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Pro-war trolls resort to smears as their ‘rebels’ lose miserably in Syria

Rania Khalek

Pro-regime-change pundits have gone into overdrive, unl-eashing everything in their arsenals and bending reality to slander the anti-war left, as their disastrous p-roject in Syria reaches a miserable and failed ending.

They got their way in Iraq and Libya, leaving havoc, devastation, piles of dead bodies and ISIS in their wake. But in Syria, they ran into several obstacles and ultimately lost. The Assad regime is still in power and the death squads armed and funded by the US and its regional allies have been almost entirely defeated, with Damascus currently in the process of retaking one of the last remaining pockets of insurgent-held territory in Syria. As their final loss in Syria approaches, the pro-regime-change crowd is channeling its outrage at the anti-war left, cranking up their online smear machine to new levels. Indeed, the slander even found its way onto the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) – the premier hate-group-monitoring organization in the US.

The retraction: Published for just a few hours before being taken down, the hit piece, which was written by Portland State University lecturer Alexander Reid Ross, accused anti-war activists, journalists and writers, including me, of being Russian agents involved in a conspiracy with crypto-fascists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Within days, the article was retracted by the SPLC, and the author’s previous contributions, including a piece defaming Russia scholar Stephen Cohen and The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, were removed pending further review.

In a statement which now appears at the link where the article once stood, the SPLC says:

“…we extend a sincere apology to those who believe they have been falsely described in it, including Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton, Tim Pool, Rania Khalek, and Brian Becker, and disclaim, as clearly as we can, any intention to suggest that any of them are white supremacists, fascists, and/or anti-Semites, that they hold such views, or that they are engaged in a conspiracy with the Russian government to promote such views or otherwise.”

Reid Ross’s article repeated lies cooked up and spread by a small band of committed pro-war trolls, who frame anyone who opposes US intervention and meddling in countries like Syria, North Korea and Venezuela, as well as those who support detente with Russia, as allies of, and apologists for, dictators. Their new favorite term is to call anyone who opposes US-enforced regime change in countries on America’s hit list “tankies” – a throwback to a term from the 1950s that, in the present day, is typically invoked by white-dominated socialist groups in the US against anti-war activists of color, but that’s a story for another time. It’s a clever, albeit sloppy, way to discredit opponents of American imperialism.

While the SPLC’s retraction is certainly encouraging, the fact that such blatant falsehoods made it onto the website of America’s premier hate-group-monitoring organization points to an alarming trend of painting everything to the left of the Democratic establishment as part of a Russian conspiracy and, even worse, trying to discredit the anti-war left by connecting it to the alt-right with guilt by association and outright lies. Many of the people defamed by the author of the now-retracted SPLC piece, myself included, are lifelong anti-racists who have spent much of their careers exposing and opposing white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Not to mention the fact that my non-white ethnicity and political views have made me a target of white supremacists, the alt-right and neo-Nazis.

Sexist slander: Even more outrageous than the typical smear artists are those who resort to misogynistic attacks, such as CNN contributor and neo-conservative fanatic Michael Weiss. Weiss recently promoted a smear about my physical appearance on Twitter, falsely claiming that I used funds donated to my journalistic work to get a nose job.

The retraction: Published for just a few hours before being taken down, the hit piece, which was written by Portland State University lecturer Alexander Reid Ross, accused anti-war activists, journalists and writers, including me, of being Russian agents involved in a conspiracy with crypto-fascists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Within days, the article was retracted by the SPLC, and the author’s previous contributions, including a piece defaming Russia scholar Stephen Cohen and The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, were removed pending further review. In a statement which now appears at the link where the article once stood, the SPLC says: “…we extend a sincere apology to those who believe they have been falsely described in it, including Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton, Tim Pool, Rania Khalek, and Brian Becker, and disclaim, as clearly as we can, any intention to suggest that any of them are white supremacists, fascists, and/or anti-Semites, that they hold such views, or that they are engaged in a conspiracy with the Russian government to promote such views or otherwise.”

Reid Ross’s article repeated lies cooked up and spread by a small band of committed pro-war trolls, who frame anyone who opposes US intervention and meddling in countries like Syria, North Korea and Venezuela, as well as those who support detente with Russia, as allies of, and apologists for, dictators. Their new favorite term is to call anyone who opposes US-enforced regime change in countries on America’s hit list “tankies” – a throwback to a term from the 1950s that, in the present day, is typically invoked by white-dominated socialist groups in the US against anti-war activists of color, but that’s a story for another time. It’s a clever, albeit sloppy, way to discredit opponents of American imperialism. While the SPLC’s retraction is certainly encouraging, the fact that such blatant falsehoods made it onto the website of America’s premier hate-group-monitoring organization points to an alarming trend of painting everything to the left of the Democratic establishment as part of a Russian conspiracy and, even worse, trying to discredit the anti-war left by connecting it to the alt-right with guilt by association and outright lies. Many of the people defamed by the author of the now-retracted SPLC piece, myself included, are lifelong anti-racists who have spent much of their careers exposing and opposing white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Not to mention the fact that my non-white ethnicity and political views have made me a target of white supremacists, the alt-right and neo-Nazis.

Sexist slander: Even more outrageous than the typical smear artists are those who resort to misogynistic attacks, such as CNN contributor and neo-conservative fanatic Michael Weiss. Weiss recently promoted a smear about my physical appearance on Twitter, falsely claiming that I used funds donated to my journalistic work to get a nose job.

In the era of #MeToo, you would think that such open sexism against a female journalist’s physical appearance would be frowned upon. That Weiss continues to be respected and accepted by mainstream outlets like CNN despite his sexist abuse suggests that some women – specifically those of us who challenge US imperialism – remain fair game for harassers. What’s more, Weiss has fashioned himself as a Middle East ‘expert,’ though he hasn’t spent a significant amount of time in the region and apparently speaks no Arabic. Then again, actual engagement with the region has never been necessary for one to be considered an expert by US media standards, as Weiss’s status as an ‘expert’ on Russia, a country he has seemingly never even visited and whose language he also cannot speak.

I, on the other hand, am an Arab woman, I speak Arabic and I currently live in the Middle East. I also happen to come from a minority sect that is targeted for forced conversion and death by the Salafi-Jihadist groups armed and funded by the US and its Gulf allies. For my strong opposition to those genocidal groups, people like Michael Weiss, who has a history of engaging in actual Islamophobia, have labeled me a dictator-loving Islamophobe and fascist sympathizer. Weiss, meanwhile, cheers on the groups – or, as he likes to call them, “rebels” – who literally want to kill and enslave people like me, and he does so from the safety and luxury of the US. Some expert he is. The nose-job smear isn’t the only vile remark promoted by Weiss that targets women. In fact, Weiss has track record of insulting Middle Eastern women. Here, he is casually insinuating that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov owns Asma al-Assad, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wife.

It is stunning that CNN would continue to host Weiss as an ‘expert’ on the Middle East despite how carelessly he jokes about swapping wives like chattels, a joke for which he has expressed no regret. Middle Eastern Women aren’t the only targets of Weiss’s vile jokes. After Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016, Weiss, who has zero mental-health training, openly asserted that individuals with bipolar disorder support terrorism.

Desperate bigotry: At this point, I’ve grown accustomed to being subjected to bigoted and hateful attacks from a litany of pro-war trolls. But it’s most outrageous when the abuse comes from people who are accepted in progressive circles in the US, the same circles who have largely shunned me for my refusal to stay quiet about the US funding and arming of extremist groups in Syria. As a female journalist who lives in the Middle East and often works in warzones, I am no stranger to smears, slander and sexist attacks, especially given the positions I take against Western military adventurism. But lately, as the war in Syria winds down and it becomes clear that the US will not have its way in overthrowing and collapsing yet another Middle Eastern state, the trolling has reached a fever pitch, with the trolls throwing everything they have at those who challenge them, desperately hoping something sticks. But no matter how many smear campaigns and libelous insults they conjure up, it won’t change the reality on the ground. They didn’t get their way. For people who aren’t used to losing, I expect the rage and fury to intensify.

 

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