Moscow and America’s Political Fringe
Over the past few years, the Kremlin and Kremlin-linked organizations have cultivated ties with myriad actors on the American fringe, ranging from the extreme left and far-right to secessionist movements and white nationalists. As such, I wanted to gather a handful of articles/analyses I’d written on this phenomenon, ranging from political ties to American white supremacists to offering outright platforms for fringe (and pro-Kremlin) presidential candidates.
For People For the American Way, my comprehensive report on the myriad ties between the Kremlin and America’s far-right, from white nationalists to Christian fundamentalists:
Indeed, it’s within Trump’s outspoken praise for Putin that we can trace the contours of the reasons white nationalists and members of the Religious Right continue to look to Moscow for support and inspiration, and continue to admire and praise Putin’s policies. For white nationalists, in their blinkered understanding of recent developments in Moscow, Putin presents something of an ur-leader: a head of state embodying an idealized view of masculinity, undistracted by legal or cultural niceties in pursuit of his ultimate end-goals. Rather than remaining within the understood boundaries of post-Cold War politics, Putin has, to America’s white nationalists, reclaimed the primacy of a white, Christian population within a multi-ethnic federation: a model white nationalists envision as a possibility under Trump. The Religious Right, meanwhile, stands enthralled with Putin’s willingness to bolster the church, with the Russian Orthodox Church maintaining a clear, superior role both within the state and over other non-Christian religions.
For Washington Post, an overview of US. white nationalists’ affections for Moscow:
But you can’t separate Fields’s presence in Virginia from the faces, the figures and the fascists running the “Unite the Right” rally, including Spencer, Heimbach and Duke. After all, the purpose of the Kremlin’s campaign of interference in the recent presidential election wasn’t solely to stack the White House with friendly faces. It wasn’t simply to lift a raft of oil and gas sanctions, or to regain access to Western credit markets. It was, instead, a campaign predicated on turning the United States against itself. Of cultivating, encouraging and goading groups that would create internal disruption and prevent the United States from promoting a liberal, international order.
For POLITICO Magazine, examining how America’s Religious Right found prominent allies in Moscow:
Two years into Putin’s third term, and a few months after the Kremlin upended the post-Cold War order, Russia was coalescing support from far-right forces across the West, ranging from the white nationalists who would buoy Trump’s campaign to political groups bent on fracturing NATO and the European Union. While Washington pushed toward legalization of same-sex marriage, Russia, to Christian fundamentalists on both sides of the Atlantic, suddenly regressed into the world’s primary bulwark for nominally “traditional” values.
For The Daily Beast, on Nina Kouprianova, wife of Richard Spencer and translator of Alexander Dugin:
Yet Kouprianova’s connections with the alt-right don’t end with her marriage to the movement’s most prominent face. If anything, Kouprianova may play an outsize role in the internationalization of Spencer’s movement — especially as it pertains to Russia, which Spencer views, bizarrely, as the “sole white power in the world.” In addition to her prominent Twitter persona — offering the types of ironic barbs in defense of Kremlin machinations familiar to anyone who’s recently dealt with high-level officials from Moscow — Kouprianova has devoted her efforts to translating the works of Russian political philosopher Alexander Dugin.
For The Daily Beast, on how Moscow played the US’s far-left:
In the aftermath of the U.S. intelligence community’s recent report on the Russian-directed hacking of the Democratic National Committee, it’s easy but misleading to conclude that the Russian government’s propaganda strategy lies solely in advancing the careers of conservative Republicans in the United States. Backing Donald Trump’s candidacy, via steady leaks of stolen communiques to organizations like WikiLeaks, was but one prong of the Kremlin’s assault on American liberal democracy. Part of its campaign to vilify Hillary Clinton involved catering to her rivals on the far-left and pushing any number of crankish conspiracy theories that appeal as much to “anti-imperialists” as to neo-Nazis.
