On Feb. 7, 2014, Alexey Komov arrived in Los Angeles to speak at the 22nd Annual Movieguide Faith & Values Awards Gala — an event The New Yorker called the “Christian Oscars.” As the director of the Russian chapter of Movieguide, Komov had a special task: announcing the foreign guests in attendance. According to a now-deleted photo posted to his personal blog, he wore a black tuxedo for the occasion.
But Komov wasn’t there merely because he was interested in pursuing Christian themes in films. As emails made public by hackers and investigations by ThinkProgress have shown, Komov has played a key — perhaps the key — role in Russian efforts to infiltrate American religious right organizations.
He also has a history of praising fascists and anti-Semites, as well as working directly with some of the most notorious anti-LGBTQ voices in both the U.S. and Russia. And, perhaps most notably, he’s worked directly for a Russian oligarch, Konstantin Malofeev, who was sanctioned by both the United States and European Union for his role in helping the Kremlin try to carve up Ukraine. As the U.S. noted when sanctioning Malofeev in Dec. 2014, the oligarch “is one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea.”
Komov’s efforts to build relations with the American far-right have included partnering with America’s leading right-wing homeschooling group, as ThinkProgress reported, and helping steer the World Congress of Families (WCF), the primary bridge between America’s Christian fundamentalists and sanctioned Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, Komov has turned up time and again in the story of how the Kremlin attempted to woo America’s religious right. As ThinkProgress found, Komov even managed to meet with current Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson in 2014 — after Carson made a divisive and confrontational political speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, but before he held public office or announced he would be running for president.
With Movieguide, Komov appears to have scored his biggest success to date, both by infiltrating the group itself and by then using his ties as a platform to connect with the broader world of religious-right entertainers. Not only was Komov named the head of Movieguide’s Russia chapter, but he spoke in front of the largest contingent of America’s Christian moviegoers — directly addressing the who’s-who of the far-right in the U.S.
The films of Christ
Movieguide describes itself as a Christian movie review company, and it says it’s devoted to “redeem[ing] the values of the entertainment industry, according to biblical principles, by influencing industry executives and artists.” The Movieguide website reviews movies, but also offers conservative commentary on other popular entertainment. The site lists which Super Bowl ads are “totally inappropriate,” for example.
It’s also exploded in size and reach over the past few years. The New Yorker reported that while it started as a modest newsletter, Movieguide’s site now has millions of readers per month. Major studios pay at least some attention to the group’s annual reports on how well movies espousing biblical values perform at the box office. The organization’s annual awards gala regularly attracts high-profile names in entertainment among America’s religious right; on his blog, Komov shared a photo of one of the members of “Duck Dynasty” receiving a Movieguide award.
That eruption in both growth and relevance is due to one man: Ted Baehr, Movieguide’s founder and publisher. As Movieguide notes, Baehr’s “life’s purpose is to be used [by] God to redeem the values of the media while educating audiences on how to use discernment in selecting their entertainment.” Baehr routinely makes media appearances to plug Movieguide, from The Hollywood Reporter to The Christian Post.
He also travels regularly to promote Movieguide abroad, according to the Movieguide website. One of his favorite stops is Russia, where his primary contact appeared to be Komov.
On the road to Moscow
It’s unclear when Baehr and Komov first met; neither responded to ThinkProgress’ requests for interviews. However, in addition to Movieguide, the two have another organization in common: the World Congress of Families, which boasts Movieguide as a partner and Komov as an official Russian representative.
For years, the WCF has acted as the primary link between sanctioned Russian oligarchs and leaders among the American religious right. The group is a joint Russian-American project dating to the mid-1990s and has reportedly received funding from sanctioned Russian oligarchs like Konstantin Malofeev and Vladimir Yakunin, the latter of whom is a close confidant of Putin. (Multiple outlets, and even WCF promotional material, have all linked Yakunin to the group; a representative for Yakunin denied to ThinkProgress that Yakunin has funded the group.)
In 2014, the WCF — a notorious anti-LGBTQ organization listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group — attempted to host a “pro-family” conference in Russia, but eventually pulled its branding from the event due to concerns about sanctions. However, the conference went on with few other changes. And while some American groups pulled out of the conference entirely, citing concerns about appearing to support the Kremlin, certain Americans still attended — including Baehr.
In a video Movieguide posted on YouTube in 2014, Baehr said that he was in Moscow to “speak on a conference about the family.” Baehr added that he was “going to talk about how to teach your children to be media wise, to be culture wise, to chose the good, and reject the bad.”
