The NRA’s Brand Isn’t Freedom — It’s Treason

From their involvement with Russia to their unpopular policies, the NRA has a lot to answer for at their annual convention.

Over the last few decades, as the National Rifle Association (NRA) has grown more politically extreme, they have developed a calculated branding strategy: they have framed themselves as defenders of freedom.

This weekend, attendees at their annual convention will be bombarded with the word and accompanying imagery. Freedom. Bald eagles. Assault rifles — the NRA’s tenets of patriotism. Their motto — “Vote Freedom First” — and their magazine, America’s First Freedom, are attempts to conceal their extreme views and make their message more palatable.

They hijack the word to tell members and prospective members that “freedom” is the core of the Second Amendment and the organization. Over the next few days, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and others will speak at the convention in Dallas to affirm that the NRA stands for freedom and patriotism — a false assertion from discredited messengers.

In reality, the NRA will be playing defense at their convention this year. The once-powerful group has lost significant support from politicians, businesses, and citizens in the wake of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida. People are beginning to see the NRA’s “guns everywhere” agenda as a toxic, for-profit ploy. And as the Trump-Russia probe continues, it’s not just their policies that are being scrutinized.

According to recent reports, the FBI is investigating whether Russia used NRA connections to launder money to elect Donald Trump. Though the NRA has largely refrained from commenting on the investigation, the organization’s relationship with the Russian government, including Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, is indisputable.

Putin, a brutal dictator who jails and kills his detractors, dismantles opposition political parties, and silences the press, is the antithesis of freedom. So why has the NRA corresponded so frequently with Putin’s inner circle during the last five years? How does associating with a foreign dictatorship align with the NRA’s supposed commitment to freedom and patriotism?

The NRA has been branding themselves the defenders of “freedom” and “patriotism” while they cozy up to Putin, who will use every tool at his disposal to disrupt our way of life and undermine American values — including our basic freedoms. And in the NRA, Putin found a partner willing to assist in that mission — a partner whose immorality and tolerance for the reprehensible know no limits.

Here’s what we know about the NRA’s involvement with Russia:

Though it appears the NRA colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, the NRA’s involvement with Russia began long before the 2016 election cycle. In fact, the NRA’s involvement with Russia largely originated through a relationship with Alexander Torshin — a powerful figure in Putin’s inner circle. As it turns out, Torshin has been meeting and communicating with former NRA president and influential conservative David Keene for the better part of five years.

Torshin became a NRA lifetime member in 2013 and has served as liaison for several NRA-sponsored trips to Moscow for meetings with Russian officials. Additionally, Torshin allegedly has deep connections to the Russian mafia and is considered an expert in money laundering.

Keene and the NRA have also brought Torshin’s young apprentice into the fold: Maria Butina. Butina is the founder of the Russian gun group “The Right to Bear Arms” and has an especially close relationship with NRA fundraiser and conservative activist Paul Erickson.

Erickson and Butina founded Bridges LLC — a mysterious South Dakota company whose purpose, profit, and output are unknown. Erickson first made contact with the Trump campaign on behalf of the Kremlin — sending an email with the now infamous subject line, “Kremlin Connection.” This was eventually linked to Donald Trump, Jr. and Torshin.

In the coming months and years, we will almost certainly learn more about the relationship between the NRA and Russia. We will learn about how the NRA used an oppressive foreign regime to influence the 2016 election to their benefit. NRA members will have to grapple with that reality, as will Republicans who have been and continue to be supported by the NRA.

After Parkland, the NRA was exposed as an immoral, extremist organization. Now, they have been exposed as a fraud and a hypocrite, once and for all. They have betrayed their country and torched their supposed “core values”: freedom and patriotism. The moment they began associating with a foreign dictator, the moment they agreed to undermine American values, the moment they put political gain over the wellbeing of their country, they unmasked themselves. They showed us who they really are: power-hungry manipulators who will do whatever it takes to advance their bottom line — country be damned, freedom be damned.

The leaders of the NRA are traitors. Period. And now that they have exposed themselves as such, they should be sure to come to this weekend’s convention with new talking points. They don’t get to claim the mantle of freedom and patriotism anymore. The American people know better.

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