Thursday, December 20, 2018

Fact-checking the SPLC on Max Blumenthal, part 2

This - which has been languishing in my drafts folder for far too long - is part 2 of my attempt to fact-check Alex Reid Ross's spiked article for the SPLC on red-brown alliances, focusing on the claims about Max Blumenthal. Part 1 is here. (For Reid Ross' report: a Google cache is here, a PDF is here, and an archived version is here. It's been reblogged by CrashFast, Louis Proyect, MarxBordiga, Cautiously Pessimistic and (stripped of most links) AntidoteZine, or (with archive.org links) Glykosymoritis and Hummus for Thought.) My digging it out was inspired by this.

Claim #5: Blumenthal attended a pro-Kremlin shindig and became increasingly pro-Kremlin
Jill Stein in Moscow with Putin and Flynn, December 2015
Blumenthal at the event next to Charles Bausman
The report says:
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.
It is easy to show that Blumenthal was not "as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics" before the gala: this post documents his earlier anti-Assad positions.

That Blumenthal attended the gala is a pretty widely reported fact:
Blumenthal has said he didn't "need" to get paid to do this gig, as he likes RT so much!
(This post discusses whether or not Blumenthal was paid to attend.)

What happened next?



These claims are made in some detail by Oz Katerji and Sam Charles Hamad in August 2017. They write:
Last March [2017], a live performance in support of Syrian first responders by a flashmob orchestra at New York’s Grand Central Station was physically disrupted by a group of six protesters. Within hours, the video of the disruption was uploaded to social media and promoted by an RT employee. Max Blumenthal, a blogger at Alternet, soon released documents that suggested the performance was organized by a pro-Syrian campaign group. 
Three participants in the protest have so far been identified: all have links to RT, the Russian state-funded propaganda network now under investigation by the U.S. government for its alleged interference in the last presidential election. ... Blumenthal, who amplified the story, is also a regular on RT... It is Blumenthal who with Alternet has created an effective beachhead in the US for Kremlin propaganda.

Things were not always thus. In 2012, Blumenthal had publicly resigned as a columnist from the pro-Assad Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, citing as his reason the paper’s publishing of cheerleaders who blamed Assad’s victims and maligned critical journalists. He likened their behavior to that of Israel’s apologists. Blumenthal has now dramatically resurrected himself as an apologist for Assad, a scourge of critical journalists, and a mirror image—by his own logic—of Israel’s apologists.
In December 2015, Blumenthal visited Moscow to attend the 10th anniversary of Kremlin propaganda network RT. He returned a changed man. A month later he founded the “Grayzone Project”, billed as an initiative for “confronting Islamophobia”, but in reality a home for Assad and Kremlin-friendly outcasts from leftwing blogosphere (Grayzone’s few Muslim writers quickly departed after they realised its true character).
The emergence of this axis presents a case study in the ideological realignments that are being instrumentalized by the Kremlin with fellow travellers on both the left and the far right. Its mercenary character is betrayed by its sloppy methods.
The claim is also backed up by Janine di Giovanni in the New York Review of Books:
Another prominent pro-Assad figure is Max Blumenthal. In 2012, he resigned from his position as a reporter for the English-language website for the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper in Beirut, for which he had written frequently about the plight of Palestinian refugees. In an open letter, he opposed to the paper’s pro-Assad views and its featuring of content by Sharmine Narwani and a writer named Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, whose work he called “malevolent propaganda.” In September 2013, Blumenthal went to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan on assignment for The Nation. He strongly opposed US intervention against Assad, but he wrote on Twitter that “100% of dozens I spoke to in Zaatari today want US intervention in Syria.” 
But then, in December 2015, as Russia was relentlessly bombing Syria, and doctors and civilians were being killed in Aleppo by barrel bombs, Blumenthal went to Moscow on a junket to celebrate RT’s tenth anniversary. We don’t know what happened during that visit, but afterward, Blumenthal’s views completely flipped. He has attacked not only the White Helmets but also Bana al-Abed, a nine-year-old girl who lived in rebel-held Aleppo and ran a Twitter account with her mother. The man who once wrote an essay called “The Right to Resist is Universal,” and attacked Narwani as an “Assad apologist,” now accuses anti-Assad Syrians of belonging to al-Qaeda and has claimed that the White Helmets were affiliated with the Islamist group.
VERDICT: FACT

Claim #6: Blumenthal attacked the White Helmets, which gained him an accusation of plagiarism by another Assadist blogger

The report says:

Grayzone is perhaps best known for Blumenthal’s controversial two-part article attacking the White Helmets, which brought accusations of plagiarism from [conspiracy theorist Vanessa] Beeley. Grayzone contributor Rania Khalek had, Beeley insisted, “pumped me for information on the [White Helmets] and then Max wrote the article.” While Blumenthal may have repeated some of Beeley’s theories, Beeley cannot be seen as a credible source. Regardless, Khalek has since used a questionable interview sourced from Beeley as evidence that the White Helmets “were deeply embedded in al Qaeda.”
I cannot verify that this is what Grayzone is best known for, but the controversial two-part article certainly exists, was certainly controversial, and was certainly attacked by Beeley. Reid Ross is probably taking some of this from Hamad and Katerji again, who write:
Beeley has since charged that Blumenthal’s articles were based on her work. According to Beeley, Blumenthal tasked Rania Khalek with wangling material from her for his polemic. Unsurprisingly, he failed to acknowledge the source. 
“What was interesting is that Rania [Khalek] pumped me for information on the [White Helmets] and then Max [Blumenthal] wrote the article,” Beeley claimed on social media. (Khalek would later face heat for promoting one of Beeley’s videos featuring testimony from a White Helmets volunteer obtained under torture).

Blumenthal’s charges indeed often echo Beeley’s, but his articles also coincided with an intense Kremlin campaign to discredit the White Helmets. Russian broadcaster RT hadn’t mentioned the White Helmets once in the first three years of their existence; since the assault on Aleppo started in summer 2016, they published over 40 articles and videos attacking them before the end of the year.)
I can't verify the original of Beeley's beef with Blumenthal, but the screenshot looks solid. Reid Ross's quotation from Khalek comes from this 19 January 2017 tweet (152 likes, 163 retweets), which says "Residents from East Aleppo say White Helmets were deeply embedded within al Qaeda and treated civilians horribly" (one tiny inaccuracy: Khalek said "within" and not "with"), and links to a Beeley video. When a tweeter replies "Vanessa Beeley??? A credible source???", Khalek says "the content of the video is what's important."

For examples of Beeley and supporters attacking Blumenthal for plagiarising their conspiracy theories about the White Helmets, click here or here.

VERDICT: FACT

Conclusion
Alex Reid Ross's SPLC report stands up to scrutiny. Any threats by Blumenthal that led to SPLC taking it down are empty. SPLC were wrong to cave in.

Further reading:

Previously:




No comments: