Episode 44: RussiaGate, Year 3 (Part II) — Using the Nonstop Specter of Russia to Tarnish Black Activists
Citations Needed | July 18, 2018 | Transcript
Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Thank you everyone for joining us this week. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and support the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your help is amazing, has been amazing. It has been a year that we’ve been doing it. I’m impressed by us, Adam.
Adam: I think we’re pretty great. I agree. I’m on a new self help program about self affirmation, no.
Nima: Yes, exactly. I’m good enough, smart enough and doggone it people listen to our podcast. So that’s good.
Adam: So, um, we talked about in the last episode, this is the second part of a two-parter. If you haven’t listened to the prior episode, I suggest that you should, but you don’t necessarily have to.
Nima: But you should, definitely should.
Adam: We laid the groundwork for what we viewed as being the net effect of Russiagate on the left and left-wing media. And some of the dangerous side effects, if you will, either intended or otherwise of the broader panic or disproportionate concern over Russian interference. But one thing that we found most interesting, we thought it really deserved its own episode, was the way in which Russiagate is used to smear black activists in concerns of the African American community on the left.
Nima: Yeah. So to discuss this later in the show, we’ll be joined by Anoa Changa, an attorney writer and host of the podcast, The Way With Anoa.
Anoa Changa: You know, you listen to members of Congress claiming that it was the issues, right, themselves that were divisive, like they kept calling the issue divisive across the board as if, you know, activists and organizers, whether it’s in the Movement for Black Lives, Roundtable, folks from Standing Rock, you know, across the board people raising awareness about other matters of equity and justice were quote unquote “divisive” on the same level as those on the right. And that was a real concern for me because when we start pigeonholing issues and topics and the people connected those issues and topics, that’s how the mainstream, the status quo is able to control narratives and actually silence opposition across the board.
Nima: As we’ve been discussing in these episodes about Russiagate, the effect of linking certain individuals, certain organizations, certain movements with a foreign entity, with a assumed automatically recognized non-American, anti-American, oftentimes, entity, enemy and you know Russia serves this so perfectly and has now for effectively a century ever since the Russian Revolution. You can point your finger at Russia or the Soviet Union obviously, and it is this automatic bad guy as opposed to the automatic American good guy. And so once you link movements for justice, movements for peace, movements for denuclearization, movements against extraction of natural resources, once you link that with this spooky, scary other, this foreign entity other, it immediately does the work of marginalizing and delegitimizing those movements, those voices for justice as simply being useful idiots, propaganda tools or dupes of foreign powers having nothing to do with real issues that need to be addressed in our own society.
Adam: There was one effort to, and this is, this is a very common thing, I think in sort of establishment liberal circles to talk about how Russia, quote unquote “sows divisions.” Everything “sows divisions” and is divisive and divides us. This is the kind of agitprop we hear time and time again about how Russia works. They kind of divide us. Now, people may not intend it this way, but the net effect of that is that anything that becomes quote unquote “divisive” is seen as being per se Russian propaganda and then by being divisive, you’re therefore helping Russian propaganda. Again, people are very clever to kind of parse their words and not necessarily say that, but over time that’s pretty much the net effect of it. And in the show we deal with the way things are not the way people intend them to be and so there was one mode of this which is kind of a, I guess you could say good intended argument that actually racism is a problem because it helps foreign propaganda and that we need to stop being racist because it helps the enemy. Now, of course this reinforces what I would argue our already kind of racist notions of what the enemy is anyway and carries water for American imperialism in a way that is very short sighted I think, and again, while good intentioned then lead you down to some very dangerous paths.
Nima: Yeah. There is a perfect example of this that actually was published by The Washington Post on September 17, 2017. It was a piece headlined, “How American racism aids our adversaries,” and it was written by Theodore R. Johnson, who is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and an adjunct professor at Georgetown and Brennan Center does a lot of really great work. I don’t actually dispute the good intentions. I know I’m using that ‘good intentions of the author’ in this case, but the framing of this entire piece really speaks to just how deeply infused this notion of passing the buck always off of our own society and onto other societies as being able to then use our own faults against us and that’s the reason why our faults are bad. Not that our faults are actually inherently bad. And so this is a prime example of that. So again, the title of the piece is “How American racism aids our adversaries” and it basically argues that with the rise of Trump and also other recent events in the United States, stuff like the unabashed white supremacist marches, fights over the removal of confederate statues and memorials and quite literally the president being a white nationalist that these things quote, “have splayed the nation’s festering racial divide before the world.” End quote. So Johnson goes on to kind of lay this out. And it’s a fascinating piece in terms of the history that it lays out. In terms of how race has been used in kind of foreign policy. But the animating concept of the piece is not that US racism needs to end because it needs to end. It’s that it is then negative for our PR. There’s like this negative PR effect. So, uh, in the piece, for example, this is written:
“Adversaries such as Iran and Venezuela have seized on this opportunity to call out American hypocrisy on racism and equality. Iran’s supreme leader, who has previously criticized police brutality in black American communities, took to Twitter to admonish the United States for ‘meddl[ing] in nations’ affairs’ instead of managing its own problem with racism. And Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro claimed that the White House was the power behind the marching ‘white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and fascists.’”
Adam: So the piece really conflates like all forms of trolling of American racism as being morally equal when they’re really not. So it does this thing where it says, ‘Oh, the Nazis brought up American racism is propaganda against African Americans.’ Now, clearly the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese don’t really care about racism. And there’s a, there’s a kind of glib line people say about the Soviet Union doing the same thing and that’s kind of true to an extent, but also the Soviet Union and other, you know, Marxist, Leninist states did have an ideological vested interest in advancing what they viewed as being the core working base of the US if they were going to promote a communist revolution in the US, which was their sort of goal at the time. Um, and of course communist and Soviet aligned groups like the Alabama Communist Party were essential to creating the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Now, whether or not that was cynical, you know, we can get into the good intentions, bad intentions, but it’s different when Nazis do it.
Nima: (Laughs) Because Nazis calling out racism is clearly like ludicrous propaganda because that is also their animating ethos.
Adam: And there’s, and there’s an argument that today, you know, Russian media calling out racism, given that the character of Russia is, I don’t think anyone would sort of argue is left-wing, is cynical. And I think anyone who’s been on Russia Today, as I as I have, I think in 2015 I went on and you pick up really quick that they just really want you to kind of say bad things about America. Now that’s not bad necessarily, right? Because there’s lots of bad things about this country and it’s important to point those bad things out. But I don’t, I don’t think it’s true and I don’t think anyone would really argue that the kind of uppers at Russia Today, I think they view themselves more in the vein of Fox News than anything else that they would be considered left-wing or having any kind of left-wing ideology. And I think that’s one of the sort of major differences.
Nima: Or that they’re promoting Third World solidarity.
Adam: Yeah, I mean they are to the extent to which it suits their interests, but they have no, I mean there nothing ideologically left -about Russia, modern Russia, right? It’s sort of was created to be a capitalist neoliberal country.
Nima: Right. So then, like, in this piece, when the hand-wringing is done over the United States losing its, quote, “moral authority,” end quote, about being a leader, uh, and champion of democracy and human rights around the world, it’s begging the question, right? It’s like is the U.S. actually champion of democracy and human rights all around the world? Or is that just how we perceive ourselves? I mean, it just assumes that that’s how everyone sees us and therefore the racism part is really inconvenient to our brand. And it also paints all quote unquote “adversaries” of the United States then and now as being all in one vein. So it’s Nazis and Imperial Japan and now Iran and Venezuela. The piece actually says quote, “Iran and Venezuela are pulling from a playbook developed in Nazi Germany.” And the piece continues to say, “At the start of the Cold War, the Soviet Union picked up where the Germans and Japanese left off, focusing its efforts on degrading American international and moral standing. The Soviet press publicized racial terrorism occurring in the United States, which professed to be a champion of freedom and equality, and chastised it for not ensuring justice for black victims.” So you can see how that is then kind of devious propaganda by the Soviets in this long line that stems to Hitler and Goebbels and therefore can be discredited on its own merits and simply seen as being like bad for American interests rather than bad for American humans who are suffering under discrimination.
Adam: There’s no sense of that sometimes there is actual legitimate ideological overlap. I mean, when Nicolás Maduro, who he mentions as one of the American enemies exploiting racism, you know, for years when him and Chavez comes to New York, they did what Fidel Castro did. They stay in Harlem, they do events in Harlem, they talked to leftists and communists in Harlem. When they visit the United Nations, they have a pretty well defined ideological interest in having those kind of partnerships. Now again, I think people who operate in a very specific kind of realpolitik capitalist mode, I think can’t really imagine that people would do things for an ideology other than capitalism or American imperialism. So maybe they’re kind of cynical about that. And of course, you know, when Chavez was offering oil to people who couldn’t afford heating oil in Massachusetts in 2002, yeah, he’s partly trolling Bush but also like, you know, he gives out oil to his own people and, and you know, they have a large social safety net there. So it’s not like he’s being hypocritical and it’s always a balance, right? There’s always a degree of trolling and if you, if you read Douglas Blackmon’s book, Slavery By Another Name, there’s a whole section about how the only reason that the US ever stopped slavery and the Jim Crow South in the early 1940s was because it was so effective as Japanese propaganda. So it is true that like the only real reason that, that one of the major thing that motivates reform around race issues is that it becomes a tremendous propaganda opportunity for other governments. And of course again for the Japanese, it was not, they had no ideological interest in liberating black people, but you know, that wasn’t really necessarily true for some leftist movements. And there are some exceptions to that obviously, but there’s no space to really make that distinction. Everything is seen as either us versus them, the enemy versus the people, that there’s a zero sum, what benefits Russia negatively affects us.
Nima: Because us never actually includes minority communities and communities of color in the United States. It’s never assumed a collective us.
Adam: So we’re going to discuss the hit piece on our guest Anoa Changa today, but there was a really, I think, revealing interview that the local NPR affiliate did in their smear of her. So the headline was, “Atlanta Activist Uses Russian-Backed Media To Spread Message,” and the article is basically smearing our guest for appearing a few times on Sputnik Radio, which is owned by the Russian government. And then they bring on this talking head professor who says something I think very revealing. They bring on this professor Robert Orttung, who’s who incidentally of course works for the council at the National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded to the tune of $187 million by the United States government.
