Javier Sethness looks at the modern rise of “red-brown” politics and its infection of the left through the lens of a recent Indy Media on Air showing with prominent radical media figure Chris Burnett, which gave Assadist hardliner Vanessa Beeley a platform offering oddly softball questions.
The red-brown convergence, or the seemingly puzzling political alliance between far-left (red) and far-right (brown), is a serious and worsening problem around the world—evermore so since Donald Trump’s election and inauguration. Beyond the divisions between authoritarian and libertarian socialism on the left, both authoritarian and anti-authoritarian socialist traditions share with fascism an emphasis on revolutionism, or the need to transform society radically, rather than incrementally. In practice, this has meant that Italian Fascism grew out of the Cercle Proudhon, an intellectual circle dedicated to the study of this French anarchist; that the Strasserite faction of the Nazi Party had an (admittedly racist) anti-capitalist orientation; and that the Russian neo-fascist and Vladimir Putin adviser Aleksandr Dugin has developed a “fourth political theory” which combines Stalinism with Nazism.1
While this axis has important implications for social life across the globe, the red-brown convergence is seen mostly clearly in Syria and in the discursive struggle over the Syrian Civil War. Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution in March 2011, an estimated half-million Syrians have been killed, including 200,000 civilians. Syria’s Assad Regime, Putin’s Russia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been found to be responsible for killing 94% of these civilians. Moreover, in a new analysis of cyber warfare in the Syrian Revolution, an anonymous observer identifies three main stands adopted by those confronted with the events in Syria: the pro-Assad, anti-US-imperialism stance; the silent stance; and the stance in solidarity. It is unfortunate to consider that, rather than provide coverage in solidarity with Syrian dissidents across borders, Pacifica Radio/KPFK 90.7 Los Angeles gave a platform to fascism on March 21st and 28th of this year on the radio show “Indy Media on Air.” (Link available here.) While the program description states the show’s mission as being the “creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth,” readers of this commentary will judge for themselves whether its pro-Assad orientation can be viewed in any way as radical, accurate, or truthful.
The fascist in question is Vanessa Beeley, a British “alternative” journalist who runs interference for Assad and Putin. The website where she works as an editor, 21st Century Wire, features anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers such as Gilad Atzmon alongside rationalizations of Assadist fascism and “exposés” about the White Helmets, otherwise known as the Syrian Civil Defense—that is, the first responders to Russian and Syrian regime bombardment of civilian areas in opposition-held regions of the country. 21st Century Wire was founded by an Infowars editor, Patrick Henningsen, and has been found by Media Bias Fact Check to be a “conspiracy and fake news [website] with an extreme right bias.” Alongside Holocaust denial, the site’s editors promote climate change denial as well. Yet while introducing Beeley on his show on March 21st, Chris Burnett, host of “Indy Media on Air,” failed to mention Beeley’s association with 21st Century Wire or Infowars. Neither did he clarify that Beeley’s “claim to fame” was that her “exposé” of the White Helmets has been heavily promoted by Russian State media, including Sputnik and Russia Today, and in fact was submitted in 2017 by Putin’s government to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly as “evidence” against the group.
Rather than disclose these questionable ties, Burnett muddied the waters from the start of the interview by linking Beeley to the Syria Solidarity Movement (SSM), which to unknowing listeners might just sound like the equivalent of the International Solidarity Movement, which organizes support for Palestinians living under Israeli Occupation through direct action. Yet the Syria Solidarity Movement (SSM) is nothing of the kind: it is instead a conspiracist, pro-Assad outfit whose mission statement demands “universal respect for and protection of Syrian sovereignty and territory” and denies the opposition the right to armed struggle, advocating “the use of exclusively nonviolent means of national resolution and reconciliation.” These are clearly pro-regime talking points that justify the BBC’s conclusion in a recent article on Syrian conspiracy theories which includes critique of Beeley that:
[t]he activists call themselves “anti-war,” but as they generally back the Syrian government’s military operations against rebel forces seeking to overthrow Mr Assad and Russian air strikes carried out in support, it might be more accurate to describe them as “anti-Western intervention” or “pro-Syrian government.”
Therefore, if it were honest, the SSM would rename itself the “Assad Solidarity Movement.” Its steering committee includes Sara Flounders from the Workers’ World Party (WWP); Richard Becker of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and its front group, the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition; and Navid Nasr, a self-avowed Duginist. Beeley and her fellow Assadist propagandist Eva Bartlett reportedly were part of the same SSM committee until the publication of this investigation into them in late 2016 over their fascist, conspiracist views. It bears noting here that ANSWER/PSL allowed the neo-Nazi agitator “Baked Alaska” free rein to dismiss the Douma attack as a hoax and promote his fascistic “America First” ideology at their pro-Assad rally in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, April 14th. Tellingly in this sense, in his recent investigation into international red-brown organizing efforts in favor of Russian and Assad Regime interests in the Syrian Civil War, Alexander Reid Ross identifies the SSM as a “syncretic anti-imperialist network” which opens the door to collaboration between the authoritarian left and neo-fascist right, as was perhaps best-illustrated at the 2014 “Multipolar World” conference organized in Moscow by the Duginist Anti-Globalization Movement, which neo-Confederates and “anti-imperialists” alike attended.
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of this all is that Burnett cannot claim he didn’t know the extent of Beeley’s politics and commitments before having her onto his show:
Yet what Burnett must have known, being a journalist who covers current events, is that at that precise time—late March 2018—the Assad Regime was involved together with Russia in a genocidal campaign against the people of Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb. Using napalm, cluster munitions, heavy aerial and artillery bombardment, and chemical weapons, Assad and Putin murdered close to 2,000 civilians in the district in less than two months. It is within this horrific context that Burnett gave a platform for an Assadist fascist to promote her lies. On his March 21st and 28th shows, Burnett makes no mention of the contemporary massacres in Ghouta but instead echoes Beeley in referring to the December 2016 conquest of Eastern Aleppo by Assad’s forces as its “liberation” from “terrorists.” He furthermore does not question Beeley’s use of the same term “liberation” to describe Assad’s contemporary clearance campaign in Ghouta. Imagine if the host of “Indy Media on Air” had invited a raging Zionist apologist onto his show in the midst of one of Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza, failed to mention these same attacks, and then agreed with his counterpart’s designation of all of Israel’s victims as “terrorists,” and their murder as amounting to their liberation!
In keeping with this highly problematic presentation, Burnett further fails to advise his listeners that Beeley had participated in a “peace delegation” to Syria with the U.S. Peace Council in July 2016. Tellingly, Beeley declared her two-hour meeting with Bashar al-Assad as her “[p]roudest moment” of the trip:
Through her interview with Burnett, Beeley reveals herself as a racist and an Orientalist who fundamentally engages in the type of atrocity-denial that is part and parcel of the both the fascist right and the authoritarian left’s take on Syria, a position for which Burning Country co-author Leila al-Shami has rightly denounced the pro-fascist left. Beeley opens by mentioning her father, Harold Beeley, who was a British diplomat and an Arabist, seemingly in an implicit attempt to present herself as an “authority” on the Middle East of similar weight. She is quick to announce her view that international law demands respect for the Assad Regime’s sovereignty over Syria, but she fails to mention how international law also demands the prevention and punishment of genocide, of which Assad is clearly guilty on numerous occasions, as well as chemical-weapons attacks, the murder of political prisoners and prisoners of war, the bombardment of civilian populations, and other war crimes. Neither does Burnett press her on these points. Instead, he invites Beeley to present her take on the White Helmets, which is that they are foreign-backed “terrorists” or their sympathizers who for this reason constitute legitimate targets for eliminationby Assad and Putin’s militaries. Beeley’s criticism, which Burnett appears to share, is directed toward the first responders risking their lives to save others who have been bombed, rather than toward those forces actively doing the bombing.
