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Rise of a skinhead How Russia’s white supremacists are trying build their own prison brotherhood

Источник: Meduza
Maria Tolstova / Meduza

In recent years, the Russian authorities have escalated their fight against nationalist organizations and ultra-right activists. Experts say the policy shift is a response to the nationalists who participated in the 2011-2012 anti-Kremlin protests and the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where they fought on both sides. Meduza special correspondent Sasha Sulim has learned that many imprisoned Russian neo-Nazis and other far-right fanatics never abandon their efforts to unite more broadly. Some of these people even hope to create their own prison “playing card suit” — an informal movement comprising convicts who share common ideals. One of the goals of this “white suit” is to build an alliance inside the Russian prison system analogous to the Aryan Brotherhood in the United States — the white prison gang and organized crime syndicate that has terrorized American penitentiaries for the past half century.

“When I got to prison, I was bald and in a bomber jacket and tactical boots. I was ready for a fight. Before I even got to pretrial detention, everybody knew that a dangerous ‘extremist and terrorist’ had been arrested.”

Twenty-six-year-old Artem (he refused to tell me his surname) told me this while sitting together at a food court in a Moscow shopping mall. His tray was loaded with a burger and fries, and he was dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a black hoodie imprinted with the word “M8L8TKh” (the name of a Tver-based Nationalist Socialist black metal band). Artem has six tattoos with Nazi symbols and, like so many young men in Moscow today, the sides of his head are shaved.

Artem’s story begins in 2012, when he set fire to a police station and got two and a half years in prison for disorderly conduct, property destruction, and the illegal manufacture of weapons.

“I had a rough youth, and everybody in town knew I was a devout skinhead,” Artem says. His welcome at prison wasn’t any easier: “Guys in masks and Spetsnaz uniforms started beating me up the moment I stepped off the prison bus. Then they ran me through the isolation ward, through a wall of cops, and they all hit me as I ran by. After a search, they made me wash the floors near the bunks, to keep me from meeting with the criminal world people.” (Russia’s prison culture hierarchy forbids blatnye — “thieves” — from performing any cleaning tasks, including washing the floors.)

In quarantine, where Artem spent his first two weeks in prison, he found a genuinely pleasant surprise: an old friend was waiting for him. Behind bars, this friend had managed to transform himself from an “ordinary drug addict” into an “associate.” “He showed me his swastika tattoo and said he didn’t work [for the prison administration] and said he was always fighting [with the North Caucasians],” Artem recalls. The friend gave him a mobile phone, so he could call his mother and girlfriend, and provided him with a package that contained “loose-fitting” socks and underwear, shaving razors, a big piece of sausage, cigarettes, tea, coffee, cookies, candies, and some homebrew, which Artem accepted “in solidarity,” even though he didn’t drink back then.

“This meeting had a powerful effect on me. I knew he was being nice to me because I’m a right-winger, too, and he became one in prison,” Artem says. This was his first brush with the “white suit,” and it wasn’t long before he joined the gang himself.

part 1

What the Aryan heart wants

A rough dichotomy divides Russia’s prisons between “red” colonies (where the wardens are in direct control) and “black” colonies (where crime bosses and prison administrators collaborate according to informal agreements). This system apparently emerged in the 1930s, when criminals in the Soviet Union’s suddenly booming prison population organized an apolitical resistance campaign against the guards and administrators. The leaders of this movement called themselves guardians of Russia’s pre-revolutionary criminal traditions.

Human rights activists told Meduza that there are few prisons in Russia today that are purely “red” or “black.” More often, the administrators and crime bosses reach some kind of agreement about what orders the inmates will actually obey. Proper blatnye (“thieves”) are effectively unofficial prison administrators. Referring to themselves as “the black suit,” they’re usually professional criminals and recidivists. In prison, they don’t work, they perform no official duties, and they administer the obshchak (“common fund”), collected from the other inmates.

Inmates who cooperate openly with prison administrators are known as “reds” and kozly (“assholes”). The term “red suit” describes those who violate the thieves’ informal rules. Usually, these people work as groundskeepers, janitors, and in other administrative jobs, they don’t contribute to the obshchak, and sometimes they even live in separate barracks (for their own safety). In “red” zones, kozly enjoy certain exemptions granted by prison administrators.

