While President Donald Trump pals around with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the U.S.’s racist right is making open overtures to Russian white supremacists.
One day after Trump’s disastrous summit with Putin last week, the League of the South, a neo-Confederate hate group, announced that it would launch a Russian-language site. The southern secessionist group’s crush on Russia is the latest appeal by U.S. white supremacists to Russia and Putin—an alliance that has strengthened during the Trump presidency.
“Russia is our friend,” a group of torch-waving racists chanted during an October rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “The South will rise again.”
The event was headed by white nationalist Richard Spencer, who has been stumping for Russia before Trump took office. Spencer, who advocates for “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” has promoted Russia as the kind of ethnostate he wants to create, calling it “the sole white power in the world” in 2016. Until October 2016, Spencer was married to Nina Kouprianova, a Putin apologist who translates the writings of Russian fascist Alexander Dugin.
The white supremacists’ chant of “Russia is our friend. The South will rise again,” summarized several years of neo-Confederate flirtation with Russia. Despite groups like League of the South decrying “globalism,” the movement’s leaders have long looked to Russia as an ideological ally.
"I have more in common with Vladimir Putin than I do with Barack Obama," League of the South President Michael Hill wrote in 2014. "One defends a nation—the Rus; the other lords over an anti-White multicultural empire. One upholds an ancient Christian tradition; the other deplores the Christian faith. One acts like a man; the other like a preening capon."
Hill waxed poetic on Putin’s “machoness”: “Sure, Putin puts on a lot of this stuff, takes his shirt off, rides a horse,” he said, according to Gawker, “but at the same time, you know, you can juxtapose it with Obama sittin' on a stupid-looking bicycle with a goofy-looking bike helmet on his head. And it doesn't look good for Obama. Putin looks like a man, you know.”
But the the far-right’s favorite “macho” policies don’t end with Putin taking off his shirt: the Russian president has also championed an illiberal, anti-gay agenda that resonates with American far-right conservatives. Putin has his own support from ultra-nationalist Russian gangs, the most notorious of which are the Night Wolves, a motorcycle club also known as “Putin’s Angels” for their close ties with the Kremlin. The violently anti-gay group has acted as unofficial muscle for the Kremlin in Ukraine, and have reportedly received handouts from the Putin administration.
In the run-up to Trump’s election, other white nationalists took the Putin praise to Russia. White nationalist writer Jared Taylor and former Ku Klux Klan lawyer Sam Dickson attended the white nationalist International Russian Conservative Forum in St. Petersburg in March 2015. Speaking alongside members of Greek neo-Nazi parties and French extremists, Dickson hailed Putin as having “[done] a lot” for Americans, as opposed to Obama whose “policies are directed against whites and Christians.” Dickson ended his speech on a broken Russian salute of “God save the Tsar!”
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and former leader of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party Matthew Heimbach have also promoted Putin, with Heimbach telling Business Insider in 2016 that "I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now.”
And as Trump sides increasingly with Putin over his own intelligence agencies, the racist right has begun openly advertising for Russian allies.
During a joint press conference with Putin last week, Trump refused to denounce Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, contradicting U.S. intelligence agencies to claim Russia had not been behind a hack on the Democratic National Committee. The following day, Hill, the League of the South president who praised Putin in 2014, published the group’s outreach “to our Russian friends”.
The message, which promised a Russian offshoot of the group’s website, called for “a firm and resolute understanding and commitment to cooperation between the Russian people and the people of the South,” based on what Hill described as their “same general gene pool” (to say nothing of both regions’ diverse populations).
Two days later, the founder of the ultranationalist Russia Insider gave an interview to “Fash the Nation,” an alt-right podcast, in which the host praised the Trump-Putin summit as the beginning of a “friendship with the other largest white country on the planet.”
And last month, far-right YouTubers Brittany Pettibone and Lauren Southern traveled to Russia to interview Dugin, the Russian fascist writer, on “Millennial’s [sic] & the Future of Conservatism.” The interview was rife with softball questions, which presented Dugin in a moderate light without veering into his more genocidal views, ThinkProgress reported.
Southern, who claims not to be on the alt-right, said she’d spoken to translators of Dugin’s work. Dugin’s best-known English translator is Nina Kouprianova, Richard Spencer’s ex-wife.