A few days ago there was an article by one Kit Knightly on something called Off Guardian that defended Vladimir Putin from Owen Jones’s takedown in the Guardian. The Off Guardian website is dedicated to showing how rotten the Guardian is with a slant similar to John Wight’s piece on CounterPunch titled “The Demonization of Vladimir Putin”. The Off Guardian, CounterPunch, DissidentVoice, Salon, the Nation, Infowars, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Moon of Alabama, Global Research, World Socialist Website, Information Clearing House, Socialist Unity, Stephen F. Cohen, Voltairenet, Robert Parry, and a host of other personalities and websites basically function as sounding boards for RT.com. Are they getting paid for their services? I would assume not since there is no question as to the ideological zeal that binds these seemingly disparate voices together. For them, Vladimir Putin is a figure to be revered for standing up for “the Russian nation” in a way that when espoused by Donald Trump in a stump speech for “America” would fill them with disgust. Stars and stripes? Feh! St. George’s Cross? Yeah!
In defending Putin, Knightly had a job roughly equivalent to O.J. Simpson’s lawyer in the famous trial that is soon to be dramatized on cable TV but he did not shy from the task. He could not let Jones off the hook for daring to begin an article calling Putin a “rightwing authoritarian leader who attacks civil liberties, stigmatises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, indulges in chauvinistic nationalism, is in bed with rapacious oligarchs, and who is admired by the European and American hard right.”
To rebut this, Knightly explained that the controversial law banning the “promotion of non-traditional sexual practices to children” did not really target gays. You can even find a gay American attorney named Brian M. Heiss who backs him up on this. I have no idea about what makes Heiss tick but in the 129 page booklet that he wrote and that was cited by Knightly, there’s not a single word about the biggest problem in Russia—namely the entrapment of gay men by gangs of skinheads as documented in the film “Hunted in Russia”
The thing that amused me most about Off Guardian was its premise that the Guardian was a voice of the US State Department. What a strange idea in light of the outpouring of pro-Kremlin tripe that appears regularly under the byline of Seumas Milne, Jonathan Steele, and Neil Clark—not to speak of frequent appearances on “Comments are Free” from Tariq Ali, John Pilger and others of that ilk. One imagines that people like Knightly won’t be happy until the Guardian reads like RT.com.
To bait the bear, I started writing some comments under Knightly’s article that got him irritated especially my positive reference to Pussy Riot:
Yeah, all these people including Pussy Riot with their “weird” behavior, especially being disrespectful to the Russian Orthodoxy. So outside the norms of polite society.
It never fails to amaze me how you “anti-imperialists” attach yourself to Putin’s conservative mores the same way that fraternity boys in Division One Football Schools like Notre Dame kept posters of Ronald Reagan on their wall in the 1980s.
To which he replied:
I don’t think disliking the idea of nailing your testicles to the ground, or disapproving of orgy-like protests in a church make you “conservative”. And I don’t especially want to live in a world where that is the case.
All of a sudden I had an epiphany. People like Kit Knightly, John Wight and Mike Whitney are social conservatives. When Knightly defends the Russian Orthodox Church from “orgy-like protests”, I feel like I am listening to Glenn Back complaining about Lady Ga-Ga. Where do these people come from? Since the people who put out Off Guardian don’t disclose much personal information, I can only gather that Knightly is a pretty straight-laced fellow even if he adopts “transgressive” positions on Putin. But maybe they aren’t so transgressive when you consider the admiration that Donald Trump professes for Putin. Isn’t it possible that the attachment that some leftists have for Putin is a kind of displaced authoritarianism that expresses itself for a foreign leader cum father figure who embodies traditional values such as the nuclear family, religion and patriotism? Sort of a synthesis of “Father Knows Best” and William Z. Foster. So what if it is Russia that becomes your guiding star of traditional values. Perhaps there is a confusion between the two red states, Kansas and Stalin’s Russia for which Putin has beaucoup nostalgia. Just don’t get the judo master started on Lenin or else he might give you a zetz in the mouth.
The ties between Christian fundamentalists in the USA and Russia is something worth taking note of. If you think that Putin is despised in the bible belt, you haven’t been paying close attention. A rightwing fundamentalist group called the World Congress of Families has been around since 1997. It was apparently very involved with advising the Russians on their anti-LBGT laws just as it has been with similar laws in Africa. In 2014, Mother Jones reported on a conference they held in Russia. The participants should give you an idea of the elective affinities at work:
- Jack Hanick: The former Fox News producer spoke at the third Sanctity of Motherhood conference this past November. He also spoke at a WCF regional event hosted by Malofeev’s Safe Internet League and at a traditional values roundtable hosted this past June by Malofeev’s St. Basil charity. Brian Brown and the Duma’s Elena Mizulina were also in attendance, and gay marriage was a primary discussion topic.
- Brian Brown: The president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brown also spoke at the June roundtable hosted by Malofeev’s St. Basil charity. Earlier that day, he spoke with Elena Mizulina’s Duma committee on family policy about adoption by gay couples.
- Larry Jacobs: As WCF managing director, Jacobs works with Allan Carlson at the Howard Center, which runs the WCF. He is also a partner at Komov’s Integrity Consulting, and spoke at annual conferences hosted by Yakunina’s Sanctity of Motherhood group in 2010 and 2013.
- Allan Carlson: A prolific historian and family scholar, Carlson is the president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. He helped hatch the idea for the WCF in 1995 with Professor Anatoly Antonov. He is Jacobs’ colleague.
- Vladimir Yakunin: Married to Natalia Yakunina, he helps fund her Sanctity of Motherhood program through several of his charities, including the Center for National Glory and the Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called.
