By Caitlin Johnstone, CaitlinJohnstone.com.
There has still been no retraction or correction of The Guardian‘s demonstrably false and completely indefensible claim that two normal antiwar Twitter accounts were controlled not by real people but by bot programs based in Russia.
This is the sort of environment that has been created by the ongoing Russia panic that is plaguing the western world: one wherein mainstream news outlets can openly lie about dissenting voices and antiwar activists, refuse to retract or apologize for those lies, and suffer no consequences.
And yet they still have the gall to paint anyone who expresses doubt about the narratives they advance about Russia and Syria as crazy, kooky conspiracy theorists. Google the words “conspiracy” and “Syria” right now and you’ll come up with countless editorials with headlines like “Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories“, “Disinformation and Conspiracy Trolling in the Wake of the Syrian Chemical Attack“, and “SYRIA GAS ATTACK CONSPIRACY THEORIES FUELED BY TUCKER CARLSON AND FAR-RIGHT FRINGE“.
They’re using the highly stigmatized label “conspiracy theories” to paint healthy, normal skepticism of a notoriously untrustworthy power establishment as mentally unsound paranoia.
A look into the "crazy club," occupied by pro-Assad conspiracy theorists Rania Khalek, Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett and co.https://t.co/FryE6cMuSN
— CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) April 23, 2018
The other day I wrote an article about the shocking number of blatant attack editorials the mass media machine has been churning out on anyone who questions the establishment Syria narrative, and that output has not slowed down since. Warmongering empire loyalists like senior Huffington Post editor Chris York have been hard at work making sure the output of McCarthyite smear pieces remains on rapid fire, accusing anyone advocating skepticism of the same establishment which lied us into Iraq and Libya of being a tinfoil hat-wearing nut job.
This fits an established pattern which we have discussed previously, wherein proponents of US-led military intervention accuse those who question their narratives of being mentally unsound. There is a word for the tactic of convincing someone that they are crazy in order to manipulate and control them, and that word is gaslighting. It is a textbook abuse tactic, and it isn’t okay.
It isn’t okay for these war whore pundits to bully and deceive us so that we will feel unsure of the basis for our skepticism and consent to the longstanding western agenda of regime change in Syria. It isn’t okay for them to try to make people unsure of their mental health in order to pave the way toward public consent for broader bombing campaigns and no-fly zones in a sovereign nation under assault by western-backed jihadists. Never let anyone bully you into thinking that you are the strange, weird outlier for suspecting that a western empire who has sponsored actual, literal terrorist factions in Syria might lie about Iraq’s next-door neighbor like they lied about Iraq.
Doubting the official narrative being advanced by mainstream media is the sanest thing in the world. The US-centralized power establishment has an extensive and well-documented history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture public support for preexisting war agendas, so it is perfectly sane to express concern about the legitimacy of the stories we’re being told about Douma, the Skripal case, Russian hacking allegations etc. We’ve already got The Guardian lying unapologetically straight to our face right now about Russian bots while not one single mainstream editorial opposed the British, French and American bombing of Syria earlier this month, so it’s obviously very sane to think the mainstream media may be advancing the interests of this war like they do every other.
Intense, rigorous skepticism is the only sane response to these narratives we’re being pummeled with day in and day out, and they’re trying to make us believe that the exact opposite is true.
Ian Shilling, one of the two Twitter account owners falsely labeled a Russian bot by The Guardian, appeared on Sky News a few days ago to defend himself and debunk the claims made about him. It was a truly brilliant appearance, and despite the open hostility showed him by the two Murdoch muppets hosting the show he was able not just to defend himself but to use the space to attack the warmongering neoconservative agendas being advanced by the UK government. As a representative of the many many regular flesh-and-blood humans on Twitter who are routinely dismissed as “Russian bots” simply for questioning establishment narratives, Ian knocked it out of the park and then some. He not only proved his humanity, he proved his sanity.
With the benefit of hindsight and not having been the one in the crosshairs, however, there was one part I thought could be handled a little differently. At one point in the interview, Shilling was articulating exactly why it would make no sense for Assad to have used chemical weapons in Douma as he is accused of having done, and one of the Sky News hosts demanded to know “Well if not, who then?”
Shilling provided the entirely reasonable speculation that it would have been the terrorists occupying the area who had every incentive to stage such an attack, but in my opinion it isn’t necessary to even go that far. The burden of proof is on the party making the claim; it isn’t up to us to flesh out a positive narrative about what happened using the limited information and resources afforded to bloggers and tweeters, it’s up to the massive western power establishment to provide the kind of proof of their accusations that is required in a post-Iraq invasion world. This plainly has not happened.
You see this sneaky attempt to shift the burden of proof among empire loyalists all the time when debating such topics. A couple of months ago I wrote about how in a debate with Real News‘ Aaron Maté, John Feffer of Lobelog used the tactic of arguing that his belief in the still-unproven Russian hacking accusations arises from the absence of a better “counter-narrative” about what happened, the implication being that we should take the US intelligence community at their word unless presented with a more compelling case for what happened from somewhere else. We also saw it in the BBC’s recent interview of Lord West, whose skepticism of the establishment Douma narrative was met with protestations that he didn’t have any solid proof of anything else having happened than what we’ve been told by the western war machine.
Don’t let them shift the burden of proof like that. We can point out, in the case of Douma for example, that the area was crawling with known terrorists who had every incentive to stage such an attack and gain the benefit of the western empire’s air force bombing their sworn enemy over a crossed “red line”, but we should also point out that it isn’t our job to come up with a positive counter-narrative about what happened. The burden of proof is on the accuser, so it’s their job to present us with a very solid collection of evidence that the alleged chemical attack could only have been perpetrated by the Assad government. Until then, our position that these people lied to us about Libya and Iraq and have a longstanding agenda of regime change in Syria is sufficient to declare decisive victory in any debate.
— Chris York (@ChrisDYork) April 24, 2018
The author of this desperate smear job is so malicious he cited a literal blacklist by a neocon think tank accusing every public figure who has ever given an interview to RT — all 2326 of them — of being “useful idiots” https://t.co/0mIRkJQvJN https://t.co/kUpIAikfq8
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) April 24, 2018
Don’t let them shift the burden of proof, and don’t let them gaslight you. You have truth on your side, and their side has a whole, whole lot of work to do before they have enough substantial evidence to even debate you rationally. They use these deceitful tactics because they are losing the debate, and because war is very profitable and advantageous for a few very powerful individuals. That’s all that’s happening here.