For years, the Texas Nationalist Movement has cultivated ties in Russia, especially among those who’ve received financing directly from the Kremlin.
Now, as ThinkProgress discovered, one of the Texas-based secessionist group’s flags is actually hanging outright in Moscow — highlighting the ongoing questions surrounding their links overseas.
Last week, Alexander Ionov posted a video to his Instagram page, which remains one of his preferred platforms for highlighting his ties to other groups. Ionov runs the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, a group that helps organize secession movements across the West, and which has received financing from the Kremlin in the past.
In the video, the Texas Nationalist Movement’s flag can be seen hanging prominently in the office. The caption of the video read, “If your office doesn’t look like this, don’t even call me.”
Ionov confirmed to ThinkProgress that the Texas Nationalist Movement flag is hanging in his group’s office, saying it had been hanging there a “long time.” When asked why the flag is hanging, Ionov responded, “It’s beautiful.”
The flag joins other items Ionov has previously hung in his office, including a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin personally thanking Ionov for his “work to strengthen friendship between peoples.” (Ionov has also been involved in raising money for Maria Butina, the convicted Russian agent who successfully infiltrated the National Rifle Association.)
The Texas Nationalist Movement did not respond to ThinkProgress’s questions, but Ionov said the flag was a “gift.”
The flag highlights the years of strange ties between the Texas-based group and patrons in Moscow. The Texas Nationalist Movement, the leading pro-secession group in Texas, claims that its “mission is to secure and protect the political, cultural and economic independence of the nation of Texas and to restore and protect a constitutional Republic and the inherent rights of the people of Texas.”
But since at least 2015, representatives from the Texas Nationalist Movement have traveled to Russia to stake their case for those in Russia to back their cause.
The Texas Nationalist Movement’s Nathan Smith has led multiple trips to Russia, building links with Ionov’s group along the way. Smith, for instance, represented the Texas Nationalist Movement at a secessionist conference in Moscow in 2016, just a few months before the U.S. presidential election. The website for the far-right Russian Rodina party — a party co-founded by sanctioned Russian official Dmitry Rogozin — even featured Smith on its website during one of his visits. (Other American representatives, including those supposedly backing California independence, also attended the 2016 conference.)
Texas Nationalist Movement officials later revealed that Ionov’s organization had helped fund the Texas group’s 2016 travels directly. In a December 2016 interview with KQED, Texas Nationalist Movement head Daniel Miller “declined to say how much money the Kremlin gave” to the Texas Nationalist Movement.
While the Texas Nationalist Movement built its links in Moscow, the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) spent 2015-2017 specifically targeting those backing Texas secession, primarily via Facebook and Twitter. For instance, the IRA’s “Heart of Texas” Facebook page grew wildly popular on the platform: not only was it the largest Facebook page dedicated to Texas secession, but it at one point had more followers in 2016 than the official Texas GOP and Texas Democratic Facebook pages combined.
The “Heart of Texas” page claimed that it was collecting names of supporters to pass along to the Texas Nationalist Movement, although Texas Nationalist Movement members denied they ever collaborated with the “Heart of Texas” page.
Regardless, Ionov and his group aren’t the only Kremlin-funded movement with whom the Texas Nationalist Movement has cultivated links. In late 2014, according to The Telegraph, the Texas Nationalist Movement confirmed it had met with a representative from the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and announced that they had a “fundamental right” to self-determination. The separatists have received years of funding, arms, and direction from the Kremlin, acting as an effective proxy for Russian designs in breaking up Ukraine. They have also been accused of human rights atrocities along the way, none of which stopped the Texas Nationalist Movement from meeting with one of their representatives.
Looking forward, Ionov told ThinkProgress that he’s planning on trying to host another secession conference in Russia this year. Whether the Texas Nationalist Movement makes another appearance remains to be seen.