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Global culture wars: Some far right groups in the U.S. are taking a pro-Russia stance


As tensions run high along the Russia-Ukraine border, the U.S. government has been clear about its position against any Russian incursion into its neighbor. Even so, some Americans have softened their sentiments towards Russia, particularly those on the far right and within some conservative Christian circles.

NPR's Odette Yousef covers domestic extremism and is here to explain. Hey there.


KELLY: So we know neo-Nazis, white nationalist groups - they have been favorable to Russia for many years now. And I wonder why?

YOUSEF: Well, Mary Louise, some so-called, you know, accelerationist groups feel that Western society is a failure. They've been advocating for its collapse. And so, you know, to them, they'd be delighted to see Russian aggression if it takes America down a notch on the global stage. But there's also another layer that's unique to the position that Russia occupies in the imagination of white nationalists in the U.S., Mary Louise, and really throughout the globe.

I spoke with Alex Newhouse about this. He's at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and has been looking at these far-right groups.

ALEX NEWHOUSE: Far-right extremists will often look at Russia as a last bastion of white purity, of Christian purity, of these sort of ethnic- and gender-based and all sorts of different identity-based emphases that they, themselves, stress in their own ideologies and their own actions.

YOUSEF: So these are all ideas that they see represented in Putin's Russia. And it's an image that the Kremlin has deliberately crafted and put out there in propaganda.

KELLY: Well, and you're talking about ideas and images. What about actual, practical connections - material being shared - between these groups in the U.S. and Russia? What do we know?

YOUSEF: Well, it's complicated. There is a white supremacist group in Russia called the Russian Imperial Movement that has appealed to Americans to go there and get tactical training with them. But, you know, we also have seen Americans who've reportedly linked up with far-right groups in Ukraine. You know, we've seen a few U.S. veterans who have reportedly gone to combat with a neo-Nazi Ukrainian paramilitary group.

The concern, Mary Louise, is that down the line, you know, Russia and Ukraine have kind of emerged as a central node in these growing transnational connections between neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups all over the world. And so as tensions continue to ratchet up, we might see more of those linkages occur.

KELLY: Setting aside these real extremist circles, neo-Nazis and so on, are we seeing any more mainstream American acceptance of a pro-Russia stance?

YOUSEF: Well, if you turn on Fox News, you'll hear Tucker Carlson's clear support for Russia. And that's an attitude that's starting to take root more widely among, you know, the conspiracy-minded, like people who believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory. But beyond that, Mary Louise, we are seeing some traction within the Christian right here.

I spoke with Kristina Stoeckl about this. She's a professor at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. She says those alliances with the Christian right have been building since Putin allied with the Russian Orthodox Church over the last decade on some key social issues like restricting LGBTQ and women's rights. You know, we are still thinking of Russia often through the old lens of the Cold War, but she thinks we're witnessing the emergence of a completely new rift to define Russia's relationship to the West.

KRISTINA STOECKL: So during the Cold War, the fault lines were basically economic, so it was between a capitalist world and a free-market economy. And the new fault lines now are between liberal democracy and some would say, maybe, autocratic democracy. And Russia is now has become this reference point for global liberalism, and it has been slowly, slowly building up.

YOUSEF: Stoeckl's calling this the global culture war, and she says for the Kremlin, it's all a win. You know, the disinformation campaigns orchestrated by Russia serve to sow division within the liberal West and destabilize them.

KELLY: That is NPR's Odette Yousef - thanks very much.

YOUSEF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOVES SONG, "COMPULSION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.
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