We’ve already discussed why Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin is terrible for us. But in light of the expanding firestorm over Russia’s outsized influence in the Trump administration, the question is, just how terrible. As it turns out, it could be worse than we imagined.
Trump’s campaign was bizarrely and distressingly cozy with anti-democratic Russia. The candidate himself openly admired Putin and even egged Russia on its hacking of the Democratic National Committee. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was trying to put a finger on the scale in the election, an unprecedented intrusion into American democracy.
That much everyone knows. But less known is the extent to which Russia has emerged as a ringleader of the American religious right. In fact, according to one new study, Russia is the leader of the global Christian right. Which in part explains why the Trump administration remains enamored of a nation with a smaller economy than the state of California.
To say that this is a disastrous development is an understatement. Russia’s homophobia runs deep and virulent. Here’s a sampling of the type of harassment and violence that are now commonplace in the country, where three-quarter of its citizens believe homosexuality should not be accepted by society.
Here are a few examples from the many available:
- Routinely allows thugs to attack gay activists without fear of prosecution
- Arrest gay activists for standing up for their rights
- Bans any pro-gay materials as “propaganda”
- Forbids same-sex couples from adopting
- Blocked the country’s most popular LGBTQ site
- Banned transgender people from getting drivers
Much of this has been done in concert with the Russian Orthodox Church, which has emerged as an ally of Putin and which now provides a template for the type of Church-State relationship the religious right would like to see in America.
The American religious right’s admiration for Putin and Russia soared during the Obama administration. Such high-profile figures as Franklin Graham, Bryan Fischer, and Brian Brown have proclaimed Russia to be on the right track when it comes to gay issues. But for a long time, the assumption was that the religious right was simply exporting its particular brand of homophobia to a friendly venue.
As it turns out, according to the report from People for the American Way, we may actually be a net importer of Russia hatred. At the heart of this disturbing trend is Brian Brown. Brown headed the rapidly dying National Organization for Marriage but he has managed to fail upwards as head of the International Organization for the Family, formerly known as the World Congress of Families. In this role, Brown has been hitting the road, landing in Russia just last week to promote closer relations between the U.S. and Putin.
But IOF is not a homegrown organization. It is, according to report author Casey Michel, “a product of joint Russian-American homophobic ingenuity.” Two sociology professors in Moscow, concerned that progressive legislation would bring about the collapse of Russia, were instrumental in its formation. Since then WCF and now IOF have tightened its relationship with Putin’s authoritarian regime, even planning to hold a summit inside the Kremlin in 2014. (WCF dropped out of the event after Russia invaded the Ukraine, but some WCF leaders attended anyway.)
What has changed over the years is that, by increasing repression (and violence), Russia has been able to position itself as the promised land for the homophobic right in the U.S. and claim the moral (if that’s thew word) high ground.
Exactly how deep the relationships run is anyone’s guess. Putin has deep pockets and grand ideas, and he’ll be happy to collaborate with anyone who espouses his nationalist viewpoints. But the salient point is that Russia has gone from being the recipient of homophobic outreach to the standard against which the far right judges the U.S. At a minimum, it is setting the tone for our bitterest enemies.
Just one glance at the hell Russia has made for the lives of its LGBTQ citizens is chilling. What’s even more chilling is the growing power of the eager audience that would like to see that hell replicated in the U.S.