Adam: Which of course is not disclosed because only one government is disclosed, Russia, not the United States. But setting that aside, he says something I think quite revealing. He says, “Those platforms,” as in RT and Sputnik are, quote, “set up for the sole purpose of promoting the Kremlin line… The idea is to create as much chaos as possible because the Russians see it as a zero-sum game, where anything that weakens us is going to strengthen them.” Now, to me the most important thing there is who is us and who is them?
Adam: If I’m an African American activist and I see the police as basically occupying forces, you know, people are gunned down in the streets, no opportunity, no jobs, racist media, racist president. It’s not clear to me who us is in this context. So there’s, there’s always this kind of hoity, toity liberal appeal to unity and not being divided and it’s us versus them, but you know it’s sort of like what Muhammad Ali said when they wanted to send them off to Indochina to kill Vietnamese people. He said, ‘No Vietnamese person ever called me’ the n-word. I don’t know who us and them are from, from their perspective. So there’s this, the whole thing presumes this kind of, and again, NPR just published this uncritically, it presumes that there’s this collective American interest that Russia somehow dividing —
Nima: By actually supporting a certain segment of the population in America.
Adam: Right, and even if their motives are totally cynical, what do they give a shit? I mean it’s not totally clear to me what the criteria is for money that corrupts and money that doesn’t corrupt. Sputnik and RT corrupts. Okay, fine. But you know, as I mentioned at the time, I write for Al Jazeera now and then. Al Jazeera is run by an absolute monarchy that puts people in jail for homosexuality and runs guns to fricking Syria to arm Al-Qaeda, you know, if if you worked for an organization that takes some money from, as NPR does from the government, the US government with, which of course has the largest carceral rates in the world. So I, it’s not clear to me what money influences and what doesn’t and no one in the media is interested in having an actual conversation about coming up with a criteria that’s coherent.
Nima: Because there’s only one bad guy, right? There’s, there’s only one way to look at that kind of influence being negative. And if you look at US government dollars, well then that’s, I mean look, that’s just normal. That’s just baked into normal funding. And, and obviously journalists and commentators on those platforms have no agenda, but if there’s one single ruble present, then clearly this is all like some huge Putin/KGB operation. And so actually with this, we really do like to talk about history on this show and the fact that nothing is actually new that this has all happened before. When you look at what is happening now with Russiagate and especially how it’s tied to smearing black activists, this has a very long history in this country. The exploitation of the Red Scare was used to delegitimize the Civil Rights Movement almost from its inception. The FBI opened a file on Malcolm X in 1950 because of his alleged sympathy to communism. In 1961, Alabama Attorney General MacDonald Gallion told a young white activist at the time, quote, “I want to warn you that it’s the communists who were behind this integration mess.” End quote. Just a couple of years after that, infamous Alabama Governor George Wallace told The New York Times — this is in 1963 — that the president, obviously he meant Kennedy at the time, the president quote, “wants to surrender this state to Martin Luther King and his group of pro-communists who have instituted these demonstrations.” End quote. And you see this in the media in the Sixties, the kind of early and mid-Sixties all the time.
In, in late July, in 1963 at the height of a nonviolent direct action campaign against segregation in Savannah, Georgia, a series of articles were published in the Atlanta Constitution written by that paper’s state news editor, Bill Shipp, and the series of pieces claimed that the Savannah Crusade for voters, which is the, the kind of direct action civil rights campaign, had close Communist connections. And so these pieces came out over the course of a week with headlines like, “Red-Linked Labor Union Gives Free Rent to Crusade.” And here’s another one, July 25, 1963, “Onetime Communist Organizer Heads Rev. King’s Office in N.Y.” Uh, so this clearly guilt by association is prevalent now and it, it was prevalent then. There’s actually a very revealing quote at the end of one of these articles published in the Atlanta Constitution. This one from July 22, 1963, and the article ends this way, it’s kind of telling, quote, “During the questioning of Rev. Young, a youthful member of the crusade interrupted: ‘Anytime that the Negro tries to get his rights as a first-class American citizen somebody tries to say he’s a Communist.’” End quote. And so this is really nothing new.
Adam: Yeah, I mean, look, there was a Communist Party in these places. I mean the Communist Party did train Rosa Parks on direct action techniques, you know, it’s not as if they didn’t exist. The idea is whether or not being quote unquote “linked to” or being informally associated with or being helped out by a foreign power as it were somehow per se delegitimizes a leftist activist? And I think, I think that’s really what we’re getting at here. And, and, and the parallels I think are worth highlighting, although there are meaningful differences, but we don’t need to keep pointing that out, that it’s not as if there wasn’t actual Soviet influence. In fact, there was way, way, way more Soviet influence on the left in the 1960s then there is, you know, RT today. It’s relatively trivial.
Adam: So the idea that somehow, so for something to be McCarthyist or scared, is to say that there is no underlying substance to these, to these concerns is not really true. Again, the question is one of proportionality, one of fairness, one of are you smearing people with a broad brush by doing this kind of six degrees to Kevin Bacon, six degrees to Vladimir Putin, that you see increasingly meant to push back against that, right? To sort of say, ‘Well, maybe let’s time out, let’s not go around so many people,’ is to make yourself also seem guilty that you were somehow, you know, I get, I get this a lot, your quote unquote “downplaying Russia” or you’re apologizing for Putin. Uh, this is something that David Corn trots out all the time and the fact that people don’t see how dangerous that is or they see how dangerous it is, but they think that the threat of Trump is somehow worse. It’s gonna get worse. It’s going to get worse. Not to paraphrase Sir Thomas Moore, but it’s gonna, you know, turn around and come back at you. Right?