There are other informal prisoner castes, as well. For example, there are muzhiki (“the guys”) — the ordinary (and most numerous) group of inmates who work and don’t participate in any power sharing. And there are petukhi (“the bitches”) — the most powerless caste in Russia’s prison population. These men typically wash the toilets and clean the prison cells, and other inmates are forbidden from even touching them or taking anything from their hands. These people are also called opushchennye (“the downcasts”), and they’re often subjected to homosexual violence.

Whether they become “red” or “black,” prisoners typically don’t choose their own “suit,” though men convicted of sexual assault are automatic petukhi. Artem and his dozen confederates were another story, however. They considered themselves neither “black” nor “red.” He says they lived by their own rules, “by honor and according to the conscience of a Russian National Socialist.” “I didn’t work with the administration, I didn’t squeal, I tried to stick up for Russians (even if they were in the wrong), and I didn’t drink tea [with the North Caucasians]. But I could still give them my phone to make calls, or borrow theirs,” Artem explains. “Cooperating with them was allowed in principle. The main thing was not to betray our ideas.”

Artem became convinced that nationalist groups should create their own “prison suit” — a white one. He says people in his group used to argue a lot (for example, about sharing tea with the North Caucasians or talking to officers from the Federal Penitentiary Service), but they managed to settle these conflicts by coming up with the “white suit” ideology, and sharing what was basically its charter on social media. For instance, they drafted the following passage: “Once you’re in prison, fear nothing. [...] Be firm in your convictions and live with dignity, as the Aryan heart wants.”

Artem says the “white suit” idea got its start about 10 years ago, and one of its founders was the nationalist and Slavic neo-pagan David Bashelutskov, who in October 2010 was sentenced to nine years in prison for murdering 10 people, trying to kill another five, and detonating four bombs. Behind bars, Bashelutskov became blatnyi (“a thief”) and started building a support system between the other far-right inmates.

According to Artem, the “white suit” is less a formal organization than a brotherhood. Its main purpose is to establish support and mutual assistance between right-wing political prisoners. “Political” here is the operative word: members say the group is open only to “prisoners of conscience” and “POWs” in the fight against the “occupation government and the consequences of its actions.” For Artem, these “prisoners of conscience” are men locked away because of their convictions, but sentenced for crimes related to illegal drugs (he says any narcotics found on his gang members are always planted by the authorities), guns, or posts on social media. The “prisoners of war” are imprisoned for more concrete actions: arson, bombs, and murders. Artem includes himself in this latter group, proclaiming that the “Russian movement” is waging a “liberation struggle against the authorities.”

When the “white suit” concept emerged in the early 2010s, Artem’s confederates started compiling databases of fellow far-right inmates, listing their prisons, their sentences, and any information about them, like whether a prisoner or his family needed any assistance. One of these databases — the now defunct Geriu Voli (“Heroes of Liberty”) — was co-founded by Evgeny Khasis, who helped form the Neo-Nazi group “BORN.” In 2011, Khasis was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova.

Another man who calls himself a member of the “white suit” is 27-year-old Denis, who learned about the group roughly four years ago. In 2008, Denis was sentenced to 12 years in prison for what he says were “crimes of Nationalist Socialist convictions: extremism, separatism, and terrorism.” He’s still serving his sentence today, but Meduza managed to speak to him through the messenger app Telegram. Denis says the “white suit” community has helped him out more than once materially, but what he values most is its fraternity, which has allowed him to establish contact with comrades at his prison and organize them into a small group. “We’ve created our own ‘suit’: neither red nor black, but white,” the inmate explains. “Of course, it’s all unofficial. Nobody recognizes us and nobody is going to recognize us, but we hold to our own ideology.”

Word of the “white suit” has traveled beyond the prisons, as well. Maria Muradova, a researcher at the “Sova” information and analysis center, has spent the past three years tracking the activities of far-right and nationalist reactionaries in Russia. “They are actively raising money,” she says. “In groups on Vkontakte, they regularly upload screenshots from Sberbank apps confirming money transfers.”

Maria Tolstova / Meduza

Artem says the activities of the “white suit” aren’t limited to fundraising, and members sometimes work with inmates from other prison suits to resolve certain issues. For example, he says one of his gang’s members once sided with the administration when the “blacks” at his prison rebelled against the “reds.” The man ended up in the prison hospital, and members of the “black suit” planned to infiltrate the infirmary and kill him. “We found out about it,” Artem says, “and we went to the crime bosses at that prison and asked them to leave our man alone.”

