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:



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