A video by the blogger Eva Bartlett attained particular notoriety. Aired during a UN media conference, it presented purported facts with a slightly rhetorical twist. But these facts were basically nothing other than the official narrative of the Damascus regime. This is unsurprising when one considers Bartlett’s "career". She has appeared several times in recent years in regime-held territory, where she posed alongside soldiers and made no secret of her admiration for Assad’s power apparatus.

Fake news a la Bartlett, Beeley & co.

Bartlett’s video, which went "viral" on RT, has now been deconstructed several times. But the lies she circulated are still out there. Even now, as all hell breaks loose in Ghouta, many Facebook users are referring to Bartlett’s statements in comments under articles and videos published on reputable news sites. Regardless of whether the reports are by CNN, Der Spiegel or Al Jazeera – they are all spreading "fake news". Only Assad and RT are in the right, they claim.

Still from Russia Today TV interview with Vanessa Beeley
Feeding Assadʹs propaganda machine: these days, Beeley, a regular contributor to the conspiracy portal "21st Century Wire", is one of the best-known "critics" of the White Helmets. As she recently opined once again, bomb attacks on the aid workers are legitimate because these people are "terrorists". She regularly accuses journalists and established media outlets of spreading "regime-change propaganda"

Arguably the most prominent figure in this campaign is Vanessa Beeley, another propagandist operating within the Assad sphere of influence. Beeley, a regular contributor to the conspiracy portal "21st Century Wire", is now one of the best-known "critics" of the White Helmets. As she recently opined once again, bomb attacks on the aid workers are legitimate because these people are "terrorists". She regularly accuses journalists and established media outlets of spreading "regime-change propaganda".

Anyone reading Beeley’s words might almost think that all those Syrians who have been maltreated and tortured in recent years are actually Assad’s most enthusiastic supporters. Instead, all the blame for the conflict lies squarely with the Gulf states, Turkey, Israel and western nations. Assad’s death squads, militias funded by Tehran, Russian bombs – in the confused heads of figures like Beeley, this all appears to be nothing more than a fairy tale consistently lied about, or not spoken about at all.

Hybrid warfare

Data research carried out by British newspaper The Guardian in late 2017 clearly showed that almost all Internet propaganda against the White Helmets can be traced back to Beeley and Bartlett. In this context, observers are talking about "hybrid warfare" being systematically waged by Russian state media against the aid workers. The fact that the White Helmets, who are persistently accused of being "western agents", have also uncovered war crimes perpetrated by the U.S. military, is deliberately ignored.

Instead, the accusations are also tinged with Islamophobia. Many of the White Helmets have full beards, the women often wear headscarves. For these self-styled critics, this is enough to label the rescue workers as "extremists" and pigeon-hole them with al-Qaida & co.. The rest takes on the shadow of the post-factual age.

All serious reports on the organisation are kept hidden away and always regarded as incorrect per se. Instead, behind every White Helmet one sees western cash, unscrupulous Gulf sheikhs, the CIA, George Soros or other wealthy Jews or – as the Russian embassy in the UK did - Osama bin Laden. When a documentary film about the White Helmets won an Oscar last year, the embassy shared a caricature of Bin Laden wearing a white helmet on its Twitter account.

It would certainly not be wrong to assume that an aid organisation that has saved thousands of human lives has never before been denigrated in such a way. Even during the world wars of the past century, aid workers were perceived as aid workers and were for the most part left alone. But the Syrian war has also changed that and – as in the case of so many other things – revealed man’s capacity for cruelty. 

Emran Feroz

© Qantara.de 2018

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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