A group of GOP-led congressmen, with Steven Seagal as tour guide, wrapped up a fact-finding trip to Russia today, where they apparently failed to find any significant clues related to the radicalization of the brothers behind the Boston bombings. But the mission had a secondary effect: it looks like the group, which included Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, and Rep. Steve King, have found some rhetorical common ground with Russian officials.
Seagal is pals with a handful of influential Russian officials, as Michael Weiss at the Atlantic explained earlier this week. And it sounds like the actor called in a bunch of favors to get the congressmen access to officials they wouldn't have otherwise spoken to — including members of the the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB. The lawmakers were impressed, as evidenced by the Associated Press story on the trip:
[Rohrabacher] repeatedly thanked Seagal, who took credit for arranging the congressmen's meeting at the FSB, and said it helped avoid the experience of past foreign trips when all of the meetings had been arranged by the U.S. Embassy.
"You know what we got? We got the State Department controlling all the information that we heard," Rohrabacher said. "You think that's good for democracy? No way!"
Diplomatic missions, apparently, are just that much more fun when led by an action star. Especially when that action star is so friendly with the Russian appointed "president" of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov that he shows up on the Russian's Instagram account. And, uh, here he is, dancing for Kadyrov:
Because of Seagal's connections, the delegation of lawmakers almost visited Chechnya, the Washington Post notes, but the trip was called off in part because of Kadyrov's extremely dubious record on human rights. Rohrabacher downplayed this, and said the change of plans was because the trip would have required the congressmen to fly on Seagal's private jet, against House rules. As Weiss explains, this shouldn't be entirely surprising: Rohrabacher has been beating the drums on the threat of radical Islam in the U.S. for awhile, and has previously compared Kadyrov's policing of the Chechnyan region to U.S. spying programs on Muslim communities. Kadyrov's tactics, by the way, reportedly include kidnappings and murder.
But it looks like Rohrabacher, who is no stranger to siding with Russia, has found something he can relate to in Russia's aggressive stance against radicalization in the Chechnyan region. After meeting with the FSB, the congressman said that "Radical Islam is at our throat in the United States, and is at the throat of the Russian people." Rep. Steve King added, regarding the Tsarnaev brothers, "I suspect he was raised to do what he did." Democratic Representative Steve Cohen was also on the trip, and he disagreed with Reorabacher and King's account of the meeting with Russian security officials, according to the AP.
Rohrabacher and King also found some time to talk about Pussy Riot on this trip. After visiting Moscow's main cathedral on Sunday, King said "It's hard to find sympathy for people who would do that to people's faith," referring to Pussy Riot's anti-Putin protest in the cathedral that led to two-year jail sentences for "hooliganism." Cohen, again, disagreed, the Post reported.
Interestingly, as the Post noted, Rohrabacher's opinion on Russia has come a long way: the former speechwriter for Reagan is credited with coining the most memorable term of the president's famous "Evil Empire" speech.