, there is a well documented and pervasive stereotype that black men are more dangerous than white men. Studies have shown that this stereotype contributes to the snap decision to shoot a black subject more quickly than a white subject (and also influences public opinion in the aftermath of police-involved shooting deaths). In addition to this phenomenon, research shows that people who believe the world is a dangerous place are more likely to act on biases against people perceived as “others”—i.e., those belonging to different racial and/or cultural groups.
Taken together, this research suggests that people are most likely to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black person when they have a preexisting belief that the world is a dangerous place—a belief that the NRA actively encourages in its advertising, promotional videos, and public statements.
Adding insult to injury, the NRA also employs tactics that heighten racial prejudice and exacerbate the stereotypes that contribute to shooter bias in the first place. As described in a 2015 study, “the language of individual freedom used by the gun rights movement utilizes the same racially meaningful tropes as the rhetoric of the white resistance to black civil rights that developed after WWII and into the 1970s.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the most vocal supporters of gun rights are more likely to think of criminals as black, while envisioning law-abiding citizens as white. This also falls in line with research showing that racism and racial resentment are strong predictors of gun ownership and opposition to gun control.
The NRA’s Record On Race
While the NRA and its propagandists are happy to use race to argue against gun control — and even happier to use racism to stoke fear and sell guns to white people — they aren’t so open to discussing race when it comes to racial disparities in gun violence, policing, and related areas.
Alton Sterling, 37, was shot to death by police officers in Louisiana while he was pinned facedown on the ground with a firearm in his pocket. Philando Castile, 32, was shot to death by police officers in Minnesota after he disclosed that he was legally carrying a licensed firearm. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death by police officers in Cleveland as he walked through a park carrying a toy gun. The same year, 22-year-old John Crawford was shot to death by police while carrying a toy gun. Rice and Crawford were both killed in Ohio, an open carry state. The year before, 33-year-old Jermaine McBean was shot to death by police while carrying a toy rifle through his apartment complex in Broward County, Florida.
The NRA never launched a social media blitz drawing attention to these killings nor to other killings of lawfully armed black men or women—even when they were armed with nothing more than a toy gun. And when NRA board member Ted Nugent did weigh in on the killing of Philando Castile, he spread a false report on social media attempting to smear Castile and then tried to blame the shooting on President Obama.
Nineteen-year-old college student Kendrec McDade was shot and killed by police officers in Pasadena, California. The officers thought McDade was armed; he was found with nothing but a cell phone in his pocket. Timothy Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams, were shot and killed in Cleveland after police officers fired 137 rounds into their car while pursuing them. Officers said they thought they saw a possible weapon, but no weapons or shell casings were found in the car or along the chase route. Just two weeks ago, 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot to death by police in his own backyard in Sacramento, California. The officers claimed they thought Clark had a gun. It turned out to be a cellphone.
The NRA never launched a social media blitz drawing attention to these killings, nor to other fatal shootings of unarmed black men or women.
When 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman — who got away with the killing thanks to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law—the NRA waited two months before saying anything about it. When NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre finally broke the silence, he didn’t even mention Trayvon Martin’s name. He did, however, take the time to criticize the media for its “sensational reporting from Florida,” while Ted Nugent called the slain teenager a “dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe.”
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When 31-year-old Marissa Alexander was given a 20-year prison sentence in Florida for firing a single warning shot after being attacked by her then-estranged husband, the NRA didn’t come to her defense—even though it called Stand Your Ground laws a human right after George Zimmerman used the defense to get away with killing Trayvon Martin.
But now, the NRA would like you to believe that it suddenly cares about the racial disparities in gun violence that it has spent decades exacerbating, exploiting, and then ignoring when confronted.
As discussed in this article, the problems surrounding race and guns in America are deadly serious. There is a need to address racial disparities in gun violence. There is a need to confront racism in the application of gun laws. There is a need to acknowledge the fact that gun violence in black communities is treated as an inevitability while gun violence in white communities is treated as a tragedy.
But the NRA has never been interested in any of this. It never will be interested in any of this. The NRA is only interested in selling guns — and it only cares about race to the extent that it can be used to further an agenda that, all too often, has deadly consequences for people of color.
https://arcdigital.media/the-nra-says-g ... 49c1de6ecc
NRA on defense after governor exposes its role in gun crime pipeline
By Oliver Willis - April 7, 20182952
New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed an order calling out NRA-lobbied states that have the most lax gun laws and contribute to gun crimes across state lines. And the radical gun group is already lashing out.
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The NRA Helped Promote a Gun from Russia That Can Pierce U.S. Soldiers' Body Armor
American gun culture has a split personality: half the time we’re supposed to believe that gun culture is pure American patriotism, and the other half of the time the claim is that citizens need to be heavily armed to take on the American government. Whichever claim is more convenient for the gun lobby at any given moment. But mostly, the National Rifle Association just f’ing loves guns, the way Donald Trump loves the look of his name in big gold letters.
And if that means helping a Russian gun manufacturer promote a gun that the U.S. military says poses a danger to American troops, the only real question is … is it a really cool gun? David Corn reports:
In late 2016, the US Army released a report noting that the Russian military, through experience gained during fighting in Ukraine, was undergoing a transformation and becoming a more potent battlefield threat to American forces. One troublesome development identified by the report’s authors was the increased proficiency of Russian snipers. “The capabilities of a sniper in a Russian contingent is far more advanced than the precision shooters U.S. formations have encountered over the last 15 years,” the study noted. One reason for this was the Russian military’s recent adoption of the ORSIS T-5000, a relatively new Russian-made firearm that the report called “one of the most capable bolt action sniper rifles in the world.” As one military technology expert noted, after reviewing this report, the US Army faced “being outgunned” by foes armed with the T-5000—which can be accurate at a distance of 2,000 yards—and these Russian rifles were showing up in Iraq and Ukraine. That is, this weapon posed a threat to US troops and those of its allies. Yet the National Rifle Association—which boasts it is identified with American patriotism—has helped promote Moscow-based ORSIS and its sniper rifle.
When the NRA sent its now-notorious delegation to Russia in 2015, they visited ORSIS:
The day of the ORSIS visit, Clarke posted on Twitter a photograph of himself holding the T-5000 rifle.
The NRA trip to ORSIS was of use to the Russian gunmaker. The company produced a video showing the NRA delegates oohing and aahing over the T-5000. The video was one in a series of short films promoting ORSIS and its weapons. The video was posted on YouTube four weeks after the visit.
The T-5000 can pierce the body armor of U.S. troops and it’s spreading around the world. But to the NRA it’s just another sweet firearm to fondle.
https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-polit ... body-armor
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