Steniakina is leading the charge to change Russia’s legislation and ban Mormon missionaries from the nation. Though the number of Mormons living inside the country is small—around 400 foreign missionaries and 21,000 registered members at last count—they are a relatively visible presence in Russia’s larger cities. The missionaries hand out the Book of Mormon to those who might be interested, give free English lessons, and spend three hours a day cleaning public places or helping people around their homes. 

Steniakina, who says the Latter-day Saints are a “totalitarian cult” sent by the FBI and the CIA “to fool and covert” unwitting Russians, is making her anti-Mormon campaign her top priority for the next political season. Specifically, she’s agitating to add language that would ban “the West [from converting] our citizens into non-traditional religions”—i.e. anything other than Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. She already has a seat in Moscow’s city hall, and she is certain Russia’s president Vladimir Putin will back her push, if it makes it all the way to the Duma.

It may not be such a hard sell. This past fall, Putin called on police to monitor “totalitarian sects” supposedly threatening Russia’s internal security. At a meeting at his Novo-Ogarevo residence last October, he also hinted that religious groups might have less-than-holy motives for attracting members. “This is not just a hunt for souls,” he intoned. “This is a hunt for people’s property.”

Putin’s words set off a brief spate of right-wing hate demonstrations against Mormon missionaries. Three days after Putin’s speech, the youth wing of the ruling United Russia party sent hecklers to parade in the streets with placards proclaiming “Mormons, goodbye!” and “CIA hacks!” (The church complained to Russian prosecutors that the Youth Guards were violating freedom-of-religion laws, but a spokesman said the investigation has gone nowhere.) Steniakina has also been known to tote around a large mock-up of an airline ticket—one way from Moscow to Washington—outside the church’s headquarters in the capital.