Fact-checking the SPLC on Max Blumenthal, Part 1
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A Google cache is here, a PDF is here, and an archived version is here.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 CrashFast, Louis Proyect, MarxBordiga 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.”Reid Ross's link is to Blumenthal's "Loud & Clear" appearance, currently on Soundcloud:
Listen to "Loud & Clear Interview with Max Blumenthal" on Spreaker.
The interview is in the wake of the 2017 Charlottesville violence and is mainly about Blumenthal's favourite topic, the "pro-Israel lobby". He talks about "the axis of Adelson", connecting Trump and Netanyahu and says that Israelis like antisemitism because it is "good for Zionism". I didn't hear the phrases quoted. However, this is just one of several appearances by Blumenthal on Sputnik and on "Loud & Clear". I didn't have the stomach to listen through them, but the quote is consistent with the sentiments expressed in them, for instance in this other 2017 interview, where he defends RT and its "radical discontent". UPDATE: And indeed here is the show which Reid Ross quoted, from October 2017, at 23 minutes, where Blumenthal attacks "liberals" being manipulated by "demagogues" into being pro-war, and then says exactly what Reid Ross says he does: Sputnik represents “the finest public affairs programming... I am increasingly turning to RT America for sanity”, which is why Sputnik is "under attack" by McCarthyite liberals.
Claim #2: Blumenthal has claimed on Sputnik that the CIA brought Daesh into Syria
No stranger to Sputnik, Blumenthal also went on “Hard Facts” that August, claiming that notorious ISIS militant Mohammed Emwazi was ushered into the Syria conflict by the CIA via a “rat line” from Saudi Arabia.Here Reid Ross links to a December rather than August Sputnik's "Hard Facts" show on the Sputnik website itself. The show is presented by John Wight, who in the past has talked about "international Jewry" and of Palestinians as the unique forgotten victims of the Holocaust and linked to far Holocaust revisionist websites to back that up, and now regularly glorifies the violence of the Russian and Ba'athist military. Blumenthal talks of the American Jewish "oligarchs" who are the US node of the "Likudnik-Wahhabi network" and have forced Trump to support Israel.
The August show is about regime change, and it is this that Reid Ross is really referring to. First, around 11 minutes in, Blumenthal repeats the material he talked about on a July 2107 Real News interview and in this Alternet article, about British Libyan terrorist Salman Abedi:
When the uprising against Gaddafi began in 2011, Ramadan Abedi, the father of Salem [sic!], returned to his home country to fight with the LIFG. He was part of the rat line operated by MI5, which hustled anti-Qaddafi Libyan exiles to the front lines of the war.In the Hard News interview, at about 11.36, Blumenthal talks about interviewing Cage UK, which he calls "the civil rights group for, you know, the Muslim community", who told him about British ISIS jihadi Mohammed Emwazi entering Syria, although they couldn't say how. Blumenthal says that it was "obvious" that MI5 took him there through a "rat line" (12.37) in order to "ventilate the internal extremist threat" and turn it against another enemy, presumably Assad, "to effect regime change". (This is not the place to go into detail here, but this is quite an absurd line, given the Assad regime worked with the CIA to torture jihadis in the 2000s, given that the regime deliberately cultivated ISIS and given that the regime barely fought ISIS until after Emwazi was killed.) In conclusion then, Reid Ross links to the wrong episode but mentions the right one, and says "CIA" where Blumenthal says "MI5", but is basically correct.
Claim #3: Blumenthal defended RT on Fox News
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.I'm not sure I'd call Carlson's show "far right", but many people do, including the SPLC. Here are some examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Otherwise Reid Ross's is pretty uncontroversial. Here's the YouTube of the first Carlson appearance. Blumenthal decries "the new McCarthyism" against RT, says he goes on RT "fairly regularly" because unlike the other networks it questions US foreign policy and let him talk about "the real sources of foreign influence" in Washington, i.e "the Israel lobby" and the Saudis, and then goes on to talk glowingly about RT's shows, defensively about Fox and derisively about the mainstream networks. It's also clear Blumenthal and Carlson are on exactly the same page (contrast Carlson's friendly approach to the adversarial approach he takes to interviewing, for example, antifa activist Mike Isaacson, who was widely criticised on the left for going on his show.)
