Reichstag Fires, White Helmets, and Russian “Savages”

Fergie Chambers

How disinformation amongst a unified western media does the bulk of the Empire’s dirty work

“At a mass meeting thought is eliminated. And because this is the state of mind I require, because it secures to me the best sounding-board for my speeches, I order every one to attend the meetings, where they become a part of the mass whether they like it or not, “intellectuals” and bourgeois as well as workers.”

Adolf Hitler, in Herman Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction: Hitler Speaks; quoted in George Seldes, The Great Quotations (Seacaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1977), p. 320.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has become a symbol of a media culture and public sphere that is increasingly complicit in the proliferation of shoot first, ask questions later journalism.

“Journalism,” like any other conduit of ideology, is rarely concerned with discerning the true from the false, so much as it is concerned with advancing the interests of the class that it serves. This is especially so in the west. In advanced capitalist countries, monopoly firms rule the day, as Lenin predicted 100 years ago, so it is no surprise that western media is almost entirely owned by a few enormous firms, and a select group of wealthy individuals and families, such as these 15 billionaires listed in a 2016 Forbes.com article (full transparency, my own family, the Cox Family, is on that list, though I don’t work for them or answer to them).

The imperialist west, in which the United States is the standard-bearer, has a long and illustrious history of generating war propaganda:

-In 1898, Hearst and Pulitzer led the charge in assigning blame for the destruction of the USS Maine to the Spanish, which led to the start of the Spanish-American war. While this war was “small” compared to the great wars which followed it, and while it is essentially buried in the consciousness of the public in the United States in 2022, it did set an important precedent, in that its demonization of a foreign enemy provided rationalization and cover for the U.S. establishing Neo-colonial hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.

-Nazi Germany, of course, were masters of these tactics, from using the 1933 Reichstag Fire as a springboard to their seizure of state power, to generating the myth that Stalin deliberately engineered the Holomodor famine in order to manufacture enmity towards Russians and the USSR in Ukraine, a myth which looms especially large in the current moment.

-In 1964, the U.S., in concert with its reactionary proxies (sound familiar too?) in South Vietnam, fabricated the story of an attack on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin (The NSA and the U.S. military themselves admit this). This story was used as the principal justification for over a decade of outright genocidal U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

-More recently, many of us recall that the impetus for the Invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of at least a million Iraqis, was the notion that Saddam Hussein was hiding “weapons of mass destruction.” This, of course, was not true, either.

One could go on and on with similar examples throughout western history; these examples focus on the U.S. and the Nazis, because their methodologies and their proliferation of war against people deemed racially or socially inferior are fairly similar, and because their ideologies play considerable roles in the context of the current conflict in Ukraine.

SYRIA: THE NEW BLUEPRINT

A new form of false-flagging has developed even more insidiously since the outset of the war in Syria in 2011, one which makes opportunistic use of mass media and social media, flooding us with daily, memetic stories of atrocities committed by those the western powers do not like, all while burying actual war crimes being committed by those those they are aligned with…or often, by they themselves.

In Syria, western media was relentless in its anecdotes and accusations of both Syrian and Russian forces committing unspeakable war crimes (Russia provided military aid against U.S.-backed rebels to the Syrian army, at the invitation of the Syrian government).

Most often, Syrian forces were accused of using chemical weapons against enemy combatants and civilians, the most notorious of which was a 2013 Sarin gas attack in the outskirts of Damascus, reported just days later in The Washington Post. This attack was also cited by the U.S. state department, western NGOs like Human Rights Watch, and all over the western media spectrum, from Fox News to “left-wing” outlets, such as Mother Jones. The “White Helmets,” a western-backed “humanitarian” group which presented itself as “neutral and non-combatant,” were hoisted up everywhere as martyrs and agents for peace; they were often the primary source for claims of war crimes against Assad.

