A Russian pro-gun group with ties to the National Rifle Association boasted an “honorary members” list that’s a who’s-who of far-right and nationalist Russian political figures.
The group, The Right To Bear Arms, is run by Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official and Putin ally at the center of an FBI investigation into whether the NRA received illegal Russian money to boost Donald Trump in 2016.
The NRA has denied being contacted by the FBI about anything related to Russia, but has said almost nothing about the reported probe. The NRA spent more dark money in the 2016 election than any other political organization.
The honorary members list offers additional evidence that the Right To Bear Arms enjoys support from powerful far-right figures in Putin’s Russia. And it raises questions about the NRA’s relationship with the group: The Right To Bear Arms hosted top NRA officials for a 2015 meeting in Moscow and has forged other close contacts with the NRA. One person on the honorary members list told TPM he received his membership at a 2015 NRA meeting.
As recently as 2016, Right to Bear Arms listed 22 “honorary members” on its website, according to an archived version of the site, which described them as “individuals who make decisions on a national scale, as well as opinion leaders.” The Right To Bear Arms site said the honorary members were listed “with their consent.”
Many of those listed work alongside Torshin in the Russian parliament. They include top brass from the right-wing nationalist LDPR and Rodina parties. That’s a powerful membership for a group which was founded in 2012 by a then-24-year-old Siberian furniture store owner, Maria Butina, and which has had little success in promoting Russian gun rights.
“For nearly a year, the NRA has avoided answering basic questions about why it cozied up to Moscow and a Russian gun group with close ties to Vladimir Putin’s regime,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told TPM. “Until the NRA comes clean and starts answering questions, Americans will continue to wonder what the NRA might be hiding.”
An NRA spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
One name on the list, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, is a longtime ally of Putin, who he has called “the tsar.” For decades, Zhirinovsky has been a leader of Russia’s far right. He has blamed Jews for starting the Second World War and provoking the Holocaust, and he played a key role in helping the intelligence officer suspected of poisoning defector Alexandr Litvinenko get elected to Russia’s parliament. A 2002 video shows a drunken Zhirinovsky threatening Condoleezza Rice, then the U.S. National Security Adviser, with gang rape. In October 2016, Zhirinovsky threatened “Hiroshimas and Nagasakis everywhere” if Americans voted for Hillary Clinton.
Oleg Volk, a Tennessee-based photographer who makes pro-gun posters and graphics, also is listed as an honorary member of The Right to Bear Arms. Volk told TPM that Butina and Torshin presented his honorary membership to him at “a brief lunch meeting” during the 2015 NRA conference in Nashville, as a thank you for making Russian-language images for the group to use.
Volk said he was “amused” to see Zhirinovsky’s name near his own.
“He was kind of the bogeyman in Russian politics, he was very anti-Semitic,” said Volk, who is Jewish. “People like him caused my family to get out of Russia.”
Among the other names on the Right to Bear Arms list: Ilya Drozdov, the deputy head of LDPR, who has called for Ukraine to be “wiped off the map;” as well as at least three other LDPR members.
Alexei Zhuravlev, also on the list, is a high-ranking member of the Russian parliament and the head of the Rodina party, which, like LDPR, opposes the pro-Western government in Ukraine. Zhuravelv has publicly supported the head of the Donetsk Separatists, who declared the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk a separate region called “Little Russia.”
Rodina backs the The Antiglobalization Movement of Russia, which has courted aspiring secessionists in California, Texas and Puerto Rico and actively courts neo-Nazis. In 2015 Rodina hosted a nationalist event that featured attendees from Greek fascist group Golden Dawn and the violent far-right organization Britain First, as well as Ku Klux Klan lawyer and white supremacist Sam Dickson, and Jared Taylor, who leads the white nationalist group American Renaissance*.
*CORRECTION: This story originally referred incorrectly to American Renaissance as an American Nazi group. We apologize for the error.
Russian translation provided by Jerry Vinokurov