Laruelle, Marlene. “Russian and American Far Right Connections: Confluence, Not Influence.” Ponars Eurasia (2018).

Abstract

The current U.S. debate on Russia is shaped by conspiratorial narratives that see Russia meddling in almost every issue of U.S. political life. This frenzy is reinforced by the fact that Republicans and Democrats now share a relatively similar anti-Russia agenda that is inspired by Cold War “Red Scare” rhetoric. One conspiratorial narrative revolves around connections between Russia and part of the American far right. This topic became highly relevant with the election of Donald Trump, who designated Steve Bannon, then editor of the far right news portal Breitbart, as White House Chief Strategist (he was fired in August 2017). Trump’s election also polarized U.S. public opinion regarding its racist past, epitomized by the Charlottesville riots and multiple polemics about taking down statues of Confederate heroes.

That Russia finds itself enmeshed in issues deeply linked to America’s own past encapsulates the current panic in the United States about Moscow’s alleged ability to influence U.S. domestic public opinion. This memo demystifies the Russian-U.S. far right links that U.S. politicians and media generally overestimate, showing that they are much more limited than portrayed. Further, based on Joseph Nye’s notion of “soft power” and the idea of “strategic narratives” elaborated by Alister Miskimmon, Ben O’Loughlin, and Laura Roselle, it is important to distinguish between two critical forms of exercising soft power: (1) shaping another country’s public opinion by shifting its perceptions and values; and (2) moving with the current Zeitgeist to promote one’s own agenda. Here, I contend that Russia’s soft power in the United States and its links with the U.S. far right demonstrate a confluence of interests rather than an influence on U.S. public opinion.