WHAT HAPPENED

How Steven Seagal Transformed Into a Bond Villain

The washed-up action star went on British morning TV (from Moscow) to lash out at protesting NFL players and defend Russia. Here’s how he fell into the clutches of Putin.

Good Morning Britain

Seeing a washed-up star’s name trending on Twitter is a scary thing. That formerly famous person you basically forgot about could be dead—or, worse, ranting to Piers Morgan about his good friend Vladimir Putin.

During Wednesday’s edition of Good Morning Britain, two white men connected via Skype to express their shared disappointment in NFL players who are taking a knee in protest of police brutality and racial inequality. What set this particular interview apart from legions of similarly structured cable news shows were the two players: London sewer monster Piers Morgan, and ’80s action hero Steven Seagal. Even for a Piers Morgan interview—the man has made a career out of getting mad at female celebrities for showing too much cleavage—this exchange is painful.

To summarize: Seagal, speaking live from Russia, squints through a pair of comically small glasses to condemn “Obama-ites” and “the enemies within” America. He goes on to say that, while he believes in free speech, he doesn’t believe in these football players’ “outrageous, disgusting” protest, adding, “I myself have risked my life countless times for the American flag and I don’t understand or agree with this kind of behavior.”

When Piers Morgan asks—in a rare moment of lucidity—how anyone can take Seagal’s patriotism seriously when he’s literally Skyping in from Russia, the 65-year-old actor responds, “Every country is involved in espionage…However, for anyone to think that Vladimir Putin had anything to do with fixing the elections or even that the Russians have that kind of technology is stupid.” He blames the Russian collusion story on propaganda, before concluding that, “Russia and America should be great allies.” Then he and Piers seamlessly transition into a conversation about Seagal’s new kung fu movie.

Now, a lot of people on the internet are making fun of Steven Seagal because they’d forgotten how ridiculous-looking he is. They’re mocking his gigantic, dyed black goatee, his scary-sharp widow’s peak, and his resemblance to South Park’s caricature of Steven Seagal. But why mock Seagal’s transformation into an aging Bond villain when we can tear apart his unhinged political beliefs? It’s hardly shocking to hear Seagal, who holds American and Russian citizenship, rush to the defense of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin while denigrating black NFL players who are exercising their free speech as “disgusting.”

Throughout a long career of shameful behavior, including but not limited to becoming the face of Russian weaponry manufacturer ORSIS and allegedly lying about training CIA operatives, a few incidents really stand out. Seagal, who believes that he is the reincarnation of a Buddhist lama, has dedicated his current lifetime to projects like Steven Seagal: Lawman, an A&E show on which he served as a reserve deputy sheriff, a title that the show’s own Wikipedia page describes as “largely ceremonial.” To make a long story short, Steven Seagal: Lawman had to move on from A&E and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, after two short seasons when, according to The Atlantic, “a woman sued the celebrity for allegedly trying to keep her as a ‘sex toy’ during filming, among other things.”

After the Jefferson Parish sheriff’s office understandably cut ties with Seagal, he moved his show to Reelz Network and Maricopa County, Arizona, thanks to a backwater cable channel and a sheriff just sick enough to have him. That sheriff was Joe Arpaio.

On Steven Seagal - Lawman: Maricopa County (The Lost Episodes), the actor was given courtside seats to some of the sheriff’s infamous raids, and allowed to teach martial arts to the local deputies. During an interview promoting the show, Seagal defended his new friend Joe, saying, “When people ask if Joe Arpaio’s a racist, I’m not going to say I don’t think so. I’m going to say I know he’s not a racist. He’s not. He doesn’t care what nationality you are. He cares if you’re a criminal. If somebody murders somebody we go and arrest them. If someone robs a bank we go and arrest them. We don’t care if they’re Mexican, Irish, French, German or Chinese. We don’t care. We really don’t.” A few notes of clarification: The recently pardoned Sheriff Joe is, in fact, a racist, and Steven Seagal does not—or at the very least, should not—have the power to make arrests.

And then there’s the Russia connection. As evidenced by the very special way that Steven Seagal pronounced Vladimir Putin during Wednesday’s Piers Morgan interview, the two are close friends—in fact, Putin even shocked former President Obama in 2013 by proposing that the actor be appointed as an honorary counsel of Russia in California and Arizona. According to BuzzFeed, the post would position him as a “potential intermediary between the White House and the Kremlin.” Putin allegedly believed that “Seagal, the martial artist turned washed-up action hero, was just the man to pull U.S.–Russia relations back from the brink.” Obama, predictably, “was flabbergasted.”

As The Daily Beast’s Thor Benson wrote in 2016, Seagal, whose father is the son of Russian Jews, escalated his relationship to the nation in 2011 when he managed to score a meeting with Vladimir Putin. The actor and the dictator have bonded over their shared love of martial arts; Seagal has hosted multiple martial arts demonstrations in Russia, videos of which showcase some very unsubtle fight choreography, with the aging action star inexplicably “defeating” his opponents by simply sticking out his arms. The actor also teamed up with Putin in 2014 to relaunch “Ready for Labor and Defense,” a Soviet-era fitness program.

In 2014, Seagal praised his workout buddy Putin as “one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader, alive today,” adding, “He cares more about Russia than anybody I know. And he’s not afraid to get up and do what needs to be done.” According to BuzzFeed, Seagal has also been feted by Chechen tyrant Ramzan Kadyrov, who stands accused of running gay concentration camps in Chechnya. He defended Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, insisting that the president did what he did in order to “protect the Russian-speaking people of Crimea, his assets, and the Russian Black Sea military base in Sevastopol.” (Additionally, according to The Guardian, Seagal “played with his blues band at a concert in Crimea put on by a pro-Putin biker club.”)

All of this Putin flattery paid off in 2016, with the Kremlin’s announcement that they would be granting the former star citizenship. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told press that Seagal “has been insistent for a long time in asking to be granted Russian citizenship,” adding, “He is known for his warm feelings to our country. He never made a secret of it, and he’s also a well-known actor, which gave grounds to make him a Russian citizen.”

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It’s not surprising that Seagal, who also wanted Obama impeached and has celebrated Trump as a “president 4 the people,” is going on TV to call for a Russia-America alliance and have a conniption over NFL players’ peaceful protests.

Steven Seagal, I have no idea what you’re up to, and I couldn’t care less.