An American Orthodox priest who collaborates with pro-Kremlin propagandist Charles Bausman has been lobbying Russian lawmakers to encourage Western conservatives to immigrate to Russia, Hatewatch has learned.
Joseph Gleason moved to Russia from the United States in 2017 and edits a religious site that supports Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since late 2022, Gleason and a handful of American expatriates have collaborated with a pro-Kremlin politician to create a “coordinating center” to aid Western migrants intent on moving to Russia. They have established specifically designated communities, including one outside Moscow, to cater to Western conservatives. Gleason and others have said, without evidence, that such outreach could result in tens of thousands to upward of 1 million Western conservatives migrating to Russia.
Gleason works with Charles Bausman, an American extremist, pro-Kremlin propagandist, Hitlerite and Jan. 6, 2021, riot participant who has lived on-and-off in Russia for three decades. Bausman appointed Gleason as editor of the Russian Faith website in July 2018, which is part of a network of sites he runs that include radical-right content.
Bausman is involved in a variety of radical-right activity. He collaborated with members of a pro-Hitler podcasting network that is anti-Trump, and with members of a gun-obsessed religious group that is pro-Trump. He also participated in protests against government intervention to slow the spread of COVID-19 and events denying the validity of the 2020 presidential election. In January 2021, he fled his home in Pennsylvania for Russia after appearing among the rioters inside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Bausman purchased a farmstead in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Lancaster in early 2020, which he has permitted radical-right figures to use for events. The property is one of two, worth nearly $1 million in total, that Bausman left behind after fleeing to Russia following the 2021 insurrection.
Orthodoxy against modernity
Like its parent site Russia Insider – a publication that Bausman founded in September 2014 while living in Moscow – Russian Faith, the site he appointed Gleason to edit in 2018, promotes a reactionary, pro-Kremlin worldview for an English-speaking audience. Unlike Russia Insider, the website focuses on religion, portraying Christians, particularly Russian Orthodox Christians, as in conflict with the secular Western world. Some prominent far-right figures within the United States have converted to Eastern Orthodox churches in recent years, including but not limited to Russian Orthodoxy, despite Orthodox Christians making up a mere 0.5% of the U.S. population, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report.
As the editor of Russian Faith, Gleason has promoted such far-right groups as the World Congress of Families, whose leaders have been instrumental in crafting some of Russia’s more draconian anti-LGBTQ+ laws. He published work from a range of prominent figures within the American far right, such as Andrew Torba, the founder of the extremist-friendly social media platform Gab.
Some Russian lawmakers have expressed skepticism regarding Gleason’s proposals, complaining at a February event about the need to deal with domestic issues prior to welcoming immigrants. There is no evidence to support his, or others’, claims that vast segments of the Western European or North American right are planning to relocate to Russia, even among those on the U.S. far right who portray that country as a safe haven for a litany of reactionary political and social beliefs.
Nevertheless, in May, an immigration lawyer who has collaborated with Gleason in his lobbying efforts announced that the Moscow regional administration approved a plan to construct a village for American and Canadian expatriates, beginning in 2024. That same month, Russia leveled travel bans against “those in government and law enforce agencies who are directly involved in the persecution of dissidents” following the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, according to a May 19 press release from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Despite the U.S. Department of State repeatedly warning Americans in Russia to leave due to concerns regarding harassment from that country’s security services, Gleason and Bausman are among a small cadre of Americans who have sought to portray Russia as a refuge. In May, Tara Reade, a woman who accused U.S. President Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her in the early 1990s, announced her intent to apply for Russian citizenship during a press conference in Moscow hosted by a state-owned media company. Reade claimed Russia was one of the few places she felt “safe.”
Nevertheless, Russian security services have arrested numerous Americans that U.S. officials have classified as wrongfully detained. These include Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who in March became the first journalist since the end of the Cold War to be arrested on charges of engaging in espionage; Michigan corporate executive Paul Whelan, who was arrested on similar charges in 2018; and professional basketball player Brittney Griner, who was arrested in February 2022 on drug charges after Russian customs officials found two medically prescribed hash oil cartridges in her luggage.
Though Russian officials released Griner to the United States in December 2022 as part of a prisoner swap, both Gershkovich and Whelan remain in custody.
Hatewatch reached out to Bausman and Gleason over email but did not receive a response. Hatewatch also reached out to David Kirby, who is listed as the contact for submissions on the Russian Faith website, with questions about Gleason’s current role at the website but did not receive a response. Following publication, Hatewatch found that Gleason posted a thread on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) on Aug. 18 in response to the reporter’s request for comment. The thread can be seen on DocumentCloud.
Gleason addressed Russian federal lawmakers on Feb. 14 as part of a “Refugees from NATO Countries” panel intended to address the concerns of Western immigrants to Russia, according to the Russian- and English-language coverage of the event.
