The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) took down an article purportedly analyzing the links and influence that far-right personalities and Russian operatives can have on prominent activists, journalists, and ideology, especially in relation to the left.
Hatewatch, an SPLC blog that "monitors and exposes the activities of the American radical right," published an article on March 9 titled, "The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment." The article attempted to explain how the rise of conspiracy theories surrounding conflicts like Syria have turned traditional "leftists" to do the bidding of "fascist" agendas.
The article was removed from the SPLC website the next day after one of its subjects brought "concerns" to the influential organization. "After receiving some concerns about the article from Max Blumenthal that evening, we took it down, pending further review," the SPLC said in a statement. Asked to elaborate, the SPLC referred BuzzFeed News back to the statement.
The SPLC — founded by lawyers in 1971 in Montgomery, Alabama, to fight for the civil rights of the African-American community in the South — is for many the de-facto source on hate groups in the US. It reports on and monitors domestic hate groups and publishes a list of them that is often cited by publications — including BuzzFeed News — academics, and politicians.
It's unclear precisely why the article was taken down, and that information void has been filled with some accusing the civil rights organization of cowing to the possible threat of litigation or other pressure. Some believe the article was just badly written and sourced, factually incorrect, and perhaps, not vetted or edited.
Max Blumenthal, a former senior editor at AlterNet, was cited often in the now-removed SPLC article for taking ideological positions that allegedly aligned with Russian and Syrian domestic and foreign policy interests — particularly in regard to the Syrian conflict — under the guise of anti-imperialism activism.
The now-removed article alleges that Blumenthal has a tendency to take on Russian talking points, appeared often on Russian-owned media outlets, right-wing programs, and on podcasts and blogs that are also frequented with those associated with the alt-right.
"Blumenthal was not as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics before he appeared at the same RT gala as disgraced former National Security advisor Michael Flynn and the Green Party’s Jill Stein in December 2015," the author of the article, Alexander Reid Ross, wrote.
"During that occasion, he joined a panel called 'Infowar: Will there be a winner' alongside Alt Right anti-Semite Charles Bausman of Russia Insider. A month later, Blumenthal’s pro-Kremlin position crystalized..." Ross wrote of Blumenthal's views.
Ross also claims that Blumenthal, and others, had peddled dangerous conspiracy theories relating to Syria. He pointed to a controversial two-part series by Blumenthal that argued that the White Helmets — the volunteer search and rescue organization in Syria that was profiled in a documentary that won an Academy Award — was "created by Western governments" to, in part, further US desires for regime change and military intervention in Syria.
On Twitter, Blumenthal called the article a "lie-filled, McCarthyite piece of innuendo and smears" that wasn't "reviewed by editors."
Others have suggested — without evidence — that Max Blumenthal's father, Sidney, a longtime Bill and Hillary Clinton associate and former senior adviser to Clinton during his presidency, was somehow involved in the article's removal.
Others speculated that the SPLC removed the article due to factual errors.
"Blumenthal’s RT [Russia Today] appearances have been praised by white nationalists like Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr.," Ross writes in the now-removed article. Miller is a white supremacist and former KKK leader who killed three people at a Kansas Jewish center in 2014.
But in a tweet, Blumenthal pointed out that Ross — a geography lecturer at Portland State University — uses a talking point about Blumenthal that the SPLC itself attempted to debunk in a previous Hatewatch article. In the same month as the Jewish center shooting, SPLC's Hatewatch published an article titled, "LIMBAUGH, RIGHT-WING PUNDITS TRY TO BLAME MAX BLUMENTHAL FOR KANSAS RAMPAGE."
Ross told BuzzFeed News, "While I stand by my piece, I support the SPLC’s efforts to defend itself against threats and intimidation from both far right and hard left." Ross said he may be able to comment "in a few days."
Other journalists mentioned in the article accused Ross of lying to them about which outlet he was writing for and claimed Ross did not give people mentioned in the article a chance to reply.
The removed article appears to have brought to the surface an argument among the left, where more moderate critics are accusing far-left, anti-war journalists and activists of not being critical enough of the Assad regime (commonly referred to Assad apologists) or of Russia's involvement in Syria, or in the 2016 US elections. And others within these circles are being derided by their colleagues as being manipulated by outside forces, or even worse, being purposefully deceitful and working for foreign interests.
Some journalists argue the problem with the SPLC article is that it conflates a real and "cosplayer" anti-war left. Glenn Greenwald tweeted that conflating both groups — who both happen to or appear to be against an interventionist policy in Syria — resulted in an article that smeared both groups as "bigots & tools of Nazis."
Tim Pool, who is briefly mentioned in Ross's article as an "Alt right journalist" who attended a conference in Iran in 2012, told BuzzFeed News that he took offense to the SPLC story and denied ever being in Iran. Ross links to an archived webpage of the conference's scheduled that lists a Tim Pool as a speaker.
"I have never been to Iran nor have I spoken at a conference there," Pool told BuzzFeed News. "I also take offense to them calling me alt right because I come from 2 generations of interracial families and have no 'white identity,'" Pool continued.
"I reached out to them [SPLC] but they never responded."