For Quartz, on the internationalization of US white nationalism, and Russia’s role therein:
For those Americans who are just now familiarizing themselves with Russia’s current political proclivities — due to the recent, high-profile Russian hacking allegations, say, or the brutal military campaign in Aleppo — Moscow’s transformation into a lodestar for America’s white supremacists is enough to cause whiplash. After all, just a few decades ago Moscow was a beacon for the far-left, and its influential Communist International provided material and organizational heft for those pushing Soviet-style autocracy around the world. Over the past few years, however, the Kremlin has cultivated those on the far-right end of the West’s political spectrum in the pursuit, as Heimbach told me, of reifying something approaching a “Traditionalist International.”
For Slate, on the broad-base, under-studied ties tethering Russia with the American fringe:
Moscow’s interest in these groups is, in a sense, understandable. There’s a widespread belief in Russia that it was the United States, despite its official policy to the contrary, that pried apart the USSR, stoking nationalist elements in Ukraine and elsewhere in pursuit of Soviet fracture. Kremlin higher-ups continue to state that the U.S. would prefer a world without Russia. (No matter that a Russian disintegration would present any number of tortuous problems.) As such, looking to deter the U.S. elsewhere, Moscow-tied actors have fanned domestic divides, forcing American officials to keep their gaze inward.
For POLITICO Magazine, on Moscow’s links with secessionists from the “Yes California” movement:
Indeed, the notion that Russia is guiding American secessionist movements is, on its face, farcical; such movements, especially in Texas’ case, predate both Putin and post-Soviet Russia alike. But that doesn’t make the links — financial and otherwise — any less glaring. If anything, these ties are only growing. While a Trump victory may have taken the wind out of the sails of those who would like to return Texas to nationhood, interest in California’s independence push has spiked following the November election. Trump booster and Silicon Valley mogul Peter Thiel told the New York Times last week he is a proponent of secession. (“I think it would be good for California, good for the rest of the country,” Thiel said. “It would help Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.”) And thanks to the efforts of both Marinelli and Ionov, California now has its first, if unofficial, “embassy” abroad — located in, of all places, Moscow.
Fir The Diplomat, on the splits in the California secession movement due to its ties to Russia:
Now, though, it appears Marinelli’s ties to California secession have been severed. In a lengthy, rambling statement issued on Monday — one in which he referred to the Golden State as “occupied California” — Marinelli says he has “found in Russia a new happiness, a life without the albatross of frustration and resentment towards ones’ [sic] homeland, and a future detached from the partisan divisions and animosity that has thus far engulfed my entire adult life.” (Living in an autocracy is certainly one way to escape “partisan divisions.”) As such, Marinelli announced he would be moving to Russia on a permanent basis “as the representative of the Republic of California to Russia.” But Marinelli’s formal affiliation with the movement, it would appear, has come to an end.
For EurasiaNet, on the California secession movement re-igniting its links with Moscow once more:
In April, current YesCalifornia head Marcus Ruiz Evans described Marinelli’s decision to move permanently to Russia as a “death blow” to his participation in the organization. But Evans is now adopting a different stance. Evans told EurasiaNet.org via email that his decision to welcome Marinelli back into the organization stemmed from the latter’s willingness to remain in the background. “Lewis [sic] isn’t going to be seen on the Yes California page and he’s not directing policy, and we’re not going to have any mentions of anything from Russia anymore,” Evans wrote. “That ends with me.”
For POLITICO Magazine, on Moscow’s ties with leaders of the Texas secession movement
Nathan Smith, who styles himself the “foreign minister” for the Texas Nationalist Movement, appeared last spring at a far-right confab in St. Petersburg, Russia. Despite roaming around in his cowboy hat, Smith managed to keep a low-key presence at the conference, which was dominated by fascists and neo-Nazis railing against Western decadence. But at least one Russian newspaper, Vzglyad, caught up with the American, noted that TNM is “hardly a marginal group,”and quoted Smith liberally on the excellent prospects for a partial breakup of the United States. Smith declared that the Texas National Movement has 250,000 supporters — including all the Texans currently serving in the U.S. Army — and they all “identify themselves first and foremost as Texans” but are being forced to remain Americans. The United States, he added, “is not a democracy, but a dictatorship.” The Kremlin’s famed troll farms took the interview and ran with it, with dozens of bots instantly tweeting about a “Free Texas.”
