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Maria Butina Connects Russians, NRA, Trump, Sibby, and Mathew Wollmann

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 ОружиеPravo na Oruzhie, which translates as “Right to Arms”—a new Russian activist promoting gun rights in Russia.

David Keene and Maria Butina [source: Maria Butina, Facebook, 2013.11.03]
David Keene and Maria Butina [source: Maria Butina, Facebook, 2013.11.03]

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, target practice in Czech Republic, 2013
Butina, target practice in Czech Republic, 2013
Butina, hunting in Russia, 2014
Butina, hunting in Russia, 2014
Butina with machine gun in Russia, 2015
Butina with machine gun in Russia, 2015
“Russia, 2015: Powerful, long-range rifles for hunting and sport—legal. But even the weakest pistols for self-defense—prohibited. Where’s the logic in that?”

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:

Former NRA president David Keene introduces Maria Butina and Alexsandr Torshin to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, April 2015.
Engaged?! Former NRA president David Keene introduces Maria Butina and Alexsandr Torshin to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, April 2015. [Source: Walker’s “Our American Revival” PAC photo album]
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.”

Butina is now taking graduate classes at American University in Washington, D.C.

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.

From Bridges LLC articles of organization, certified 2016.02.10: the "9" is written in the Russian style; the signature is in Cyrillic letters.
From Bridges LLC articles of organization, certified 2016.02.10: the “9” is written in the Russian style; the signature is in Cyrillic letters.

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 in Sioux Falls classroom; FB photo dated 2013.05.13.
Butina in Sioux Falls classroom; FB photo dated 2013.05.13.
Butina at Sioux Falls CTE Academy of Finance, FB photo 2015.05.13.
Butina at Sioux Falls CTE Academy of Finance, FB photo 2015.05.13.

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 USD flyer 20150416

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:

Maria Butina and Paul Erickson, posted to FB 2013.11.01.
Maria Butina and Paul Erickson, posted to FB 2013.11.01.

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.

Butina at SD TARS camp, 2015.07.22.
Butina at SD TAR camp, 2015.07.22.

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.

Butina and SD TARS campers, photo posted to FB 2015.07.22.
Butina and SD TAR campers, photo posted to FB 2015.07.22.

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.

Butina at TAR camp, from Dusty Johnson, FB, 2015.07.22.
Butina at TAR camp, from Dusty Johnson, FB, 2015.07.22.

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.


  1. jerry 2017-03-27

    So the SDGOP needs to add more letters, SDGOPOP South Dakota Grand Old Party of Putin. We have Russian pipe getting ready to be put in the ground for a Koch (Russian) Chinese pipeline that will send oil to China. We will next see the new Republican banner with a transposed picture of Mao along with the Hammer and Sickle over a smiling trump. We have come a long way since we left the old country. What was old is now new again.

  2. Vance Feyereisen 2017-03-27

    Great reporting Cory. Sunlight just does not hurt.

  3. jerry 2017-03-27

    When we see the Russian connection with the NRA and the republican party both nationally and right here in good old South Dakota, it brings a tear to my eye not to hear from Mr. Grudznick or the Deplorable boys. Where is old sarge, Evans and the rest of the crew that wrap themselves around the these two corrupted organizations. Old Red must have bewitched the fellers into thinking she is Ivnanka. The hairline dude and Dusty probably fell all over themselves by not saying nyet to her commands.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-27

    Of all places, she comes to talk in South Dakota? If she’s looking to get her message out, to be a big player, why here?

  5. mike from iowa 2017-03-27

    You got crusty curmudgeon Grudz and climate similar to Siberia. Be my best guess.

  6. mike from iowa 2017-03-27

    How does the NRA know she is not a secret Muslim?

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-27

    No worries of that, Mike. Russians are generally even more anti-Muslim than Trump and Ron Branstner.

  8. Roger Beranek 2017-03-27

    Russians need the 2nd amendment too. And since SOME Republicans and the NRA care about civil rights, it’s just a logical connection.

  9. leslie 2017-03-27

    Mr Trump met with Russia’s US ambassador last April at the height of the presidential election, despite his repeated and strenuous denials of any meeting with Kremlin officials before his inauguration in January.
    News reports from the time which have now resurfaced, also suggest that Mr Trump met briefly with Vladimir Putin’s representative in Washington around six months before polling day.
    Photos from that day also appear to prove that Sergey Kislyak, the Kremlin’s man in Washington, was at a speech given by the US leader. 3.9.17

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-27

    Roger: lots of vodka, domestic abuse, rampant white supremacist sentiment… sure, let’s add guns to the Russian domestic mix!

    Notice that Russians didn’t need guns to topple the Soviet Union. Would guns do any better at helping some Russians resist Putin’s autocracy?

  11. jerry 2017-03-28

    The only way the russian way works is in a failed state, welcome to South Dakota. Russia has succeeded to convince the republicans that their way is the highway. Oligarchy is so feudal in its entirety that republicans are convinced they can rule us like the lords of old. Will we become West Dakota and East Dakota? Mr. Daugaard, build that wall.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-28

    I wouldn’t say South Dakota is as corrupt as Russia—I haven’t had to bribe anyone to get basic government services yet—but EB-5 and GEAR UP show the opening for kleptocracy.

  13. Buckobear 2017-03-28

    Just what IS this fascination that republicans have with Russia ??
    There is a rotten smell here.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-28

    Hey, I’m fascinated with Russia (studied the language, traveled there four times). It’s a huge, beautiful country.

    Its government and economy are also rotten to the core. Russia’s anarcho-capitalism shows the logical conclusion of Grover Norquist/Donald Trump politics.

  15. Todd Epp 2017-03-28

    Easy for Maria to support gun rights in Russia while in the USA. Might be a little more difficult, say, in Moscow or St. Petersburg?

    Also, shouldn’t she be holding an AK-47 instead of an AR-15 to help her Russian arms manufacturers?

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-29

    You know, Todd, maybe her choice of weapon is actually a good sign, that she’s not just a dupe of Russian corporate interests.

    Or maybe it shows that she’s more of a dupe of the corporate NRA, which may be pouring big money into her organization.

    I don’t think it’s tough for her to pitch gun rights in Russia: her photos show her frequently surrounded by gun-toting Russian manly men. Her message plays well with the Russian nationalists, just as the NRA’s message plays well with America’s nationalists. Ammosexuals aren’t unique to America.

  17. mike from iowa 2017-03-29

    Kalashnikovs are made in Dimwitty, Pa and there is a new factory in Pompano Beach, Florida which Drumpf apparently sold to Russia when no one was looking.

    If you can’t beat them, and US military arms never measured up to the AKs from stories I have heard, build them.

  18. mike from iowa 2017-03-29

    I remember seeing many pics from Iraq and Afghanistan of US lads packing AKs instead of standard issue arms.

  19. mike from iowa 2017-03-29

    ps never trust a redheaded Rooshian caressing a Tommy gun. Just don’t.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-29

    What? Mike, I didn’t think that factory in Florida was up and running yet. How is Trump involved?

  21. mike from iowa 2018-02-11

    Got an Art Garfunkel hairdo. He has got that going for him. Paul Simon announced his farewell tour. Homeward Bound and will need a stand in for Art.

  22. Dorian 2018-02-20

    U should send this article to the #Neveragain movement that will have a Town Hall in CNN so they can convey how Putin and the NRA are infiltrating
    America to avoid sanctions.. This not about gun ownership but manufacturing and distribution in our communities and a ban on assault weapons will thwart their plans. This is why Putin is paying the GOP through the NRA. And the blood of all victims are in their hands…

  23. Laurie 2018-07-16

    Well, you nailed that one.

  24. Jan 2018-07-18

    It turns out you were extremely prescient – much better at this kind of thing that most of the so-called “analysts” on cable news and Fox Russian Propaganda Network. Butina was arrested on Sunday, had a hearing on Monday and was confined to jail as a flight risk, and had a second hearing today on whether she was a flight risk. It was determined that this little Red Sparrow was, in fact, a flight risk and had been involved in an intimate relationship with Erickson. Her attorney had tried to claim that since her lease was expiring at the end of this month, she was packed and planned on moving to South Dakota. Um—yeah. The Federal Magistrate remanded her back to jail until her trial.

  25. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-07-18

    Dang it! She could have moved here! I could have driven down to Sioux Falls and interviewed her! Darned FBI and judge, spoiling my podcast fun. :-D

  26. Jan 2018-07-18

    Shucks! Maybe you can interview some of those dudes at the TAR Camp thing in 2015. Maybe you can get them to make some statements that can later be construed as um, perjury — I NEVER KNEW HER. Um, here are photographs showing you were there with her… Bwwwwahahahahaha! Can you tell I’m greatly enjoying this? Now we know, of course, all the back-story behind the absolute PANIC among the cons in the “Freedom Caucus” who have been trying to engineer something, anything, to get rid of Mueller and this extremely inconvenient and increasingly uncomfortable investigation that can get them permanently kicked out of their cushy Congressional jobs and perhaps sent to prison for awhile. And the connections between the Russians and the NRA (can the Kochs be far behind – tuns out – nope) that even Trump’s minions now understand are damning – thus explaining gutting laws currently in the Federal Code designed to protect American elections from interference by foreign entities and states, including of course making contributions, through third party “non-profits” by the issuance of Mnuchin’s Treasury directive to IRS yesterday PROHIBITING it from requiring disclosure of names of ANY donors. Without that information, how can DOJ/FBI even begin an investigation into suspect contributions? Answer: THEY CAN’T.

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