Nima: So much of this has to do with discouraging solidarity across communities and movements that are effectively focused on the same thing, but maybe in different sectors, maybe have different theories of change, different ideas of why things are bad and how to fix them, but it’s really a way to destroy solidarity that was such a huge motivating factor in say, J. Edgar Hoover in the mid-Sixties associating communists with the Civil Rights Movement to make it unpalatable for sympathetic white Americans to get on board with the civil rights struggle because it may be associated with communism which was seen across the political divide, Democrats and Republicans, as being this kind of red menace, this evil communist entity in which we were, you know, locked in this Cold War and so discouraging solidarity with blacks in the South or with the Civil Rights Movement in general is such a large part of this. In April 1964 in The New York Times, there was an article headlined, “Hoover Says Reds Exploit Negroes; FBI Chief Asserts Party [Communist Party] Infiltrates Rights Drive.” So these articles were published time and time again. Two of the most notorious red baiting journalists were The Washington Post columnist Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, who wrote a series of articles smearing SNCC at the time with really unsubstantiated allegations of Communist infiltration.
Adam: Yeah. For those who don’t know, SNCC is the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a 1960s civil rights activist group.
Nima: Right. So it was initially led by John Lewis and then eventually Stokely Carmichael led it and it presaged the Black Panther Movement. And so this is like a deeply entrenched black civil rights organization being smeared deliberately by the mainstream press, by politicians, by the government, but then having these come out in the press. And so we actually get in 1965, Martin Luther King is on NBC, is on Meet The Press and is directly challenged to disavow, same old shit, “disavow” communism and communist infiltration into the movement.
Lawrence Spivak: Dr. King, the columnists Evans and Novak recently charged that the moderate Negro leaders, including you, have feared to point out the degree of communist infiltration in the Civil Rights Movement. Have communists infiltrated the movement?
Martin Luther King Jr.: Uh, I certainly don’t think so Mr. Spivak and I would like to vigorously, uh, deny that. I have no evidence for such an accusation and I might say that in our bylaws set in the SCLC and the NAACP and CORE and SNCC and the Urban League and all of the civil rights organizations, we make it clear that communists cannot be in official positions and cannot be in the membership.
Nima: It’s the same stuff we’re seeing now. A 1968 FBI report on King said that King has been described within the Communist Party of the USA as a quote, “true genuine Marxist Leninist from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.”
Adam: Well, I think that’s a good place to introduce our guest and noted a Russian infiltrator and PsyOp.
Nima: Yes, we are about to be joined by Anoa Changa, attorney, writer, host of the podcast The Way With Anoa. Stay with us.
Nima: We are joined now by Anoa Changa, an attorney who hosts the podcast The Way With Anoa. She also serves as Director of Political Advocacy for Progressive Army. We are so thrilled to have her on the show today. Hi Anoa. Welcome to Citations Needed.
Anoa Changa: Thank you for having me.
Adam: So yes, in our preparation for the episode on how Russiagate is used to smear the left, I said, well we should talk to someone who is actually subject to one of those smears. Someone who’s, by association I was as well since I’ve been on your show, and I think by the transitive property, if you’re on a show with someone who went on a show who once was on a Russian show —
Nima: That’s right. Then you’re both KGB operatives.
Adam: That we’re both KGB agents. So you, you were subject to a hit piece in the local affiliate NPR about you appearing on the Sputnik Radio program a few times.
Anoa Changa: By Any Means Necessary.
Adam: Right and they framed it, they have a picture of you looking like a, you know, it’s kind of a Putin dupe and it says, “Atlanta activist,” and you could read black as Atlanta, “Atlanta Activist Uses Russian-Backed Media To Spread Message.” So. So you’re sort of, again, sixty percent of people only read the headline. So from there you’re framed as this kind of Russian-backed media, uh, despite the fact that of course you’ve never taken money from Russia media outlets. You’ve only appeared on them.
Anoa Changa: I’m not even the only person here in Atlanta that has done Russian media.
Adam: Yeah, I mean everyone at some point went on RT. Even Eric Garland, the biggest paranoids anti-Russia guy in the world went on RT. But yeah, so now it’s become a scarlet letter. A scarlet Я.
Anoa Changa: Right. First I want to thank you Adam, because you were actually one of the first people to actually reach out to me, to make sure I was okay not just to immediately jump on being able to do something, but then you asked me was I okay with you doing a story, which I was really honored actually to have that level of support and help because frantically, before the story came out, I was trying to figure out how would I actually deal with this? Right?
Anoa Changa: It wasn’t until the Monday, I think it came out like the audio version on the radio here came out maybe like the Tuesday and then I think the web version came out on a Wednesday, but it was Monday when I saw what they wanted me to proof. That was when I understood what exactly story I was writing. Like the whole time, my naive self thought that I was actually getting profiled for a piece that was going to go in a very different direction. And you know, when I was first approached, because, you know, of my own activism, my own podcast, my own experience, whether it was my coverage of the local political stuff happening here, um, that runs kind of counter to our mainstream narratives through our main paper Atlanta Journal Constitution, particularly involving the Stacey Abrams, Stacey Evans, you know, campaign for Governor, um, as well as the protest and Netroots and trying to set the record straight. Like I’ve spent at this point now over almost a year trying to correct mainstream narratives about me and my activism stemming from Netroots and some other things. And so when I was approached by this journalist, you know, it was, well, you know, I’ve seen your name come up in different circles, we had a brief conversation after Netroots and I kind of explained like, this is the scenario. He was like, okay. And he decided not to run with a certain aspect of the story, right? And so I was like, okay, from, from our previous brief conversations I felt this was someone I could talk to and trust and my narrative and story would actually be represented accurately. Right?
