The same day President Trump appeared to side with Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies, the Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint accusing a woman named Maria Butina of “acting as an agent of a foreign government” — Russia.
Rubbing shoulders with right-wing figures at the National Prayer Breakfast, Butina allegedly sought to “establish a back-channel of communication” with American politicians who share Russia’s anti-LGBT stance.
She’s not the only one who saw an opportunity. The most recent National Prayer Breakfast this year was attended by more than 50 Russians.
“It turns out that anti-L.G.B.T. politics are an effective tool in mobilizing religious nationalists everywhere,” wrote Katherine Stewart in an op-ed for The New York Times last week.
And not just religious nationalists.
Take white nationalist Richard Spencer, or longtime Klan leader David Duke, for example. According to Anton Shekhovtsov, author of Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir, “both have long-standing relations with their Russian fascist counterparts.”
Certainly, both have ties to Alexander Dugin, the former adviser to Russia’s foreign intelligence chief, an ultranationalist who hailed the election of Trump.
As Tom Porter recounted in a piece for Newsweek after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last summer, Duke and Dugin were photographed together on at least one occasion and are linked by neo-Nazi Preston Wigginton, who reportedly sublets Duke’s apartment in Moscow.
Dugin has also contributed to AltRight.com, Richard Spencer’s website, as well as Radix Journal, Spencer’s online journal — easy to do since Spencer’s ex-wife is also Dugin’s translator. He has additional ties to anti-government conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and white nationalist leader Matthew Heimbach.
The love affair between Russian and American extremists isn’t limited to individual relationships. Whole cultural exchanges are taking place between white nationalists in both countries, borne along by a current of swastikas, the Nazi “black sun,” and references to “88” (code for Heil Hitler) or “14” (code for the 14-word white supremacist mantra).
Bryan Schatz found all of these in spades when he began investigating the proliferation of neo-Nazi-affiliated mixed martial arts outfits on both sides of the Atlantic. In a piece for Mother Jones, Schatz traced the way American white nationalists “generally seem to worship” White Rex, a Russian clothing company and former fight promoter — which has in turn borrowed from American racism with events like its “Birth of a Nation” fight night.
The bonds between Trump-adoring American extremists and Russia are cultural, political and, apparently, strong.
It’s increasingly clear that the white nationalists who shouted “Russia is our friend” in Charlottesville last summer weren’t just whistling Dixie.
P.S. Here are some other pieces we think are valuable:
- The radical sheriff giving offenders a chance by Jamiles Lartey for The Guardian
- Unraveling 'Unite the Right' conspiracy theories by Brendan Joel Kelley for Hatewatch
- At Georgia's Arrendale State Prison, women inmates forge a bond by keeping bees by Beth Ward for Atlanta Magazine
- How a 50-year-old photo mystery was solved. Well, at least half of it by Manuel Roig-Franzia for The Washington Post
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