How Russia aided the rise of the neo-Nazis (“alt-right”)
During the campaign I read right wing websites periodically, especially Breitbart News and the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, because I found it was the best way to see how Trump voters were responding to campaign news. Breitbart News, in particular, was the best predictor of which candidate Trump was likely to target and dispatch next — using that information together with polling I could predict with reasonable accuracy how Trump was going to do in a given primary.
But it wasn’t until the Spring of 2016 that Breitbart revealed itself as the home of the “alt-right”. With a shock I soon realized that the neo-Nazis I had been following were same thing as Steve Bannon’s “alt-right”. This is a big movement, much bigger than I had realized, even though I have followed the Nazi/Klan/Anti-Government movement closely for four decades.
I’ve come to see that there are many reasons why it is growing; it is no longer dependent on its own financial support and limited to those it can proselytize face to face. The internet has been one of the game changers and the movement has been helped by things as diverse as the 2014 Gamergate hashtag campaign, the birther campaign against President Obama (of which Trump was a big part), and the fake news (Russian propaganda) movement. Nazis have also successfully incorporated many Southern nationalist groups into their “alt-right” branding. Organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans used to keep their distance from the Klan, and especially from neo-Nazis. But now there is a considerable overlap, based on what I see in the webpages of Stormfront. You don’t have to take my word for it, just look at the many images with an intermingling Rebel flags and Swastikas in Charlottesville.
But most importantly neo-Nazis have also been aided by Putin. And in exchange they are almost worshipful toward him. They idolize Russia, seeing it as their ideal of a white nationalist state.
American Nazis routinely attend extreme right conferences in Europe, including in Russia, that are sponsored by Russian organizations. There is constant travel to Moscow by several of the most prominent Nazis. And there are the many ways Nazis express their adoration of Putin on websites such as Stormfront. Nazis love Trump, especially after his response to Charlottesville. But they love Putin even more. Odd for a supposedly American nationalist group that wants to #MAGA (“Make America Great Again”).
I have two images that capture the full lunacy of the way Nazis see Trump and Putin. I found both of these on Stormfront. First, the way some Nazis saw Donald Trump during the early part of the election.
The title of the Business Insider report is ‘A model for civilization’: Putin’s Russia has emerged as ‘a beacon for nationalists’ and the American alt-right. When I read it, I finally understood why so many Trump voters are pro-Russian. The supposedly nationalist American Nazis are actually much more at home with Putin’s Russia than America. This from Business Insider:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as a hero of several prominent alt-right figures, raising new questions about the Kremlin’s influence on the far-right, white nationalist movement that has asserted itself as a new force in American politics.
Whether Russia has played a direct role in awakening the American alt-right, whose resurgence as a crusade against establishment politics coincided with the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, is debatable.
But the extent to which the alt-right has found a natural ally in Russia’s current zeitgeist — which perceives the US as a globalist, imperialist power working on behalf of liberal elites — is hard to overstate.
Self-described white nationalist Matthew Heimbach, who said he identifies as a member of the alt-right, has praised Putin’s Russia as “the axis for nationalists.”
“I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now,” Heimbach told Business Insider in a recent interview. “Putin is supporting nationalists around the world and building an anti-globalist alliance, while promoting traditional values and self-determination.” (ed: this claim by USA altRiGHT neoNazi is contradicted by Russian altRIGHT Alexander Dugin & Ivan Ilyin – read below).
Studying neo-Nazis is like a forced march through a muddy swamp. You feel very, very dirty at the end of the day and its easy to get lost in the maze of names, groups, organizational acronyms, obscure conferences and speeches and the mindlessly boring ideology of hate.
But just because it is banal doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous, so I make the effort to understand the connections. I’ve been doing that since the mid 80s when I became alarmed by the rise of the Aryan Nations after the murder of left-wing radio jock, Alan Berg by the Aryans Nations splinter group, The Order. But the Russia link was new to me. The Business Insider report was mainly a list of white supremacist names that have strong links to Russia and by itself it doesn’t say that much, even though the import of the article is frightening.
I decided to google the names for connections to Trump and his campaign. And that’s when it got very, very interesting. Especially so when you notice how many of them also have some connection to the recent Charlottesville Rally.
Here are seven key Nazis (I know, some of them claim to be “alt-right”, not Nazi — but that’s just their convenient rebranding and I refuse to accept it).
1. WILLIAM DANIEL JOHNSON
William Daniel Johnson of the American Freedom Party is the one of these Nazis that was not in the Business Insider reporting. But during my research his name kept popping up in relation to the other key leaders they did mention. I’ve already described Johnson in some detail, but it’s worth adding that Trump initially selected him as one of his Republican convention delegates from California. Johnson resigned after Mother Jones outed him as a white supremacist. The Trump campaign blamed it all on a”database error”.
2. DAVID DUKE
David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, has traveled to Russia several times to promote his book “The Ultimate Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question.” The book has been sold openly in the main lobby of the State Duma (Congress) for the equivalent of about $2, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
David Duke is probably the best known of these names. He has been a member of both the Klan and the Nazis before rebranding himself as a white nationalist, and now “alt-right”.
He’s emerged time and again in relation to the Trump Campaign. And I’ve blogged about him on Daily Kos in relation to the amnesia that surrounds Trump and his people when Duke’s name comes up. Since Duke is the best known of these men, I won’t say much here. But if you don’t know who he is, let the Southern Poverty Law Center catch you up.
I don’t want you to think that David Duke’s involvement with Russia is limited to just a few trips. It’s extensive, so much that he also owns an apartment in Moscow. And he sublets that apartment to another of the neo-Nazis named in Business Insider, Preston Wiginton.
3. PRESTON WIGINTON
Here is Preston Wiginton in Moscow, where he spends part of each year in David Duke’s apartment.
Preston Wiginton, a white supremacist from Texas who sublets Duke’s Moscow apartment when he travels to Russia, has written that his “best friends” in Russia — “the only nation that understands RAHOWA [Racial Holy War]” — are “leading skinheads.”
When he isn’t enjoying the Hitler salutes of his fellow neo-Nazis in Moscow, Preston Wiginton hangs around Texas making a nuisance of himself. In November of 2016 he popped up in the local news for two separate stories. The first was his proposal for new organization for white people:
“If we want to have a white state, or a white community or a white homeland we should be able to have that,” Wiginton told The Battalion [Texas A&M University student newspaper]. “We respect that for all people. If we look at the NAACP, black people have the right to have that. Why can’t white people have a WAACP?”
His second splash came the month after the election when he invited noted white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak at Texas A&M. Spencer popularized the “alt-right” rebranding of neo-Nazis and is also a big Trump supporter (keep reading, he is the next name I feature).
Wiginton is a former A&M student, but has no connection to the school — except that he seems to know his way around. Apparently Texas A&M has on-campus facilities they rent to all comers, with no policies to keep the neo-Nazis out, claiming it’s a free speech issue. Over the years Wiginton has invited a number of neo-Nazis to speak at Texas A&M, including Jared Taylor on two separate occasions (I review him after Spencer) and British National Party leader (BNP) Nick Griffin, with whom he is alleged to be close.
I perked up when I saw that Preston Wiginton spoke in Sweden in 2007 at a big neo-Nazi event, which is a little too close to home since I live in Stockholm. This thing truly is international and we need to recognize the threat.
While Wiginton was not at Charlottesville, he was inspired by the event to try and create one like it at a Texas university.
White nationalist Preston Wiginton is organizing a White Lives Matter demonstration at Texas A&M on Sept. 11, an event he started planning Saturday after race-related protests and counter-protests turned deadly Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.
But according to recent news reporting, Texas A&M has finally decided it can change its policy to exclude Nazis: Wiginton’s September 11th rally has been cancelled.
