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How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia's Anti-Gay Movement

Meet the Fox News producer, the nightclub impresario, and the oligarchs who teamed up to write inequality into law.

| Fri Feb. 21, 2014 7:00 AM EST

The WCF's Moscow Money man

Antonov remains influential in WCF, but today, it is one of his Ph.D. students, Alexey Komov, who is the organization's official Russia representative, chair of its 2014 Moscow conference planning committee, and main link to several key oligarchs backing the family agenda.

Komov has an unorthodox history for a family values crusader. A former Moscow nightclub owner, Komov spent years studying yoga with a renowned guru and traveling the world—India, Tibet, Mongolia, Israel—trying out different religions. "I still know many stars, and some of the best nightclub owners," Komov tells me when we meet. "I was liberal. I experimented. But if you do drugs or you start to be promiscuous, or this and that, it weakens you at the end of the day."  

"I experimented. But if you do drugs or you start to be promiscuous…it weakens you."  

When Komov's guru was diagnosed with cancer a decade ago, it shattered the teacher's faith that yoga would fend off disease. He declared yoga "satanic," was baptized in the Orthodox Church, and became a monk. "I was at his funeral," Komov says, tracing his decision to begin studying theology to that day. He started going to one of Archpriest Dmitri's congregations, and the two became friends. Soon Komov was traveling in the most elite circles of the Russian Orthodoxy.

About a year after his transformation, the Russian Orthodox Church dispatched Komov to the 2010 World Congress planning meeting at the Colorado Springs offices of Focus on the Family. There, representatives from around the world presented bids to host the next World Congress. Komov brought a polished pitch for Moscow, but the group voted to give the next Congress to Madrid. "There was still a lot of mistrust of Russia," says Larry Jacobs. "So we said, 'Prove it to us.'" They asked him to organize a different event, and nine months later, the Moscow Demographic Summit hosted more than 1,000 attendees, many of them WCF regulars—Carlson, Jacobs, Antonov—and Americans from the religious right. The day after the summit, Mizulina introduced the first package of anti-abortion laws in Russia since the USSR's collapse. "We just saw incredible results," Jacobs says.

I meet Komov at Marshall, one of Russia's largest private equity investment firms, in a Moscow complex that is part corporate suites—including outposts of Shell, ExxonMobil, and many Russian-owned oil and gas companies—and part high-end shopping mall. (A Maserati dealership borders the front entrance.) When I get upstairs, a towering blonde in stilettos leads me to one of the firm's ornate conference rooms, where the walls are lined with sketched portraits of famous Russians—mainly old nobility and many, many Orthodox priests.

When I ask why we're meeting here, Komov—who went to high school in London and business school in the United States—pushes back in near-perfect English: "You should not mention Marshall. I just happened to come here, but there's no special meaning. I just have many friends."

Those friends have proven helpful to WCF. "He has appointments, connections with the Orthodox Church and with several wealthy Russian leaders who are also Christians," Carlson explains. Specifically, two Orthodox Russian billionaires who are footing many of the WCF's Russia bills: Vladimir Yakunin, the president of the Russian railways and a Putin adviser (and possible successor), and Konstantin Malofeev, an Orthodox philanthropist who happens to be the founder and managing partner of Marshall, the firm whose conference room we're sitting in.

The 42-year-old Komov seems like exactly the kind of guy you'd want running your fundraising operation: handsome, fashionable, charming, and, most importantly, a shining example of the WCF credo: married, a regular churchgoer, and father of to five kids.

"As Russians, we want to warn people in the West of the dangers of this new totalitarianism," he says. "There are influential lobbies that want to promote an aggressive social transformation campaign using LGBT activists as the means. We see it as the continuation of the same radical revolutionary agenda that cost so many lives in the Soviet Union, when they destroyed churches. This political correctness is used and will be further used to oppress religious freedoms and to destroy the family."

Komov's own organization,, is an official partner of the WCF, and has emerged as a key nexus for family organizing in Russia. In 2012, Komov and a FamilyPolicy colleague were invited to plan a family values forum hosted by Elena Mizulina; In September of the same year, she asked for their comments on a draft bill making it easier for the state to monitor households with children for "conditions that negatively affect their behavior."

On top of his jam-packed advocacy schedule, Komov is the founder and director of Integrity Consulting—he calls it "a little McKinsey"—which offers a variety of services, from business development to market research, to big-time clients like Gazprom, Phillip Morris, Sprint, JP Morgan, and a slew of other US companies. Larry Jacobs is a partner, though he says he draws no salary, describing the title as a flourish to signal financial expertise when he and Komov consult with family values startups outside of Russia.