Anoa Changa: And so we had a very, at length in depth conversation, also, he was interested because I wrote a piece that was in The Nation entitled, you know, “Please Stop Calling Black Activism ‘Divisive.’” And part of my concern, that was like late October, early November of last year, part of my concern was this growing conversation about the Russian narrative and the Russia social media and that was around the time they were having the Facebook social media hearings and oh my god, Russians were, you know, running Black Lives Matter groups and pages and things like that. And it was spinning out of control. Now a lot of us who understand how these social, these digital spaces work know that that stuff was only like a small drop compared to the large, vast universe of digital activism and engagement that has been going on. Right?
Anoa Changa: We understand that lens, but the American public is digesting this information and panicking, right? And instead of, you know, you listen to members of Congress who couldn’t find their way out of a, you know, a Facebook page that isn’t something directly connected to their campaign, let alone how to use Twitter or even probably even doing stuff on Zoom like we’re doing now. You have these people instead of really grappling with what we were being presented, claiming that it was the issues themselves that were divisive. Like, they kept calling the issue divisive across the board as if, you know, activists and organizers, whether it’s in the movement for Black Lives, Roundtable, folks from Standing Rock, you know, across the board people raising awareness about other matters of equity and justice were quote unquote “divisive” on the same level as those on the right. And that was a real concern for me because when we start pigeonholing issues and topics and the people connected to those issues and topics, that’s how the mainstream, the status quo is able to control narratives and actually silence opposition across the board. And so I saw this happen though because of another friend Marcus Ferrell, who had previously worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign, and at the time was working on Stacey Abrams’ campaign here in Georgia. He, like myself, had been on Eugene Puryear’s By Any Means Necessary. And this is again around the same time that, you know, uh, our team was being attacked and Adam and I talked about this previously when he was on my show. This is not about me defending or justifying or rationalizing any of these, you know, foreign sponsored outlets. That’s a whole different conversation we can have. Right? But, um, this was around the time that RT was being targeted by Congress and Sputnik was kind of getting wrapped up in all that without any actual direct influence of anything particular different than what other media outlets do. Right? So this story runs claiming that there was Russian interference in our elections here in Georgia, attacking basically scapegoating Marcus Ferrell.
Anoa Changa: The precursor to this story about me starts last November when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, runs the same exact type of hit piece on a, on a progressive, you know, campaign staffer who came out of the Bernie Sanders camp. Marcus Ferrell was the African American Director for Bernie Sanders. This is back in November. This writer who knows Marcus declined to pursue the story then because he saId it wasn’t newsworthy. Right?
Anoa Changa: Like the chain of events that we’re finding out when this story comes out about me.
Adam: Right. Because it’s not newsworthy.
Anoa Changa: It’s not. The challenge then becomes, what became clear, and there’s a broader context and conversation that Adam brought out points in the piece that he wrote for FAIR that like I hadn’t even considered because I’m at the middle of this and I’m really seeming mad because I trusted this person to do the story they said they were going to do and instead of doing that, they put not only my reputation at issue, they also put like candidates that I interviewed. One candidate who was included in the article wasn’t even asked for comments, she’s just included in the article in detail about her and her race and so this happens and this narrative you would never know from that article or what they ran on the NPR affiliate, you would never know, and I challenged this directly. You know, when they asked me for a fact check and I explained why we were writing was not even accurate and it didn’t discuss any of the huge concerns that I do actually have, including why the actual Russian investigation should play out, but it should play out in a very clear and honest and transparent manner. Not this hysteria frenzy that we’ve seen for the past six months or more and so there’s all this information that’s left and its this bare boom boom piece that I’m just trying to leverage Russian-based media. I go on Eugene’s show because Eugene has some of the best content around. Eugene is very thoughtful and engaging and even Eugene does not make excuses for the platform he’s on. He’s also very clear about the fact that myself nor Eugene, we’re not getting nightly spots on MSNBC.
Anoa Changa: It’s not an excuse it’s just a reality of where we are in media and even when you look at left based media, left based podcasts, there’s still very few of us who are black in these spaces. Like that’s just an honest reality of where we are. So the other show that I’ve done on Sputnik is Brian Becker’s, Loud & Clear and that’s a show where I’ve done things like debated people from The Heritage Foundation about non existing voter fraud. So like the content, I think part of my issue has been like we’re just angry because of who the backer is of the media without any analysis of the actual content or intent or purpose of the media itself and no acknowledgement that these individuals do have their own autonomy in what they’re doing.
Adam: But we haven’t actually talked since the fall out from that.
Anoa Changa: Right.
Adam: I’m curious to ask you what the feedback was and the amount of support you got from people who thought this had gone too far, had gone sort of beyond the normal kind of McCarthyite smear?
