Conspiracy group hijacks NYU-hosted event on war in Ukraine

A pair of protesters interrupted a conversation on the war in Ukraine between Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats and Atlantic staff writer Anne Applebaum on March 2.


Zeynep Zaimler

On March 2, professor Yevgenia Albats hosted a talk with Anne Applebaum, a staff writer at The Atlantic and an author on Russian history. (Zeynep Zaimler for WSN)

Clara Spray, Staff Writer

Two protesters from a group associated with fascism and antisemitism crashed an event featuring Polish American writer Anne Applebaum and Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats on Thursday.

The pair, who both appeared to be affiliated with a conspiracy group known as the Schiller Institute, confronted Albats and Applebaum, who is a staff writer at The Atlantic, about the United States’ alleged role in the recent bombings of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in Europe and its sanctions against Syria at the event, which was hosted by NYU’s Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia.

The Schiller Institute is one of a network of organizations dedicated to promoting the ideologies of the late conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, a purveyor of fascist ideas, antisemitism and anti-environmentalism. It was founded by LaRouche’s wife, Helga Zepp-LaRouche.

Two people confronting each other during an event with other participants sitting around them.
The protestors confronted professor Yevgenia Albats during the event. (Courtesy of Christopher Atwood)

Kynan Thistlethwaite, one of the protesters, claimed that the United States is responsible for a series of bombings in September that destroyed Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, a pair of natural gas pipelines that run from Russia to Germany. Russia has made similar claims, although the rest of the world has avoided making any accusations. No conclusive evidence has been published that would support Thistlethwaite’s claim.

“Can you call for an international investigation into this Nord Stream sabotage?” Thistlethwaite asked of the panelists. “Can you acknowledge the fact that we’ve been terrorizing nations across the world and we do not stand for democracy anymore?” 

The United States already opposed the pipelines before the war in Ukraine due to concerns that they would make Europe dependent on Russia for energy. Since neither Germany nor the European Union had approved the use of either pipeline at the time that they were damaged, Europe’s energy supply was not impacted by the incidents. However, the attacks have caused one of the largest greenhouse gas spills ever recorded.

Thistlethwaite also questioned a now-deleted tweet from Radosław Sikorski, Applebaum’s husband, following the Nord Stream incident. In the tweet, Sikorski — Poland’s former minister of foreign affairs and an EU parliament member — captioned a photo of the gas leaks with “Thank you, U.S.A.” Applebaum explained that the tweet was a joke, and that Sikorski immediately deleted it because it was misconstrued by the public. 

After someone escorted Thistlethwaite out of the room, Daniel Burke, another protester who recorded the first altercation, rose to question whether the United States is run democratically. He also denounced U.S. sanctions against Syria, saying that it is wrong to punish the country when 90% of it is in “extreme poverty.” The United States temporarily eased sanctions on Syria in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in the northwest of the country.

“How can we claim that the U.S. is a moral power?” Burke said. “My request is that you drop this insanity of saying ‘We’re the democrats and [Russia is] the autotracy.’”

Before the discussion was interrupted by the protesters, Albats and Applebaum discussed a new alliance between a number of authoritarian states including China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela. Russia is looking for military support from the countries in its fight against Ukraine, and is also sending resources to autocratic regimes, including 24 fighter jets to Iran.

“They hate us in the very broadest sense,” Applebaum said. “Not just Americans, but they dislike liberalism, they dislike democracy, they dislike the language of democracy.” 

Albats and Applebaum also discussed a recent report from the Yale School of Public Health that uncovered a Russian program to radicalize and displace Ukrainian children. The program allegedly aims to raise a new generation of Putin supporters. Researchers working on the report have accused the program of violating international law.

“It’s an attempt to ‘Russify’ the region. In the course of doing that, it turned out that it requires an enormous amount of violence,” Applebaum said. “It was not an organized attempt to do mass murder, but it is an attempt to eliminate the social leaders.” 

Christopher Atwood, an attendee who works in media and communications for the Ukrainian American nonprofit Razom, said that he goes to discussions about the war often, and tries to bring a Ukrainian-focused perspective. Atwood, who also works at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies, added that he is familiar with LaRouche activists, which the protesters identified themselves as. He said that the group frequently holds protests at Columbia University.

“The LaRouche activists are very active in New York,” Atwood said. “They are constantly protesting outside of Columbia, and the talking points are so obvious every time and the tactics are always very similar.”

Contact Clara Spray at [email protected].