While Artem was behind bars, incidentally, the “white suit” provided him with almost no additional money or groceries, but he says there are no hard feelings. “We’re not fighting for wire transfers or to line our pockets, but for our beliefs and for our freedom,” he explains. He says it was more valuable to him to be in communication with his comrades, including one of the men who brutally murdered chess grandmaster Sergey Nikolaev.

Together, they drank tea, celebrated important far-right holidays (like July 25, International Day of Solidarity With Prisoners of Conscience), exchanged literature, pooled their money for “tossed” phones, and shared advice about what to do in a tight spot.

Artem says the purpose of the “white suit” isn’t to push around the non-Russian inmates, but some people still need to be taught a lesson, he warns. “One time, these two guys showed up. They were in for rape,” Artem recalls. “We knew the other non-Russians would find them and say they were innocent and that the cops staged everything. So we got to them first, beat them to hell, and put them on a path to the petukhi, cleaning shitters.”

Artem refuses to say how many people belong to the “white suit” in Russia today. He told Meduza that he doesn’t want to cause problems for his associates, and he admits that it’s hard to know the exact number. The movement’s backbone, he says, comprises a few dozen people who are responsible for expanding the group’s network of contacts. They communicate in encrypted chats, asking each other to do things like pool money to help “a gang member.” “Even some of the inmates chip in,” Artem explains. “And the younger guys need to give this some thought: Is it right when inmates have to help other inmates financially? It should be guys on the outside doing this. Personally, I don’t like it, and I’m trying to pitch in a bit more money.”

On Vkontakte, there are at least three groups with the name “White Suit,” and two of them have been blocked in Russia. Artem says these communities have real connections to the movement, but his associates cut off ties to one of them, when its creators sided with the Chistilshchiki (“the Cleaners”) in 2015. Artem and his people felt that this gang’s activity — murdering homeless people — had nothing to do with the ideological struggle for Ancient Rus. Artem says he wants Russian nationalists to focus on “serious” endeavors and fight against today’s state officials. He says the movement’s enemies include Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Ingush head Yunus-bek Yevkurov, and State Duma deputies Vitaly Milonov and Irina Yarovaya.

I spoke to and corresponded with several former and current inmates who consider themselves to be members of the “white suit.” None of these men specified the movement’s goals, but most of them mentioned the “Aryan Brotherhood” as a model and inspiration. This group of white supremacists formed in American penitentiaries in the 1960s, and evolved over the next three decades into a complex organization with roughly 15,000 members, both in and outside the U.S. prison system. Members of the “Brotherhood” terrorized and organized the murders of guards and fellow inmates, taking almost complete control over the black market at many penitentiaries. In 2002, several of the group’s leaders were convicted of killing 32 people and sentenced to life in prison. Some of these men, incidentally, were already serving life sentences.

“We’ve still got a long way to go before we catch up to the ‘Aryan Brotherhood,’” Artem says. “But you can’t say it’s out of reach. The world is changing, and that goes for life in prison, too.”

part 2

Student by day, insurgent by night

“Everyone on my mom’s side is Russian. On my dad’s side, German,” Artem explains, going into great detail about his roots, eager to remove any doubt that there’s so much as a drop of “nonwhite” blood coursing through his veins. His mother was born in Kazakhstan, where her family was sent by the Soviet government, and her future husband was a soldier. They met in the Urals, when she was studying at an institute.

Artem’s father was born to a German prisoner of war who stayed to live in the USSR instead of returning to Germany. Their family moved around a lot in Russia: the Urals, Siberia, Yakutia, the Far East — until the early 2000s, when Artem’s father was sent to Chechnya.

“When did you get interested in National Socialism?”

“At the age of 11, when they killed my father in Chechnya,” Artem says. “I’ve always had patriotic feelings. I was raised by a military family, after all.”

In those years (in the early 2000s), Artem didn’t yet harbor any strong dislike for other ethnicities and he had no special interest in Hitler’s Germany. But he says he started to notice around this time that “non-Russians” are “rude” and that they “harass” Russians. On television, they were reporting more and more about skinheads and their demonstrations: Asians and Africans murdered in St. Petersburg, an explosion at Cherkizovsky Market. Artem says he remembers it was all “a bit wild” for him, and his father would not have approved.

There were ethnic conflicts at Artem’s school, too. “Sooner or later, it ended with some older Russians showing up and putting [the North Caucasians] in their place,” he recalls. “And I liked this — they put them in their place.” But then, Artem says, “the Dagestanis” started bullying one of the kids he looked up to most — one of the strongest, brightest seniors at the school. “They broke his spirit, and they started attacking him once it was broken,” Artem says. “The guy had to move to another city, to avoid further attacks.”

