About 5 months ago, I was invited to speak at a few Russian Duma led conferences on various subjects including Ukrainian information war and Ukrainian nationalism as the Duma was exploring policy positions going forward.
Part of the reason for this is my work is cited in close to 400 academic papers on Ukraine, Ukrainian history, information war, information operations, propaganda, and so on. I’ve been cited in over 20 academic books in various languages on the same subjects. Coupling this with having lived in Donbass for 10 years and west-central Ukraine for 2 years before this gives me a unique perspective on the developing situation.
Some of my work was republished in Ukraine Diaspora magazine because I cleared up points of Ukrainian nationalist history they had forgotten even though it was clear I view this politic as extremely toxic and dangerous.
Lastly, I inadvertently became embroiled in an online debate through articles with Frank Costigliola, Professor of history at the University of Connecticut and editor of the George Kennan Diaries over the intent of Kennan’s work and adverse results of implemented policy during his tenure. Kennan developed the US policy of containment during the cold war.
The interesting part is that Russia’s RT and Sputnik platforms that sparked this, challenging an article I wrote and Professor Costigliola enlisted to attempt a rebuttal. The point of contention was the interpretation and ramifications of Public Law 86-90, commonly known as the Captive Nations Resolution which is commemorated yearly by US Presidents. RT and Sputnik ended up writing articles of acquiescence acknowledging their error.
Beyond that, some of my Ukraine work has been picked up by policymakers in the EU and US trying to make sense out of a much clouded situation in Ukraine.
This is the first time I’ve felt compelled to offer a qualification for any article. There are so many more professionals with resumes that make the above look pale and I’m not trying to impress anyone.
These are the factors explaining why an American conservative investigative journalist would be invited at all. Suffice to say, they were a little nervous meeting me because of my political wild card status. I follow evidence where it leads to the best of my ability, that’s all.
Factoring all this in, the timing of the conference couldn’t have been worse. Less than a week into the war, a Reagan-Bush conservative journalist going to Moscow is asking for trouble from the home team. Let’s face it, the Zelensky PR war is the dominant factor in perceptions of how events are taking shape.
The following doesn’t argue for or against the Russian position. Instead, it shows how the Russian position is developing and event analysis including Bucha through evidence made available by official Ukrainian sources. That last part is important. Events happen linearly. Chains of evidence build a timeline that investigators put together to analyze events.
The need for a real criminal investigation beginning with Bucha and eventually encompassing many other events over the last 8 years is evident and should be foremost in the minds of anyone trying to support the Ukrainian people. This statement in no way denigrates the Ukrainian people as you’ll soon see.
The conference itself was a roundtable forum designed to allow Duma policymakers to hear as many participant perspectives as possible. This included an online Zoom format for at least 20 participants from across the Russian Federation as well as globally.
I went to the conference in early March to add what I know about the history of Ukrainian nationalism. To my surprise, instead of a focus on Ukrainian nationalism, the tone of the conference changed dramatically to humanitarian concerns.
What I found refreshing was the number of official and unofficial voices in Moscow and elsewhere asking genuine questions and making personal statements about the welfare of the average Ukrainian. For those trying to get their feet under them regarding the conflict, the action Russia is taking was the absolute last thing Vladimir Putin or any other Russian leader wanted to do.
After they steered the conference toward how to best approach the humanitarian crisis developing with the military action, I tossed my notes to the side.
Instead, I spoke with the perspective of a voice outlining the current Ukrainian situation with and without the current military action going on. In real terms, the average Ukrainian family has very few voices or help coming from Kyiv and even less internationally speaking in their interest.
From afar, long-distance nationalists are driving the war to escalate beyond Ukraine using average Ukrainians like a videogame avatar for which there is only one single life.
A full month before the conference and the start of military action, I outlined Ukraine’s dire situation in Ukraine Lies About 2022 Russian Attack to Hide Dying Economy.
For my part, after introducing myself as an American conservative, I outlined the story in the above-linked article. Under the best circumstances with no war involved in the equation, Russia could have expected 5-10 million economic refugees from Ukraine and probably more trying to disburse into the EU and US because of unlivable conditions in Ukraine due to the easily preventable impending economic and food crisis.
Before and after I spoke, Duma members, journalists, and Russian civil society chamber leaders from across the Russian Federation spoke eloquently about their continued support for the Ukrainian people.
What’s catching and should be foremost in policymakers’ minds is most of the information describing Ukraine’s imminent crash which led to the decision to go to war comes from Ukrainian experts inside and outside the Zelensky administration. The tie-in to western economies’ gas prices and inflation pressure becomes patently obvious as a prop for Ukraine to lean on keeping its citizens from blaming Kyiv’s bad economic and energy policies.
