Friday, July 06, 2018

May turns to June and June turns to July

Well over a month since my last round-up, so this bunch of links to recent must-reads might be even more obese than normal...

Call to action
SyriaUK on why the UK must act on Southern Syria before it's too late.

Useful idiots
James Bloodworth brilliantly anatomises the six types of useful idiots. An extract from the entry on the power worshipper:
While [George Bernard] Shaw was singing the praises of Stalinism the Soviet Union was gripped by a terrible – and entirely avoidable – famine. Yet the spell cast by Stalin’s flattery overpowered any potential concern on Shaw’s part for the starving peasantry.
In more recent times fringe journalists such as Vanessa Beeley have travelled to Syria only to return to Britain toeing the regime line that President Bashar al Assad is engaged in a manichean struggle against the terrorists of the Islamic State. In return for such obsequies, those like Beeley, the daughter of the late British diplomat Sir Harold Beeley, have received access to parts of Syria such as Aleppo usually denied to independent journalists.
In normal circumstances Beeley would be considered a crank. She believes that the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in 2015 was a false flag operation and that Al Qaeda was not responsible for 9/11. But Beeley is useful to the Russians and their client state in Syria, and appears regularly on English language Russian State media.
The willingness of Beeley – as well as other activist-cum-journalists including Neil Clarke and John Pilger – to champion the Kremlin line has the happy side effect (for those in question at least) of opening up large media platforms denied to them by the mainstream, spreading disinformation about Russia’s blood-soaked foreign policy.
The new right
From Bella Caledonia: Inside Climate Denial, Disinformation and Fake News. This long piece is on the full Brexit populist ideologues around the Spectator and Telegraph, particularly those who are part of the sinister former Trotskyist LM/RCP network (famous for genocide denial and excessive hair gel). An extract:
The approach of Dacre, Clark and James Heartfield (also known as James Hughes and William Deighton) is to divert attention away from political crisis, legal implication and the obscenity of social housing and bring the readers gaze back to their comfort zone of bashing greens and denying climate reality. Heartfield (or whatever he’s called) has written for Living MarxismCulture Wars, the Pro-Choice Forum and Spiked, speaks at the Battle of Ideas and is a director of building promoters Audacity. He is a member of the new Full Brexit group and is the pivot point between ‘libertarianism’ and the far right. He started the defence of smacking children in the 1990s as part of a campaign against ‘taboos’ and here he is interviewing Neil Hamilton way back in 1994, where the mutual appreciation is palpable, Hamilton ends: “‘My preferred reading matter is the Daily Telegraph and LM these days’, he adds.

The red-brown zombie plague
Alex Reid Ross’s diagram of the interplay between the Russian propaganda apparatus and fascist or Red-Brown groups – from https://hummusforthought.com/2018/03/16/the-multipolar-spin-how-fascists-operationalize-left-wing-resentment/
An essential series in NZ's Fightback by Daphne Lawless on how fascist ideas are becoming popular on the Left: 1. The pod people and alt-imperialism; 2. Vectors and Germs of the Red-Brown Virus (cites Anton Mukhamedov and also Amar Diwarkar's “The Permutations of Assadism”); 3. The three germs of red-brown convergence. (Previous useful texts by Daphne: “Against Campism”, November 2015“Against Conservative Leftism”, February 2016“Trump, Brexit, Syria… and conservative leftism, December 2016”.) An extract:
It’s common sense in liberal and Left circles that ideas like “9/11 Truth”, the theories that Barack Obama’s birth certificate was forged, or that the victims of the Sandy Hook or Parkland school shootings were “crisis actors”, are wild fantasies either made up by the bigoted and ill-informed to justify their prejudices, or else false narratives being deliberately fed to such people (for profit or political gain) by unscrupulous media operatives such as FOX News or Alex Jones’ InfoWars. We are appalled when parents of school shooting victims are harassed by unhinged strangers calling them conspiracy operatives and telling them that their dead children never existed.
And yet this is precisely what much of the Western Left has been doing to the people whose children died of chlorine poisoning in the basements of Douma, Syria. Experienced Western journalist Robert Fisk even took a trip to Douma – courtesy of the Syrian government – to find an anonymous doctor who would confirm such fantasies. This, while actual Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors were still barred from the site, so that the regime and its allies could make the evidence disappear. 
The motivation is clear. “False flag” theories are based on the idea that elaborate lies are being told by a secret conspiracy to manipulate public opinion, and that mainstream sources are part of this conspiracy. Alex Jones claims that school shootings are arranged/faked by the US state (or a secret faction within it, known as the “Deep State”) to take away US citizens’ rights to bear arms. The Left argues the same about atrocities in Syria, only the goal of the conspirators is to build support for a “regime change” invasion of Syria. Similar stories are currently circulating on Leftist social media about the protests against social welfare cuts in Nicaragua, and their murderous suppression by that country’s government (search “Nicaragua CIA” on Twitter). The far-Right and the Left end up with the same narrative – there is a conspiracy within the current US State to fake atrocities and protest movements so as to expand its influence, which must be pushed back. In fact, American fascists are just as keen as any on the US Left to deny chemical attacks in Syria – the Snopes article cited above reproduces a tweet from alt-right celebrity and star of the famous “punch in the face” video, Richard Spencer, doing just that.
Fascism/anti-fascism
Daphe's text is taken from the June edition of Fightback, which is a special on fascism/anti-fascism. Among other features, it includes "Fighting the Fash since 1932: a history of Antifa in Germany" and an interview with the great Australian anarchist anti-fascist blogger Andy Fleming, aka slackbastard (see his blog here). And here's a snippet from Michael Lyons' book Insurgent Supremacists on the US far right.

