Tag Archives: Russia Insider

When It Rains It Pours

Woooooow! What a day! It all began this morning when a friend abroad sends me a link to a 5,000-word article on the cancer-AIDS site Russia Inisder, written by its editor Charles Bausman. What exactly inspired Bausman to write 5,000 words? What topic drove him to expound at such length? Why it’s the “Jewish question,”  of course! Or to use Bausman’s words, the “Jewish problem.” Seriously, check out this excerpt:

Discussion of the Jewish problem (and ‘problem’ is the right word here) is obviously not going to be the focus of Russia Insider – we try to be primarily about Russia, but I am willing to give space to this issue, and not just as it relates to Russia. I invite all writers, including from the Alt-Right, to get in touch with me directly at charles@russia-insider.com with article ideas, proposals, or anything else, and yes, we will publish articles which use (((echoes))).

And because this is Bausman, that paragraph soliciting for articles is followed by:

It is my great regret that we are not in a position to pay authors for articles. If anyone reading this is in a position to help provide funding to pay writers on this important subject, that would be helpful, because it immediately raises the quality and depth of the writing. If you are interested, please get in touch with me directly.

Bausman’s “coming out” was apparently cheered by the pedantic neo-Nazi pseudo-intellectual Anatoly Karlin, whose own article was also published on Russia Insider. Using his incredibly high IQ, Karlin deduced that Russia watchers of Jewish descent reacting negatively toward an anti-Semitic screed must be strong evidence in favor of that screed’s central thesis. Imagine that- people of Jewish descent reacting negatively to something openly attacking them! Of course he also totally ignores the reactions of non-Jewish Russia journalists when making that point, but who are we to question the logic of such high-IQ individuals? And while it is not central to Duh Russophile’s piece, I have to quote the bizarre passage where he cites himself, if only to demonstrate how laughably fucked up these people are.

In my view, the reasons are ultimately psycho-sexual. Male Jews nowadays have it good in Russia, with many Slavic girls attracted to their wealth, intelligence and impeccable charm (if not their looks). But the position of Jewesses is the inverse. They find it hard to compete with those same Slavic chicks who tend to be both hotter and much more feminine than them; nor, like Jewish guys, can they compensate with intelligence, since it is considered far less important for women.

Well there’s a fine line between genius and madness, right?

Another Russia Insider contributor with a really creative alternative version of history published a warning to Bausman, approving of the discussion of the “Jewish problem” so long as he remembers to use nice language. He also reminds him to make sure to scapegoat some other nationalities for the “Russophobia” in the West, because of course nobody ever has a justifiable criticism of Russia. They’re all just irrational haters.

It should come as no shock that the site hasn’t taken down their numerous articles ranting about neo-Nazis and alleged anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

russiainsider

Do a search for “Ukrainian Nazis” and strap yourself in for the ride! 

Gee, Charles, what’s your beef with those neo-Nazis in Ukraine? They just shed that “Jewish taboo” as you call it, right?

In all seriousness, however, long-term Russia watchers know there’s no real contradiction here. Russia’s regime is far right, and it caters to the far right. More importantly, in the bizarro-world D&D game that is Russia’s propaganda narrative, being a neo-Nazi has nothing to do with holding Nazi beliefs but rather whether or not you support the Kremlin and its foreign policy goals. If you’re a far left Marxist (*ahem*) but you oppose Russia’s actions in Ukraine, you’re a “Nazi,” whereas if you are a literal fascist or neo-Nazi but you support those goals, you are not only not a fascist but you can even portray yourself on Kremlin media as an “anti-fascist!”

Of course this is something I’ve routinely pointed out dozens of times, and apart from Bausman’s foray into full-on Nazism being a great opportunity to say “I told you so” to some people on the left,  neither this piece nor Russia Insider is the real reason for this post. After this post blew up a tiny portion of Twitter, a follower introduced me to this link, which is basically a massive catalog of collaboration between the far-left and far-right. More specifically, it is a thorough investigation of so-called “red-brown alliances,” laying the foundation with a historical examination of the ideological background of such collaboration, then proceeding with a thorough examination of contemporary examples of this far-right/far-left collaboration.

If this sounds like “horseshoe theory,” it’s not. In fact, many rank and file leftists are totally unaware of these connections and would never work with some of the people named in this investigation if they knew what they were really about. But that’s just the thing- modern far-rightists often conceal their political identities, and instead latch on to some populist cause that also happens to animate leftists. They may present themselves as “anti-establishment,” “anti-capitalist,” “anti-war,” and the far-right entryist’s favorite cover, “anti-Zionist.”

Two things bear mentioning about this list before you check it out. First of all, it is packed with links and archived versions of said links. You can’t accuse the author of not backing up their claims- that’s for sure.

But more importantly, especially for leftists, is to note the common thread that is tying nearly all these people together- Russia, and most notably, Alexander Dugin and his Eurasianist movement. While Dugin’s actual influence in the Russian government are often overestimated, his influence in Russia’s foreign propaganda efforts is well-established. I would not be surprised to find that many of the Dugin-linked groups in the West reached out to him and his “philosophy” rather than vice versa.

This investigation only hammers home the point that the Western left (hell, any left) needs to take Russian influence operations seriously. Not only because this association with far rightists could be used by the establishment to discredit leftists, but first and foremost on principle alone. There is no legitimate reason why leftists should be forging alliances with the far right anywhere. We should not be sharing a platform with them or repeating the talking points and advancing the foreign policy goals of an imperialist, colonialist, reactionary regime that openly supports our enemies in our own homelands. Obviously we cannot stop such groups from claiming the same position as us on certain issues, but that doesn’t mean we need to embrace them or their benefactors- instead we should call them out wherever we catch them.

Moreover, the left needs to expose parties that engage in red-brown alliances in the name of “anti-imperialism.” Apart from the fact that many such organizations are in fact pro-imperialist so long as the empire in question is not American, it’s been my observation that those who embrace these connections with the far right or with reactionary regimes only end up going further in that direction instead of staying on left territory.

I’d suggest bookmarking that link and even downloading a copy of it should the site ever go offline. Hell, here it is again just in case you haven’t opened it yet. The key to fighting red-brown alliances is proper political education, but the first step is knowing that they exist, have been around for quite some time, and are an ever-present threat to revolutionary progressive politics.

 

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Russia Insider Out

“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.” -Voltaire

Long time readers and Russia watchers know that one of the most odious pro-Kremlin sites in existence is Russia Insider. Rather than create original content, most of their articles consist of material reprinted from other sources, typically Kremlin media outlets but also including sites featuring ideological racism and Holocaust denial. What better sources for a site that still uses the “Kiev Nazi junta” trope?

As if that weren’t bad enough, when they reprint something they usually tack on this commentary at the top, to make sure you get the message they want you to get. In this way, if an author doesn’t sufficiently espouse their line the RI staff “corrects” them. The effect of this is that the reader can be prejudiced against the actual ideas contained in the article, or miss them entirely thanks to someone else’s creative “interpretation.” Of course the most ridiculous thing about all of this is that Russia Insider tells us to be “media skeptics” and claims it is countering Western propaganda with real journalism. Sure. In Fantasy Land that’s happening.

Well guess what- it looks like the Russia Insider debacle is on its last legs. Peter Lavelle of RT, an initial supporter of Russia Insider, has apparently blown the whistle about Russia Insider’s funding. It began with a simple Facebook post, but then another pro-Kremlin bullshit factory, Fort Russ, went even further and examined the accusations in detail.

The “investigation” is led by Joaquin Flores. If you’ve never heard of him, here he is in a video explaining with confidence that there’s plenty of “evidence” that MH17 was the same plane that disappeared earlier that year (MH370), and there is “evidence” that Ukraine shot it down with a Buk or an air-to-air missile. As such, we can pretty much dismiss Mr. Flores as another armchair crank, but what he has to say about Russia Insider seems mostly plausible. It’s amazing how quickly some people will become critical thinkers when they realize they’re getting screwed out of money.

In Bausman’s defense, I doubt that he really set out to defraud people, though is true that con-men tend to target communities with fringe views. It seems to me that Bausman probably sincerely believed in his idea, but may not have thought the whole thing through or organized it properly. Apparently the idea was to build up a big audience and then either rake in ad revenue or somehow sell the site for a large amount of money like in the case with The Huffington Post. On that note, one can definitely fault Bausman of asking people to work for free, but then again working for free is becoming more and more popular in Russia these days.

Truly Bausman’s “crime” in this case was trying to get people to write for free (and apparently succeeding at it). To be sure, he was promising the writers rewards once the site hit it big and sold, and by so doing placed himself slightly above Ariana Huffington, but he was still acting like an “unfinanced entrepreneur.” He should have at least offered a piece rate. I know some of my readers might ask why I should care about Putin-worshiping fanboys writing for free? Well first of all there’s basic principle, and secondly, it doesn’t seem to me like any of these people had any real writing talent. See the reason the writer or artist should always get paid is that they have this thing called craft. They make it look easy but they spent years refining whatever it is that they do. So when you want to tap that talent or free it’s an insult to them. On the other hand, if you’re just going to publish any word salad consisting of key phrases such as “BRICS alternative, Kiev Nazi junta, Western MSM, color revolution,” and “neocons,” who cares if you pay or not? You don’t charge your kid to pin their “drawing” to the fridge, do you?

No I think Bausman basically had an idea, one which he thought was a good but which just fell apart for one reason or another. Yes, Bausman’s hopes seem to be very unrealistic and his efforts a bit incompetent, but that only argues towards his “innocence.” Take a look at this screen cap from the Russia Insider site, which supposedly explains where the money goes:

fortruss

“What Russia reads.” LOL WUT

 

Yes, that graph is laughable to anyone who’s ever read Russia Insider, but that’s just the point- if he wanted to just con people, we should expect something more convoluted. Or not. I don’t have experience in the con game. Still, to me it seems like Bausman really wanted to account for every penny, but foolishly said that it would be 100% for the journalists. He could have killed two birds with one stone and paid his “journalists” piece rates per article while saying that the rest of the donations would go toward site maintenance and maybe expanding capabilities or features. I don’t really think your avid Russia Insider donor really expected much more.

And if you don’t buy my “incompetence not malice” theory and believe I’m “defending” Bausman because we’re both CIA operatives working a long operation to hobble Russia’s heroic information war forces, you can basically read a similar theory from Anatoliy Karlin, “Da Russophile” himself and an occasional past contributor to Russia Insider. Of course in that case, you could always allege that he’s a secret CIA/Soros agent too- nothing’s too far-fetched when you’re actively trying to keep reality from seeping in. Seriously though, it’s worth noting in passing that Karlin’s blog solicits donations, which he explicitly states go toward sustaining his site. That’s what I do when I solicit donations, and Bausman could have saved himself a lot of trouble by just saying the same thing.

