I was born at the height of the Cold War, just a few years after Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy was finally forced out of power. McCarthy used his position as committee chair to make himself a household name by accusing thousands of federal government employees of being communist spies and getting them fired. He kept raising the stakes until he tried to terrorize Army officers on national television and was finally called out by members of his own party.
Growing up I watched black and white movies at school that explained how the FBI watched out for communist spies; those movies showed how secret messages could be passed in hollow coins or using a folded newspaper to slip a note from one person to another as they passed each other on the street. Russian communism was feared by the public due in large part to Republicans ranting about being tough while claiming Democrats were weak. Lyndon Johnson damaged his own legacy by claiming US naval ships were attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin in order to have an excuse to send combat troops to Vietnam as a way to show his was strong against communists.
In 2011, Maria Butina became founding chair of a new Russian gun rights group called the Right to Bear Arms. In 2013, NRA President David Keene was introduced as an honored guest at the Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow. In December 2015, Butina’s Russian organization sponsored an NRA delegation, which included Keene and Trump campaign surrogate Sheriff David Clarke, to Moscow where attendees met with influential Russian officials including former deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin who had been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.
In 2016, the NRA doubled the size of its contributions to the National Republican Committee in the 2016 election cycle after connecting with Russian Maria Butina and her benefactors who provided millions of those dollars. Butina is also on record having cozied up to a wide range of Republican elected officials and political operatives. Butina is now in jail accused of espionage for the Russians.
The most prominent homeschooling organization in the U.S., the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a bastion of Republican support. The HSLDA has been associating with Russian operatives since at least 2014 when Michael Donnelly, director of global outreach, spoke there and participated in a conference held in Russia. Donnelly wrote that he “met with senior leaders of the [Russian] Orthodox Church.” As Donnelly noted on Facebook, “[The] family conference I’m attending today is being held at the Kremlin and says a lot at least on its face about the value of family in Russian government.” One of the events sponsors was a foundation run by sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev.
The World Congress of Families (WCF), links sanctioned Russian officials to the broader U.S. religious right. The WCF, is a joint Russian-American project that reportedly receives funding from sanctioned Russian oligarchs like Vladimir Yakunin, who is the former head of Russian Railways and a close Putin confidant. One of the links between the HSLDA, the WCF and hence to sanctioned Russian officials is Alexey Komov. A Russian national and fluent English speaker, Komov is the official Russian representative to the WCF. He also works directly for Konstantin Malofeev, nicknamed “God’s oligarch” for his role in financing religious-right ventures in Russia and abroad. Malofeev is a financial contributor to the WCF also currently under U.S. sanctions for having helped fund separatists in eastern Ukraine.
So much has changed, now it’s the Republicans and their supporting institutions that are playing footsy with Russians.