The hard right and its apologists
Diminiutive petty hoodlum, self-publicist and Islamophobic demagogue "Tommy Robinson" (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) has been much in the news for getting himself arrested for contempt of court. The Secret Barrister explains the legal case. David Aaronovitch attacks the Jews who stupidly jump on board with his racist message. Here's one example of an Islamophobic activist in the UK Jewish community.

Russia and the multipolar spin
The repression of dissent in Russia is deeply ingrained. In particular, anti-fascists and anarchists are targeted. Joshua Yaffa in the New Yorker has an important piece about this (HT Andy F). Russian libertarians autonomen regularly report on these issues - an essential read to get a feel for the Russia its state media don't like to report. See also People and NatureLibcom and oDrussia.

Renewing left politics - against Lexit populism and political confusionism
Matt Wrack on socialism, Stalinism, Grenfell, Momentum and more, Martin Thomas on Industrial policy in one country. Andrew Coates on Aaron Bastani's Fully Automated Luxury Communism: Confusionism for Happy Bunnies, and on Giles Fraser's turn to antisemitic national socialism.

Robert Fine z''l
One of the most important thinkers of our time on some of these issues - developing arguments against left nationalism and left antisemitism, from a cosmopolitan perspective - has been Robert Fine. His premature death last weekend is a devastating blow to radical politics. Here's some memories by comrade on the left and here's an obit in Engage, which has this set of links at the end, to which I've added a couple more.

Freedom of movement
An interview with Swiss philosopher Andreas Cassee by Papierlose Zeitung in AntidoteZine on the case for global freedom of movement.

Friday, May 11, 2018

A pint of the usual

This week's round-up...

UK Politics and Election 2018

Lewisham East

My take on the runners and riders in the forthcoming Lewisham East by-election, and on the selection process. (A thread that will be out of date by Wednesday night, so read it now.)

Labour antisemitism

Daniel Allington on how antisemitism slips beneath the radar on left-wing social media. Rob Marchant on Len McCluskey's bullying of Labour "moderates". Rosa Doherty: Millennials are proud of being “woke” – so why don’t they call out antisemitism? Some stats on Labour and the Jews, by Stan Anson.

The right, the far right and the really far right

Shiraz Socialism on the hypocrisy and racism of the Tories.

UKIP: Hope not Hate on UKIP's election failures.

Is this Britain's most influential far-right activist? The BBC investigates Jim Dowson.

The hard left



The information war, Syria solidarity and Putinism

Leila Sibai on the tragic fall of Syria’s Eastern Ghouta.


Omar Sabbour on why the White Helmets aren't the West's puppets. Brian Whitaker on Vanessa Beeley, the Kremlin's "goddess" of propaganda. From 2016, but newly republished at Pulse: Charles Davis on why disagreeing on the internet isn't the new McCarthyism. Sam Hamad on the alternate reality that makes genocide possible. Louis Proyect on the contradictory nature of pro-Russian accounts of chemical attacks. Luke Harding on how Russia fights the Salisbury propaganda war.
Anton Mukhamedov on why you aren’t antiwar if you aren’t anti-Assad’s war. Mohammed Sulaiman on the Left’s Erasure of Syrians. Joshka Wessels on how Assad chases, tortures and kills the best of Syria’s young pacifist leftists. Joseph Dahar calls for a rebuilding of revolutionary humanism and genuine anti-war movement. Idrees Ahmed asks if there are really no good guys left in Syria.


Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The return of Stalinism on the British left?

Every May Day, I feel a little more depressed. As a long-time Marxist and trade unionist, May Day should be my holiday. But watching the parade of Stalinist icons parade through London every year makes me feel shame rather than joy. Shame - but also fear about the direction the British labour movement is marching in.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in the heyday of the global anti-capitalist movement, the official TUC May Day march had become a dying relic of an earlier form of state socialism, dwarfed by the massive, lively, carnivalesque crowds participating in the unofficial (in fact, often illegal) parallel parades. With the fall of Communism in eastern and central Europe, it seemed clear that the authoritarian model of socialism-from-above had been a dead end; the submerged democratic and libertarian traditions of radicalism seemed to be re-emerging and filling the streets. After around 2003, these crowds died down, partly, I think, as their energy was siphoned off into protests against the war on terror, recuperated by the trad left parties who'd lost control of it in the post-Berlin Wall years.
Now, we seem to be seeing something even more disturbing. Stalinism, instead of rotting away in the dustbin of history, appears to be resurgent. The dwindling, ageing bloc of grey-haired tankies (many of whom actually remembered celebrating the Soviet tanks that rolled through Prague in 1968) who carried their hammers and sickles through London every May 1 seem to have been augmented by a new generation of tankies. Scrolling through pics of yesterday's march, it looks like there are more Stalins and Maos than ever before, along with a couple of Kim Jong-uns.

