Fake Russian gun rights organization that doesn’t exist because Russians are too oppressed by Putler to have any independent opinions of their own.
A couple of days ago, The New Republic published an astoundingly well-researched longread by James Bamford about the Butina saga.
An anonymous commenter has summarized its key points:
-Mueller wasn’t interested in Butina; DC prosecutors picked up the case after he declined to pursue it
-She was raided by the FBI once before her arrest; they found nothing
-Claims that she was under heavy FSB surveillance while in Russia because Putin distrusts activists and dislikes guns
-During the deterioration in US-Russian relations due to Ukraine Kremlin officials were talking about how Butina could be actively be shut down (apparently disclosed in a leak of hacked emails)
-At one point FSB offered her a job (a note in her boyfriend’s home makes mention of this), but he says she wasn’t interested
-She had a benefactor who paid her tuition to grad school, an American descendant of the Rockefeller family and longtime friend of Torshin’s; Torshin himself didn’t pay
-The benefactor is a longtime agitator for improved US-Russian relations (hence his relationship with Torshin, whom he calls a “Gorbi guy” and fairly pro-American)
-There was a guy who had a national security role in Trump’s campaign who tried to strike up a relationship with Butina, but she mostly ignored him (the author cites this as evidence that she wasn’t actually a real spy, who would have presumably jumped at the opportunity to cultivate that level of access)
-The FBI agents who oversaw the investigation were a couple of yokels, one a former lab tech from Tennessee and the other a former TV anchor from Mississippi, who had 0 experience with espionage or organized crime investigations (the investigation into Torshin was due to alleged mafia links)
On the plus side, this is good news for Butina. While the activism from Right To Bear Arms on behalf of its former founder, as well as the commendable support of the Russian Foreign Ministry (they still have a “Free Butina!” avatar on their Twitter accounts – an act that Guardianista journalist Carole Cadwalladr described as “war”), was all well and good, we must also thank prosecutorial incompetence as well as the talent of Butina’s lawyers. Given what we know about the case, at this point in time, anything more than an extremely light sentence equivalent to time already served – at this point, more than half a year, much of it in solitary confinement – would be overkill and complete legal nihilism. I assume the Russiagate zealots haven’t yet undermined the rule of law in the US to that extent. I assume that after this is over, Butina will be deported to Russia and will resume her gun rights activism, though it may well become less Americanophile flavored.
On the negative side, this very article demonstrates the overawning strength of Russiagate conspiracy theory. Not just with respect to the legalistic travesties it describes, but in the fact of its own regrettably pathetic reach. It generated more than 5 comments on just one subreddit, and even the /r/gunpolitics discussion was brigaded into negative karma by an SJW subreddit. Most “successful” RT of the article was from an
NPC NBC journalist, with his “killer” argument against it constituting: “Wow.” [Like, I can’t even?]. Consequently, while 95% of Americans who have heard of the Butina Affair associate her with their Red Sparrow fantasies, one of the few articles that actually pieces near everything together languishes unread.
But it is especially depressing because this case was a blatant fraud from the very beginning. Despite not having had any access or communications with any of the principal players, I was able to construct a remarkably similar narrative just hours after Butina’s arrest on July 16, 2018: US Arrests Russia’s Foremost 2nd Amendment Activist. Bamford’s article has filled in many puzzling gaps, and in many cases even made my initial arguments stronger. But this is something that virtually no MSM journalist investigated, except in those few cases where they were prompted into doing so by the prosecutors admitting their blunders themselves. Nonetheless, it is you who is being a hateful troll by telling them to learn to code.
So let’s do a close read of James Bamford’s article:
Yet a close examination of Butina’s case suggests that it is not so. Butina is simply an idealistic young Russian, born in the last days of the Soviet Union, raised in the new world of capitalism, and hoping to contribute to a better understanding between two countries while pursuing a career in international relations. Fluent in English and interested in expanding gun rights in Russia, she met with Americans in Moscow and on frequent trips to the United States, forging ties with members of the National Rifle Association, important figures within the conservative movement, and aspiring politicians. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to do what I could, as an unpaid private citizen, not a government employee, to help bring our two countries together,” she told me.
