California secession movement was backed by Russia, US says

  • Russia “exercised direction or control” over California’s secession movement, according to a federal indictment.
  • A Russian national linked to the FSB is accused of providing funds and advice to the group.
  • The group’s founder has not been charged with a crime and denies any wrongdoing.

At a rally in Sacramento in 2018, hundreds of Californians called for a national divorce, citing “irreparable and irreconcilable differences.”

“At the end of the day, the best people to govern California are us Californians,” said Louis Marinelli, founder of secessionist group Yes California. told The Script newspaper.

Marinelli, a right-wing activist who previously campaigned against LGBTQ rights, defined California nationality in terms of competing values ​​– and, at the time, said he had changed his mind on issues such as gay rights (his Twitter timeline, Today, returned to largely conservative causes). In a country ruled by former President Donald Trump, this liberal bastion, he said, should not have to answer to reactionaries in Washington, DC.

It was a cause that was so close to his heart that he left his house in Yekaterinburgsome 1,000 miles from Moscow, to fight for her.

“I enjoyed my life in Russia”, Marinelli told The Sacramento Bee“but something close to my heart is California independence.”

According to a federal indictment unsealed on Friday, Russian intelligence officers also cared deeply about West Coast secession – part of an effort to destabilize the United States.

The indictment is against Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a Moscow resident and leader of Russia’s “Anti-Globalization Movement,” Deputy Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said in a statement. Prosecutors alleged he worked with at least three Russian officials on a “brazen influence campaign, turning American political groups and American citizens into instruments of the Russian government,” Olsen wrote.

This effort consisted of organizing government-funded conferences in Russia, inviting secessionists from around the world, as well as providing “financial support, advice, instruction and promotion in the Russian media” to separatist movements in the states. -United.

The indictment does not identify who specifically participated in this influence campaign. He states that at least one American citizen knew that Ionov’s group was linked to the Russian government. No Americans have been charged with any crime related to the case.

But the indictment provided solid clues. He identified the leader of the secessionist movement as ‘UIC-6’ – meaning an unindicted co-conspirator – ‘who resided in Russia and California’, and described the organization they founded such as “US Political Group 3”, which focused on California. secession, according to the indictment.

This person, he said, was in contact with Ionov regarding a rally in 2018 “at the California Capitol building in Sacramento, California”, and in his correspondence mentioned “the possibility of funding the event”.

Prosecutors say Ionov reviewed the poster designs and encouraged the leader of the group to adopt protest tactics that could lead to violence.

In an email, sent in Russian, Ionov urged the group’s leader “to physically enter the governor’s office,” which in 2018 was occupied by Democrat Jerry Brown.

He then wired the person $500 to pay for the posters, as he later told an FSB officer, according to the indictment.

The group did not end up storming the governor’s office, as Ionov later lamented. In a message to his leader, the Russian national complained that the event had not been a “historic” gathering “IN PARLIAMENT”. But he asked for photos of the event which he passed on to an FSB officer, writing that the latter had asked for “trouble” and “there you go”.

Marinelli, who now resides in Arkansas, denied any wrongdoing and said he was no longer associated with the Californian secessionist movement.

Speaking to Insider, he noted that his name did not appear in the indictment.

“However, of course, if that’s me they’re referring to, then I would first point out that their own press release states at the bottom that these are all unproven allegations,” Marinelli said. He denied that Ionov “exercised direction and control” over Yes California, also saying the group “did not enjoy any tangible support”.

“I also take issue with the allegation that Ionov provided funds for the event,” he said, declining to answer the specific accusation that the posters for the event were paid for by the Russian national. He went on to say that he hadn’t tried to enter the governor’s office, per Ionov’s suggestion – instead he had his picture taken with the bear statue that stood outside. outside.

“I entered the Capitol and posed there like all the other visitors to the Capitol,” he said. “Every Californian knows that the governor’s office is guarded by state police and that no one would try to ‘physically enter’ without permission.”

But while Marinelli denies receiving funds for his actions in the United States, he has indeed already accepted Ionov’s support – at least when he was still overseas. Like the New York Times reported in 2017“A Russian group, known as the Anti-Globalization Movement…offered him an office in Moscow to open a California ’embassy’ in Russia, and Mr. Marinelli accepted.”

According to the indictment, the identity of “UIC-6” is known to a federal grand jury. But Marinelli said he has yet to be contacted by law enforcement.

“I would be happy to provide additional context and information regarding Alexander Ionov’s affairs and I will be prepared to do so if contacted by the federal government,” he said. “At the moment, however, I have not been contacted.”

Ionov, meanwhile – the only person charged with a crime – faces up to 5 years in prison, the US Justice Department has said, for conspiring to have US citizens “act as unlawful agents of the Russian government. “.

Do you have a topical tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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