Without the war, industry, business, and even civil government structures were grinding to a halt. Ukraine’s top experts predicted the situation would crescendo in June-July 2022. US President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Zelensky needed to push the war and scapegoat Russia as the cause of Ukraine’s economic crash which is the single major factor why Zelensky ordered a Croatia scenario attack slated to begin in March.
According to Oleg Popenko, the head of the Union of Consumers of Utilities (UCU) in a 2021 interview, high gas costs will prevent most small and medium-sized firms from operating in Ukraine and will force them to close. This includes firms with favorable business markets.
Ukraine’s agricultural mainstay is shutting down incrementally. Zelensky’s administration never bothered to answer Ukraine’s need for natural gas or fuel knowing his country’s economic crash was inevitable.
The gas industry has a saying. America sneezes and the world blows its nose. Joe Biden took problems one country was experiencing and made them worldwide through his policies and sanctions.
The now widely publicized food shortage the world is facing stems directly from both Zelensky and Biden’s Russia policy. This was well known in US and Ukrainian policy circles early in 2021 when discussions about shuttering Nordstream II were on the table.
Few to none of Zelensky’s western resources helped Ukraine make the right decisions for the economic security of its people. The money is still getting chewed up by graft as soon as it comes in with no oversight. Both Biden and Ukraine’s leadership are directly responsible for the way this developed. When Biden hamstrung Nordstream II raising gas prices worldwide, it was the only cheap, for the moment victory on the books for “Z” in Kyiv. Now, people worldwide suffer along with Ukraine in real-time due to market fluctuations.
What it added was a means to deflect blame from the responsible parties who pushed bad policy.
For Russia, it means their cheap gas will bolster Chinese economies and markets instead of Europe. There is no market losses for Gazprom due to sanctions. The ruble rebounded after Biden sanctions proving this point.
Speakers at the conference in government and from civil society groups while expressing solid support for Vladimir Putin’s decision to begin military operations weren’t expressing any of the tribal tendencies I’m used to hearing back in the US which constantly escalate under the current administration.
There was a profound sadness among the speakers Russia was at this moment in history. Looking back over the last few weeks as I finish this article, a deputy SBU officer’s office was searched on the Ukrainian side of the contact line detailing the March blitzkrieg campaign into Donbass. This was the Croatian scenario Ukrainian leaders have been pushing in the west for 7 years. These documents are publicly available for scrutiny. Ukraine was about to create mass casualty events across the Donbass region. Where were the Minsk guarantors?
The tens of thousands of lives saved as a result of Russia’s intervention in Donbass justifies the determination Putin made. For Donbass, this conflict has been 8 long violent years watching Ukraine’s guarantors to the Minsk Accord sit idly by while Ukraine’s only use for the document was rebuilding its army and preparing for a massive assault in Lugansk and Donetsk.
And now we have a massacre in Bucha, Ukraine. Both Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and US president Joe Biden are blaming Russia.
But we also have Bucha town council member Elena Ukrainsteva warning residents to stay inside because Azov battalion was going to cleanse the town of Russian influences at least a day ahead of the reported mass killings. Also spreading across social media is Ukrainian commander “Boatswain” being asked by a soldier if he can shoot someone that isn’t wearing a blue armband. Boatswain’s answer, “shoot the bitch.”
In a warzone, white flags are a signal of surrender. White armbands signify a non-combatant that they are no danger to you. The victims in the images provided by Ukraine are not wearing blue armbands. Even more compelling are the mass murder images from Ukrainian sources showing people with Russian army meal packages which were given as humanitarian aid to Bucha residents.
Looking at these images critically, do militaries committing war crimes give out humanitarian aid packages first?
Anton Gerashchenko, pictured below in Bucha, is an adviser to the President of Ukraine. On his social networks called for reprisals against civilians who collaborated across Ukraine with the Russian military.
It is necessary to find and punish all those who interacted with the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, he writes. Gerashchenko called on residents to inform on the “guilty.”
Gerashchenko included taking food packages and white armbands as interaction.
Let’s argue it’s normal to shoot civilians proclaiming neutral nonviolent statuses with white armbands. Would shooters committing war crimes leave evidence of their presence showing they enticed residents with food just to murder them directly after? Or does it make more sense to start from the perspective that accepting food from Russian soldiers was criminal enough to warrant mass shootings?
Azov battalion was there. With no mass casualties reported by the mayor for the first 3 days following liberation, the initial evidence points to a Ukrainian cause. If an investigation is mounted, it’s one that needs careful monitoring from the international community.
This is a first blush look at Bucha. The evidence is from Ukrainian sources. If this holds up and I have no reason to think it won’t, where does this leave the international community supporting Ukraine? More importantly, where does this leave Ukrainian citizens?
This leads me to what some Ukrainians are saying about it. Some are voicing fear of what will happen when the Russian army leaves and the nationalists return. We may be seeing that end result in Bucha. Let’s be clear, they’re not talking about support for Russia or Ukraine, just the return of the nationalists.
One Ukrainian mayor surrendered his town to Russia without a fight so the city would be spared and civilians remain unharmed. There was no military or military equipment to work with.
The SBU kidnapped his daughter in Lviv and called him a traitor to Ukraine. Is this normal?
Considering the possibility of the above happening in early March , Duma members carefully weighed this potential against RF president Putin’s initial stated reasons for military intervention in Ukraine. Denazification of Ukraine is necessary if the horror of what happened in Bucha was done as ethnic-political cleansing operations both the troops involved and the local government attest to in social media and videos they posted.
Because Ukraine’s Information War unit is reported in major media as giving a master class in Information Operations, the world desperately needs critical thinkers looking into events and not just accepting media soundbites.
The alternative is being led blindly down a path leading to a widening war.
What does denazification mean? Ukraine’s nationalist C14 leader Yevhen Karas went on Zelensky’s single TV media group platform and stated bluntly those few nationalists that gave Maidan teeth are running Kyiv from behind the scenes.
Are they dangerous to Europe and the US? According to Time Magazine “Azov has been recruiting, radicalizing, and training American citizens for years,” the letter said. Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, later confirmed in testimony to the U.S. Senate that American white supremacists are “actually traveling overseas to train.” In their letter to the State Department in 2019, U.S. lawmakers noted that “the link between Azov and acts of terror in America is clear.” The Ukrainian authorities have also taken notice.”
Is Azov an infectious violent threat to Europe and the US? This isn’t a point that requires argument anymore. Every government is working to identify threats associated with Azov and the other Ukrainian nationalist groups.
With that being the case, why was Azov the only acceptable news source for events in Mariupol? Anything in the news cycle about Mariupol originated with Azov. Do Europe and America think groups like this aren’t terrorizing Ukrainians in Ukraine just for the simple reason they can and no one cares?
If this is only related to recent events, Vladimir Putin’s denazification should have no teeth. Zelensky is acting criminally for supporting these groups against his own people but the keyword is criminality, not denazification.
Why did Putin choose that particular term knowing how poorly it would translate in western countries?
The following is from Ukrainian nationalist historical sources. According to Taras Kuzio, in 1945, OUNb (Bandera) leader Slava Stetsko went to Berlin begging Adolf Hitler for money to build more armies. After 1991, Stetsko moved to Lviv and ran for a Rada seat for her party CUN. She served in the Rada and has the distinction of being the only WWII 3rd Reich leader to hold office in the country where her OUNb armies were responsible for millions of deaths including staffing Hitler’s death camps across Europe.
CUN had a militant wing called the Stepan Bandera All Ukrainian Organization or Trizub (Banderi). Dimitro Yarosh was the leader of this group and her bodyguard. We have a WWII nazi leader Slava Stetsko (1st generation politically) and her successor in Ukraine, Dimitro Yarosh (2nd generation politically) behind the scenes in charge of all the nationalist groups and their funding inside the newly formed post-Soviet Ukrainian government. Today, these groups threaten Zelensky with murder if he exits the war.
OUNm (Melnyk) has the same continuity in Ukraine through the last Ukrainian president in exile, Mikola Plavyuk. After the Orange revolution, Plavyuk, disappointed at the national development in Ukraine, threatened post-revolution leaders saying if they didn’t move the country toward 1917 Petliura nationalism that was part of their agreement accepting the symbols and powers of state, there would be another revolution they wouldn’t survive. Plavyuk took control of Ukrainian scouting after the Orange revolution and raised up the Maidan generation. Plavyuk’s account of this time period can be translated easily.
”Ukraine, being an integral part of the empire under the name of the USSR, nevertheless had its own President. But he was abroad. When August 24 was proclaimed, and on December 1, 1991, a nationwide referendum confirmed the restoration of the Ukrainian state, the last President of the exile was obliged to act in accordance with a historical document signed by Simon Petliura. Why did he transfer his powers to Leonid Kravchuk, how he perceives the present realities, which sees the prospect of our state … These and other questions on the eve of Independence Day are answered by Mykola Plavyuk, the last President of Ukraine in the exile.”
Simon Petliura’s short-lived attempt to start a nationalist Ukraine ended with over 100,000 murdered Ukrainians who wouldn’t accept nationalism that supported Germany and the Austro-Hungarians in WWI. This is the form of government post-1991 Ukraine accepted from the Diaspora. The OUNb political platform of Bandera and Stetsko was implemented post 2014 Maidan.
