Since 2015, Matthew Heimbach, one of the foremost white nationalists in the United States, has been trying to construct links with Russian nationalists.
At the 2015 launch of his Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), Heimbach hosted Alexander Dugin, Russia’s neo-fascist polemicist — although Dugin, due to the United States’ sanctions regime, could only appear via video. Last year, Heimbach announced his intentions to travel to Russia’s World National Conservative Movement conference, but his travel plans eventually fell through.
Now, though, it appears Heimbach has finally had his tete-a-tete with a member of one of Russia’s more notable nationalist movements. Speaking with ThinkProgress, Heimbach revealed that he had spent time earlier this month in both Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg, Pa., with a representative from the Russian Imperial Movement.
The meeting appears to be the first summit on American soil between one of the leaders of the white nationalist movement in the United States and an official representative from a Russian nationalist organization.
“I think [the meeting] was tremendously positive in every regard,” Heimbach told ThinkProgress. “The big thing was being able to identify that their goals and our goals are very similar: being opposed to liberalism, being opposed to really left and conservative reactionary politics, spiritual revival, and nationalist principles. And it looks like we’re really aiming to have TWP kind of be the representative of America at the future gatherings of the Russian Imperial Movement.”
Heimbach has gained outsized notoriety over the past few years, both for being involved in violent scuffles at a Donald Trump rally in 2016 as well as, more recently, his efforts to promote the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that resulted in one of the most violent far-right terror incidents in years.
However, Heimbach has also made concerted pushes to internationalize his efforts, making multiple trips to Europe in attempts to construct a network of like-minded organizations, individuals, and movements to fracture both trans-Atlantic alliances and Western states alike. (Heimbach has, in the past, called for the break-up of the United States, specifically citing the Soviet Union’s precedent.)
With the meeting earlier this month, Heimbach says he’s that much closer to his goal.
“This is the next step,” he said. “Contact is great — we’ve been in contact since early 2015, but really formalizing us working together in a professional capacity is what has happened now. … [We want] to unify nationalists, to get us working together, talking together, toward this new world. This is really kind of a formal arrangement now of what we can do together.”
And for Heimbach — who has previously described Russian President Vladimir Putin as the “leader … of the anti-globalist forces around the world,” and claimed that “Russia’s our most powerful ally” — the Russian Imperial Movement is just such a partner to help achieve a sort of internationalized nationalism, especially out of Russia. While the two groups aren’t necessarily united on all policy prescriptions, both would like to see the rollback of a liberal world order and a Russia resurgent.
The Russian Imperial Movement, as it is, has constructed its own relationships with official or semi-official organs in Russia, including building ties with Rodina, a far-right party that was co-founded by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.
The Russian Imperial Movement’s Stanislav Shevchuk, whom Heimbach described as the group’s western European representative, joined Heimbach for a tour of Washington. In addition to visiting museums and strolling the city, Heimbach and Shevchuk posed in front of the White House, hoisting a Russian imperial flag.
The two also traversed to Gettysburg, Pa., where they posed in front of a statue of Robert E. Lee — all while holding the Confederate and Russian imperial flags side by side.
The Russian group announced that a detailed report of the trip would be forthcoming, but the Gettysburg demonstration mirrors another moment in 2015, when Heimbach led a rally featuring both Confederate and Russian imperial flags outside the Conservative Political Action Conference.
A representative from the Russian Imperial Movement told ThinkProgress that they “continue to establish contacts with right-wing, traditionalist and conservative organizations around the world to create a ‘Right-wing International.'” The spokesperson added that “for us the task is to share the experience of political [and] information warfare and joint squad tactics training.”
While it remains unclear what events or rallies, if any, will come next between the Traditionalist Worker Party and the Russian Imperial Movement, or between nationalists in the United States and Russia more broadly, the meeting is but the latest in a litany of links developing between American actors and their Russian counterparts, the latter of whom maintain conspicuous ties with those in and around the Kremlin.
For instance, David Duke, who spent considerable time in Russia, says that his books were once sold in the Russian parliament’s bookstore. Elsewhere, Richard Spencer — who has parroted Russian propaganda on foreign policy, and described Russia as the “sole white power in the world” — is currently married to a woman who has spent time translating the works of Dugin, and whose Twitter feed is regularly filled with the kind of pro-Putin fluff that would make others blush. And in 2015, white nationalist Jared Taylor and former KKK lawyer Sam Dickson flew to St. Petersburg for one of the most notable conclaves of the international far-right in years.
I lived in Russia for five years. While there, my book Jewish Supremacism was a best seller and sold in the Duma book store. https://t.co/loug9EdnSy
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) February 16, 2017
More broadly, the meeting appears to be the most recent extension of Russian attempts to build relationships with far-right groups within the United States — a movement that’s by no means limited to white nationalists. Not only have those close to the Kremlin cultivated close relations with Western Christian fundamentalists over the past few years, proffering anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion policies, but, as ThinkProgress detailed last year, Russian actors have further built noteworthy ties with higher-ups at the National Rifle Association.
As it is, Heimbach says he plans on attending next month’s World Youth Conference in Sochi, which would allow the white nationalist to visit Russia for the first time and continue pursuing links with like-minded Russian actors.
In the interim, though, Heimbach says his meeting with the Russian Imperial Movement this month was a harbinger of things to come.
“When we went to the White House, we took a photo with a Russian imperial flag,” he said. “Hopefully before too long, when we’re able to meet in D.C., it will be on the terms of the Russian Imperial Movement [and] the new imperialist tsarist Russia meeting with the delegates from a free and independent white homeland.”
This story has been updated to include additional quotes from a Russian Imperial Movement spokesperson.