The “White Helmets” have for years been a source of controversy in Syria, as U.S./EU media has defended them as peacekeepers and humanitarians, while Syrian, Russian, and alt-media have accused them of complicity with terrorist groups and aiding and abetting Syrian rebels. Image from icrc.org

But there were grave problems with these stories. An extensive, open-source study on the 2013 Sarin gas attack in Ghouta showed conclusively that it was not Assad/the Syrian Army which carried out the attack, but the Syrian Rebels: U.S.-backed insurgents, many of whom were not Syrian nationals, mercenaries with ties to militant islamist groups. The White Helmets themselves were never shown to have materially supported any humanitarian aid, and they are widely reported to have affiliation with the Al-Nusra front, a group with lineal ties to Al-Qaeda, which held a central role in the Syrian opposition. The notion that the White Helmets was or is a “neutral” group is laughable. None of this, however, was ever substantively addressed or corrected in mainstream western media, and these stories, along with many other fabrications from the last 11 years, are still treated as fact. Unsurprisingly, the White Helmets are now being linked to the Ukrainian war effort.

RAISED STAKES IN UKRAINE

In the months-long lead-up to Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine, and in the five weeks since it began, we have seen just how united the forces of western imperialism have become in their commitment to advancing a single narrative, and how unscrupulous their media is willing to be in its proliferation of daily misinformation.

For the moment, we need not even focus on the incredible lack of geopolitical context provided in the western press before the operation began, including a report just published today which suggests that Zelenksy himself rejected German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s suggestion to accept NATO neutrality as recently as February 19th. We can forget the years of U.S. incitement, the illegal Euromaidan coup, and the war in Donbas, and look only at the nature of western journalism in the past five weeks; the propaganda efforts have been extensive, and extremely reminiscent of what we witnessed in Syria, albeit under a much larger international spotlight.

-The Mariupol Theater bombing: on March 16th, news began to spread far and wide that the Russians had bombed a theater in Mariupol. Initial reports claimed that 1,000 civilians had been killed, though now that number has dropped to 300. To this day, this attack stands as the primary piece of “proof” that Russia is willfully committing war crimes in Ukraine. The trouble is, even this claim can only be linked to the testimony, per Grayzone, of one Ukrainian official: “Petr Andryushchenko, an advisor to the mayor of Mariupol who recently saluted the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion as courageous “defenders” of his city.” The surrounding characters are similarly suspect. The same article linked above reports that the BBC report of 300 dead was co-authored by one Orysia Khimiak, a Ukrainian PR agent who helped develop a “reality distorting app” (I kid you not). A podcaster known on Twitter as “Esha K” spliced together two videos: the first is an “eyewitness” to the theater attack giving testimony to CNN. The second is a short clip of the same woman in a promotional video as an employee at USAID, which is the largest dollar for dollar foreign assistance organization on earth, and a wing of the United States government.

-The Mariupol Maternity Ward: on March 9th, some of the more disturbing images from Ukraine, at least that were published in any mainstream media, were of an alleged Russian attack on a Maternity ward in Mariupol. An image of an obviously very pregnant Ukrainian woman, bloodied and walking through rubble, went viral. Ukrainian official accounts asserted that the destruction of the building came from a targeted Russian airstrike, meant to take out women and children. Russian claims that no such airstrike occurred, and that this attack was staged by the Ukrainian Neo-Nazi “Azov” battalion, were entirely dismissed as disinformation. But then just yesterday, in a 7-minute video interview, the woman in the photograph, Ukrainian beauty blogger Marianna Vyshemirska, confirmed that there was no airstrike, that AP press photographers were staged at the site of the maternity ward before the explosion occurred, and immediately began taking photos.

This photo of Marianna Vyshemirska from the Mariupol maternity ward explosion was everywhere the day it was reported; since her interview contradicting the original story, it has become increasingly hard to find. This image is from AP.

-Bucha: Just today, perhaps the most extreme accusations yet leveled against the Russian army have emerged in a Human Rights Watch report, including rape and mass civilian executions. A “mass grave” in the Kiev suburb of Bucha, reports of which are unavoidable on traditional and social media today, is the centerpiece of these accusations. But what is missing here, in characteristic HRW form, is anything resembling reliable sourcing. This report, per Reuters, is predicated on the anonymous accounts of just *10 people.* The headline image used for the report by HRW is of a Russian column from back in February, and when we look closely at the scene in Bucha, there are a number of indications that this was not a Russian attack. A twitter user with the handle @antiwar_soldier, provided a ton of compelling analysis in this thread from earlier today: From a series of photos and videos of the area where bodies have been found in Bucha, it is clear that most of the dead are wearing white armbands, a symbol worn by civilians to indicate that they are pro-Russian; many of the bodies are half or semi-clothed, which makes little sense in the context of a neighborhood being actively shelled, as if they had been staged in some way, and many of the bodies have their hands tied behind their backs with *perfectly clean cloths* on otherwise dirty hands and bodies, again, as if the scene were staged as an execution.