Finally, Bausman’s own defense is to be found here. It’s basically flat out denial, with rather curious statement about having 15 paid staff people. This contradicts my information on the subject, and it’s possible he’s just pulling this out of his ass out of desperation. But again, this reaction doesn’t mean he deliberately set out to defraud people. I’ve had one experience with a definite con-man before, and in that case the dude basically avoided communication as much as possible, disappearing once it became clear that too many questions had been raised.

As for Bausman’s supposed idea itself, i.e. turning Russia Insider into a popular aggregator worth seven figures, he made one fatal mistake- it was about Russia. People make millions, billions collectively, off of viral “alternative” (AKA bullshit) media. Just ask Alex Jones. But in order to get that audience, Jones focuses on things that are most relevant to them, typically American issues. Your average disenfranchised fringe thinker will dabble in some Putin ass-kissing from time to time, but if Jones retooled his websites and his show so that Putin worship and the Russian foreign ministry’s line became 90-95% of his material, he’d lose all but that smaller fringe that puts all their hopes into Russia for their salvation. I know from personal experience that this is a very small group. I can’t believe I’m giving advice on something like this, but Bausman should have just copied other alternative news sites while working the Russian stories in from time to time.

The Kremlin Fan Klub is clearly up in arms over this bout of infighting, and naturally they’re upset that some outsiders are watching this little spat while presumably scarfing down handfuls of popcorn. Well as Bellingcat’s Aric Toler put it: It couldn’t have happened to a nicer site. Pro-Kremlin media from Russia Insider to RT in recent years has been engaged in numerous personal attacks against journalists who challenge their hero’s narrative. Their arguments are twisted and distorted, they’re labeled “Russophobes” even if they lived in Russia for many years or they are actually Russian, they’re lumped in with neocons, and of course they’re often said to be paid by some foreign intelligence service or the evil George Soros. Of course the inherent problem with communities of people who act this way is that they inevitably turn on each other. What is more, the paranoid way of thinking that is so common in such circles guarantees there will be more accusations and counter-accusations, because to people like these nothing happens by accident and nobody just makes a mistake. Everything is a deliberate plot.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I find it amusing and ironic that the person to kick this off seems to have been Peter Lavelle. Bausman solicited voluntary donations. Well okay, Bausman solicited the shit out of voluntary donations if you look at the main page of Russia Insider. But the key word here is voluntary, and as I understand he only managed to make something like $60,000 before these accusations arose. By contrast Lavelle is one of RT’s highest-paid foreigners, working in a state-owned company that is infamous for being the least transparent and the least accountable when it comes to how it spends its funds- funds it gets from Russia’s national wealth. The hypocrisy of Lavelle decrying Bausman’s lack of transparency is right up there with Putin talking about not interfering in other nations’ internal affairs or Kerry expressing concern over civilians being killed by airstrikes.

Sure, you can say Russia Insider is a crude, laughably ridiculous propaganda website which almost borders on self-parody. At worst, Russia Insider bilked donors out of small amounts of money and aspiring “journalists” out of their time. But whatever money Bausman raked in, it is mere pocket change compared to RT and Sputnik’s staggering budget, and needless to say, those donations were neither voluntary, nor were they given by people in highly developed nations who had sufficient disposable income to donate. These involuntary donors are Russia’s citizens.

 

Fake refugee beating story part II: After Action Report

Yesterday provided us a perfect example of how the Russian propaganda machine creates and disseminates fake stories. In this case it was a chain-email type story about heroic Russian men defending the honor of their womenfolk against somewhere around 50 “Middle Eastern migrants.” Details in each story varied, but in each case one pro-Russian source cited another, none of them contained any names or quotes from eyewitnesses, victims, or authorities, and all variations seemed to revolve around a certain core story. Virtually every version of the story made some kind of jab at Europe, “tolerance,” and in particular the Germans for their mishandling of the Cologne New Year’s sex assaults.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s post, this story was just too fishy on a number of points. Due to some confusion between versions of the story, I found that there is indeed an establishment called “Gandvik,” where the fight supposedly began. However, the place is described as a “beer bar” and not a discotheque or night club.  This means it wouldn’t have, as I mentioned in the previous post, “face control,” and it probably wouldn’t have much security apart from maybe a single guy. However, it is located in the same building as a hotel, which boasts a good number of positive reviews from what I can see. One mentions a night club on the first floor, but I don’t know if that refers to Gandvik or if the bar is simply in the same building. Either way, the reviews I’ve seen suggest that this is a quality establishment, one which would necessarily have good security and especially CCTV.

Every version of the story I’ve found so far always claims to be based on “material from social media” without ever explaining what social media that is, i.e. Twitter, VK, Facebook, Odnoklassniki, etc. None of them contain a date or anything that could indicate a date for the alleged incident, and all of them acknowledge in one way or another that there have been no official statements on the matter from the authorities, though some make lame excuses for this. In an earlier version of the story, only five migrants were involved.

Alexei Kovalev managed to find another hallmark of the Russian propaganda machine, which involves making spurious claims that the story is popular in the West. Incidentally this tends to happen when the people disseminating the fake story translate it into foreign languages and then pass it around to their buddies in other countries or post it on English language sites like Russia Insider and Fort-Russ, as in this case. Naturally if this happens enough times it will get picked up by someone in the West, and indeed this story was.

