Meme-ry Wars and Ivan IV

An exhibition called “The First Tsar. Moscow. Grozny” opened at the Zaryadye Park in Moscow and will run through October 31, 2021. This is the first of ongoing exhibits slated for the museum-like attraction which is referred to as the “Podklet” (Подклет) ‘project’ [1].

Site of the Podklet project, the “Old English Court”

Podklet refers to the stone basement which is present at the museum site and where the rotating exhibits will be housed. Notably the Zaryadye Park location is on the site of the so-called Old English Court where Ivan IV granted a residence to English merchant-diplomats which “became the first official representation of a foreign power in Moscow.” [2]

According to Elena Voitsekhovskaya, head of the scientific and educational projects department of Zaryadye Park: “the Podklet project will become a kind of a catalog of personal informal studies of various historical phenomena, their factology and trace in the mass consciousness. And the premises of the white-stone basement are an intellectual attraction, a cabinet of rarities placed in a multimedia field.”  [2]

Zaryadye Park was the first new park in Moscow in 50 years. It opened in 2017 in a ceremony inaugurated by Vladimir Putin [3]. Coinciding with a national security mandate to protect the Russian historical memory, the announcement of the exhibition at Zaryadye also appears amidst a flurry of other semi-official rehabilitations and popularizations of Ivan IV which seem to have been pushed by ideologists close to Putin’s inner circle [4]. Continue reading “Meme-ry Wars and Ivan IV”

Images of Torture and Execution from the Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan IV

President Putin recently created a controversy when he “defended” the Oprichnik chief Malyuta Skuratov from the traditionally accepted view that he had strangled Metropolitan Philip for refusing to bless Ivan Grozny’s military campaign on Novgorod. This action has been seen as related to the “information warfare” arguments about Ivan IV which have been crafted by the ideologists of the Izborsky Club; and it may relate to recent national security strategies which seem intended to protect Russia’s “historical memory”.

The ideologists responsible for these narratives have in recent years frequently sought to portray the common negative appraisals of Ivan IV and his guardsmen’s terrors as the product of Western “information wars” which were furthered by Western superiority in printing. The Gutenberg Bible for example was printed in Germany nearly 100 years before Ivan IV ordered the development of the first Russian print yard.

Translated Ivan the Terrible exhibit from ‘Russia, My History’, Moscow

In the above image from the “Russia, My History” exhibitions we can see two German images which are related to this information warfare idea. Continue reading “Images of Torture and Execution from the Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan IV”

Princess Diana Conspiracy Theories: Russian Disinformation and Active Measures?

Conspiracy theories about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales do not appear to have been previously considered in an ‘information warfare’ context which is attributable to Russia. However, my recent research has uncovered a highly probable scenario of Russian cooptation and development of these conspiracy narratives as part of a strategic information campaign targeting the United Kingdom. Of course, these connections to Russian strategic information are opaque, and laundered through fronts and third parties; but the connections are top-level and obvious.

While this report will suppose that land mines play a role in the motive for disinformation attacks on Diana and her legacy, it asserts that those attacks have come from Russian strategic information interests, rather from any UK or ‘Western interest’.

As tempting as it is to wonder if Russian wetwork may be at play in this story, it is out of the scope of this report which will focus only on provable or highly likely Russian strategic conspiracy narratives and will not seek to dispute any official forensic findings of the accident investigation.

Last photo taken of Diana on the day of her death (August 31, 1997)

Continue reading “Princess Diana Conspiracy Theories: Russian Disinformation and Active Measures?”

The Life and Crimes of Arthur Rochford Manby (Guest Blog by Dr. Richard Spence)

Professor of History, Dr. Richard Spence who has previously contributed a very interesting (and highly relevant) blog on Jack Parsons was kind enough to again donate some previously unpublished content for your enjoyment.

The legend of Arthur Rochford Manby  remains an enduring mystery of the American Southwest. A tale spilling over with tantalizing connections to black magic and the occult,  murder, secret societies, foreign intelligence, artwork, and con-artistry — this fascinating report is a  great fit for n01r. 

Who was this mysterious man?

 

Sagebrush Noir: The Life and Crimes of Arthur Rochford Manby
c. 2015
Dr. Richard B. Spence

On July 3rd, 1929 lawmen and townspeople crowded into a small room of a sprawling adobe mansion in Taos, New Mexico. Blue-bottle flies buzzed all around and the stench of death hung heavy in the air. The assembled gazed at a simple army cot where a half-dressed corpse lay wrapped in a blanket. And it was just a body: the severed, badly mutilated head rested in a nearby room. It was the general opinion then, and since, that the corpse and head belonged to the mansion’s owner, Arthur R. Manby. But others were not so sure. Most importantly, how had Manby died?