Beeley accuses the White Helmets of “revising history” while ignoring her own significant revisions of history. She does not talk about the beginning of the uprising in March 2011, when regime security forces publicly threatened to forcibly disappear incarcerated teenage boys who had written anti-Assad graffiti on the walls of their local school in Der’aa, nor does she discuss the brutal suppression of subsequently organized unarmed protests by Assad’s security forces. Instead, her discussion of March 2011 proceeds immediately to praising Assad for the supposedly “vast” number of State reforms he putatively proposed at the beginning of the revolt. She extols Assad’s Syria for “effectively [being] very much a socialist State,” and she declares her view that the regime’s survival since 2011 is “close to being a miracle.” Again, Burnett does not challenge her on these claims, despite the fact that it is entirely unclear how a bourgeois-terror regime that engages in mass-aerial bombardment of civilian populations using napalm and chemical weapons can be considered remotely socialist. Obviously, for those millions of besieged people on the receiving end of regime and Russian bombs, Assad is the very opposite of miraculous.
As Orientalists, Beeley and Burnett perpetuate the invisibilization of Syrians, casting the conflicts in that country as just another theater in the War on Terror, rather than a question of class struggle, the fight against despotism, and counter-revolution. In fact, this statist-geopolitical framing, which silences the Arab and Kurdish popular classes, is par for the course for the Western and white left. Indeed, Beeley asserts that the Assad Regime’s fascist hegemony represents the free self-determination of the Syrian people. But this is a complete lie. Findings from BBC interviews with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan from April 2018 show that the vast majority of them saw “their best chance of returning to a country where more than 350,000 people have been killed and 5.6m have become refugees, as the removal of President Assad.” Such collective attitudes are logical, given the distressing reports about returning Syrian refugees being systemically imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, and murdered—reports which typically go unmentioned by Beeley and Burnett. One wonders how Beeley and Burnett would attempt to rationalize Assad’s 2012 assassination of U.S. reporter Marie Colvin in Homs, let alone the regime’s “deliberate and systematic targeting of hospitals” or Assad and Russia’s culpability for the murder of 90 percent of the healthcare workers killed in bombardment of medical facilities during the war.
Since the April 7th Douma chemical attack, Beeley has continued promoting her conspiracy views, suggesting on RT that the death-toll was due to a false-flag operation perpetrated by the White Helmets. Once again, her position is entirely equivalent to that of the Russian State.
At this point, Beeley, Burnett, and their audience would do well to contemplate al-Shami’s critique of the pro-fascist, “anti-war” mobilizations against the April 14th Anglo-Franco-American strikes on regime targets:
There’s no outrage when barrel bombs, chemical weapons and napalm are dropped on democratically self-organized communities or target hospitals and rescue workers. Civilians are expendable; the military capabilities of a genocidal, fascist regime are not. In fact the slogan ‘Hands off Syria’ really means ‘Hands off Assad’ and support is often given for Russia’s military intervention.
Such a position describes Beeley and Burnett quite well, as does this other piercing line of al-Shami’s: “This pro-fascist left seems blind to any form of imperialism that is non-western in origin.” Presumably, Beeley and Burnett are much more concerned with the limited Western missile strikes on largely abandoned regime military targets, an act which represents little more than a release of tensions, than with the annihilation of an entire people by a fascist dictator and his imperialist allies.
Such views on Syria are no different than those of Alt-Right neo-Nazi Richard B. Spencer, who once again this year criticized Trump for contemplating military strikes on Assad, whom he lauds as a “British-trained physician” who is “civilized.” Clearly, for Spencer, the Hippocratic Oath which medical providers are expected to observe means little. Yet his enthusiasm for Assad’s “civilized” nature — as attested to by the despot’s willingness to commit genocide against Sunni Muslim Arabs in the interest of “progress” and “stability” for the international racial-capitalist order — is one with Beeley and Burnett’s affinities for the authoritarian-militarist campaign that the Assad Regime is currently engaged in to reconquer the country.
The last word is for al-Shami: “I will never see people who place grand narratives over lived realities, who support brutal regimes in far off countries, or who peddle racism, conspiracy theories and atrocity denial, as allies [or comrades].”
1Alexander Reid Ross, Against the Fascist Creep (AK Press: Chico, California. 2017).
This article first appeared at the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice website
Pics courtesy CPRSJ