As the Legislature convenes one more time to deal with Governor Dennis Daugaard’s veto of two of their gun bills, an eager reader gets me reading about the National Rifle Association’s Russia connection, which will lead us to Donald Trump, Sibby, and Mathew Wollmann.
In 2014, to punish Russia for supporting separatist militias in Ukraine, the United States imposed sanctions on two state-owned Russian banks, two state-owned Russian oil companies, and six Russian arms manufacturers, including Kalashnikov, maker of the AK-47 rifle. To maintain access to the lucrative American gun market, Kalashnikov spun off a sanctions-evading U.S. branch that is building a factory in Florida.
The year before those sanctions, the National Rifle Association started forging connections with certain Russians. Russian senator Alexander Torshin, who Spanish investigators allege has ties to Russian mafia, attended the NRA’s national meeting in Houston in May 2013. Former NRA president David Keene reciprocated with a visit to Russia in November 2013. Specifically, Keene attended a conference of Право на Оружие—Pravo na Oruzhie, which translates as “Right to Arms”—a new Russian activist promoting gun rights in Russia.
The young woman standing next to Keene is Pravo na Oruzhie founder Maria Butina (contrary to temptation, that u goes /oo/, like the u in Putin). Butina likes guns.
Butina also likes American politics. Shortly after she attended the NRA national meeting in Nashville in April 2015, she and Torshin got introduced by David Keene to Wisconsin Governor and GOP Presidential hopeful Scott Walker:Then in July 2015, Butina showed up in the audience at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas and posed a question to GOP candidate Donald Trump (see 9:15 in video):
Butina asks about American sanctions on Russia that are “damaging” both countries. Trump says, “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what: we get along with Putin…. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well.”
Since February 10, 2016, Butina has also been the sole organizer of Bridges LLC, an entity incorporated in South Dakota with an office at 4904 Oxbow Avenue, Suite, 305, Sioux Falls, 57106.
The agent of Butina’s South Dakota corporation is Paul Erickson, a Vermillion native, long-time Republican consultant and prominent NRA member. Erickson was involved in the campaign to oust Tom Daschle from the Senate back in 2004, along with our friend from Mitchell Steve Sibson.
In September 2010, Erickson organized another business from that same 305 office at 4904 Oxbow, Investing with Dignity LLC. He must have gotten distracted with the Romney campaign and other projects, since after 2012, he failed to file his annual reports, until Secretary of State Shantel Krebs dissolved his corporation in April 2015. Erickson got Investing with Dignity LLC reinstated in 2016.
Butina appears to have spoken on behalf of Investing with Dignity LLC to Sioux Falls CTE students in a program called the Academy of Finance on May 13, 2015:
Butina posted these photos publicly on Facebook on May 13, 2015. However, the banner lists the 2013 sponsors. If you zoom into the classroom picture, just over the grey-sweatshirted student, the red ink by his head appears to refer to a semester test taking place “Fri May 15”, and May 15 was a Friday in 2015. The green ink on the board reads “Paul Erickson Investing with Dignity LLC.”
Just a few weeks prior to the Academy of Finance event, Butina says she made her first speech ever to an American university… at the University of South Dakota, in Vermillion, where she spoke to 30 people about her cause.
Butina’s acquaintance with Erickson precedes these 2015 events. On November 1, 2013, the day before she posted the picture of herself with David Keene in Moscow, she posted a photo of herself with Erickson:
Butina apparently enjoyed South Dakota enough to come for at least one more visit in July 2015, when she spoke to the Teenage Republicans camp in the Black Hills.
I can’t get this photo any bigger, but at the center of the back row, that looks like TAR camp leader, now U.S. House candidate, Dusty Johnson.
I’m betting Dusty is taking this photo… and hey! look to the far right of this photo. There on the back bench in those star-spangled shorts is, I’m pretty sure, TAR camp advisor, then-freshman, now-resigned state legislator Mathew Wollmann.
And who’s holding up that world map for Butina? That hairline looks much like that of Paul Erickson.
I’m not positing any grand conspiracy; I’m just having a lot of fun playing the Two Degrees of South Dakota Separation. In Maria Butina, we appear to have someone who can bring together Mathew Wollmann, the South Dakota Teenage Republican campers, Steve Sibson, and Paul Erickson and connect them all to the National Rifle Association and one practical rubles-and-kopecks reason some Russians wanted Trump to become President.