4. RICHARD SPENCER
Spencer’s ties to Russia, which he has called the “ sole white power in the world,” go deeper. He was married until October to Russian writer and self-proclaimed “Kremlin troll leader” Nina Kouprianova, whose writing under the pen name Nina Byzantina regularly aligns with Kremlin talking points.
But the notable thing about Kouprianova isn’t her pro-Trump work as a Russian troll. It’s that she is the Russian-to-English translator for Alexander Dugin, a Russian fascist who has become very influential in American Nazi circles for his philosophy of Eurasianism. The Daily Beast wrote this about him:
Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics remains assigned to every member of Russia’s General Staff Academy. And despite Kouprianova’s claims that “there is no evidence of communication between” Dugin and Putin, Charles Clover, in his masterful history of Eurasianism, noted that Putin and Dugin met a few months after the former ascended to the presidency. “Soon,” wrote Clover, “there were sponsors, contacts, and open doors” for Dugin.
This relationship—and the perception of such proximity to the Kremlin—is one of the reasons Dugin landed on the U.S. government’s recent sanctions list. It hasn’t, however, kept Dugin from courting American white nationalists—those who’d fracture the United States in pursuit of whites-only nation. For instance, in 2015 Dugin hosted a lecture, via Skype, at the founding of the U.S.’s Traditionalist Worker Party. That party remains helmed by Matthew Heimbach, who has tabbed Putin as the “leader of the free world.” [Heimbach appears as #7 on my list].
Dugin also hosted a separate lecture, again via Skype, at Texas A&M in 2015, partnering with local neo-Nazi Preston Wiginton . . .
Interesting connection between Dugin and Preston Wiginton; it says a lot. Its worth noting that Spencer and Kouprianova have a child together, so their relationship continues.
Richard Spencer was front and center among the Nazis supporting Trump during the election campaign. But he is also the public face of the “alt-right”. While he didn’t coin the term (that was Dr. Paul Gottfried) he was the “alt-right” neo-Nazi man of the hour after hosting a November event in Washington, D.C. where Trump was praised with “Heil Trump” Hitler salutes and Spencer encouraged his guests to “party like it was 1933”. His stated goal is the creation of a white ethno-state in North America and he uses his innocuous sounding nonprofit, the National Policy Institute, as the vehicle to take us there. Spencer is dangerous because he knows how to advance his ideology of white racial superiority, by tying it to economic issues and a sense of white male grievance. If you want to know more, the Southern Poverty Law Center has it here.
For years, Spencer and his followers worked in obscure corners of the Internet to promote pride in white identity and the creation of an “ethno-state” that would banish minorities. Then came the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, whose attacks on undocumented immigrants, Muslims and political correctness deeply resonated with them.
Though Trump denounced the alt-right Tuesday, its adherents had crusaded for him on Twitter before the election and celebrated his victory as a seminal moment for their cause.
They exulted again when Trump announced that his chief White House strategist would be former Breitbart chairman Stephen K. Bannon, who once called his website “the platform for the alt-right.”
Spencer was planning to headline a “White Lives Matter” protest at Texas A&M University on September 11th — the event being arranged by Preston Wiginton. But Texas A&M withdrew the permit after a storm of protest in Texas (including in the legislature).
Don’t worry. Spencer will find other venues. He always does. Don’t accept Spencer’s rebranding of Nazis as “alt-right”.
Charlottesville shows who they are.
5. JARED TAYLOR
A right-wing conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, organized last year by Russia’s nationalist Rodina, or Motherland, party offered a safe space for fringe thinkers — including white supremacists and anti-Semites — to gather and rail against the US-led status quo.
Jared Taylor is another of the big names in the “alt-right” neo-Nazi world. He heads the New Century Foundation and the American Renaissance website. During the election he worked with William Daniel Johnson of the American Freedom Party to promote Donald Trump. He has a video on his website praising Trump: “Americans, real Americans have been dreaming of a candidate who says the obvious, that illegal immigrants from Mexico are a low-rent bunch that includes rapists and murders.”
