How Online Trolls Pushing for Regime Change in Syria Helped Popularize Trump’s Attack on the ‘Alt-Left’

A motley crew of toxic interventionists were pioneers in attacking the traditional anti-war left with the term.

Photo Credit: Oriok / Shuttershock

President Donald Trump has attempted to establish a false equivalence between neo-Nazis and the anti-fascist, anti-racist leftists who were most recently seen resisting white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

To do so, Trump has branded the anti-fascists as the “alt-left,” repurposing a term that was first popularized not by Republicans or extreme right-wingers, but rather by liberals who loathe the left.

Liberal websites have pointed the finger at prominent centrist Democrats for mainstreaming the “alt-left” smear to blame leftists for helping to elect President Donald Trump. But back in July and August 2016, well before influential neoliberals like Neera Tanden and Eric Garland were leveling the term against Bernie Sanders supporters, “alt-left” was the slur du jour of a collection of online trolls that had banded together to advance regime change in Syria.

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Members of this motley crew of interventionists used the term in systematic fashion to demonize the traditional anti-war left and anyone with leftist credentials who challenged U.S. State Department dogma on countries targeted for destabilization and overthrow, particularly Syria.

Louis Allday, a PhD researcher at SOAS London, has detailed how interventionists trolls attempted to ruthlessly enforce the narrative on the Syrian war through online abuse and McCarthyite tactics of denigration. One of the key smears they rolled out in the summer of 2016, as the Syrian war reached its climax, has been weaponized by Trump to delegitimize leftists.

In a stormy press conference August 16, Trump blamed what he called the "alt-left” for provoking the violence that rocked Charlottesville during the “Unite The Right” right-wing march on the city on August 12. The rally ended with a white supremacist terror attack in which a neo-Nazi plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racist activists, killing demonstrator Heather Heyer and injuring 19 more.

To be sure, there is no “alt-left”; it does not exist and no one on the left has laid claim to it. “Alt-right” is a brand conceived by white nationalist activist Richard Spencer to market racial supremacism in the world of digital media.

“Alt-left,” on the other hand, is an insult that was popularized in mid-2016 partly by a coterie of pro-war— or rather anti-anti-war — figures who have fanatically clamored for regime change in Syria, Libya, Venezuela and beyond. All along, they have attempted to flaunt their own putative left-wing creds.

These anti-anti-imperialist trolls have for years lobbied for regime change in Syria, just as they did with Libya before that, and have maligned socialists, communists and anarchists who oppose U.S. and NATO military intervention as “alt-left” in a deceitful attempt to conflate them with their mortal enemy on the alt-right. When members of this angry band of trolls can’t confront their targets directly, they have smeared them through a series of anonymous blogs and social media accounts, often with false allegations and personal attacks.

The following is an introduction to the collection of toxic Syria regime change trolls who helped popularize the term “alt-left.”

Michael Weiss: An influential neoconservative pundit and CNN analyst and one of the most vociferous Western supporters of the Islamist extremist-dominated Syrian opposition. AlterNet's Max Blumenthal has published a lengthy investigation of Michael Weiss’ long record as a neocon operative, which include hosting an anti-Muslim rally that attracted support from far-right Islamophobia industry leader Pamela Geller.

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Charles Davis: An anti-anti-imperialist who frequently writes blog posts and delivers grainy video rants condemning anti-war leftists, derisively smearing those who opposed U.S.-led regime change in Syria and Libya on behalf of CIA-backed Salafi-jihadist extremists as so-called "tankies." In 2011, Davis penned a glowing piece "rooting" for right-wing libertarian leader Ron Paul, after favorably interviewing Paul in 2007. The hard-right libertarian website LewRockwell.com republished Davis' blog posts with his permission. Until August, Davis was an editor at ATTN:, an online media startup that boasts arch-racist and Islamophobic HBO host Bill Maher as one of its top investors. Davis no longer works for ATTN, and the circumstances surrounding the end of his position there are not clear. Davis is also a former employee of teleSUR, a news service partially funded by the Venezuelan government. The circumstances surrounding the end of his position there are not clear either. Today Davis is a harsh critic of Venezuela's elected leftist government.


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Murtaza Hussain: A reporter at The Intercept who has long attacked anti-war journalists and consistently denied and downplayed U.S.-backed Gulf regimes’ support for extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Hussain lobbed softball interviews at the spokesman of Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate and wrote a puff piece on Bilal Abdul Kareem, a top al-Qaeda propagandist in Syria whose services were similarly employed by CNN. Hussain used the term “alt-left” multiple times to disparage the anti-imperialist left before deleting all 40,000 of his tweets in December — a bizarre move for an employee of a publication supposedly dedicated to transparency.

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Danny Gold:A former VICE reporter who has constantly attacked anti-war leftists. In Syria in 2013, Gold was embedded with the CIA-backed Free Syrian Army.

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Oz Katerji: An obsessively pro-war troll who openly supports regime change in Syria, as he did in Libya before that. Katerji has worked for Turkish state media. His attacks on the “alt-left” represent some of the earliest to systematically appear in social media.

 

 

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Muhammad Idrees Ahmad:A fanatical regime change troll who has viciously maligned and lied about anti-war journalists, Idrees Ahmad defended the Trump administration’s bombing of Syria’s Shayrat airbase in April. Before that, Idrees Ahmad was one of the leading cheerleaders for NATO-led regime change in Libya, which destroyed the oil-rich North African country and plunged it into chaos. A contributing editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ahmad phoned AlterNet senior editor Max Blumenthal to threaten him about the planned publication of a two-part exposé of the Syrian rebel-tied White Helmets organization.

 

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Shawn Carrié: A pro-opposition American journalist who, like Oz Katerji, has worked for Turkish state media. He began consistently using the smear in August 2016.

 

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Pham Binh:A “left-wing” pro-war troll who has impersonated multiple people, including Syrian opposition figure George Sabra and, more recently under the name @_alhamra, an alleged female Palestinian Syrian sniper who supposedly uses the name Guevara.

 

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Cody Roche: An avowed Trotskyite pro-Syrian rebel blogger who has contributed to the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy-funded website Bellingcat.

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Editor's note: This article was corrected to note Charles Davis no longer works at ATTN:, and that, while he expressed support for right-wing libertarian leader Ron Paul and let right-wing libertarian website Lew Rockwell republish his blog posts, Davis did not himself identify as a right-wing libertarian.

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Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He was a reporter for AlterNet's Grayzone Project. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton, and his personal website is BenNorton.com.