The offending article in this case comes from a Russian site called ridus.ru, and like virtually every article of this type it has a misleading headline, which tells us that the West was captivated by the story of immigrants being beaten in Russia. As is typically the case, the article begins by talking about the reaction of “the Western media,” and social network users. In the latter case- who gives a shit? Social media users, assuming they aren’t paid trolls, often comment on all kinds of fake stories or viral bullshit. But who is “the Western media” in this case? CNN? BBC? Reuters? Nope. As I pointed out in the last article, the “Western media” apparently consists solely of The Daily Caller, a right wing tabloid with a reputation for concocting their own fake stories. Granted, it’s better than some random blog nobody reads, but it’s hardly “the Western media.” Oh well, at least even this article admits that there have been no official statements or mentions of this incident from local authorities. It’s almost as if…this never happened! As a rather amusing side note, the photo in The Daily Caller story, which appears in the ridus.ru article, actually depicts pro-Russian activists in the Crimea beating a pro-Ukrainian protester. At least that’s what the caption says.

 

One last bit before we go on to our summary of this case study in bullshit. This story has been passed around plenty of times in English. Some versions claim that the police allegedly didn’t want to say anything about it so as not to provide “the West” with more “fodder” for their “wild Russia”(in spite of the fact that some of these Russian sites included demeaning pictures of stereotypical Russian men). And yet one wonders where the real Western media is in this story? According to ridus.ru it’s a big hit in the West, and we know the evil Western mainstream media is constantly waging information war against poor, innocent Russia, so then why didn’t they seize on this opportunity to concoct their own narrative of bloodthirsty Russian skinheads, possibly back on rotation from Ukraine, assaulting and beating these poor helpless refugees who were minding their own business? After all, the Western media certainly didn’t miss real race riots in Russia.

Summary: What did we learn, class?

This post is the sequel to yesterday’s piece, which was inspired by Russia Insider, the site that exhorts us to become “media skeptics” and helps train us in this endeavor by providing laughably fake or otherwise highly distorted stories on a daily basis. Indeed, at times it seems the only difference between Russia Insider and the parody site Russia in Your Face is that the latter doesn’t link to sites with sections on Holocaust denial. Thanks to Russia Insider, we were able to construct a perfect exercise in shooting down a BS story that went viral. So what practical lessons can we extract from the exercise, now that it is over?

-First, realize that fake stories aren’t unique to Russian media. Cracked.com busts bullshit viral media stories all the time, and Snopes.com doesn’t seem to be going out of business any time soon. For those who claim that this is different because Russia is “weaponizing” this kind of disinformation, you’re still missing the mark. This kind of organized disinformation has been used in the US, particularly by the Republican party, for years now. The tactics, such as carousel citations where one conservative blog cites a conservative pundit, who cites another blog or conservative news outlet and so on, are not unique to Russia at all. This means that if you familiarize yourself with those tactics you can better understand those of Russia’s propagandists. This is especially helpful for those who don’t speak Russian.

-You can often tell if a story is bullshit by looking for what is present versus what is absent. First there’s the narrative, which as I said in yesterday’s post reads like one of those conservative chain emails. Here there’s a valuable lesson to be learned- Europe is full of limp-wristed weaklings who “tolerate” barbaric migrants even as they grope and harass their women in public, but Russians are masculine, real men who don’t tolerate this insolence. While they use violence to get their point across, they are still somehow more civilized than the degenerate West. The article even ends with an obviously editorial line, reminding refugees that Russians don’t take kindly to “guests” who misbehave. Is that something you usually see in a normal news story?

That “lesson” shines through several times throughout the story, but what is curiously missing? As it turns out, virtually all the hallmarks of a news story are absent. No date or anything that hints at a date (i.e. Friday evening, Saturday, etc.) can be found. There are no quotes or names for anyone involved in the story. There are actual admissions that the local authorities did not mention or comment on the story. Two versions of the story tacked on an excuse as to why authorities did not comment, but a small difference in the translation drastically changed the meaning.

-In spite of the way this story clearly fits the Kremlin’s narrative on migrants, the major state-run outlets don’t seem to have paid much, if any attention to this story. Could that be because TV viewers would expect to see staff, residents, and police officials being interviewed on the subject?

-Each version of the story had either misleading or unhelpful photos. One article I found shows what is alleged to be the inside of “Gandvik,” but of course this could be any Russian dance club virtually anywhere. The others have photos of dark-skinned migrants, two show rather demeaning photos of what seem to be stereotypical Russian gopniks (possibly played by non-Russians), and of course Russia Insider has a photo of Putin with sunglasses, because that must be their placeholder any time they can’t find a suitable image for a story.

-The actual Western media outlet that picked this story up was a tabloid that already has a reputation for bad journalism if not actual political smear campaigns. As one might expect, The Daily Caller is right-wing but not pro-Putin. I found several stories that counter Russia’s foreign policy claims. Of course this doesn’t mean that conservative readers won’t be entertained by stories about macho Russian guys beating up Muslim refugees, who have already become a new bogeyman in the US despite their minuscule numbers.

