Last month, a new leak site called Distributed Denial of Secrets went live, compiling a cache of hacked emails and documents of Russian officials, confidants of sanctioned Russian oligarchs, and those steering Russian interference efforts.
Among the revelations: A higher-up at the Bradley Foundation, one of the main financiers of right-wing groups in the U.S. — including the Daily Caller News Foundation and anti-immigrant organizations — apparently attended a notorious “pro-family” conference in Russia in 2014, held shortly after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
Dan Schmidt, who worked for decades at the Bradley Foundation, was serving as one of the foundation’s vice presidents in 2014. That same year, according to leaked emails, Russian operatives involved in cultivating the American religious right listed him as attending a swanky gala alongside Russian fascists like Alexander Dugin and now-sanctioned Russian oligarchs like Konstantin Malofeev. The emails indicate the gala also included Igor Shchegolev, who was then working as an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Sergei Rudov, who helped host leaders of the National Rifle Association (NRA) during the gun group’s notorious 2015 trip to Russia.
Neither Schmidt nor the Bradley Foundation responded to ThinkProgress’ questions.
The emails are part of a larger package of internal communications between those close to the Kremlin, those charged with spreading Russian interference efforts, and sanctioned Russian oligarchs and officials. Some of the emails involving the 2014 conference, originally unearthed by the Russian hacking outfit Shaltai Boltai, had been previously reported by BuzzFeed in 2014.
While some of the stolen emails deal with Russian security concerns, some of the emails also discuss the 2014 “pro-family” conference in Russia. According to experts like scholar Chris Stroop, who received a doctorate from Stanford in Russian history.and has focused on links between the Kremlin and America’s religious right, that conference was a turning point in how Western Christian fundamentalists viewed the Kremlin.
The conference was originally sponsored by the World Congress of Families (WCF), a group that is itself the primary bridge between America’s religious right and sanctioned Russians. The event brought some of the most vociferous, bigoted anti-LGBTQ voices in Russia in close contact with sympathetic ears in the U.S.
The WCF pulled its sponsorship of the conference after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014. (The WCF has reportedly received funding from both Malofeev and sanctioned Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin, a close confidant of Putin; a representative for Yakunin denied to ThinkProgress that Yakunin has funded the group.) Some conservative groups also pulled out of the conference entirely, such as the Concerned Women for America, which said they didn’t want to “appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.”
But a number of other Americans apparently participated in the conference, which happened just a few months after the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine and began supplying the pro-Russian separatists who are believed to have shot down Malaysian Air Flight MH17.
One of the Americans in attendance at the conference was a representative from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the most influential right-wing homeschooling group in the U.S.
And another, according to the emails, was the Bradley Foundation’s Schmidt, then working as one of the Bradley Foundation’s vice presidents.
The Bradley Foundation describes itself as an organization whose mission is “to restore, strengthen, and protect the principles and institutions of American exceptionalism.” It’s also one of the most noteworthy funders for a number of conservative organizations; as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described a few years ago, the group has built a “conservative empire.” Among its funding efforts, according to its most recent annual report, are grants to the Daily Caller News Foundation (totaling $100,000) and American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC (totaling $250,000).
The most recent annual report indicates that the Bradley Foundation has nearly $1 billion in total assets. Much of that growth, according to one analyst, is due to Schmidt’s efforts.
The emails listing Schmidt’s attendance at both the conference and gala came from Alexey Komov, the WCF’s official Russian representative. Komov has deep ties with the American far-right: He helped oversee the 2014 conference and helped organize a homeschooling conference in 2018. For the latter event, the HSLDA partnered with an organization run by the sanctioned Malofeev, and the event featured yet another sanctioned Russian official, Yelena Mizulina, as a speaker. (The HSLDA denied that it funded the 2018 conference.)
But Komov isn’t merely interested in U.S.-Russian efforts to promote homeschooling or religious conservatism. He reportedly works directly for Malofeev, a Russian billionaire known as “God’s oligarch.” The Obama administration sanctioned Malofeev in 2014 for his role in allegedly sending aid to pro-Russian “separatists” in Ukraine. The Trump administration has upheld those sanctions.
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) October 28, 2015
The leaked emails show that while Komov publicly presents himself as a booster for homeschooling and religious freedom, he has spoken favorably about well-known anti-Semites and fascists. One email from Komov, for instance, described Russia Insider — an anti-Semitic outlet run by Charles Bausman — as a “good site.” Komov further described Bausman as someone with a “stellar resume.” (Earlier this month, Bausman described Komov as his “good friend.”) In another email, Komov referred to Italian neo-fascist Roberto Fiore as a “friend.”
Komov did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for an interview. Regarding the emails, he has previously said that the “information in the attachments does not properly reflect reality.”
Party to a party
As the emails show, Komov emailed Georgy Gavrish, a one-time Russian official at Moscow’s embassy in Greece, about a gala coinciding with the 2014 conference. The subject line of one email indicated that it was the “final list” for a planned gala, hosted at Moscow’s President Hotel.
“Georgy, I’m sending the list,” Komov wrote. He included a roster of just under 140 names. Among them: Americans like Schmidt, and now-sanctioned Russians like Malofeev and Dugin.
The inclusion of Dugin’s name on the guest list stands out: His American acquaintances include white supremacists like Richard Spencer and Matthew Heimbach. Dugin is perhaps Russia’s highest-profile fascist, who has not only called for Ukrainians to be “cleansed” but has also called for the killing of antiwar demonstrators in Russia. (The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Malofeev as “close to Dugin.”)
Dugin was also sanctioned by the Obama and Trump administrations.
Schmidt declined ThinkProgress’ request for an interview. Michael Hartmann, a senior fellow with the conservative think tank Capital Research Center and someone who has co-authored pieces as recently as last September with Schmidt, told ThinkProgress via email that Schmidt “thinks it would be more appropriate” to direct questions to the Bradley Foundation itself, but the foundation did not respond to ThinkProgress’ questions.
Schmidt may have been the most notable American listed as an attendee, but he was not alone. Among others on the list are Ted Baehr, the chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, and anti-trans agitator Miriam Grossman. (Grossman told ThinkProgress via email that she “didn’t end up going” to Russia for the conference.) Baehr has previously partnered with Komov to expand Baehr’s network of Christian movie reviewers.
Komov also specifically pointed to the attendance of Janice Crouse, who was a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush.
Neither Crouse nor Baehr responded to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
It’s unclear what Schmidt’s interest in attending the gala or the conference was, although previous WCF press releases indicate that Schmidt took part in other meetings with notable Russian figures, such as Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. But his inclusion among the list of Americans attending the 2014 conference and gala fits a broader patterns of efforts to build bridges between sanctioned Russians and prominent figures on the American right.
Thus far, Schmidt hasn’t commented publicly on his trip to Russia, or his views on Russian interference efforts. But in 2017, Hartmann described Schmidt as someone who “believes in paying attention to the essence of things.” Schmidt, according to Hartmann, “believes in and speaks of identity — of us as human beings, in families; of us as Americans, in the West; of us as conservatives, in a tradition worthy of respect as we apply it in current circumstances.”
He is, concluded Hartmann, a “hero of conservative philosophy.” And as he told ThinkProgress, Schmidt is also a “Russophile.”