God, guns, and gays: Russia's road map to conquering the Republican Party
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.