This is history recorded by the Ukrainians. Founders of Ukraine, in their own words, frame their country’s political life around WWI and WWII nationalist political thought.
It is also why Vladimir Putin chose the word “denazification.” The nationalist groups operating in Ukraine cleansing it of Democratic (big D) thought are the political spawn of a different timeframe working to infect political life worldwide.
The only way nationalisms thrive is through periods of strife and unrest like the world is entering now.
If the human and civil rights situation has deteriorated to this extent in Ukraine, there is no choice but to see it as a long progression. Evidence from Azov commander’s social posts shows violence against minority Roma women in Kyiv and non-nationalists going back to Maidan. It is an unreported feature of life in Kyiv stretching back 8 years. What about the other cities?
A nation’s president doesn’t stand behind troops known for this kind of activity except in Ukraine where during a Fox TV interview, Zelensky did. Does a modern political leader get to walk away from hallowing the perpetrators of this kind of horror one day and be proclaimed the world’s greatest leader the next?
Zelensky is admittedly surrounded by PR professionals. Worse, he’s in the hands of some of the best Information Warfare managers on the planet.
This should be referenced against some of Ukraine’s staunchest western supporters who are forced to admit most of what is coming out of Kyiv are lies.
Ukrainian propaganda has included exaggerations and untruths, Alperovitch said, noting that many of its claims were “doubtful or proven to be false.”- Forbes
These photos show president Zelensky at Bucha on camera and between takes with the town’s mayor. Decide for yourself which image is which.
A US president went through an impeachment hearing for a phone call with Zelensky because Ukraine’s president was nervous. With over 300 citizens murdered, off camera, both he and the mayor look pretty composed and enjoying the day.
The participants at the early March Duma led conference in Moscow while discussing the fallout of Russia’s military intervention in Donbass were much more somber and sober outlining Russia’s role in Ukraine and bluntly stating, there were no thoughts of occupying Ukraine coming from the Kremlin.
Russia has been leaving Ukrainian flags up in the towns and cities its military has been in. This is clearly done to signify their presence is temporary.
After all the aid money Ukraine took from the EU and US, will they look into these allegations for the Ukrainian people?
Europeans and Americans are bearing the brunt of US sanctions on Russia through gas, oil, commodities, and food security. And leaders of these countries are pushing the economic pain their citizens are feeling even further to support Volodymyr Zelensky’s PR machine.
But, will this extend to the physical security of their own nations? By supporting groups like Azov and pushing their account of events into the news cycle blindly, we are cutting our collective noses to spite our faces.
Groups like Azov aren’t coming to Europe or America, They’re already there. Support now, especially in unqualified media reports because of what you hear from Zelensky’s PR team without evidence means the group’s numbers and the internal strife and violence will grow exponentially in countries across the world.
After the first conference, I was invited to a second conference at Moscow State University without many details other than it concerned Donbass and Ukraine. I was in Moscow and had a few days to fill so I agreed.
The conference was set up by Professor Alexander Dugin. I was familiar with A. Dugin mostly through Professor Mark Sedgwick’s interviews and an overview of his book “Against the Modern World.” Other than that, over the years I’ve read a few other articles about him, and a few articles by Professor Dugin.
As an American conservative, politically, it’s an oil and water mix. I went into the conference which turned out to be an oration covering the events and a Q&A afterward by A. Dugin, himself.
I was expecting a Traditionalist fire and brimstone speech when he took the floor and was disappointed. Dugin, a philosopher, did begin with Russian Slavic esoterica. But, what he described is important to understanding Eurasian politics and people in a distilled form.
In his view of Ukrainians and Russians, it isn’t Russian cultural dominance, it’s understanding Slavic people all came from the same wellspring.
This is a common view across Ukraine and Russia. Even in war, it is a guiding principle behind what’s going on at the Kremlin. Russians would no more accept their government willfully causing mass casualties to Ukrainians than they would accept it for themselves because, according to their worldview, it is themselves.
Coming from America where we have a national political unity (USA) but come from all parts of the world, it’s a difficult concept. Americans come together when there is a problem and rally or a celebration and rally. But, as recent events prove, we can divide into political and cultural lines to the point of not recognizing each other as Americans.
But, for someone born in France, from a French family, there is another depth of unity added. At the end of the day they are French as well as citizens of France. For the Slavs, it’s an underlying bond across nations and nationalities. This unity extends across Europe and Asia to the bounds of the old Russian Empire.
Dugin went on to say he was surprised that after decades of working toward a multi-polar world where the US, Russia, and China would be recognized spheres of influence, it was American president Joe Biden that delivered this into reality. Russia and China have no other choice going forward.
