False flags in Detroit: On the multipolar grift and the disinformation ecosystem

A 35 year old woman, Randi Nord, was arrested in Detroit for an attack on a synagogue and on a Scientology church. She was charged with "ethnic intimidation and vandalism" she spray painted antisemitic graffiti on the front of a Royal Oak Synagogue in April.

Nord also has made threats to airports in Oakland County and Wayne County. Around the time of the incident in Royal Oak, Nord told police she also painted a swastika on a child’s stroller and on a car at a synagogue in Oak Park.

So far, the sort of antisemitic desecration that occurs across the US any given week... But it gets stranger.

She spray painted a swastika and the word “AZOV” on the Jewish cultural community building. “She said she planned to do as many hate crimes as possible and blame them on Azov,” said Royal Oak Detective Dan Pelletier. She told police she wanted to show people Azov was in the U.S. and to instill fear against the nation’s support for Ukraine.

Azov, as you know, is the right-wing Ukrainian militia that has become the focus of Russian attempts to portray Ukraine as "Nazi". 

So, who is Randi Nord, and where did she get these ideas? 

Well, it turns out that she was a minor celebrity in a particular alternative media sphere. 


Nord was a staff writer for MintPress News, a pro-Iranian disinformation outlet based in the Midwest. MintPress is mainly known for making stuff up. As my comrade Terry Burke wrote back in 2015:
Minneapolis-based Mint Press is best known for its story based on one unknown reporter’s claim that the Syrian rebels were behind the August 2013 chemical attack that killed 1,300. The story went viral. Russian President Vladimir Putin cited it to defend Assad. The Christian Science Monitor found the story “mind-boggling” and asked if it was a “disinformation operation.” Mint Press stands behind it, despite the findings of a U.N. Commission that the chemicals “appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.” Mint Press is accountable only to its anonymous funders.
Among those funders are AIPAC. No, not that AIPAC, but the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees, via its "Serena Shim Award", a vehicle for transferring money to pro-Iranian alt-media outlets, which has supported the pro-Assad disinformation outlet Grayzone and its team members Max Blumenthal and Aaron Mate (and former team member Ben Norton), among others. AIPAC also paid Ohio politician Dennis Kucinich (now anti-vaxxer Robert F Kennedy's campaign manager) $20,000 to attend a pro-Assad conference in Britain and give a speech there (which he returned after heavy criticism).
One of Nord's colleagues as a MintPress contributor is disgraced British former academic and antisemite, David Miller, who uses it to spin his bizarre conspiracy theories about Jews, as well as to attack Ukraine. (For example, Miller believes Azov is part of a complex Jewish conspiracy involving Chabad and various oligarchs, and that Ashkenazi Jews are in fact descended from Ukrainian Khazars.) 

Another is British rapper Lowkey, another conspiracy theorist (who this month hosted Ben Norton on his MintPress podcast "The Watchdog", and last month hosted Asa Winstanley).

Still another is the rather creepy Kit Klarenberg, who is sometimes based in Serbia and whose main role is to be a conduit for Russian intelligence hack and dump operations against critics of the Kremlin (including British leftist Paul Mason). Klarenberg has received funding via the Serena Shim Award, as has fellow MintPress conspiracist writers Alan MacLeod (who got his media studies PhD in the same department as Miller did) and Whitney Webb.

Enter the Grayzone

As should already be clear, the MintPress network overlaps heavily with the network around the pro-Kremlin blog, The Grayzone, whose conspiracy theories Elon Musk has recently been promoting in his increasingly hysterical vendettas against Bellingcat and George Soros. 

If you don't know Grayzone, start with Joshua Collins' analysis here:
They receive helping hands from a number of shady media organizations and fringe voices that include Russian disinformation network RT, TeleSur in South America, reknown racists Richard Spencer, Tucker Carlson, a nazi school shooter and even ex-KKK wizard David Duke.

Though they claim to write from the left, their digital fog-machine defies political boundaries, incorporating anti-semetic smears about Soros that have white-supremacist origins, genocide denial tricks pioneered by European fascist parties and the “always discredit or insult rather than respond to fact” tactics of sociopaths like Alex Jones.

Every social movement in the world they dislike is the fault of the CIA, and every government they support, which are unfailingly disturbingly authoritarian, can do no wrong.

These fearless champions of state-violence cheer police forces brutalizing protesters, deny well-documented death squads and rationalize oppression at every turn.
In short, Grayzone open up a grey zone between Stalinist left and fascist right, between truth and fiction, a world of false flags and hidden hands. It was this zone in which Randi Nord dwelled.

Nord's current Twitter account, only created year ago, has just two likes: one was for the aptly named "Useful Idiots" podcast, hosted by Katie Halper and the Grayzone's Aaron Mate, that week featuring MintPress's own Alan MacLeod.

As well as Grayzone's own account, she followed those of its team members Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek. Her new account is not (or at least no longer) followed by many people; one of the few is the far right activist Keith Preston, who also promoted her work (along with that of Danny Haiphong) on his website.
Erasing evidence

MintPress appears to have attempted to scrub its archive of mention of Randi Nord, although the Wayback Machine and Twitter archives show clearly the articles she wrote for them. (Intriguingly, the removals occurred prior to her synagogue attack.)

Before and after:

And her friend Max Blumenthal has deleted at least one tweet promoting her.

But the archive remembers;

A path to radicalisation

It seems that Nord's background was in the "anti-imperialist" left. She was active in the Workers World Party (WWP). The WWP is a tiny American Marxist-Leninist sect which specialises in loudly supporting whatever authoritarian regimes it considers anti-imperialist. It punches above its weight through its front organisations the International Action Center (fronted by Ramsay Clarke) and ANSWER. The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) was a split from WWP.

WWP was originally a Trotskyist party, critical of Stalinism, but over time the logic of campist "anti-imperialism" (the faith that anyone in the camp opposing America is a good guy) led them towards an increasingly pro-dictator politics. As the bipolar Cold War gave way to the apparently unipolar War on Terror, anti-American campism became increasingly strong. It increasingly synchronised with the so-called "axis of resistance" (Iran, Ba'athist Syria, and Hezbollah) and its partnership with Russia's far right government. Fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, with his message of "Eurasian" resistance to Western hegemony and to a "multipolar world" to replace it, gave them a new geopolitical philosophy to replace Marxism. 

Alexander Reid Ross documents this turn - and how it was intrumentalised by the fascist right - in his 2018 "Multipolar Spin" report: in the 2000s WWP fronts and activists (including Caleb Maupin) and their close associates in Black Agenda Report collaborated closely with Duginist, Milosevic supporters, Lyndon LaRouche and other fascist groups in forums hosted by the Iranian, Syrian and Russian governments. 
The logic often ultimately leads away from the left, to explicitly far right politics, as with the "MAGA Communist" online micro-movement involving grifters such as former WWP activist (and alleged sexual abuserCaleb Maupin and his Center for Political Innovation (CPI), or perhaps as with Max Blumenthal's celebration of anti-vaxx "truckers". Using the terms set out by anti-fascist researcher Spencer Sunshine in his recent, very useful typology of red-brownism, the trajectory is from left-right collaboration (shared platforms and shared conspiracy theories) to red-brownism as defining ideology, partly as a result of fascists cynically using "anti-imperialist" language to sell themselves to the left.

Nord's personal trajectory follows this path. As a WWP activist, she adopted a Stalinist aesthetic and hung out with Marxist-Leninist Putinist Danny Haiphong of Black Agenda Report

But she focused on promoting the "axis of resistance" rather than on Marxist analysis. 

She founded a spurious thinktank Geopolitics Alert, to promote Dugin's "multipolar" agenda. On her VK account she followed several Dugin-linked groups. Iranian state channels such as Press TV, Tehran Times and Tasnim syndicated her writing. Much as the Russian delegate has hosted Grayzone's Aaron Mate to speak at UN side events to legitimise their disavowal of involvement in war crimes in Syria and Ukraine,  the Iranian state actually hosted Nord to speak at UN Human Rights Council events to promote their interests. 
Before long, Russian state media - in particular Sputnik - was promoting her analysis.
Geopolitics Alert in turn promoted Russian-backed right-wing voices, such as Russia Today's Lee Stranahan, formerly of Breitbart, one of the people that Kremlin-backed hackers Guccifer 2.0 passed material to to help Donald Trump.
Stranahan in turn hosted her on his podcast with Garland Nixon, alongside Code Pink's Medea Benjamin, Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft, MintPress colleague Whitney Webb, and Patrick Henningsen of pro-Kremlin conspiracy theory site 21st Century Wire. By 2020, she appears to have been collaborating closely with Caleb Maupin's CPI.