Even some of the most Putin-hating American conservatives hold on to a self-loathing idea that America has become weak and that Russia is strong because it is supposedly unencumbered by left-wing ideas like feminism or LGBT rights. This combines with a sort of “noble Russian savage” mentality whereby they see the Russian as backward and inferior but in some ways stronger, more disciplined, and destined to defeat more civilized populations should the latter fail to turn away from the path of cultural and spiritual degeneration. If that sounds like something that Nazis believed, it’s because they kinda did. The point I’m making here though, is that some of these “tough, politically incorrect Russians” memes actually originated in America, in some cases long before things like RT, Sputnik, Fort-Russ, and so on. Sometimes they got picked up by Russians and reworked, only to be spit back again in different forms.

-Numerous things in this story make no logical sense. As I pointed out in my last post, the police supposedly tried to prevent a lynching while “secretly” assisting in the beating. How anyone would know this with no statements or comments from authorities, victims, residents, medical staff, or bar staff is a mystery. Why a group of refugees who’d been kicked out of Norway back into Russia would decide to go to a drinking establishment in a hotel and start harassing women is also hard to imagine. Remember that we’re told a group of about 50 people of Middle Eastern descent came into this bar or nightclub. Wouldn’t people immediately notice that and take photos, videos, or at least try to talk to them? I once sat down at a bar in Volgograd by myself and a woman came up and asked me to dance, sensing I was a foreigner even though I’d lived in Russia for over a year at that point. I don’t look Middle Eastern by any stretch of the imagination. Well, at least I didn’t back then.

So why is it in a country where nearly everyone has a camera phone, where nearly every driver has a dash cam, and where establishments have CCTV, we get no video clips or photos of this incident? None. Nothing. Again, it’s almost as if this story didn’t happen!

-The story is obviously aimed at triggering certain emotions and teaching a particular lesson. In those American chain emails, Marine Todd knocks out an atheist professor for mocking god. He does so right in the university auditorium, the liberals’ home turf. Anyone familiar with American conservative politics knows that colleges and universities are portrayed as fortresses of left-wing theory and indoctrination camps for the youth. In fact, some Christians even made a movie about that very subject, though sadly we never see Marine Todd show up in the film, or any marines for that matter.

In this case the message for Russian domestic audiences is that Russia is civilized and doesn’t tolerate Muslims gone wild like they do in liberal “Gayropa.” On the domestic front Russian media is constantly harping on similar themes- the West is degenerate, crumbling, and dying. There, as is the case everywhere outside of Russia, there is “chaos.” In Russia however, there is a superior civilization. Russia is not tolerant of degeneracy. In Russia there is stability, and this is all thanks to Putin. Naturally this same message will often be punctuated by graphic stories of heinous crimes in Russia and news that dozens of shops were demolished overnight, but of course we all know who is responsible for all that.

For Western audiences the emotional hooks have more or less been described above. Reactionary Westerners who have been duped by their own politicians and pundits into believing their country is tumbling into the abyss tend to get a thrill out of these “politically incorrect Russia” tales. As they see their national leaders and media outlets clash with Putin’s Russia, one can make a logical leap that this difference in political values is part of the conflict. Right wing Westerners get the idea that there is hope, there is a country to emulate. They can live vicariously through these non-existent Russian heroes. Telling them about the problems of Russia, or how Muslims in Russia actually wield quite a bit of influence, more so than in the West, is a waste of time. Even if they’ve actually visited Russia, they know their own countries problems far better than those of Russia, so the grass will appear to be greener.

-Real stories have sources. If you pitch a story to an editor and they ask where you heard about this from, saying it was based on “material found on social media” isn’t going to cut it. In real media outlets you’d better have an awesome follow up to that statement, otherwise you’ll probably be canned. Sure, sometimes you find out about a story because it’s buzzing on social media. Twitter is often the place where a story originates. But if you go on Twitter and watch how those stories develop, you’ll often notice journalists qualifying tweets, asking for confirmation, confirming stories, and so on. Suppose a video of the event had been taken and posted on social media like VK. Then we might have something, and we might want to watch the comments on that video to see if other residents, cops, witnesses, etc. commented or provided more information. But even then, there would have to be statements, confirmation, etc.

-If a story flat out admits that officials didn’t comment on a story or make any statements whatsoever, that’s a pretty good sign it’s bullshit. Nowhere did I see that the police actually refused to give a comment, which would imply that they were actually contacted for one. The articles just say they didn’t make any report or comment. Then the author(s) go on to speculate as to why that is with no basis for doing so. Also, given the popularity of the sentiments expressed in the article, don’t you think that the police would have wanted to brag to the nation about how they shut down a riot while still teaching these migrants a valuable lesson?

 

In the end we see that fake viral stories are not unique to Russian propaganda and they often possess the same features and use the same techniques. This blog might be called Russia Without BS, but BS is sadly universal and if our species is to survive we need to learn to strengthen critical thinking while suppressing those emotional instincts that lead us into making huge mistakes. Instincts got us this far, but in order to survive in the modern world, where we possess devastating weapons and technology which can adversely affect the planet, reason must prevail.

This bullshit story was just a small drop in an ocean of Russian propaganda, but it bears a lot of concrete features that make it a perfect case study not only for fake stories coming from Russia, but anywhere, including your elderly uncle who can’t help forwarding every chain email he receives.

 

 

 

How to be a “media skeptic” (or not)

For those of you who don’t know, Russia Insider is basically the place where anyone who can string together paragraphs about the “neocon warmongers,” “Turkish jihadists,” and “Ukrainian junta Nazis” can get their work published. Oddly enough, the site has an ad on the right that says “BECOME A MEDIA SKEPTIC.” Judging by their coverage, it would seem that they intend to help you do so by publishing fake or otherwise idiotically flawed articles in order to help train the reader’s skeptic skills. If that’s the case, good for them.