Russia is now excluded from the globalist networks. She has no choice anymore: either build her own world or disappear. Russia has set a path to building its world, its civilization. And now the first step has been done. But sovereign in the face of globalism can only be a large space, a continent-state, a civilization-state. No country can withstand long a complete disconnect.
And again: “What does it mean for Russia to break up with the West? It is the salvation. The modern West, where Rothschild, Soros, Schwab, Bill Gates and Zuckerberg triumph, is the most disgusting thing in the history of the world. It is no longer the West of Greek-Romanian Mediterranean culture, nor the Christian Middle Ages, nor the violent and contradictory 20th century. It’s a cemetery of toxic waste of civilization, it’s anti-civilization. And the sooner and more completely Russia is getting rid of it, the sooner it returns to its roots.– Alexander Dugin
After this, he got into the practical analysis of how he saw Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
He opened with praising Putin’s tactical acumen, understanding all the practical aspects of the Ukraine operation, and working to spare as many lives as possible. At the same time, crippling Ukraine’s threat to Donbass and Russia, while the Russian army is chasing down the nationalist groups in the Ukrainian military responsible for terrorist acts in Donbass and Russia.
Dugin then berated Putin’s strategic vision of going to war to a degree because the costs to Russia and Ukraine in lives would be higher this way.
What I wasn’t expecting was his assessment that Ukrainian people would need massive amounts of aid and the cost didn’t matter. It was something that Russia needed to do.
At the end of the day politically my American conservatism and A. Dugin’s politics are still like oil and water. But politics don’t build bridges, or skyscrapers, or cure cancer. At the rubber meets the road level Dugin’s assessments were genuine on Ukraine.
He was very pragmatic about how the sanctions were shaping Russia’s view of the future and a lot’s happened between that conference and now as I sit writing.
Europe and America are paying too high a price to not look at events with a critical eye forgetting the politics and seeking out facts justifying spending national treasure in Ukraine.
Zelensky is taking this to the point where through Information Operations, his team is taking the western world who “Allied” against the 3rd Reich to deny and refute sacrifices of our grandparent’s generation and the symbols of victory from World War II.
Volodymyr Zelensky has gone so far as to offer to change his name to the Polish form, losing the V and the Z in his name.
His IO team is pushing for the illegalization of the “V” and “Z” symbols Russia is using as identification of their equipment. So, what does the “Z” represent? News media is calling it a Nazi symbol.
“Z” represents the zero-hour or zero-minute during WWII all 3rd Reich forces including the OUN armies were defeated in the European battle space. There were no more Nazis in Europe fighting Allied forces. It was the exact moment where you could hear a drop of water splash instead of a shell exploding or a rifle firing.
“V” represents Victory Day which our grandparents and parents celebrated for decades in the west. How did we forget this?
In 2014, just before the first battles were fought in Donbass, Right Sector leader and heir to the Bandera OUNb legacy in Ukraine Dimitro Yarosh proclaimed-
“Once again the glorious Bandera armies will cross the Dnieper and destroy the Soviet scum.” This was in March 2014, and his reference was to fellow Ukrainian citizens in Donbass.
For Ukrainian nationalists, the past 8 years and forcing Russian intervention has been about reliving the war their grandparents fought and winning this time to right the wrong of 3rd Reich defeat. In the beginning, the nationalists timed every attack on every Ukrainian city including Mariupol on the day “Z” was declared for that particular city or literally the day the city was freed from Nazi occupation in WWII.
Ukraine’s nationalists are open about all this. Why aren’t you hearing them?
How 4chan Radicalizes Youth and Grooms Them Towards Terrorism
The image board was started in 2003 to discuss anime and various other topics but festered into a safe space for hateful rhetoric soon after. In the aftermath of yet another racially motivated mass shooting by a frequent user, its dangers have finally reached the mainstream.
4chan is an extremely unique website. It has been running since 2003, and over the course of almost 20 years, has influenced many internet memes and phenomena. However, in the wake of the European Migrant Crisis in 2015 and the 2016 Presidential Election, it became associated with white supremacy, especially on its /pol/ board. This hateful rhetoric festered, worsening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and George Floyd protests. 4chan was sprung into the spotlight once again on May 14th, 2022, when a white supremacists livestreamed his massacre of a supermarket.
This attack, fresh in American’s minds, led many to question why 4chan is still allowed to exist. This comes after 4chan’s rhetoric inspired a 2015 mass shooting in Oregon and its users aided in the organization in the Unite The Right Rally and the January 6th Riots. Clearly 4chan is a hotbed for far-right terrorism. But why is this image board the way it is? The answer lies in its lax moderation of content.