Examining the actions of far-right activists, Artem says he eventually started seeing “the definitive truth” and a certain sense of “justice” that his life lacked, and it appealed to him. Admittedly, this philosophy embraces ideas about “white supremacy” and restrictions on the rights of “other nationalities.” Artem says he also came to the realization that children should be raised just as they were in Nazi Germany (for example, in the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls).

A couple of years later, Artem says he, too, was ambushed by a group of “non-Russians,” who jumped him and beat him up, one day after school. When he was 13, Artem says he befriended a group of skinheads his own age, and asked to join their ranks. They gave him a reading assignment (several books by the American white supremacists David Lane and William Pierce), and then they tested his ideological commitment and fighting spirit.

“They made me fight against two other guys. I remember that I’d only just shaved my head, and they smashed it good.”

“What did your mother say?”

“She was against it. And she’s still against it, even though she supports me on some issues, like with the government, and how there are too many [North Caucasians], and how they act out of turn, like they own the place.”

At the end of his “test week,” Artem and five of his new gang friends set out on his first “mission.” They told him that a fruit vendor had taken a space at the local market, and he was selling rotten apricots and pineapples to Russians and good fruits to his own people. They said people like this man were committing crimes against ethnic Russians and selling them drugs, and so Artem and the others had to smash his stand and beat him up — “to settle the score, the Russian way.”

Artem enjoyed the exercise. He busted open several watermelons (together with their owner’s head), while shouting nationalist slogans. “I realized that I’m not some weakling, but a decent person. I’m Russian. I’m strong,” he recalls today. “Even if they mob me, I won’t back down. I’ll attack them. It hardens when you’re a kid. You get this strength in your childhood.”

Falling in with this new crowd of friends, Artem started taking a serious interest in sports and shooting, going regularly to soccer games and often joining the fighting that took place afterwards. In high school, Artem and his gang were already “guarding” part of the city (he asked Meduza not to reveal the name of his hometown). For example, he says they would patrol a bridge, and “newcomers” were afraid even to come near.

“Once, four of us got together and went to the market, where we crushed all the stands where non-Russians traded. We threw on some masks, worked the place over, and smashed the stands,” Artem remembers. Before the end of the decade, however, he suddenly realized that the greatest enemy isn’t “newcomers or other non-Russians,” but the state itself.

Maria Tolstova / Meduza

Ever since, Artem has directed all his hostility toward the police — against officers “just as white and Russian” as him and his gang. “We realized that we’re living in an occupied state — that our homeland is currently in enemy hands,” he explains. “The regime of Putin, the chekists, and the FSB has seized power, and those who speak out against them are locked away in prison and killed.” (Alexey Polikhovich, an anarchist activist who spent three and a half years behind bars thanks to the Bolotnaya Square investigation, says he spoke frequently to nationalists while in prison. “We shared a hatred of the state,” he says.)

In 2010, when Artem was first arrested and nearly sent to prison, he was a first-year biotechnology student. While in college, he started working out even more, but he also grew out his hair and no longer dressed like a skinhead, which he also stopped calling himself. He says this was the only way to carry on with the plan. “On the surface, I was a hard-working, kind-hearted kid. I played in a rock band and studied for my exams,” Artem says. “By day, I was a student. By night, an insurgent. This was when I learned how to make bombs and Molotov cocktails, how to shoot, and how to use a blade.”

Others eventually heard about Artem’s new hobbies or started to suspect something. Once, in a telephone conversation, someone suggested that he blow up a cafe frequented by “non-Russians.” It soon became clear that Artem’s phone line had been wiretapped. “About 20 guys raided my place, opening up the floor, ripping off the baseboards, and tearing out the linoleum. And they didn’t find anything,” Artem says. “There was a shotgun, ammo, and grenade fuses in the house, but all they found was hydrogen peroxide and acetone.”

They tossed Artem “like a log” into the back of a car, and brought him to the station, where they showed him footage of his training. In the video, he did physical exercises, fired a handgun, threw a knife at a tree, and practiced roundhouse kicks. One officer supposedly said he had more photos and videos of Artem on his phone than of his own family.

The police officers demanded that he confess to wanting to blow up the cafe, and showed him where he hid the bomb. Artem says he was tortured: the officers allegedly strangled him, broke his arms, and used bottles and a book to beat him in the head. “I did have a bomb, but it was very weak, and I knew they’d charge me with wanting to take out a whole shopping mall, if I showed it to them,” he explains. In the end, he was accused of illegal weapons possession, disorderly conduct, and inciting hatred, but he managed to avoid prison this time, thanks to his mother and the good lawyer her money bought.

Two years later, Artem was arrested again, this time for setting fire to a police substation. He says this wasn’t his first fire, but they’d only “caught” him on this one.

“How’d they track you down?”

“They told me the footprints in the snow matched my sneakers’ patterned soles. I now realize this was complete bullshit, and they wouldn’t have been able to prove anything, if I’d just pleaded the 51st [the Russian Constitution’s self-incrimination clause] — even if I’d taken a selfie on my phone.”

“Was anyone hurt in the fire?”

“We didn’t stage a serious attack on the officers. We wanted to grab the public’s attention, to undermine the authority of state officials and the police, and destroy their garrison.”

“To show everyone that they can’t defend themselves?”

“Yes. Even though they torture drunks and ordinary people and go around like they own everything, they’re not all-powerful and we can fight back.”

This time, Artem says, his beating came at the hands of higher-ranking officials: not ordinary officers, but the district head of criminal investigations and the local anti-extremism department chief. A court later sentenced him to two and a half years in prison.

part 3

“We stopped trusting each other”

Maria Muradova, a researcher at the “Sova” information and analysis center, is familiar with the term “white suit,” but she says she isn’t certain the “brotherhood” really exists: it has no formal representation, and its members don’t participate in public assemblies or join coalitions with other right-wing political organizations. “Based on their [social-media] posts, they support traditional white supremacy and National Socialism, and mainly engage in ideological outreach, propaganda, and fundraising,” Muradova explains. She says the group’s activities are far from human rights advocacy, despite the fact that these people are helping inmates: “For example, they don’t actually contact ONK [public monitoring commission] members, and they don’t ask them to visit their ‘comrades.’” About a dozen ONK members polled by Meduza said they’d never even heard of the “white suit.”

One man who has heard of these white supremacists is attorney Matvey Tszen, who defended Maxim Martsinkevich (better known as “Tesak,” or “Cleaver”), the Neo-Nazi founder of the “Restructure” movement. Tszen says white nationalists are indeed trying to become a separate prison “suit,” but they need to increase their numbers behind bars considerably, to make this possible. “There are roughly 570,000 people incarcerated in Russia today,” he explains. “To create a new ‘suit,’ you need at least five percent of all inmates, and that’s 28,000 people. There are currently 5,000 people — maximum — who fall into the ‘white suit’ criterion.”

Structural issues are another obstacle. “Nationalists are often sentenced to long prison terms on their first charge, so they don’t even have time to build much standing,” Tszen says. “So it works out that someone is born, he grows up, goes to school, realizes the Russian people’s disastrous situation, joins the race war, carries out a few acts, and then he’s locked away.” The lawyer says the prospects are better for the emergence of a “green suit” — an informal association of Muslim inmates.

Maria Tolstova / Meduza

On the other hand, the number of nationalists in Russia’s prisons has been growing in recent years, and white supremacists in the civilian population have become more discrete. “Because of close attention from law enforcement agencies, white supremacists and National Socialists have stopped attending demonstrations. They don’t want their photos ending up in a folder at some Center ‘E’ anti-extremism unit,” Muradov explains. But the group’s violent activity hasn’t dissipated, she says — it’s only become less public.

Meanwhile, both Tszen and Artem talk about the “evisceration” of the nationalist movement outside prison. “We declared war, but we were unprepared,” says the latter. “Some of us were locked up, some were busted and put on trial, and some snitched. We stopped trusting each other. There were other priorities and other heroes.”

In recent years, law enforcement agencies in Russia have actively confronted nationalist organizations. Today, roughly a dozen of the movement’s political leaders (from Dmitry Demushkin and Nikolai Bondarik to Alexander Belov-Potkin) are either under investigation or behind bars. Since 2015, the number of convictions against nationalists has spiked not only for concrete acts but also for propagating extremism. According to the Sova Center, nationalists have consequently fled the public sphere and relocated to military training clubs and other closed organizations.

According to Alexander Verkhovsky, the head of Sova, Russia’s crackdown on the far right is the result of fears that homegrown radicals might unite with combatants returning from eastern Ukraine and form some new force beyond the government’s control.

