After news broke that WNBA star Brittney Griner had been released from Russian custody on Thursday morning as a part of the negotiated prisoner exchange, right-wing media figures responded by attacking her, calling her a “pot-smoking,” “America-hating,” “whiny celebrity.”
Griner was released this week in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. since 2011. Griner, who landed in the U.S. Friday morning, had been detained in Russia since February -- where she’d gone for a professional basketball job during the U.S. off-season -- for accusations of possessing less than a gram of hashish oil. She was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison in August, and was moved to a Russian penal colony in early November after her appeal against the conviction was rejected.
Right-wing media have attacked Griner throughout her time in Russian custody, highlighting her identity as a queer Black woman and weaponizing her previous protests against racial injustice to deem her ungrateful and unpatriotic. They’ve characterized her as an “America-hating lesbian pothead” and a “black lesbian millionaire athlete who broke the law in a foreign country.” Some right-wing figures, such as Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, even expressed support of Griner’s arrest.
Since the announcement of Griner’s release, right-wing media have unsurprisingly continued to attack her, as well as baselessly criticizing President Joe Biden for supposedly prioritizing her release over Paul Whelan -- an ex-Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018 because of spying allegations -- to appease his liberal base. (White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has clarified that the decision “was not a choice for us on which American to bring home. It was a choice between bringing home one American or none.”) Many in right-wing media have criticized the supposed prioritization of celebrity culture and prioritization of figures like Griner above veterans such as Whelan, as well as Biden’s negotiation abilities. Some have described the deal as lopsided due to the serious charges against Bout compared to those against Griner.
- On Newsmax’s The Benny Report, host Benny Johnson attacked Griner as a “Black woman, lesbian woman, drug addict, America-hating – woke.”
- On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox News host Tucker Carlson baselessly suggested that the Biden administration didn’t secure Whelan’s release because he “is a Trump voter and he made the mistake of saying so on social media.” He went on to say Griner “hates the country so much she doesn’t want to hear its anthem. That’s the kind of position that gets you rewarded by Joe Biden.”
- During the December 8 edition of The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin slammed the deal, saying that it “should never have been made, ever.” Levin continued, “I’m sure Brittney Griner will go back to being an anti-American reprobate, … and if you disagree with this, you’re obviously a white supremacist or a racist.”
- On his show, TheBlaze’s Steven Crowder denounced the deal as a “trade of a tattooed lesbian middling WNBA player … for one of the most notorious arms dealers of all time." Crowder also attacked Griner’s athletic ability, saying, “I know the talent pool of course is incredibly shallow in women's basketball,” later adding, “She’s not the best among us.”
- Conservative commentator Terrence K. Williams criticized Biden’s decision, calling him “a piece of crap” and declaring, “Brittney Griner hates America. I understand that the Marine wasn’t perfect but he put his life on the line for this country. He should have been home first.”
- Editor-in-chief of The Post Millennial Libby Emmons also criticized the deal while attacking Griner, tweeting, “Shrewd negotiations by the Biden admin got us back a pot-smoking ladies basketball player in exchange for a notorious, ruthless international arms dealer."
- Fox News media contributor Tomi Lahren undermined Griner’s past protests against racial injustice, tweeting, “I guess it pays to be a whiny celebrity who plays sports (even if no one watches). My only hope is that Griner will return to USA with a heart full of gratitude, legs ready to stand for the anthem and lungs ready to belt out that Star Spangled Banner- and from the rooftops!”
- On Dana Radio, host Dana Loesch called Griner an “anti-American,” saying that if other American prisoners in Russia “were as anti-American as Brittney Griner’s been, maybe they'd be released a hell of a lot quicker.”
- Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter also called Griner an “anti-American jerk” on his Twitter.
- On Infowars, host Owen Shroyer suggested that Griner “is a Black gay woman, [a] liberal, and now they know she's going to come back and be a good Democrat spokesperson.”
- The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh tweeted, “The rules of intersectionality dictate that the black woman gets freed first. That's one of the primary factors driving this, whether we want to admit it out loud or not.”
- Later that day on his show, Walsh claimed that Griner “is certain to come home … more committed to her own self-victimization and personal resentments than ever before.”
- On Twitter, former Daily Caller contributor Greg Price echoed the sentiment that Griner was getting special treatment, claiming, “If you're an American citizen imprisoned overseas, you'll only get an international arms dealer traded for your release if you're a liberal celebrity who can give Joe Biden publicity.”
- An article on The Right Scoop explicitly noted, “Oh and by the way, Griner is a gay and married. Which if nothing else just tells us about Biden’s priorities here.”
- Pro-Trump talk radio host Michael Savage purported the same ideas, tweeting, "‘The choice of Griner over Whelan may reflect the preferences of Biden’s political base. The WNBA star and celebrity is also a black lesbian, who protested the U.S. national anthem. Whelan is a middle-aged white man and a U.S. Marine.”