Which brings us to the finances of the WCF. IRS documents from 2011 show that the Howard Center, the WCF's parent organization, has a budget of just $650,000. According to Jacobs, only $180,000 of that goes to WCF. As a shoestring operation, Carlson says, the WCF has long relied on outside funding for its conferences.

"I have good news. As God created, the family has been, is now, and forever will be the same!"   

Malofeev has pledged to pay for two-thirds of the 2014 World Congress, which will be held in Moscow this September. He funds the largest Orthodox charity in Russia, the St. Basil the Great Charity Foundation, which has an annual budget of more than $40 million. He also owns a 10 percent stake in Rostelecom, Russia's largest telecommunications company and a Sochi Olympics general partner. In recent years, Malofeev has called for conservative versions of Facebook, Wikipedia, and Google, while his advocacy campaign, the Safe Internet League, has pushed to limit Russian internet users' access to everything but a group of preapproved sites. (Three major Russian mobile providers have joined the league, as has the CEO of the country's largest web portal. )

Arguably even more powerful is Yakunin. He's old friends with President Putin dating back to their work with the Gorbachev administration in the '80s—Putin with the KGB, Yakunin as a diplomat. As head of the state railways, Yakunin has overseen $7 billion worth of Olympic infrastructure initiatives; of the roughly two dozen projects, the most expensive was a now-infamous $8.7 billion road that, Russian Esquire calculated, would have been cheaper had it been paved with caviar.

Yakunin helped pay for the WCF's 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit, and his fortune has funded a variety of Orthodox charities supporting the family movement. Back in 2009, he gave $50 million to start an endowment for the Russian Orthodox Church. This past spring, Yakunin launched another endowment fund to generate capital for three organizations—two of his Orthodox charities, and the Sanctity of Motherhood group, whose board is chaired by his wife Natalia.

"Welcome to Russia"

When I attended the third annual Sanctity of Motherhood conference at the Moscow headquarters of RIA Novosti (one of Russia's main news agencies) in November, WCF's Russian allies were all in attendance—the Yakunins, of course, as well as Komov, Antonov, and Archpriest Dmitri.

In one of the four auditoriums, Elena Mizulina was speaking about the need for government regulation to ensure pro-family messaging in media. Upstairs, in the largest hall, Jack Hanick, the former Fox News producer, gave a talk.

"Some of the world thinks that the definition of family is changing," Jacobs said from the stage during the closing ceremony. "But I have good news. As God created, the family has been, is now, and forever will be the same!"   

And the WCF is doing its part to make sure that is the case—in ever bigger and better venues. The first day of the 2014 Congress, September 10, will be at the Kremlin, before the delegates return to the place where all of this began in 2010—Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Like-minded advocates from around the world will attend a parliamentary forum at the Duma with Mizulina, a workshop on Russia's propaganda law, and a session on developing pro-family legislation. The day after the conference, delegates will be bused an hour and a half to visit Trinity Sergius Lavra, Russia's most important monastery, where there are plans for a dinner served by some 300 monks.  

The WCF and its Russian allies will no doubt be celebrating. Since the first time they held this gathering a mere four years ago, family policy in Russia has been transformed: Mizulina helped pass the first package of anti-abortion legislation since the USSR's collapse, and her duo of laws stifling gay rights passed unanimously in both houses of parliament. This month, the administration further tightened her original adoption ban with a series of technical amendments. A bill to separate gay parents from their children, shelved as the Olympics drew closer, is widely expected to be reintroduced after the world's gaze moves on.

Meanwhile the opponents—"the homosexualists"—have receded from public view, holding hands less, getting beat up more, assembling fewer and smaller protests, and contemplating emigration in rising numbers. In just four years, due in no small part to the WCF, the family in Russia has become increasingly "natural."

"The world is already looking at Russia as you're hosting the Olympics," Jacobs says pacing back and forth on stage during the closing ceremony of the Sanctity of Motherhood gathering, his voice rising. "Everyone will be watching. Everyone. Now in 2014, after the Olympics are over, they have a chance to watch what you will do to support families. And we need all of you to fill up that Kremlin hall with 5,000 people. So that you can say to the rest of the world: 'Welcome to Russia!'"

This article was made possible by an exchange sponsored by the International Center for Journalists.

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