Today’s training material popped up in my Facebook news feed, which of course means that someone’s about to get all their messages hidden. I actually feel I have to avoid seeing Russia Insider articles and even headlines lest this blog end up turning into a never-ending exercise in tearing down low-hanging fruit and smashing it on the ground. The article in question is a story about some “Middle Eastern” refugees who allegedly harassed some Russian women at a night club in the Murmansk region and then got severely beaten by an ad-hoc vigilante group of local men. And though this story has absolutely nothing to do with Vladimir Putin, the article features a photo of him because…Russia Insider.

Since Russia Insider wants me, you, and all of us to become good media skeptics, I decided this was a perfect training exercise. After all, having lived in Russia for almost ten years, and the better part of one of those years in a town smaller than Murmansk, this story sounded extremely fishy to me. The theme of Russian men being politically incorrect, chivalrous tough guys is a fantasy not only in Russia but also among many Westerners and even Americans. In short, to the experienced eye the story reads like one of those “Marine Todd” chain emails your elderly aunts and uncles forward. But before getting to that let’s talk about sources.

One of the first things I noticed is that the source cited by the RI article is The Daily Caller, which is an American conservative tabloid. One that has been seriously dinged at least once for fabricating a story. This struck me as odd, because after a little browsing on the Caller’s site I determined that they were in fact…THE MAINSTREAM WESTERN MEDIA! Yes, look at these filthy lies they posted about Russia! In this story they had the nerve to contradict the words of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov himself! Not only that, but they even quote the devil incarnate, Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, and implicitly refer to him as an “expert!” In another obvious concoction of lies, this MSM source claims that Russia is sponsoring terrorism! Obviously this makes The Daily Caller totally untrustworthy and as a good media skeptic we must dismiss it out of hand as “mainstream media.” Hence I looked for another source in the article, and that’s where I began to tumble down the rabbit hole.

The second source mentioned is an article in Italian. I thought it was interesting that the Italians would know more about this than the Russians. Interestingly this Italian link didn’t have a photo of Putin in it, which tells me these might be liberal neocons plotting to fund a color revolution in Russia. The photo they did use, however, was a rather unflattering photo of what I suppose are supposed to be stereotypical Russian men. Rather insulting, in fact. The end of the article contained an interesting disclaimer, and as my wife’s not around to translate, I apologize in advance for using Google:

“Translator’s Note: Since the German mayor yet another recommends the girls to stay away from the “refugees, ** we see a more gallant vision on the part of our Russian friends and acquaintances, and we are pushed to publish this story, even though it may not be officially documented. : Lol:”  

Hmmm… “Not officially documented.” That’s odd, especially when we’re talking about refugees supposedly kicked out of Norway. You need a visa to be in Russia. If you’re involved in inciting a mini-riot, something’s going to get officially documented. In fact, if you’re a group of Middle Eastern migrants who engage in behavior that just happens to fit perfectly into the narrative of the state-run press, your story would end up on the national news. I wonder why it didn’t.

At the end of the article the source cited is “Fort-Russ,” a site which I have busted for posting a fabricated story once in the past. As a side note, this article also used the demeaning stereotypical Russian guy photo. But more to the point, here we have a perfect example of how the Russian propaganda machine works when it comes to stories like these. There’s usually some overarching narrative often set by the Kremlin or its state-run media. Dressing off of what happened in Cologne during New Year’s, the Russian media fabricated its own story about Liza, a 13-year-old girl allegedly kidnapped and gang-raped for 30 hours by Middle Eastern migrants (these people have sick but vivid imaginations). Next what they need is a morality tale that tells people “Russia doesn’t tolerate this sort of nonsense,” and that’s exactly what this reads like. Now what you get is a kind of source carousel, where one pro-Russian source cites another and its difficult to pin down where the story originally came from.

Returning to our media skeptic training course, I was already wondering why it was so hard to find a Russian-language original source on this. Thankfully the Fort-Russ article actually had a link to a Russian-language article, but it was not some local Murmansk site. In fact, it’s called newsli.ru and contains very little information in its “about” page, where it is described not as a media outlet but a “project.” I went and typed “newsli” into Stopfake.org’s search engine and wouldn’t you know it- there were hits. Not a good sign when it comes to credibility.

The original Russian article doesn’t seem to contain anything very different from the translations in English or Italian, therefore we can now skip to the part where I explain why this story is bullshit.

-First of all, if you live in Russia and know the culture, you’ll understand why the idea of Russian males being chivalrous defenders of their women’s virtue is simply laughable. I’m not saying they’re better or worse than other nationalities in this respect, it’s just that they aren’t that.

-Clubs in Russia have this thing called “face control.” This is where the bouncers don’t let you in if you look disheveled, intoxicated, or whatever. True, not all clubs have face control, and Murmansk probably doesn’t house Russia’s most fashionable night clubs, but they will have security and they would be very unlikely to permit the entrance of around 50 Middle Eastern, non-Russian speaking men.

