Let’s return to the topic of ties between Russia and the US evangelical right.
Russia or at least many Russians have spent a decade cultivating relationships with the evangelical right in the United States. Indeed, it would be incorrect to see it as a one-sided cultivation. The evangelical right in the US – along with other rightist political formations in Western Europe – has come to see Vladimir Putin’s Russia as the logical head of a kind of white, Christian, authoritarian ‘international’, as the US and Europe have become less white and more culturally permissive.
An analogous building of bonds has taken place between Russia and the NRA, despite the fact that there’s nothing analogous to ‘gun rights’ or even such a political debate in Russia. The NRA was a critical backer of Donald Trump and spent tons of millions of dollars on field organizing on Trump’s behalf in 2016 – a much more significant factor in Trump’s election victory than many realize. Of course, the gun rights and right-wing evangelical community overlap to a significant extent. So in some ways these are two parts of the same phenomenon.
I raise this because in recent days we’ve seen Alexander Torshin’s name come up again in the Russia story. He’s a key player in ties between Russia and the NRA. He’s also close to Vladimir Putin and, allegedly, Russian organized crime. You’ve likely seen this new story about a “Russian backdoor overture” that has tripped up Jared Kushner. That was Torshin’s approach to a West Virginia-based evangelical activist named Rick Clay. Clay wanted to “get two sides together to talk about Christian values.”
TPM also reported that Sam Clovis, an increasingly central player in the Russia story, had strongly pro-Russian views on Ukraine well before Trump’s campaign even started. Clovis came to Trump’s campaign as a major player in conservative evangelical political circles.
To be clear, this is not an argument that US evangelicals or gun rights activists were somehow assets in place when Trump came on the scene. We’re talking about ties which came about to a significant extent organically, as a significant faction of the American right came to see Russia as an exemplar of how a 21st century society should be run. Everything from what we’d call public diplomacy to spy operations were then layered over this as the Russian government tried to cultivate these ties.
The relevance for today is that these were in many cases the channels through which approaches to the Trump world were made. It was furthered by the fact that Trump very early on made his tightest and most enduring political alliance with the evangelical right. It all fits together, not as a broad conspiracy necessarily but as different parts of a complex puzzle, all of which came together in 2016.
Since ties between Russia and the evangelical right are partly organic and vastly more broadly based than whatever relationship Russia has with the Trump family we should expect it to continue long after Trump.
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