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Charles Bausman promote far-right websites, covering neo-Nazis in Ukraine

Charles Bausman promote far-right websites, covering neo-Nazis in Ukraine
During the Jan. 6 uprising, Charles Bausman, on the right, wore a red cap and a gray jacket.

A rough road for an American From Russian Propagandist to January 6

Charles Bausman, who used to work in finance and now runs websites that support far-right ideas, filmed in the Capitol for a Russian TV producer. Soon after that, he ran away as a "political refugee" to Moscow.

On security footage from January 6, it's easy to miss the thin man in a red Trump hat who sneaks into the U.S. Capitol Building with his phone to record the chaos.

He seems to be just like everyone else in the crowd, since that day was so crazy. But what he did next was anything but normal.

The man, Charles Bausman, gave his recordings and comments to a Russian TV producer for a propaganda video within 24 hours. He then moved to Moscow, where he recently accused American media of protecting neo-Nazis in Ukraine. He did this on a far-right TV network owned by a sanctioned oligarch.

Mr. Bausman told people in Russia, "We have to realize that we are already living in a world of lies in the West."

It was the latest part of a strange journey for Mr. Bausman, an American who went to Phillips Exeter Academy and Wesleyan University and speaks Russian fluently. He used to be a financial executive who voted for President Barack Obama. In 2014, he became a public critic of the left and of the U.S., helped by Russian state-sponsored organizations that invited him to speak, put him on TV, and gave him awards.

A series of websites he made with anti-American and pro-Russian messages, as well as racist and homophobic ones, were key to his change. Some of his posts have been seen by millions of people, and his 5,000-word rant about "the Jewish problem" has been praised by antisemites all over the world and translated into many languages.

In some ways, Mr. Bausman's path is similar to a larger shift on the political right, which embraces false information and likes Russia while allowing white nationalism to grow stronger. Through a network of expats, collaborators, and spies, the Kremlin has tried to get close to conservatives in the United States and sow discord.

In 2015, Mr. Bausman went to a conference put on by the Kremlin-linked news channel RT.
In 2015, Mr. Bausman went to a conference put on by the Kremlin-linked news channel RT.

American intelligence has been looking into people who have written for Mr. Bausman's websites or promoted his work. In March, the founder of a pro-Russia forum where he and others met was charged with being an unregistered agent of Moscow.

Mr. Bausman used to be well-known for defending Russia, but he has become less well-known in recent years as he has taken more extreme positions. But, like Zelig, he has used cultural and political hot spots to get what he wants, racing from cause to cause.

After coming out as a loud supporter of Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014, Mr. Bausman became a loud supporter of Trump. White nationalism was on the rise, so he did everything he could to support it. He moved to a rural part of Pennsylvania and let neo-Nazis stay on his property. He joined Republican protests against coronavirus restrictions and the 2020 election, and he has recently been back in Russian media to criticize the West's response to the war in Ukraine.

Konstantin Malofeev, a powerful oligarch who was indicted by the US for allegedly breaking sanctions, said that he had asked Mr. Bausman to appear on his TV network because Mr. Bausman was one of the few Russian-speaking Americans who was willing to do it.

Who else could we invite? Mr. Malofeev asked.

Mr. Bausman, who is 58, didn't answer when asked to comment more than once. No charges have been brought against him because of what happened on January 6, but video clips of him inside the Capitol have been shown in court in cases against other people. When a Russian TV host called him "a participant" in storming the Capitol, Mr. Bausman cut him off to explain that he was a journalist and that this could get him in trouble.

But he has talked about himself in different ways at other times. In April, he attacked critics of Russia on a white nationalist podcast, calling them "evil pedophile globalists" who control the "enslaved West." He then said, "I'm a political refugee here."

From Hartford to Moscow

In 2014, when Mr. Bausman said he had an idea, President Vladimir V. Putin had just invaded Crimea. He would start a new news source to counter what he called the "inaccurate, incomplete, and overly negative picture of Russia" in the Western media.

The English-language website Russia Insider had headlines like "Putin to Obama: You're Turning the U.S.A. into a Godless Sewer" and "Anti-Christian Pogrom Underway in Ukraine." Content was often put together from other pro-Russia sources, like RT, a TV network that is funded by the Kremlin.