Taos' unsolved mystery | Tradiciones / Leyendas | taosnews.com
Last known picture of Arthur Rochford Manby (1860-1929)

Continue reading “The Life and Crimes of Arthur Rochford Manby (Guest Blog by Dr. Richard Spence)”

The ROC’s Pro-Vaccination Conspiracy Theories

In American conservative media, there has been a recent push encouraging vaccine adoption. Notable examples of figures making public statements advocating for vaccines over the past week include Mitch McConnell, Steve Scalise, and Sean Hannity. Such gestures have been welcomed by semi-puzzled liberals, who have come to associate conservative politics during much of the pandemic with skepticism of vaccines and an embrace of conspiracy theories [1].

In the past month, a similar push for the acceptance of vaccines has been furthered in Russia. This seems to have been kicked off on June 30 with Vladimir Putin’s annual call-in show where he said he had received the Sputnik V vaccine. This added additional detail to quieter earlier disclosures that the Russian president had received a second shot in March. While promoting the safety of domestic Russian vaccines, Putin continued to stoke fears in Western vaccines, saying: “thank God we haven’t had tragic situations after vaccinations like after the use of AstraZeneca or Pfizer.”  [2]

Putin’s patriotic vaccine statements seemed to form a cue for senior clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to come out publicly in favor of vaccination with domestic vaccines, using many of the tropes of conservative conspiracy theory. This vaccine promotion is interesting because these figures have themselves often been associated with national ideology, conspiracy theories, and disinformation – and even rumors of involvement with the FSB.  Their approach may offer some constructive lessons in how conspiratorial language can be repurposed to promote vaccine adoption. But it also raises more questions about the state of disinformation in Russia and its effects abroad.

Holy men Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Vladimir Putin, and Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov)

Continue reading “The ROC’s Pro-Vaccination Conspiracy Theories”

Who’s Your Daddy Maria Katasonova?

I was poking around in the apocalyptic milieu of Eurasianist and Orthodox nationalist conspiracy theory, and came across an interesting name: Maria Vladimirovna Katasonova. She’s been profiled as a Russian nationalist and former Duma candidate who is associated with Kremlin propaganda efforts in the French elections of 2017 and on the Ukrainian war front [1].

Photo collage entitled “A fool at the site of Nemtsov’s murder” from Katasonova’s social media. A Russian commenter says: “I would still understand if it was a joke of someone outside, but she herself posts this shit on her page, that’s the thing ..

Frequently invoking the image of a destroying Orthodox angel in her social media posts, Katasonova was described in 2015 as “low budget purveyor of fear” and “a disciple of [Alexander] Dugin and aide to presidential advisory-board member Yevgeny Fyodorov… Like her dark father who had called for genocide against the Ukrainian “cretins”, Katasonova, dressed like a white angel of death, said Russia would “destroy the whole world” if they lost the war in East Ukraine.” [2]

[nods to Solid Snake and Sviridov]

In this case, Katasonova’s “dark father” referenced in the bio is Alexander Dugin, who wrote: “We should clean up Ukraine from the idiots,”…“The genocide of these cretins is due and inevitable… I can’t believe these are Ukrainians. Ukrainians are wonderful Slavonic people. And this is a race of bastards that emerged from the sewer manholes.” [3]

While the comment here about a ‘dark father’ is rhetorical in relation to philosophical leanings (as Katasonova is not Dugin’s daughter), she operated at times in a network close to Alexander Dugin’s biological daughter (Daria Dugina aka Darya Platonova) and the political operative Andrey Kovalenko [4].  She’s also appeared in media stories close to the daughter of Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov (Elisaveta Peskova)[5].

Given that she seems influential and close to the daughters of other top ‘propagandists’ it stands to wonder, who might be her real father? The answer doesn’t seem clear, but the question is intriguing. Continue reading “Who’s Your Daddy Maria Katasonova?”

Foundations of Geopolitics by Alexander Dugin (1997)

Антихрист 1999 (Antichrist 1999)

Due to it being difficult to find an English translation of Alexander Dugin’s 1997 book “Foundations of Geopolitics” for sale in America, I ran a Russian copy through the same online translation portal which I’d used for Alexander Verkhovsky’s book on “Political Orthodoxy“.

The book has been described as mandatory reading for Russian military officers (and equally critiqued for a bad computer-translated English version which I hoped might be remedied with a more recent run through Google Translate).

