In the latest example of Russian officials rubbing elbows with members of the American right, a newly emerged photo shows Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson standing alongside a key employee of sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev.
The photo dates to June 2014, and appears to be from Carson’s appearance as a keynote speaker at the 2014 gala for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), one of the most notorious anti-LGBTQ organizations extant.
Alexey Komov — shown in the photo to the right of Carson — has worked for years to ingratiate himself with the American far right, from partnering with American homeschool organizations to working with Christian fundamentalist groups to even liaising closely with Christian movie reviewers.
Alexey Komov and me chatting with Dr Ben Carson at NOM Gala Dinner at Willard Hotel in Washington DC pic.twitter.com/gSGKsL1qVD
— Larry D Jacobs (@larrydjacobs) June 19, 2014
Carson, who ran in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, was working in the private sector at the time, and there’s no indication he broke any laws. Neither Carson’s office nor Komov responded to ThinkProgress’ requests for comment.
The photo appeared on the Twitter account of Larry Jacobs, the former managing director of the World Congress of Families (WCF). That organization is the main bridge between sanctioned Russian officials and American Christian fundamentalists. Jacobs, who also appeared in the photo, has described Russia as the “hope for the world,” adding in 2015 that “the Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.”
Jacobs, who the Human Rights Campaign described as an “extremist” who was “working tirelessly to undercut LGBT people around the world at every turn,” has passed away since the photo was taken.
The photo took place a few weeks before Komov, the WCF’s Russian representative, helped host a “pro-family” conference in Russia, bringing together some of the most bigoted voices in Russia and the U.S. The conference was itself mired in controversy: It took place shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, leading to the first forced annexation in Europe since World War II. The invasion triggered U.S. sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs.
Among those sanctioned for meddling in Ukraine: Malofeev, known in Russia as “God’s oligarch” for his funding of far-right fundamentalist efforts, including the WCF. The Obama administration sanctioned Malofeev in Dec. 2014, a few months after the photo was taken, for his role in helping fund pro-Russian “separatists” in eastern Ukraine who are believed to have destroyed Malaysian Air Flight MH17 in 2014. The Trump administration has upheld those sanctions.
While Komov isn’t himself sanctioned, he’s played a key role in Russian meddling efforts in the U.S. and Europe. A series of emails swiped 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. He’s previously said about those emails that the “information in the attachments does not properly reflect reality,” but did not respond to ThinkProgress requests for comment about the photo with Carson.
Carson presented a sympathetic target for operatives like Komov. The former GOP presidential candidate has compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. During his keynote speech at the NOM gala, as Right Wing Watch found, Carson even managed to claim that Marxists were “using LGBT rights to destroy American unity and impose the ‘New World Order.'”
It’s unclear if Carson includes meetings with sanctioned Russians and their employees in his vision of a “New World Order.'”
Other Russians have cozied up to Republicans at the same time the Kremlin was meddling in America’s political processes. Russian foreign agent Maria Butina managed to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) and meet with numerous members of 2016 GOP presidential candidates like former governors Scott Walker (R-WI) and Bobby Jindal (R-LA), as well as directly question President Donald Trump during his campaign.
“There’s nothing surprising about seeing a picture of [Carson and Komov] together,” said scholar Chris Stroop, an expert on links between between Russia and the American religious right who received a doctorate from Stanford in Russian history. “Carson is precisely the type of radical right-wing Christian with which Komov is frequently able to cultivate comfortable relationships.”