-These are supposedly refugees who were kicked out of Norway. When you’re a refugee who made it from Syria, Iraq, or wherever, all the way to Norway, and then you get kicked out for “bad behavior,” I’m guessing that you probably aren’t too well off financially. If you’re somehow returned to Russia, where you must have a visa simply to be on Russian territory, you’re probably going to be preoccupied with how you’re going to survive and where you’re going to go next. After all, what little money you had has got to be dwindling pretty low by now, and you’re trapped in nation where you don’t speak the language and have no right to work. You’ve no doubt had uncomfortable run-ins with the Russian police already. Now one of your fellow refugees suggest you and 48 other guys go clubbin’ and sexually harass some local women. What do you reply? Yeah. Exactly.

-In Russia people record stuff. Lots of stuff. Hell, the Russian military, apparently lacking a word for OPSEC, couldn’t even keep its war in Ukraine secret due to its soldiers snapping selfies and posting them on social media. I guarantee you that if you have a running battle that starts in a night club and ends somewhere else in the city, involving 50 migrants and what we can only assume to be an equal or larger quantity of Russian muzhiki, somebody’s going to catch that on their iPhone. There are dozens of videos of eye-grabbing activity from places in Russia far more provincial than Murmansk on Russian social media networks. In fact, VK.com has entire groups dedicated to videos of that sort.

-I searched in vain for a night club or discotheque by the name of “Gandvik” in the city of Murmansk. No results whatsoever. Searching for the name itself on Yandex did lead to a sponsored link to a striptease club in Moscow though.  Way to stand up for women’s rights! In any case, it would have been easy to do a search like I did and find an actual night club in Murmansk, but then again, that would mean anyone could look the place up, give them a call, and torpedo this story within minutes. (UPDATE: I’ve been reading some versions of the story, which place Gandvik not in Murmansk but the Murmansk oblast, in a town called Polyarnye Zori. Indeed, there is a dance club by that name in this small town. I was able to find a number and I’ll try to check it as soon as possible.)

-The Russian story has very specific details about the condition of the beaten migrants, yet no names are given for anyone involved in the story. No eyewitnesses, no police, no night club staff, no female victims, no beaten migrants, no local officials commenting on the issue of migration- nobody. The Russian article claims it was based on sources from social media. You know, that same social media where Russians are always posting photos and videos of crazy shit happening in their towns? Not this though. Nobody in Murmansk cared about recording this mini-riot involving what must have been around 100 people, not counting policemen.

-After looking at different versions of the article, there are some interesting inconsistencies. In the Fort-Russ article we see this line: “Still and all, judging by the identical reactions, the agents of law enforcement did not differ in tolerance level and while exhorting not to resort to lynching, secretly assisted in the educational process, news.li reported.” This translation is crap, but the underlined part appears in the newsli article relatively intact. In this case the “educational process” refers to the beating of the migrants. This raises numerous questions. The article states that the “squadrons of police” saved the migrants, so how did they both deter the crowd from vigilante justice (a more faithful translation of the newsli term in my opinion) while at the same time “secretly” assisting in it? If they were secretly assisting, who says so? The migrants? The attackers? Other policemen? This makes no sense.

-In the Fort-Russ article the pathetic excuse for the lack of any statement from law enforcement officials was: “Official confirmation by law enforcement authorities is not forthcoming, as they have no desire to feed the West with any more fodder for the “Wild Russia” line.” But in the newsli version this is different in a way that is slight, but important- it suggests that “perhaps” the authorities didn’t want to provide that “fodder” as they call it. Fort-Russ makes it seem like they intentionally withheld any statement, implying that something did in fact happen but they are refusing to comment on it for this idiotic reason. Newsli.ru presents it as speculation, which implies that it is their own. If the law enforcement officials in this small town were so afraid of feeding the “Wild Russia line,” one wonders why Fort-Russ published this story. Ditto for every other version of the story which makes that sad excuse for a lack of official confirmation. This entire story is presented as Russians and Russian police doing what is right, compared to those “tolerant,” pansy German police. If these Russian news sources saw fit to publish the account, why would the police be so shy? After all, they saved the migrants while somehow simultaneously and secretly taking part in the “educational” beating.

-The Fort-Russ article ends with a quote: “Welcome to Russia. We’re delighted to have visitors, but you mustn’t forget, you are guests here.” At first I was dumbstruck as the quote has no attribution. Then I checked the Newsli.ru version yet again and found that it has the same line, only it’s not a quote, it’s just there. This kind of thing is very strange for a news article. It’s obviously intended to make some kind of moral point, one which inflates the ego of vatniks and fulfills the fantasy of disenfranchised Westerners who decry “political correctness.” Why was this here? If it was a quote, who said it? If this story is based on “material from social media,” great- what social media? Where? Screenshots? Tweets? Anybody?

So what’s the verdict? Organic fertilizer, dear readers. All in all, however, I must say that this was a great training exercise in media skepticism and I really owe a great deal of gratitude to Russia Insider for coming up with it. With their help, I’m sure I’ll earn my media skeptic stars in no time!

 

journo

In fact, I might even be able to buy this special Russia Insider journalist starter kit so I too can become a diligent, muckraking, fact-checking reporter myself!

 

 

 

Holy Shitsnacks! 500th Post!

Ladies and gentlemen, what better way to celebrate Russia Without BS’ 500th post than to inform you that Russia Insider has finally gone full potato. They have not merely jumped the shark. They have launched a rocket over the shark which escaped Earth’s gravity and is currently on its way out of our solar system. They have crossed into Poe’s Law territory to become self-parody. Behold: How Putin Taught Me a Lesson in Being Christ-like

Yeah. Let that title sink in and feel the “Whaaaaaa?” going through your mind even before you click. Read it if you want to suffer an existential crisis.

