White nationalist livestreamer Nicholas Fuentes has made no secret of where his loyalties lie in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“I wish Putin was president of America,” he mused to his 45,000 subscribers on Telegram on Wednesday morning.
Fifteen hours later, Russian forces invaded Ukraine. And Fuentes, who’s hosting a far-right conference in Florida Friday night, was psyched.
“I am totally rooting for Russia,” he wrote the following morning. “This is the coolest thing to happen since 1/6.”
“UKRAINE WILL BE DESTROYED", added Fuentes, who describes himself as a “Christian nationalist,” someone who thinks the U.S. is a fundamentally Christian nation. “I never doubted you [Putin], my Czar."
Over on the Gab platform, its CEO Andrew Torba also expressed his support for Putin.
“Lol Putin is brilliant. Western Media, which is obsessed with ‘muh Nazis’ will have a tough time spinning this one,” wrote Torba, who’s sponsoring Fuentes’ conference, the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), this weekend. “What he really means is Ukraine needs to be liberated and cleansed from the degeneracy of the secular western globalist empire.”
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Wednesday night, far-right personalities have declared Russia a beacon of anti-wokeness and Putin a strong ethnonationalist. In their minds, Ukraine is just a corrupt pawn in a vast “globalist” conspiracy.
It may seem confusing that much of the American far-right, who increasingly describe any policies they dislike as “communism,” would be rooting for Russia, given the history of the Soviet Union. But for at least a decade, Russia has been cultivating deep ties and even bankrolling ultranationalist and far-right movements elsewhere. Religious fundamentalists and white supremacists, inspired partially by the writings of a Kremlin-linked ideologue, have hailed Putin as a white Christian crusader on a mission to restore traditional values.
The far-right’s support for Russia also has roots in fringe narratives about Russia that have been simmering for decades, according to Matthew Kriner, managing director of the Accelerationism Research Consortium (ARC). For example, some antisemitics have long claimed that Russia’s communist era was a historical blip and the result of a “Jewish conspiracy.”
“They’re looking past the communist era,” said Kriner. “Those who can see a deeper ethnonationalist, ethnofascist component to Russia can find comfort and affinity toward what Putin is doing.”
In the U.S., “wokeness”—a catchall term for progressive or inclusive policies—is increasingly characterized on the right, especially among Christian nationalists, as antithetical to American values. That way of thinking has bled into pro-Putin rhetoric from the far-right this week. Some have mocked the U.S. for its inclusive policies on transgender recruits.
“Putin’s military gets Ukraine,” wrote Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who is speaking at AFPAC, on her Telegram channel. “Our military gets trannies and face masks.”
In the same vein, Proud Boy-linked podcast “Murder the Media” shared a meme to its Telegram channel Thursday that showed a Russian tank above a photoshopped image of a U.S. tank painted purple and emblazoned with the nonbinary pronouns “they/them” on its side.
One day before Russia invaded Ukraine, former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and Blackwater founder Erik Prince celebrated Putin for his anti-LGBTQ policies on a podcast. “Putin ain’t woke, he is anti-woke,” Bannon said. “The Russian people still know which bathrooms to use,” Prince added.
Additionally, Kremlin-linked ideologue and philosopher Alexander Dugin—nicknamed “Putin’s Brain”—has had enormous influence on the far-right in Europe and the U.S. He has fans in the likes of former KKK leader David Duke and white supremacist Richard Spencer, who led chants of “Russia is our friend” during the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and has called Russia “the sole white power in the world,” according to nonprofit Integrity First for America.
Dugin’s book “Foundations on Geopolitics,” which is published through white nationalist Arktos Media, is required reading for every Russian military officer above the rank of colonel. In that text, which is intended as an alternative to American “globalism,” Dugin asserts that “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning. It has no cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness.”
Bannon, who has cited Dugin as an influence, expressed almost that exact same sentiment on an episode of his “War Room” podcast on Thursday.
