The Strange Tale of Russia’s Mole in the NRA

Maria Butina (Russian photo)

Curiously, if you search the National Rifle Association’s website, even if you do a topic search, you won’t find mention of Maria Butina.

Maria Valeryevna Butina is a Russian national who has lived in the United States the last few years, and this spring earned a masters’ degree at American University in Washington D.C.

According to Wikipedia, Ms. Butina was born in Russia in 1988, and grew up in Siberia, where her father introduced her to firearms and hunting.

In 2011, she founded Right to Bear Arms, described as a Russian gun-rights organization that has lobbied to change Russia’s strict gun control laws. She began traveling to the U.S. with Aleksander Torshin, a banker and a leading member of United Russia, the majority political party of Russia.

In 2013, she met a Republican political operative, Paul Erickson, in Russia. The two became close, started dating and eventually moved in together. In 2015, she emailed him a description of her plan to help the Republicans win the 2016 elections through the National Rifle Association. In 2016, Butina and Erickson began a South Dakota business, Bridges LLC, described as a consulting company.

Butina with NRA’s Wayne LaPierre (screenshot from Butina’s social media)

Torshin and Butina established a relationship between her Russian organization, Right to Bear Arms, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) in 2011. Torshin has been attending NRA meetings since 2011. In 2013, David Keene, former NRA president, was a guest at the Right to Bear Arms annual meeting in Russia.

Butina attended the 2014 and 2015 NRA annual convention as a special guest of David Keene, and in 2016, Torshin announced on Twitter that both he and Butina were lifetime NRA members.

In 2015, a group of NRA leaders, including Keene, first vice president Pete Brownell, Butina’s boyfriend Paul Erickson, and Milwaukee County sheriff David Clark, attended Right to Bear Arms’ annual conference in Russia.

At the same time, Butina established relations with the Republican Party, and has posted photos of herself on social media with then Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and presidential candidate Rick Santorum at the 2014 NRA convention. At the 2015 NRA convention, she met Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and was present at the launch of Walker’s unsuccessful presidential campaign. She addressed a question to candidate Trump at a 2015 town hall, and briefly met Donald Jr.

The FBI began to monitor Butina in August 2016, when she moved to the U.S. on a student visa. The FBI opted to watch her movements and gather information on whom she was meeting, and what her goals might be.

On July 15, 2018, Butina was arrested and charged with conspiracy, alleging that she violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act and acted as an unregistered Russian agent within the U.S. According to a supporting affidavit, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government, widely believed to be her long-time associate, Senator Torshin. She is being held without bail. Erickson was not charged, and has not responded to requests for comment by the press.

That’s the basic outline of Maria Butina and her relations with the NRA and Republican politicians.

The amazing thing about this whole story is how easily this young Russian woman moved into the highest levels of the NRA and conservative political circles.

Monica Hesse of the Washington Post writes, “Maria Butina is an NRA Cool Girl, a unicorn dream of what a man who loved guns might be seeking in a woman to love him.” She concludes, “The men who championed her were so pleased to meet a woman who fit an ideal mold, they never stopped to think that maybe she was an ideal mole.”

What also amazes me is that rank and file members of the NRA haven’t stormed the gates at NRA’s Washington headquarters, demanding the resignations of Wayne LaPierre and other NRA leaders, people who hold themselves out as super patriots, who so easily fell for the charms of the lovely Maria, and eagerly collaborated with Russia.

One person’s Twitter comment summed it up. “Such a shame that good guys with a gun are powerless against bad guys with vaginas.”

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