The conflict in Ukraine, incidentally, has divided Russian nationalists themselves. For example, Artem condemns what is happening in the Donbass, arguing that the local self-declared “people’s republics” are nothing more than “Kremlin projects.” “Why should I consider my own Slav brothers to be enemies?” he asks angrily. “This ‘Russkiy Mir’ isn’t real.”

part 4

All Nazis love animals

Artem was released from prison in 2015. Afterwards, he spent about a month in his hometown, continuing to help his fellow gang members from the outside. For example, he executed a successful “phone toss.” On the second attempt, however, the police caught him. When he noticed that a squad car was following him everywhere throughout the city, Artem decided that it was time to move to Moscow, where his mother had already been living for several years.

In the capital, Artem spends his free time after work hanging out with fellow gang members, trying to recruit more (mainly through social media), raising money for inmates, sending them parcels and packages, writing letters and postcards, and helping the families of those now incarcerated. “Sometimes we organize ‘get togethers’ with whatever crazy ass [North Caucasian] messed with our guys behind bars. We meet him right as he walks out of prison and show him [our Russia],” Artem says and smiles.

Most of the gang’s trips to the prison doors, however, are to meet freed fellow members. “We provide first aid, and tell them how they need to act, explaining that now isn’t the time for them to go slicing up [North Caucasians] or bombing the authorities,” Artem says.

“And what should they be doing now?”

“Right now they need to start their own businesses and hire only within the gang. And they need to spend their money not on themselves but on the movement and on help for inmates. Revolutions need money. Advocacy needs money. Stickers and leaflets cost money.”

In the summer of 2017, officers from the FSB’s Kazan branch grabbed Artem as he was leaving his home. The men said he was suspected of harboring an accomplice who allegedly helped fellow white supremacists Roman Khalilov and Ruslan Arkhipov murder a university student from Africa. (The two nationalists were already in police custody.)

After Khalilov and Arkhipov were first sent to pretrial detention, Artem and his “white suit” gang learned that the police were trying to “humiliate” the two prisoners by spreading rumors that they are gay. “Through the ‘white suit,’ we tried to counter this, contacting the blatnye [“thieves”] we knew and other crime bosses, trying to bail them out,” Artem says. “The Kazan FSB guys didn’t like this, and then they showed up at my place.”

As the officers tackled him, Artem tried to “go for his knife,” but he was too slow. “They hit me in the head with a rifle butt and I fell,” he recalls. “They searched the whole apartment. They flipped my chinchilla’s sand bed.”

“Your chinchilla?”

“Yeah. All Nazis love animals. They put me in a crappy old minibus, cuffed me, and drove me 15 hours to Kazan.”

Maria Tolstova / Meduza

Artem spent the next month in a Kazan isolation ward. He says he only made it out thanks to help from his crew and lawyers. Since then, he’s had almost no problems with the police: he was only detained once for a few hours at a concert for a National Socialist band, and then again when he and his friends were hanging out in the center of Moscow during the FIFA World Cup. Artem says the officers told his group it was “no place” for their loitering.

Artem currently earns his living working as an “interventionist at a private clinic.”

“As a what?”

“I’m a convalescence companion at an expensive nuthouse and narcological center. I help drug-addicted and mentally ill people recuperate or at least recover somewhat.”

When the conversation turns to work, Artem proudly describes how he’s helped get people back on their feet who could only “nod off for hours in their slippers” when they first arrived. Artem has no formal education in physical rehabilitation; he merely got interested in psychology and psychiatry while he was under investigation.

“What do you actually do in your job?”

“When they bring a serious case to the clinic — someone who might lose it or do something to himself or, like with drug addicts or alcoholics, try to break out — it’s my job to watch him, talk to him, suggest activities, play board games, and accompany him to group therapy.”

“To do that kind of work, you probably need to like people. How does that fit with your National Socialist views?”

“I try not to work [with North Caucasians].”

“And do you explain why to your supervisors?”

“No. I just say that I don’t want to work with this person and I won’t do it.”

On the way out of the shopping mall where Artem has been telling me about his life for the past four hours, he goes on enthusiastically about how he promotes National Socialism and recruits new followers to the movement.

Then he turns to me and says, “Well it’s clear that you’re not Russian.”

“And what am I then?”

“Judging by the shape of the forehead and the size of the skull, you have Armenian roots.”

“No Armenian roots at all. Some Jewish.”

“What did I tell you! Armenians, Jews — it makes no difference.”

Report by Sasha Sulim

Translation by Kevin Rothrock