A grand jury indicted Russian gun-rights activist Mariia Butina on Tuesday for planning to “infiltrate” several American political organizations including, apparently, the National Rifle Association, on behalf of a high-ranking Russian official. Given her interest in loosening Russian gun laws, Butina’s close relationship with the National Rifle Association is not entirely surprising. But it’s also worth noting the many relationships Butina seems to have cultivated with the same segments of the Christian right that now support Donald Trump.
Take Butina’s remarkably chummy appearance on The Eric Metaxas Show in July 2015, for example. The daily radio program is hosted by a prominent conservative evangelical who is now enthusiastically pro-Trump. Butina, then in her mid-20s, was there to discuss gun rights and religious freedom. The friendly conversation between the American author and the Russian activist is a helpful glimpse at her easy courting of certain Christian conservatives.
The Yale-educated Metaxas, who styles himself as a New York intellectual, is the author of a best-selling biography of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred for his opposition to the Nazis. (Yes, a popular historian of the Holocaust is a vocal fan of Donald Trump.) The interview begins with a discussion of gun rights in Russia, with Butina explaining the mission of her organization, the Right to Bear Arms. “I love the idea of this, to think—those of us in America, we can be very parochial,” Metaxas enthused. “We forget that the fight for liberty goes on all around the world in different guises.”
They were later joined by Republican strategist Paul Erickson to discuss religious freedom. Butina and Erickson, who once worked for Pat Buchanan, have been reported to have lived together and to have been in a romantic relationship. Butina insisted at points that Christianity has flourished in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the two bantered somewhat incoherently about the value of a state church. “When we talk about the Russian-American relationship, the main point is Christianity, in both countries,” Butina said, and Metaxas chimed in to praise the “thousand-year history of Christianity in Russia.” Metaxas suggested once or twice that Putin may not be comfortable with dissent, but no one listening would have been aware of, say, Putin’s recent crackdown on Christian practice in Crimea.
“The Yale-educated Metaxas, who styles himself as a New York intellectual.”