Russian police are probing members of a group that gained notoriety over publishing online videos showing bullying of people they claimed to be sex offenders. A cache of weapons was confiscated in a recent raid.
Police is suspecting three people in the small town of
Kamensk-Uralsk in the Russian Urals of at least 11 beatings of
different victims between April and June. The bust on the alleged
assailants’ homes last week resulted in confiscation of dozens of
melee and thrown weapons, including knives, knuckles, maces,
baseball bats, a flail, nunchucks, and some ninja stars.
The suspects are members of a local branch of Okupay-Pedofiliay (the name is a wordplay reference to the Occupy Wall Street movement and pedophilia). It is a loosely-connected network of radically-minded people who supposedly share the goal of outing and publicly humiliating sex offenders.
The network was inspired by the infamous Russian nationalist and far right-wing extremist Maksim Martsinkevich, nicknamed Tesak (hatchet), who was sentenced to three years in prison back in 2007 for hate speech and calls for violence.
There are some 30 branches of Okupay across Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Activists are expected to pose as minors online and engage in conversations with sex predators with the goal of setting a meeting. The person lured in this way is then confronted by the activists, who would “talk” to him aggressively on camera, making him confess to being a sex offender. The footage is then uploaded on the internet.
In practice however the controversial tactics often result in outright bullying of those the activists don’t like for some reason. The branch in Kamensk-Uralsk made no secret that they see no difference between child molesters and gay people, and presume that non-Slavs are likely to be gays or criminals.
Their page on the popular Russian social network VKontakte (In Contact), before it was suspended in mid-July, was a mixture of white supremacist ideology, thinly-veiled praise of Nazism and bragging of their actions.
“It will be good when we have an iron curtain against all this sh*t creeping from Europe,” Mikhail Krasnov, one of the activists explained his view to lenta.ru news website back in July. “The regime has to be either national-socialist or a strict form of communism. I don’t care if we all have similar pants. But I will be certain that no Tajik will sell pot to my son next to his school and no homo gets him from the bushes on his way home.”
The group came to relative prominence this year after they claimed that one of their victims, Aleksey Bulygin, had committed suicide after the attack. The group went to great lengths to mock the 19-year-old and brag about his death.
The claims of the death stirred quite an outrage in Russian social media. But they were later proven to be false, although the victim was reportedly quite traumatized psychologically by the ordeal.
Apparently the group is hungry for publicity and finds inspiration in the actions of Martsinkevich. One of the causes for his prosecution was filming and distributing a video of fake KKK-style execution of a “Tajik drug dealer”.
During his trial, he told the Russian media: “Drug dealers, as I understand, are a social group protected by our Constitution. Well, I respect our court’s decision, so I will probably have to apologize to drug dealers. I am glad that I didn’t say anything about pedophiles, because I believe if I did I would be charged with more serious stuff.”
Police are investigating the Kamensk-Uralsk activists’ computers and other materials also seized in the raid for possible clues for their alleged crimes. So far the suspects have not been charged and are not being held in custody. They are facing up to three months in prison, if they are charged and found guilty of causing bodily harm, the article of Russia’s penal code mentioned in the criminal case against them.
In one of their latest video address members of the group called
on their supporters to send more money, which they said they need
to pay for a lawyer. Many said they stand “for the cause” in
their online comments, but just a handful shows it in monetary
terms, they complained.