Dmitry Kuznetsov of the “A Just Russia – For Truth” (SRZP) party organized and attended the conference. The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, a nonprofit that tracks far-right movements and extremism in Russia, has characterized SRZP as a “regime-loyal nationalist” party. The party has three members in Russia’s 178-person Federation Council, and another 28 members with Russia’s 450-person State Duma.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the private military company Wagner Group, has retained close ties to the SRZP in an apparent attempt to build political power, the independent media outlet Meduza reported in April. Following Prigozhin’s attempted mutiny against Russia’s military leadership in late June, the Russian business daily Vedomosti reported that SRZP declined to put forward candidates in a handful of regions for the country’s forthcoming gubernatorial elections. In at least one region, an SRZP representative cited the party’s relationship to Prigozhin as the reason for not participating in the election.
Hatewatch reached out to a press contact on the SRZP’s website for comment but did not receive a response.
A post on Gleason’s Substack, “Moving to Russia,” from Dec. 21, 2022, indicates that the priest first met with Kuznetsov, the SRZP politician who serves in the State Duma, to discuss making “it easier for good Christian Americans and Westerners to move to Russia” in late 2022 or early 2023.
Russian-language media described the panel as an effort “to help American and European refugees affected by discrimination against traditional values.” Still, some government officials present at the event expressed confusion over Bausman’s and others’ statements regarding the number of “ideological migrants” willing to relocate.
“By my calculations, there are no fewer than 1,000,000 people from the United States ready to move to you. … Maybe even more!” the Russian-language tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted Bausman as saying.
Hatewatch was unable to obtain a list of panelists or a schedule for the Feb. 14 event. News reports indicate that Tim Kirby, a Russia-based livestreamer who received government approval for the construction of the American and Canadian expatriates’ village outside of Moscow, and Timur Beslangurov, an immigration lawyer who announced that Kirby’s expatriate village received approval in May, attended alongside Gleason and Bausman.
Following the Feb. 14 panel, the state-owned news outlet RIA Novosti reported that Kuznetsov formed a coordinating headquarters in order to help “migrants from NATO countries” resettle in Russia. Another state-owned media outlet, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, reported on Feb. 15 that conference participants “initiated a joint media-project for American bloggers residing in Russia and Rossotrudnichestvo with the goal of establishing a direct dialogue with the conservative community in the United States.”
Rossotrudnichestvo, or the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation, is a branch of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government founded Rossotrudnichestvo in 2008 with the goal of securing Russian influence in select former Soviet states, as well as further afield.
To date, Russian-language media reports offer any specifics on the location of the proposed coordinating headquarters. The Feb. 14 RIA Novosti article explained that members from Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Foreign Ministry would discuss the matter in a closed-door meeting, though didn’t specify a date.
Gleason is, however, now listed as a part of “The Team” for a self-described “non-state social initiative” called the Russian Immigration Aid Center. Domain registration records indicate that someone created the site on Feb. 28, two weeks after the panel at the Duma. The webpage includes a contact form, a handful of links to updates about the center’s progress, and a photo of a letter, dated April 13, that one of the organization’s staffers reportedly sent to former President Donald Trump encouraging him to seek refugee status to Russia.
Hatewatch reached out to the Russian Immigration Aid Center in an effort to contact Gleason, as well as to inquire whether the group did manage to contact the Trump campaign, but did not receive a response.
Since the Feb. 14 meeting, Bausman, Beslangurov, Kirby and others joined an additional panel discussion on the topic of Western immigration to Russia. The event, which was hosted by the official publishing arm of Russia’s Federal Assembly, cited Gleason in its promotional materials.
While the panel was light on policy proposals, Bausman, Kirby and Beslangurov made repeated references to “woke” culture and the belief that Russia represented a haven for those with “traditional” views on gender.
‘To Russia for Freedom’
Gleason, an American convert to Russian Orthodoxy, moved to Russia from the United States with his wife and eight children in January 2017. They settled in Rostov, a town with a population of just over 30,000 people located three hours outside Moscow, according to multiple statements Gleason has provided to Russian- and English-language right-wing media.
Despite sharing part of a name, Rostov is not to be confused with the much larger city of Rostov-on-Don, which is located in southern Russia and has a population of over 1 million people.
Since then, Gleason and his family have become a fixture in Russian media. State-owned outlets like RT (formerly Russia Today), Channel One Russia and NTV, as well as more niche platforms like Tsargrad TV, a project of pro-Kremlin oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, have profiled Gleason and his family. In these appearances, Gleason has repeatedly cited the expansion of LGBTQ+ rights in the United States and his conversion to Orthodoxy as his rationale for moving to Russia.
In a Jan. 21 show hosted by Arkady Mamontov, a well-known Russian media figure whose programs frequently verge on the conspiratorial, Gleason argued that the United States, Canada and Western Europe “lost their minds promoting transgendered freaks.” He contrasted these Western countries to Russia, where he claimed, “The government isn’t trying to intrude on your private life and telling you that you should accept freaks.”