The government’s case against Butina is extremely flimsy and appears to have been driven largely by a desire for publicity. In fact, federal prosecutors were forced to retract the most attention-grabbing allegation in the case—that Butina used sex to gain access and influence. That Butina’s prosecution was launched by the National Security Section of the District of Columbia federal prosecutor’s office, led by Gregg Maisel, is telling in itself: According to a source close to the Mueller investigation, the special counsel’s office had declined to pursue the case, even though it would have clearly fit under its mandate.
The idea that Butina’s interest in guns and gun rights rights was peripheral, if not entirely made up, would have been rendered implausible by a quick search of the Russian Internet, her Facebook photos, or even an old article by Julia Ioffe.
Yet nobody in the “free and independent” Western MSM was particularly rushing to do that very elementary research.
“Look, I imagined I could be in prison in Russia. I could never imagine I could go to jail in the United States. Because of politics?” Butina told me over the phone a few weeks after she was taken into federal custody. It was one of a series of exclusive interviews I conducted with Butina, Erickson, and other prominent figures involved in the case, none of whom have spoken previously to the media. “I didn’t know it became a crime to have good relations with Russia—now it’s a crime,” she told me earlier. “They hate me in Russia, because they think I’m an American spy. And here they think I’m a Russian spy.”
Butina’s uneasy relations with the Russian authorities is something that even I managed to discover while rapidly churning out a 3,000 word article hours after her arrest by, erm… checking out her blog:
It is a most hilarious irony that Maria Butina’s very last post on her defunct Russophone LiveJournal blog was a complaint that one of her blog posts had gotten blocked by Russian state censorship agency Roskomnadzor for “containing information that is forbidden in the Russian Federation.” In that post, which dates to June 5, 2018, she also announced that she was closing her blog, since she considered further censorship inevitable.
Naturally, there were few if any mainstream Western journalists who ever bothered informing you of this rather important context.
As well as the rather relevant cultural/political background: That Russian authorities have a very skeptical attitude to gun freedoms, by dint of their Soviet legacy.
At the time, the NRA was also looking to expand internationally, and Butina was surprised at how similar their outlooks were. “They were talking about guns in exactly the same way we do,” she said. “That formed my idea that if we ever want to build a truthful friendship between the U.S. and Russia … it should be people based, not leaders based.”
As I pointed out after my meeting with the US Consul General at the World Russia Forum 2018, the Russiagate hysteria has made “citizen diplomacy” between Russia and the US pretty much impossible. Russians run the risk of getting arrested and imprisoned in solitary confinement just for talking with anybody in a position of power in the US. Americans run the risk of having their reputations ruined by the frenzied media, or even being subjected to politicized investigations themselves. (Do you really think that anyone would had dug into Erickson’s past without the Butina Affair?).
These are not just my suppositions, Russian liberal journalist Leonid Bershidsky says precisely the same thing:
But it does send a message to Americans that any Russian they meet could be a Kremlin agent. It’s easier not to take part in any such meetings than to ask whether their Russian counterpart has registered as a foreign lobbyist and filed the necessary paperwork with the attorney general. Perhaps that was the whole point of Butina’s optional prosecution — to let it be known that, after what the U.S. intelligence community considers massive Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, no unofficial back channels to Russia will be tolerated.
If sending this message was indeed the point of building a case against Butina, it raises questions of how the American justice system is applied to citizens of countries with whom the U.S. is at odds.
Incidentally, I also pointed out in my article that Right to Bear Arms also built ties with European gun rights organizations, and suggested journalists cite it as yet more evidence of Putler’s meddling in the Western democracies. Unfortunately, they didn’t take the bait. I suppose it was more trouble than it was worth. Mentioning this would have undermined the narrative that Right to Bear Arms was a fake or largely fake organization specifically constructed to enable Butina’s influence mission against the NRA.
Back home in Moscow, the Russian government was making note of her new friendships. The previous month, the United States and Russia had clashed over the invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, and the United States had levied sanctions against Russia. [AK: Former NRA President] Keene adopted the prevailing attitude of the government, and wrote an editorial in The Washington Times denouncing “Russia’s aggression.”
