Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina started her move on U.S. politics by forming the pro-gun group “Right to Bear Arms” in Russia. That the group didn’t exist, wouldn’t have been permitted by Russian law, and that even the name shows the whole thing was created for an American (not Russian) audience doesn’t seem to have bothered anyone. Republican political strategists welcomed the Russian operative and took her straight to the NRA, where she was immediately besties. But Butina may not have just used the NRA as her patsy and potential pass-through for Russian funds inbound to the Trump campaign: she may have shaped their new leadership.
As Mother Jones reports, the NRA has always been a very conservative organization when it comes to leadership—conservative in the sense that the leadership is selected from those who have done years in the lower ranks of the organization, and a new president is selected only after the contender has done at least two terms in the VP role. Except for this time.
In May, the NRA reported that they were bringing in noted gun runner and liar Oliver North, whose illegal distribution of heavy weaponry apparently entitled him to jump the line. The current president of the NRA, Peter Brownell, announced that he wouldn’t seek a second term. The current vice president, Richard Childress, was bypassed. Why this sudden deviation from the leadership ladder the NRA had followed for decades?
Mother Jones speculates it has to do with something that happened a week before North was announced and Brownell went for the exit. Because at the end of April, the FBI raided the home of Butina. And Butina wasn’t just the NRA’s friend. She was Brownell’s friend, too.
With the FBI poking around Butina’s office, having the guy who accompanied her to Moscow at the top of the NRA ticket may have suddenly seemed … inconvenient.
Butina introduced Brownell to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who was on the sanctions list instituted after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It was Rogozin’s job to boost sales of Russian-made weapons overseas. That made Butina’s connection to Brownell particularly valuable. The Moscow visit also included a visit to a Russian guns maker—one who makes a sniper rifle that the U.S. military regards as a threat.
The firm presented the NRA group with watches bearing the company’s logo. Weeks later, the company produced a promotional video showing the NRA delegates gushing over the T-5000. The video was posted on YouTube. That is, Brownell and the others, who had been escorted to the ORSIS offices by Butina, were helping ORSIS sell a rifle that worried US military planners.
Having the person who was front and center for a meeting with Russian arms dealers and the Kremlin’s head promoter of arms sales at the behest of a Russian operative might have been a bit unsightly for the NRA. And that’s the nice version. It’s the version that doesn’t ponder how this ties into the mystery $30 million that dropped into NRA coffers right before it bounced out again into Trump’s campaign.
Between the FBI raid of Butina’s home and the news of Butina’s arrest becoming public, the NRA managed to purge its leadership in a way that overturned decades of traditional operations. That’s very convenient. But not very convincing.