Exclusive: Beyond Facebook, Russia colluded with U.S. anti-gay groups to stoke tensions over LGBTQ equality in the run-up to the 2016 election.
“God has decided,” Vladimir Putin told Oliver Stone in Showtime’s Putin Interviews. “I believe it’s my duty to uphold traditional values and family values. But why? Because same-sex marriages will not produce any children,” the Russian president said.
It’s not illegal to be gay in Russia but it’s a crime to wave a pride flag, show same-sex public displays of affection or demonstrate for gay rights. Gay Russians in Chechnya are routinely rounded up and tortured and vigilante gangs use social media to lure hundreds of gay men on fake dates where they are filmed being beaten or sexually humiliated. Everything from same-sex emoji bans to a total prohibition on coming out publicly has been considered by Russia’s legislature.
The anti-gay sentiment in Russia began to swell in the mid-1990’s after the fall of the Soviet Union but it wasn’t until Barack Obama’s election that Russian anti-gay activists began to build bridges with their soul mates in the fringe right of U.S. conservatism.
In the 90’s, two Russian sociologists and an American activist birthed the World Congress of Families, a global coalition of anti-gay groups with deep Russian interests. WCF is based in the U.S. and is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world,” says Larry Jacobs, WCF’s managing director. “At the UN, they are really the ones standing up for these traditional values of family and faith.”
The congress partners with U.S. conservative organizations including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Alliance Defense Fund, Americans United For Life and Concerned Women For America.
Members of these organizations regularly meet at the WCF conventions around the world and in Russia. This gives them a direct line to anti-gay members of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, the Russian Orthodox Church and to two Russian oligarchs who “are footing many of the WCF’s bills, Vladimir Yakunin, the president of the Russian railways, and investor Konstantin Malofeev,” according to Mother Jones.
A Russian oligarch and Putin ally is a key funder of the anti-gay World Congress of Families. Its president is America’s leading anti-gay activist.
Yakunin is one of Putin’s closest oligarchs. The billionaire is adept at aligning Russian Orthodox Church policies with those of Vladimir Putin. The church has approval over any legislation tabled by the Duma and in turn the church is heavily influenced by Putin’s oligarchs.
Yakunin’s wife, Natalia Yakunina, runs Russia’s anti-gay Sanctity of Motherhood which first invited Jacobs to a conference in Moscow in 2010. The same year, Russia’s Orthodox Church dispatched one of WCF’s Russian co-founders to meet with the U.S. anti-gay group Focus on the Family.
Konstantin Malofeev is also a devout Orthodox christian and is often referred to as “Putin’s Soros”. He operates his own think tank and TV station. He believes in the restoration of the Russian empire and has fostered relations with many of Europe’s far right politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen.
Malofeev is a key financier of the Russian attack on Ukraine. He claims to only send food and water to rebel-held areas but Ukrainian officials believe the oligarch is an arm’s length way for Putin to control the war. In 2013, Malofeev used the church’s Ukrainian missions to subdue opposition to Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea
“I’m in the middle of patriotic circles.” says Malofeev. “People who have patriotic and Orthodox views know me, and sometimes I know them. You can find a link between me and almost any Orthodox activist. But that doesn’t mean I’m paying them a salary or that we’re in the same business,” Malofeev says.
In 2013, Malofeev’s St. Basil charity invited Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage to attend a round table discussion. NOM rose to prominence as the main advocate for California’s Proposition 8 which overturned gay marriage rights in the state. Brown created a campaign which demeaned the LGBTQ community as predatory, diseased and disordered. Their claims were supported by faux-science, much of it created by the WCF.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian created and funded anti-LGBTQ ads and the organizations which shared them.
Wikileaks published the hacked DNC emails and an unprecedented sequence of Trump-Russia meetings took place in June last year. It’s perhaps not too coincidental that Brown was appointed president at last year’s WCF June convention. “I look forward to continuing to work to advance the pro-family movement in the US and around the world,” Brown said in a statement about his new role.
NOM regularly publishes anti-LGBTQ ads in its Facebook feed, some of it shared from the pages of other organizations like “Moms Like Me” and “Stand With Children”. One ad showed a photo of Hillary Clinton and Obama under a headline which read: “when you demand everyone deny science so that girls can become boys, you have overplayed your hand.”
A handful of wealthy donors keeps NOM funded to the tune of about $7.4 million annually. Amway’s Doug DeVos (Betsy’s brother-in-law) donated $750,000 to the organization between 2009 and 2012.
NOM’s goal is to support the elections of anti-gay legislators. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who believes homosexuality should be illegal, is a recent beneficiary of a NOM endorsement. The organization has repeatedly broken election law for not revealing its donors and is listed as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
All of the above could normally fall into the sphere of state-sponsored NGO activity (the U.S. does similar things in other countries to influence human rights) but now there’s an added element of an investigation of conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. This month, Special Counsel Robert Mueller executed a search warrant on Facebook after revelations that Russian-owned accounts bought $150,000 in ads on Facebook on issues from Black Lives Matter, immigration and LGBTQ issues between 2015 and 2016.
The ads were intended to inflame tensions on wedge issues like LGBTQ rights. Mueller’s team has not publicly released the ads but is analyzing their origin and which accounts and pages shared the posts, which in itself could constitute a crime.
“These targeted messages, along with others that have surfaced in recent days, highlight the sophistication of an influence campaign slickly crafted to mimic and infiltrate U.S. political discourse while also seeking to heighten tensions between groups already wary of one another,” the Washington Post reported.
We’ve written before about Russia’s extraordinary efforts to engage the NRA between 2010 and 2016. Investigators are now probing if the Kremlin officials infiltrated social, evangelical and constitutional causes and created ads to divide and conquer an electorate. All under the pretense of shared values but with only one aim in mind: furthering Russia’s kleptocracy.