Opinion

How Vicious anti-Semitism Quietly Aids Moscow’s Covert Influence Campaign in the U.S

Fash the Nation, Russia style: How a pro-Kremlin website's sudden 'conversion' to hardcore anti-Semitism provided fuel for an alliance with America's far right, part of Moscow's strategy to provoke further polarisation in the U.S.

Anton Shekhovtsov
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Nationalist demonstrators carry their flags and, some of them, raise their hands in a Nazi salute during a march to mark National Unity Day, in Moscow, Russia. Nov. 4, 2013
Nationalist demonstrators carry their flags and, some of them, raise their hands in a Nazi salute during a march to mark National Unity Day, in Moscow, Russia. Nov. 4, 2013Credit: אי־פי
Anton Shekhovtsov

On the 15th of January, the previously little known website, Russia Insider, published a 5000-word long manifesto authored by the website’s editor Charles Bausman, in which he demanded the world in general, and Russia in particular, "Drop the Jew taboo," stating that it was high time to start assertively addressing the "pernicious influence" of the "Jewish elites."

The manifesto alleged "Jewish pressure groups" were in no small degree responsible for various sins, ranging from current sex scandals to most of the deadly turmoil in the world over the last 30 years. And, since Russia Insider’s contents mostly concern Russia, Bausman claimed that "the unreasonable hostility towards Putin’s Russia [was] very much a Jewish phenomenon."

He also invited potential authors to submit (unpaid) articles dealing with the "Jewish problem" and even introduced a new category on the website, 'The Jewish Question', echoing the Nazi, and contemporary neo-Nazi, language of genocide: the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question."

Members of the Ku Klux Klan rally in support of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. July 8, 2017.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan rally in support of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. July 8, 2017.Credit: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

The manifesto was a surprise for two reasons.

The first reason is technical: Charles Bausman has never authored lengthy pieces such as this, therefore – with his "It’s Time to Drop the Jew Taboo" – he really put in a lot of effort. Russia Insider itself is hardly known for its original journalism, as most of its contents is copy-pasted or translated from other websites. The overwhelming majority of Bausman’s own contributions to the website are usually blog-like entries rather than proper op-eds. This means that the manifesto was quite important for Bausman.

The second reason is that Bausman’s piece was a radical departure from the previous articles published by the website.

Not that Russia Insider, which was launched in September 2014, did not publish anti-Semitic texts before – it did, and they were retroactively added to the new category "The Jewish Question" – but none of the pieces demonstrated such straightforward and "unreformed" anti-Semitism.

It is no secret that modern anti-Semites – if they are not blatantly neo-Nazis – prefer to use terms like "New World Order," "international finance" or "global elites" to attack the Jews, but Bausman’s manifesto rejected these euphemisms directly and was written in blunt tones about the "Jewish problem."

Doubtlessly, by publishing his anti-Semitic manifesto, Bausman has presented a challenge to his own operation. According to the website, the means of its sustenance come from crowdfunding, and Bausman has been actively campaigning since 2014 to raise funds for The Russian Insider. (The website itself claims that it has been donated around US $ 300,000 since 2014.) And Bausman himself admitted that, since the website depended on reader contributions, the anti-Semitic publication might repel the audience and "curtail donations from some."

Moreover, RT, which used to quote Bausman and invite him to their shows, and which was one of the main sources of Russia Insider’s copy-pasting technique, has now distanced itself from him by saying that it "categorically and unequivocally [condemned] the disgusting hate speech promoted by the recent Russia Insider article."

Why, then, did Bausman start his crusade against the "Jewish elites"? A possible explanation is that Bausman is a very recent convert to flagrant anti-Semitism.

Participants attend a Russian nationalist march on National Unity Day in Moscow, Russia November 4, 2017
Participants attend a Russian nationalist march on National Unity Day in Moscow, Russia November 4, 2017Credit: \ MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS

As he himself writes, when he started the website, he "knew relatively little about Jewish influence," but "after three years of immersing [himself] in political analysis and media criticism," he had his eureka moment.

An important observation supports this explanation. Russia Insider was originally launched to attack Ukraine after its former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted and fled to Russia, by accusing the new Ukrainian authorities of fascism and anti-Semitism. Therefore the website at that time did not profess anti-Semitism, quite the opposite: it portrayed the Jews as allegedly potential victims of the new Ukrainian government, which Russia Insider opposed, following the Kremlin’s line.

If this explanation is correct, then Bausman’s anti-Semitic manifesto is a result of a process of radicalization that may have two main sources.

The first is the rise of the American far right inspired by the growing growth of the popularity of Donald Trump. The second is how anti-Semitism is becoming mainstream in particular circles around the Russian Orthodox Church.