Hey barber make me look like someone who will grow up to be one of the highest death count dictators in history but also a bit like that guy in One Direction
The rise of millennial hipster tankies tweeting stupid memes at anarcho-centrist dads like me might feel like a weak joke, but, sadly, the problem is deeper than that. I've already blogged about actual Stalinists in key positions in the Labour leadership -- such as Seumas Milne, formerly of ultra-Stalinst sect "Straight Left", the party's director of strategy and communications, or Steve Howell, also formerly of Straight Left, deputy director of strategy and communications, or  Andrew Murray, who only joined Labour from the Communist Party of Britain in 2016, or Murray's daughter Laura Murray, Corbyn's "stakeholder manager" (recently heard darkly muttering, Great Purge style, about the undue influence of "Trotskyists" in Momentum).

Stolen from reddit

Closer to home for me, last week saw the bizarre AGM of Lewisham Momentum, half of which (apparently mostly young white men?) left the meeting to go to a noisy New Cross pub where they nodded in a slate of new officers (watch the video here) including, as "political education officer", believe it or not, someone whose social media profiles are replete with pictures of Stalin, as well as celebrations of Assadist war crimes denial - this Great Purge celebrated by Novara Media's Aaron Bastani as the #LewishamSpring.

When a political education officer of the most important faction in Labour in my constituency is promoting homages to dictators and denials of war crimes, it's a sign that something is very wrong.


Friday, April 27, 2018

It's exhausting



I didn't manage to catch all of my backlog in my last link round-up, so this one also has some stuff stretching back into last month.

Labour antisemitism
I'm getting a bit exhausted with this. The bottom line is there is too much antisemitism circulating in the Party. Despite what Jim rightly describes as Corbyn's best statement so far on antisemitism, the Labour leadership and, even more so, too many rank and file Corbynistas, don't seem to get it. Len McCluskey's intervention was pretty poor, and the show of denialism from the likes of Chris Williamson is embarrassing. Here are some of the best reads I've seen on the topic: Brendan McGeever and David Feldman in the Indy (originally in Ha'aretz), Keith Kahn-Harris in the Guardian, Peter Ryley on his blog and Ralph Leonard on his blog. For a good insight into how antisemitism circulates in the Labour social media sphere, read this important study by Daniel Allington. And here Anti-Nazis United looks at the Labour activists who claim they've never seen antisemitism in the party.

From Windrush to the Hostile Environment
Labour's failure to get to grips with the racism in its ranks should not blind us to the fact that the Tories remain the truest Nasty Party (if you need a reminder, check out the odious  - now suspended - candidate George Stoakley), whose vicious anti-migrant attacks have helped mainstream xenophobia and destroyed lives. It has been heartening to see a shift in the national discourse in the wake of the Windrush scandal, and this needs to lead to a full-on critique of the Hostile Environment policies that continue to target migrants, including Europeans, and non-migrant people of colour. On the Runnymede blog,  Lester Holloway and Sundeep Lidher explore the legacy of Windrush. This brilliant essay by Kenan Malik on elite racism and the white working class as alibi is a really thought-provoking look at the legacy of Powell. Rita Chadha on the MRN blog is sharp on the coming backlash to this shift in the discourse.

Corbyn and Corbynism has been responsible to some extent for a shift in the Overton window that might enable a different conversation about migration, an escape from the old Blair/Brown mantras of "British jobs for British workers" and "tough on immigration, tough on the causes of immigration". But he has also shown a worrying willingness to throw migrant workers under the bus in the name of (national) socialism, and a failure to robustly defend freedom of movement, which I think should be one of the key causes of our time. Here's a post by Peter R that talks about this.

Mainstreaming conspiricism
As the links here showed, the Douma and Salisbury chemical attacks have been the focus of a serious disinformation campaign. Among the journalists documenting this are former Guardian Middle East editor Brian Whitaker ("How “Ian56” keeps the false flags flying on Twitter"), Snopes' Bethania Palma ("Critics Slam Viral Stories Claiming Douma Chemical Attack Victims Died from ‘Dust’"), EAWorldview's Scott Lucas ("Russia’s (Dis)information Warfare and Assad’s Chemical Attacks"), Muhammad Idrees Ahmad ("Truth Is the First Step to Accountability in Syria"), The Intercept's Robert Mackey ("Russia Sows Doubts Over Chemical Attack in Syria, Aided by Pro-Trump Cable Channel") and HuffPo's Chris York ("How An Obscure British Blogger Became Russia's Key Witness Against The White Helmets"). Also read: A quick profile of hardcore racist Ian56789.

Sadly, parts of the British left have played a key role in mainstreaming it (as have parts of the British right, including Peter Hitchens and Arron Banks). Here, a great post on Shiraz takes as its starting point the pernicious role played by the Morning Star. And on the Gerasites back in March, Connor P, in "Novichok for the Soul", explores Corbyn's culpability in this. Idrees explores some UK academics playing a key role. Across the Atlantic, Robert Farley looks at The Nation's role in the disinfo war and Bethania P looks at Dennis Kucinich.

Understanding fascism
I'm not sure if I've already linked to Shane Burley's interview of anti-fascist author Matthew Lyons; at any rate, read it.

Anti-fascism and the fascist international

Toxic masculinity
My comrade Terry Glavin has a characteristically fine piece on Monday's awful terror attack in Toronto.

