Action movie star Steven Seagal has made headlines in recent days for helping a congressional delegation arrange meetings with Russian officials and for a potential plan to make him the face of one of the country’s largest weapons companies. Seagal’s Russian connections highlighted a lesser known role the actor, martial arts expert, and blues guitarist has played in recent years, that of a politically-connected globetrotter who dabbles in a seemingly contradictory blend of Buddhism, activism, and heavy weaponry.While uttering lines on screen like “I think you really deserve to suffer,” Seagal has been a human rights activist who has done advocacy and charity work, by his count, on at least four different continents. Seagal has supported efforts to promote democracy in Burma, according to his website, and is “a frequent visitor to many Children’s Homes, Orphanages and Hospitals the world over where he brings gifts and his love to the sick and disadvantaged Children.”
“My devotion to the children stems directly from my devotion to the Divine,” Seagal says in a note on his website. “The Buddhist philosophy is to put others before ourselves.”
This global activism has left Seagal with an eclectic mix of friends in the political realm.
Seagal has long been a high-profile supporter of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. In 1997, he was officially recognized as a reincarnated lama by a Tibetan monk.
Seagal also claims to be the “first private citizen to destroy a Nuclear Device.” This assertion is based on a $100,000 donation he gave to the Global Nuclear Disarmament fund in 2005. He celebrated that donation by hosting an event where Zen monks brought a flame supposedly lit from the fires of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast to the original nuclear bomb test site in New Mexico for a “Full Circle” ceremony. The monks carried the flame to the site by walking with it for the more than 1,500 mile journey from San Francisco to New Mexico.
Seagal’s Russian connection includes a personal friendship with President Vladimir Putin. Last year, Seagal traveled to Russia and took in an mixed martial arts fight with Putin, who is an avid martial arts practitioner and enthusiast. In March, Seagal accompanied Putin to a Moscow martial arts school where he demonstrated his aikido skills as the Russian leader called for a return to Stalin-era mass physical training programs.
In an interview with the Guardian during that trip, Seagal said he and Putin discussed mixed martial arts and his efforts to train young fighters. He also touted his Russian roots, claiming his father and paternal grandparents are all from the country.
“I’m Russian, I love Russia, I love Russian people, and I love your president. I really like that he does so much to support martial arts in Russia,” Seagal said to the local Dozhd TV station of his meetings with Putin.
Seagals’ ties to Russian politicians drew renewed attention last weekend when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) announced the actor had helped a U.S. congressional delegation arrange meetings with Russian law enforcement to discuss the Boston Marathon bombing. Rohrabacher described Seagal as a friend of his and said the meetings helped the participants determine law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Russia must increase their cooperation.
“He’s a black belt and a very well respected actor. I’ve known Steven Seagal for a long time, he’s a personal friend,” Rohrabacher said of Seagal in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday. “He knew we were going to Russia. Because of his black belt in karate and things, he’s gotten to know many of the leaders of Russia, including Putin, and was able to use that influence to make sure we got to talk to the very top people, so that we could try to find ways of expanding our areas of cooperation.”
Rohrabacher claimed Seagal has “taken on this challenge of radical Islamic terrorism” and is “helping us understand the radical insurgencies” in Russia.
With his work to fight nuclear weapons, stop terrorism, and promote Buddhism, a religion that espouses non-violence, it might seem, off screen at least, that Seagal is a pacifist. However, Seagal isn’t your typical lama. Along with his peace activism and philanthropy, he has also worked to promote firearms.
After the Newtown school shooting, Seagal partnered with another one of his politically-inclined friends, Joe Arpaio, the conservative Arizona lawman who promotes himself as “America’s toughest sheriff.” Seagal and Arpaio’s plan to confront the issue of violence in schools involved the actor helping to train a “volunteer posse” that would patrol local schools armed with automatic weapons.
Seagal may soon be promoting firearms on an even larger scale by becoming the face of the V.A.Degtyarev Plant, a 97-year-old Russian machine gun manufacturer that, according to its website, specializes in producing “antitank” rifles, “aircraft guns,” a “portable anti-aircraft missile system”, and smaller arms. After touring the plant with Seagal Tuesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin asked Seagal to head an international marketing campaign for the plant and to lobby for Russia’s arms industry in the U.S. by pushing for an end to restrictions on gun imports.
“You’re ready to fight American (manufacturers) with your teeth and your intellect, and if Americans are prepared to promote and support you, that says we’re learning new ways to work on corporate warfare markets,” Rogozin said to the plant workers during his appearance with Seagal.
It’s unclear whether Seagal will take Russia up on its offer. His agent has not responded to a request for comment from TPM.
Seagal’s work promoting guns might seem to be at odds with his spiritually motivated, peaceful activism. However, as an actor who built his career making violent action films, Seagal has always been a rather unusual spokesman for world peace.
In the past, Seagal and his supporters have addressed this apparent contradiction. In a 1999 statement on his decision to recognize Seagal as a reincarnated lama, or “tulku,” His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist leader, said Seagal’s violent movies do not stop him from working to spread “enlightenment” through “compassion” because “such movies are for temporary entertainment and do not relate to what is real and important.”
Seagal points to the difference between reality and fiction to explain the incongruity between his activism and his movies. According to his website, Seagal once participated in a campaign initiated by the Bucharest police department called “Be Intelligent, Not Violent.” As part of this effort, Seagal brought children from a Romanian orphanage to one of his film shoots.
“Steven said his intention was to prove to children that the ‘fights’ in the movies are not real and that violence is always defeated by intelligence,” the site said.