By Jonathon Van Maren
We stared up at the enormous steel gates as our Uber headed back into the chilly Moscow night. I’d never seen anything like it. A huge metal eagle with the head of a wolf hung from the arch, wings outstretched, talons grasping for prey. An entire MiG fighter jet was welded to the compound wall, and a Red Army tank perched atop it. An artillery gun sat nearby, and on an enormous stone near the road was an ornate Russian Orthodox cross with a snarling wolf crouched in front of it, strategically placed lights making it appear almost alive.
A large unsmiling fellow stood at the gate dressed entirely in black, a bullet-proof vest making him appear even bulkier than he was. He took our bags from us and rummaged carefully through each pocket. After checking them thoroughly, he looked up sharply. “Guns?” We shook our heads, but he checked the bags again anyway. He handed them back, grunted, and jerked his head towards the courtyard and the compound within. Welcome to the lair of the Night Wolves.
I should back up just a bit. Several years ago, the Danish journalist Iben Thranholm, whom I’d interviewed for my radio show several times, brought up a passion project of hers: understanding the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church. This, she said, was an untold story—and preliminary research gave me a sense of how little we in the West understand about Russia. They see themselves as moving away from Marxism precisely as the West moves towards it and view the Western obsession with sexual minorities with overt contempt. It is an incredibly complex story, and after over a year of phone calls, arrangements, and research, I headed to Russia with a friend in February of 2018 to work on the project. Iben arrived a few days later with a Danish filmmaker. Our first interview, I learned to my surprise upon arriving in Moscow from St. Petersburg, would be with a member of the infamous Russian motorcycle club, the Night Wolves.