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GOP's Brittney Griner rage is stupid, ironic and stunningly cruel

Let's count the ways.


Following WNBA star Brittney Griner’s negotiated release from Russian captivity Thursday, my Twitter feed was (predictably) full of right-wing extremists feigning outrage over the return of a wrongfully detained American. 

Generally speaking, I encourage you to do as I have: Prioritize joy about Griner’s return rather than concern yourself with the GOP’s dubious derision toward her. But I do think it’s worth assessing the stupidity, irony and cruelty beneath the outrage.  

The stupidity

First, don’t be surprised by Republicans continually referring to the prisoner the United States released in exchange for Griner — Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout — by his nickname, the merchant of death.

Republicans have leaned on the chilling nickname — coined by a British official in 2003 — to highlight Bout’s potential threat. And he has, in fact, been linked to violent regimes worldwide. 

However, the federal judge who sentenced him only gave him 25 years behind bars, the mandatory minimum sentence. She told The Associated Press in July she believed Bout had already served enough time for his crimes at that point.

By law, Bout would have eventually been released without any concession from Russia. He isn’t the Patrick Mahomes of Russian intelligence: It's not like he had a no-trade clause.

The irony

There’s a great deal of irony in the GOP’s performative outrage. 

Republicans have tried to gin up anger over the fact that Paul Whelan, a former Marine, has been detained in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges. Both Whelan and the U.S. have denied the charges.

Fortunately, Whelan’s family has been far more gracious about Griner's release and has backed the Biden administration's deal

During negotiations, Russia reportedly demanded Whelan be treated as a U.S. spy, meaning they wanted other Russians detained in the U.S. to  be released in exchange for him. It was reportedly either Bout for Griner or no deal.

But, facts be damned, the GOP outrage machine raged on

The ironic part about their anger — and the gross attacks on Griner and the Biden administration following her return — is that it actually explains why Russia might not want to release Whelan anytime soon. And why they would be right in thinking they could use Whelan’s captivity to their advantage. 

Look at the political divisions it has inflamed?

For Russia, a country known to meddle in U.S. politics and leverage American bigotry to its benefit, releasing a queer, Black activist athlete before a white former serviceman who’s been held longer is having the effect — intended or not — of inflaming U.S. politics. Which leads me to my last point: GOP cruelty and how it factors into the outrage.  

The cruelty

Remember — as I allude in this TikTok — all the right-wingers who denounced Griner even as she was being held in captivity. From Fox News pundits to former President Donald Trump, Republicans mocked Griner for months as she sat in a Russian jail cell, with millions of Americans wondering if and when she’d ever come home. The Atlantic's Danté Stewart wrote up this helpful breakdown about the GOP’s disdain for Griner — and most importantly, her political stances. 

That should inform your view of the GOP’s tantrum over Biden’s successful negotiation. In Russia, Griner was detained by bigots whose animus toward women like her — Black women, queer women — is apparent.  

Sadly but unsurprisingly, a similar kind of hate awaited her when she came home.