For Medium, I discovered that Russian actors had created the most popular Texas secession page on Facebook — and had organized a series of pro-secession rallies across the state:
For the past few months, things seemed hunky-dory for the folks behind “Heart of Texas.” They chugged along, posting much of the same material, albeit recently (and unfortunately, for those laughing along) cleaning up many of the site’s typos. Then, Facebook announced it was cleaning up hundreds of “inauthentic” accounts linked to Russia. And like that, the “Heart of Texas,” along with its Twitter page, was gone. Just like that, Facebook’s most popular Texas secession page was no more.
Moscow remains the linchpin within the burgeoning alliance of trans-Atlantic nationalists, Heimbach added. “[The upcoming conference in Russia] is a broad coalition of all ethno-nationalists — all nationalists that reject neoliberalism, and reject globalism, coming together as a united front, based out of Russia,” Heimbach said. During the Soviet period, “there was the Comintern, the Communist International. And in the modern era, it’s almost like a nationalist version — or the Traditionalist International.”
For The Diplomat, on Russia’s growing relationship with the white nationalists propping Donald Trump’s campaign:
However, other leading members of the “alt-right” have already visited Russia, at the behest of organizations linked with the Kremlin. To wit, Jared Taylor, one of the foremost proponents of “race realism” in the United States and someone who has already recorded robocalls on behalf of Trump, arrived at a conference in St. Petersburg in 2015 to rail against American policy. Taylor was joined by Sam Dickson, another prominent face within the American’s white supremacist base, who praised Putin’s geopolitical policies. The conference, like the one recently postponed, was organized by RIM, which itself was an outgrowth of efforts from groups like Rodina, a Russian political party founded by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.
Meanwhile, David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and perhaps America’s most well-known white supremacist, has likewise visited Russia and has not been shy of his praise for Moscow’s policies under Putin. As the Anti-Defamation League found, Duke has noted that he believes that Russia holds “the key to white survival.” Added the ADL: “In Duke’s eyes, Russia presents an unmatched opportunity to help protect the longevity of the white race.” (Like Heimbach,Duke also has noted ties with Dugin.) For good measure, Richard Spencer, one of the foundational actors within the United States’s “alt-right” movement, recently and strangely lauded Russia as the “sole white power in the world.”
For The Diplomat, on the American secessionists gathering in Moscow in Sept. 2016:
Much like last year’s “Dialogue of Nations” gathering, this year’s meet-up of fringe secessionists will hail from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Catalonia, and Basque country, reprising many of the representatives seen in 2015. Additionally, the gathering will see entries from secessionist groups from Texas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and, for the first time, California. …
Secondly, and of more concern, the event’s backers have received funds directly from the Kremlin to help organize the conference. Alexander Ionov, head of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, noted that the Russian government provided tens of thousands of dollars to “accommodate dozens of guests,” NBC reported. Ionov further maintains ties to Rodina, a political party formed by Russia’s deputy prime minister, in additional to continued relations with Texas separatists, with whom he has cultivated close links under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s third term.