Ghouta/Idlib/Afrin/Herat: the failure of solidarity

Three pieces in the brilliant al-Jumhuriya: Leila al-Shami on Syria's shock capitalism and demographic engineering (also available in Spanish at Flores en Daraya); revolutionary hero Yassin al-Haj Saleh on Living in the Temporary; and Emran Feroz on the history of the orientalist left's love affair with Russian authoritarianism.


Michael Karadjis on the limits of geopolitics.

An important letter by Robin Yassin-Kattab on Afrin and solidarity. An interview of Robin by the great Bill Fletcher on the survival of the revolution. More like this on Dick Gregory's blog.

DSA activist Tristan Slaughter on why the DSA must reject imperial rhetoric. Brian Whitaker on why tales of regime change make no sense.



Friday, April 20, 2018

In the time of the multipolar spin

So at the start of 2018 I said I'd do regular (weekly or fortnightly) roundups of essential reading, but it kind of fizzled out after a good start. Here's another go. It's a bit big, as it has about a month's worth of links.

The fascist international

Generation Tedium: Malatesta on the Identitarian movement. Hope not Hate on Generation Shambles.

Fascist internationalism: Josephine Huetlin on the global far right's love affair with Assad. Jason Wilson on the alt-right anti-war movement.

American fascism: Spencer Sunshine, on its 23rd anniversary, on how the far right changed after the Oklahoma City bombing. Also by Spencer: a case study of a neo-Nazi, Jake Laskey of the American Front, and Is the alt-right on its last legs? By Michael Lyons: Insurgent supremacists - on the morphing of the far right. Jason Wilson on far right attacks on the Parkland students.

Democrats and Veterans: Otto English on the tinpot comedy Mosleyites standing in the UK elections (including in Lewisham).

Race and UK politricks: the Windrush Generation and Labour antisemitism

Peter R screens the four Labour parliamentary speeches that made my spine tingle this week: David Lammy on the Windrush injustice and John Mann, Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth's personal testimonies of antisemitic abuse.

Hostile Environment: Gary Younge on Theresa May's Windrush stupidity.

Rivers of Blood at 50: Peter R on Enoch's sour legacy.

Rob Marchant argues the current situation in Labour is unsustainable. Peter R on why opposition to "heritage antisemitism" is not enough today. Kellie on why faith in one's own virtue is dangerous. Citizen Sane on the Rothschilds. One short and one long piece by Richard Seymour that I agree with a surprisingly large part of.

On the sad death of Labour internationalism: SyriaUK argue that Labour has lost touch with Robin Cook's legacy.

On Brexit and left and right populism: Max Dunbar in defence of footnotes (on left populism). Peter R on Brexit's looking glass world.

Syria: after the Douma massacre

What happened in Douma and its aftermath? Bellingcat: An open source survey of what we know about the attacks. CBS: "Inside Douma: report from the site of the attack". Guardian"Syrian medics 'subjected to extreme intimidation' after Douma attack" - pro-regime testimony from Ghouta doctors should be treated as under duress.

What's going on in general? The brilliant international journalist Emma Beals has a good post on what's going on in Syria. This is a good interview by Aileen Beaton with Robin Yassin-Kassab.

What can we do? SyriaUK on questions to ask after UK action in Syria, including Is Theresa May in breach of international law?

Resistance and liberation in Syria: Razan Zaitouneh’s “Women in The Syrian Revolution”; Women Now for Development and their achievements in free Ghouta; Hind Majaly, a revolutionary woman from Daraa; Resistance in Harasta; Revolutionary women and civil resistance.

War crimes: Mehdi Hasan on superb form in an important article on why it wouldn't actually matter if Assad was guilty of using chemical weapons in Ghouta.

Fisking Douma: The Times summarises Robert Fisk versus informed commentary. The great Terry Glavin has a superb column on why people want to believe Fisk, issues Sonali Kolhatkar also looks at here. Louis Proyect demolishes Fisk on Douma. More Fisk links via Robin Y-K, or via this unrolled thread.

On the "anti-war" left: The brilliant Leila Al-Shami on the anti-imperialism of idiots. Bill Weinberg blasts their lies and hypocrisy. Also listen to his podcast against pro-war "anti-war" jive.

Armed and civil rebellion, Class and Islam - sophisticated analysis by Michael Karadjis. Kyle Orton on external actors in Syria. From February: Bill Weinberg on the difficult politics of Kurdish and Syrian solidarity in the wake of Afrin. And if you don't have Robin Y-K and Leila Al-Shami's Burning Country then buy the new edition.

Left-right convergence

Alex Reid Ross on how a shared love affair with Assad brings the far right and the alt-left together. Charles Davis on how Max Blumenthal and some pro-Russia trolls forced the SPLC to censor an anti-fascist account of red-brown convergence. Al-Hamra documents Max Blumenthal's Damascene conversion from Assad opponent to Assad apologist.

Disinformation and conspiracy

The Times exposes the UK professors (wrongly called "top") promoting Assadist lies (via Louis P). Chris York on the UK academics fueling conspiracy theories. More on this group from Brian Whitaker, who has been tracking them for some time on his brilliant blog. Here's a Syrian refugee, Mohammad Ali,  on un-friending defenders of Islamophobic conspiracy theorists.

BBC Trending on some of Moscow's disinfo agents, including Vanessa Beeley and Sarah Abdallah. Brian Whitaker delves in to Abdoullah's Hezbollah connections.