Shortly after Butina posted the photo of her and Keene at NRA headquarters, Marika Korotaeva, a Kremlin official and the former head of the Department for Internal Policy at Putin’s presidential office, got in touch with her boss, Timur Prokopenko. “Hey. Help please,” she wrote. “Butina … is now posting pictures with the president of the National Rifle Association at the main office in Virginia. Against the backdrop of statements about the supply of arms to Ukraine, I ask your help…. We have to shut her down completely.” (The text was part of a large batch of messages made public by a group of Russian hackers who had targeted Prokopenko.)
This was news to me – so there were actual discussions amongst employees of the Russian government that their putative “spy” and/or “agent” needed to be Shut Down!? LOL.
Incidentally, just for the record, I want to make it clear that Butina is ultimately a Russian patriot and does not share the mainstream American position on Russia and the Ukraine. Indeed, this is one reason – in addition to their default slavish Americanophilia – that a few of the most fanatical Russian liberals actually welcomed and applauded her arrest.
One of the more colorful examples I came across is this jeremiad by Karina Orlova, a US-based contributor to Echo of Moscow and columnist at The American Interest.
What a lovely detail. So it turns out that Maria Butina politically promoted Russian gun laws in Crimea, right after its annexation. Was physically there, meeting the people.
Then she participated in several meetings in support of the Russian war in the Donbass (it was called Project Novorossiya).
Only just on account of this this fucking cunt needs to be thrown in jail as a sponsor of terrorism.
My only regret is that American prisons are more comfortable, because Maria Butina deserves a real Russian patriotic penal colony.
Berezovsky’s one-time helper in London, Andrey Sidelnikov, was first to chime in with his support.
Come to think of it, the range of enemies she has made is rather impressive. American #Resistance, the most extremist, neo-Bolshevik Russian liberals, and Russian bureaucrat-bug(wo)men.
As U.S. prosecutors later noted, during a search of Erickson’s apartment in South Dakota, FBI agents discovered a handwritten note: “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” To U.S. authorities, this was evidence that Butina had ties to the Russian intelligence service. According to Erickson, however, the opposite was true. Butina had no interest in working for the FSB, he told me, adding that he was the one who had written the note before one of Butina’s trips to Moscow. He was simply helping her prepare for the inevitable questioning she would face back home. “A question they always asked is, ‘Perhaps you’d like to make a more formal relationship,’” Erickson said. “How do you answer that to say ‘no’ in such a way that it doesn’t get you in trouble?”
Ha! So this is how that particular narrative collapses.
The friend was George D. O’Neill Jr., 68, great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and an heir to the Rockefeller fortune. He and Erickson had known each other since the early 1990s, when Erickson was running Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign. In 2010, O’Neill and his father sponsored a joint U.S.-Russia conference in Moscow. “I met Torshin long before I met Maria,” O’Neill told me. “He was a Gorbi guy—a Gorbachev person—and that’s where this impulse to work with America came from. That’s what he told me.” …
As Butina was looking into master’s degree programs in the United States, O’Neill offered to assist with her finances. The help was critical, since her parents in Siberia could not afford the expense. Torshin, her supposed handler, never offered to help pay her two-year tuition. Instead, it was O’Neill, and her boyfriend Erickson, who gave her the money to enroll at American University’s Graduate School of International Service. Unlike Scott Walker, whom Butina met in passing, and whom she would later be accused of attempting to influence, her real ties were to men like Erickson and O’Neill, who had a few connections in Washington but in reality had little to no power. …
So the guy actually funding Butina’s studies in the US was an AMERICAN oligarch, while she in turn helped organize his dinner events.
This would make the connection between Butina and Torshin (“Russia”) even more tentative than I had initially assumed!
In April 2016, as the political season was heating up in the United States, Butina and Torshin also discussed the possibility of Torshin attending the NRA convention the following month, according to private Twitter messages the FBI recovered from Butina’s computer. Torshin wasn’t sure he could go, because the timing of the conference conflicted with his duties at the Central Bank of Russia. “I hope your female boss will understand,” Butina wrote to Torshin on April 28. “This is an important moment for the future of our country.”
These were the naïve hopes of a grad student, not the plotting of a Kremlin operative, as the U.S. government alleged. Had Butina been a spy and Torshin her handler, she surely would have been ordered to begin cultivating a real person of influence—there were hundreds out there—and not an idealistic outsider like O’Neill. Yet U.S. authorities cited all these messages as evidence that she was working on behalf of the Russian government.
Many similar anecdotes are recounted in the rest of the article.
The nature of this relationship is important to consider in the context of what came later. To a Kremlin-directed agent of influence, as Butina supposedly is, Gordon would seem to have been the perfect catch: a senior military officer with high-level Pentagon connections, a widely quoted Washington insider, and, most important, a key national security link to Trump on the eve of the election. Yet instead of recruiting him, Butina dismissed him, because her interest was helping O’Neill with his dinners, not Moscow with its spying. Equally strange for a supposed secret agent, she never bothered to tell Torshin about Gordon, something that would normally get both the secret agent and the handler a nice Kremlin promotion.
As I have said on previous occasions, if Butina was a spy – she was one of the most incompetent ones to have ever walked the planet.
Nonetheless, ridiculous as this situation is, even this latest revelation does not fully clear her of charges that she was acting as an unregistered foreign agent (charges which, if true, would make her one of the most blatant and incompetent foreign agents in espionage history, who managed to get herself reported to the authorities for her by her fellow students at the American University on account of her excessive Russophilia and Putinophilia).
Now, she straight up confirms that, and in approximately the same language:
“If I’m a spy,” she added, “I’m the worst spy you could imagine.”
The article has plenty of anecdotes about how Butina’s behavior was entirely incompatible with espionage:
“Maria shows up with Paul Erickson,” said a lawyer who attended but asked that his name not be used, “and George introduced both of them to us.” He added that Butina told everyone that she was a close friend and associate of Torshin, and that they had known each other for years. “If this woman’s a spy, then getting up and disclosing this information is not the way you would do it,” he said.
Hence the FBI’s difficulties with finding anything with which to charge Butina – “money laundering, passing cash to the Trump campaign, violating Russian sanctions” – despite the resources dedicated to the investigation. The author even says that a “knowledgeable source” told him that his meetings with Butina were physically monitored “at a cost of perhaps $1 million or more.”
Not surprisingly, the end result was… weak:
According to the FBI’s affidavit, Butina’s low-level networking with conservative activists and politicians, her efforts to help O’Neill with his dinners, and even her idealistic thoughts about bringing the two countries closer—the affidavit cites a statement Butina made to Torshin that, by inviting NRA officials to Moscow, “maybe … you have prevented a conflict between two great nations”—were part of a sinister, anti-American plot. This sort of insinuation and assumption is, essentially, the beginning and the end of the case against Maria Butina. …
Helson also described a search of Butina’s computer, during which he discovered another four-year-old conversation, this time with Torshin, in which they discussed an article Butina had published in The National Interest calling for improved U.S.-Russia relations. “BUTINA asked the RUSSIAN OFFICIAL to look at the article,” the affidavit states, “and the RUSSIAN OFFICIAL said it was very good.” She sent him an article to read. Torshin read it and liked it. Therefore, Butina is a spy. This is the quality of the FBI’s case.
… and revolved around the usual, fevered femme fatale fantasies around Russian redheads:
Prosecutors, faced with a humdrum case involving a grad student, friendship dinners, and little evidence, landed on the idea of sex, with Butina as the Kremlin’s Red Sparrow. “They were interested in sex,” one of the witnesses interviewed by the FBI told me. They “wanted to know if George [O’Neill] had sex with Maria. They couldn’t establish that, but that’s what they wanted.” O’Neill, who’s married with five children, denied the allegation that he’d had an affair with Butina. “That’s ridiculous,” he told me. “Maybe these guys have been watching too much TV.”
The FBI also seemed convinced, the witness said, that Paul Erickson had been seduced as part of what they called Butina’s “honeypot thing.” At Butina’s arraignment, prosecutor Erik Kenerson argued that Butina posed a flight risk, because her relationship with Erickson was “duplicitous” and “simply a necessary aspect of her activities.” His evidence for this claim was that Butina had occasionally complained about Erickson, and also that she had offered another person sex “in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”
The claim, however, was a false and deliberate “sexist smear,” Butina’s lawyers argued. What the government refused to reveal was that the basis for the accusation that she exchanged sex for access was a three-year-old joke in a text to a longtime friend, a Russian public relations employee at the Right to Bear Arms. Humorously complaining about taking her car for an annual inspection, he wrote, “I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance they put me through the ringer.” Facetiously, Butina replied, “Sex. Thank you very much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.” The friend then wrote back in the same humorous vein that sex with Butina did not interest him. Butina was also a longtime friend of the colleague’s wife and child. Butina’s lawyers pointed out that prosecutors had “deleted sentences, misquoting her messages; truncated conversations, taking them out of context; replaced emoticons with brackets, twisting tone; and mistranslated Russian communications, altering their meaning.”
Yet the prosecution’s suggestion that Butina traded sex for influence worked very well as a publicity tactic. “Who Is Maria Butina? Accused Russian Spy Allegedly Offered Sex for Power,” read the headline in USA Today. CNN carried the breaking news banner, “The Russian Accused of Using Sex, Lies, and Guns to Infiltrate U.S. Politics.” Within days, a simple Google search using the phrase “Maria Butina” and “sex” produced more than 300,000 hits, and she became the butt of jokes on shows like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. …
“They manipulated the evidence,” was the opinion of a former assistant U.S. attorney familiar with the Washington, D.C., office. It was a place he had spent many years prosecuting cases. “The government is basically calling her a whore in a public filing…. I think it was an attempt to influence media coverage.” He added, “This seems like somebody panicked, they moved too early, now they’re trying to figure out what to do.”
At the end of my original article, written immediately after her arrest, I suggested that the Occam’s Razor explanation of Butina’s escapes boiled down to the following points:
(1) Maria Butina is a gal who loves money, politics, and guns.
(2) She was settling down in the US, because at least the guns and politics part (including conservative politics) are far easier and more fun to pursue in America than in Russia.
(3) Since she is presumably still a Russian patriot, a Putin supporter, and an Americanophile, she would have naturally loved for the US and Russia to get along.
Thinking ambitiously, this might have also held out the prospect of an extension of American soft power – that is, what she would see as its wholesome, conservative element – into Russian politics. If this scenario had panned out, she might even have become… an “American agent” in Russia.
(4) Trump was the only Presidential candidate talking of improving relations with Russia – and he was a honest to goodness nationalist to boot!
(5) And her trump card into American politics? Her “Kremlin Connection.” Even though Torshin is nowhere near Putin’s inner circle.
Unfortunately, there was also a sixth part that she failed to account for:
(6) The US is also substantially run by gray bureaucrats, spies, and policemen – the Deep State – and they need to keep the Russiagate narrative going at any cost, since they have invested so much into it.
Consequently, I am pretty sure that Maria Butina is now regretting playing her trump card very much, as opposed to getting the hell out of dodge as soon as Trump was elected.
I feel that I have been vindicated on pretty much all points. If anything, I may have overstated the part Torshin played in this, with Maria Butina basically just piggybacking off him to launch her own network of American sponsors. Conversely, in fairness, I also blamed Mueller too much. He, at least, was smart enough to wash his hands off the affair at the earliest stage, leaving it to a couple of FBI agents – one of them a former local news reporter – who apparently had no experience with Russia or counterintelligence.
One last point I haven’t made, and have seen few other people make, is that relative to the (very few) previous cases of recent US prosecutions under FARA, Butina’s indiscretions were trifling. For instance, in United States v. Samir A. Vincent, the accused was found guilty of acceptions millions of dollars from Saddam Hussein to lobby for the removal of Iraq sanctions (and he had serious contacts, all the way up to former President Carter). His eventual punishment was a fine of $300,000 and community service. The very latest case concerned Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, a pro-Pakistani lobbyist who also received millions of dollars and had high political contacts, until the US clamped down when relations with Pakistan soured following the US raid to kill Osama bin Laden. He was initially sentenced to two years in jail, which was later reduced to one year and four months. However, his crimes also included tax evasion.
Of course this doesn’t apply to all countries. For instance, AIPAC does not have to register as a foreign agent, even though the influence it exerts exceeds Russia’s by many orders of magnitude. It is so far-reaching that it manages to get aspects of the US Constitution annulled (e.g. progressive criminalization of BDS), and forces American lawmakers into groveling apologies when they so much as point out this fact.
Consequently, if prosecutions under FARA can be considered to be a gauge of American official attitudes, we may consider that the US is more hostile to Putin’s Russia than to Saddam-era Iraq or the country that sheltered a terrorist who killed 3,000 of its citizens.