Upon looking at 4chan, you will find it is mostly made up of pornography. However, if you go on the site’s /pol/ board, it does not take long to find the kind of rhetoric that radicalized the Buffalo shooter. One particular post I found featured a racist joke at the expense of Black people. Another was praising fighters in the Ukrainian Azov battalion while joking about killing trans people. Yet another post complained about an “influx of tourists” due to the Buffalo shooter, who they insulted with an anti-gay slur. These memes and jokes seem to appeal to a younger, perhaps teenaged audience. It is clear that they are still trying to recruit youth into their ranks even after the tragedy in Buffalo.
The content is, to say the least, vile. The fact that this stuff is permitted and encouraged by not just the userbase (which numbers in the millions) but also many moderators tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong with 4chan. In fact, copies of the livestreamed Buffalo massacre were spread widely on 4chan to the amusement of its userbase.
Many of the users on 4chan are social rejects who feel as if they have nothing to lose. They feel unaccepted and alienated from society, so they turn to 4chan. Many harmful ideologies, such as White supremacy and incel ideologies, seem extremely validating for these dejected youth. Young, socially alienated men, who make up the majority of 4chan’s userbase, are also among the most vulnerable demographics for radicalization.
What can we do to prevent further radicalization of youth and deradicalize those already affected by harmful rhetoric? First of all, we need to either heavily regulate 4chan or have it shut down. There is no space on the internet for this kind of hatred or incitement to commit horrific acts like what happened in Buffalo. For those already radicalized, we need to perform a campaign of deradicalization among those affected by this rhetoric. But how can this be done?
4chan prides itself on anonymity, so it is difficult to figure out who uses it. Thus, education on radicalization and identification of propaganda is vital. This education should focus on adolescents mostly due to their predisposition towards radicalization when exposed to hateful rhetoric. While White supremacy must be emphasized, other forms of radicalization should be mentioned as well such as Jihadism and other forms of ethnic supremacy. Finally, tolerance must be fostered among all people, not just those at risk of becoming groomed into terrorism.
The age of 4chan has spawned many humorous memes, but it has since become a hotbed for hatred and terrorism. Since memes are able to convey dangerous ideas, websites like Reddit and Facebook need to be heavily regulated to prevent the dissemination of dangerous misinformation. It is unlikely that 4chan will ever moderate itself, as lack of strict moderation is its defining feature. Thus, it has overstayed its welcome and no longer has a place in today’s information-driven society.
New ISIS Strategy and the Resurgence of Islamic State Khorasan
Unlike Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the second late leader of ISIS, who was derided as a “secluded paper caliph” and “an unknown nobody” for his relative anonymity and non-publicity, the new caliph of the Islamic State, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, has apparently launched a new strategy to strengthen linkages to regional wilayahs (provinces) and boost the group’s global presence.
Indeed, during his short time leading the group (31 October 2019 – 3 February 2022), Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi never publicly addressed his followers, which negatively affected the coordination of the activities of Islamic State-Central (ISC) and its regional branch of the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP). Although his killing during a US counterterrorism raid in northwest Syria in early February was a major blow to the global jihadi organization, the change in leadership nevertheless provided it with new opportunities to update its command-and-control, recruitment and propaganda campaign.
Predictably, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the new ISIS overall leader, sees his historical role not only in ensuring the Caliphate’s continuity and avoiding its potential fragmentation but also in establishing a more direct and consistent command line between its core in Iraq and Sham and its Central and South Asian affiliates.
The new strategy of the Islamic Caliphate not only gave a new impetus to its Khorasan offshoot waging a holy jihad in post-American Afghanistan against the Taliban but also opened a new front line against the post-Soviet Central Asian regimes. Indeed, the analysis of ISKP activities revealed that the proclamation of Abu al-Hassan al-Quraishi as the new Caliph and the launch of a new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” increased the combat capability of IS Uzbek and Tajik fighters, as well as strengthened the coordination of local language and IS-Central propaganda machines.
Notoriously, on April 17, ISIS launched the new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, and his official spokesperson, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who were killed in a US raid in February in the northwest Syrian town of Atmeh. In his recent audio address, Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu-Omar al-Muhajir called on the Caliphate warriors to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leaders by “painfully striking” the enemies of “al-mujahideen” and saying that if they kill, they should “kill by many.” This call was made to the group’s followers worldwide and asked them to remain patient, but also be ready when the “war” begins. Al-Muhajir called to expand the campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to the territory of US, Europe and Central Asia, urging Muslims living there to follow the lead of past “lone wolves” who conducted operations that “filled with horror.” He asked them to repeat “lone wolf” operations by stabbing, attacking, and ramming, and drawing inspiration from recent attacks in Israel.
