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Did Antigay U.S. Hate Group Violate Sanctions Against Russia?

Did Antigay U.S. Hate Group Violate Sanctions Against Russia?

Two officials at the so-called World Congress of Families, a radical group dedicated to spreading homophobia that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, may have run afoul of U.S. law, possibly violating American sanctions against Russia.

The Human Rights Campaign has asked the U.S. Treasury Department to investigate whether World Congress of Families officials improperly collaborated with Russian lawmakers who are on the department's Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list. The Department of the Treasury enforces sanctions imposed by the Obama administration against high-ranking Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin in response to Russia's involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.

At issue are the group's collaborations with two Russians whose names appear on the Treasury Department's sanctions list. Yelena Mizulina is a state legislator and the woman credited with authoring Russia's nationwide ban on so-called gay propaganda, while Russian rail magnate Vladimir Yakunin is a close adviser to Putin.

"Two members of WCF’s leadership, Larry Jacobs and Don Feder, are listed on the seven-member organizing committee for an event this week in Moscow titled 'Large Families — the Future of Humanity,' and both have confirmed they’re traveling to Russia to participate in the event," wrote HRC government affairs director David Stacy in a letter to the Treasury's Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The letter continues, "Mizulina is also listed on the organizing committee, and the forum is being hosted by Istoki Fund, which is an endowment run by Yakunin."

As Mother Jones recently reported, the World Congress of Families has hosted at least five major gatherings in Russia, during which American religious fundamentalists were able to promote their notions of "traditional family values," which classically exclude families headed by same-sex couples.

Initial reports indicated that after the U.S. imposed sanctions, the World Congress canceled an event scheduled to take place this week, only to reschedule it and go ahead as planned. Right Wing Watch reports that the conference not only went on as scheduled, but that National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown was expected to attend.

Mother Jones also reported that an attempt was made to scrub evidence of the connections between World Congress officials and Mizulina and Yakunin. However, the news organization was able to retrieve archived versions of the scrubbed Web pages highlighting those connections. Mother Jones also found the original press release in Russian that clearly draws the connections among Mizulina, Yahunin, Feder, and Jacobs. The English version has disappeared from the Web.

It is not yet known if or how a Treasury Department investigation of the World Congress of Families might proceed. The group plans to hold its annual international conference in Salt Lake City next year — the first time the event will take place on U.S. soil.

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