Similarly to posting Verkhovsky’s book in English, my goal in posting Dugin is to promote greater understanding of the culture of Russian nationalism (especially Orthodox nationalism), and how that nationalism apparently informs the strategic culture of Russia. Followingly, it supports my thesis that the disinformation and ‘information warfare’ produced by that strategic culture is characterized by nationalistic features.  (See published works 1, 2, 3, and recent cited post 4)

I can tell the translation is far from perfect, but if you’re looking to add it to your library, it will work with search indexing and appears to be basically readable. You can cross reference the appended Russian original from p. 453 of the PDF with any broken portion of the translation, since the page numbers are consistent between the documents.

 

Political Orthodoxy : Russian Orthodox Nationalists and Fundamentalists by Alexander Verkhovsky (2003)

My analyses frequently come down to the examination of how Russian Orthodox nationalism is a major factor in Russian information warfare ideology. Alexander Verkhovsky is a Russian author on Russian Orthodox nationalist ideas who has been influential on my research and perspectives. I think he gets close to the cultural core of Russian information warfare in his research – although his focus is on political extremism, not information warfare or disinformation. His work does frequently however include the analysis of conspiracy theories.

Using online translation tools, I made an unauthorized English translation of his book: “Political Orthodoxy” which I hope will be useful for non-Russian speaking disinformation researchers (like myself) looking into figures like Metropolitan Ioann (Snychev), Ivan the Terrible, Alexander Dugin, etc.

Russian Origins of the Vaccine Microchip Conspiracy Theory

I recently read an article which suggested that the conspiracy theory that vaccines contain microchips emerged following a March 18, 2020 Reddit AMA with Bill Gates [1]. In response to the AMA, biohackers began to write positively about the potential for chip-based medical devices to combat epidemics and deliver vaccines.

Within several days of the Reddit AMA, a Baptist pastor from Jacksonville Florida named Adam Fannin – known best for his anti-Semitic conflicts with comedian Sarah Silverman in 2019 – found one of these biohacking blog posts online. Fannin then developed it into his own interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy largely based on his “deep distrust of Gates”. Fannin made a 9-minute YouTube sermon which went viral and accumulated nearly 2 million views before it was taken down.  “The pastor titled the post, “Bill Gates – Microchip Vaccine Implants to fight Coronavirus,” adding one pivotal word to the biohackers’ title: vaccine.”[1]

Looking more deeply into the origin of the vaccines and microchips story, I think it is important to observe how it may emerge from and complement Russian Orthodox nationalist geopolitics and information warfare. Continue reading “Russian Origins of the Vaccine Microchip Conspiracy Theory”

Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” as benefiting Russian information strategy

Last evening, I attended a virtual lecture on disinformation in which the claim was made that the Russians were responsible for the narrative that the US government created the 1990’s crack epidemic in Los Angeles.

In discussion of the topic however, the presenter did not provide the source for the claim, but related it to the well-known case of Operation Infektion or Denver, in which the KGB had created disinformation that the US had begun the AIDS epidemic as a biological warfare program targeting Black people.

While I had previously researched a hunch that the claim of CIA involvement in the crack cocaine epidemic was Russian disinformation, I was unable to find a Russian source; forcing me to leave it in the ‘unverified’ column. The best I could find was that such claims officially started with American journalist and author Gary Webb, best remembered for his “Dark Alliance” article series (1996) and book (1998).

Duped on Dope: Gary Webb (1955-2004)

Riding partly on the lingering antiwar buzz of the Iran-Contra scandal, Webb claimed that CIA involvement in the drug trade stemmed from its cooperation with Nicaraguan Contra fighters seeking to overturn the (Soviet-instilled and KGB-linked Sandinista) government of Nicaragua. (Official retrospective investigations revealed some of these resistance fighters backed by the CIA were involved in drug smuggling activities; but not at the scale which has been alleged by Webb.)

Despite my suspicions about Webb, since I hadn’t ‘cracked the crack story’ as Russian disinformation, I’ve looked into Webb on this blog only so much in the case of his close collaboration with the independent journalist Kristina Borjesson who has been responsible for building a conspiratorial case that the 1996 TWA Flight 800 disaster over Long Island Sound was the result of a missile shootdown – possibly by the US Navy – and was covered up by the FBI.

My conclusions from that research into the 1996 TWA conspiracy theories were that they were more plausibly linked to an Iranian disinformation campaign in retaliation for the 1988 US Navy shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 in Iranian territorial waters – than that of a Russian one.

However, there was also some evidence that (much like the Nicaragua Sandinistas,) the terrorist groups implicated in previous Iranian retaliatory actions for the 1988 accident (such as the PFLP-GC) had strong linkages to the legacy of the KGB. Continue reading “Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” as benefiting Russian information strategy”