A viral video titled “Truth From an Iranian,” which has amassed more than 10 million views across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, was created by a registered lobbyist who previously worked for a militia group fighting in a bitter civil war in Libya.
At no point during the five-minute video, in which she praised the US drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, did Saghar Erica Kasraie mention that she had worked in 2019 for Linden Government Solutions, a Texas-based lobbying firm hired to represent the Libyan National Army, a militia in the north African country led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a former officer in Muammar al-Qaddafi’s government who spent much of the last two decades living in Virginia, during which time he worked with the CIA.
In the first six days following the death of Soleimani, the head of the country’s Quds Force, Kasraie’s video was the single most popular piece of content about Iran on Facebook, aside from posts from President Donald Trump’s own page.
In the video, Kasraie, who describes herself as an Iranian activist, says Iranians were celebrating Soleimani’s death, thanking Trump, and giving out cakes on the street as a symbol of their joy. “I feel like we’re living in the Twilight Zone, guys. I’m completely outraged at this notion that the propaganda machine that is the media is glorifying Qassem Soleimani,” she says in the video.
The YouTube version of Kasraie’s video has been viewed 5.5 million times, going viral as a link on Facebook after it was posted to a right-leaning lifestyle page called Bakersfield Tuff and a slew of pro-Trump sites and pages. Another copy of the video, shared on Kasraie’s Facebook page, has been viewed another 3.7 million times.
Kasraie does not list her time with Linden on her LinkedIn profile and said in a conversation with BuzzFeed News that her work for the firm in Washington, DC, was strictly logistical. “It was short project as a consultant,” she said.
"I worked directly for Linden and helped with logistics for meetings in Washington," Kasraie said. “Just facilitated and coordinated meetings for Linden.”
According to her registration, Kasraie’s job entailed “Planning, coordinating meetings with Government, Business representatives, and think tanks, and other government relations services in support of Client's diplomatic goals” on behalf of the “Decision Support Center of Libya (on behalf of the Libyan National Army).”
When asked if the Libyan National Army was the firm’s only client, a representative for Linden Government Solutions told BuzzFeed News, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’d say no and I’d prefer not to continue.”
Kasraie denied her work for Linden had anything to do with the Iran video, telling BuzzFeed News that she decided to record the video because her American friends were asking for her opinion about the aftermath of the Soleimani killing. “I thought, Oh my gosh, the media is crazy. They're not reporting about what's going on,” she said.
The video first went viral when it was posted on the Bakersfield Tuff Facebook page, which describes itself as a community for “Racing, rodeo, drinking, trucks, country music, hunting, fishing, drags, choppers, guns, fabrication, country girls.” The Bakersfield Tuff post was shared 17,000 times.
“An inside look from an Iranian. She's very well spoken and clear on what's really going on. All sides should watch this. Her point is logical and calming,” the Bakersfield Tuff page wrote.
In addition to its organic engagement, Kasraie’s YouTube video was boosted by being tagged #IraniansDetestSoleimani, a hashtag that was amplified by inauthentic Twitter accounts several minutes after the video was posted.
Kasraie denied that the inauthentic activity surrounding the video was linked to her lobbying firm, saying that her video had been successful because people agreed with what she had to say. “I think there was a certain pulse in response to that video,” she said.
Asked why she chose that hashtag, she said it “was spinning around” online.
The huge views on her video earned Kasraie several TV appearances, including on the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Ingraham Angle, and Fox News, which described her as an adviser to the National Iranian Congress, a dissident group with a headquarters in Washington, DC. There’s no indication that Linden was involved in setting up the interviews.
Kasraie is now the vice president of human rights policy for the Middle East at the Victor Marx Group, a Christian organization that provides humanitarian aid. Kasraie’s employee page for the Victor Marx Group embeds her Iran video but does not disclose her work for Linden.
Libya has been in a civil war for nine years, primarily between the Government of National Accord, a UN-backed government that sits in Tripoli, and Haftar’s forces, which control the eastern part of the country, including Benghazi.
“What they’re vying for beyond just control of the capital in Libya, Tripoli, and the country at large — they're also vying for international legitimacy,” Anas El Gomati, the director of the Sadeq Institute, Libya’s first think tank based in Tripoli, told BuzzFeed News.
El Gomati said Haftar hopes to gain the support of the US government.
“They need lobbying efforts to do that, but also to promote this narrative of a war on terror in Libya, which is deeply divisive and massively contested in terms of the kind of opponents and targets that they have claimed are terrorist targets and legitimate targets,” El Gomati said.
The International Criminal Court has investigated Haftar’s attacks in Libya and issued two arrest warrants for one of his lieutenants. However, Trump has praised Haftar, and even placed a phone call to him in April 2019 without the knowledge of the State and Defense Departments, before reversing his support in June.
“I'm grateful for President Trump and the groups that support him,” Kasraie said of the support her video has received from pro-Trump internet communities. “I think I represent Iranians that support Trump.”