A former CIA official has made headlines by suggesting that, for years now, Russian officials have been using surprising tactics to influence conservative Americans.
On Sunday, The Washington Post published a report exposing connections between Russia and far-right Americans that go back far before President Trump’s campaign.
The Post listed as examples of these connections the fact that the NRA traveled to Moscow in 2015 and a 45-minute meeting that took place in the same year between evangelist Franklin Graham and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After that meeting, Graham praised Putin, saying that he “answers questions very directly and doesn’t dodge them like a lot of our politicians do.”
Steven L. Hall, who retired from the CIA in 2015 after spending 30 years managing Russia operations, told the Post that he thinks the connections between Russia the U.S.’s most conservative citizens are “part of something bigger.”
‘Is it possible that these are just well-meaning people who are reaching out to Americans with shared interests? It is possible. Is it likely? I don’t think it’s likely at all … My assessment is that it’s definitely part of something bigger.’
Brian Brown, a marriage equality advocate who is also the president of the National Organization for Marriage, has suggested that American conservatives have bonded with Russians over a desire for a return to old-fashioned “Christian values.”
During a 2013 trip to Moscow, Brown said that he noticed “a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”
G. Kline Preston IV, a Nashville lawyer and Russian law expert, has also said that there are great similarities between the values of Souther Christians and Russians.
‘The value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line. The so-called conflict between our two nations is a tragedy because we’re very similar people, in a lot of our values, our interests and that sort of thing.’
Preston introduced former NRA president David Keene to a Russian Senator named Alexander Torshin in 2011. The year before, Torshin authored a pamphlet that used U.S. statistics to argue in favor of gun ownership. The pamphlet even included a favorite slogan of 2nd Amendment enthusiasts: “Guns don’t shoot — people shoot.”
A gun rights movement has been building in Russia for years — seemingly in response to calls from the American left to enforce stricter gun control regulations — that has been helped along by a former aide of Torshin’s, Maria Butina.
Butina has been quoted describing the NRA as “one of the most world famous and most important organizations.” She also said at the organization’s 2014 convention that she “would like to be friends with NRA.”
In response to Butina’s efforts, Hall said that he thinks her movement is being “controlled by the security services” who want to gain favor with right-wing Americans.
There is a significant amount of concern in the U.S. right now regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Many people are concerned — as they should be — about connections between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials. However, based on the Post‘s findings, we should also be concerned about the less obvious ways that Russia is trying to intervene in American politics.
Featured image via Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images.