ISKP Threat to Central Asia
Among the first to support the Islamic State’s new ‘global offensive’ campaign were ISKP Uzbek and Tajik jihadists challenging the new Taliban government and dreaming of overthrowing the ‘Taghut (idolaters) regimes’ in Central Asia. Thus, inspired by the new Caliph’s new strategy, for the first time in the history of the Islamic State, they managed to conduct a transnational jihadi operation from Afghanistan to the territory of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Initially, on April 18, 2022, the ISKP fired ten rocket salvos into the territory of Uzbekistan, which was successfully exploited by the Uzbek-speaking regional jihadi media and IS-Central’s propaganda resources as evidence of the opening of a “second front” in the Central Asian direction. Expert assessments clearly observed the good coordination between the IS-Central’s media and ISKP’s local jihadi mouthpieces, both in terms of Islamic ideological content and hierarchical sequences.
The Islamic State-Central’s Amaq News Agency reported that “Mujahedeen of the Caliphate have fired 10 Katyusha rockets at a murtad (apostasy) Uzbekistan’s military base in the border town of Termez.” The ISIS central media wing also released a photo and video of the projectiles to back its claims. Another IS-Central’s weekly al-Naba newsletter also widely covered the topic of rocket attacks by detailing how the projectiles were fired from Afghan territory on the Central Asian nation.
Following IS-Central official news agencies reports, IS-Khurasan Willayah’s local media outlets, such as Al-Azaim Foundation and Khurasan Radio, the Uzbek-language Xuroson Ovozi (Voice of Khurasan), Tavhid Habar (Tawhid News), Tajik-language Telegram channels Mujahideen of the Caliphate and The Army of the Victorious Nation published a series of audio, video and text messages in Uzbek and Tajik detailing the goals, causes, and consequences of the rocket attack. In particular, Al-Azaim Foundation glorified the rocket attack as “the heroism of the brave lions of Allah Almighty punishing the corrupt army of the murtad Uzbek government.”
The ISKP media outlets were extremely outraged by the Uzbek government’s denial of the rocket attack, claiming that nothing had landed on their territory. In response, pro-ISKP Uzbek, Tajik and Russian Language Telegram channels re-posted IS-Central’s statement, photos, videos of the attacker and a map marked with the possible rocket impact location in Termez.
Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi experts’ attention was drawn to a 24-minute audio address of Khuroson Mujahid, the leader of ISKP Uzbek group, whose speech style and ideological views strongly resembled the late ISIS chief strategist Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. His speech revealed that the ideological vision of ISKP Central Asian jihadists, staunch followers of Takfiri Salafism, is in line with the Islamic State’s global agenda. He considers democracy to be the religion of “murtad states” of Central Asia, the Taliban government and Pakistan. He believes that due to committing shirk (idolatry), deviating Allah and doubting Tawheed (God’s Oneness), the leaders of taghut countries should be killed.
Considering Khuroson’s oratorical skills, Takfiri persuasion and ideological savvy, it is quite possible that the ISKP recruitment and incitement campaign will intensify in Central Asia in the near future. Obviously, the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP in the military, media and ideological directions reached a new level in the more permissive operating environment of post-American Afghanistan.
On May 7, the ISKP carried out a second rocket attack, this time into Tajikistan. According to the Central Media Office (Diwan al-I’lam al-Markazi) of ISIS, “Caliphate’s fighters fired seven rockets from the Khawaja Ghar district of Afghanistan’s Takhar Province towards the Tajik military base near the city of Kulob.” The rocket attacks on the territories of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for three weeks nevertheless mark a clear escalation by ISKP Central Asian foreign fighters from just hostile anti-five post-Soviet “murtad governments” rhetoric to direct militant action.
Notably, the methods of media coverage of both attacks and the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP’s local media resources were clearly similar. The algorithm of their actions was in line with the new ISIS strategy. Thus, IS-Central posted a brief information about the rocket attacks with video and photos, then the Tajik, Uzbek and Pashto-language local media resources of ISKP glorified the “warriors of Allah”. The Uzbek-language pro-Islamic State Telegram channels Islomiy Maruza Davat Guruh, Khuroson Ovozi, Tawheed news, the Tajik-language Telegram channel of Ulamoi Rabboni (إنَّ اللّٰهَ مَعَنَا) actively propagated ISKR rocket attacks, undermining the image and credibility of the military potential of Tajikistan and the Taliban.