This is a bit meta, but Russia is now providing fake news about fake news. The anatomy of a Russian chemical weapons lie. How an obscure California pro-Trump website helped Russian disinformation in Douma. France24 on the fake images of Syria circulating on the internet. Snopes debunks the Douma conspiracy trolls. From back in February, Whitaker again on manufacturing doubt, and how Newsweek helped circulate chemical weapons disinfo.

Otto English on the history of disinfomation. And a must-read by Amar Diwakar on Assadism in the post-truth vortex.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fact-checking the SPLC on Max Blumenthal, Part 1

UPDATE: 11 April: I have upgraded the verdict on claim #1 to fact after some help identifying the sequence of the interview being quoted there.

In my last post, I quoted from an SPLC report by author Alexander Reid Ross entitled "The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment". SPLC since took it down, after pressure from some of the people named in the article, most notably Max Blumenthal, as well as follow up legal threats by a former Sputnik journalist recently qualified as a lawyer, aimed not only at SPLC and the author but also at some other journalists who had nothing to do with the piece.

A Google cache is here, a PDF is here, and an archived version is here. It's been reblogged by CrashFastLouis ProyectMarxBordiga and (stripped of most links) AntidoteZine, and (with archive.org links) Glykosymoritis and Hummus for Thought.

I have heard some contradictory reports on the rigour of the research, so I thought I'd fact check the claims about Blumenthal. My findings are below.

Note, everything in bold below is my added emphasis.

Claim #1: Blumenthal praised RT America and its show "Loud & Clear"

The report text:
The most important anti-imperialist hub on Sputnik... is hosted by Brian Becker... The leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation [PSL], Becker regularly hosts Fellows of the American University in Moscow on his Sputnik podcast, “Loud & Clear.” 
“Loud & Clear”’s [trans-national far-right figure, Edward] Lozansky-affiliated guests include far-right PR man Jim Jatras, Mark Sleboda of the Dugin-founded Center for Conservative Studies, the Ron Paul Institute’s Daniel McAdams and Alexander Mercouris of the syncretic conspiracist site, The Duran. The program also provides a platform to a variety of explicitly far-right guests, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, antisemite Alberto Garcia Watson, alt-right figure Cassandra Fairbanks and militia movement leader Larry Pratt. [Note: the same point about Becker was made in the "Ravings of a Radical Vagabond" post I've linked to before, which covered in exhaustive detail some of the territory Reid Ross dips into here - go to the section entitled "The Strange Case Of Sputnik Radio". This blogpost also exhaustively details Becker's far right links. -B.]
Aside from marginal guests, Loud & Clear can bring on some heavy hitters. During his two appearances on “Loud & Clear” in late 2017, bestselling author Max Blumenthal called the red-brown radio show “the finest public affairs programming” and declared, “I am increasingly turning to RT America for sanity.”

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Islamophobia turns left: Ben Norton and the Grayzone Project

Post updated 9 March to include new material from the SPLC, which covers very similar ground to this post, in much more detail. The next day the SPLC pulled the report after complaints from Max Blumenthal. Glykosymoritis has posted it on his blog here, a Google cache is here, a PDF is here, and an archived version is here. // 18 March: New post on the SPLC report.


One of my main aims in writing this blog over the last few years has been to expose (and, hopefully, counter) the growth of what I now call the alt-left or "querfront" (cross-front) - the convergence between fascist and leftist positions that actively corrodes the left.

When I started blogging, one of the manifestations of this would be a kind of "philo-Islamism" among some leftists, in which Islamism, understood as a form of "resistance" to American-led imperialism, was seen as a viable ally for the left, despite its deeply reactionary, right-wing nature. Since around 2011, left/fascist convergence has more often taken an almost opposite path: enthusiastic repetition of the "war on terror" rhetoric spouted in the previous decade by the vulgar acolytes of Samuel Huntingdon. Now, many "anti-imperialists" justify the slaughter of Syrian civilians because they are "terrorists" or "al-Qaeda headchoppers", and it is increasingly hard to tell these leftists apart from the far right Islamophobes they were so recently the sworn enemies of.
Stop the War leaders, Nazis and Daily Mail Islamophobes find an area of agreement over the White Helmets

A second main aim of the blog has been to explore (and, again, hopefully counter) some of the ways in which trustworthy sources of accurate information - and perhaps truth itself - have been undermined in the internet age. The sponsored propaganda media of authoritarian states have been one of the key mechanisms for that, supported by an online army made up of both paid internet trolls and unpaid ideological believers. Again, the war in Syria has been a key battleground in this, as active disinformation campaigns have been unleashed on the Syrian revolution.