Joining Taylor at the International Russian Conservative Forum in St. Petersburg was a who’s-who of European neo-Nazis and fascists. Udo Voigt of the ultra-right Germany National Democratic Party spoke, along with Roberto Fiore of the Italian ultra-right party Forza Nuova. The Nazis of the Greek Golden Dawn Party attended, as did Nick Griffin of the British National Party. According to the Wall Street Journal, guest list was so extreme that even Jared Taylor was appalled. (He tries very hard to avoid a Nazi label). But he spoke anyway, saying “When you’re on the fringe, there’s no soapbox too low.” Here’s the ending of that speech.
. . . we are a small minority on this planet. Our numbers are shrinking while those of every other group are growing. That is why we must have territories that are exclusively ours, which are for us alone and for our children for ever. Without this, everything we love will be washed away.
We Europeans are one people. We have the same heritage and the same destiny.
That is why your struggle is my struggle. So long as the light of the West still shines in Russia, or in Sweden, or in Italy or in Spain, it shines for all Europeans, even for us, far away in North America.
Jared Taylor also recorded election robo-calls for Trump during the campaign.
Appearing on CNN, the head of a white nationalist group that that has been behind robocalls supporting billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s run for the Republican presidential nomination explained that Trump’s immigrant-bashing is very “appealing” to “ordinary white people.”
Speaking with CNN’s Drew Griffin, Jared Taylor of white nationalist website American Renaissance began by explaining that “most white people would prefer to live in majority white neighborhoods and send their kids to majority white schools.”
“And when Donald Trump talks about sending out all the illegals, building a wall and a moratorium on Islamic immigration — that’s very appealing to a lot of ordinary white people,” he said
Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance was also one of the organizations offering an official endorsement of the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally. In the week before the Rally he delivered a speech at his annual American Rennaisance Conference entitled: “Has the white man turned the corner?”
The kind of question that would be on the mind of a Nazi “intellectual” in the Trump Era.
6. KEVIN MACDONALD
Kevin MacDonald — who gave a speech at Spencer’s NPI in late November about how “Jews remade America in their interests … to make white America comfortable with massive non-white immigration and its own dispossession” — has written that the “demonization of Russia in Western media and political circles” is a Jewish campaign to undermine Putin.
Kevin MacDonald was briefly a story during the campaign when Donald Trump Jr. re-tweeted an accusation he made against Hillary Clinton alleging improper dealings with the Swiss bank, UBS .
Kevin MacDonald is a director of the American Freedom Party (I’ve already noted the connections that William Daniel Johnson and Jared Taylor have with them). MacDonald distinguishes himself by being extremely anti-semitic according to the Anti-Defamation League.
It seems strange that Donald Trump Jr., who has a Jewish convert sister and a Jewish brother-in-law, would be following McDonald on Twitter, but the “alt-right” neo-Nazi/white supremacist world is not big on consistency. Many of them are extremely anti-semitic and spent the campaign harassing Jewish journalists. Others see Jews as a potential ally against Muslims. Some in the crowd are actually Jewish, such as Dr. Paul Gottfried (although he protests the neo-Nazi label).
Kevin MacDonald is a self-styled intellectual who edits the Occidental Observer, an online publication which has become influential in Nazi circles.
He recently re-tweeted a fellow Nazi using this Rush Limbaugh quote. It shows how Nazi “intellectuals” such as MacDonald blend their Nazi ideology together with extreme right blow-hards such as Limbaugh to broaden their audience.
Establishment is absolutely freaking out over this very public demonstration by the @Alt_Right. Get used to it. There will be more.
7. MATHEW HEIMBACH
Self-described white nationalist Matthew Heimbach, who said he identifies as a member of the alt-right, has praised Putin’s Russia as “the axis for nationalists.”