Claim #4: Frazier Glenn Miller, white nationalist terrorist, praised Blumenthal
The report:Convicted murderer/white supremacist Glenn Miller, who shot up KC Jewish community centers in '14, said that he acted on the belief that Jews have too much power & must be stopped— Nurit Baytch (@NuritBaytch) March 16, 2018
In '12, he cited an RT segment in which Max Blumenthal lied & fearmongered about the “Israel Lobby” pic.twitter.com/PLdCLDiNil
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.This is the only specific allegation that Blumenthal has explicitly denied, as far as I can see.
However, I'm not sure the "smear" SPLC earlier debunked is the same as what Reid Ross alleges. Here's the 2014 SPLC debunking, by David Neiwert, with my added emphasis:The hoax piece that Portlandia geography teacher @areidross smuggled into @splcenter featured an insane smear of me that the SPLC *itself debunked* in 2014 - and which originated from Rush Limbaugh, the Free Beacon, and pro-Israel trolls. https://t.co/bZG9MxccQs— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) March 10, 2018
on the mainstream right, several leading conservatives attempted to blame liberals for the massacre. Specifically, they pinned the blame on a single liberal journalist, Max Blumenthal, because Miller on a handful of occasions praised Blumenthal’s against-the-grain reporting on the right wing in Israel. From there, they blamed liberal organizations more broadly for the incident, including one for whom Blumenthal has not worked for since 2009.So, the Neiwert article acknowledges that Miller praised Blumenthal - "praised", remember, is the word Reid Ross used too - and on a number of occasions, but debunks the smear that Blumenthal, and therefore liberalism in general, inspired or were to blame for the massacre.
Niewert concludes, correctly I think, that:
In reality, as we have detailed at Hatewatch extensively, Miller was inspired [my emphasis] by the far-right, white supremacist ideology he adopted in the 1970s, which included racial and ethnic hatred, homophobia and a emphasis on violence... Miller was willing to appropriate any piece of information from any source that might help prove a point he wanted to make, and that included various “liberal media” and “Jew reporters,” as he typically referred to Blumenthal.He adds:
picking Blumenthal out of the literally thousands of various people and organizations who Miller cited over the course of his many years of hatemongering is mostly an exercise in selective blame-laying, considering that Miller was far more likely to approvingly cite the works of ostensibly mainstream conservatives.This is also true, and to lead on Blumenthal in an article on Miller would be silly. But it nonetheless remains a fact that Miller did "praise" Blumenthal. Another debunking, by Blumenthal's friends at MondoWeiss said:
Miller, who posted on the far-right forum Vanguard News Network as “Rounder,” once posted about an interview Blumenthal did on Russia Today.Now, here is the article Reid Ross hyperlinks from the word "praised", in the Daily Beast:
Frazier Glenn Cross, the 73-year-old white supremacist who murdered three people at Kansas Jewish Community Center and retirement home last year, was one of Blumenthal’s biggest devotees. “Jew journalist Max Blumenthal exposes and explains this attempt by a foreign government Israel, to buy the presidential election for the neo-con, war-mongering republican establishment,” Cross wrote on a Ron Paul fan site in 2012, referencing an interview Blumenthal gave on the Russian government-funded RT network. A survey of a white supremacist web forum run by Cross found over 300 references to Blumenthal and his work, with posters lauding his exposes of nefarious Jewish influence.Frazier Glenn Cross is Miller's legal name. The sources linked here are both from the conservative right: Daniel Pipes in a National Review blog, and the Washington Free Beacon. Pipes is replying to a piece where Blumenthal blames Pipes for far terrorist Anders Breivik's actions, which Blumenthal "proves" by showing Breivik citing Pipes in his lengthy manifesto. On Blumenthal, Pipes says:
Ron Radosh notes at PJ Media that Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, accused of killing three people Sunday at two Jewish venues near Kansas City, wrote the following at runronpaul.com, an anti-Semitic website:
Jew journalist Max Blumenthal exposes and explains this attempt by a foreign government Israel, to buy the presidential election for the neo-con, war-mongering republican establishment.
Daniel Greenfield suggests that Miller referred here to “a Blumenthal interview on Putin’s propaganda channel RT, which he has since defended, in which he claimed that Netanyahu was targeting Ron Paul and Obama.” (That interview, from January 2012, can be seen on YouTube.)
