Events from the last week have surfaced at a moment that seems almost too perfect. As reported in the New York Times …
According to the complaint unsealed on Monday, Ms. Butina’s promotional activities for Russian political interests included attending the National Prayer Breakfast twice.
Why was Butina, a covert agent of the Russian government posing as a representative of a pro-gun group connected to the NRA, there at the National Prayer Breakfast? Because that’s where the Republicans were. That’s where the Right was. Because: God, guns, and gays.
The phrase “God, guns, and gays” is often falsely attributed to President Obama, or Nancy Pelosi, or Hillary Clinton. But that’s not where it originated. It came out of the 1994 campaign of Republican Senator Jim Inhofe—he of the snowball in the Senate, climate change-denying fame. The phrase “God, guns, and gays” wasn’t coined by Inhofe’s team as an insult. It was intended to focus Oklahoma voters on social issues, so they would ignore Republican economic and environmental policies that were ruining their towns and lives. It was a strategy. For Russians looking a way to upend American politics, it was a road map.
For decades, the Republican Party had made taking a strong stand against Russia part of its core identity. After all, it was hard to position the GOP as the party of patriotism and defense, if it didn’t make a show of standing up to America’s greatest international opponent. But just as Gods, guns, and gays was a way to make a “shotgun wedding” of a supposedly charitable religion and an anything-but political party, Russia saw that it also offered a path to not just reconciling Republicans with Moscow, but making them as thoroughly owned by the Kremlin as the Religious Right is by the GOP.
Maria Butina, though only a 22-year-old student, saw this clearly at least as early as 2011. So did her boss, Russian oligarch Alexander Torshin. In that year, Butina formed the faux pro-gun group “Right to Bear Arms,” not to actually champion the cause of gun rights in Russia, but as a way to reach out to the NRA and the right wing in the United States. Bolstered by money and praise from Torshin, the non-existent “group” became an almost overnight power on the American right. As the Washington Post documents, it took only months for Butina to secure connections within the NRA. Less than two years after she began, former Russia hawk John Bolton was recording what amounted to a commercial for her group. By 2014, both Torshin and Butina were at the NRA convention, where they were treated as celebrities.
Butina and Torshin made sure that Russians were connected to the right by guns. And of course, they already had Republicans on the other two “G’s”—hating gays and running a brutally patriarchal society that demeans the position and rights of women. Those views had already locked Russia into favored nation status with the so-called Christian Right.
As Politico reported in 2017, Pat Buchanan, who had spent decades chewing every inch of scenery over the possibility that a Russian spy might be hiding behind the White House drapes, had already so reversed himself that in 2014 he said Putin was “entering a claim that Moscow is the Godly City of today.” It didn’t matter that Putin was routinely assassinating his opponents, killing and imprisoning journalists, and stealing everything that was and wasn’t nailed down. He was crushing the rights of gays. For Buchanan, that meant everything.
Pat Buchanon: In the culture war for the future of mankind, Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity.
Buchanan made the claim that God was on Putin’s side, even as Putin was invading Ukraine and the United States and Europe were scrambling to find a response to the clearest act of territorial aggression since World War II might seem shocking … but it was already settling in as accepted wisdom on the right. Putin was strong. Putin was manly. Putin was brutally cruel to gays. For the religious right—a group that’s always searching for a David to rule them as they want, even if that rule comes with moral failings up to murdering a friend, or sleeping with a porn star—learning that Putin hated gays was enough to make him the anointed one of God. No matter how many dozens, or hundreds, or thousands he had killed.
Bonding over this “godliness” established connections between organizations on the religious right that were both social and monetary. They see Putin as not just one of them, not just as a friend on whom they can rely. He’s a role model.
American fundamentalists bent on unwinding minority protections in the U.S. have increasingly leaned on Russia for support—and for a model they’d bring to bear back home, from targeting LGBT communities to undoing abortion rights throughout the country.
Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin making an appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast isn’t a coincidence. It’s not even regarded as odd—Torshin has been a regular for several years.