She is now an alleged Russian agent, but when Maria Butina circulated through South Dakota she portrayed herself as staunchly against Vladimir Putin’s regime.

One of the Butina connections associated with the Mount Rushmore State was Dusty Johnson who through happenstance first learned of Butina’s credentials.

“My first recollection of ever hearing about Maria Butina was she had spoken at the University of South Dakota and I saw some flier. I don’t remember if it was advance notice or if it was covering it, but it was a nice flier that gave her background. She was vaguely on my radar as a person who existed.”

A connection through Republican activist Paul Erickson led Butina to a Young Republicans camp. Johnson says while at that camp Butina spoke for freedom and against the Russian leader.

“She painted Vladimir Putin in starkly unfavorable terms. She looked those kids in the eye and told them how lucky they were to live in a country that had the kind of freedoms we have and not take it for granted.”

In retrospect, Johnson admits that Butina was very convincing and the recent revelations are stunning.

“It was doubly surprising because there wasn’t anything about her demeanor that would cause you to suspect she loved Russia at all.”

Butina also spoke in other settings throughout South Dakota with a message of bringing first amendment and second amendment rights to Russia.


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