Alexander Ionov never funded or “exercised direction or control” over me or the California independence campaign

Yesterday the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment of Russian national Alexander Viktorovich Ionov for his alleged role in having U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government to sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda, and interfere in elections within the United States.

Among the several unnamed U.S. citizens included in the indictment, the government references an Unindicted Co-Conspirator-6 (UIC-6) and describes this person as the founder of a U.S. Political Group whose primary goal was to promote California’s secession from the United States.

Insofar as this unnamed and unindicted “co-conspirator” refers to me, the founder of the modern-day California secession movement known as CalExit, I feel compelled to speak out in my defense, to elaborate on my oft-mischaracterized relationship with Mr. Ionov, and to separate fact from fiction and truth from hoax.

My relationship with Mr. Ionov began in 2016, two years after I designed a “Free California” bumper sticker, attached it to my car and went joyriding on the freeways of San Diego just to show it off, and two years after a subsequent meeting in a Fresno living room with likeminded individuals to outline a campaign for California independence based on the type of classical liberalism upon which the United States was founded and the principles espoused in the Declaration of Independence.

Thus, the campaign for California independence I founded was rooted in American principles and motivated by civic nationalism and the desire for California to govern itself independently through self-determination. When we met for the first time in that Fresno apartment and laid the groundwork for what would become known around the world as CalExit, it was not to sow discord, it was to achieve a dream that not only we shared amongst ourselves in that room on that day, but one that we shared with so many Californians who had dreamed that dream going back centuries before us.

Ironically, in a very real sense, our campaign was also motivated by the desire to avoid conflict in the United States, for it is my view that the American people are on a path to civil war. I do not speak of uniformed armies meeting on the battlefields of Gettysburg or Antietam, I speak of the increasing frequency and intensity of politically motivated violence in our streets between neighbors who share diverging values about the future of our country. This violence and growing political animosity we have witnessed for years is not the work of any foreign power or intelligence service or Mr. Ionov, but the result of our unwillingness as a country of political factions to compromise on our ever-diverging values.

And we shouldn’t have to compromise our values. We as a country have reached a point where there are two Americas, and they are increasingly incompatible with one another.

In blue America, people believe that women have the right to kill their unborn children, that the definition of a ‘woman’ is fluid, that biological males should be allowed to compete against biological females and that they can grow up one day to be nominated as woman of the year, that kindergartens and elementary schools should teach children these ideas about sex, that public schools should teach Critical Race Theory to further indoctrinate a set of anti-American and leftist political values into the impressionable minds of our children and young adults, and, on another topic, that there is no such thing as an ‘illegal’ immigrant and that a country does not need to secure its borders. The list goes on.

In red America, however, the America I associate with, abortion stops a beating heart and that is an act of murder, we understand the difference between men and women even though we’re not all biologists, we believe schools should not be discussing sex with kindergarteners, we believe parents ought to have a say in their children’s education, that illegal immigrants should be deported, and that a nation that doesn’t secure its border doesn’t have a country.

None of this has anything to do with Russia or its intelligence services or Mr. Ionov but it has everything to do with California independence, for California is the cesspool where the insanity of blue America breeds and metastasizes across the country like a cancer. The discord and turmoil we face in this country exist not because of Russia or its intelligence services or Mr. Ionov encourage or support it, but because of us and our unwillingness to compromise and our penchant for scoring political points against each other at the expense of national unity.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else, but I am not and never was an illegal agent of the Russian government tasked with sowing discord in the United States. The discord in America is thriving well without Russia’s help. Furthermore, I never received funding from the Russian government or Mr. Ionov to engage in political activities, spread pro-Russian propaganda, or interfere in elections within the United States.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Justice claims that Mr. Ionov “exercised direction and control” of the California secession movement. While it is true that I lived in Russia for over five years and maintained contact with Mr. Ionov during that time, what follows is an elaboration of the limits of our relationship.

In September of 2016, I attended and spoke at a political conference in Russia organized by Mr. Ionov. This “Dialogue of Nations” conference was focused on the right to self-determination and was attended by representatives of various organizations from around the world, including the Texas and Puerto Rico independence campaigns. Invitations to participate were not made to any groups from Russia, which I admit was hypocritical.

However, in line with Russia’s poor record on free speech, advocating secession from Russia violates the “territorial integrity” of the Russian Federation and is illegal. Profoundly ironic considering Russia’s complete disregard for the territorial integrity of other countries such as Ukraine, yet nonetheless I was offered a platform to advocate for California independence in front of an international audience and I took advantage of that opportunity.

Contrary to inaccurate media reports that have repeatedly been published since that conference, neither Mr. Ionov nor his Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia paid for my trip to Russia to attend this conference. This is because I had already moved to Russia earlier that fall to work as an English teacher and therefore did not require his assistance in getting to Russia, although he did provide financial assistance to other groups for this purpose.

In December of 2016, Mr. Ionov allowed me to use his office in Moscow to put on an exhibit of California history and civil rights and to invite the media to a presentation in this office. This exhibit included topics that are taboo and even illegal in Russia.

For example, an exhibit on Harvey Milk and the struggle for LGBT rights is not something one would expect to come across in the middle of Moscow, a city where gay pride parades are illegal and one could be arrested for disseminating “gay propaganda” under a 2013 law signed by Vladimir Putin. Nevertheless, this event took place, and this office would be, as I joked in the weeks leading up to the event, the first “safe place” in Moscow. This so-called “safe place” eventually evolved into what I dubbed the “Embassy of the Independent Republic of California” in Moscow, and Mr. Ionov referred to it as a “People’s Embassy.”

Contrary to inaccurate media reports that have repeatedly been published since that presentation, neither Mr. Ionov nor his Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia provided me with my own office space for this so-called embassy. Indeed, the media drew particular attention in their own reporting as to how our exhibit materials were on the same walls as Mr. Ionov’s photographs of brutal dictators like Bashar Al-Assad and Hugo Chavez.

This is because they were his walls, and it was his office. I only regret the profound mistake of allowing our materials to be displayed on the same walls, but I had no independent access nor any keys to this office, was not able to visit this office without invitation, and only visited it a few times over the course of my five years in Russia. None of this speaks to me as having been given my own “free office space” in Moscow, though we did hype it up to benefit from media attention.

In January 2018, I informed Mr. Ionov in the course of our normal ongoing dialogue between friends that I was returning to California from Russia to file a new ballot initiative for a California independence referendum and to hold a rally at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Valentine’s Day that year. The leadership team at YesCalifornia specifically chose this date because divorces skyrocket around this time in the United States and we were just preparing to launch our ‘National Divorce’ theme with a broken heart graphic detailing California on one side and the other 49 states on the other. Mr. Ionov offered financial assistance which amounted to a few hundred dollars.

However, this was a free event taking place on public property with a permit from the California State Police. Meanwhile, the organization’s president, Marcus Ruiz Evans, put together the money for the ballot initiative filing fee. In fact, the only expenses we had were getting to Sacramento and printing posters with our broken heart graphic. Mr. Evans paid for our trip to Sacramento and the posters were paid for by donations solicited through our extensive mailing list.

Regardless of what Mr. Ionov may have believed and reported to his superiors, the money he offered was not used for political purposes but simply to supplement my modest salary as an English teacher that month in a provincial Russian city. In doing so, I may have violated his trust as a friend, but neither Mr. Ionov nor any other foreign source ever funded our political campaign. In fact, the State of California subpoenaed our bank records as part of an FPPC investigation into claims of foreign sources of funding a couple of years ago only to issue a statement that such claims have been “disproven” as a result of their investigation.

Nor has Mr. Ionov ever “exercised control and direction” over our political efforts in California. This is particularly evident by the fact that, to his disappointment, we never stormed the governor’s office as he suggested we do that day in Sacramento. The following year, in August of 2019, when Mr. Ionov insistently tried to give me large sums of money to hire street artists to paint 3-5 murals containing various political messages on buildings across California, I stalled until his September 3 deadline, never took the money, and the murals were never painted. Likewise in September that year, Mr. Ionov wanted us to organize flash mobs in California, which we also did not do. Further, Mr. Ionov informed me that year that he was planning a new “Dialogue of Nations” conference. We did not attend that conference.

All of this speaks nothing to the fact that although I was in Russia and I was in contact with Mr. Ionov during this time, my colleague Marcus Ruiz Evans became the leader of the California independence campaign in July of 2017. Mr. Evans has never had any contact with Mr. Ionov, who doesn’t speak English. To say that Mr. Ionov controlled the California independence campaign is therefore to say that he was a puppet of the Russian intelligence services, that I was a puppet of Mr. Ionov, and that Mr. Evans was my puppet. Talk about conspiracies.

It was also that same summer that I was temporarily detained by Moscow police for participating in an illegal protest in support of a wrongfully detained journalist named Ivan Golunov, whose work focused on exposing government corruption in Russia. I was immediately released when the arresting officers learned that I was an American. The episode was captured on video and the whole event went viral across Russia. It was even played later that year in the Russian Federal Assembly during a legislative debate about police reforms.

As an advocate of the freedom of the press, regardless of how often I have personally been maligned by the Fake News Media, it has disappointed and annoyed me over the past few years since being detained at that rally to watch Mr. Ionov devote a lot of time and energy to having free and independent media outlets in Russia shut down or labeled as foreign agents.

Just as it is hypocritical of him to support the self-determination and independence of California and Texas but not to support the self-determination of the various peoples conquered by Russia throughout history and today to support Russia’s brutal and imperialist war of conquest in Ukraine, it is equally hypocritical of him to lead a crusade against independent media he has branded as foreign agents in Russia while he himself has in some capacity been acting for years as an illegal foreign agent in the United States.

I can not speak in great detail about Mr. Ionov’s relationship with the other U.S. persons and political groups referenced in the indictment simply because my relationship with him was not close or strong enough that I would have direct knowledge of those matters.

After 2019, however, I felt that Mr. Ionov finally came to accept that I no longer wanted to be involved in the California independence movement because it had been taken over by a cabal of leftist lunatics infected with the woke mind virus and his requests and offers ceased. However, we remained in contact as friends until I left Russia, with him, for instance, congratulating me when my daughter was born in February 2021.

Over the years, I have chosen my words carefully when speaking publicly about my time in Russia, a country I called home for many years and grew to love. My wife is from there and our daughter was born there. But there is a difference between a country and its government. I felt it necessary to choose my words carefully and to tread lightly in a country whose government has been known to take political prisoners and use them as pawns to be bartered for political concessions.

Regardless of the precariousness of this reality, I was detained at that illegal protest in the summer of 2019, and after that I publicly advocated for the release of Trevor Reed when I was living in Moscow. Today, Russia still holds Paul Whelan and now Brittney Griner as political bargaining chips. There are other Americans wrongfully detained in Russia. I am not one of them.

I believe this is because I avoided making enemies of people like Mr. Ionov, someone I did not know worked for or on behalf of Russian intelligence services until this indictment was unsealed yesterday but understood to be a well-connected public figure in a country where connections often matter more than the rule of law.

I have been able to speak more candidly about the Russian government ever since my family and I abruptly left that country prior to its unjustified invasion of Ukraine. Slava Ukraini. Writing this statement and speaking candidly about these matters for the first time has been a refreshing experience.

Earlier today I reached out to the FBI through their tip line to provide my information should they be looking to contact me.


Published by Louis Marinelli