These Central Asian pro-IS media resources, supported by IS-Central propaganda bodies and comprised of a constellation of official branch outlets, regional pro-ISKP groups, and grassroots supporters have become a prominent voice aggressively impugning the Taliban’s reputation in the global jihadi world. Such method makes it possible to preserve the hierarchical structure and maintain a uniform media strategy of the global jihadi group. This reflects that after the fall of the Caliphate and a series of dramatic losses of its leaders, ISIS has learned a bitter lesson and is now moving from centralizing power to strengthening its wilayahs.
Apparently, the ISKP seeks to broaden its appeal in Central Asia both through increasing cross-border attacks against Afghanistan’s neighbors and ramping up the production, translation, and dissemination of propaganda directed at Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz communities in the region. These rocket attacks and ISKP’s propaganda campaigns targeting Central Asians for recruitment are any indicators, the group has become a serious jihadi power challenging not only the Taliban government, but also the post-Soviet authoritarian regimes. Through its Uzbek, Tajik and Pashto-language Telegram channels, the ISKP is conducted an unprecedented activity to recruit Central Asian jihadi groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as new radical Islamists from the Fergana Valley.
Future of ISKP Central Asian Jihadists
Obviously, the ISKP is exploiting the US military withdrawal from the region and the Afghan Taliban’s deviation from the hardline jihadi concept by successfully portraying their government as a Pashtun ethno-nationalist organization rather than a bona fide Islamic movement.
In conclusion, it is to be expected that the ISKP will actively capitalize external operations to undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban government, which assured the US and Central Asian neighbors not to allow Afghan soil to be used to attack Afghanistan’s neighbors. Strengthening cross-border rocket attacks has already raised the morale of ISKP fighters and consolidated its support base.
Thus, the new Islamic State’s strategy to strengthen its offshoots in its provinces is quite capable to reestablish its positioning in the broader global jihadi movement, which we see in the example of IS-Khorasan Province.
How Memes Can Spread Dangerous Ideas
Internet memes are an excellent way to send powerful messages to millions of people. But what happens when they are used for malicious purposes?
Memes have been a means of transmitting messages for centuries, proliferating immensely in recent decades due to their mass proliferation through the internet and their ability to broadcast messages to a massive audience. They have quite a bit of cultural significance and can be based on almost anything, provided they achieve viral status. However, memes have been subject to abuse by malicious groups and actors.
From the Blue Whale Challenge, an internet challenge that resulted in multiple suicides worldwide, to terrorist organizations like ISIS, which use internet memes to recruit young people, memes can be used for malicious purposes. Even toxic subcultures like MGTOW serve as a pipeline towards the incel movement. Indeed, such male supremacist organizations are not strangers to using memes and viral media to propagate their ideas and recruit young men and boys to their cause. In fact, one influencer, who goes by Sandman MGTOW, often posts such misogynistic memes and videos on his Twitter and YouTube channel.
These kinds of memes are easily identifiable by their bias towards a specific issue and their often-political message. One great example of a meme that has been subject to abuse by malicious actors is Pepe the frog. Based on a character by Matt Furie, this meme was abused by the alt right, being depicted as controversial figures such as Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. The meme was so badly abused by these far-right actors that it was listed as a hate symbol by the ADL.
Memes have also influenced major world events like the 2016 election in the United States and the Arab Spring revolutions in the early 2010’s, which garnered immense media attention through the use of internet memes and viral media. This shows that memes can have the power to influence elections (albeit slightly) and topple oppressive regimes. Being a powerful tool for spreading information, there is also the use of memes for spreading misinformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic mediated a sizeable but modest anti-vaccine movement in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. These anti-vaxx groups used social media like Facebook and Reddit to spread memes full of misinformation and pseudo-science It can also be argued that memes were effective tools in spreading misinformation around the elections of 2016 and 2020 in the United States. Memes, while powerful, can be used by malicious actors such as far-right groups and anti-vaxx groups to peddle false information. This has contributed to the US having a COVID death toll of over one million, higher than most other countries worldwide.
The world has progressed quite a bit in the information age. People are able to communicate ideas with millions of people worldwide in seconds. The proliferation if information has never been more efficient in history. That is why the threats that arise from the mass proliferation of memes and viral media are so dire. As was seen during the 2016 and 2020 US elections, COVID, and Arab Spring, memes can be spread to convey messages that can change nations, affect millions (perhaps even billions) of people, and topple dictators. It has become possible for people to change the course of history with a single tweet or a single meme on Reddit or Instagram going viral.
What can we do to stem the massive proliferation of memes that serve to recruit people into dangerous organizations and fill their minds with misinformation? The answer lies in how we confront our biases and how we detect misinformation. People need to be informed about how they can detect bias and propaganda, in addition to using independent fact-checking services. By identifying propaganda from malicious actors and misinformation from online groups, we can stop the spread of dangerous memes before they proliferate.
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