Between Trump and Putin: The Right-Wing International, a Crisis of Democracy, and the Future of the European Union

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This article appears in the Spring 2017 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

“So. Washington is ours. Chișinău is ours. Sofia is ours. It remains but to drain the swamp in Russia itself.” Right-wing Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin posted this pronouncement as his Facebook status on November 13, 2016.1 Each of the cities he named is the capital of a country—the U.S., Moldova, and Bulgaria, respectively—that had recently elected a leader espousing at least some views that are favorable to Moscow. And each had elections that took place amid concerns about Russian influence.

Alexander Dugin is a Russian political scientist who might be seen as a Russian counterpart to U.S. Alt Right leader Richard Spencer. (Photo: CC BY-SA 4.0 via Alexander Dugin)

Knowing who Dugin is makes his post-U.S. electoral victory cheer more chilling. Dugin, who might be seen as a Russian counterpart to U.S. Alt Right leader Richard Spencer, made an early endorsement of then-candidate Trump in February, 2016 through Katehon, an illiberal “think tank” headed by Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, a man known for conceiving and financing conservative Christian initiatives.2 Dugin is also on the U.S. individual sanctions list for his role in the Ukraine crisis—specifically for his leadership in the Eurasian Youth Union, which, as the Department of the Treasury reported, “actively recruited individuals with military and combat experience to fight on behalf of the self-proclaimed [Donetsk People’s Republic] and has stated that it has a covert presence in Ukraine.”3 Perhaps most notably, Dugin is also a chief proponent of neo-Eurasianism: an ideology encapsulating Russian “traditionalism” (including the rejection of feminism, “globalism,” and LGBTQ rights) and the belief that Russia has a Manifest Destiny of its own—a mystical calling not only to take dominion of Eurasian spaces from the Baltic to the Pacific, but also to revive the West’s Christian roots.

One of the more striking features of the 2016 U.S. election was the convergence of the rhetoric and talking points of President Donald Trump and his supporters with those of the Kremlin. And in the tangled and ongoing investigation of Russian involvement with U.S. and European elections, these ideological connections and motivations have gone far less noticed.

While in Soviet times the Kremlin’s Marxist ideology attracted its share of Western sympathizers, post-Soviet Moscow has, if you will, dialectically emerged at the center of a “traditionalist international” around which many right-wing fellow travelers are rallying. There is an older history of American conservative attraction to Russian Christians and anti-Communists. Paleoconservative leader Pat Buchanan, a contemporary apologist for Russian President Vladimir Putin, noted as much in a post-Crimea paean to Putin, when he wrote that “The ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers who exposed Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy, was, at the time of his death in 1964, writing a book on ‘The Third Rome’”—the conviction that, after the original Roman Empire, and “the Second Rome” of Constantinople, Moscow inherited the mantle of Christian empire.4

This fascination with Russian conservatives and Russia’s conservative potential was also shared by some of the direct ideological ancestors of today’s U.S. White nationalists, such as Francis Parker Yockey, a mid-century U.S. Far Right leader and avowed antisemite, who called for Western-Soviet cooperation in fighting Zionism. Since that time, post-Soviet Russia has become a right-wing state that has cultivated, through the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as right-wing intellectuals like Dugin, a loose right-wing international, as I wrote in The Public Eye in 2016.5

Given this context, it’s unsurprising that the most toxic elements of the U.S. Right are drawn to Putinist Russia. In 2004, for example, White supremacist David Duke declared, “Russia has a greater sense of racial understanding among its population than does any other predominantly White nation.”6 Duke has since cultivated ties with Russia, among other things maintaining an apartment in Moscow that he has sub-leased to fellow White supremacist activist Preston Wiginton .7

Interest in Russia among the global Right has grown steadily in recent years, accelerating since the beginning of Putin’s third term in 2012. Photo: CC BY 4.0 via The Kremlin)

Interest in Russia among the global Right has grown steadily in recent years, accelerating since the beginning of Putin’s third term in 2012. Since then, the Russian state has not only coordinated more closely with the Russian Orthodox Church, but has also come increasingly to portray itself, with a high degree of success, as the global standard bearer for “traditional values” conservatism.8 While Russia cultivates ties to Westerners on both the Far Left and the Far Right, Russia’s leading ideologues and soft power institutions—such as think-tanks, government-backed non-governmental organizations, and university centers—promote right-wing, neo-Eurasianist traditionalism. This ideology rejects modern liberalism as a “rootless,” culture-destroying globalism, and offers in its place a “multipolar” world order with strengthened national sovereignty, weakened supranational institutions (such as the European Union), and a rejection of universal human rights, with women’s rights, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBTQ rights particularly threatened.

Russia’s embrace of this anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-“globalist” “traditionalism” has coincided with a period in which the Russian state, concerned about “color revolutions” and NATO expansion, has increasingly sought to weaken Western institutions. Putin’s agenda in this regard is not only to strengthen Russian power at the expense of the West, but also to undermine belief in the viability of liberal democracy itself. The means by which Russia pursues this agenda include cultivating ties with Western anti-democratic forces, inundating the West with propaganda, and employing other active measures, including hacking, in influence campaigns. What does Russia’s central role in rising global right-wing populism mean for the prospects of the EU, particularly in light of Brexit and Trump’s ascendancy to the U.S. presidency? The stakes are high this year. While the results of the Dutch and French elections have been encouraging for the future of the EU and NATO, an important German election is yet to come, and the threat of disinformation originating in both Russia under Putin and the United States under Trump remains serious.

Evaluating Dugin’s Claim: The International Appeal of Russian Illiberalism

Russian interference and influence in Europe, including the promotion of far-right “traditionalism,” should be of concern to defenders of human rights in light of the West’s current crisis of democracy.9 The future of the EU, after Brexit, is very uncertain. Should the EU be abandoned by another major player, the kind of illiberal, authoritarian, right-wing populism represented by Russia would continue to spread, to the detriment of democracy and human rights.10 That’s already happening in places such as Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, of the right-wing populist Fidesz Party, openly admires Putin and has recently moved to shut down Central European University. Indeed, European elites themselves have begun to express a need to protect their countries and values not only from Russia, but potentially also from the United States, in which a Russian influence campaign helped elect an illiberal president about whom Alexander Dugin and other Russian elites have often been enthusiastic.11 In this regard, it is salient that the U.S. right-wing Breitbart News Network is seeking to expand into European markets, bringing the same narratives of xenophobia and religious traditionalism that helped mobilize Trump’s supporters. While Breitbart has not yet opened new offices in Germany or France, these plans seem not to have been tabled.12

To be sure, the enthusiasm of the Russian political establishment for the Trump administration has faded in recent weeks. In addition to disagreeing with Russia over Syria, the Trump administration has ham-handedly tried to distance itself from Russia after National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign in February for failing to disclose that he discussed a possible lifting of Russian sanctions with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak during the transition period. Russian politicians also became more cautious, even as they and Russian media rallied to the defense of Flynn. (In 2015 Flynn spoke at the 10th anniversary gala of the Russian propaganda network RT in Moscow, where he sat at Putin’s table. At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism on May 8, fired former Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates confirmed that the Department of Justice believed Flynn to be compromised.)

But the shared illiberal agenda of Trump and Putin remains a threat to Europe. This April at a G7 meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—who in 2013 received the Russian Order of Friendship from Putin—unnerved many in Europe when he asked, “Why should U.S. taxpayers care about Ukraine?” Such a statement aids Putin’s goal of undermining democracy, even if Tillerson has also proven willing to give at least lip service to criticizing Russian aggression.13

And even apart from an immediate normalization of U.S.-Russian relations on Russian terms—something it seems the Trump team at least initially desired, and which would be geopolitically destabilizing as it would weaken NATO—the Trump administration is far more amenable to Dugin’s ideological goals than a Clinton administration would have been. With this in mind, Dugin’s declarations—that Washington, Chișinău, and Sofia are Russia’s—seem like more than mere braggadocio, even if they are inflated. Will Dugin be declaring “Berlin is ours” this fall?

Dugin is not a latter-day Rasputin, the peasant healer who was widely believed to hold undue influence over the last Romanov royal family. But, despite some assertions to the contrary from those seeking to downplay Dugin’s significance, he is also far from a fringe figure. Nina Kouprianova—the estranged wife of Alt Right leader Richard Spencer who writes pro-Putin and anti-Ukrainian commentary under the name Nina Byzantina—has translated some of Dugin’s far-right political theory into English, bolstering Dugin’s influence among American White supremacists. While Kouprianova has downplayed the relationship between Dugin and Putin,14 the latter’s foreign policy is clearly informed by Dugin’s worldview in ways that are relevant to Russian influence in European and U.S. politics, as Eurasia expert Casey Michel explains:

If Dugin’s name is at all familiar, it’s likely due to his neo-fascist screeds, posited as geopolitical analysis, that have begun swirling international trends. As Spencer is to the alt-right, so, too, is Dugin to the modern incarnation of “Eurasianism,” a geopolitical theory positing Russia as the inheritor of “Eternal Rome” and one of the primary ideological bulwarks pushing the Kremlin to carve eastern Ukraine into the fanciful entity of “Novorossiya.” While much of Dugin’s influence on the Kremlin has been over-hyped, Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics remains assigned to every member of Russia’s General Staff Academy [the premier Russian institution for continuing training of high-ranking military officers]. 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.15

Dugin was also reportedly a part of the entourage that accompanied Putin on his visit to the Orthodox Christian holy site Mt. Athos in Greece in May 2016.16 But however personally close to Putin Dugin may be, what should concern us most here is the spread of a “traditionalist” ideology that, following in the footsteps of early 20th Century fascism, rejects liberal democracy and individual moral autonomy. Contemporary Eurasianism, like interwar Eurasianism and other Russian schools of thought related to the 19th Century ideologies of Slavophilism and Pan-Slavism, posits a special destiny for Russia in uniting the peoples of the large Eurasian landmass that runs roughly from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, in addition to a messianic role in the revival of Western civilization’s Christian roots.17

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Click here to read Chris Stroop’s 2016 article, “A Right-Wing International?”

In Putin’s third term in particular, Russia has positioned itself at the center of the right-wing international that propounds a “traditionalist” ideological tendency, and Dugin has emerged as one of the broader movement’s leading ideologues. As recent reports from NATO and Political Capital (a Hungarian think tank whose website describes it as “committed to the basic values of parliamentary democracy, human rights and a market economy”) have documented, Eurasianist ideology not only informs Russian foreign policy (such as Russia’s use of hybrid warfare, a military strategy that entails cyber and covert operations, including Russia’s use of troops without insignia in its invasion of Crimea and its officially-denied direct support for and presence in the rebel campaigns against the Ukrainian state), but also holds some attraction for Europeans disillusioned with austerity, immigration, and secularism.18

In light of the above, what are we to make of Dugin’s claim that Russia has won Washington, Chișinău, and Sofia? It is certainly overstated with respect to the latter. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has called for the easing of EU sanctions against Russia, but also recently stated that he supports retaining Bulgaria’s membership in the EU and NATO, both of which Russia seeks to weaken.19 Sabra Ayres, a fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation who researches Russian soft power tactics in Bulgaria and other parts of Europe, said that her research has not turned up any evidence of a significant Russian effort to see Radev elected.20

Pro-Russian Moldovan President Igor Dodon goes much further than Radev, however. Dodon openly declares that he aspires to be “a dictatorial leader, the same as Putin,” and claims to have received the blessing of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia. Dodon achieved a narrow electoral victory (initially contested with claims of voting irregularities) over Western leaning rival Maia Sandu. He’d campaigned on a platform of moving to scrap Moldova’s EU association agreement—over which Moscow actually sanctioned Moldova in July 2014, banning the import of Moldovan wine, fruit, and vegetables—and integrating Moldova into the Moscow-centered Eurasian Economic Union. Dodon’s campaign was rife with anti-immigrant and homophobic rhetoric and marked by widespread disinformation, much like Donald Trump’s.21

With respect to President Trump, the U.S. intelligence community released a report in January expressing high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign targeting the 2016 U.S. election that was intended to undermine U.S. confidence in the democratic process and to damage Hillary Clinton’s prospects. The CIA and FBI also have high confidence that in its effort, which involved hacking both Republican and Democratic targets but releasing damaging information only about Democrats, Russia “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.” Statements made at recent Senate hearings have confirmed these findings, and on May 8, before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper actually stated that the Russians behind the influence campaign targeting the 2016 U.S. election “must be congratulating themselves for having exceeded their wildest expectations.”22 In addition, the U.S. intelligence community reported in January that the same techniques that were used in this campaign—a blend of “covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls’”—are likely to be applied “to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.”23

In light of what is now known about the Russian role in the U.S. election, it is very plausible that Russia’s influence campaign played a key role in Trump’s Electoral College victory. The same type of Russian campaign appears to have swung Georgia’s 2012 presidential election, and there is no reason the same strategy cannot continue to effectively undermine other countries’ democratic processes unless vigilance is exercised and countermeasures are taken.24

Russian leaders perceive such actions as defensive. They push conspiracy theories about opposition to corruption and undemocratic policies in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia being funded by liberal U.S. philanthropist George Soros, who has of late become a bugbear of Trump supporters and the U.S. Right as well. The Russian regime also rejects homegrown East European and post-Soviet efforts to protect universal human rights and work toward functional democracy as Western imports. While Russia’s reactions to perceived Western aggression have been disproportionate and unjustifiable, the West might have helped to stave off the current state of affairs if its leaders had taken Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion into consideration earlier.

Russian Soft Power and Information Warfare in Western Europe

Hacking is one of the most powerful tactics the Kremlin uses to influence other countries’ electoral processes, as the U.S. has been too slow to recognize. Germany and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been recent targets of Russian hacking according to Germany’s intelligence services, and Germany has likewise expressed concerns about disinformation and possible hacking ahead of its parliamentary election slated for fall 2017.25

Hacking, however, is by no means the only tactic Russia uses to gain influence and sow disinformation in the West. In order to assess the outcomes of recent European elections and the prospects for upcoming European elections, we need to be aware of other methods of influence Russia employs. These include:

  • infiltration by spies;
  • hiring Western PR firms (in the past including Kissinger Associates and Ketchum) to help manipulate Western media and improve the Kremlin’s reputation among Westerners26;
  • supporting Eurasianist and pro-Kremlin think tanks, such as the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin (which is funded through a foundation headed by the Russian oligarchs Natalia Yakunina, the chairperson, and Vladimir Yakunin, the vice-chairman27);
  • establishing cultural centers at universities through the Russkiy Mir foundation, which promotes not only benign cultural exchange but also Eurasianist ideology and the Kremlin line on Ukraine;
  • financing Far Right Western politicians and parties, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France28;
  • promoting social conservatism and pro-Moscow views through representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church; and,
  • taking advantage of the West’s relative openness to flood the media with disinformation through “troll armies” and propaganda outlets such as RT, which had a $380 million budget in 2011.29

Russia has also played a role in facilitating relationships between right-wing European parties, for example with respect to the European Alliance for Freedom, a coalition that seeks to undermine the EU and liberal norms in the European Parliament.30

Through all of these methods, Russia looks to capitalize on pre-existing weaknesses. Russia did not create discontent with the neoliberal European establishment, explains Italian legal expert Pasquale Annicchino, a research fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and senior research associate at the Cambridge Institute on Religion & International Studies; Euroskepticism is homegrown. One might add that the situation is exacerbated by a refugee crisis due overwhelmingly to failed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Annichino streses, Russia has proven capable of capitalizing effectively on the rising right-wing populist mood and exercises influence among politically extreme European groups.31

Annicchino has also done some of the most interesting research on how the Russian Orthodox Church has helped promote hardline conservatism in Europe by making common cause with traditionalists of other Christian confessions. Marcel Van Herpen, director of the Cicero Foundation and author of Putin’s Propaganda Machine: Soft Power and Russian Foreign Policy, has shown that the Russian Foreign Ministry and Orthodox Church often coordinate with the goal of promoting a “traditional values” agenda and attacking universal human rights at the UN and in other international settings.32

One case Annicchino has studied, the Lautsi controversy at the European Court of Human Rights, particularly illuminated this dynamic, when in 2011 the supranational court overturned a prior ruling that the compulsory display of crucifixes in Italian schools was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The legal expertise that secured the 2011 ruling—greeted by conservatives as a triumph over secularism—was largely derived from American evangelicals and delivered through amicus curiae briefs filed by the European Center on Law and Justice—an organization co-founded by U.S. Christian Right advocate Jay Alan Sekulow to serve as a sister organization to his American Center on Law and Justice.33 Meanwhile, Annicchino writes, “the Russian Orthodox Church was at the forefront of the diplomatic battle,” with major representatives, including Patriarch Kirill, writing to the Vatican and to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in support of the original Italian law requiring the display of crucifixes in public schools. In this manner, the Moscow Patriarchate courted favor with conservative European Christians.

To Annicchino, the entire case is emblematic of what is sometimes referred to as the “new ecumenism”: the cooperation of distinct churches in pursuit of common goals.34 Another example may be found in the close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church with traditionalist European Catholics cultivated in particular by the ROC’s Chair of the Department of External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), who regularly meets with Catholic cardinals in Europe and has a particularly intimate relationship with the Institute for Ecumenical Studies at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg, where he oversees exchange programs.35

Meanwhile, Italy’s Far Right Northern League has made no secret of looking to Russia not only as an economic partner, but also as a model for “the protection of the family.”36 It has created a cultural exchange program, the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, which receives funding from the Voice of Russia (since 2014 integrated into the publishing empire Sputnik, an increasingly important Russian propaganda outlet). The honorary president of the association is Alexey Komov, a right-wing advocate with substantial ties to both U.S. and Russian conservative coalitions, as the World Congress of Families’ regional representative for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States; the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society’s representative to the United Nations; and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarchal Commission on the Family and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood.37

The alliance of the Russian Orthodox Church with European and American Christian conservatives is just one example of the means by which Russia cultivates the Western Far Right.

The new ecumenism Annicchino describes also exemplifies what is sometimes called “bad ecumenism”: that is, interfaith activity designed to achieve domination and undermine pluralism rather than promote the common good. Such bad ecumenism has played no small part in ushering in the rise of right-wing fellow travelers around Moscow.38 The alliance of the Russian Orthodox Church with European and American Christian conservatives is just one example of the means by which Russia cultivates the Western Far Right, but it is an important one.39

Russia, Right-Wing Populism, and the European Political Landscape in 2017

In engaging in the kinds of activities described above, the Russian Orthodox Church pursues not only its own ends, but helps to advance Russian influence in the West. With this context in mind, we can step back to consider what Russian influence may mean in the current European political landscape.

During the lead-up to the Dutch election on March 15, the prospects for Geert Wilders’ Far Right Party for Freedom (PVV) concerned many. While Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Center Right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) won with 21.3 percent of the vote, the Labor Party (PvdA) suffered considerable losses, and the PVV came in second with 13.1 percent. While the Far Right populist bullet was dodged in the Netherlands, negotiations toward a governing coalition are ongoing, and the surge for Wilders’ PVV is concerning.

But what of a Russian role? According to Van Herpen, with respect to the Dutch general election, there was no real need for Moscow to do more than continue to produce propaganda and disinformation.40 Wilders cannot be openly pro-Russian due to anti-Russian sentiment in the Netherlands related to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by Russia-backed separatists in Donbas using the Russian Buk missile system, and the Kremlin also knows that it must not appear to be too cozy with Wilders if it wants to see his party succeed.41 As a Euroskeptic party, however, PVV’s relative success is a threat to the EU. The Dutch vote against approval of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement in April 2016 is also relevant context.

Meanwhile, the French election represented a high stakes test for the viability of the European Union and the post-war order. When I interviewed Van Herpen in January, the race was expected to come down to a contest between Marine Le Pen and François Fillon of the center-right Republicans. Moscow’s affinity for Le Pen, leader of the far Right National Front, has been evident for some time, but Van Herpen noted that Russia could “wait and see” with respect to the French general election, since both Le Pen and Fillon have pro-Russian views.42

The race between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron represented a high stakes test for the viability of the European Union and the post-war order. (Photo: CC BY-SA 4.0 via Copyleft)

Of course, the contours of the French election changed in ways that confounded early forecasts. While Fillon’s prospects receded, center-right En Marche! party candidate Emmanuel Macron surged in the polls, overcame an initial Russian propaganda campaign, and faced Le Pen in the May 7 runoff, coming away with a resounding victory (just over 66 percent of the vote), although unusually low turnout for France (74 percent) indicated widespread dissatisfaction with both candidates.

Well before the first round of the election on April 23, French officials began preparing for a Russian influence blitz on behalf of Le Pen.43  Their foresight proved wise, as France was subjected to a fake news onslaught in which Russian propaganda outlets played a key role. After Macron’s initial surge, Sputnik published a claim that Macron is a closeted gay man with “a very rich gay lobby” behind him, and his campaign has also been targeted by hackers suspected of being part of a Russian influence campaign.44 Yet this failed to keep Macron out of the runoff, and an eleventh-hour assault of leaked documents and disinformation also failed to prevent Macron from winning in a landslide as projected by the polls.

A notable lesson from the election is that France seems comparatively well inoculated against the toxic effects of fake news, both institutionally and culturally. For example, France enforces a blackout on election coverage in the 44-hour period leading up to a presidential election, which in this case limited the impact of the last-minute document dump meant to harm Macron’s candidacy. The French-language edition of Sputnik covered the leaks, but the French public collectively shrugged. Culturally, as Johan Hufnagel, managing editor of the left-wing newspaper Libération, recently stated, “We don’t have a Fox News in France,” adding that French voters “were mentally prepared after Trump and Brexit and the Russians.”45

Of course, Le Pen’s nearly 34 percent of the French vote, an unprecedented result for the National Front, is nothing to sneeze at, and defenders of human rights must take it as a reminder that the forces of nationalism and right-wing populism are still powerful. At the same time, in an attempt to make herself more appealing during the campaign for the runoff, Le Pen announced that she would temporarily step aside as leader of the National Front in order, ostensibly, to bring together the entire French people. She has since announced that she will “recreate her National Front into a broader ‘patriotic’ party that would seek power in parliamentary elections next month.”46 Perhaps this is why, despite Le Pen’s espoused desire to withdraw France from the EU and her post-election claim to represent “patriots” over “globalisation supporters,” U.S. White nationalist Richard Spencer took to Twitter to whine that whatever emerges from the National Front will be most likely “become a cucky, GOP-like party.”47 Spencer also tweeted that “we’ve seen the limits of the typical Euro-Right nationalist parties,” suggesting “a global political party for White people” as one alternative going forward.48

“Because Merkel is the last powerful defender of the EU and of sanctions against Russia, the Kremlin will do its utmost best to remove her by influencing the election process by disinformation and, eventually, hacking.”

As encouraging as the French results are, there is still cause for concern. Just as defenders of Western institutions and norms may learn from what happened in France, so may purveyors of disinformation, including the Russian government. Russia will surely pull out all the stops to influence the German federal election scheduled for September 24, 2017. As Van Herpen argues, “Because Merkel is the last powerful defender of the EU and of sanctions against Russia, the Kremlin will do its utmost best to remove her by influencing the election process by disinformation and, eventually, hacking.” 49 Van Herpen’s book also notes the considerable affinity for Russia across the German political spectrum, including in Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) as well as among right-wing nationalist forces, such as Alternative for Germany (AfD).50 Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has a warm personal relationship with Putin, and Russian soft power has a significant presence in Germany, including through the Kremlin-backed think tank Dialogue of Civilizations in Berlin, one of the founders of which was Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin. Should the German political landscape shift enough to remove Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from the next governing coalition, this will likely result in a Germany more willing to support Russian interests at the expense of robust support for democratic norms and supranational institutions. In a very real sense, then, Angela Merkel may be said to be the current leader of the free world—the United States under Trump has certainly abdicated the right to make any such claim for the American president—and Merkel’s removal from office would, at best, lead to increased destabilization and uncertainty for the EU’s future.

The Trump Factor: Why the 2016 U.S. Election Bodes Ill for Europe

Donald Trump speaking to supporters in Phoenix, Arizona, 2016.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr).

At this point we may be disposed to ask the best known of the Russian “accursed questions”: what is to be done?51 Coming on the heels of the UK’s Brexit vote, Trump’s dubious, undemocratic, and quasi-covertly Russia-backed election to the U.S. presidency has certainly changed the picture relative to the European political landscape.52 America’s European allies have reason to be uncertain about the new administration’s willingness to honor Article 5 of NATO’s charter, which provides for collective defense, with an attack against one ally considered an attack against all. In the aftermath of the U.S. election, Britain was reportedly so concerned about the possibility that Moscow holds compromising material on Trump that it “sought reassurance from the CIA that the identity of British agents in Russia will be protected when intelligence is shared.”53 Israel’s intelligence services reportedly expressed similar concerns that information shared with the United States might be passed to Moscow.54 The departure of Flynn from the Trump administration and the open disagreement between the United States and Russia over Syria may have gone some way to assuage these concerns, but it is clear that serious questions remain about Russian influence on Trump himself.

Not too long ago, human rights advocates held out hope that the United States might be able to aid our European allies in pushing back against disinformation and influence campaigns from the Kremlin. On December 23, 2016, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which provided for the creation of a Global Engagement Center “to lead, synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.”55 Under Trump, we cannot expect much good to come from any efforts that might begin under the aegis of this Center; even if in light of recent developments Trump has become more cautious about his repeatedly stated goal of improving relations with Russia, he is unlikely to go out of his way to counter Russian propaganda. In addition, on May 9, 2017, Trump sent shockwaves through the U.S. by firing FBI Director James Comey in what appears to be an attempt to shut down the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and possible criminal activities (although the nominal reason provided by the Trump administration has to do with Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email case).

Melissa Hooper, Director of Human Rights and Civil Society at the Washington- and New York-based nonprofit Human Rights First, had been among those hoping for a robust U.S. response to Russian influence after the 2016 election. Hooper previously worked with NGOs through the ABA Rule of Law Initiative as director for Russia and Azerbaijan. While based in Russia, Hooper became increasingly dismayed at the negative impact of the illiberal legislative efforts of Putin’s third term, including the 2012 “foreign agents” law that requires independent groups that engage in any “political activity” to register as “foreign agents” if they receive any funding from sources outside Russia.56 Having noticed Russia’s influence on the spread of illiberalism in Europe—for example, in Hungary under Orbán—Hooper came to Human Right First with concerns about the possibility of counteracting this trend.57

With funding from the Jackson Foundation, she organized a series of informal policy discussions throughout 2016—at Columbia University, Stanford University, and Human Rights First’s Washington, D.C., location—with experts from fields including advocacy, journalism, scholarly research, and technology, to consider approaches to countering Russian disinformation, influence, and support for far-right extremism in Europe. I participated in the last of these discussions, in December 2016, and the mood in the wake of Trump’s dubious win was far from cheery. Although proposed solutions involve both private and public actors and institutions, we participants were all clearly aware that the results of the U.S. election would make the task much more difficult. Nevertheless, there are steps that can be taken. As Hooper later explained to me:

We hope to act as a convener of civil society, so that with a unified voice we can help technology companies identify where they are contributing to threats rather than reducing them—in the areas of disinformation and publication of false stories, personal safety of rights workers, and the proliferation of hate speech targeting minority groups. And we hope we can then partner with companies to make sure their responses and proposed solutions are comprehensive, accessible, and effective.58

For his part, Van Herpen supports debunking Russian disinformation and creating counter-narratives that can prove attractive. He points to the website StopFake.org, which was founded at Kyiv’s Mohyla University and which is devoted to debunking Russian disinformation relative to the hybrid war in Ukraine. Van Herpen also believes that Western governments should impose stricter standards on Russian media produced for Western consumption and that Western states should invest in Russian-language media. With Breitbart planning to expand to Germany and France, Europe may soon be facing an onslaught of disinformation not only from Russia, but also from the United States.59

“Draining the Swamp” of Western Liberalism: A Russian-American Enterprise?

In light of Trump’s election and the potential expansion of Breitbart into European markets, Europe now faces a dual Russian-American onslaught of right-wing populist disinformation and fake news, sure to be backed up in cyberspace by Russian and American trolls and bots. The U.S. election results confirm that the power of media manipulation and post-truth politics to erode liberal democratic norms must not be underestimated. And it is significant that far-right Russian and American ideologues have already been collaborating in media manipulation for some time.

The neo-Eurasianist ideologue quoted at the beginning of this article, Alexander Dugin, has become a beloved comrade of America’s neo-Nazis, White nationalists, and Christian nationalists. Dugin has, for example, given a lecture at Texas A&M University at the invitation of Preston Wiginton (delivered via Skype because sanctions prevented him from traveling to the U.S.).60 Less well known, however, is that as a regular presence on the Russian outlet Tsargrad TV, Dugin has interviewed American conspiracist purveyor of fake news Alex Jones, of Infowars infamy. Tsargrad TV was founded by “God’s oligarch” Konstantin Malofeev, and it employs former FOX News producer Jack Hanick, who, along with his family, recently converted to Russian Orthodoxy.61

In a segment from the program “Our Point of View” (Nasha tochka zreniia) uploaded to YouTube by the official Tsargrad TV account on December 20, 2016, Dugin tells Jones “there is a political elite that is organizing a color revolution against us.” Referring to this elite as “the global dictatorship,” Dugin adds “Clinton, Soros, the Obama Administration—that which is called the Deep State, will also organize a color revolution against Trump, not wanting to recognize the democratic victory of the American people.” He added, “We need to think about how all of us together—Americans, Russians, Europeans—what we can do to oppose this elite.”62 Jones agreed with Dugin’s call to oppose “globalism,” asserting it is a matter of “survival.”63

For Dugin, “draining the swamp” has much more to do with a desire to wage extremist culture wars than it does with rooting out political corruption.

With this context in mind, we can return to Dugin’s words quoted at the beginning of this article: “It remains but to drain the swamp in Russia itself.” There’s no need to guess Dugin’s meaning, since he’s told us himself—and in English, no less—on the site of Katehon, a Eurasianist “think tank” whose supervisory board’s president is none other than Konstantin Malofeev.64 For Dugin, “draining the swamp” has much more to do with a desire to wage extremist culture wars than it does with rooting out political corruption (something that U.S. columnist Amanda Marcotte argues was also the implicit promise to Trump supporters all along).65

On November 14, 2016, Katehon published Dugin’s essay, “Donald Trump: The Swamp and the Fire,” along with an illustration featuring European political leaders, including Angela Merkel and François Hollande, caricatured as swamp creatures. Dugin’s essay opens with this pronouncement:

“The Swamp” is to become the new name for the globalist sect, the open society adepts, LGBT maniacs, Soros’ army, the post-humanists, and so on. Draining the Swamp is not only categorically imperative for America. It is a global challenge for all of us. Today, every people is under the rule of its own Swamp. We, all together, should start the fight against the Russian Swamp, the French Swamp, the German Swamp, and so on. We need to purge our societies of the Swamp’s influence.

Dugin goes on to claim that “anti-Americanism is over” thanks to the election of Trump, and to call for “a Nuremberg trial for liberalism, the last totalitarian political ideology of Modernity.”

Dugin goes on to claim that “anti-Americanism is over” thanks to the election of Trump, and to call for “a Nuremberg trial for liberalism, the last totalitarian political ideology of Modernity.”  Once representing the “apocalyptical monsters” of capitalism and Communism, Russia and America, in Dugin’s view, now represent “two eschatological promises”—that is, in Dugin’s understanding of “traditionalism,” an illiberal Russia and America working to destroy liberalism would bring the world into better alignment with God’s ostensible plans for humanity.66

Like Dugin, Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is given to violent rhetoric. In a 2014 speech he gave via Skype for a conference held at the Vatican, Bannon bizarrely and inaccurately described World War II as a war of “the Judeo-Christian West versus atheists,” which led to the relatively benign Pax Americana. Bannon added that, since the end of the Cold War, both sides face “a crisis both [sic] of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.” He predicted that “we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict” in which the “church militant” will have to play a role, lest modern “barbarity” “eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”67

Dugin and Bannon would undoubtedly disagree on certain matters regarding capitalism and Islam. Because Russia is home to large Muslim populations of different ethnic backgrounds, and the Russian state mobilizes Muslim leadership to pursue its traditional values agenda domestically—just as it does leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and other faiths—Russia cannot overtly support wholesale Islamophobia, despite frequent ethnic Russian opposition to the construction of new mosques. Nevertheless, both Dugin and Banon call for a violent international fight against secularism and liberalism. It also is not clear precisely how and in what manner President Trump may change U.S.-Russian relations, as he has received some pushback on his foreign policy agenda, and has upset the Russian political establishment with his actions in Syria. It is clear, however, that many Russian and American conservative leaders and ideologues continue to see potential for Russian-American global collaboration in the right-wing international in pursuit of Far Right ends. Let us hope that European governments and international institutions—and, more broadly, democratic norms and universal human rights—will ultimately prevail against the onslaught.

 

Endnotes

1 Alexander Dugin’s Facebook page, accessed January 17, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/alexandr.dugin/posts/1359831577360212. While Dugin is clearly using the same rhetoric as Donald Trump and his supporters with respect to “drain the swamp” (and numerous other talking points), a more literal translation of the verb he uses, “высушить,” would be “dry out,” which fits better with the other metaphor he frequently invokes in this context, that of fire.

2 Alexander Dugin, “Russian Geopolitician: Trump is Real America,” Katehon, February 2, 2016. http://katehon.com/article/russian-geopolitician-trump-real-america .

3 “Treasury Announces New Designations of Ukrainian Separatists and their Russian Supporters,” US Department of the Treasury, March 11, 2015, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl9993.aspx.

4 Patrick Buchanan, “Whose Side is God on Now?” Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website, April 4, 2014, http://buchanan.org/blog/whose-side-god-now-6337. For more details, see Christopher Stroop, “The Russian Origins of the So-Called Post-Secular Moment: Some Preliminary Observations,” State Religion and Church 1:1 (2014), 59-82, https://www.academia.edu/5949640/The_Russian_Origins_of_the_So-Called_Post-Secular_Moment_Some_Preliminary_Observations .

5 Christopher Stroop, “A Right-Wing International? Russian Social Conservatism, the US-Based World Congress of Families, and the Global Culture Wars in Historical Context,” The Public Eye, winter 2016, 4-10, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/02/16/russian-social-conservatism-the-u-s-based-wcf-the-global-culture-wars-in-historical-context/.

6 David Duke, “Is Russia the Key to White Survival?,” DavidDuke.com, October 23, 2004, http://davidduke.com/is-russia-the-key-to-white-survival/.

7 Casey Michel, “Meet the Moscow Mouthpiece Married to a Racist Alt-Right Boss,” The Daily Beast, December 20, 2016, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/12/20/meet-the-moscow-mouthpiece-married-to-a-racist-alt-right-boss.html.

8 For a recent summary take, see Casey Michel, “How Russia Became the Leader of the Global Christian Right,” Politico, February 9, 2017, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/how-russia-became-a-leader-of-the-worldwide-christian-right-214755.

9 For a timely consideration of Russian influence and disinformation relative to Europe, and the Soviet historical context, see Marcel H. Van Herpen, Putin’s Propaganda Machine: Soft Power and Russian Foreign Policy (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). On Putinist Russia as an exporter of right-wing ideology, see Stroop, “A Right-Wing International?”

10 On Hungary’s move to close down Central European University, see David Matthews, “Central European University Fights for Survival in Hungary,” The Times Higher Education, March 29, 2017, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/central-european-university-fights-for-survival-in-hungary.

11 Klaus Brinkbäumer, “Europe Must Defend itself against a Dangerous President,” Der Spiegel, February 5, 2017, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/a-1133177-amp.html.

12 Emily Flitter, “Exclusive: Riding Trump Wave, Breitbart News Plans US, European Expansion,” Reuters, November 9, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-trump-strategy-idUSKBN1342TP.

13 Olivia Beavers, “Tillerson Asks European Diplomats why US Taxpayers Should Care about Ukraine,” The Hill, April 11, 2017, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/328385-tillerson-asked-european-diplomats-why-us-taxpayers-should-care-about.

14 For the claim that Dugin does not advise Putin, see Kouprianova’s tweet: https://twitter.com/NinaByzantina/status/808108740645912576, last accessed January 17, 2017.

15 Michel, “Meet the Moscow Mouthpiece.”

16 Simon Shuster, “Exclusive: Putin Aide Vladislav Surkov Defied EU Sanctions to Make Pilgrimage to Greece,” Time, September 2, 2016, http://time.com/4476005/vladislav-surkov-putin-athos-greece-sanctions/.

17 For more details see Stroop, “A Right-Wing International?”

18 Vira Ratsiborynska, “When Hybrid Warfare Supports Ideology: Russia Today,” Research Division – NATO Defense College, Rome. No. 133, November 2016, 5-9, http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/news.php?icode=994. “The Russian Connection. The Spread of Pro-Russian Policies on the European Far Right,” Political Capital Institute, March 14, 2014, 4-6, http://www.riskandforecast.com/useruploads/files/pc_flash_report_russian_connection.pdf. And see Stroop, “A Right-Wing International?” for more on how Russia attracts right-wing fellow travelers from the West.

19Kerin Hope and Henry Foy, “Pro-Russian Presidential Candidates Win in Bulgaria and Moldova,” Financial Times, November 14, 2016, https://www.ft.com/content/3b75e064-aa59-11e6-809d-c9f98a0cf216.

20 Sabra Ayres, email interview with author.

21 Anna Nemtsova, “Igor Dodon is Vladimir Putin’s Moldovan Mini-Me,” The Daily Beast, October 29, 2016, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/29/igor-dodon-is-vladimir-putin-s-moldovan-mini-me.html. It is important to remember that the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria remains occupied by a small contingent of Russian troops and represents one of a number of intractable post-Cold War “frozen conflicts.”

22 Demetri Sevastopulo, “Trump was warned twice on risk of Russia blackmailing Flynn,” Financial Times, May 9, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/8880e674-3433-11e7-99bd-13beb0903fa3.

23 Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Intelligence Community Assessment: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” January 6, 2017, ii-iii, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf.

24 Melik Kaylan, “The Other Time Vladimir Putin Swung an Election,” Politico, Nov 4, 2016, http://www.politico.eu/article/vladimir-putin-replicates-his-georgia-model-in-the-us/.

25 Justin Huggler, “Germany Accuses Russia of Cyber Attack on Ukraine Peace Monitors, as Kremlin Dismisses US Intelligence Claims as a ‘Witch Hunt,’” The Telegraph, January 9, 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/09/germany-accuses-russia-cyber-attack-ukraine-peace-monitors-kremlin/. Kate Connolly, “German Spy Chief Says Russian Hackers Could Disrupt Elections,” The Guardian, November 29, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/29/german-spy-chief-russian-hackers-could-disrupt-elections-bruno-kahl-cyber-attacks.

26 See Van Herpen, Putin’s Propaganda Machine, 49-50; Dennis Lynch, “Russia, Ketchum End Controversial Nine-Year Public Relations Partnership,” International Business Times, March 11, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/russia-ketchum-end-controversial-nine-year-public-relations-partnership-1844092.

27 Management, Dialogue Of Civilizations Endowment Fund, 2017, http://dofc-foundation.org/management/. On Russia’s “NGO diplomacy,” see also “The Russian Connection,” 5.

28 “The Russian Connection” (p. 5) argues, however, that in many cases “the gains from the trade-off for Far Right parties are not necessarily financial, as commonly assumed, but more valuable professional, organizational and media assistance, i.e., access to networks and political know-how.”

29 The most comprehensive treatment of all the methods listed in this paragraph is Van Herpen, Putin’s Propaganda Machine. For the RT budget figure, see p. 71.

30 “The Russian Connection,” 6.

31 Pasquale Annicchino, personal interview with author, December 24, 2016. Full disclosure: Annicchino and I are both senior research associates with the Postsecular Conflicts research initiative at the University of Innsbruck.

32 Van Herpen, Putin’s Propaganda Machine, 138-146.

33 The ACLJ has also been involved in efforts to criminalize homosexuality in African countries. See Kapya Kaoma, “Beyond Lively and Warren: U.S. Conservative Legal Groups Changing African Law to Persecute Sexual Minorities and Women,” Political Research Associates, April 22, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/04/22/beyond-lively-warren-u-s-conservative-legal-groups-changing-african-law-to-persecute-sexual-minorities-women/#sthash.RDyAiJfy.dpbs.

34 Pasquale Annicchino, “Winning the Battle by Losing the War: The Lautsi Case and the Holy Alliance between American Conservative Evangelicals, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican to Reshape European Identity,” Religion and Human Rights 6 (2011), 213-219, esp. 216-218.

35 See reports from the University of Fribourg’s Center for Ecumenical Studies at http://www.unifr.ch/iso/de/memoria/anderson/news_2013 and http://www.unifr.ch/iso/assets/files/Hilarion_50_D.pdf.

36 “The Russian Connection,” 7.

37 Nico Hines and Pierre Vaux, “Why Putin is Meddling in Britain’s Brexit Vote,” The Daily Beast, June 8, 2016, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/08/why-putin-is-meddling-in-britain-s-brexit-vote.html. Komov is currently listed as honorary president on the association’s website: http://www.lombardiarussia.org/index.php/associazione/chi-siamo. For more on the influence of Komov, see Stroop, “A Right-Wing International?” See also Cole Parke, “Natural Deception: Conned by the World Congress of Families,” Political Research Associates, January 21, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/01/21/natural-deception-conned-by-the-world-congress-of-families/.

38 Christopher Stroop, “Bad Ecumenism: The American Culture Wars and Russia’s Hard Right Turn.” The Wheel 6 (summer 2016), 20-24.