In 2020, she relocated to Serbia to found a shady consultancy called the Sutra Agency, and appears to have radicalised further. Her "Azov" attacks began almost as soon as she returned to the US from there.

Why does it matter?

The alt-media ecosystem cultivated by state actors such as Iran and Russia relies on a low-information audience, cynical of "mainstream" sources and eagerly credulous towards "alternative" ones. Hence until the very day in 2022 that Russia launched its "special military operation", MintPress, Aaron Mate and other western mouthpieces were assuring us that invasion was a hoax, a US psy-op, and their gullible followers repeated this talking point on social media.
Once the fighting began, they immediately pivoted to claiming the war had always been inevitable due to NATO provocation, with no apparent need to square the circle.

A mentality that sees consumers of mainstream media as sheeple manipulated by NATO psy-ops, while they alone see the truth, is one that lends itself to believing in false flag operations. A false flag is when one party fakes an incident and blames it on its opponent as a pretext for attacking them. While there are examples of the US using or considering using false flag attacks in the high Cold War, there are no recent such examples. Russia, on the other hand, has used it heavily, including in Crimea in 2014 and Donbass in 2022. Most recently, Russian agents instigated apparent fascist Koran-burnings in Scandinavia to intensify Turkish opposition to expanding NATO membership

Nord's amateur false flag - attacking synagogues to get Americans to blame Ukraine - is learnt from the Russian playbook.

Not surprisingly, then, accusations of false flag are constantly projected by Russian and Iranian mouthpieces on to the West. MintPress is full of conspiracist article by Whitney Webb and others conjuring up imaginary NATO false flag ops against Iran, Russia and Assad (including the sick fantasy that the US supports Syrian rebels to gas themselves to get the US to intervene in Syria which it then fails to do). In the Grayzone, Klarenberg, Blumenthal and Mate make up lurid stories about British agents committing false flag operations in Bosnia, Syria and Ukraine in order to justify military action. 

In a similar way, Aaron Mate has flogged a baseless idea that Western states tampered with the OPCW (the world's chemical watchdog) to make it blame chemical attacks on Assad - when in reality Russian spies have been caught red-handed actually tampering with the OPCW. Likewise, MintPress and Grayzone ad nauseum tag their enemies, from citizen journalists Bellingcat to Ecuadorian indigenous ecosocialist activist Yaku Perez, as "state cut-outs" - while they themselves follow an editorial line that never deviates from the interests of the Iranian theocracy and the Kremlin. Or again, while the Russian military and paramilitary presence in Ukraine is soaked through with hardcore fascists, their Western fans point the spotlight at the right-wingers involved in Azov to portray the whole of Ukraine as "Nazi". 

Essentially the pattern is that whatever the Russians do, their Western propogandists project on to the West, and in this case one particularly mentally unhinged propogandist tried to put it in to action. Luckily, this time, she didn't physically hurt anyone.

In the last three years, the Covid pandemic has added to the psychic pressure we are all under. Anxiety about what messages to trust and hesitancy about vaccines and "big pharma" have driven many citizens into the arms of conspiracy theorists. Both fascists and state-backed disinformation (like Randi Nord) have been on hand to radicalise them further. In this case, the agent, as vulnerable and filled with rage and hatred as her target audience, has gotten very high on her own supply. 


WilliamCB said…
There’s a parallel between cynicism to mainstream media and credulity to conspiracy theories and cynicism to Big Pharma and credulity to the makers of vitamins, supplements and snake oil. Is it the same people in both camps? And if so, maybe a practical response would be thorough debunking of Big Supplement.
Jim Denham said…
A brilliant piece of research and analysis into the red-brown movement: well done!

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