Who are ‘Male State’, the Russian online hate group?

The ultranationalist organization has launched an online campaign in support of the Russian military offensive in Ukraine, postulating anti-Semitic statements and calling for the execution of Ukrainian leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military offensive in Ukraine has found unlikely support from a reactionary online group banned by the Kremlin for its toxic mix of misogyny, racism and homophobia.

The show of solidarity by ‘Male State’ – designated an extremist organization by a Russian court last year – comes amid the Kremlin’s war propaganda machine working at full throttle to mobilize support for the incursion that divided the country.

The Male State has continued to find a way to thrive and add new recruits to its cause despite the ban, relying primarily on the messaging app Telegram, where it is amplifying its content across various channels.

“They look and behave like a self-isolating group,” said Alexander Verkhovsky World TRT.

Director of the SOVA Center, an NGO monitoring nationalism and xenophobia in Russia, Verkhovsky stressed that the group’s autonomy from the state and that its supporters inside Russia are anonymous.

Since the start of the conflict, members of this cowardly group of ultranationalists have bolstered Russia’s attack by spreading disinformation and vitriolic hate speech on the Russian platform. Many members’ avatars were adorned with the “Z” insignia, which became a pro-war symbol in support of the Russian military.

According to open source intelligence detectives Bellingcatthe movement has used several Nazi-adjacent hate terms and symbols in reference to Ukraine.

After identifying male state channels and chats on Telegram, Bellingcat journalist and researcher Michael Colborne found the digital code ‘1488‘ and ‘Untermensch’ (a word the Nazis applied to those they considered inferior) were deployed by its members to describe Ukrainians.

One of the channels posted a video of a fighter doing the Nazi salute from Rusich Working Groupa neo-Nazi Russian military unit.

A screenshot from a video posted to the Shvabra (“Mop”) Telegram channel on March 4, 2022, showing a Task Force Rusich fighter giving a Nazi salute. (Bellingcat)

And their hate speech goes all the way to the top, with anti-Semitic slurs directed at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish.

Established two weeks before the invasion, a male state channel with more than 10,000 subscribers called Shvabra (“Mop”) claimed on February 25 that an attack on Zelensky and his associates in kyiv would be seen as a “solution to the Ukrainian question” – an understatement with obvious parallels to the Nazis’ “final solution” to the “Jewish question”.

Some called for military tribunals and went further by calling for the murder of Ukrainian leaders and public figures.

“It’s a pity that the last time we will see you…”, wrote another message on Shvabra the day after the incursion began, and added that Zelensky “will be in front of a Russian military court, preferably with a knot flowing around the neck”.

The group also urged its subscribers to share information about Russia’s so-called national enemies, to the point that a Kollaborant (“collaborator”) telegram channel was created and amassed more than 30,000 subscribers in less than a month. a week before closing.

Left: Telegram channel avatar

Left: Telegram channel avatar “Male Legion”; it changed its name to Male State (Muzhskoye gosudarstvo) in October 2021 immediately after the Russian court ruling. Right: The avatar of Shvabra (“Mop”), a Telegram channel created on February 11, 2022 and explicitly described by the Male Legion channel as “our second channel”. (Bellingcat)

Ideological scaffolding

Male State was founded by fitness instructor and blogger Vladislav Pozdnyakov in 2016 on the Russian equivalent of Facebook, VKontakte (VK).

The group gained visibility after the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, when Pozdnyakov launched a fundraising campaign »compromisingphotos of Russian women seen with foreigners during the tournament to publicly humiliate and harass them, ostensibly in the name of preserving Russia’s traditional morals and values.

Jessica Valisa, PhD student at the University of Otago, said World TRT that the discourse of the group is entirely consistent with that of the ‘manosphere‘ or ‘incel’ [involuntary celibate] online community, which promotes anti-feminist and sexist beliefs and, in extreme cases, advocates violence against women.

Valisa, which specializes in pro-Russian digital media and mainstreaming far-right ideas online, calls Male State the “first full-fledged Russian incel group” within the Russian right-wing ecosystem.

While misogyny is a central tenet of its worldview, the community’s ideological core evolved into an idea they described as “national patriarchywhich calls for the abolition of gender equality and the restoration of male dominance. Anyone seen as an opponent is the target of vicious trolling, harassment, and violence.

And so, the agents of degeneracy and decadence that are eating away at the Russian nation include not just feminism, but those that promote homosexuality and racial mixing.

Yet belief in ideas like feminism harboring social decay (and by extension, Western devices to weaken Russia) is far from marginal. In fact, they are already standardized and “officially endorsed and propagated by traditional Russian official discourse,” Valisa noted.

“I think such official discourse has a lot in common with the broader far-right discourse as it developed in Europe after World War II, so this kind of ideological overlap is not surprising” , she added.

Male state founder Vladislav Pozdnyakov is believed to be currently living in Montenegro.

Male state founder Vladislav Pozdnyakov is believed to be currently living in Montenegro. (Facebook)

It also illustrates a broader trend in Russian society related to the “fortress under siege” mentality.

“This mindset manifests itself in the constant search for ‘traitors’ and internal ‘subversives’ who undermine traditional social foundations by engaging in intellectual or physical forms of subversion against ‘purity’ and ‘integrity ‘national’, wrote Kiril Avramov in The Globe Post.

Hence, why women’s bodies are linked to the prosperity of the nation; they are seen as a valuable resource for the national patriarchy that must be kept under strict male guardianship.

Another thing to note, Valisa says, is that their ideology is informed by both Nazism and white supremacy, which she observes as typical of the American far-right and mainstream Russian pan-Slavism, highlighting how they use online white supremacy symbols like ‘1488’. and put the names of people in echo brackets to indicate that they are Jewish.

As the group gained more followers, it became involved in a number of public campaigns.

Last August, he targeted a popular sushi restaurant chain called Yobidoyobi for ads featuring black models. Pozdnyakov urged his supporters to take action and demanded the ads be removed. Under duress, the company finally gave in and apologized for public offence.

Another sushi chain, Tanuki, came under fire from the group after expressing support for Yobidoyobi.

Musicians have also been targeted, as Male State supporters managed to cancel the concert of popular musician Alyona Shvets during the content of his words.

Post-ban activity

While the authorities have begun to crack down on the group, the question remains open as to its actual effectiveness.

Pozdnyakov, who left Russia after being slapped with a two-year sentence (later overturned) for incitement to hatred against women in 2018 after the World Cup, is would have living in Montenegro.

After the community of 160,000 users was banned from VK in 2020 for inciting violence, Pozdnyakov maintained his channel on Telegram, totaling more than 80,000 subscribers as the group moved its activities to the platform where a network of Male State-associated channels grew and grew. is flourishing.

Then, in October 2021, a regional court in Russia declared the social media movement to be extremist and banned its activities. Within 24 hours of the ruling, some 1,500 subscribers left Male State’s main Telegram channel, which then had nearly 45,000 subscribers. Since the court decision, the group’s official Telegram channel has become “Male Legion” (Muzhskoi Legion).

As of March 2022, the movement on Telegram had about 62,000 subscribers, while Pozdnyakov’s personal channel had 83,000 — all increases since the October ban took effect.

For Verkhovsky, it is because the Russian state does not see the male state as a real danger. “He was banned, but there are no criminal charges regarding the attempt to continue his activity. That would be a good indicator,” he said.

“But it’s really not easy to suppress their activity, because Pozdnyakov is abroad,” he said, adding that it might not just be the group’s founder who was driving. The anonymity of the members of the group also complicates the task.

According to Valisa, “when groups are banned because of extremism, it is not primarily for their ideas but for the perceived threat they pose to the Russian state.” She believes that because the group expresses only a more extreme version of ideas already acceptable in Russian society, they are less likely to be persecuted than others.

In July 2021, Russian activists alleged that there was active collaboration between the Russian Interior Ministry and Male State, claiming that the activists’ personal data that the hate group had released was identical to a report by the Interior Ministry.

“Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know what people in power are doing in Russia, because a lot of things are never made public,” Valisa said.

She also pointed to instances where the Russian government often used far-right groups for its own purposes, to ban them once they crossed the line and posed a threat to the state, as in the example of Russkki Obraz, a neo-Nazi organization.

“This was true in the early 2000s with the so-called phase of directed nationalisms, but who knows, these could resurface given the current situation with Russia at war.”

Source: World TRT

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