Anoa Changa: So I don’t think that it’s a problem to have critique and criticism, but at the same time, the way it’s getting leveraged and what people thought was going to happen to me was that this was going to silence me, that this was going to, you know, make me sit down and step back because I’ve become like a rising political voice here, you know, in the Atlanta metro area here in Georgia. And there are people who are even saying like, ‘You should stay away from Anoa because she’s going down the drain.’ And the outpouring of support was amazing because there was a moment where I was really afraid that everything that I had been trying or thought I was trying to do would actually be jeopardized because of that.
Adam: Well, yeah, it was a really, really sleazy hit piece. It was, I, I actually said of the piece I, and I said this online as well, that I have deliberately never used the term McCarthyite because I think it, it has a very specific meaning. And we talked about this earlier in the show, but I, I used it for your case because it was, it met every criteria of a McCarthyite attack.
Nima: Yeah, it is perfectly applicable.
Adam: Yeah. Guilt by association, it was a politically driven hit piece. Um, yeah. And that’s sort of the whole theme of the show. So for those who are listening you should really read it in its entirety on the local NPR affiliate. It’s, it’s, it’s gross. And the whole thing is totally gratuitous. It has no reason to exist other than to smear, other than to create a chilling effect among black activists.
Anoa Changa: Yeah you know the thing I was just thinking about in terms of like the piece, you know, Eugene is quoted in the piece as well. Eugene even says to him, and Eugene said this to me several times, you know, when we were talking about it, like the least interesting thing about me and the space that I built and been a part of is the fact that I do his show. He’s like, I don’t even understand why there’s a fixation on that because it fits this narrative, right?
Anoa Changa: That somehow Russians are trying to manipulate and takeover the minds of Americans. And they’re using black people to do it and it’s also really condescending and it undermines our sense of autonomy and ability to navigate issues and have conversations. And so when we’re, when we’re thinking about like everything that Eugene and the points we’re trying to make is then refuted by someone who basically, as Adam points out in the piece, basically works for the version of a Cold War era version type, you know, right-wing think tank. So it’s like you’re refuting what you’re claiming is propaganda with more propaganda. A vicious cycle that we have that is set up to kind of silence our voices to kind of silence narratives that aren’t really being flushed out fully in other areas and the best way to stop Russia from, if we believe that there is a Russian influence or benefit in these conversations, is to make it available for other people to gain access to the mediums of communication and engagement. Not just playing this gatekeeper role. Like who actually gets to speak their truth and engage in commentary.
Nima: Well, it’s a really remarkable example of reality imitating commentary, as you pointed out Anoa, you wrote in early November of last year, this article for The Nation that is literally about this.
Anoa Changa: Right.
Nima: Headline, “Please Stop Calling Black Activism ‘Divisive.’” The subhead is “The coverage of Russian hacking runs the risk of marginalizing black voices.” And then you see almost six months later exactly that happening to you. I mean, it’s not like — you didn’t write that in response to what happened.
Anoa Changa: Right.
Nima: You wrote it before that happened to you in response to it happening to someone else. And then literally this reporter from WABE, in Atlanta, Johnny Kauffman, subjects you to this ludicrous hit piece, this ludicrous attack. And of course the idea that, you know, this is being published by NPR. So, and what does NPR stand for? National Public Radio. So again, who is the government behind that? Like if you’re going to start pointing fingers at government funded media, it is remarkably hypocritical. Like the double standard is almost too stark for it to be real about how this wound up happening to you. And so my question to you is, do you feel still now marginalized? Are there still outlets that you feel like you need to spend time defending as opposed to actually dealing with real issues that you’re trying to bring to the forefront every single day? How does that affect your work?
Anoa Changa: Well, I think if anything, the piece and the outrage that people experience, like I didn’t realize how many people actually paid attention to what I was doing or the space and stuff I craft, um, until this happened, right? And I don’t think they understood because he makes some random comment about the amount of Twitter followers I have and I’m like, you people really don’t understand how engaging in digital spaces in digital commentary works. Right?
Anoa Changa: And like, even during our conversation, and I try to explain to him why this didn’t matter, he asked me was I aware that Russian bots retweeted me? And I was like, what are you talking about? But you know, like NBC had released that chart where you can check to see if your, that database, you can check to see if your handle had been retweeted by Russian bots. And then I saw, I checked and he was like, ‘Yeah, your Twitter handle was retweeted three times.’
Nima: Three whole times!
Anoa Changa: Mind you at this time, over 100,000 tweets were retweeted. Really?
Nima: Turning the tide.
Adam: Joy Ann Reid was retweeted hundreds of times by Russia, by these alleged Russian bots.
Anoa Changa: Right. And I said that to him because that’s the only reason why I didn’t pay this any attention because it was stupid to me. But then I did remember seeing someone point that out when that database came online and that’s what I said to him. And that got blown off. But like, I mean, I don’t think people understand what bots do. Like bots promote and highlight stuff. That doesn’t change the content of the information itself necessarily.
Adam: This guy had a narrative, he had an agenda that NPR has quadrupled down on, much like almost all corporate media and make no mistake NPR is corporate media. They have to put everything into this frame because it fits the specific narrative. And you know, what’s interesting is that, as I noted in the piece that weeks prior, NPR had had on, we’re talking about African Americans on Twitter, outrage of the lack of coverage over the Austin mail bomber because his first two victims were African American. And it would seem like a really good opportunity for NPR to, this was NPR’s national network, it would seem like a really good opportunity for NPR to investigate whether or not this was true, whether or not the media was not paying enough attention to the deaths because they were African American. Something that African Americans on Twitter had been, had been saying for about 48 hours at that point. But instead of doing any media analysis or investigating this further, they made a article about Russians promoting this theory on Twitter and use this bullshit dashboard thing that Hamilton 68 came up with, which one of its founders later kind of walked back and said, ‘Stop using this thing.’ Um, so again, you have this thing where instead of investigating the substance of what African American activists are saying, which would offend the kind of white tote bag set that NPR’s listenership is comprised of, they get more of this middlebrow shlock about Russian interference and that’s what they get over and over and over again.
Adam: And again, there’s got to be machine learning at this point that can write these articles. It’s, you know, Russian bots amplify this thing that is, we’re not going to talk about or that’s not important, whether it’s racism or anti-fracking. But um, we’re just going to talk about the fact that three or four guys in some, in some warehouse, somewhere in St. Petersburg may or may not had retweeted them.
Anoa Changa: Right. I think that’s a really good point too, because I mean, this spills over to other issues with contemporary journalism, right? Like people already have, these outlets already have the story in mind they want to write. They’re just looking for the quotes and facts that they can plug in to be able to say its journalism. I mean the question about how does this affect my work? It hasn’t in a negative way, I mean there still are the issues and barriers in terms of platform and access that exist, not just because of this, but just the difficulty it is building in terms of new media on the left, outside of if you don’t have like major funding support, right? Like that’s just a challenge that many of us have. What I will say is that this actually gave a lot of people who already got to know me like in a very particular way, like particularly here in Georgia, I really do believe the thought was that this is going to scare people away from me in general. And the prime example I have of that was that that following weekend I was scheduled to be part of a training with Democracy For America as one of the trainers for the weekend. And that was about, I was supposed to also facilitate a panel discussion with two local elected officials and another woman who had run for office locally and I was really nervous and I asked them, do they still want me to participate because of the way this? Because I mean I understand if my grass roots friends and stuff will support me, but like institutions concerned about how institutional support, you know, folks who do you invite me to speak and things of that nature. Would that still be amenable? Would that still be available to me?
Anoa Changa: And they were like, DFA actually put out via tweet a statement about the article that they were like really appalled to see that and we shouldn’t be silencing voices like mine. And then one of the women on the panel, she texts me, she’s like, ‘I’ve talked to other folks we totally think this is stupid. They do this type of stuff to people all the time and you’re not the only one that’s going on quote unquote “Russian-backed media down here, quite a few people here have actually.’ And just that, you’re running up against people in a particular way. And so the other thing, right, because we do have folks who have gone on these shows. We do have folks who go on Ed Schultz all the time. People don’t even think twice about going on Ed Schultz even though he’s on RT, but if people are still accepted in particular circles and they fit particular narratives, it’s not being used against them. When you’re running in these left circles like we all are and you’re challenging and directly demanding that you know, you’re either your local mainstream outlets nationally or locally were challenging, you know, the party and other apparatus straight up. Then it becomes a tool to be used against you. Like I found out here that at least one surrogate for Stacey Abrams’ opponent had been going on RT since last summer and there was never-
Nima: (Chuckles) Right.
Anoa Changa: She’s been on Ed Schultz’s show several times. There was never a story about it. If there was a thing, it was a nothing burger in that instance, but twice in less than six months, you know, two people kind of affiliated, like I wasn’t affiliated with the campaign, but I wrote heavily about it, you know, were labeled as being, you know, Russians or whatever because of going on this one show. And so that in and of itself has been a problem. But as I look at people, because for people to actually come to terms with the content of what we’re saying, I’m not going to throw stones at people who go on like Tucker Carlson for example, something I personally wouldn’t do. But at the same time we have plenty of people who go on Fox News all the time, despite the nonsense that Fox, even if Fox is quote unquote “American” there’s still so much rhetoric and vitriol that comes out of Fox News that we should be questioning and challenging them more forcefully. We don’t sit here and say people go on Fox News so therefore it doesn’t get said as often, people who go on Fox News are somehow untrustworthy, you know, there are people who go on, like I said, Tucker Carlson frequently, and they’re still some of the voices that we herald as being voices of truth. And, and you know, Noam Chomsky goes on some of these shows, right? And he’s still Noam Chomsky, like, regardless. So, so I, I appreciated folks kind of looking at me the same way that my message and what I’m saying there are those folks who are naysayers, but they ultimately haven’t really mattered much.
Adam: There’s a threat of patronization here, right? Which is that African Americans are somehow uniquely dupable or that, that they are sort of, the Russians are going to target them because they’re kind of a soft target, uh, who have some degree of legitimate grievances, but they sort of don’t know any better. This is one of the spins, right? That oh the African Americans didn’t, they meant well and it’s, it’s and that sort of seems to be the underlying current of this particular hit piece piece. Was that, like, ‘Oh, those, those African Americans are so naïve. They don’t know the Russian forces behind them.’
Nima: Right. It’s all about the kind of label of the useful idiot that is leveraged specifically against certain people. Surprise surprise if they’re often black and not other people who are white. So, I mean, it’s pretty clear.
Anoa Changa: Yeah, I agree. It’s also like, even though you know Democrats in particular, liberals, Democrats, they like their black people a particular way. I mean, it’s even some of the challenges that we’re seeing now as it’s mostly black women making this call, but black voters in general are demanding that folks need to earn the vote or we have people who are running for office and it’s just like, you know, well you need to now respect us and support us, not just take us for granted. But it’s the same type of undercurrent. Even this conversation, right? We like people to be on our side to say our talking points be that visual image for what we’re saying we’re about, but not to step out of line and do anything else. For those of us who do go against the grain, who do challenge the status quo, there’s anything and everything thrown at us to somehow undermine what we’re saying. And so like what was fascinating to me about this whole conversation about that piece was even though there’s like a side mentioned to like two other people here who have been on, you know, Russian-backed media, one of the folks is Mayor Ted Terry, who was actually recently on an episode of Queer Eye. Actually when we were on an episode of By Any Means Necessary that was my first episode was being on with with the mayor of Clarkston who has never himself been attacked. Like this is never something that anyone as progressive and out there as he can be, no one has ever thought about using this as an attack on him which I find really interesting and it’s just like my very first episode I was on a mayor and two Democrats, a mayor and then someone else who was a Hillary Clinton supporter and that type of thing is never, we never look at those people who are on these shows. It is only the ones we can narrow in on because there’s something that’s being fed and this goes back into my concern about what we’re talking about, claiming it’s divisive. It’s the discussion thats divisive not the fact that America still has this deep legacy of racism and white supremacy at its core. That is really what’s divisive and the fact that we don’t deal with it is what’s divisive. It’s not the fact that I’m having the conversation or Eugene or other people are having a conversation that’s not the divisive part. Claiming both sides are the same is divisive right? Like like that’s what’s really the challenge and problem and it’s more palatable to try to equate things and I think back to 2016, in the summertime when president Obama participated in that, I think it was a CNN Town Hall, where they had victims of police violence. Alton Sterling’s family as well as police who were killed in the line of duty, their families, which they’re not the same type of conversation and scenarios at all and there’s this false equivalency that’s created which actually feeds this nonsense about divisiveness, but you can’t say anything about that because otherwise you’re divisive. Or now if you say anything that’s quote unquote “anti-American” you’re a Russian bot. So it’s a part of a narrative that I personally didn’t get too, my only concern was what my previous job was, I can talk about it now because I don’t work there anymore. So I was an attorney for a federal agency for eight years, so that was my only concern was when that was happening, well that wasn’t my only concern, that was a bigger concern for me out of all this stuff was my actual work because I didn’t technically do anything that interfered with my work or anything I could have technically got in trouble for but was concerned because there is this growing, you know, frenzy and fear about Russia and I was concerned about being labeled that way and whether or not there could be something that could get me in trouble with my job. So that was something that concerned me and I did actually, that’s the only thing I can say nice about Johnny is I asked him to make sure he did not mention my employment and he didn’t. So that’s the only nice thing I can say about him really cause that actually was more of a concern for me than anything else.
Adam: The whole point of course is it’s not even about you, it’s about other African Americans who are considering being somewhat subversive or associating with some foreign media. It’s about sending them a message. That’s why originally I was somewhat hesitant, it’s why I asked you before I wrote about it because I didn’t want to do a Streisand Effect where you know, you got associated with Russia by talking about it in a meta sense, but you have to go after these critics. You have to attack it head on. You can’t avoid it.
Anoa Changa: No.
Nima: Well, because if it, if you don’t, then exactly what they want to happen will happen, which is the kind of preemptive silencing. That if there’s not that kind of immediate pushback to deem this not some sort of propaganda win for Russia, for Putin-
Nima: Right. If you do that in real time, it can hopefully have the effect of butting up against the intention which is to silence dissent, which is to further kind of tamp down on those voices that are actually speaking out. We’ve actually talked about that on the show a lot. The idea of let’s have good PR for the United States discourse and the United States mythology in general because if you actually talk about anything important, you’re the problem. Not the problem is the problem.
Anoa Changa: Right.
Adam: Well, on that note, I think we’ll probably, um, thanks Anoa for coming on again.
Nima: Yeah, Anoa Changa, host of The Way With Anoa podcast, thank you so much for joining us on Citations Needed. Your work is amazing and it’s been great to talk to you.
Anoa Changa: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you guys.
Adam: Yeah, that was a, that was an interesting episode. It’s good to get perspective from people who, you know, she could have potentially had her whole career ruined because she was on Sputnik once. So again, we really try to establish the stakes in this show and show that these are not abstractions, these are actually dangerous things that really do create chilling effects and undermine people’s professional and personal lives.
Nima: Right. And are deliberately designed to also affect negatively the movements to justice that these people are working toward and with.
Adam: Right, who corporate Democrats and the right-wing and the media in general would just assume you not care about or talk about. This is another means with which they can do that.
Nima: Yeah, that’s a great way to end. Thank you everyone for joining us. As always, you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, help us out through Patreon at Citations Needed Podcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson, and as always, special thanks goes out to our critic level supporters on Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our production consultant is Josh Kross. Research assistant is Sophia Steinert-Evoy. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thank you again for joining us. We will catch you next time.
This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.