Gleason publishes a newsletter on Substack and, along with Bausman, moderates a public Facebook group that provides advice to prospective Western emigres. Between 2017 and 2019, he raised funds for himself and a handful of other migrant families in Rostov through a now-defunct site called Russian Harvest. An October 2019 archive of the website listed a breakdown of costs associated with maintaining churches and farms in Rostov totaling nearly $246,500. A sidebar on the website showed the project as “11% funded” as of that date but did not specify an exact dollar or ruble amount.
Selling Russian conservativism for an American audience
Since taking over as editor for Russian Faith in 2018, Gleason has published a range of radical-right figures, as well as material describing racial justice activists as “terrorists” and speculating whether capital punishment is appropriate for LGBTQ+ people.
The website appears connected to Bausman’s network of pro-Kremlin propaganda websites. Russian Faith also shares an IP address with Russia Insider, Truth to Power News, Lancaster Christian and Bausman’s personal website, CharlesBausman.com, indicating that the same person who operated those websites is likely responsible for Russian Faith. Russia Insider and Russian Faith have also regularly reposted each other’s content.
As with other Bausman-tied properties, Russian Faith includes a mix of original content with far-right material from across the web, ranging from the white nationalist junk news site National Justice to obscure Christian blogs.
Among some of its more prominent contributors include Andrew Torba, founder of the extremist-friendly social media platform Gab; Daryush “Roosh” Valizadeh, a male-supremacist-turned-Christian and propagandist; and Steve Turley, a YouTuber who has spoken at a variety of pro-Trump events.
Russian Faith has promoted the work of Alexey Komov, a representative for the World Congress of Families (WCF) in Russia and close confidant of pro-Kremlin oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, with whom Bausman has corresponded, as Hatewatch previously reported. While based in the United States, the WCF has supported and encouraged Russia’s passage of numerous anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including one 2013 law that critics have contended effectively banned all public displays of pro-LGBTQ+ sentiment in public.
In 2019, Russian Faith shared an interview that Turley conducted with Komov during a 2019 WCF conference in Italy. Photos that Gleason shared in a public photo album on Facebook show both him and Bausman in attendance at the same WCF event.
‘No cancel culture’
These petitions to create more favorable conditions for prospective Western migrants coincide with a historic exodus of Russian citizens from their own country, following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Amid worsening economic conditions, sanctions, crackdowns on anti-war dissidents and nationwide “partial mobilization” of military reservists in September 2022, a recent Washington Post article estimated that between 500,000 and 1 million people have left the country.
Gleason and Bausman’s lobbying efforts are not about bolstering Russia’s declining population, however. They’re better understood as part of a far-right project that situates Russia as the ideal site to nurture an imagined “traditionalist” white society.
The vast majority of migrants to Russia arrive from the former Soviet bloc, with approximately 91% of Russia’s immigrant population originating from that region as of 2019. The country’s immigration policy has focused on welcoming “compatriots,” or Russian speakers from the surrounding region, although there have been various programs throughout the years to attract foreign investors or skilled laborers.
Russian politicians and state media have, at times, portrayed the country as in opposition to the “moral excesses” of the West. Putin has described Western society as imbued with “outright Satanism” and lambasted “rather strange fashionable trends like dozens of genders and gay pride parades.” Likewise, Russian-government-linked websites have shared material, such as a bizarre 2022 video, encouraging people to “move to Russia” for a plethora of reasons including “no cancel culture” and “traditional values.” A version of the video shared on YouTube included a link to a website including information on how to relocate to Russia and features Beslangurov, the immigration lawyer who attended the Feb. 14 panel alongside Gleason and Bausman, as the primary point of contact.
However, the idea of recruiting en masse residents of Western countries who happen to be sympathetic to Russia arguably sits uneasily with the Kremlin’s own nationalist vision.
“It’s all super politicized in terms of like, ‘We want anybody that is on the side of Russia instead of Ukraine. We want them on our side, and we’re happy to welcome them into our country.’ But in terms of extending that further than the Russian speaking world, to Westerners, I haven’t seen anything like that,” Caress Schenk, an associate professor at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan who has written extensively about Russian immigration policy, told Hatewatch.
Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, an anthropologist who studied Gleason’s Russian Faith website for her 2022 book Between Heaven and Russia, told Hatewatch in an interview that even though “Russia is not what far-right Americans imagine it to be,” its appeal lies in “what Russia could be for people.”
“This is part of their reactive world-building project,” Riccardi-Swartz, who is currently an assistant professor at Northeastern University, continued.
But, she added, “The more likely scenario is that here in the United States, they’ll try to find spaces in which to create what they perceive as traditional community.”
This story is part 1 in a series.
Photo illustration of Joseph Gleason (left) and Charles Bausman by SPLC