Mr. Bausman, who grew up in a wealthy suburb of Greenwich, Conn., went to prep school, got a history degree from Wesleyan, and then went to Columbia to study business, was not an obvious choice for the role of online agitator. His father was the Moscow bureau chief for The Associated Press when he was a child, so he knew a lot about the country.

As a college graduate in the late 1980s, he returned to Russia, and, with help from his father’s connections, worked briefly for NBC News. But when the Soviet Union broke up, Mr. Bausman found a new job: he became a fixer for entrepreneurs who were trying to make money in the new economy and spoke more than one language.

A. Craig Copetas, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal who wrote a book about the business world after the fall of the Soviet Union, said that Mr. Bausman worked with Russians who "were the forerunners of the oligarchs."

He said, "Charlie speaks Russian very well, so he's a great asset. He's like the young American prince of Moscow."

Early on, Mr. Bausman did well, but it didn't last. His resume has some holes, and U.S. court records show that he went bankrupt in 1999.

A former business partner of Mr. Bausman's said that the man's father would ask people to "help my son" with his career. This person, who did not want to be named because Mr. Bausman was connected to extremists, said that he was "just this lost guy" who seemed to be having trouble at work despite having a lot of impressive qualifications. He had a series of private equity jobs in Russia, but he never stayed in any of them for more than a few years.

Mr. Bausman's last job was with AVG Capital Partners, an agribusiness investor. In a 2012 company presentation, he was called the director of investor relations and said that the company had "strong partnerships" with the Russian government. A picture of Mr. Putin was included in the presentation.

It's not clear when Mr. Bausman switched from journalist to propagandist, but two profiles on the Russian social media site VK give us a hint. The first one is from 2011 and is a small page with a picture of a thin Mr. Bausman in a suit and a link to a tennis-loving group.

In the second profile, from two years later, he is tanned and looks sure of himself, wearing a shirt with an open collar. The VK groups he joined were very radical. They included a militant Russian Orthodox sect and something called the Internet Militia, whose goal was the same as Mr. Bausman's: "to protect and defend our native information field" against American attack.

His father, who worked for The Associated Press in Moscow, was with Mr. Bausman.
His father, who worked for The Associated Press in Moscow, was with Mr. Bausman.

Connections to Oligarchs

Mr. Bausman raised money from the public to pay for Russia Insider. Behind the scenes, though, he was talking to Mr. Malofeev, who spread propaganda that was pro-Orthodox and nationalist.

In 2014, leaked emails showed that Mr. Bausman was talking to a Malofeev associate, telling him "we published your Serbia information," and asking for money. In an email to Mr. Malofeev, the associate said that Mr. Bausman's site was "pro-Russian" and that he "wants to work together."

At the same time, Mr. Malofeev was supporting another media project that had a similar goal: Tsargrad TV, which he created with John Hanick, a former Fox News employee. This year, the US charged both Mr. Hanick and Mr. Malofeev with breaking sanctions that were put in place in 2014.

In an interview, Mr. Malofeev said that Mr. Bausman "has done a great job and is a very brave person," but he denied that they had "a financial relationship."

Mr. Bausman has always said that the Russian government did not help him. But there is little doubt that his rise as a pro-Kremlin American salesman was helped a lot by groups that the Russian government controls or has ties to.

After Russia Insider went live, Mr. Bausman started appearing on RT and other Russian media. A news crew from a major state-owned TV channel also went to his parents' house in Connecticut to film him talking about his new website. On Facebook, he said, "After this aired, our traffic went through the roof."

He was asked to be on a panel at another state-run news outlet, got an award in 2016 named after a pro-Russia journalist who was killed in Ukraine, and spoke at a youth conference in Crimea, which the Kremlin had just taken over. He spoke well of Mr. Malofeev in interviews with Russian Orthodox leaders.

In April 2016, the work of Mr. Bausman was promoted by RIA FAN, a Russian website that has been linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who was indicted by Robert S. Mueller. At first, the website shared an address with the Russian government's "troll factory," the Internet Research Agency, which is accused of using fake social media accounts and online propaganda to mess up the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Russia experts who have looked at Mr. Bausman's work say it looks like a project to spread false information. Olga Lautman, who studies Russian propaganda campaigns as a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said that his message fit right in with that of Mr. Putin's government.

"His first goal with his outlet was to make it hard for Americans to know the truth about Crimea," she said. "Then you see that his outlet and others are being used to support the Kremlin's story about Syria and then the 2016 U.S. elections," the author says.