For The Diplomat, on Moscow’s ties with the California secession movement:
The primary organization pushing California’s secession, Yes California, is based out of Fresno, California. However, the group’s head, Louis Marinelli, spent only a handful of years living in California, and says he now lives in Russia. (Neither Marinelli nor Yes California responded to The Diplomat’s questions.) Indeed, it appears Marinelli only lived in California for a few years before uprooting for Russia; as he recently told RT, a Kremlin-backed outlet, “I could no longer live under an American flag.” Marinelli also added that he expects Russia’s support for his push to fracture the United States, comparing California’s potential secession to Moscow’s recent occupation of Crimea, and noted that he wants California’s first embassy to open in Russia. … But it’s not simply that the head of California’s secession drive lives in a country fingered by myriad American intelligence agencies for interfering in the recent U.S. presidential election. Marinelli, a few months ago, also attended a secession conference in Moscow — one that was funded, in part, by the Kremlin. Joined by representatives of the Texan, Puerto Rican, and Hawaiian (via videoconference) secession movements — some of whom took photos together on Red Square — Marinelli stated his case to his Russian audience. For good measure, Marinelli also recently Tweeted that he supports “peace with Russia.”
For Intersection Project, on Moscow’s cultivation of the US’s far-left Green Party:
However, the most prominent bridge between Kremlin propaganda and the American far-left is, now, [Green Party presidential candidate Jill] Stein. In addition to her myriad appearances on RT — in which she has complained about “American corporate media” — as well as her numerous attempts to push RT content on her own social media accounts, the outlet recently hosted the Green Party’s 2016 debate. That is to say, rather than finding an online outlet, or attempting to craft an in-house debate, the Green Party agreed to air its debates on the Kremlin’s foremost propaganda channel. Stein, naturally, hailed the move, tabbing it as a “step towards real democracy.”
Then, last December, Stein found herself in Moscow, crossing paths with Flynn at the behest of RT. At a panel organized under the channel’s auspices — a panel Stein continues to plug on her own website — Stein called for a rapprochement between Russia and the US. Soon thereafter, standing along Red Square, Stein described the panel as “inspiring,” finding mutual support for the “need to rein in US exceptionalism” and common critique of a “US policy of domination.” In a later interview, Stein — who lobbed the claim that “Clinton has been very busy provoking Russia” — added that Putin was “shocked to find that he agreed with us[.]” She also quoted Putin as saying, as if he were a political naif, “When I was listening to your comments, politicians from other countries, you know what I caught myself thinking about? I agree with them, on many issues.”
For Intersection Project, on Russian propaganda within American fringe media:
But Moscow hasn’t put forth these outlets and talking heads simply for the sake of convincing the audience. Rather, they’ve pushed them into the media sphere to confuse and complicate, to muddle and muddy the facts on the ground, to create multiple realities to back manifold predispositions. Are you of a far-right bent, set on fracturing whichever union your state belongs to? Moscow’s packaged some messaging for you. Are you a member of a far-left troop, convinced Western imperialism has savaged a prone Russia? Moscow’s happy to provide you a narrative.
And for POLITICO Magazine, on the foremost vehicle for Kremlin-friendly spin — RT:
The Moscow-based outlet — first created in 2005 and originally named Russia Today — does away with the mothballed propaganda of claiming the sunshine of socialism while bread and butter disappear amidst the reality of Soviet stagnation. “Mock journalism” is a more apt description of its technique than propaganda because, at its core, this is what RT offers: a trivialization and “truthiness” version of journalism. Just as Putin’s Kremlin has gutted meaning from prior political terms, RT ignores the inherent traits of journalism — checking sources, relaying facts, attempting honest reportage. But RT’s model creates a concerted mask of traditional journalism with all the trappings. Rather than push the transparent propaganda of its Soviet forebears, RT mixes and matches straight news with flippant falsehood, keeping viewers off-balance, keeping audiences muddled and confused and unsure of their footing. The outlet’s mantra — “Question More” — applies only in select cases, and only as it pertains to Western claims. If you’re looking for critique or criticism of Kremlin decisions, you won’t find them on RT. Instead, you’ll find “ experts” lacking in expertise, conspiracy theories without backing, and, from time to time, outright fabrication for the sake of pushing a pro-Kremlin line.