Young scrambled and sent something over. Six weeks later, Putin replied with an almost unbelievable 8,000-word missive—covering everything from tiger conservation to his favorite works of Hemingway to the innate frailty of human life. He lectured on the similarities between Russians and Americans, and demurred from answering Young's friendliest questions. ("Are you the coolest man in politics?") "People really liked him, at least on our comments section on Outdoor Life," Young says. "Given the demographics of the readership, most are die-hard Republicans," and when they saw Putin hunting, he says, "they were like, 'Obama wouldn't do that.' "
Putinphilia is not, of course, the predominant position of the conservative movement. But in certain corners of the Internet, adoration for the leader of America's No. 1 frenemy is unexceptional. They are not his countrymen, Russian expats, or any of the other regional allies you might expect to find allied with the Russian leader. Some, like Young and his readers, are earnest outdoorsy types who like Putin's Rough Rider sensibility. Others more cheekily admire Putin's cult of masculinity and claim relative indifference to the political stances—the anti-Americanism, the support for leaders like Bashar al-Assad, the oppression of minorities, gays, journalists, dissidents, independent-minded oligarchs—that drive most Americans mad. A few even arrive at their Putin admiration through a strange brew of antipathy to everything they think President Obama stands for, a reflexive distrust of what the government and media tells them, and political beliefs that go unrepresented by either of the main American political parties.
They utterly perplex many observers of the Russian-American relationship. "No clue as to what drives it, other than some form of illness," says Russian-born novelist Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan.
There are many faux Putin fans in America — those who mock the hero worship ironically or half-ironically. But plenty of his fans are serious. Three months ago, Americans for Putin, a Facebook group, sprang up "for Americans who admire many of the policies and the leadership style of Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin" and think he "sounds better than the Republicrat establishment." The group has an eight-point policy platform calling for "a unified [American] national culture," a "firm stance against Israeli imperialism," and an opposition to the political correctness it says dominates Washington. Though that group is relatively small (167 likes as of Wednesday afternoon, ticking up every few hours), the Obama's-so-bad-Putin-almost-looks-good sentiment can be found on plenty of conservative message boards. Earlier this year, when Putin supposedly caught—and kissed—a 46-pound pike fish, posters on Free Republic, a major grassroots message board for the Right, were overwhelmingly pro-Putin: