NRA versus NPR. Who Wins? The NRA.

You may recall that back in July 2018, the FBI arrested a Russian moll, Maria Butina, and charged her with spying by trying to infiltrate the Trump Administration through contacts she had made with the NRA. Just what America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ needed as it was about to be engulfed in a massive political fight between Wayne LaPierre and Oliver North, the results of which are still going on.

North got booted out as NRA President in 2019, and then there was a big fight between NRA and its long-time PR firm, Ackerman-McQueen, and then an abortive bankruptcy, and then a still-active investigation by New York AG Letitia James, and then the cancellation of NRA-TV, and then the collapse of revenue, and then the articles by Mike Spies, and then and then and then, all of my Gun-control Nation friends were overjoyed and assumed the NRA was to quote Grandpa fartig (read: finished) and toyt (read: dead.)

Meanwhile, I still get my weekly emails from Wayne, my monthly magazine shows up in my mailbox on time, the online clothing store has a new line of polo shirts which means that my golf club will shortly allow me out to play, and when all is said and done, things at NRA headquarters in Fairfax seem to be back to where they used to be.

How did all this happen? You might want to read a new book by NPR’s investigative correspondent Tim Mak, Misfire, Inside the Downfall of the NRA, which purports to explain the events of the last five years. The book has received rave reviews from some of the usual suspects, including David Frum and Olivia Nuzzi, I’ll get to those reviews and what they really mean below.

In the meantime, let me just say that the book is completely and totally wrong. And it’s wrong because the author may be someone who knows all the political ins and outs of the D.C. scene, but he doesn’t know anything about guns, or the people who make guns, or the people who sell guns, or the people who buy and own guns. Which is kind of standard for what happens when someone in Gun-control Nation takes an allegedly ‘inside’ look at the ‘other’ (read: pro-gun) side.

So, the result is that someone like Tim Mak ends up interviewing all kinds of people, but he has no ability to determine whether they are telling him the truth, or some of the truth, or none of the truth. The fact that you ask two people the same question and get two different answers is about as valid a way to figure out why something did or didn’t happen as the man in the moon.

So, in this book, Mak begins by relating a conversation with a ‘trusted’ source who told him that Maria Butina “infiltrated the NRA in order to promote Russian interests.” [p. 112] But what exactly were those Russian ‘interests?’ Here is where Mak completely misses the boat and takes his book off in a direction that it shouldn’t have gone.

Butina came to the NRA show for the same reason that lots of foreigners come to the show every year — she was looking for an importer and/or a manufacturer who could help her get the AK-47 assault rifle into American gun-owning hands. Her boss, Alexander Torshin, was on the board of the Russian bank which funded a Russian gun company, Izhmash, which makes the AK-47 for the Russian military.

Why did Izhmash want to get into the American gun market? For the same reason that companies like Glock and Sig have gotten into the American gun market, because the American market happens to be larger and potentially more lucrative than all the other commercial gun markets in the world combined.

That’s the reason that Butina was at the NRA show in Orlando, that’s the reason she tried to ‘infiltrate’ the NRA, and none of what I just said is mentioned or even hinted at in Mak’s book. Did he attend the NRA show? Of course not. Why bother to go to the NRA show when you can have breakfast with a trusted ‘source’ in D.C. and get all the dirt?

Butina ended up trying to make something more of herself than just being a sales-person for the AK-47 by moving to Washington and getting mixed up with a small-time political consultant who had been involved in some state-level campaigns. She used some of this guy’s connections to begin promoting herself as a ‘representative’ of the Russian government which is when she violated the law about registering as a foreign ‘agent’ which then got her arrested by the FBI for being a ‘spy.’

Now for me, being a ‘spy’ means that you are doing all kinds of secret stuff to get information which otherwise you’re not supposed to have. She never did anything like that. She just forgot to register herself because the truth is that she wasn’t employed by the Russian government at all. She was peddling a consumer product and by telling Torshin that her sales gig was opening up important doors, she was able to increase her salary and make more charges to her expense account.

And that was it. That was the whole story about Maria Butina and her connection to the NRA. Do you get any of this in Tim Mak’s book? Nope.

I could have sat in my living room in Massachusetts and done all the so-called ‘investigative’ journalism which Mak claims he did for this book. You can do it too. Just go to this website, Home — NRA Watch, which contains all the documentation from the various legal proceedings involving the NRA and you’ll find virtually every so-called ‘interview’ which Tim Mak claims provided him with the content for this book.

That’s not investigative journalism. That’s shabby journalism and it’s not made any less shabby by the fact that three of the five blurbs on the book’s back cover were written by current or former colleagues of Tim Mak when he wrote for The Beast.

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