It was the rise of the American far right, which manifested itself largely through the growing online visibility of the resources such as Breitbart News, Alt Right, Fash the Nation, The Daily Stormer and some others, that greatly reinforced the anti-Semitic element of the right-wing "alternative media" and made it more pronounced.

The analysis of the contents of Russia Insider, which admits its affiliation with "alternative media," shows that it gradually transformed from a pro-Kremlin and Ukraine-bashing website to a pro-Kremlin far-right resource not unlike the U.S.-based Alt Right or Fash the Nation. This transformation was specifically gradual: it did not happen overnight.

Bausman’s proximity to the ultra-nationalist Russian Orthodox circles should also be taken into account.

Bausman, who was born in Germany and studied in the U.S., has been living in Moscow on and off since the 1990s, and it was in Russia where Bausman converted to the Orthodox faith. Around 2014, he made contact with Aleksey Komov, the official Russian representative of the international "pro-family" association, the World Congress of Families, and the head of the international department of Patriarch’s Commission on the Family Issues created by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Komov is also closely related to the Russian Orthodox ultranationalist oligarch Konstantin Malofeev who, in September 2014, co-chaired a meeting of the World Congress of Families in Moscow. The meeting was crowned by an exclusive gala-dinner, and Komov and Malofeev invited Bausman to join it.

In October that year, as leaked communications showed, Bausman turned to Malofeev via his contact with Komov and asked for funding for Russia Insider. Malofeev’s press service would later claim that he never sponsored Russia Insider.

In several instances, Bausman’s manifesto echoes narratives widely shared in ultranationalist Russian Orthodox circles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (R) and Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov (L) in Moscow, Russia. Father Tikhon believes the last Tsar was a victim of 'ritual murder'. May 25, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (R) and Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov (L) in Moscow. Tikhon believes the last Tsar was a victim of 'ritual murder'. May 25, 2017Credit: Alexei Druzhinin/AP

For example, Komov believes that "Communism was imposed on Russia by the international professional forces of evil" who were helped by the Jewish Bolshevik Leon Trotsky and the bankers from the Wall Street. In his manifesto, Bausman writes there are grounds to believe that the Russian Revolution was "a Jewish coup d’etat, financed by wealthy bankers in New York and London," and notes that "much of the Bolshevik leadership was Jewish" and singles out Trotsky as an example.

When Bausman attended the gala-dinner in September 2014, he might have become acquainted with Father Tikhon (Georgiy Shevkunov), who was also invited to the dinner by Malofeev.

Just a few months ago, in November 2017, Tikhon moderated a Russian Orthodox conference that discussed the murder of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family. According to Tikhon, the Tsar was a victim of the “ritual murder” carried out by the Bolsheviks – a poorly-disguised Russian version of the anti-Semitic "blood libel." Bausman does not reproduce this particular narrative in his manifesto, but argues that after the revolution, the Bolsheviks tortured Orthodox priests and subjected them to ritual murder.

Bausman’s anti-Semitic inspirations do not necessarily come directly from either Komov or Tikhon: again, these ideas are common for a wider ultra-nationalist Orthodox milieu. But it is viable to suggest that much of Bausman’s relatively newly discovered anti-Semitism originates exactly in these circles.

Another important question about Bausman’s manifesto is who the targeted audience of The Russia Insider’s decided anti-Semitic turn is. The statistics provided by Alexa show that most of the website’s audience is based in the U.S. Considering that the website is primarily a pro-Kremlin resource, it seems that Bausman’s goal is to use anti-Semitism to reinforce the already existing pro-Kremlin sentiments within the American far right.

Bausman’s move is already getting traction among the targeted audience ranging from neo-Nazi Richard Spencer to right-wing libertarian Lew Rockwell. Russia Insider may have lost some of its more moderate readership, but it appears not only to be winning the extremists’ hearts and minds, but also contributing to the strengthening of their anti-Semitism. 

At the same time, Bausman’s manifesto will unlikely find any public support outside the American and Russian far-right circles. The Russian media loyal to the Kremlin, as well as official Moscow, which poses as an anti-fascist state in the international arena, will distance themselves from Russia Insider.

However, while hardly sanctioned by the Kremlin, Bausman’s move is still useful for Moscow’s covert influence in the U.S. The more extreme the growing American far-right scene is, the more it contributes to the already troubling polarization of the American society.

That, they might be hoping, will turn it more inward-looking, and less engaged in the international fight against authoritarianism and kleptocracy.

Anton Shekhovtsov is Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (Austria) and General Editor of the "Explorations of the Far Right" series at ibidem-Verlag (Germany). His most recent book is "Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir" (Routledge, 2018). Twitter: @A_SHEKH0VTS0V

Comments