This post is part of an occasional series in which I just collate, in one handy place, key links on some of the key sources used by the online activists of the querfront, particularly in relation to Syria. Today, young American commentator Benjamin Norton. Two extracts to introduce him, a little bit of new stuff, then the list of key links:

Louis Proyect "Putting Ben Norton under a microscope" (June 2016)
When I visited the Verso office in Brooklyn for a panel discussion on Rosa Luxemburg last August, I ran into someone named Ben Norton who I knew vaguely as a critic of the crude “anti-imperialism” that had swept across the left like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We chatted briefly about our shared political values and his latest career move, which was joining Salon.com as a staff member. I thought this was a welcome addition to a magazine that featured Patrick L. Smith, one of the worst propagandists for the Assad dictatorship to be found anywhere. 
I never would have expected that within six months Norton would end up in the Smith/Cockburn/Fisk camp writing articles reinforcing the dominant narrative on the left that the USA was bent on “regime change” and that the Syrian rebels were reactionary jihadists engaged in a proxy war launched by the West against its perceived enemies in the region. 
[Reviewing] his journalism since early 2016 [shows] how taking the wrong position on Syria inevitably leads to bending the truth, which for a serious-minded journalist is a cardinal sin. Writing for Salon, at least until it remains in business, might pay the rent but what good is that if you lose your soul in the process?
Sam Charles Hamad and Oz Katerji "Did a Kremlin Pilgrimage cause Alternet blogger’s Damascene conversion?" Pulse (August 2017) - this focuses on Max Blumenthal, but has a lot on Norton too:
Over the past year, Blumenthal has gathered the likes of Rania Khalek, Ben Norton, Gareth Porter and Vijay Prasad to build an echo-chamber of Kremlin-friendly voices deluging propaganda on Syria....Ben Norton has painstakingly purged his website of past criticisms of Assad (one blogger has captured at least 14 articles that he has since deleted)....

Until he was hired as a blogger at Salon, [Norton] had assiduously courted pro-Syrian revolution writers and activists. After joining Salon, however, Norton’s Syria politics underwent a radical transformation. In a kamikaze move, after purging his personal website of criticisms of Assad, Norton collaborated with Glenn Greenwald to co-author a piece for The Intercept taking issue with an article about Kremlin propaganda in the Washington Post. Norton, instead, was fired by Salon. His desultory contrarianism ended when he fell into the safety net of Alternet and his resentments converged on Syria. Norton, like Blumenthal, tried to cast doubt on Russian and regime culpability for the Red Crescent convoy attack and on reports about the regime’s bombing of hospitals in Aleppo. (All claims were false as conclusively shown by a recent UN report.) His name also appears signed to a statement by Vanessa Beeley’s Hands Off Syria Coalition that explicitly supports the Russian bombing of Syria.
In this downward spiral, Blumenthal, Khalek and Norton have now been joined by Gareth Porter, who has the dubious distinction of having pioneered war crime denialism nearly four decades earlier when he tried to absolve the Khmer Rouge for its mass atrocities in Cambodia... 
Blumenthal and Norton were quick to try to absolve the regime for its chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun and the former called any potential US response “providing al-Qaeda with air support.” (Blumenthal and Norton have also tried to cast doubt on the regime’s responsibility for the 2013 chemical attack, with latter relying for his claim on the impeccable testimony of a pro-Assad Youtube star connected to Alex Jones’s Infowars conspiracy site).... 
[Updated section] In January 2016, Alternet launched its "Grayzone Project", edited by Max Blumenthal. A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Centre also examines this moment:
Around the same time he went on “Loud & Clear,” Blumenthal appeared on Tucker Carlson’s FOX News show to defend RT — his second time on the far-right show that year. Blumenthal’s RT appearances have been praised by white nationalists like Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., who murdered three people outside of a Jewish Community Center in 2014, so his courting of the right on FOX drew considerable backlash... 
Blumenthal was not as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics before he appeared at the same RT gala as disgraced former National Security advisor Michael Flynn and the Green Party’s Jill Stein in December 2015. During that occasion, he joined a panel called “Infowar: Will there be a winner” alongside Alt Right anti-Semite Charles Bausman of Russia Insider. A month later, Blumenthal’s pro-Kremlin position crystalized with the founding of the Grayzone Project
Grayzone is a collaborative project also featuring journalist Benjamin Norton, who cosigned the Hands Off Syria Coalition’s points of unity statement along with Beeley and others. After going on “Loud & Clear” with Duginist Mark Sleboda and Infowars regular, Ray McGovern, Norton plugged the Party for Socialism and Liberation on a podcast episode titled “Hands off Syria.” With other Grayzone contributors, Norton has been criticized for downplaying war crimes and helping publicize false theories about rebels contaminating Damascus’s water supply
When reached for comment by email, Norton retorted, “I know your goal is to outlandishly smear anyone who opposes US imperialism and is to the left of the Clintons as a ‘crypto-fascist,’ while NATO supports actual fascists whom you care little about.” 
Grayzone is perhaps best known for Blumenthal’s controversial two-part articleattacking the White Helmets, which brought accusations of plagiarism from Beeley. Grayzone contributor Rania Khalek had, Beeley insisted, “pumped me for information on the [White Helmets] and then Max wrote the article.”
When it launched, Grayzone described itself as "a journalistic initiative that aims to confront Islamophobia". On the current front page, with articles stretching back to October, there appears to be only two possibly Muslim authors (Hamzah Raza, "a sophomore at Vanderbilt University", and another student, Alexander Abbasi), who co-authored the only article which relates to Islamophobia. Most of the other articles (especially those by Patrick Lawrence and Ben Norton) could better be described as promoting Islamophobia (painting Muslims as bloodthirsty extremist/jihadi/Salafi terrorist monsters, and blurring distinctions between ISIS and other armed groups) and/or as promoting an anti-Sunni sectarian narrative (often whitewashing Iranian-backed violence while highlighting Saudi- and Gulf-backed violence).