Greenfield found in total 382 results for “Max Blumenthal” on vnnforum.com, a neo-Nazi site apparently patronized by Miller. One discussion is titled “Max Blumenthal is insightful & sometimes funny.” Participants at Stormfront, the premier American neo-Nazi site, mentioned Blumenthal 80 times, often approvingly.OK, so there's quite a bit here. Let's take it in order. Pipes is misquoting Radosh, who says that the comment "can be found on vn [sic] forum [i.e. not RonPaul.com], where [Miller] regularly engaged in dialogue with other neo-Nazis and antisemites." Radosh comments:
Except for the first two words,“Jew journalist,” Miller’s rant is similar to the arguments of Walt and Mearsheimer, John B. Judis and other realists and leftists, whose writings are filled with the same disdain for “neo-conservatives” who are always described as “warmongering.” When someone like Pat Buchanan makes that same argument, he never uses the word “Jews,” preferring to let his readers know by intuition just who is talking about.The video Miller refers to was posted on RonPaul.com. The page no longer exists, but here's the url: http://runronpaul.com/interviews/israel-creates-a-super-pac-to-attack-ron-paul-obama/ Based on that url, it's almost certainly this video of the same title, which is indeed from RT, from January 18, 2012.
The Free Beacon piece is about vnnforum (which is erroneously claims was run by Miller) mentions of Max Blumenthal. My immediate assumption would be that many of these 300+ hits would be negative mentions. Alex Kane and Phan Nguyen at Mondoweiss ran the search and found that many were duplicates. It looks to me like about 30 are not duplicates (they say it's 46, and I'm not going to wade through that filth to disprove them - I think Miller's own posts have been deleted, which might account for the apparent drop). They say "many of them would not be considered 'praise'—nor do they reference 'criticism of the State of Israel' or 'American-Jewish support of Israeli policy.'" I'm not so sure of that. On the first page of Google hits, all of the mentions of Blumenthal are positive. One the second page nine mentions are positive and one is negative. On the third page, they're all positive. It's true that antisemitic language is used about him, but his message is consistently praised. Here are some examples:Here’s a link to the killer citing Max Blumenthal:https://t.co/SIT5QxAYoY— Nurit Baytch (@NuritBaytch) March 16, 2018
The link he cited no longer works, but it is archived here:https://t.co/RSFa1lkey2
Here’s a direct link to Max’s RT interview:https://t.co/vhHWzC0ceE
"Max Blumenthal is insightful & sometimes funny"Another promotes a Blumenthal appearance on Abby Martin's RT show. Another positively refers to this RT article praising Blumenthal and Rania Khalek for "revealing" how "neocons" are orchestrating a "new cold war" against pro-Russian media.
"Default Jew Max Blumenthal has something good to say about Palin"
"Most Americans are completely unaware of the general contempt that many Jewish people have towards blacks, as Max Blumenthal found out when he interviewed dozens of young people in Israel who reiterated the Rabbi's sentiments about Obama."
Most of these mentions relate to Blumethal's "revelations" about some awful aspect of Israel, which is the main enemy for most vnnforum participants. But a couple aren't. One talks about how Blumenthal opposes "Iranophobia" and exposes the counter-jihadi movement's "Islamophobic Crusade" (for these people, the anti-Muslim racism of Pipes or Breivik is a Zionist plot to distract from the real racial enemy, the Jew). In general, the posts reveal a confluence between the geopolitical worldview promoted by Blumenthal, Khalek and other "left" RT contributors and that of the vnnforum posters, which both posit that the axis of America/Israel is evil, while that of Iran/Russia resists that.
So, my conclusion here is that, while FreeBeacon and Daniel Pipes are dreadful, inaccurate sources, it is nonetheless true that Miller and his friends "praised" Blumenthal's work, including his appearances on RT. Why? Because it endorsed their worldview, which is a conspiratorial, paranoid vision of unlimited Jewish/Zionist power over America.
Claim #4: Blumenthal advocates a multipolar world in which Russia balances American power
Two months later, Blumenthal offered up a staunch defense of “Russia’s position in the world” to author Robert Wright in an interview on bloggingheads. Admitting that Putin’s Russia remains far from left-wing, Blumenthal justified support for the country’s authoritarian conservative government as “part of the multipolar world.” “If you believe in a multipolar world,” Blumenthal told Wright, “you believe in détente, you believe in diplomacy.” He specifically mentioned Becker’s Party for Socialism and Liberation and groups like it, arguing that they “tend to get all the major issues right regardless of their ideology or agenda.”The relevant segment starts around 11:51. Blumenthal says (13:35) that he is "sympathetic to Russia's foreign policy in Syria, in Crimea, in Ukraine". He unpacks the Syria comment by saying that Russia, with Iran and Hezbollah, "saved" a stable state (!) in Syria. Then: "Russia's no longer socialist, but it's still part of a multipolar world that billions of people want to see." The multipolar world quote is at 16:17, where Blumenthal bizarrely describes leftism as all about great power détente and respect for national sovereignty - which sounds to me more like conservatism or "realism" than leftism.
