But experts say there's something different going on today. The church's 170,000 Russian members don't vote, won't serve in the military and refuse to attend national celebrations that glorify violence. That means they often avoid state-sponsored rallies celebrating, say, the annexation of Crimea. That's a problem for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is naturally suspicious of groups with pro-Western sympathies (the sect is based in the United States). It's also a way for him to show support to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Experts see it, too, as part of a broader campaign against Russian civil society using the 2002 anti-extremism law. Officially, the rule was touted as a measure against radicalized violence from homegrown and foreign terrorists. But it's been broadly interpreted, used to jail anyone from anti-government activists to Muslims with no ties to terrorism or violence.