“Ukraine’s not even a country. It’s kind of a concept,” he said. “It's just a corrupt area that the Clintons turned into a colony where they can steal money out of.” (Bannon also described NATO as a “bunch of liberal deadbeats”.)
Russia has also been courting—even funding—ultranationalist and neo-fascist movements for almost a decade. Kremlin-owned banks have reportedly lent money to far-right political movements in Europe, including Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s Northern League, and France’s National Front.
In 2015, far-right extremists from the U.S., including a lawyer for the Ku Klux Klan, joined fringe right-wingers at the “International Russian Conservative Forum” in St Petersburg. During that conference, according to the New York Times, attendees and speakers fawned over Putin, celebrated his hard-line anti-LGBTQ stance, and railed against what they called “the degradation of white, Christian traditions in the West.”
While ultranationalists and “anti-globalists” (a phrase often containing antisemitic dog whistles) have an ideological affinity for Putin, their position doesn’t necessary hold true for the American far-right writ large.
Militant white supremacists and hardcore neo-Nazi accelerationists, who advocate violence to speed up the collapse of social order, are split on where their loyalties lie.
One Telegram channel with more than 45,000 subscribers claimed that Putin’s invasion was part of a “neo-Bolshevik” and Jewish conspiracy to eradicate the “toughest and proudest Aryan men alive” in Ukraine. That same channel said they were willing to overlook the fact that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish, to throw their support behind the ultranationalists in Ukraine’s military.
Others, meanwhile, are cheering on Russia in the hopes that defeating Ukraine will destabilize NATO and imperil peace across Europe.
The 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russian forces turned the region into a playground for war tourists, mercenaries, and far-right extremists from around the world. An estimated 15,000 foreign fighters flocked to that conflict between 2014 and 2019, 3,000 of them siding with Ukraine, versus around 12,000 who sided with the Russian-backed separatists, according to a report by the Soufan Center.
Fighters on the Ukrainian side included paramilitary units such as the ultranationalist Right Sector and neo-Nazi aligned Azov Battalion, which is now formally part of Ukraine’s National Guard. In March 2018, Congress added a provision to its spending bill that barred the U.S. from arming Azov in the fight against Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine because of its ties to neo-Nazis.
American white supremacist Robert Rundo and members of his group Rise Above Movement, went to Ukraine to train alongside the Azov Battalion in 2018.
The neo-Nazi accelerationist group The Base sought to establish ties between Azov and other ultranationalist military units, and at least one of their members traveled to Ukraine with the hope of actually joining one, VICE News reported in 2020. And U.S Army veteran Craig Lang plus six other Americans are under investigation by the Justice Department for possible war crimes committed while fighting alongside far-right extremists in Ukraine, including the Right Sector.
In Russia, there was the Task Force Rusich, a paramilitary unit associated with the Wagner Group, a private mercenary group that reportedly has ties to Kremlin-linked oligarch. Task Force Rusich, which takes pride in its neo-Nazi reputation, was known for its brutality during that conflict, according to The Daily Beast. In January, they were suspected of prepping to return to Ukraine undercover, according to The Beast.
Then there’s the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group designated as a foreign terrorist organization by both the U.S. and Canada. In 2014, they sent members to fight alongside pro-Moscow separatists. The following year, their leader, Stanley Vorobyov, participated in a conference of international far-right groups in St Petersburg, donated to the Nordic Resistance Movement (a Scandinavian neo-Nazi group) during a visit to Sweden, and took part in a right-wing extremist gathering in Madrid.
The Russia-Ukraine split among accelerationist types isn’t new, according to Kriner.
“We saw this schism in Atomwaffen,” Kriner said, referencing the hardcore neo-Nazi group. “Some in Atomwaffen were pro-Azov but critical of Russia. Others were like, no, we need to do what Dugin said, Russia is the future of Aryan imperialism.”
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