In the case of Rania Khalek (the only woman contributor on the Grayzone frontpage), Sunni Arabs are described as deeply predisposed towards brutal violence, with "decades" of Salafism conditioning them to welcome ISIS and leap at the opportunity to commit genocide against the Yezidis:
Sunni Islam has always been the dominant religion in the Middle East. Historically it has been the religion of the state. People from minority sects across the region have passed down collective memories of Sunni Islam’s persecution against them (though minorities have on many occasions, particularly during civil wars, turned against one another as well). They say this explains why Shias, Druze, Christians, Alawites and Yazidis are concentrated in the mountains—they were escaping persecution from the dominant state-backed sect in the region.
Not surprisingly, in 2016, with Trump using anti-Muslim rhetoric as part of his electoral campaign, Grayzone would find itself backing him.

Back to Hamad and Katerji:
It is no coincidence that during the campaign trail Grayzone bloggers Rania Khalek and Benjamin Norton both endorsed Trump’s foreign policy. The sentiment was also echoed by Alternet’s celebrity backer Glenn Greenwald. 
The sectarian rot of these bloggers isn’t even hidden, as evidenced by Benjamin Norton’s faux-media outrage over the use of the word ‘stronghold’. When it comes to Beirut and Hezbollah, Norton is enraged by the use of the word stronghold to describe areas under its control, however in Idlib, the entirety of the population is reduced to a ‘stronghold’ belonging to a terrorist organisation...
Norton's reporting gig at Alternet seems to have dried up in late 2017. The Grayzone Project seems to have stopped publishing in December 2017, leading to speculation about what happened to it.



This prompted Blumenthal to announce that Grayzone had moved to The Real News network, known for publishing articles with titles like "9/11 Questions Remain Unanswered: I do know for a certainty that there has been a cover-up of 9/11". As my comrade Al-Hamra noted, according to Alexa, "Alternet has hundreds of thousands of views per month and is ranked 2,923 out of all U.S. websites; 9/11 truther site TheRealNews is ranked 31,634 and steadily declining."



More links:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Truth wars, continued


This week's theme is truth, lies, and the grey area in between.

Corbyn and the commie
If you're not a regular Little Atoms reader, you should be. Here, Paul Anderson, who knows more about the British left and its Moscow connections than anyone else, punctures the media nonsense around the allegations about Corbyn and the Czech spy. But read right to the end - there's a sting in the tail.

Fake news and the war on truth
First, thanks to AB for introducing me to Coda's disinformation crisis archive. Including: How a Canadian city got sucked into Russia's dinfo war; the Syrians who watch Russian TV; how Russia uses a fake Swedish human rights organisation to spread smears on the White Helmets; how disinfo campaigns use online sexual harassment of women politicians and activists; and the three ways Russia uses useful idiot.

This SPLC article, by Alexander Reid Ross on the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin's St Petersburg troll factory, is intriguing. Its founder, catering industry mogul Evgeny Prigozhin
is also tied to the conception and funding of a semi-private military company called “Wagner” known to have operated both in Ukraine and Syria under Dmitry Utkin, a man notorious for his “adherence to the aesthetics and ideology of the Third Reich.” Wagner Private Military Company is said to be co-sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defense and to have participated in the military occupation of Crimea.
And:
While the Kremlin’s propagandists disseminate half-truths, distortions and lies, they rely on sites like Consortium News, Russia Insider, Global Independent Analytics and The Duran to adopt their narratives and “launder” them so that “the original source… is either forgotten or impossible to determine,” according to expert on the far right Anton Shekhovtsov’s latest book, Russia and the Western Far Right. This project utilizes what national security site War on the Rocks calls “‘gray’ measures, which employ less overt outlets controlled by Russia, as well as so-called useful idiots that regurgitate Russian themes and ‘facts’ without necessarily taking direction from Russia or collaborating in a fully informed manner.” 
By election season, the network of “less overt” sites had developed behavior patterns and positions spurred on by the troll factory: they supported the illegal Crimea referendum, denied the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime and denigrated Syria's humanitarian White Helmets. They also often operated as connectors to far-right sites like Breitbart News and conspiracy-theory site, Infowars, which crossposted more than 1,000 RT articles between 2014 and 2017 and published two interviews with [Russian fascist guru Alexandr] Dugin last year.
Such apparent unity of action and intent may have also occurred because the “fake news” sites boosted by the Translation Project have significant audience overlap, as well as institutional crossover. For example, the syncretic site 21stCenturyWire crossposts stories from Consortium News and features interviews with its founder, the late Robert Parry. Created by former Infowars associate editor, Patrick Henningsen, 21stCenturyWire’s archived stories trade in antisemitic Soros and Rothschild conspiracy theories and a battery of Kremlin-supported stories maligning the White Helmets in Syria.
We've seen an ugly example of this sort of thing this week, as the "White Helmets Exposed" Twitter account (promoted by alt-leftists in this scene) has been pushing conspiracy theories about the Parkland shootings that exactly mirror the techniques used to deny Syria atrocities, e.g. claiming the kids are actors funded by Soros:

Meanwhile, Newsweek is in complete meltdown. In last week's round-up, I mentioned that Newsweek had published a damaging and utterly spurious op ed by a Putinist non-entity Ian Wilkie (who describes himself variously as a “terrorism expert,” an “international lawyer,” a “counter-terrorism practitioner” and...“cannabis industry entrepreneur.”, but is barely literate and is incapable of recognising truth); the article was based on either a stupid misreading of or conscious lie about an incoherent out of context throwaway remark by James Mattis at a press release - debunked by Eliot Higgins here. Alex Rowell in the always brilliant al-Jumhuriya calls time on the magazine:
Instead of disowning Wilkie—a man proven incapable of comprehending plain English, who has suggested Mossad was behind the 2017 Sarin attack in Idlib’s Khan Shaykhun (recently confirmed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to have been the work of the Assad regime, as no serious observer ever doubted)—Newsweek followed up with a second piece by him
In the US socialist magazine New Politics, Stephen Shalom situates Wilkie's falsehoods in the context of the wider alt-left/alt-right conspiracist scene. And John Feffer argues against the forms of denialism about RussiaGate on left and right, targeting Stephen Cohen, Glen Greenwald and Consortium News, among others.

The fascist international 
The far right is increasingly internationalising. Here's Joe Mulhall on some of the international meet-ups coming up, often putting non-fascist ultra-conservatives and Islamophobic populists, the alt-right, pro-Kremlin national Bolsheviks and actual Nazis in the same room, blurring the lines between them. 

Also: Here's Louis Proyect on how Ukraine’s neo-Nazis came to oppose NATO and the European Union. Here's Leon Rogozin on the internationalism of ultra-nationalists in Ukraine. Here's the ADL's profile of the Republic of Florida antisemitic militia that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz may have been connected to. Here's the ADL's summary of the state of the US far right six months after Charlottesville. Here's Anna Goldenberg on the secret antisemitic fraternities gaining increasing influence in Austria.

Antisemitism, left and right
Anti-Nazis United has a new profile of a social media antisemite up. On the other side, UKIP's MEP Gerard Batten darkly mutters about Jewish lobbyists playing the fascist card, says shechita is “a dreadful Dark Age practice” and claims kosher meat was being sold to non-Jews to keep prices down. And UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge has spoken to a gathering including a fringe far-right group, the "White Pendragons", denouncing a local MP as a "traitor" in quasi-fascist terms. Consistent anti-racists need to scrutinise and call out the antisemitism of the left and of the right (although, as a leftist, I'd say I'd like our side to set itself a higher bar than we set UKIP.)

Alt-right/alt-left
A couple more examples of the growing convergence between the alt-right and the alt-left. Here's supposedly progressive (but Trump-friendly) Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard meeting with one of Assad's right-wing state clerics, who has called for suicide bombings against the West. And here's Louis Proyect's "The three degrees of separation between Lyndon LaRouche, the left, and the alt-right (part five)" (in which a couple of British Trots make a brief appearance, with just one degree of separation from both the LaRouche cult and several Russian fascists: Alan Freeman, a former member of Socialist Action and co-director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group, and Richard Brenner of Workers’ Power.

Buccaneer capitalism
Kiril Avramov and Ruslan Trad's investigation of the footprint of Russian private military companies in Syria is absolutely fascinating. Aron Lund's long read, "The Factory", on how the biggest cement company in the world ended up paying millions of dollars to ISIS, is also a riveting account of the political economy of the Syrian dictatorship and war.

The war isn't over
Loubna Mrie has written a really clear and clear-sighted account of what's going on in Ghouta in, surprisingly, The Nation - a really good intro if you are overwhelmed by un-digested news. In New Politics, an interview with the Trotskyist thinker Gilbert Achcar on Syria. James Snell, in the Telegraph, argues it's not to late to stop the slaughter. Among the key points people should bear in mind is this one:
[During the 2016 assault on Aleppo] Russia and the regime used the presence of a small number of fighters from the formerly Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front (today known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham [HTS]) as a pretext for their attack on east Aleppo, even though there were only a few hundred fighters from this group in the city out of approximately 10,000 fighters overall... Russia has once again used the presence of the Al-Nusra Front as a pretext for the latest attack on east Ghouta, saying that Al-Nusra was using the civilians there “as a human shield”. In fact, it is doubtful today whether there is any armed Al-Nusra presence in Ghouta at all. The two largest rebel groups in East Ghouta are Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam) and Failaq al-Rahman (the Brigade of the Merciful). In May last year Jaysh al-Islam signed up to a de-escalation agreement guaranteed by Russia and Failaq al-Rahman followed suit in August.

The Labour Party needs a foreign policy reset
Rabbil Sikdar in Left Foot Forward eviscerates Emily Thornberry's recent ("no white hats", "all sides matter", "at least it wasn't us who killed half a million people in Syria but someone else" [that last one is a paraphrase!]) comments on the Middle East. Sikdar correctly argues that Labour's foreign policy positions are increasingly regressive. Peter Ryley gets Thornberry right here, describing her recent comments as a
pile of sycophantic drivel. Genuflecting to the wisdom of her leader, she talks of Syria without mentioning Assad. Not a word about the man who launched the war. Silence about the person whose forces and allies are responsible for around ninety per cent of the deaths. No mention of his prisons and torture chambers. Nothing. Zilch. War without agency.
Syria Solidarity are rightly saying that
  • We need a Labour policy on Syria that puts a commitment to protecting civilians first.
  • We need a Labour policy on Syria that commits to stopping Assad’s crimes.
  • We need all parties and all members of Parliament to unite in supporting action to end the slaughter in Syria.

 The current position contrasts to the position which Jo Cox took back before her death in 2016: