Maria Butina is 29 years old, and a very millennial sort of alleged Russian agent. Butina, who is currently jailed without bail, has found herself at the center of the latest twist in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation. Far from maintaining cloak-and-dagger secrecy as she infiltrated the NRA and GOP circles prior to the 2016 election, Butina blogged about her experiences and posted reflections and snapshots on Twitter, Facebook and the Russian social media network VK.com. Butina’s affinity for social media contributed to her recent downfall: Twitter direct messages between Butina and her alleged handler, the Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, are cited in federal evidence.
The social media posts, written in Russian, reveal Butina’s often unflattering impressions of the United States. When she first visited the U.S. in 2014 and took part in the NRA’s annual convention in Indianapolis, for example, Butina blogged about her experience in several posts on LiveJournal.com, leaving her unvarnished opinions hiding in plain sight. Or, at least, plain cyrillic. (Ironic, perhaps, for a citizen of Vladimir Putin’s repressive regime, which is 85 percent Indo-European. Butina appears to have found the NRA both too authoritarian and too white.)
We’ve translated her posts using Google, roughly, below.
In one post, Butina criticized the way the NRA governs itself. “The organization is not very democratic,” she wrote. “Not a single vote has been observed,” she added, criticizing the group’s leadership — in particular the power of its 75-member board: “The president of the organization is appointed from among the board by its internal decision,” she wrote. “In comparison with these structural features, our [Russian] NGO sector … is much more democratic.”
The NRA convention events, Butina observed, are not open to all, but rather “divided into ‘public’ and closed (some of which prohibit the use of photographic equipment),” she added, “I managed to stay at all [events], ask questions, and also speak before the audience.” She referred to a presentation she made before the NRA’s “Ring of Freedom, which consists of patrons who donated more than $1,000,000 to the organization at a time. All such citizens receive a yellow jacket,” Butina wrote, “with a special ‘Ring of Freedom’ sign.”
Butina was not just bothered by the NRA’s organizational divides. She also criticized the gun lobby’s racial makeup and lack of diversity: “In addition to problems with democracy, there are obvious problems with the proportionality of representation,” Butina wrote, “because for all time, from among the guests and participants in the congress and exhibition, I met only two blacks.”
Channelling a bit of Alexis de Tocqueville, Butina also commented on more common American customs — chiefly mixing business with chow-time: “Usually all business negotiations and simple communication takes place in the early morning during breakfast, followed by [brunch] (breakfast + lunch = brunch), followed by lunches, followed by suppers. And so you can eat all day,” Butina wrote.
“At the same time,” she added, “in America you can easily distinguish the middle and rich class from the poor in excess weight. If you have a very full, fat companion, he is probably a representative of a not very successful financial class… Healthy food can be found everywhere, but hamburgers are tastier, cheaper and even more affordable. And usually they are washed down with milkshakes with ice cream… or cola. People there really breakfast [with] Coca-Cola… In Europe, I have not seen this.”
As of this writing, the NRA still has not commented on Butina’s arrest.