First of all, take a look at that author bio:

The author is a well-known Danish journalist trained in theology, who writes on religious affairs. She is a regular contributor to Russia Insider.

Okay. Couple things. First of all, they claim she is “well-known” but I couldn’t find any information on her that doesn’t appear on some pro-Russian site like RT.com, Russia Insider, or Da Russophile. There were a lot of sites in Danish and I’m perfectly able to believe that she might be popular there, but I’m a bit skeptical. That she is a regular contributor to Russia Insider doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Basically I’ll give you the gist of this mass grave of an article: Putin could have started WWIII and destroyed Turkey after the shoot-down of a Russian Su-24, but he didn’t. In other words, he was like Jesus- he turned the other cheek.

Now unlike Ms. Thranholm, I’m not “trained in theology,” but I was raised in the fundamentalist Christian movement and since becoming an atheist many years ago I started actually taking an avid interest in the stuff I pretty much ignored on countless Sundays throughout my childhood and teenage years. Let’s see what Jesus said about turning the other cheek:

“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” –Christ, Jesus H., Matthew 5:39*

Now the implication here is that if Putin really wanted to be Christ like, he’d send up another Su-24 for the Turks to shoot down. But what did Putin actually do in response to this act, which in all honesty was a total dick move on the part of Turkey and a war crime on the part of those rebels who murdered the ejected pilot?

Vladimir Putin warns of ‘serious consequences’ following Turkey shooting down Russian jet

Hmmm…Is that what Jesus would do? Very quickly after the news, the Turkish embassy was besieged by protesters who pelted it with rocks and other projectiles, breaking at least one window. Witnesses said police did nothing. Russian consumer authorities suddenly, and quite fortunately discovered listeria contamination in chicken imported from Turkey. Today the Turkish cultural center in Moscow has apparently been shut down.

Thranholm doesn’t stop there though. Check this out.

Putin now invites his foes to cooperate to defeat the menace of terrorism. This is similar to Christ enduring the pain and shame of the cross to save the world. Russia seems to follow the same path.

stupidestthing

Wait a second. Isn’t the campaign against terrorism sort of a revenge thing? This is the guy who annexed part of another Christian nation and whose country waged a dirty war and propaganda war against that same nation all because they drove out a corrupt thief who wanted to go full dictator on everyone’s asses. There are numerous real quotes from Putin where he talks about hunting down terrorists and killing them.

Second, this is nothing like Christ’s “enduring pain and shame of the cross.” What sacrifice has Putin made? This is a man who robs his country so he and his friends can live in lavish palaces. If he has sacrificed anything, it is the ability to go or live abroad like some of his friends still do (those who are not yet sanctioned). Staying in the driver’s seat limits some of his options to enjoy his ill-gotten gains, but it’s still a pretty sweet life nonetheless.

And Russia “seems” to follow that path? Well, Russia certainly suffers like Christ did, I guess. But this has nothing to do with saving the world. Russia suffers because since 1991 it has been run by corrupt thieves who will fight to the last Russian worker to keep their stolen wealth and luxurious lifestyles.

Now before anyone gets permanent brain damage, I’ll quote one last gem to cap off this horror show.

Putin’s political decision is an expression of moral superiority and meekness that springs from being poor in spirit, the first step of following Christ and an ultimately spiritual Christian virtue.

Meekness? This is a man who is routinely depicted wearing military uniforms he never earned on t-shirts, posters, phone cases, and all manner of other souvenirs. This is a man who insists that he alone is capable of leading Russia. Meek my ass.

Is Putin Christ-like? Well Jesus wasn’t too big on stealing. He also said things like:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” -Matthew 6:19

And here we’re talking about a “Christian” man who possesses several palatial residences, yachts, luxury cars, and watches which are collectively worth half a million dollars or more.

This is also a man who divorced his wife after he decided to come back to the presidency. They were living estranged from one another for quite some time, during which he was constantly dogged by persistent rumors that he was having an affair with Russian gymnast Alina Kabaeva.

Now the Russian Orthodox Church apparently allows divorce, but Jayzus don’t:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” –Matthew 19 4-6

Also, despite that discrepancy both the ROC and Jesus were pretty down on adultery. And even if the Kabaeva rumors were untrue, it’s clear that Putin obviously failed in his duties as a husband and a father.

Reading that article was as excruciating as watching Jesus get flayed in The Passion of the Christ. Before ending this, I just wanted to point out that the author is from Denmark, the country where the infamous Mohammed cartoon scandals started. She has so much admiration for Russia as a defender of Christian civilization, but does she know that Russia has repeatedly forbid publishing caricatures of Mohammed, and the same Danish artists who did so in her native country would face penalties in Russia? Indeed, when Chechen head Kadyrov blessed a polygamous wedding between a 17-year-old girl and a middle-aged man, Russia’s children’s rights advocate Pavel Astakhov and family values politician Duma deputy Elena Mizulina acted like good submissive Russians and publicly approved of the union.

Alright. I’m done. There’s nothing more you can say about that other than hope it is just some sort of elaborate prank. But because we have no reason to make such an assumption, you know what the proper response is:

You said it, movie guy.

 

*Bible quotes all come from the King James Version, aka The One True Holy Bible Accept no Substitutes!