Exclusive: The dangerous demonization of Russia has spilled over into the creepy behavior of U.S. pundits spinning ugly conspiracy theories when tragedy strikes Russians, writes James W Carden.
By James W Carden
The reaction among a number of high-profile media figures to Monday’s bombing of the St. Petersburg Metro, which killed 11 and seriously injured dozens, has been among the more shameful and troubling manifestations of the anti-Russian frenzy we have witnessed in recent months.
While the White House was quick to offer the Kremlin condolences for the Metro bombing, the reaction of the American media and pundits was largely focused on a new conspiracy theory — whether or not Vladimir Putin was behind this attack.
The smoke hadn’t cleared from the Metro before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s resident Russia hand Anna Borshchevskaya appeared on France 24 to imply that the bombing might have been Putin’s doing in order to distract from the anti-corruption protests of last week.
Borshchevskaya, who according to the Washington Institute’s website is its Ira Weiner Fellow “focusing on Russia’s policy toward the Middle East,” informed viewers that there’s a history of Putin using such tactics in order to tighten his grip on power, and raised the unproven conspiracy theory that the spate of apartment bombings that shook Moscow in 1999 was Putin’s handiwork.
All throughout the day, facile parallels to the 1999 bombings popped up on social media. Only hours after the bombings, chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov took to Twitter with messages such as:
“Tragedy in St. Petersburg. Once again ‘unknown terrorists’ perfectly timed to serve Putin’s political agenda. Forget protests, back to fear.” And later: “Such dark suspicions are based on 18 yrs of similarly well-timed attacks in Putin’s Russia, as I document in Winter Is Coming. Clockwork.”
Former Conservative Party MP Louise Mensch, now a liberal media darling because of her support for the Russia-gate allegations against Donald Trump, told her 223,000 Twitter followers that “Putin has zero compunction about killings Russians for his own ends.”
The Atlantic’s David Frum, who of late has found himself the object of fulsome praise from embittered Hillary Clinton partisans, tweeted: “Remember Beslan & the 1999 apartment bombings. It takes years to learn truth about terror attacks in Russia – often not even then.”
The reference to the Beslan school siege in 2004 was particularly appalling since that terrorist attack was ordered by a Chechen warlord whose militants took some 1,100 people hostage, including 777 children. After a three-day standoff, Russian security forces stormed the school to liberate the captives, but at least 330 hostages were killed, including 186 children.
As troubling as it was for Frum to cite that terrorist incident, it was not terribly surprising coming as it does from the longtime enabler and cheerleader of America’s disastrous interventions in the Middle East and author of George W. Bush’s infamous “axis of evil” speech.
Another member of neocon royalty, John Podhoretz, wrote that he found it, “Interesting that the bomb blasts in Petersburg come so hard upon the demonstrations — giving Putin cover for a huge crackdown.”
These Russo-phobic reactions are reminiscent of the cartoons published by the jejune French satirical rag Charlie Hebdo, which made sport of the deaths of 92 members of Russia’s Red Army Choir in a plane crash last December. Here’s how The Hill described some of the cartoons:
–One cartoon shows a choir member singing “AAAAAA” as the plane is going down. The caption says the Russian choir has expanded its repertoire.
–Another cartoon illustrates the whole choir singing to fish at the bottom of the Black Sea with the downed plane in the background. The caption reads, “Red Army choir conquers a new audience.”
–A third cartoon shows the plane nose-diving with the words: “Bad news… Putin was not on board.”
Russians, as we have seen, have long been treated as fair game no matter what the situation (recall the mocking tone of American coverage of the concert that celebrated the liberation of the ancient ruins of Palmyra, Syria, from ISIS).
So, needless to say, the indecency shown by Frum, Mensch, Podhoretz and the rest is not particularly new. This sort of casual contempt for Russia and Russians became a feature of the 2016 campaign, which was rife with evidence-free reports supporting Hillary Clinton’s claim that Trump was Putin’s “puppet.”
Some of that storyline was developed in collaboration between Hillary Clinton’s supporters and the fiercely anti-Russian government in Ukraine. Politico reported that Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American working as a consultant for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), met with top Ukrainian officials in Washington to push the narrative that Trump was under Russian influence.
Clinton’s defeat only added more fuel to the anti-Russia frenzy of angry Clinton supporters — and their fury is now debasing our political discourse. But the Clintonites and their neocon allies are now going even further, in Stalinist fashion, urging Americans to investigate the loyalty of other Americans.
Leading the charge is Neera Tanden’s Center for American Progress, which recently launched “The Moscow Project,” which takes the Democratic Party narrative blaming Hillary Clinton’s defeat on “Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election” to a new level. Painting Trump as a traitor, “given Trump’s obedience to Vladimir Putin,” the project encourages Americans to scour the Internet for evidence to buttress the disloyalty allegations against Trump and his backers.
And then there is the tireless Clinton shill Peter Daou, second perhaps only to Tanden among unreconstructed Clinton apparatchiks. Daou’s self-appointed mission of late has been to tie Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters to the Kremlin, tweeting claims like, “It is becoming increasingly clear that Bernie’s diehard supporters, those who became avowed Hillary haters, were influenced by #Russia” and “On the one hand, you had Russia hacking the DNC, on the other, Bernie Sanders and his diehards trashing the DNC. And Trump loved it.”
Daou is hardly alone in his effort to anathematize Sanders supporters. But credit for spearheading that effort should probably go to the Internet tabloid The Daily Beast, which has twice published widely discredited and brutally mocked articles which have attempted to portray Bernie Sanders’s supporters as pawns of the Kremlin.
Where all this will lead is anyone’s guess, but judging by precedent, nowhere good.
As my esteemed Nation colleague, Patrick Lawrence has warned: “the reigning Russophobia worsens America’s creeping isolation in world affairs — evident for years but rarely mentioned among us, and so another of our delusions. At bottom, Washington still operates according to Bush II’s ‘with us or against us’ construct, and the world’s vote starts to tilt toward the latter. In the end, the Russians will not be a lonelier people as a result of our efforts. We will be.”
Meanwhile, the American political establishment finds itself firmly in the grip of yet another Red Scare.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an adviser on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.