Did Russia infiltrate the NRA? Did the NRA launder Russian money for Trump? If the answer to these questions is yes, then the problem of guns in America—and why we can’t seem to discuss it, address it or solve it–starts to make more sense.
The FBI is investigating whether a Russian banker, mafia boss and politician with close ties to Vladimir Putin illegally funneled millions to the NRA to help Trump win the presidency. Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator with connections to the Kremlin, is the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank—and a lifetime NRA member, as reported by McClatchy.
Torshin, a gun enthusiast, has attended several NRA conventions, including the May 2016 convention in Kentucky, where he spoke with Donald Trump Jr. and the gun rights organization endorsed Trump for president.
Torshin is reportedly the godfather of the Russian criminal syndicate Taganskaya. Authorities in Spain were prepared to arrest him in 2013 on the resort island of Mallorca for money laundering, until he cancelled his travel plans. Torshin has been a subject of a number of Congressional investigations, including the House intelligence committee.
In November 2017, the committee interviewed Glenn Simpson, cofounder of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to compile a dossier on ties between Trump and Russia. Steele went to the FBI in September 2016 because he was concerned the Russians were blackmailing Trump. In the interview, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked Simpson about Russia’s interest with the NRA:
In Simpson’s own words: SIMPSON:
It appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA. And there is more than one explanation for why. But I would say broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations. And they targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise, and they seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA. And so there is a Russian banker-slash-Duma member-slash-Mafia leader named Alexander Torshin who is a life member of the NRA. And we spent a lot of time investigating Mr. Torshin.
Simpson also mentioned Maria Butina, a “big Trump fan in Russia” who worked with Torshin, and “then suddenly showed up here and started hanging around the Trump transition after the election.”
In the 2016 election, the NRA spent a record of at least $55 million, possibly more than $70 million, including $30 million on Trump—three times the amount the gun rights organization had spent on Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential bid.
But why should we care about any of this?
NRA’s overwhelming political influence
Already, there have been at least eleven school shootings in the U.S. in 2018, and no one seems to care. America lacks the will to solve its problems, and gun violence is certainly one of them. Money has corrupted politics, and the signs are all around us.
As the Dallas Morning News has reported, oligarchs tied to Putin have funneled millions of dollars into Republican campaigns, filling the coffers of politicians such as Sens. Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain, and Govs. John Kasich and Scott Walker. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan received $500,000 from the Koch Brothers immediately after Congress passed the infamous tax bill that amounts to a huge gift to the top 1 percent.
The National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in America, and has been operating like an arm of the Republican Party, with the GOP opposing any and all gun control measures. For the NRA, gun regulations have become far more than a matter of policy. Rather, the group has become a solider in the “culture wars,” branding liberals, progressives, Black Lives Matter protesters and those who oppose Trump as their enemy.
Last year in an NRA ad, Dana Loesch called for a civil war against the left, who in her words “use their media to assassinate real news,” “use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler,” and “smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.”
One critic, activist Samuel Sinyangwe, tweeted that the ad was “the white equivalent of an ISIS recruitment video.”
On NRATV, NRA’s media outlet, two men accused Black Lives Matter of committing mass violence against whites, making parallels to “South Africa where white families are being tortured and killed almost every day in racist violence.”
One of the men, NRA host Grant Stinchfield, once suggested North Korea should bomb California instead of Guam, and insisted we “blame minorities killing each other” for gun violence rather than “law abiding conservatives. Let’s look harder at broken families not gun laws.” In another video called “We Stand,” the NRA inserted itself into the NFL protests against police brutality.
The NRA, like the GOP, has jumped head first into the pool of fascism and racism, making it increasingly more difficult to distinguish between white supremacist militias and hate groups, gun lobbyists and Republican lawmakers.
Things get very serious when this all translates into policy.
Why is the NRA so mum on Russia ties?
Everytown for Gun Safety, which has created an interactive website on ties between the NRA, Russia and Trump World, notes that the NRA forged ties with Putin as Russia meddled in the U.S. election. “Not only are they Trump’s #1 ally, the NRA’s leadership has been building relationships with Russian officials since at least 2011,” said Jamie Schell, Political Research Director for Everytown for Gun Safety in a Dec. 29 email to supporters.
Schell called out the NRA for promoting a “guns everywhere” agenda. “It’s no surprise that the NRA doesn’t want to talk about their ties to Russia. How can the NRA be protecting freedom when they cozy up to Putin’s authoritarian regime?” he wrote.
The gun lobby has enabled gun proliferation in America, a land where there are as many firearms as there are people. The U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world population, but 42 percent of the guns. This reality translates into 30,000 gun-related deaths each year, and it should be regarded as a major public health crisis.
Gun violence has taken a particular toll on the Black community in terms of homicides, creating a vicious cycle of trauma. Through its legalized bribery of elected officials, the NRA has stood in the way of solutions to America’s gun problem, blocking gun violence research for 20 years. Their answer has been guns everywhere.
In December, the House voted to extremely expand the right to carry concealed weapons just about anywhere in the country, requiring any state to recognize a concealed carry permit from another state. Who benefits from this? Obviously, the NRA, the Republicans, and Russia. Because if you want to disrupt another country, weaken it internally and undermine it, what better way to accomplish this than to bring in all the guns and turn it into the Wild West?
Moreover, GOP leadership refuses to accept the Russia investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as legitimate. In some cases they’ve even attempted to impede and undermine it. For example, Trump attempted to fire Mueller last June, ordering the prosecutor’s termination, which White House lawyer Don McGahn refused to carry out.
Many Republicans in Congress oppose legislation making it more difficult to fire Mueller. The president also launched a campaign to discredit potential FBI witnesses in Mueller’s probe. GOP lawmakers have promoted a conspiracy theory that there is a “deep state” FBI plot to bring down Trump.
House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who reportedly recused himself in the Russia investigation because he was a member of the Trump transition team, has exhibited strange behavior for months. Recently, against the objection of the Justice Department, Nunes has called for the release of a Republican memo alleging the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by obtaining a warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
The memo targets Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein–who oversees Mueller and who Trump wants removed–and deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe–who worked under fired FBI Director James Comey and has just stepped down–for their role in the investigation.
These and other examples of obstruction and efforts to protect Trump only point to GOP culpability, given what is known about the NRA’s–and by extension the Republican Party’s–ties to Russia.
So, if the NRA did take the Russian money and gave it to Trump and other Republican campaigns, that would certainly explain some things.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.