Reid Ross emphasises the "multipolar world" theme because it echoes a key plank of Putinism, described near the start of the report:
Bannon’s international vision of nationalist populist movements is locked into the Kremlin’s geopolitical ideology of a “multipolar world.” The [Italian hard right] League [formerly Lega Nord] is tied through a cooperation pact to Putin’s Russia, and its deputy in charge of relations with foreign parties, Claudio D’Amico, explicitly called for a “multipolar world” in Katehon, a think tank created by fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. Following the ideological line Dugin put forward in his text, Foundations of Geopolitics, Katehon calls for uniting a “Eurasian” bloc in constant struggle against “Atlanticist” countries. For Dugin, the “21st century gamble” is to create a “multipolar” confederation of “Traditionalist” regional empires united under Russian sovereignty that will overthrow the “unipolar” empire of “postmodern” democracies.
Shortly after Putin’s election in 2000, the Kremlin released a set of foreign policy guidelines calling for a “multipolar world order” against the “strengthening tendency towards the formation of a unipolar world under financial and military domination by the United States.”This theme was developed in the "Ravings of a Radical Vagabond" post:
In Dugin’s view, the collapse of the Soviet Union brought about a “Unipolar World” dominated by the globalized, liberal West, and in reaction to this he advocates for [archive] the formation of a “Multipolar World” by creating an “Eurasian empire” with a hierarchical, “ethnopluralist”, patriarchal and traditionalist society, with himself as the heir of an alleged “Eurasian Order” which he claims had supposedly existed secretly for centuries.VERDICT: FACT
In the next installment, I will turn to Reid Ross's allegations about Blumenthal's pro-Assad positions, which appear to draw heavily on articles published by Oz Katerji and Sam Hamad. I'll leave you now though with the "Ravings of a Radical Vagabond":
[The presence of far right figures on RT/Sputnik programmes] raises serious questions concerning left-wing journalists who recently joined RT, a channel which has consistently platformed all sorts of fascists since its inception. Sameera Khan [archive], a former surrogate for Bernie Sanders who recently became a RT correspondent, for example, is also a columnist [archive] for the Holocaust-denying American Herald Tribune [archive] (which was also listed in her Twitter account’s bio at one point).
And there is Rania Khalek, with whose Palestine solidarity work I sympathize, but who went from supporting the civil resistance in Syria to being scheduled to speak at NGOs owned by Bashar al-Assad’s father-in-law, defending the SSNP [archive] “because of its secularism” (the New Atheist movement comes to mind as another secular reactionary ideology) even as it has been linking up with fascists all over Europe for nearly a decade now, and mocking Syrian Marxists on Twitter because “her friends laughed at his work” [archive] (while Lebanese leftist groups agree with said Syrian Marxist’s positions). Khalek furthermore works for Redfish, an outlet initially presenting itself as a “grassroots initiative” which was recently exposed as a subsidiary of Ruptly, RT’s video on demand agency [archive], and is headed by Elizabeth Cocker [archive] (more commonly known as Lizzie Phelan), a former correspondent for RT and the Iranian state-owned television channel PressTV, who was together with Thierry Meyssan and Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya in Tripoli in 2011 [archive], has previously quoted Voltaire Network conspiracies as source on Syria (the Voltaire Network itself features a contact form [archive] to get in touch with Cocker through its website).
Benjamin Norton former writer for America liberal outlet Salon, also comes to mind, having deleted his past criticisms of Assad and now chitchatting with National Bolsheviks [archive] and the associates of Holocaust deniers [archive] on Sputnik while slandering Syrian Communists online [archive]. Then there is Max Blumenthal, who resigned from al-Akhbar to protest its support for the Assad regime but has recently been accused of plagiarizing the work of a conspiracy theorist concerning the White Helmets (Syrian Christian activists have condemned Blumenthal for this). [See my post on Norton. -BfB.]
How can we trust these journalists who work for and defend an outlet which has been promoting conspiracy theories, Holocaust deniers, National Bolsheviks and white nationalists from its inception?
Previous posts: Islamophobia turns left: Ben Norton and the Grayzone Project; Counterpunch and the Kremlin trolls; This is the face of the alt-left; Corbyn/LaRouche. Continue to Part 2.