39 While commentators such as Van Herpen present the Russian Orthodox Church—at least in terms of its elite leadership—as essentially a branch of the Russian state, Brandon Gallaher, Lecturer of Systematic and Comparative Theology at University of Exeter and a specialist in Russian Orthodoxy, stressed to me that the church does pursue its own goals but that in its attempt to promote what it sees as Christian values it has allowed itself to become dependent on the Russian state to the point of cooptation. Brandon Gallaher, personal interview with author, January 13, 2017.

40 Marcel van Herpen, email interview with author.

41 Marcel van Herpen, email interview with author..

42 Moscow has cultivated a relationship with Le Pen, whom Putin met at the Kremlin on March 24, for some time, and could only be very pleased by Le Pen’s promise to abandon the EU.

43 Emily Tamkin, “French Intelligence Agency Braces for Russian Bots to Back Le Pen,” Foreign Policy, February 8, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/08/french-intelligence-agency-braces-for-russian-bots-to-back-le-pen/.

44 Andrew Higgins, “It’s France’s Turn to Worry about Election Meddling by Russia,” New York Times, April 17, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/world/europe/french-election-russia.html?_r=0

45 Quoted in Rachel Donadio, “Why the Macron Hacking Attack Landed with a Thud in France,” New York Times, May 8, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/08/world/europe/macron-hacking-attack-france.html.

46 Charles Bremner and Adam Sage, “Landslide Victory for Marcon,” The Times of London, May 8, 2017, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/landslide-for-macron-fns37zvpq.

47 Richard Spencer’s Twitter, May 7, 2017, https://twitter.com/RichardBSpencer/status/861300992419258370.

48 Richard Spencer’s Twitter, May 7, 2017, https://twitter.com/RichardBSpencer/status/861291632817303552; https://twitter.com/RichardBSpencer/status/861293328909967360

49 Marcel van Herpen, email interview with author.

50 Van Herpen, Putin’s Propaganda Machine, esp. chapters 12, 13, and 14.

51 The other two are “Who is to blame?” and “Who beats whom?”

52 With respect to Brexit, while the Kremlin did not overtly back the Vote Leave campaign, it was given preferential treatment in Russian propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik. Hines and Vaux, “Why Putin is Meddling in Britain’s Brexit Vote.”

53 Tim Shipman, et al. “Trump Wants Putin Summit in Reykjavik. Britain Fears Leak of its Secrets to Moscow,” The Times, January 15, 2017, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/trump-wants-putin-summit-in-reykjavik-rc909n9t0.

54 Sheera Frenkel, “Spy Agencies around the World are Digging into Trump’s Moscow Ties,” BuzzFeed, January 13, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/sheerafrenkel/spy-agencies-around-the-world-are-digging-into-trump-moscow?utm_term=.rkgP7xyO9#.fqBQMJo0O.

55 S.2943 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, section 1287, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/2943/text.

56 “Russia Government vs. Rights Groups. The Battle Chronicle,” Human Rights Watch, February 21, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/russia-government-against-rights-groups-battle-chronicle.

57 Melissa Hooper, personal interview with author, December 27, 2016.

58 Melissa Hooper, personal interview with author.

59 Flitter, “Exclusive: Riding Trump Wave.”

60 Michel, “Meet the Moscow Mouthpiece.”

61 Joshua Keating, “God’s Oligarch,” Slate, October 20, 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/10/konstantin_malofeev_one_of_vladimir_putin_s_favorite_businessmen_wants_to.html.

“Jack Hanick and His Family Have been Received into Orthodoxy in Moscow,” Pravoslavie.ru, May 10, 2016, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/93209.htm.

62 “Александр Дугин: о борьбе с глобализмом [Наша точка зрения],” YouTube video, December 20, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eve4ba78TO8, last accessed January 17, 2017.

63 “Наша точка зрения: Алекс Джонс о борьбе Трампа,” YouTube video, December 20, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iNFjW85P40, last accessed January 17, 2017. Although uploaded separately, one after another on December 20, 2016, it is clear that this clip follows immediately upon the previously cited clip.

64 Per Katehon’s website: http://katehon.com/about-us, last accessed January 19, 2017.

65 Amanda Marcotte, “‘Drain the Swamp’—of all Those P.C. liberals! Turns Out Trumpers Don’t Care about Lobbyists or Plutocrats,” Slate, December 21, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/12/21/drain-the-swamp-of-all-those-p-c-liberals-turns-out-trumpers-dont-care-about-lobbyists-or-plutocrats/.

66 Alexander Dugin, “Donald Trump: The Swamp and the Fire,” Katehon, November 14, 2016, http://katehon.com/article/donald-trump-swamp-and-fire.

67 Providing minimal commentary, Feder reprints Bannon’s speech in its entirety: J. Lester Feder, “This is How Steve Bannon Sees the Entire World,” BuzzFeed, November 15, 2016. https://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world?utm_term=.jcmbxBX3N#.jk64yNxb2, last accessed January 19, 2017.

 

Chechnya’s LGBTQ Assault and the Consequences of “Pro-Family” Contradictions

Chechnya is a small, independent republic of the Russian Federation. (Map: Wikicommons CC BY-SA 3.0)

In early April, reports of atrocities being committed against LGBTQ people began to emerge out of Chechnya, a small, independent republic of the Russian Federation that is predominantly Muslim. Novaya Gazeta — an independent Russian newspaper — broke the story that Chechen authorities had detained and tortured over 100 gay and bisexual men aged 16-50 over the previous few months as part of a “prophylactic purge.” At least four men are reported to have been killed, including a 17-year-old who was allegedly thrown from a building after his family was told to “wash the shame” away.

One man who managed to escape said, “They kill people. They do what they want. They know that nobody will come after them because the order has come from above to ‘cleanse the nation’ of people like us.” The man went on to reveal that the families of those imprisoned are eventually summoned to the prison and tasked with carrying out their own relative’s execution.

Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechnya’s pro-Putin leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the original reports, calling the article “absolute lies and disinformation.”

“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Karimov insisted. He reiterated this sentiment in a subsequent interview with The New York Times: “I said before, and I repeat now, in Chechnya we just don’t have this problem.”

Heda Saratova, a human rights official with the local government, agreed with Karimov’s assessment: “I never saw them with my own eyes,” she said of gay men. “And I never heard of them. I never thought of them. In my 50 years, I have never seen a gay man.”

“I see flies, I see mosquitoes, but I have never seen a gay man.”

Emphasizing her point, she said, “I see flies, I see mosquitoes, but I have never seen a gay man.”

Of course, we know without a doubt that LGBTQ people exist in Chechnya, as they do everywhere. Queer erasure, however, has a long historic precedent, and serves as a form of violence in its own right, functioning to further isolate, alienate, and silence an already marginalized community.

Using rhetoric almost identical to Karimov in response to a journalist’s question about LGBTQ rights in Rwanda, President Paul Kagame recently said, “It hasn’t been our problem, and we don’t intend to make it a problem.”

In 2007, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia University said, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have it.”

Throughout history, homosexuality and gender nonconformity have been stigmatized and are often deemed to be punishable transgressions. In order to escape detection and persecution in hostile environments, many LGBTQ people are forced into closeted existences. Depending on factors such as one’s race, class, or geography, the act of “coming out” and living openly as an LGBTQ person can carry varying levels of risk.

In the United States, sodomy was classified as a felony in every state prior to 1962, with punishments including lengthy terms of imprisonment and/or hard labor. Prior to the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003, 14 states still had anti-sodomy laws. Meanwhile, LGBTQ people are still criminalized in over 70 countries worldwide. In many cases, the anti-LGBTQ laws in these nations are actually relics of the colonial era, during which England’s first civil sodomy law, the Buggery Act of 1533, was imposed upon colonized territories.

In Chechnya, it’s reported that security agents have lured in victims by posing online as gay men looking for dates. Following the passage of Russia’s notorious Anti-Propaganda Law in 2013, which banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” similar tactics were used by a Russian right-wing vigilante group, “Occupy Pedophilia.” The group used social media to “ambush” gay people by luring them into meetings and then assaulting them on camera; online footage of these attacks quickly went viral.

Even when individuals avoid arrest or persecution, Russia’s Anti-Propaganda Law is akin to a slow death sentence as it effectively isolates LGBTQ people from one another, restricting access to any evidence that there are others in the world who share their identities. Under the law, the only information regarding LGBTQ people made available to young people is condemnatory, and activist efforts to offer positive, affirming visibility have been squelched (often with violence).

To erase core parts of a person’s identity is to dehumanize them. 

To erase core parts of a person’s identity is to dehumanize them. Under current international human rights law, however, the humanity of LGBTQ people is not protected. Despite decades of advocacy, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) remain unprotected statuses. This, in large part, is due to aggressively organized opposition efforts at the United Nations and the Organization of American States led by Religious Right groups, including many American organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Watch International, United Families International, C-Fam, Family Research Council, and the International Organization for the Family.

The World Congress of Families XI meeting in Budapest, Hungary is on May 25 -28.

Later this month, from May 25-28, representatives of these same groups will be convening for the 11th World Congress Families (WCF) in Budapest, Hungary, alongside thousands of other religious leaders, elected officials, scientists, and scholars from around the world. From its headquarters in Rockford, Illinois, WCF promotes conservative ideas regarding the traditional nuclear family, and serves as an umbrella organization for a network of groups and individuals that make up a who’s who list of right-wing power players leading the charge against LGBTQ people and reproductive justice around the world.

The vision for what would eventually become WCF was first formulated by its future president, Allan Carlson, on a trip to Russia in 1995. The organization remains deeply connected to some of the most influential religious and political leaders in Russia, and through these relationships WCF has played a key role in formulating and promoting anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion legislation there.

Nonetheless, in a recent interview, WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs insisted, “We are not anti-gay. Homosexuals are the people that need a natural family the most. We are the ones that want to help the victims of the sexual revolution, the victims of divorce, the victims of people who have lived a promiscuous lifestyle. I think the question about homosexuality is ‘how do we deal with brokenness?’”

However, the organization has yet to condemn the attacks on LGBTQ people in Chechnya, and following Russia’s passage of the Anti-Propaganda Law, Jacobs described the developments as “very exciting.” Now, similar laws are cropping up elsewhere. Human Rights First reports that “legislators from Eastern Europe to Central Asia have emulated the Russian Duma by introducing nearly identical versions of the law in their legislative bodies.”

Natalia Antelava, an investigative journalist based in Tbilisi, Georgia, says of Putin: “He has very much positioned himself as a protector of family values, not just in Russia but the region and the world. As a result, this entire region has become much more dangerous to be gay.” (Only after being pressured by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, last week did Putin reluctantly agree to pursue an investigation into the reports coming out of Chechnya.)

In the press release announcing Budapest as the host city for its next international gathering, WCF declared Hungary to be “one of the most family-friendly countries in Europe,” pointing to the nation’s adoption of new constitutional provisions in 2011 that restricted the rights of LGBTQ people and people with disabilities, and severely undermined sexual and reproductive health and rights. This, according to WCF, made Hungary’s government “the hero of pro-family and pro-life leaders from all over the world.”

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is scheduled to address WCF XI, has introduced some limited improvements with respect to freedom of assembly and the annual Budapest LGBTQ Pride march. However, Orbán has also warned LGBTQ communities against exhibiting overly “provocative behavior,” and in March 2016, Hungary blocked a Europe-wide agreement aimed at tackling LGBTQ discrimination.

As WCF’s brand of “family-friendly” continues to expand its global influence, the threat to LGBTQ people and reproductive justice grows along with it, and as the horrific reports coming out of Chechnya make clear, the “pro-family and pro-life” movement can, in fact, be deadly.

 

Natural Deception: Conned By the World Congress of Families

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From Russia to Nigeria to Australia, a seemingly innocuous definition of the “natural family” is quietly being used as the basis of new laws to justify the criminalization of abortion and LGBTQ people. Pushing this definition is the World Congress of Families, a network of conservative religious leaders from a variety of faiths—and their high-level government friends.

This report appears in PRA’s Winter 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine

In November 2014, the Christian Right group World Congress of Families (WCF) found itself in the unusual position of having to publicly defend itself. Unlike prominent advocacy groups such as the Family Research Council or Alliance Defending Freedom, the Illinois-based WCF has seldom sought the spotlight, preferring a behind-the-scenes role in its campaign to impose a narrow, Christian Right definition of family as the international norm.

Responding to criticism following the announcement that WCF will host its ninth international summit in Salt Lake City in October 2015, Stanford Swim (a WCF board member and major donor) asserted that WCF’s political agenda and ideology were being unfairly scrutinized by local activists and media.1

Children perform at the World Congress of Families conference in Madrid, Spain in 2012. Photo courtesy of HazteOir.org.

Children perform at the World Congress of Families conference in Madrid, Spain in 2012. Photo courtesy of HazteOir.org.

In fact, WCF’s activities and global influence have received relatively scant public scrutiny. This is of concern because, contrary to Swim’s claim that WCF “does not spread fear,” the organization is leading a global legislative and public relations campaign against LGBTQ and reproductive rights. WCF has become a power player on the Religious Right by building bridges between U.S. groups and their international counterparts and fostering a global interfaith coalition of conservative religious orthodoxies. While Political Research Associates 2 and other researchers have monitored WCF’s attempts to rewrite international law using a narrow, Religious Right definition of the family,3 until recently, only a handful of gender justice groups understood WCF’s project.

That changed abruptly in June 2013, when global events forced WCF into the U.S. activist spotlight.4 That month, Russia passed its now notorious Anti-Propaganda Law, which banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” and prompted a surge in violent attacks on LGBTQ people throughout the country. (The law especially emboldened a right-wing vigilante group, “Occupy Pedophilia,” which uses social media to “ambush” gay people by luring them into meetings and then assaulting them on camera.5 Online footage of these horrific attacks quickly went viral.6)
News of the law, along with graphic evidence of its impact, spurred American and European LGBTQ activists to action. Outraged Westerners launched a hastily conceived media counteroffensive, in which gay bar owners and their patrons emptied bottles of Russian vodka in the streets; LGBTQ sports enthusiasts threatened to boycott the 2013 Sochi Olympics; and one of the U.S.’s largest LGBTQ advocacy groups, Human Rights Campaign, mass-produced t-shirts proclaiming “Love Conquers Hate” in Russian.

While the initial wave of outrage largely took aim at Russia and its leaders—LGBTQ magazine The Advocate named Putin its 2014 Person of the Year and described him as “the single greatest threat to LGBTs in the world”—it obscured the culpability of U.S. groups. Rather than being the brainchild of a few homophobic Kremlin insiders, Russia’s Anti-Propaganda Law emerged from a years-long, carefully crafted campaign to influence governments to adopt a Christian-Right legal framework, coordinated by an international network of right-wing leaders under the aegis of WCF.

Through large international convenings (its 2007 gathering in Warsaw attracted nearly 4,000 participants 7), smaller regional events, and closed-door meetings with government officials and religious leaders, WCF has woven a tight, powerful web of right-wing ideologues and activists and has provided them with the tools to grow their numbers and expand their influence. WCF’s success is especially evident in Russia,8 but its influence also reaches other countries including Nigeria, Australia, and Poland—and international institutions such as the United Nations.

WCF maintains a regionally-based network of allies, who tailor WCF’s messages to resonate with local communities and package the “natural family” agenda in whatever way will most effectively hook their audience. All around the world, the “natural family” is a solution in search of a problem.

With its doctrine of preserving what it regards as the “natural family,” WCF is waging a campaign at local, national, and international levels to ensure that male dominance, heteronormativity (the belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation), and religious hegemony are core tenets of civil society. “The WCF has created a cultural framework, under the banner of the family, that is inclusive enough to appeal to a broad base,” said Gillian Kane, senior policy advisor at Ipas, an international reproductive justice advocacy group. “But it is also so narrowly writ that most of their initiatives and arguments don’t hold up under international law.”

WCF, however, is gradually chipping away at international laws designed to protect human rights, posing a direct threat to LGBTQ people, women’s reproductive freedom, single parents, mixed families, and other family structures that do not fit into the parameters of WCF’s “natural family.” At best, those who are deemed “unnatural” by WCF standards could be excluded from the rights and privileges granted to “natural families.” At worst, they could be fined or otherwise punished by the state.

ORIGINS AND AGENDA

WCF is a project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, based in Rockford, Illinois, about a two-hour drive from Chicago. It was founded in 1997 by conservative scholar Allan Carlson, who currently serves as president of both organizations. Carlson has authored nearly a dozen books, including The Natural Family Where It Belongs: New Agrarian Essays, published in 2014 and dedicated to Pitirim Sorokin. (Sorokin is one of many WCF links to Russia: the Russian-born conservative sociologist inspired much of Carlson’s understanding of the family 9).

The Howard Center was birthed from the Rockford Institute, a conservative think tank devoted to “analyzing the damage done to America’s social institutions by the cultural upheaval of the 1960’s.”10 Carlson joined the Institute’s staff in 1981, serving as its president from 1986-1997. For many years, according to the Howard Center’s own website, the organization exclusively conducted research, disconnected from activism. But in 1995, that began to change.

That year, Carlson was invited to Moscow by Anatoly Antonov and Victor Medkov, sociologists at Lomonosov Moscow State University.11 His hosts were concerned about the demographic shifts they were witnessing in Russia’s post-Soviet era—popularly referred to as the “demographic winter.”12 As the country struggled to weather political turmoil and economic hardship, the national birthrate was plummeting, alcoholism was on the rise, and—correspondingly—so was the national death rate.

Carlson’s work on the ”demographic winter” has proven to be particularly effective in garnering favor with Russia’s conservative leadership. In Russia and other parts of Europe, a combination of population anxiety and growing anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment has offered WCF a favorable political context in which to advance its anti-abortion, “natural family” agenda.

While significant demographic shifts are underway in Russia and many other Western nations, ample research13 has repudiated nativists’ arguments that these changes will result in “global catastrophe” (as WCF communications director Don Feder has warned).14 What drives right-wing concerns over Russia’s demographics are xenophobia and Islamophobia; as Russia’s overall population has plummeted, its indigenous Muslim population has grown—now comprising 21-23 million, or about 15% of Russia’s total population.15 Russia has also become an increasingly popular destination for immigrants and refugees. As of 2013, according to the U.N. Population Division, Russia was second only to the United States in its immigrant population—the two nations have 46 million and 11 million immigrants, respectively.16

What Antonov and Medkov meant by a “demographic winter” was that the qualities and characteristics of what it means to be Russian were in danger of being redefined as something other than White and Orthodox.17 Anxious to reassert whiteness and Russian Orthodox religious practice as fundamental qualities of Russianness, Antonov, Medkov, and Carlson’s team at the Howard Center determined that they needed to “use [their] talents and resources to create new coalitions to promote the natural family worldwide.”18

They convened the first World Congress of Families in Prague in March 1997. More than 700 delegates from 200 organizations across 43 nations gathered to forge a new interfaith alliance of conservative religious orthodoxies, including Russian Orthodox, LDS (Mormon), conservative Catholic, and conservative evangelical participants, as well as a few Orthodox Jews and Muslims.19

The WCF I convening produced more fear. A declaration published at its conclusion warned, “[C]ultural revolutions, materialism and sexual permissiveness have resulted in a destruction and denigration of moral values … extra-marital relationships, adultery and divorce proliferate leading to widespread abortion, illegitimacy and single-parent children.”20

The declaration specifically named “the United Nations, its N.G.O.s and agents” as key adversaries, claiming that the U.N. and its allies had “pursued dangerous philosophies and policies that require population control, limitation of family size, abortion on demand, sterilization of men and women and have sought to persuade Third World countries to adopt such policies.” It condemned policies that subvert “the legal and religious status of traditional marriage,” as well as those that promote contraception and abortion, “state welfare systems,” comprehensive sexual education, non-marital cohabitation, “homosexual unions,” and single parenting.21

This declaration constituted WCF’s opening salvo in what has become an extended campaign to interrupt trends toward more expansive human rights at the U.N. by recruiting, influencing, and emboldening conservative delegates. WCF’s project at the U.N. is to form a consolidated and increasingly powerful voting bloc prepared to take direction from U.S.-based right-wing leadership.

In May 1998, at a planning session for WCF II (its second international convening), a group of 25 religious leaders including evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Mormons, Muslims, and Jews came together to define their common cause: protection and promotion of the “natural family.” From WCF’s planning documents:

The natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage, for the purposes of:
▪ satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and receive love;
▪ welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional development of children;
▪ sharing a home that serves as the center for social, educational, economic, and spiritual life;
▪ building strong bonds among the generations to pass on a way of life that has transcendent meaning;
▪ extending a hand of compassion to individuals and households whose circumstances fall short of these ideals.22

With this collection of principles, designed to appeal to the broadest possible “traditional values” audience, WCF positioned itself as an umbrella organization for groups and individuals around the world (whether Christian or not) committed to codifying highly restrictive criteria for who counts as “family,” and who does not. The policy statement identifies underpopulation as “the demographic problem facing the 21st Century,” promotes “the large family as a special social gift,” and regards “religious orthodoxy as the source of humane values and cultural progress.”

Well-known and well-funded American organizations such as Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Alliance Defense Fund (now called Alliance Defending Freedom), Americans United for Life, and the National Organization for Marriage signed on as dues-paying partners, expanding WCF’s reach. (For all its influence, WCF remains small, with only five full-time employees and a modest budget—the Howard Center’s 2012 IRS filings reported total revenue of just $523,870.23)

WCF also has a regionally-based network of allies to spread its agenda: Theresa Okafor, director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage; in Mexico, Latino leaders such as Enrique Gomez Serrano, board president of Red Familia (Spanish for “Family Network”); and in Russia, Russian leaders such as Alexey Komov, director of external affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. These allies tailor WCF’s messages to resonate with local communities, packaging the “natural family” agenda in whatever way will most effectively hook their audience.

In Russia, for example, WCF manipulates deep-seated racial prejudices to mobilize demographic winter anxieties. In Africa, WCF exploits neocolonial concerns, arguing that racist Westerners are trying to abort Africa’s Black babies. All around the world, the “natural family” is a solution in search of a problem.

USING THE U.N.

The WCF considers the United Nations an adversary and has chosen to fight for its “natural family” agenda inside that institution. In a 1999 address to the World Family Policy Forum—an event organized by the now-closed World Family Policy Center and hosted at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah—Allan Carlson outlined his plans:

It is time to bring to the United Nations and to other international settings the shared truth of history … It is time to move this view of the family as the fundamental social unit to the very heart of international deliberations, so that it might guide the creation of laws and public policies in our respective nations.

This focus on the U.N. was evident at the WCF II, convened in Geneva, Switzerland, in November 1999. During its opening plenary, Carlson noted that 51 years earlier, delegates to the newly formed U.N., meeting in the same hall, had approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Carlson emphasized the language used in Article 16, which declares, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”24

Carlson and WCF sought to co-opt the UDHR’s language into a public relations push for a restrictive U.N. definition of family that could then be used to assail women and LGBTQ people through the U.N. and other international organizations.25

U.S. conservatives have long held suspicious, if not openly hostile, attitudes toward the United Nations. The “signature campaign” of the Far Right, anti-communist John Birch Society—launched in 1958—seeks to get the U.S. out of the United Nations. The JBS describes the institution as a “socialistic global government” controlled by “global power elites.”26

Historically, hostility toward the U.N. often went hand-in-hand with Cold War-era opposition to Russia. Since the mid-90s, though, WCF and other elements of the U.S. Right have taken a different approach. Following advances made in the fight for abortion rights and other reproductive justice issues at the U.N.’s International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (1994) and in Beijing (1995), right-wing strategists began to see the U.N. as a key battleground. Writing in 2006, researcher Pam Chamberlain described a “flocking to the U.N.” in which “12 NGOs opposed to abortion or comprehensive sexuality education … gained consultative status since the Cairo and Beijing U.N. conferences in 1994. All of them are associated with the U.S. Christian Right.”

At the same time, WCF developed an affinity for post-Soviet Russia, a country its leaders increasingly depict as a model of moral purity. Larry Jacobs, a strident opponent of abortion and LGBTQ rights, had joined WCF in 2003 as managing director.27 At a WCF gathering in Melbourne in September 2014, Jacobs said, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors to the world; at the U.N. they really are the ones standing up for these traditional values of family and faith.”28

Jacobs was referring to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’s June 2014 convening in Geneva. The council adopted the “Protection of the Family” resolution, a resolution requiring the Council to host a panel and produce a report on protecting families.29 While the resolution itself (co-sponsored by WCF’s “natural family” friends from Russia) has no immediate policy implications, its potential precedent-setting language fails to acknowledge that—in the words of many progressive NGOs and delegates, “various forms of the family exist.” The UNHRC’s Russian-led conservative voting bloc saw to it that the more inclusive phrasing never made it into the resolution.30

Ultimately, that same conservative voting bloc—including every African delegate on the Council (representing 12 of the 26 affirming voices)—passed the resolution.

Human rights advocates have expressed fear that the resulting panel and report will be used to further marginalize diverse family structures, such as those led by single parents, grandparents, or LGBTQ people. Commenting on the resolution, Geneva Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch Julie de Rivero said, “[I]t is a travesty for the U.N. to ignore [the] reality” that “families come in all shapes and forms. Insinuating that different types of families don’t exist can do nothing but harm the children and adults around the world who live in those families.”31

One of the primary leaders behind the “Protection of the Family” resolution was Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International (FWI), chair of the U.N. Family Rights Caucus, and longtime member of WCF. Slater traces the beginning of her political activism to WCF II, held in Geneva, Switzerland in 1999. Slater writes that WCF “changed the direction of my life, as I learned about the assaults in almost every area of family life and was instilled with the hope that if we all worked together, we could effectively stop many of these attacks.”32

The so-called “attacks” Slater refers to include comprehensive sex education curricula and policies to support condom distribution, access to abortion, and LGBTQ families.

Later that year, Slater co-founded FWI. Officially registered at the U.N. as Global Helping to Advance Women and Children (Global HAWC), FWI enjoys Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) consultative status and is thus able to participate in meetings on economic and social issues. Over the last 15 years, Slater has taken on increasingly prominent roles as a campaigner as a foil to human rights advocates—in the U.S. and internationally, including at the U.N., where she often collaborates with Carlson and other WCF affiliates.

FEAR OF A DARKER PLANET: FROM NATIVISM TO NATALISM

WCF’s influence at the U.N. relies heavily on its longstanding ties with Russia, one of the five permanent members on the U.N. Security Council. Carlson’s work on the ”demographic winter”—the idea that abortion, birth control, homosexuality, feminism and other ”unnatural” deviations have led to dangerous population decline and a crisis for the ”natural family”—has proven to be particularly effective in garnering favor with Russia’s conservative leadership.

Carlson argues that declining birth rates threaten the decline of civilization—Western civilization. As researcher and journalist Kathryn Joyce puts it, “The concern is not a general lack of babies, but the cultural shifts that come when some populations, particularly immigrant communities, are feared to be out-procreating others.”33 Put another way, the demographic winter thesis cultivates racism and xenophobia in support of exclusionary “natural family” policies. A main objective of the WCF’s demographic scare tactics is to convert nationalism into natalism, and thereby mobilize a larger anti-abortion, “natural family” base. (Natalism prioritizes human procreation, including public policies that reward birthing children.)

This perspective is commonplace among WCF and its affiliates. Following WCF’s 1997 congress in Prague, Cathy Ramey, associate director of the U.S. anti-abortion organization Advocates for Life Ministries, explained what she’d learned: “As native citizens reject marriage and child-bearing, other non-native groups will simply move in and replace the historic population.”34 Speaking at WCF V, John Mueller, a researcher at the Ethics and Public Policy Center—a neoconservative think tank in Washington, DC, argued that “fertility would rise and remain above the replacement rate, not only in the United States but also most other countries, by ending legal abortion.”35

In Russia and other parts of Europe, a combination of population anxiety and growing anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment has offered WCF a favorable political context in which to advance its anti-abortion, “natural family” agenda. Carlson and his network have fanned the flames of “demographic winter” anxieties throughout the region.

In June 2011, WCF hosted the Moscow Demographic Summit, describing it as the “world’s first summit to address the international crisis of rapidly declining birthrates.”36 More than 500 people attended, including Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church; Russian First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva; members of the Russian Duma; and a host of right-wing American scholars and activists.

Within two weeks of the event, President Medvedev—whose wife, Medvedeva, had recently teamed up with the Russian Orthodox Church on a new anti-abortion campaign—signed a law requiring abortion providers to devote 10 percent of any advertising to describing the dangers of abortion to a woman’s health, and making it illegal to describe abortion as a safe medical procedure.37 This was the first new legislative restriction placed on abortions in the country since the fall of Communism.38

Four months later, in October 2011, the Russian Duma passed a law further restricting abortions to within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for cases up to 22 weeks in instances of rape or medical necessity. The new law also tacked on a mandatory waiting period of two to seven days before an abortion can be performed, a common tactic used by anti-abortion activists in the U.S.

Russian leaders are by no means mere pawns in the Right’s “natural family” campaign. Referencing a book on family genealogy authored by Aleksandr Putin (a distant cousin of President Vladimir Putin) Russian journalist Vladimir Shvedov notes that extended families “are gradually returning to the consciousness of our much-suffering people,” because in Russia as in any country, “the greatness of the nation … is built upon the ancient foundation of the old families.”39 The country’s post-Soviet identity crisis has thus provided fertile ground for the vigorous promotion of the “Russian family.”

Nonetheless, the U.S. Right’s influence on these Russian debates is unmistakable. In 2011, the New York Times noted that “contention over abortion [in Russia] has begun to sound like the debate in the United States.”40 And when President Putin signed a law in December 2013 completely banning abortion advertising, Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute and a regularly featured speaker at WCF events, was not the least bit shy about claiming credit: “PRI has played a role in helping to turn Russia back to life. I participated in the first [WCF] Demographic Summit at the Russian State Social University in Moscow in May, 2011. We talked with senior Russian leaders about the need to protect life. Not long thereafter, a law was passed banning abortion of unborn babies older than 12 weeks.”41

Alexey Komov, WCF’s representative to Russia, agreed, calling the WCF’s Demographic Summit a “catalyst” for Russia’s anti-abortion movement. Komov, who organized the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit, was subsequently appointed to a position with the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, further strengthening WCF’s ties to Russian Orthodox leadership.42

THE AFRICAN CAMPAIGN

In recent years, WCF has expanded its influence not only in Russia but also in Africa, where it works closely with public intellectuals and conservative leaders who act as spokespeople for WCF’s “natural family” campaign. Perhaps most prominent is Theresa Okafor, a leading anti-choice advocate in Nigeria and the recipient of WCF’s 2014 Natural Family Woman of the Year award.

In Africa, debates over sexual health and rights are frequently tied to issues related to population. Development economists generally agree that for economic growth in Africa to continue in such a way that poverty rates decrease, birthrates must drop significantly.43 U.N. reports indicate that population growth in Africa is so high that the continent’s population is expected to more than triple by 2100, rising from 1.2 billion to 4.2 billion 44—a daunting forecast for a continent that also has the highest poverty rate in the world. (In Okafor’s native Nigeria, more than 60 percent of the population lives in absolute poverty—up from 54.7 percent in 2004.45) Okafor, however, denies the need for comprehensive sex education, contraception, and access to safe abortions. She instead argues that Africa needs to rid itself of the “negative cultures” being imposed on it from the West.

Speaking at the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations in 2012 (described by a local news outlet as “the first pro-family conference in Africa.”), Okafor explained her view—that poverty in Africa is the result of corrupt governments, poor resource management and distribution, and “the sinister agenda to downsize and control Africa.” According to Okafor, as Europeans face falling birthrates, they feel “threatened” by Africa’s growing population and economy and thus seek to promote contraception and abortion among Africans.46

Okafor’s statements contrast sharply with demographic winter ideas that Carlson and WCF promote in Europe, Australia, the U.S., and elsewhere. This highlights WCF’s cynical manipulation of racial resentments within different political contexts. In Russia, WCF points to declining White birthrates and growing numbers of immigrants, Muslims, and people of color to stoke White fears of decreasing dominance over non-White and non-Christian minorities. In Nigeria, WCF plays to neocolonial resentments, suggesting that Western nations are seeking to restrict the growth and prosperity of African nations by “downsizing” Black African populations through increased access to abortion and contraception and the “promotion” of homosexuality. Whether rhetorically aligned with European racism or African nationalism, WCF’s solution remains constant: it offers its “natural family” campaign, knowing full well that what follows may include restricted reproductive rights and criminalization or persecution of LGBTQ people.

As Political Research Associates’ Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has documented, the U.S. Religious Right has a long history of promoting anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ “pro-family” ideologies in Africa (at the expense of African women and LGBTQ people).47 But WCF was one of the first to package its agenda in a UN-ready, policy-friendly format. The expansion of this campaign from local and regional levels to the international realm represents a grave threat to LGBTQ and reproductive justice globally.

Speaking at WCF IV in Madrid in 2012, Okafor noted that many of the recent anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ gains made in Nigeria are thanks to networking coordinated by WCF. She specifically named Sharon Slater’s FWI as being “instrumental to many of the victories we celebrate.”48 (Such “victories” include the repeal of a 2012 reproductive rights law in Nigeria’s Imo State, the enactment of a requirement that all condom packages include warnings indicating that they are not “100% safe,” and the passage of a bill criminalizing same-sex marriage.)

According to Okafor, the Global Family Policy Forum for U.N. delegates hosted by WCF-affiliate FWI in Gilbert, Arizona, in 2011 was of particular importance, noting that it was there that the African voting bloc—which unanimously voted against adding more inclusive language to the definition of “family” used in the UN’s newly adopted “Protection of the Family” resolution—successfully “consolidated their positions.”

Where WCF has been successful in persuading national governments to adopt its “natural family” model, there has followed increased persecution of LGBTQ people and decreased access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. In African countries that accept Okafor’s WCF-endorsed narrative and political agenda, we may see growing levels of poverty and—thanks to further restrictions on comprehensive sex education and healthcare options—increased risk for transmission of HIV/AIDS and other STIs.

BRINGING THE FIGHT BACK HOME

Although it is based in the U.S. and has an entirely White, American board of directors, WCF has held its previous global convenings outside the U.S. But WCF IX is scheduled for October 27-30, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Sutherland Institute, a right-wing think tank based in Salt Lake City (whose acting CEO and prominent right-wing philanthropist, Stanford Swim, sits on WCF’s board of directors) will host the event, which is expected to draw about 3,000 people.

The theme of WCF IX is expected to be “religious liberty,” which the U.S. Religious Right has been endeavoring to redefine as a sanction to discriminate in the public sphere (particularly against women and LGBTQ people).49 U.S. Christian Right groups have been testing similar “religious freedom” strategies overseas. WCF, as an umbrella organization for right-wing groups, is seeking to orchestrate the coordinated proliferation of this strategy internationally. Many of its member organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom and FWI will be in attendance. ADF announced in October 2014 that it is “in the process of transitioning into an international religious liberties organization.” The announcement added that ADF will soon be establishing advocacy offices in: Strasbourg, France, focusing on the European Commission on Human Rights; Geneva, focusing on the United Nations Human Rights Commission; and Brussels, focusing on the European Union.50

If WCF IX goes forward as planned, those who support LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice may see a surge of new legislative assaults, at home and around the world. Yet the event also provides a unique opportunity to challenge WCF’s “natural family” campaign right where it started, in the U.S.

Depending on the audience, WCF’s strategy for promoting the “natural family” varies, but the impact of its campaign is the same across the globe: increased persecution of LGBTQ people, further restrictions on access to abortion, and an increasingly exclusionary definition of what kind of families deserve recognition and rights. With its far-reaching influence, streamlined structure, and ability to alter its message quickly, WCF is establishing itself as a vanguard for the Right’s global anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ agendas.

WCF IX provides a venue for WCF and other Christian Right leaders to continue expanding their international influence. If WCF IX goes forward as planned in Salt Lake City, those who support LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice may see a surge of new legislative assaults, at home and around the world.

However, the event also provides a unique opportunity for activists to challenge the expanding influence of WCF’s “natural family” campaign right where it started, here in the U.S. “Keep in mind that the work of WCF is in response to positive legal gains made by the sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTQ communities,” said Kane. “There is ample room for human rights defenders to challenge the WCF’s regressive agenda.” Activists who support reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights should use this opportunity to draw the public’s attention to the real policy agenda that this supposedly “pro-family” network is pushing.

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Footnotes

1. Stan Swim, “World Congress of Families does not spread fear,” Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 9. 2014, http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/1793725-155/family-wcf-families-congress-law-munson
2. Jennifer Butler, “For Faith and Family: Christian Right Advocacy at the United Nations,” The Public Eye, Summer 2000, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2000/09/01/for-faith-and-family-christian-right-advocacy-at-the-united-nations/#.
3. Kathryn Joyce, “Missing: The ‘Right’ Children,” Nation, Feb. 14, 2008, http://www.thenation.com/article/missing-right-babies.
4. In August 2014, the Human Rights Campaign—America’s largest LGBTQ political advocacy group—published a report describing WCF as “one of the most influential American organizations in the export of hate.” See: “New HRC Report Exposes The World Congress of Families,” Aug. 25, 2014, http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/exposed-the-world-congress-of-families.
5. “Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia,” http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/hunted-the-war-against-gays-in-russia#/.
6. Benjamin Bidder, “Viral Vigilantism: Russian Neo-Nazis Take Gay Bashing Online,” Spiegel Online International, Nov. 14, 2013, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/russian-skinheads-abuse-gays-and-post-video-to-social-networks-a-933549.html.
7. Austin Ruse, “World Congress of Families Pledges Solidarity with Europe,” Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, http://t.c-fam.org/en/issues/marriage-and-family/553-world-congress-of-families-pledges-solidarity-with-europe.
8. In 2014, plans were well underway for WCF’s next major convening—WCF VIII—to be held in Moscow, September 10-12. In March, however, WCF announced that it was canceling the event purportedly due to concerns over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. But the event actually went ahead as scheduled, only slightly disguised by the use of a different name: “Large Families and the Future of Humanity International Forum” (held on the exact dates that WCF VIII was originally scheduled).
9. John Ballyntyne, “A third way? Allan Carlson’s vision of a family-centered economy,” News Weekly, Nov. 8, 2005, http://newsweekly.com.au/article.php?id=3576.
10. “John A. Howard Ph.D.,” http://profam.org/people/xthc_jah.htm.
11. Allan Carlson, “On the World Congress of Families: Presentation to the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship Jacksonville, Florida,” Jan. 12, 2005, http://profam.org/docs/acc/thc.acc.020112.wcf.htm.
12. According to Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, “Demographic winter is a relatively new phrase that describes the old alarmist ‘birth dearth’ concept–the idea that we’re facing declining birthrates which is supposed to portend all sorts of cataclysmic events.” See Bill Berkowitz, “Right-Wing Groups Use Decline of White Birthrates to Stoke Fear of Homosexuality, Feminism and Abortion,” AlterNet, June 29, 2010, http://www.alternet.org/story/147352/right-wing_groups_use_decline_of_white_birthrates_to_stoke_fear_of_homosexuality,_feminism_and_abortion.
13. Nancy Folbre, “The Underpopulation Bomb,” New York Times, Feb. 11, 2013, http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/11/the-underpopulation-bomb.
14. Don Feder, “The Cultural Roots of Demographic Winter,” Rhodes Forum, http://rhodesforum.org/popular/4082-the-cultural-roots-of-demographic-winter.
15. “Russia’s Growing Muslim Population,” Stratfor, Aug. 8, 2013, http://www.stratfor.com/image/russias-growing-muslim-population.
16. See: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/wallchart/index.shtml.
17. Katheryn Joyce, “Review: Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family,” The Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Spring 2008), http://kathrynjoyce.com/articles/review-demographic-winter-the-decline-of-the-human-family/.
18. “Frequently Asked Questions,” The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, Jan. 9, 2007, http://profam.org/THC/xthc_faq.htm.
19. Jennifer Butler, “For Faith and Family.”
20. “A Declaration From The World Congress of Families To The Governments of the Globe,” The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, Mar. 22, 1997, http://worldcongress.org/WCF1/wcf1_declaration.htm.
21. “A Declaration From The World Congress of Families.”
22. Allan Carlson, “On the World Congress of Families.”
23. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Form 990, (Washington, DC: 2012), http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2013/541/788/2013-541788267-0a1444bd-9.pdf.
24. “World Congress of Families,” The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, http://profam.org/docs/acc/thc_acc_frc.christian.democracy.htm.
25. In contrast to WCF’s anti-LGBTQ definition of family, Amnesty International argues that Article 16 of the UDHR—which also states, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”—can be interpreted as a prohibition against discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. See: “Marriage Equality,” Amnesty International, http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/lgbt-rights/marriage-equality.
26. “United Nations,” John Birch Society, http://www.jbs.org/issues-pages/united-nations.
27. Prior to joining the WCF staff, Jacobs served as president of Healthy Beginnings, a conservative Christian pregnancy center with an explicit anti-choice agenda targeting “disadvantaged young women … experiencing unplanned pregnancies.” During his tenure there, Jacobs told a local newspaper that his dream was to spread the Healthy Beginnings model nationally, using faith-based grants made available under President Bush’s administration. Instead, WCF has given Jacobs the opportunity to spread his anti-choice agenda globally. See: Peter Bronson, “Angels in Lab Coats,” Enquirer, Aug. 19, 2001, http://enquirer.com/editions/2001/08/19/loc_bronson_angels_in.html.
28. Brian Tashman, “World Congress of Families Praises Russian Laws ‘Preventing’ Gays from ‘Corrupting Children,’” Right Wing Watch, June 3, 2013, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/world-congress-families-praises-russian-laws-preventing-gays-corrupting-children.
29. J.Lester Feder, “U.N. Human Rights Council Adopts Resolution On ‘Protection Of The Family,’” BuzzFeed, June 26, 2014, http://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/un-human-rights-council-adopts-resolution-on-protection-of-t#.vqye5d3N9.
30. Jay Michaelson, “At the United Nations, It’s Human Rights, Putin-Style,” Daily Beast, June 26, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/26/at-the-united-nations-it-s-human-rights-putin-style.html.
31. J.Lester Feder, “U.N. Human Rights Council.”
32. Sharon Slater, “The Family Watch,” Apr. 2, 2012, http://www.familywatchinternational.org/fwi/newsletter/0573.cfm.
33. Kathryn Joyce, “Missing: The ‘Right’ Children.”
34. Cathy Ramey, “A World Views Conference: Prague’s international Congress of the Family focuses on cultural disaster,” Life Advocate, May/June 1997, http://www.lifeadvocate.org/5_97/cover_s.htm.
35. John D. Mueller, “How do nations choose ‘demographic winter’? Is America doing so?” Remarks to The World Congress of Families V, Panel on “Family and Demography”, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Aug. 11, 2009, accessible via http://worldcongress.org/wcf5.spkrs/wcf5.mueller.htm.
36. World Congress of Families News, Jan./Feb. 2012, Vol. 6 No. 1, http://worldcongress.org/wcfnl/wcfnl.cur.pdf.
37. Sophia Kishkovsky, “Russia Enacts Law Opposing Abortion,” New York Times, July 16, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/world/europe/15iht-russia15.html.
38. “Russia Passes First Anti-abortion Law,” SIECUS, July 2011, http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=2018&pageid=483&parentid=478.
39. Paul Goble, “Putin Family Values,” The Interpreter, Apr. 17, 2014, http://www.interpretermag.com/putin-family-values/.
40. Sophia Kishkovsky, “Russia Enacts Law Opposing Abortion.”
41. Steven Mosher, “Russia Considers Banning Abortions as Abortion Decimates Its Population,” Life News, Dec. 23, 2013, http://www.lifenews.com/2013/12/23/russia-considers-banning-abortions-as-abortion-decimates-its-population/.
42. World Congress of Families News, Jan./Feb. 2012.
43. See, for example: Steven W. Sinding, “Population, Poverty and Economic Development,” Jan. 2008, http://www.cgdev.org/doc/events/04.07.09/Population_Poverty_and_Econ_Dev_Sinding.pdf.
44. “World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision,” United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/index.htm.
45. “Nigerians living in poverty rise to nearly 61%,” BBC, Feb. 13, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-17015873. According to UNESCO, “Absolute poverty measures poverty in relation to the amount of money needed to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter.” See: “Poverty,” UNESCO, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/poverty/.
46. “Theresa Okafor: Looking to the Future: Overpopulation or Global Depopulation,” YouTube, Dec. 19, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Lp7-D2u6qk.
47. Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism (Cambridge: Harvard Bookstore, 2014).
48. “WCF VI-Madrid 2012-Conquistas del movimiento provida y profamilia en el mundo. Theresa Okafor,” YouTube, July 10, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGS12eVZq1Y.
49. Jay Michaelson, Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, Political Research Associates, Mar. 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/03/21/redefining-religious-liberty-the-covert-campaign-against-civil-rights/.
50. World Congress of Families News, Nov. 2014, Vol. 8 No. 7, http://worldcongress.org/files/9414/1582/4595/WCF_News_November_2014.pdf.

 

LA Times Op-Ed: U.S. Christian Right Behind Global Homophobia

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PRA’s senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma published an Op-Ed in the LA Times this morning, detailing U.S. conservative evangelical involvement in the spread of anti-gay legislation across the world.

Check out the excerpt below and read the full Op-Ed here!

Uganda has deservedly received widespread attention, but it’s not the only country with a culture war that carries the fingerprints of U.S. campaigners. Nigeria has passed a bill almost identical to Uganda’s, and Cameroon and Zambia are enthusiastically imprisoning LGBTQ people.

And let’s not forget Russia. In 2007, Lively traveled throughout Russia to, as he put it, bring a warning about the “homosexual political movement.” He urged Russians, among other things, “to criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality.” Last year, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law that criminalizes distribution of “gay propaganda” to minors, including any material that “equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations.”

Later this year, the World Congress of Families — an Illinois-based conservative umbrella organization — will convene in Russia. As the group’s leader, Larry Jenkins, put it: “We’re convinced that Russia does and should play a very significant role in defense of the family and moral values worldwide. Russia has become a leader of promoting these values in the international arena.”

U.S. culture warriors have strategically focused on countries already suspicious of America, often ones with authoritarian leaders eager to turn public attention away from issues of corruption or economic inequality.

By recasting LGBTQ people in their countries as creations of the West, these leaders both feed on and fuel existing prejudices. Strongly worded statements from President Obama, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon merely reinforce the argument that the West is imposing an international “gay agenda” on unwilling nations. The irony, of course, is that these “anti-Western” policies were created and marketed by Americans.

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-kaoma-uganda-gays-american-ministers-20140323,0,2345261.story#ixzz2wi5uu3IM

Decriminalizing Queer Requires More Than Diplomacy

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An American Episcopal bishop was traveling in South Africa shortly after Gene Robinson had been consecrated as the first openly gay bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. While visiting a rural seminary, the bishop found a group of students, sitting around a late-night campfire, engrossed in animated conversation in their native Swahili language. Interested to know what deep theological query was up for debate, the bishop asked his translator what the group was talking about, and was amused to learn that the topic of discussion was none other than his dear friend, Gene.

Speaking through his translator, the bishop said to the group, “As it so happens, I know Gene – he’s a good friend of mine. In fact, I’ve been to his house and have had dinner with him and his partner. What would you like to know about him?”

This disclosure sparked another lively debate among the seminarians, who ultimately returned to the translator with one burning question: “Who cooks?”

As the Anglican Church was being torn asunder over the ordination of LGBTQ individuals, it’s somewhat funny that such a seemingly simple concern would be the question for the South African seminarians. But it also illustrates some of the deeper issues at play. In cultures where strict gender roles are considered fundamental to the integrity of family and community, it can be difficult for someone to imagine how a family might eat, for example, if the household doesn’t include someone who’s traditionally understood to hold cooking responsibilities.

However, as noted in the recent “Scientific Statement on Homosexuality” submitted to Uganda’s President Museveni by a team of expert (Ugandan) scientists, “Homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man.” And evidently, somebody managed to get the cooking done.

Under the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865, England was able to impose its laws on colonized territories, including Uganda. This package of imported morality included the 1533 Buggery Act, which originally condemned anyone found guilty of an “unnatural sex act” to death and loss of property. By 1885, although the death penalty was replaced with imprisonment, the Courts specified that anal sex between men was a crime.

England and Wales got rid of their sodomy laws in 1967 (decades before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas ruling in 2003 which finally eliminated sodomy laws here), but Uganda had gained its independence in 1962, and the homophobia inherited from British colonial rule remained on the books.

These relics of the colonial era, combined with a new wave of aggressive fervor from U.S. conservative evangelical missionaries, have created the perfect foundation for an all-out war against LGBTQ people (formally declared by Pres. Museveni in his Valentine’s Day address last week). That foundation is further fueled by the historic trauma of colonization, which helps enable leaders like Museveni to cast homosexuality as a Western import, and criminalization of homosexuality as an anti-colonial act of “resistance” rather than oppression.

The attacks on LGBTQ people have more to do with post-colonial backlash against the West than with upholding “traditional African values,” as was illustrated by The Gambia president Yahya Jammeh’s recent speech, marking the 49th anniversary of The Gambia’s independence from Britain. Speaking on state television, Jammeh proclaimed that his country would defend its sovereignty and Islamic beliefs and not yield to outside pressure on LGBTQ issues.  Addressing threats from the United States and other Western nations to cut foreign aid to countries that pass anti-homosexuality laws, Jammeh declared, “We will … not accept any friendship, aid or any other gesture that is conditional on accepting homosexuals or LGBT as they are now baptized by the powers that promote them.”

“As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhea, Bacteria, and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s spokesperson, Tamale Mirundi, has stated that the country “can do without” American foreign aid and that Museveni “cannot be intimidated.” (Currently, the U.S. contributes around $400 million in foreign aid to Uganda every year, much of which goes towards humanitarian causes, including the battle against HIV/AIDS.)

Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity who has actively campaigned against the LGBTQ community, has also proclaimed that Ugandans would rather “die poor than live in an immoral nation.”

According to Mirundi, “If you use the [foreign] aid or other strings you are inciting the population in Uganda to rally behind the President.”

Indeed, President Obama’s recent condemnation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill may have received praise from LGBTQ and human rights advocates in the United States, but the shaming of Uganda’s leader is likely to only further entrench international opponents. As Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has observed, “By signing this draconian bill, Museveni repositions himself as the defender of Uganda against ‘Western imperialism’ on one hand, and the defender of Ugandan religious and cultural values to the populace, on the other.”

This same dynamic is playing out in Russia, where President Putin has been boosting his political standing and solidifying his power through a strategic pro-Russian/anti-Western campaign that positions LGBTQ people as the ultimate Western-made threat to Mother Russia.

Presenting Russia’s “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the European Union” at the 32nd EU-Russia Summit last month, Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry’s human rights commissioner, said the EU and its 28 member states saw it as a priority to disseminate their “neo-liberal values as a universal lifestyle for all other members of the international community.” Citing the EU’s “aggressive promotion of the sexual minorities’ rights,” the report argued that “Such an approach encounters resistance not only in the countries upholding traditional values, but also in those countries which have always taken a liberal attitude towards queers.”

So what are concerned Western activists to do?

Any thoughtfully considered approach to solidarity work must centralize the leadership of those who are most directly affected by the injustice at hand, so when the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Constitutional Law calls for U.S. and other countries to withdraw their Ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria, the request needs to be taken seriously.

In a press statement released by the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin said, “The Ugandan and Nigerian governments’ decisions to treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the U.S. government. We urge Secretary Kerry to recall both Ambassadors for consultations in Washington to make clear the seriousness of the situation in both countries.”

The U.S.-based LGBTQ rights group All Out has also joined the effort with an online petition. In their explanation of the campaign, organizers write, “If thousands and thousands of us speak out right now we can get the attention of the whole world. We could even get world leaders, major corporations, and religious institutions with sway in Uganda to use their influence.”

But there’s another influencing factor in the struggle for LGBTQ justice in Uganda that cuts in international aid would paradoxically bolster: that of right-wing U.S. evangelicals—the very same people who laid the foundation for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the first place. While diplomatic pressure may prevent further criminalization of LGBTQ Ugandans in a legislative sense, reversing over 150 years of colonial and neocolonial anti-LGBTQ indoctrination requires more than a condemnatory statement from the U.S. Secretary of State.

Perhaps our greatest contribution as Americans is to start here at home—to confront those who have propagated violence and virulent messages against LGBTQ people around the world, hold them accountable for the harm that they’ve caused, and develop long-term strategies for transforming hearts and minds and building toward truly comprehensive liberation.

“Scrambling to Make Sense of Russia” – PRA’s Jay Michaelson on NPR

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PRA’s Jay Michaelson, author of the groundbreaking report Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, joins local NPR outlet WNPR News to discuss how anti-LGBTQ laws aren’t limited to Russia, they’re cropping up around the world.

Michaelson also discusses the current status of pro- and anti-LGBTQ laws around the U.S., and NFL hopeful Michael Sam coming out of the closet.

Listen to the audio of the interview here. Michaelson comes in at roughly 2:50.

wnpr news“While visitors watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, enjoy spectacular feats of athletic ability from the world’s most accomplished athletes, those in Russia’s LGBT community anticipate laws that punish Russians for even suggesting that it’s okay to be gay, let alone live openly as a gay adult.

But, the conversation isn’t just about Russia, as you’ll hear. Russia’s anti-gay laws are just the leading edge of a bunch of similar laws in other countries, all of them meant to simultaneously quiet the call for gay rights and affirm for that country that we are not the decadent West.” 

Considering #SochiProblems Beyond Russia

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The 22nd Winter Olympic Games kick off this week in Sochi, Russia, amid pomp, circumstance, controversy, and concern. On Twitter, journalists are popularizing the “#SochiProblems” hashtag, documenting shoddy and ill-prepared accommodations. Yet the bigger concerns have more to do with human rights than broken doorknobs.

Since the passage of the infamous “Anti-Gay Propaganda” bill in June of last year, international human rights advocates have been horrified by a massive surge in attacks on Russia’s LGBTQ community. Blogs, newspapers, and other media sources—both in mainstream and LGBTQ outlets—have circulated images of bloodied protesters, videos documenting the torture of young gay men, and stories of people and families living in fear for their lives. The situation is assuredly dire, and activists on the ground anticipate that things will only get worse once the Games are over and the international spotlight has faded.

But with an anticipated television audience of 3 billion viewers (and at a cost of over $50 billion), the games go on. More than 2,800 athletes from 87 different countries have tirelessly trained in anticipation of what will—for most—be the pinnacle of their athletic careers. As usual, American athletes are expected to dominate the podium, but the stories that most captivate the world frequently come from the perpetual underdogs—the ones with no name recognition, no corporate sponsors, and almost no chance of winning.

Like the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, competitors from countries in traditionally warmer climates are rare anomalies at the Winter Olympics, and tend to garner a sort of curious fascination from journalists and spectators. In 2014, five such “underdog” athletes hail from Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Togo, and Zimbabwe)—a continent that has yet to claim a single medal in the entire history of the Winter Olympic Games.

Africa, however, deserves more attention than a mere puff piece about its underdog Olympians. 38 African countries currently have laws that criminalize homosexuality, and the atmosphere for LGBTQ people in many countries is growing worse.

Such was not always the case: Legal restrictions on same-sex relationships are primarily a product of European colonial rule, prior to which homosexuality was widely documented as having been normalized and accepted. In recent years, however, a wave of neo-colonial influence, led by right-wing U.S. evangelicals, has led to a resurgence of anti-homosexuality legislation and public sentiment.

Certainly, many human rights groups, queer activists, and social justice organizers have recognized and begun to challenge the exportation of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and ideology. But our collective efforts—well-intentioned as they may be—have also included some less effective, even harmful models. Like many mainstream Western gay and lesbian movements, the evolving face of the international LGBTQ justice movement has struggled to figure out what it means to approach this work with an intersectional analysis and ethos, and how to responsibly and accountably move toward a vision of collective liberation that doesn’t exclude anyone—a vision that understands the indelible link between LGBTQ justice and racial justice, economic justice, disability justice, etc.

Anti-LGBTQ activity in Russia is a distinct, albeit interrelated trend, providing both a model for new legislation and a useful distraction for African governments pursuing similar agendas. Within months of the Duma’s near-unanimous approval of the Anti-Gay Propaganda law, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, signed a new law that not only prescribes prison sentences of up to 14 years for openly LGBTQ people, but also bans same-sex marriage, intimate relationships with a member of the same sex, and gay organizations. Uganda’s Parliament passed its own anti-homosexuality law, formerly known as the “kill the gays” bill, which is awaiting President Museveni’s signature. Similar measures are currently in the works in Liberia, and rapidly gaining momentum.

Unfortunately, these regressive moves have gone largely unnoticed, thanks to the enormous protective shadow of Mother Russia—and thanks to the preferential treatment of Western activists who notoriously favor other Westerners within the confines of restrictive and destructive “issue silos.” Meanwhile, in the U.S. and around the world, the suffering of indigenous people, incarcerated people, undocumented people, transgender people, poor people, homeless and underhoused people, people with disabilities, and people of color continues to go unnoticed. This contrast is felt in mainstream gay and lesbian movements that perceive marriage equality as an end goal, in the current neglect of LGBTQ rights abuses in Africa and other parts of the Global South, in every host city for the Olympic Games (sites of perennial contention that notoriously displace local communities, exploit and drain public resources, and suppress marginalized voices), and in the lived experiences of individuals who dare to claim more than one oppressed identity.

The privileging of some above others fractures our community as a whole, and as long as we are divided, the Right will continue winning. So in the coming weeks, as the world’s attention is captivated by displays of strength, agility, speed, and athleticism, let’s not forget that for every athlete that mounts the podium, there’s an underdog with a story to tell, too. For every glitzy, star-studded media campaign launched by well-financed LGBTQ organizations, there’s a grassroots group struggling to pay its bills. For every story about Russia, there’s a less-publicized campaign to make life worse for folks in Uganda, Cameroon, Jamaica, and elsewhere. In the end, regardless of who wins gold, we all lose when injustice endures.

National Journal: PRA Researchers Describe U.S. Evangelical Involvement in Russia & Uganda

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PRA’s religion and sexuality researcher, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma (left) and LGBTQ rights researcher, Cole Parke (right)

In the latest issue of the National Journal, Political Research Associates’ researchers Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma and Cole Parke discuss how U.S.-based conservatives are working directly with the governments of nations like Russia and Uganda to bring about anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Check out the snippet below, and read the full article, “Evangelicals Are Winning The Gay Marriage Fight — in Africa and Russia” here.

national journal logoThings have only gotten worse for LGBT Russians since then: Moscow’s city council passed a 100-year ban against gay-pride parades in 2012; TV personality Anton Krasovsky was fired in 2013 after coming out as gay; and the parliament approved a national version of the propaganda law, which had been overwhelmingly rejected as recently as 2009. When gay Russians have tried to demonstrate in recent years, they’ve been subject to violence from antigay mobs and even the police, who often arrest LGBT activists and leave violent counterprotesters alone. Putin’s government has encouraged the crackdown, finding that strident social conservatism is useful in uniting his base and building power internationally. “He’s saying essentially that to be pro Russia is to be anti-LGBTQ, and to be pro-LGBTQ is to be pro-Western and anti-Russia,” says Cole Parke, who studies LGBTQ rights in Russia for Political Research Associates.

American social conservatives realize that associating with these countries looks bad, but they insist they “hate the sin and love the sinner,” as the saying goes. “We really are not monsters,” Ruse says. “We really do not want to harm anyone.” Indeed, they all distanced themselves from Uganda’s antigay bill when it included the death penalty. Lively, perhaps the most extreme of the bunch, calls even the life-in-prison version overly draconian and says it’s his “biggest failure.”

But for LGBT-rights advocates, that’s not enough. Even if the U.S. conservatives don’t support laws that harm gays, they say, LGBT people are being harmed in places where the Americans work. “The blood of African gays in places like Uganda and other parts of the world is on the hands of the U.S. extreme Right,” [Political Research Associates’ religion and sexuality researcher Kapya] Kaoma says. “When you lie to people, when you tell Ugandans that ‘there is a well-financed group that is coming after your children—defend yourself against this movement,’ they will take the law into their own hands and you don’t know what they’ll do.” 

 

Different Countries, Common Threads: Connecting the dots in the global surge of anti-LGBTQ attacks

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The passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill last Friday brings renewed attention to the plight of LGBTQ people in Africa. Initial outcry sparked by the bill’s introduction in 2009 faded into the shadows of shrinking attention spans and the challenge of sustaining interest in an issue that isn’t constantly confronting our daily lived realities. It reemerged periodically, but mostly disappeared from the headlines.

However, ignorance is only bliss for some. While many in the U.S. were still sleeping, the nightmare haunting thousands of Ugandans for years became real. Unless President Yoweri Museveni vetos the bill (which seems highly unlikely), the legislation that passed on Friday will put LGBTQ Ugandans in jail for life if they’re found guilty of being “repeat offenders” of homosexuality, and will further silence the human rights community by criminalizing advocacy on behalf of Uganda’s sexual minorities. Additionally, it calls for a witch-hunt by compelling Ugandans to inform on their LGBTQ sisters and brothers or risk imprisonment themselves.

Unfortunately, this nightmare isn’t unique to Uganda.

Being gay is still a crime in 76 countries—a crime that’s even punishable by death in several, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and parts of Nigeria. This might seem unthinkable to many in the United States, but it was only ten years ago that our last sodomy law was finally struck down, and regardless… marginalized and oppressed communities throughout history can attest to the fact that equality and acceptance are difficult things to legislate. No matter what judges and legislators might say about who we are, how we dress, what we do in our bedrooms, or whom we love, LGBTQ people experience untold amounts of violence and discrimination all around the world.

Sadly, this oppression is easily justified when politicians, community leaders, priests, and other authority figures offer their condemnatory endorsement. Under the guise of “protecting children” and “preserving the natural family,” we are witnessing a growing surge of homophobia and transphobia across globe. Though Russia has consumed much of the international human rights spotlight recently, since passing its own slate of anti-LGBTQ legislation earlier this year, India’s Supreme Court recently re-criminalized homosexuality, and just this week Nigeria passed a law prohibiting same-sex marriage and any form of LGBTQ organizing (building on existing laws that already punish consensual same-sex activity with 14 years in prison, or death in 12 northern states).

But oppression isn’t the only link between these regions. The same U.S. evangelicals responsible for promoting the initial drafts of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill (often referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill due to clauses in its original form that would have applied the death penalty to individuals found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality”) are also well-known figures in Russia’s anti-LGBTQ movement. Scott Lively, who’s currently being charged with “crimes against humanity” for his involvement in Uganda’s attack on LGBTQ people, has also claimed credit for Russia’s gay propaganda law. Rick Warren, who was also influential in the conception of Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ legislation, is in the process of launching a new branch of his ministry in Moscow. Don Schmierer, another of the U.S. evangelicals guilty of endorsing Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ movement, has gone to the effort of having his book (a guide for how to “prevent the homosexual condition”) into Russian.

It’s often said that imitation is the best form of flattery, and beyond sharing common cheerleaders, the legislation in Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia also shares common language, revealing what seems to be a great deal of mutual admiration amongst the countries leading these recent legal attacks on LGBTQ people. For example, echoing Russia’s gay propaganda legislation, Uganda’s law criminalizes “the promotion or recognition” of homosexual relations “through or with the support of any government entity in Uganda or any other nongovernmental organization inside or outside the country.”

Fortunately, though equality and acceptance might be difficult to legislate, love and truth are impossible to legislate, and resistance continues. Human rights advocates around the world are rallying behind those who find themselves at the frontlines of U.S. culture wars gone global. In addition to offering resources, diplomatic strength, and support, there is much work to be done here at home. As Americans, we have greater access to the U.S.-based propagators of LGBTQ oppression, and it’s imperative that we do our part to clip their wings – to stop the Livelys and Warrens and Schmierers of our communities from jet setting around the world and hold them accountable for the harm they’ve done.

East vs. West? Russia, Ukraine, and the Anti-Gay Wedge

Pro-European Union activists gather next to Ukrainian riot police guarding the Ukrainian Government buildings in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 9, 2013. Hundreds of police in full riot gear flooded into the center of Kiev on Monday as mass anti-government protests gripped the Ukrainian capital for yet another week, raising fears of an imminent crackdown. (Sergei Grits/AP Photo)

Pro-European Union activists gather next to Ukrainian riot police guarding the Ukrainian Government buildings in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 9, 2013. Hundreds of police in full riot gear flooded into the center of Kiev on Monday as mass anti-government protests gripped the Ukrainian capital for yet another week, raising fears of an imminent crackdown. (Sergei Grits/AP Photo)

Braving freezing temperatures and violent police brutality, protesters continue to stand their ground at Independence Square in Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev. Demonstrations have been growing in size and intensity over the last month, after Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU), indicating a shift in favor of Russia’s own integrationist project, the Eurasian Union.

In the debates leading up to this current political moment, the LGBTQ community became a useful scapegoat for pro-Russia factions. Ukraine was the first post-Soviet country to decriminalize homosexuality following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but violence and intolerance have grown steadily, mirroring the rising wave of homophobia in neighboring Russia.

Seeking to capitalize on the stigmatization of Ukraine’s LGBTQ community (a 2012 Gorshenin Institute study showed 72 percent of those polled had negative attitudes toward sexual minorities), Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy businessman, former parliamentarian, and close friend to Vladimir Putin, launched his own propaganda campaign.

Medvedchuk is the founder and major financial backer of Ukrainian Choice, an organization dedicated to lobbying against forming ties between Ukraine and the EU (despite advocating the opposite in 2002). One of their primary strategies for mobilizing pro-Russia support has been a targeted campaign against LGBTQ people, that equates association with the EU to same-sex marriage. Russia, on the other hand, is presented as the bastion of traditional morality.

The issue, however, has less to do with any sort of alleged risk presented by LGBTQ equality, and more to do with the political and financial aspirations of Medvedchuk. In August, the EU news website Euractiv reported on a leaked Russian document that said the Kremlin would do everything in its power to assure the defeat of President Yanukovych in the 2015 election and install Medvedchuk in his place.

Scapegoating the LGBTQ community is far easier than confronting political scandal and economic crisis, so in October 2012, Ukraine’s parliament approved a law that would punish anyone convicted of importing, producing, or spreading “works that promote homosexuality” with jail terms of up to five years. (The proposed law was similar to laws passed in several Russian cities earlier that year, as well as Russia’s federal “anti-gay propaganda” law that went into effect this past August.) Ukraine’s law was subsequently shelved after much outcry from EU officials, but it was reintroduced this past July by a pro-Russia parliamentarian, Vadim Kolesnichenko, who explained to Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder, “This is an issue of protecting our society from corruption and from an attack on the foundations of our society’s spirituality and an issue for health–our country’s population is dying out.”

Kolesnichenko’s sentiment is eerily similar to the expressed concerns of the World Congress of Families (WCF), which–not surprisingly–sent a delegation to Kiev last October for a meeting organized by Alexandar Skvortsov, co-chairman of the All Ukrainian Parents’ Committee.

The WCF functions as an umbrella organization for groups and individuals who fight against LGBTQ equality and women’s bodily autonomy in defense of what they call the “natural family.” According to a WCF press release following the Kiev meeting, “The Ukrainian leaders expressed concern about the pressure brought to bear on their nation to accede to the homosexual agenda (including ‘gay marriage’) as a condition for membership in the European Union.”

Echoing this fear in a statement on his organization’s website last month, Skovortsov said, “We oppose the signing of the association agreement with the EU, because it will lead to the inevitable homosexualizing of Ukraine,”

To be clear, the relationship proposed between Ukraine and the EU would not require Ukraine to legalize same-sex marriage. The EU’s only explicit requirement is an eventual ban on employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Unfortunately, exploiting LGBTQ people for political gain under the guise of religious morality is a well-practiced strategy, perfected here in the U.S. and exported all around the world. Just as we’ve seen in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, and elsewhere, the fingerprints of right-wing evangelicals from the U.S. are all over the current crisis for LGBTQ people in Ukraine. Here’s a small sampling:

  • The Trinity Broadcasting Network has been in the region since 1999.
  • The Christian Broadcasting Network launched a Ukrainian version of The 700 Club in 2010.
  • In 2004, Peter Wagner, one of the leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation, assembled a gathering of evangelical leaders in Kiev where he prayed for the day when “the government of the Church and the political governments will enter into a harmony.”
  • In 2008, former Exodus International board member, Don Schmierer, conducted a seminar in Donetsk, Ukraine, promoting his anti-LGBTQ, ex-gay theories.
  • Earlier that same year, Kay Warren, Rick Warren’s wife and co-pastor of Saddleback Church, visited Kiev, Ukraine to preach at a women’s conference.
  • Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer spoke to an evangelical revival in Kiev in 2010.
  • And the infamous Scott Lively traveled through Ukraine just last October.

Despite being charged with “crimes against humanity” for his role in promoting violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people in Uganda, Scott Lively continues to do damage all around the world. May those in Springfield, Massachusetts who seek to bring him to justice be emboldened by the protesters in Kiev who refuse to be silenced.