- Natalia Yakunina: Married to Vladimir Yakunin and heads the Sanctity of Motherhood program.
- Konstantin Malofeev: This billionaire businessman and telecommunications mogul helps fund the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, the largest Orthodox Charity in Russia, through Marshall Capital, the investment firm he founded. He’s also a trustee at the Safe Internet League. Through St. Basil, Malofeev also hosted a traditional values roundtable in June (attended by Jack Hanick, Brian Brown, and the Duma’s Elena Mizulina) where gay marriage was a primary discussion topic.
- Elena Mizulina: A member of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, she also heads its committee on family policy. Mizulina sponsored both anti-gay laws—the propaganda and adoption bans—that passed in the summer of 2013. According to WCF’s Larry Jacobs, he and Mizulina have met at least three times in Russia. Two days after the propaganda law passed the Duma, Brian Brown met with Mizulina and her committee to discuss legislation about adoption by gay couples.
- Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov: A top Orthodox official, Archpriest Dmitri was appointed to head the Patriarch’s commission on the family this past March. He describes the group as a family policy-development shop for the administration that often advises Mizulina’s Duma committee. Alexey Komov is the executive secretary of this commission.
- Alexey Komov: The WCF’s official Russia representative, Komov heads FamilyPolicy.ru, a WCF Russian partner. He works with several other Orthodox groups, including Smirnov’s Patriarch’s commission (where he is executive secretary), Malofeev’s Safe Internet League (where he is on the board), and Malofeev’s St. Basil foundation (where he runs a charity). Komov is also the founding partner of Integrity Consulting, a management consulting firm.
- Anatoly Antonov: A renowned demographer, Antonov is a professor in the sociology department at Moscow State University. He helped hatch the idea for the WCF in Moscow with Allan Carlson in 1995. Komov is working toward a PhD in the department, and Antonov is his dissertation adviser.
These kinds of people give me the heebie-jeebies. Maybe that’s because I was a bohemian before I became a radical. I am attracted to deviants. I was a fan of male prostitute and petty thief (and distinguished playwright) Jean Genet long before I read Karl Marx. When I read Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” in 1961, that was the kind of person I wanted to get to know—someone who was capable of writing lines like this:
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing
obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their
money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo
with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise
Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and
cock and endless balls,
I first noticed this social conservatism in 2012 when Pussy Riot was arrested for performing punk rock in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Mike Whitney, who runs a landscaping business in Washington State (I hope he pays his Mexican workers a living wage), wrote an asinine article in CounterPunch defending their arrest since they were “useful fools” in a scheme to sling mud at Putin.
As I explained to Knightly, there was nothing “orgy-like” about the performance. Maybe he was confused about an orgy performance piece the women were involved with in a Russian museum some time earlier. My attitude on things like that is go right ahead, kids. I am absolutely for frightening the horses on any and all occasions especially in Russia and the USA.
If Kit Knightly was around in 1961 (he probably had not been born yet), he would have backed the S.F. District Attorney’s attempt to punish Lawrence Ferlinghetti for publishing Ginsberg’s classic. Well, to be fair he might have been opposed to that but certainly would give the Russian courts carte blanche to keep trouble-makers like the gonad-nailer in line.
In fact, the performance artist who offended Knightly so grievously may be committed to a mental hospital because of his public action as CBS reported:
The partner of Russian dissident best known for his politically charged performance art — including nailing his scrotum to Red Square — says he has been transferred to a psychiatric hospital.
Pyotr Pavlensky’s partner, Oksana Shalygina, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the artist was transferred the previous day from jail to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation, lasting up to 21 days.
You judge for yourself whether he is psychotic or not. Of course, since I am quoting a Guardian article, you can assume that Kit Knightly would write it off as State Department propaganda. For such people, everything is black-and-white according to an anti-imperialist theory that reduces the world to a chessboard. I’ll stick with Lenin’s citation of Mephistopheles’s words in Goethe’s Faust: “Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.
Pavlensky says it was during the Pussy Riot trial that he first began to understand the need for a more radical approach to art. “Their trial affected me more than many things in my own life. I started looking at other people and wondering why they were not doing anything. And that is when I had the important realisation that you should not wait for things from other people. You need to do things yourself.”
The idea for his most recent performance came when he was briefly held in a cell after the Carcass stunt. A fellow prisoner regaled him with stories of the Gulag, where prisoners had sometimes nailed their scrotums to trees in an act of protest at the inhumane conditions and miserable existence. “I didn’t think much of it at first but then, when I began thinking that the whole country is becoming a prison system, that Russia is turning into a big prison and a police state, it seemed perfect.”
Some suggested that the act may not have been as gruesome as it seemed, with a piercing having been made prior to the event and the nail simply pushed through, but as we walk along the freezing platform for him to board the Moscow train, Pavlensky insists that he actually drove the nail through that afternoon. “I have the medical report to prove it,” he says. “I was careful not to rupture a vein but it was very bloody and sore. They wanted to give me antibiotics and other medications, but I refused.”
In the end, Pavlensky was not arrested at his questioning the following day in Moscow, but the charges against him still stand, and he remains under investigation. In late January, officers arrived at the cable channel TV Rain and demanded to be given a recording of an interview Pavlensky had given them, saying they needed to examine it as part of a “psychological-linguistic expert analysis” that was being carried out as part of the case against him.
Despite the real threat of a jail term, Pavlensky does not plan to stop, and says his unusually painful brand of art comes from an imperative impulse towards radicalism: “It was a very important step for me – to understand what happens when a person becomes an artist, when a person becomes stronger than their indifference and overcomes their inertia. I don’t think an artist can exist without this and just be isolated and contemplative. An artist has no right not to take a stand.”