Russia’s prosecution of women’s basketball player Brittney Griner on drug smuggling charges has become an unusual international controversy. Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after vape canisters containing hash oil, a potent extract of marijuana, were found in her bags. She does not deny that she was carrying illegal contraband, but her case has attracted overwhelming sympathy from the Biden Administration and the Western media.
The U.S. government’s designation of Griner as a hostage is bizarre. Griner was not ambushed. She traveled to Russia of her own free will. Nobody forced her to bring illegal drugs into a country with famously strict drug laws. What did she think was going to happen?
Defending herself, Griner claims that she packed the drugs in her travel bags by accident. If that is true—and it likely isn’t—then Griner, at best, demonstrated extreme carelessness. Her lawyers argue she has a prescription, but medical marijuana is illegal in Russia. Her failure to exercise basic prudence by leaving her weed pen at home does not make her a political prisoner. There is a stronger case to be made that the U.S. government is persecuting Russian oligarchs by seizing their property without due process.
For her crime, Griner is facing up to 10 years in Russian prison. Call it harsh, but drug trafficking is not a trivial offense. Over 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, a number that has been increasing continuously for years. The majority of these deaths were caused by Chinese fentanyl that has poured across our southern border. Russia also has a serious problem with drugs, and its laws reflect an effort to take that problem seriously. There is no reason to suppose Griner is being treated any differently than a Russian national would be under that country’s tough laws. It’s also a touch hypocritical for the United States to denounce Griner’s treatment as abnormal. As any liberal reformer will tell you, America’s federal drug laws are not particularly lenient. Had Griner been caught smuggling weed at an American airport, our government would prosecute her, not treat her like a victim.
Understandably, Russia is not very popular at the moment, and many in the West reject the legitimacy of the Russian state. The Biden Administration’s de facto policy is that Putin’s regime should be overthrown. But Russia nevertheless is a sovereign country with a right to enforce its own laws. Russian attitudes on marijuana are decidedly more conservative than in America, where many see pot as a virtually harmless substance after years of intense lobbying to clean up the drug’s reputation.
The uproar over Griner is driven by two converging liberal fixations: hating Russia, and worshiping black people. The liberal consensus in America is that black people can only be victims, never perpetrators, of crimes. This pathological thinking is what leads to the martyrdom of every black ruffian gunned down by a police officer, regardless of circumstances. It’s what is driving the mad push for “criminal justice reform” that has led to anarchy and suffering for innocent victims. The real victims, according to this insane dogma, are the disproportionately black criminals whom society must pander to by lowering its standards.
The Griner case shows the application of black supremacy ideology, or “anti-racism,” to foreign policy. Griner is personally in contact with the head of state of the world’s most powerful government, in the middle of an undeclared proxy war between the nation detaining her and her home country. You would think the Biden Administration had bigger priorities—like resolving the conflict in Europe before it develops into something worse—than stoking diplomatic tension with baseless accusations of persecution against a nuclear-armed adversary.
Amidst the uproar over Griner, Russia recently sentenced American Marc Fogel, a former diplomat in Moscow, to 14 years in prison for smuggling pot he says was for medicinal use. Curiously, the Biden Administration hasn’t said a word in protest. Can you guess what Fogel looks like? The family of Paul Whelan, an actual political prisoner who was entrapped by the Russian state, has complained about the inordinate attention Griner has received compared to other Americans detained in Russia. Griner’s case is no way comparable to Whelan’s, but the two are being tied together by the Biden government anyway.
It would be unreasonable to expect Russia to treat Griner like she is above the law simply because the United States demands it. It would be equally unrealistic to expect Russia to ignore the political implications of her special status as a prominent American belonging to a favored political class. Russia must realize that they have an opportunity to humiliate the United States that they would be foolish to pass over. There is speculation that the White House could swap Griner for a Russian arms dealer, an arrangement Russia appears to desire, and with good reason. Such a deal would be the height of absurdity, a national disgrace for the United States, and more fodder for Kremlin propagandists to use as evidence the West is frivolous and decadent.
Griner is receiving unusually solicitous treatment because she is black. She gets extra points for being a lesbian who plays women’s basketball. In the metropole of the liberal world order, someone like Brittney Griner is a patrician. The Biden Administration exhorts Americans suffering the consequences of the Ukraine war to make sacrifices for the liberal world order, but the liberal world order does not apply justice equally at home or abroad. Like the empires of the past, there are orders of rank. Black privilege travels to the empire’s very frontiers, if not quite beyond them.