She said, "It looks like a classic Russian plot to get people to do what they want."

Mr. Bausman has been on the TV network of Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian oligarch who is accused of breaking U.S. sanctions.
Mr. Bausman has been on the TV network of Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian oligarch who is accused of breaking U.S. sanctions.

Turn to the right

With Donald J. Trump's election as president in 2016, Mr. Bausman's media outlet started to spread more extreme ideas. In a post about how happy he was after the election, he said something that shocked his old friends.

"Trump's election might be like Luther nailing his theses to the door," he wrote. "But now the demons are awakened, and they know they have to fight or die. Just like in the 1600s, they won't go quietly." "There will be blood," he said. Let's hope it's the digital kind and not the real, red, hot, and sticky kind."

In January 2018, Mr. Bausman posted "It's Time to Drop the Jew Taboo," a long polemic that was both an anti-Semitic manifesto and a call to action for the alt-right. This was a turning point.

"The evidence suggests that much of what people do and how they do it is shaped by Jews is a bottomless pit of trouble, with a strange love of lying and cynicism, a hatred of Christianity and Christian values, and a clear bloodlust in geopolitics," he wrote.

White nationalists liked it, and people like Richard Spencer called it "a major event."

Outside of the far right, Mr. Bausman's acceptance of antisemitism was criticized by a lot of people. In a report about human rights concerns in Russia, the U.S. State Department brought it up, and RT's response was to say that it was not true.

After his mother died in August 2018 and left an estate worth about $2.6 million, Mr. Bausman bought two homes in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where his family had lived for generations.

His older sister, Mary-Fred Bausman-Watkins, said last year that her brother "was always short on money" and that their parents often helped him out, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has put together several reports on his activities. Ms. Bausman-Watkins died in May.

She told the center, "They paid for his whole life, and when they died, he got their money, so they're still paying for his life."

Mr. Bausman, on the right, has said that he went to the Capitol as a reporter.
Mr. Bausman, on the right, has said that he went to the Capitol as a reporter.

The rebellious act

Mr. Bausman was living in Lancaster with his Russian wife and two young daughters when he started working on two new websites that had a lot of white nationalist content. There were headlines like "Black Violence Out of Control" and "Jewish Intellectuals Tell Gays to Do Sex Acts in Front of Children."

Mr. Bausman hid the fact that he owned one of these sites, National Justice, by registering it privately. The New York Times was able to confirm this by looking at data that was leaked last year from Epik, a web hosting service that the far right likes. The site has the same name as a white nationalist group and has posts by one of its leaders, but its chairman, Michael Peinovich, says it is not the group's official site.

In an interview, Mr. Peinovich said that Mr. Bausman had held the first party meeting in 2020 at his farmstead (a large event first reported by a local news outlet, LancasterOnline). But after that, he said, his group "went our own way" because they didn't agree with Mr. Bausman's focus on supporting Mr. Trump.

Photos on social media show that three days before January 6, 2021, Mr. Bausman let Rod of Iron Ministries, a religious group with a focus on guns and led by a son of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, meet on his land. Members of the sect took part in "Stop the Steal" rallies, some of which Mr. Bausman also went to. On January 6, they were at the Capitol.

Mr. Bausman asked people to go to Washington "to support Trump" in a post on Facebook. During the riot, Mr. Bausman can be seen in the Capitol at different times, often with his phone out to record the chaos.

After that, he went back to Lancaster and did a long interview for a video about the uprising that was made by Arkady Mamontov, a Russian TV host who is known for making big pro-Kremlin propaganda pieces. On the video, there was also a clip of Mr. Bausman outside of his house that looks like it was shot months ago. When Mr. Mamontov was asked for his opinion, he didn't give one.

In the video, Mr. Bausman claimed, without evidence, that federal agents started the violence at the Capitol to "discredit Trump." He also painted a dystopian, conspiracy-filled picture of American society. It's a theme he's kept up in recent appearances on Mr. Malofeev's TV network, where he said that Western media were lying about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

It's not clear when Mr. Bausman left the U.S., but he was on TV in Moscow on the day President Biden took office, two weeks after the Capitol uprising. In an interview with a white nationalist podcast in April, he said that he had not been back home since.

When the host asked him if he still liked Trump, Mr. Bausman said he didn't, but he added with a laugh that there was one thing that could make him like him again.

He said, "When he forgives me for Jan. 6."

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