Putin, the haters’ White Knight

Putin, the haters’ White Knight

There is a very good reason why we here in America, Jews especially, should fear Vladimir Putin. He is the poster boy for white Christian nationalism worldwide, and especially so here in the United States.

Asked if the far right here is influencing Russia in any way, or if Russia is influencing the far right, Johns Hopkins University Prof. Thomas Rid said, “they are influencing each other. They are pushing the same narratives.”

Putin speaks their language. The world must be turned into a Christian world as he and they define that. Anyone else—Jews and other non-whites especially—are to be put down to the lowest rungs of the social ladder, or simply put down.

This white Christian nationalism Putin promotes was graphically on display at the U.S. Capitol during the January 6th insurrection. Many of the insurrectionists carried large portraits of Jesus and chanted about how his blood would cleanse Congress’ sins. They saw in the date Congress must certify presidential elections as an omen from heaven: January 6 was once believed to have been the real date of Jesus’ birth. It is celebrated today as the day the Three Wise Men who heralded Jesus as the messiah.

A video taken by a New Yorker magazine reporter showed the bare-chested QAnon Shaman Jacob Chansley, he with the Viking horns, offering this prayer after occupying the Senate chamber: “Thank you Heavenly Father for gracing us with this opportunity … to send a message to all the tyrants, the Communists and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ. Thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn.”

According to the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who chairs the board of the ecumenical Christian organization Sojourners, Putin claims to be “preserving ‘Christian civilization’ against the secular decadence of the West….”

The University of California Riverside history professor Georg Michels, a Russia specialist, notes that Christian nationalism in the 19th century was “used as a weapon to fight revolutionaries — many of them women — demonize civil liberties and parliamentarism, and suppress non-Russian minorities.” This Christian nationalism is what motivates Putin, Michels says.

Putin, he notes, “[flaunts] his religious faith; he is often seen on television praying, crossing himself, kissing icons, and lighting candles. Priests have held ceremonies to bless Putin, and [the Russian Orthodox] Patriarch Kirill has called Putin ‘a miracle of God….’”

Michels also notes that Putin models himself after the Russian Orthodox saint Vladimir the Great, whose statue he ordered erected outside the Kremlin. “Vladimir laid the moral foundations on which our lives are still based today,” Putin said in dedicating the statue. “It was a strong moral bearing, solidarity, and unity which helped our ancestors … win victories for the glory of the fatherland, making it stronger and greater with each generation.’”

That such a victory is Putin’s goal is clear from what his Russian supporters assert openly. For example, Konstantin Malofeev, who heads a Russian Orthodox group known as the St. Basil the Great Foundation, said that with Putin at the helm, “Christian Russia can help liberate the West from the new liberal anti-Christian totalitarianism of political correctness, gender ideology, mass-media censorship and neo-Marxist dogma.”

Putin said as much in a televised speech on February 24, the day the invasion of Ukraine began. Using code words and phrases that resonate with the white Christian nationalists, he accused the West of trying “to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us…, the attitudes they have been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature.”

As Michels puts it, Putin and the white Christian nationalists are motivated by the “belief in a mythologized Christian realm, the rejection of democratic values, the attack on gay rights and feminism, and the popularity of authoritarian strongmen….”

According to Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, far right white Christians “see Putin as conserving white Christendom in Europe. This grouping is opposed to globalism, multiculturalism, promoting what they see as modernist values like promoting the LBTGQ community, diversity, and allowing liberalism to dominate.”

Some years ago, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer began his radio program by declaring Putin to be “the lion of Christianity, the defender of Christian values.”

Most Republicans today are anti-Putin, but it took some time for many of them to get there. They had two fears: Donald Trump’s support for Putin in the run up to the invasion (he has since walked back some of his comments) and the very vocal support for Putin and the invasion coming from the party’s extreme right.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson, long a Putin booster, was unapologetic in his support before the invasion. Although he has since changed his tune somewhat, Russian media consider Carlson a strong supporter. In mid-March, for example, a Russian television commentator said of his Ukraine waffling, “obviously [he] has his own interests. But lately, more and more often, they’re in tune with our own.”

Others continue to be Putin-boosters, including far-right icons Steve Bannon and Ann Coulter. Another icon, Pat Buchanan, has called Putin “a God-and-country Russian patriot” who pits Christianity “against the Western progressive vision of what mankind’s future ought to be.” The Holocaust-denying, Jew-hating onetime Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke once described Russia under Putin as the “key to white survival.”

On March 22, as Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine were mounting, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) blamed Ukraine for “poking the bear, which is Russia.” She then crowed that “Russia is being very successful in their invasion, even though we hear different things on television.” In other words, reports that Ukrainian forces are pushing back on the invaders are all fake news.

The white supremacist America First Political Action Conference was held on February 25, the day after Ukraine was invaded. AFPAC was founded in 2020 by the antisemitic Holocaust denier Nicholas Fuentes. Greene was one of its featured speakers. She began her remarks with these words. “My name is Marjorie Taylor Greene, I am the daughter of the King, the one true living God, the Alpha, the Omega, our Father in heaven, and I am a forgiven sinner washed in the blood of our savior, Jesus Christ.”

The crowd responded with a favorite chant of the white Christian nationalists crowd: “Christ is king!” To this, Greene responded: “Praise God. Amen. Christ is king.”

In his speech, Fuentes praised Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Said he, “Can we give a round of applause for Russia?” When the crowd responded with chants of “Putin, Putin,” Fuentes responded by saying, “Absolutely, absolutely.”

Here is something else Fuentes told the gathering in his speech—and please recall what the neo-Nazi white supremacist thugs shouted in Charlottesville in 2017: “Jews will not replace us.” Said Fuentes, “To the people that [sic] have thrown out and disrupted our country, we are coming for you…. You think you can replace us? You are wrong. We will replace you!”

Lauren Witzke, who ran as the Republican nominee for Senate from Delaware in 2020, was euphoric in praising Putin’s “Christian nationalism.” After all, as Witzke told her AFPAC audience, “Russia is a Christian nationalist nation.”

Another speaker was Andrew Torba, the CEO of a social networking platform called Gab, which serves as an Internet hangout for the white nationalist/neo-Nazi/white supremacist/QAnon crowd, virulent antisemites all. “America is a Christian nation,” he said, and it is in need of a “great restoration.”

Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, warns that some extremist rightwing militias even see Putin’s invasion as their model for what has to happen here. “They see a societal collapse and need to prepare for an impending civil war, and their focus is on preparing for the battles of that here in the U.S.,” he says.

Torba would seem to be one of them. Echoing Jesus’ advice to his apostles on the morning before the so-called Last Supper, Torba told his AFPAC audience, “If you don’t have a sword, then sell your cloak and buy one.” Whatever Jesus meant by those words, what Torba was saying was that it is time for the American people to rise up in force against what he calls “the Synagogue of Satan.”

Along the route of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade a week ago Sunday, a group of roughly 20 members of the neo-Nazi Nationalist Social Club brazenly unfurled a banner that read, “Keep Boston Irish.” The message should be clear to everyone because Boston has a Midwest-born mayor of Chinese descent, Michelle Wu. Said Dave Falvey, commander of the South Boston Allied Veterans Council, the group that sponsored the parade, “As a Jewish American, it hits especially close to home for me.”

White Christian Nationalist support for Vladimir Putin should hit all of us close to home.

Shammai Engelmayer is a rabbi-emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades and an adult education teacher in Bergen County. He is the author of eight books and the winner of 10 awards for his commentaries. His website is www.shammai.org.