The nexus between white supremacists in the US and neo-Nazis in Russia reveals a deep history of convergence between the two sides.
US intelligence is convinced that Russian authorities provide “indirect and passive support” to neo-Nazi groups operating in America and other countries. Yahoo News has had the chance to examine the issue more in detail. Documents obtained by the journalists revealed that the Kremlin "probably tolerates support from some private Russian organisations" for white nationalist movements because it is consistent with the Kremlin’s goal of aggravating social divisions in the West.
Intelligence agencies have acknowledged that Russian groups have tried to recruit and provide paramilitary training to North American associates in order to "expand their presence in the West, increase membership and raise money." According to these assessments, this pumping of resources into Western supporters of white supremacy "poses a potential threat to Western security by encouraging and making possible attacks on ethnic minorities and government facilities."
The intensive training thesis is supported by the fact that the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), a monarchist paramilitary organisation that espouses the ideology of white supremacy, has tried to recruit Americans to train in camps in Russia. It was outlawed by the State Department two years ago, which prompted a rather absurd reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry, with spokeswoman Maria Zakharova calling the State Department's decision propaganda.
While US intelligence notes that Washington lacks evidence of direct support for foreign white nationalist groups from the Russian government, Yahoo News sources in the relevant agencies say that the "indirect support" thesis is a distinction that makes no difference. Particularly since businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin's experience teaches us that the Kremlin often projects its own interests through private figures who support military actors abroad.
The question of connections between Moscow and American neo-Nazis has been brought up to date by the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. US officials are struggling to identify and track down "their" supporters of white supremacy who might try to travel to the region to take part in hostilities. "There is a real concern that this is a second Syria," the security services say, referring to the fact that the warzone in the Middle East has become one big training camp for the Russian authorities.
But the internationalisation of neo-Nazi movements is also turning America into an arena of confrontation, and judging by last year's storming of the Capitol, the threat is not so imaginary. National Public Radio (NPR) observers note that Russia is "only a central link in these growing transnational ties between neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups around the world.” These assessments indicate that international contacts between supporters of white supremacy on opposing sides of the ocean will only increase in the future.
Another contributing factor to the growing interest in far-right extremism was a social media campaign that, as Washington has determined, was deployed by Russian security services in the US shortly before the 2020 election. It boiled down to a trivial incitement of white nationalists to spread their "message" more aggressively and try to mobilise. According to several officials, Moscow also made efforts to incite "Black extremist groups" to violence.
There are particularly vulnerable segments among supporters of white supremacy. Last March, the Pentagon released a report stating that domestic extremist groups posed a threat to the military because they try to recruit from the forces and often enlist to gain combat experience. "These groups place a high value on the military because they lend legitimacy to their cause and enhance their ability to carry out attacks," the Defense Department report said.
Supporters of annexation
It is a well-known fact that the supporters of white supremacy in the United States have special feelings for Moscow. In 2004, American far-right nationalist theorist and leader of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke described Russia as the key to white survival, and five years ago the famous American neo-Nazi Richard Spencer called it "the only white power in the world.” The American theorist Matthew Heimbach, "the face of the new generation of white nationalists," went even further, calling Vladimir Putin "the leader of the free world.”
This rapprochement was not limited to rhetoric alone. Duke attended conferences in Moscow in 2002 and 2006. Prominent white conservative spokesman Jared Taylor, for his part, met with Russian associates personally in Moscow in 2015. And Heimbach was in active contact with RIM representatives in the mid-2010s. In 2017, for example, the leader of the new neo-fascist generation even hosted a representative of the movement, Stanislav Shevchuk, at his home, when the latter paid a surprise visit to the United States.
This trip by Shevchuk was called an unusual phenomenon by New York journalist and expert Casey Michel in 2020. "Among the younger generation of white nationalists who emerged in 2015-2016 and gained a lot of prominence in the media, it was generally quite typical to speak well of the Kremlin," he said, referring to America. The nationalists even took Russia's side in disputes over who owns Crimea and supported what Russia was doing in Donbas. The truth is, though, he says, that in recent years the support has been expressed less actively.
America's original sin
"Far-right extremists often see Russia as the last bastion of white purity, Christian purity, those ethnic, gender and all sorts of identity accents that they themselves emphasise within their own ideology and their own actions," argues Alex Newhouse, deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies. And Russian authorities seem to be actively taking advantage of this interest.
According to experts at the US think tank Just Security, Moscow is simultaneously turning a blind eye to the far-right extremists within its jurisdiction that are actively cultivating neo-Nazism in the West. "These decisions are consistent with its broader plan to sow the seeds of strife in Western democracies and affect transcontinental relations." According to these assessments, support of right-wing violence in the West is part of a broader destabilisation campaign by the Russian leadership.
But, as Just Security suggests, neo-Nazi extremism is not a threat inspired by Russia, "but rather America's original sin." "In fact, supporters of white supremacy in the United States have often exported their ideology and violence around the world. Accepting this fact and addressing it ‘at home’ are prerequisites for confronting the role state actors play in the threat in question," the experts conclude.