“I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now,” Heimbach told Business Insider in a recent interview. “Putin is supporting nationalists around the world and building an anti-globalist alliance, while promoting traditional values and self-determination.”
Mathew Heimbach is another Putin-supporting American white nationalist. He has started his own
political party, the Traditional Worker Party. This from their website:
“The ethnic community is the definition of a true nation. Shared blood, history, and traditions are what make a people and bind us together as an extended family.”
Heimbach made news during the campaign when he shoved a black woman who was protesting at a Trump rally — while wearing one of Trump’s trademark red “Make America Great Again” caps. (A lawsuit is pending).
In a Washington Post profile of Heimbach, Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center calls him a “media-savy millennial who has forged relationships with Stormfront, the League of the South, the Aryan Terror Brigade, the National Socialist Movement and other white-supremacist organizations”. Heimbach has traveled in Europe to meet with the neo-Nazis of the Golden Dawn in Greece, and the National Democratic Party in Germany. He tried to go to Britain, but they wouldn’t let him in. The Post article includes video of Heimbach at the Trump rally. Despite wearing that “Make America Great Again” hat, he qualifies his support for Trump. This from the Washington Post.
. . . whites are being ignored in favor of minorities. And no one has pointed that out more clearly to the rest of the nation, he says, than Trump . . . “Hopefully this [election] will really damage the Republican Party as a whole and awaken white working-class and middle-class people that the Republicans don’t represent them,” Heimbach said. “So I really like Trump for that. But he’s not one of us. He’s not a white nationalist.”
Time to re-think that quote, Mathew.
[Ryan] Lenz [of the Southern Poverty Law Center] said he does not know how Heimbach, who says he is forced to work low-paying jobs, can afford to travel constantly across the country and fly to Europe every year to meet with far-right groups. He said Heimbach had denied having a wealthy patron who funded the trips. Heimbach said he paid for the trips himself, with some contribution from his party, and that he kept costs low by staying with other far-right activists.
“I’ve been waiting for my rubles to show up. It hasn’t happened yet,” he said, chuckling, referencing “more than a few media outlets that have claimed I’m secretly working for the FSB”.
By the month before Trump’s election, Heimbach had shifted gears and developed a new message discipline “capable of spinning answers to questions like someone who had spent years in a spin room”, Lenz said.
Wonder who is helping Heimbach with that messaging?
Here is a picture of him at the Unite the Right Nazi Rally in Charlottesville. He was right in the middle of it and dressed for the occasion.
These are only seven of the Trump loving Nazis with Russian connections; this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. There are many, many more.
According to the Russian Analytical Digest of the Center for Security Studies in Zurich, the Russkiy Mir Foundation was started by Putin in 2007 to project Russian soft-power. It now has a presence of 50 centers in 29 countries that are designed to spread Russian language, culture and values — values that many Baltic and East European find to be conflict with their democracies.
Christopher Stroop is an academic who explains that “Putinism is heavily influenced by the ideas of Dugin and that old Slavophlie/Pan-Slav Russian nationalist tradition.” He notes the close relationship between the Russkiy Mir Foundation and the Russian Orthodox Church, a church that Andrew Higgins of the New York Times characterized this way:
A fervent foe of homosexuality and any attempt to put individual rights above those of family, community or nation, the Russian Orthodox Church helps project Russia as the natural ally of all those who pine for a more secure, illiberal world free from the tradition-crushing rush of globalization, multiculturalism and women’s and gay rights.
But the fascism of Putin’s Russia goes much deeper than this kind of traditionalist religion. A Yale history professor named Timothy Snyder has described how Vladimir Putin rehabilitated a former enemy of the Soviet state, Ivan Ilyin, a man Synder describes as a “prophet of Russian fascism”. This is from his September 2016 New York Times Op-ed, How a Russian Fascist Is Meddling in America’s Election.
