The ‘War on Woke’ is a conflict between fascistic notions of the natural order against progressive values, and both Russian funding and disinformation networks have fuelled it

A clip of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill went viral on Twitter over the weekend, as the Church leader endorsed Putin’s message on Ukraine and repeated the lie that the West organises genocide campaigns against countries that refuse to host Gay Pride marches.

The lie had previously been used by the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev in a disinformation campaign against Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union. He said that the EU forced member states to “allow propagation of homosexuality and gay parades”.

Kirill’s statement is a frightening example of the great disinformation war in action – a war that has been fought on the basis of culture and ‘wokeness’. Now, as we watch in horror at a kinetic war in Europe, it’s time to acknowledge an ugly truth: the culture war in the UK has been funded by the same powers bombarding Ukraine, as well as their international allies. 


The War on Woke

Between 2009-18, anti-gender actors from within the European Union, Russia and the US have spent at least $707.2 million in Europe, with the Russian Federation making up 26.6% of that spend, according to research published by the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Rights. 

As reported in this paper, the two main Russian funders of anti-gender disinformation are Vladimir Yakunin and Konstantin Malofeyev – oligarchs sanctioned for their alleged involvement in the annexation of Crimea, after Russia’s 2014 invasion.  

Their roubles have mingled with US dollars at the World Congress of Families; with Euros at the Novae Terra Foundation, and La Manif Pour Les Tous; and British pounds at Agenda Europe – in 2013, the assets manager of banker Sir Michael Hintze attended the network’s London summit, the following year Malofeyev’s man in Europe, Alexey Komov, was on the guest list. 

The campaigns and individuals funded by this wealth have regularly spread anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ disinformation, including that abortion is “Satanic” and that there’s a “homosexual agenda” which wants to make children “sex education propagandists in the EU”. They also spread anti-trans rhetoric. 

At the same time, far-right conspiracists and disinformation agents have gone into overdrive to accuse anti-racist movements such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter of being “cultural Marxists”.

The proliferation of campaigns, online trolling and spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories is what Trump’s former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon called “flooding the zone with s**t”. Those same disinformation campaigns have been funded in part by Russian cash, before being spread by independent actors both on social media and in the mainstream media, as well as by independent politicians. 

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Brits Take the Bait

In the West, the right-wing commentariat has responded to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine by opining that, in recent years, the region has been too distracted by ‘woke’ issues such as gender neutral pronouns and cultural appropriation

A week before Russia invaded Ukraine, the Conservative Party co-chair Oliver Dowden gave a frankly bizarre speech at the radical right think tank the Heritage Foundation where he claimed ‘woke values’ were a “dangerous form of decadence just when our attention should be focused on external foes” such as Russia and China. 

At the same time, critics of anti-rights disinformation have been hunting for a smoking gun – the singular proof that Russian money has been funding the “war on woke” raged by TV channels such as GB News and conspiracy theorists like the US’ Alex Jones. 

There are various crossovers between GB News and Russian disinformation, not least through prominent Brexiteer Nigel Farage. The right-wing provocateur, who was close to Putin admirer Donald Trump, regularly appeared on Kremlin-media mouth-piece RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and has a show on GB News. The channel has been vocally against ‘woke’ values. His fellow pro-Brexit campaigner George Galloway has regularly appeared on both GB News and RT

In the US, the culture war’s flames have been fanned by shock jocks such as Tucker Carlson of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, who has promoted pro-Putin talking points, shared disinformation about Black Lives Matter and LGBTIQ rights, and asked why he should not be on Putin’s side. 

Across the world, the right has willingly repeated the conspiracist talking points and spread disinformation created by organisations and individuals funded by Russian money.

That does not mean that individuals such as Farage, Galloway and Carlson are funded by Russian wealth. It’s more complicated than that. The disinformation war has become so successful, that divisions based on culture – divisions between those who want to revert to a natural order versus those who believe in progressive values – have become the water we swim in. There doesn’t have to be a smoking gun. These themes and rows have become self-perpetuating.

Take, for example, how in the run-up to the Batley and Spen by-election, Galloway repeated anti-gender propaganda, saying that he didn’t want children to be taught “how to masturbate” or “about anal sex” and “parents chest-feeding their children”. He also discussed “transmania” with Russia Today.  

Farage meanwhile has used inflammatory language about the Black Lives Movement, calling it a “far-left Marxist organisation”. 

Then there was Dowden’s speech which failed to recognise how it is his Government that has put a culture war at the heart of its policy: with a policing bill that behaves as though leftie activists are destroying statues of Churchill every Saint’s Day; that uses the term “cultural Marxists” to demonise its opposition; that has banned discussions of racial privilege in schools; and has sown division around Brexit, Black Lives Matter and refugee rights.

In doing so, the Government has been responding to rhetoric propagated on conspiracists and far-right spaces; to campaigns and initiatives funded by foreign money; and not – as it thinks – to the work-a-day concerns of the Workington man.  

The culture wars were never organic or grassroots. They have been funded by foreign money “flooding the zone with s**t”. From there, the “war on woke” became self-propagating, picked up by individuals keen to entrench their own popularity and power. 

The rest of us were just pawns in the game. 

Correction: a previous version of this article repeated allegations published in The Guardian regarding an investor in GB News, along with an emphatic denial of those allegations. Richard Walton, the former head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, performed his own extensive forensic investigation into the allegations and found “The allegations made in the House of Commons are totally false”; and “allegations and insinuations of wrongdoing quoted by the MPs in Parliament have no basis whatsoever”.

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