The Russian Defence Ministry has released a statement denying any wrongdoing in Bucha, assuring that their units had left the area entirely 4 days prior to these photos being taken, and these allegations being levied. The city’s mayor announced that the Russian retreat by March 31st, and made no claims of a massacre.

I don’t dare to imply that I know exactly what occurred here, but over, over, and over again, the lesson we are learning is absolutely not to jump to agreement with any conclusions presented to us by western media. I’m not interested in stirring “conspiracy theory,” but in this age of incredible misinformation, when so many financial and geopolitical interests are at stake, in the midst of the largest war on “western” soil in decades, we have to be incredibly mindful of the insanity of those pulling strings, in Washington, in Kiev, and in the “Civil Societies” which often govern the streets in rural Ukraine. There is no question that for centuries, on and off, and more acutely, since 2014, a concerted effort has been made in the west to portray Russia as a nation of “savages,” whom we as civilized Europeans ought to fear deeply.

THE OTHER SIDE

So much energy has been spent in bourgeois media on building a human rights case against Russia, so much specific coverage, and of course, possible fabrication, and yet, almost nothing is said about the extensive cache of evidence that Ukrainian forces are committing war crimes themselves. Of course, any of the alleged stagings of Russian attacks would constitute war crimes in and of themselves, but one can also cite easily find evidence of:

-Ukrainian soldiers, live on Al-Jazeera, using an ambulance as cover

-Ukrainian militia groups tying civilians, generally Russian or Roma, to trees or telephone poles, beating, them, stripping them, and leaving them in the cold, generally for accusations of petty theft, or even for simply speaking Russian. Extensive coverage of these activities, and other abuses, including nazi symbols being carved into human bodies, and family members of killed Russian soldiers being called and harrassed, can be found on Telegram at: https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses. DO NOT FOLLOW THIS LINK IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO VIEW FOOTAGE OF ACTUAL TORTURE, PLEASE.

Patrick Lancaster, @PLnewstoday, shared these horrific images of a young Russian woman found dead in the basement of an “Azov” Battalion military base

-Ukrainian Government agencies posting pictures and footage of Russian POW’s

Meanwhile, when jounalists like Anne Laure-Bonnel have attempted to chronicle the crimes committed against Russian-speakers in Donbas since 2014, and the immense human toll of the war, they are being censored and blacklisted.

The horrors experienced in Donbass itself are the stuff of an entirely separate future piece; there is no way to even begin to dip into that here, but I encourage anyone to watch Ms. Laure-Bonnel’s film, “Donbas,” or to read the works of reporters like Fra HughesPatrick LancasterGeorge Eliason, or a number of others who have gone in.

(I myself am currently awaiting the possibility of a visa to Russia for the purpose of securing passage to Donbas to chronicle extensively what has gone on there I the last 8 years)

RESERVE JUDGMENT, AT ALL COSTS

My own reporting, up and down the borderlands of Ukraine on the western side, has yet to enter any conflict zones directly, and unlike Human Rights Watch, or virtually any major western outlet, when it comes to reporting on this conflict, I cannot draw any certain conclusions from my own anecdotal encounters. Many of the war refugees I’ve spoken with in Moldova and Romania will not go on record, due to fears of eventual reprisal. What I can say, is that in the now dozens upon dozens of conversations I have had with refugees from Kiev, Kharkiv, Nikolayev, Mariupol, and Kherson, I have not heard a single first-hand account of Russian war crimes. I have absolutely heard first-hand accounts of Ukrainian war-crimes, specifically, trapping civilians in basements, and shooting people who attempt to flee.

Again, no one who is not in the war zone, or who has not been able to thoroughly research the specific conditions of all of these accusations over an extended period of time (which has not yet even elapsed), can truly submit any bulletproof conclusions about what is or isn’t happening on the ground in Ukraine. But the question, with regard to how the West is reporting on the situation, oughtn’t be, “why would they lie?” but rather, “why wouldn’t they lie?”