Ilyin believed that individuality was evil. For him, the “variety of human beings” demonstrated the failure of God to complete the labor of creation and was therefore essentially satanic. By extension, the middle classes, political parties and civil society were also evil, because they encouraged the development of personalities beyond the single identity of the national community.
According to Ilyin, the purpose of politics is to overcome individuality, and establish a “living totality” of the nation . . . Ilyin looked on Mussolini and Hitler as exemplary leaders who were saving Europe by dissolving democracy. His 1927 article “On Russian Fascism” was addressed to “My White brothers, the fascists.” Later, in the 1940s and ’50s, he provided the outlines for a constitution of a fascist Holy Russia governed by a “national dictator” who would be “inspired by the spirit of totality.”
This leader would be responsible for all functions of government in a completely centralized state. Elections would be held, with open voting and signed ballots, purely as a ritual of support of the leader. The reckoning of votes was irrelevant: “We must reject blind faith in the number of votes and its political significance.”
According to Snyder, Putin and other top Russian figures now regard Ilyin as an authority, someone whose ideas should guide them in developing a new Russian ideology that replaces communism. Snyder was writing to warn Americans to safeguard our democracy against Putin’s attempt to disrupt it.
The technique of undermining democracy abroad is to generate doubt where there had been certainty. If democratic procedures start to seem shambolic, then democratic ideas will seem questionable as well. And so America would become more like Russia, which is the general idea. If Mr. Trump wins, Russia wins. But if Mr. Trump loses and people doubt the outcome, Russia also wins.
Clearly Russia won the November election. Not enough Americans listened to those like Timothy Snyder who were trying to warn us. They were too busy reading the fake news (Trump/Russian propaganda) about Hillary’s many murders, bad health and evil corruption.
Now Donald Trump is President and the ideas that motivated the Nazis at Charlottesville have their own advocates inside the White House.
I began with an absurdist Nazi-created image of Trump flying on an eagle. I’ll end with another absurdist Nazi-created Trump image which I also found in the pages of Stormfront.
Opposition Research: Russian Style
Maximov played a part in the troll operation that was later unleashed during the US election. Please read Adrian Chen’s 2015 article in the New York Times Magazine:
Every day at the Internet Research Agency was essentially the same, Savchuk told me. The first thing employees did upon arriving at their desks was to switch on an Internet proxy service, which hid their I.P. addresses from the places they posted; those digital addresses can sometimes be used to reveal the real identity of the poster. Savchuk would be given a list of the opinions she was responsible for promulgating that day. Workers received a constant stream of “technical tasks” — point-by-point exegeses of the themes they were to address, all pegged to the latest news. Ukraine was always a major topic, because of the civil war there between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Army; Savchuk and her co-workers would post comments that disparaged the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, and highlighted Ukrainian Army atrocities. Russian domestic affairs were also a major topic. Last year, after a financial crisis hit Russia and the ruble collapsed, the professional trolls left optimistic posts about the pace of recovery. Savchuk also says that in March, after the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered, she and her entire team were moved to the department that left comments on the websites of Russian news outlets and ordered to suggest that the opposition itself had set up the murder.
As Savchuk and other former employees describe it, the Internet Research Agency had industrialized the art of trolling. Management was obsessed with statistics — page views, number of posts, a blog’s place on LiveJournal’s traffic charts — and team leaders compelled hard work through a system of bonuses and fines. “It was a very strong corporate feeling,” Savchuk says. Her schedule gave her two 12-hour days in a row, followed by two days off. Over those two shifts she had to meet a quota of five political posts, 10 nonpolitical posts and 150 to 200 comments on other workers’ posts. The grueling schedule wore her down. She began to feel queasy, she said, posting vitriol about opposition leaders of whom she had no actual opinion, or writing nasty words about Ukrainians when some of her closest acquaintances, including her own ex-husband, were Ukrainian.
Maximov appears towards the end of the article. It’s a must-read. Unfortunately, not enough US voters did read it.