To this Russian-American community, Russia has become a political scapegoat


Judy Woodruff:  So, New York City and the surrounding areas, home to the largest Russian-American community in America.  So, how have the strains in U.S.- Russia relations, and the fallout from the election-meddling story, affected them?

We sent special correspondent Ryan Chilcote, who lived in Russia for 20 years, to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, to find out.

Ryan Chilcote:  The start-up here in America should be the giveaway.  But that's not the only clue Ari Kagan is not the America-bashing Russian talk show host you might be expecting.

Ari Kagan: I'm anti-Putin person.  I strongly believe that Putin love dictatorship, I have a Statue of Liberty on my TV show for 17 years.

Ryan Chilcote: This is not the Kremlin-funded channel RT.

Ari Kagan: RT is a clear, clear absolute example of Kremlin propaganda.

Ryan Chilcote: Kagan presents a weekly show for the Russian Television Network of America, out of a studio in South Brooklyn.

Ari Kagan: This is the only American- based, American-Russian language TV station.  Everything else is just probably 90 percent or 100 percent rebroadcasting from Kremlin, basically.  It's only one point-of-view, Kremlin point-of-view.  So, if you just disagree with Putin, you can do it here in the studio.

Ryan Chilcote: The day he moved his young family to America, almost 25 years ago, is second only to his birthday in its importance.  And yet —

People have accused you of hating America?

Ari Kagan: Because they don't know who is Russian?  Russian Federation citizen, Russian-speaking American.  I'm like, as American as American pie.

Ryan Chilcote: Has America stumbled into a new red scare?

Morgan Freeman:  We came under attack by the Russian government.

Ryan Chilcote: From D.C. to Hollywood, to the airwaves, Russia is everywhere.

Rachel Maddow:  You can see the concerted Russian effort to get the American people at each other's throats.

Ryan Chilcote: Brighton Beach is where Brooklyn meets the Atlantic.  It's also the first stop for many of the some three million immigrants that come to the U.S. from Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union.  President Vladimir Putin isn't very popular, but many of them also feel they and the country they left behind are being scapegoated, accused of supernatural powers.

Male: They blame Russia if you miss a plane, if you miss a boat, if you miss something, so it's Russia.

Ryan Chilcote: So, you don't believe that Russia meddled in the election or —

Male: Russia, they didn't have such a power to influence American votes, American life.  They can bark.  That's it.

Ryan Chilcote: Yelena Vishnevetskaya is kicking off her call-in show at Brooklyn's Davidzon Radio station and she's invented me along to co-host.

It's Friday the 13th and that's Michael Jackson's thriller.  Our topic- are Russians the new bogeymen?

Yelena Vishnevetskaya (through interpreter): What do you think about the hysteria?  What do you think about Russia's influence on our elections?

Male (through interpreter): The Russians didn't have anything to do with the elections.  This is all the Democrats making excuses for losing the election.

Ryan Chilcote: Caller after caller blamed the Democrats for putting all the blame on the Kremlin.

Your radio listeners, they're pro-Trump?

Yelena Vishnevetskaya: Yes.

Ryan Chilcote: They love President Trump.

Yelena Vishnevetskaya: A lot, a lot.

Ryan Chilcote: Over 80 percent of the Brighton Beach voted for President Donald Trump.  First-generation Russian-Americans tend to despise left-leaning politics and by extension the Democrats after their experience in the Soviet Union.

Anna Katsnelson came here as a schoolgirl.

Anna Katsnelson:  A lot of older Russians who are Trump supporters, they think that this is left fake news, you know, Trump reiterates that every time he speaks about the Washington Post or the New York Times

Ryan Chilcote: Katsnelson is a member of the Facebook group Anti-Trump Soviet Immigrants.

Anna Katsnelson: My dad voted for Trump and it was very traumatic.  So, we stop speaking for several weeks.  I almost lost my babysitting.

Ari Kagan: Everybody who supports me please stand behind me.

Ryan Chilcote: When Ari Kagan ran for New York city council in 2013, a heckler disrupted one of his campaign events, accusing him of being a foot soldier of the KGB.

Male: Ari Kagan was a journalist in the Soviet Union.  He is a graduate of the Lvov Military Academy from 1988.  In order to get into a school of that status, you had to be cleared by or be a member for the KGB.

Ryan Chilcote: Kagan is a card- carrying Democrat.  He doesn't like President Trump or President Putin, but he says the way many Americans talk about Russians and Russia can be harmful.

Ari Kagan: American people are very proud people, but Russian people are also very proud.  Each time they feel as someone stomping on them, someone calling them names, thinking they're irrelevant, they're starting, you know what?  We are relevant.  We are players on the world stage.  So, we have to be careful even in our language.

Ryan Chilcote: Are we amidst a red scare?  Maybe not, but in Brighton, they see plenty of red flags.

For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Ryan Chilcote in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York.

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