Another video from one of Baehr’s trips has him sitting down with Komov and Dmitri Smirnov, one of Russia’s most outspoken far-right clergy who advocates against LGBTQ rights. “We see homosexualism as a sin,” Archpriest Dmitri once said. “And not just homosexualism, but also alcoholism, drug use, murder of people on the streets, or robbing a bank.” The hour-long talk with Baehr, Komov, and Smirnov, conducted around a table topped with a candelabra, ranged from the history and growth of Movieguide to Baehr’s reticence to say “Pussy Riot,” the female band well-known for its anti-Putin protests.
“There’s constant attacks on Christians, there’s constant attacks on the faith,” Baehr said at one point, before complaining about the “pro-homosexual slant” of certain films.
In order to combat the supposed “constant attacks” on Christian faith from Moscow to Washington, Baehr decided a few years ago to expand Movieguide into Russia — and Komov was there to help.
In a release announcing the creation of “Movieguide Russia,” Baehr described the partnership as a “great step forward for Movieguide.” According to National Religious Broadcasters, Baehr added that the “first generation to come of age after the fall of the Berlin Wall heartily embraces media, but with that comes the desperate need for discernment and Media Wisdom [sic]. I’m honored that Movieguide is playing such a pivotal role at this time in Russia’s history.”
In its announcement, Movieguide said that its Russian chapter would be headed up by Komov, whom Movieguide described as a “Christian family advocate.”
Komov may well be an ardent advocate for Christian teachings, but he also decided to pursue relations with American religious-right figures and groups at the exact same time that Russia worked to infiltrate groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), and while Kremlin-linked individuals and groups began building their own ties with American secessionists and white supremacists.
Moreover, Komov has notable ties to Russian oligarchs working on behalf of the Kremlin in attempting to upend the post-Cold War order.
As ThinkProgress has detailed previously, Komov works closely with Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian billionaire known as “God’s oligarch” for his penchant for donating to Christian fundamentalist causes. Specifically, Komov works for Malofeev’s St. Basil The Great Foundation, Russia’s largest Orthodox charity organization, which pushes regressive, far-right policy, and also allows Malofeev to build up links with similar groups in the West. Malofeev was also one of the most notable figures linking the Kremlin to pro-Russian “separatists” in eastern Ukraine. As the European Union announced when sanctioning Malofeev in 2014 (and a few months after Movieguide welcomed Komov to Los Angeles), Malofeev was believed to have financially backed the separatists, even meeting directly with the leader of pro-Russian forces in Crimea — helping Russia on the way to the first forced annexation Europe has seen since World War II.
While Komov isn’t himself sanctioned, he’s played a key role in Russian efforts to interfere in domestic politics in both the U.S. and Europe. A series of emails published by the Russian hacking outfit Shaltai Boltai reveal not only how close Komov is with Malofeev, but also Komov’s praise for European fascists and American anti-Semites, even referring to one Italian neo-fascist as a “friend.” (As Komov wrote in one of his since-deleted posts, “Russia is the last bastion of moral values… Can the protection of Christian traditions become the basis of Russia’s foreign policy?”)
Komov has previously said about those emails that the “information in the attachments does not properly reflect reality.” But just last month, the anti-Semitic Charles Bausman — an American who runs a pro-Kremlin outlet called Russia Insider — returned Komov’s praise, referring to him as a “good friend.”
It’s unclear what the current status of Movieguide Russia is, or the extent of Komov’s current involvement with the group. Neither Baehr nor Komov responded to ThinkProgress’s questions, and there’s no indication Baehr or Movieguide broke any laws. Komov, however, has continued his involvement with the WCF; as ThinkProgress reported, he was a featured speaker at the WCF’s annual conference last year. (In a recent series of tweets, WCF head Brian Brown described Komov as a “great man,” adding that he “love[s]” Komov.)
But thanks to his partnership with Movieguide, Komov managed to gain entree into not only the surprisingly prominent world of Christian moviegoing, but also access to the biggest names in Christian filmmaking — and the donors helping their cause.
According to photos and Komov’s own writings, the Russian attended at least two Movieguide galas, in 2013 and 2014. In addition to actors and singers nominated, others in attendance included Christian conservative mega-donors Foster Friess and John Templeton.
One person who noted Komov’s attendance: conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who has been interviewed by the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III about whether or not he communicated with WikiLeaks. According to Corsi, Komov was a “special guest” at the gala.