Having backed a right-wing coup in the Ukraine and right-wing terror groups disguised as “moderate rebels” in Syria, U.S. leaders now confront rising right-wing terror at home. They duly condemn it, but seem blind both to their own hypocrisy and to the domestic reverberations of their cynical foreign policies.
Though rising tensions between the Trump administration and North Korea had dominated headlines for much of the past week, the chaotic events in Charlottesville swiftly replaced concerns about imminent nuclear war with concerns about the white nationalist movement and other associated groups.
On Saturday, white nationalists and counter-protesters dramatically clashed within the Virginia city, prompting a state of emergency to be declared after a young woman was killed by a car that plowed into a group of pedestrians. Since Saturday’s tragic and alarming events, a chorus of U.S. politicians from both parties have expressed their outrage, labeling the hit-and-run crash an act of domestic terrorism and condemning white nationalists as unpatriotic and “enemies of freedom.”
Among those professing their disdain for Saturday’s events were numerous senators, including Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ). They, along with a host of other congressmen and former presidents, condemned the white nationalists as un-American and against American values, with some specifically labeling the car crash a terror attack. Other notable political figures, such as former Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, also condemned the attacks via social media.
While the chorus of condemnation against Charlottesville was near-unanimous, taken in a broader perspective, it seems that the outrage at and disgust with right-wing racism and religious extremism expressed by U.S. politicians is rather myopic, if not outright hypocritical. Indeed, many of the U.S. congressmen who spoke out against the activities of such groups in Charlottesville have supported – and in many cases still support – similar or even worse groups abroad, in countries such as Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela, among others.
But the incitement of hatred that got us here is as real and condemnable as the white supremacists in our streets.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 12, 2017
White supremacy has no place in #Charlotesville or in our nation. This bigotry is un-American. What IS American is standing up to bigotry
— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) August 13, 2017
Apparently, such ideologies are condemnable only when they occur on U.S. soil.
The U.S.-backed fascist-nationalist takeover of Ukraine
Nowhere in recent years has U.S. political support for right-wing fascists, and even neo-Nazis, been more florid than in Ukraine. In 2014, after the successful ouster of the country’s democratically-elected president in what leaked phone calls later confirmed was a U.S.-backed coup, Ukraine came under the rule of a new administration led by billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko. Despite the U.S.’ assertion that the change in Ukraine’s government in 2014 was not a coup, Poroshenko himself has labeled it as such.
Poroshenko’s administration contained several high-level officials with direct links to neo-fascist groups. As FAIR reported in 2014:
The new deputy prime minister, Oleksandr Sych, is from Svoboda; National Security Secretary Andriy Parubiy is a co-founder of the neo-Nazi Social-National Party, Svoboda’s earlier incarnation; the deputy secretary for National Security is Dmytro Yarosh, the head of Right Sector. Chief prosecutor Oleh Makhnitsky is another Svoboda member, as are the ministers for Agriculture and Ecology.”
Svoboda, in particular, is undeniably fascist. Their leaders consistently make anti-semitic and racist statements and they have called for those opposing their brand of ultra-nationalism, whom they derogatorily label “Ukrainophobes,” to be criminally prosecuted. Ukraine’s Right Sector, which also boasts high-ranking officials in the Kiev-based government, is an openly neo-Nazi militia known for their skinhead style of dress and glorification of street violence.
— Lee Stranahan (@stranahan) August 14, 2017
Although the coup gave unprecedented power to Svoboda and its ilk, U.S. politicians – instead of condemning the fascist nationalists that had taken over Ukraine – openly supported them. They exhibited no qualms about putting them into power despite that fact that the far-right is a tiny fraction of the Ukrainian electorate.
Indeed, Sen. John McCain, who was quick to condemn such groups in Charlottesville, shared a stage, in the early days of the coup, with Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of Svoboda, who once called for the liberation of Ukraine from the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.”
McCain’s appearance was followed by a more discreet visit made by then-director of the CIA John Brennan to Kiev. In addition, the leaked recording of a phone call made at the time between Victoria Nuland, then-assistant Secretary of State, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, revealed that the U.S. effectively selected who would replace Ukraine’s deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.
In addition, every Senator named above, along with the Obama administration, pushed to fund the new, openly fascist regime, to the tune of $1.3 billion in 2014 alone. Even as evidence has emerged that the Ukrainian government has been actively targeting ethnic minorities, the U.S. political establishment – now with Donald Trump at the helm – continues to openly support the fascist government in Kiev.
Supporting right-wing religious extremists in Syria
While the U.S.-supported ruling government of Ukraine has the most in common with those who took to the streets in Charlottesville to express their white nationalist views, the U.S. has also supported other militant, right-wing factions of a different stripe, particularly in the Middle East. Though the U.S.’ support for right-wing religious extremists in the Middle East is well-known, Syria is a definitive case study where the U.S. supported – and still supports – right-wing terrorist groups. These groups have specifically targeted ethnic and religious minorities and sought violently to undermine a democratically-elected government of Syria that has long embraced and attempted to protect the country’s ethnic and religious diversity.
And the same CIA-vetted 'moderate' rebels that officially joined with Al-Qaeda in January. Great vetting job, CIA! https://t.co/NWxStfm9x0
— Patrick Poole (@pspoole) July 21, 2017
The U.S. had long justified its now defunct program of funding and arming anti-government groups in Syria by claiming that these groups comprise the “moderate opposition,” who enjoy popular support in their efforts to overthrow the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad. Analysts knew early on, however, that this justification was a myth. Even the hawkish national security columnist of the CIA-linked Washington Post, David Ignatius, wrote in 2014 that “The problem is that the ‘moderate opposition’ that the United States is backing is still largely a fantasy.”
These supposed “moderate” rebels have – time and again — been shown to share close ties to al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of the terror group al-Qaeda. Leaders of al-Nusra themselves have also acknowledged receiving covert U.S. support.
McCain has been a staunch supporter of “moderate rebels” (aka Al Qaeda and ISIS) in Syria.
Multiple photos have… https://t.co/lVAxgxU70j
— Anil Mitha (@Kinganil1) July 22, 2017
Similar groups such as Nour al-Din al-Zenki, like al-Nusra and Daesh (ISIS), seek to transform Syria into an “Islamic state” that would effectively criminalize the religious diversity and secularism that have long characterized life in Syria. Despite the fact that these “moderate” groups have beheaded and slaughtered young children and other civilians on innumerable occasions, U.S. politicians such as Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sens. Graham and McCain were instrumental in funding and empowering these groups and, by extension, enabling the atrocities they have committed.
Glorifying foreign extremists not without consequences
The reason U.S. politicians consistently support fascism and right-wing extremism abroad, but not in the U.S., is clear. While supporting such groups domestically is a surefire way to ruin one’s political career, supporting these same types of groups in far-off places is a politically safe tool for projecting the U.S.’ geopolitical will abroad. As former CIA Officer John Stockwell noted in his book, The Praetorian Guard, “stirring up deadly ethnic and racial strife has been a standard technique used by the CIA” for decades in covert destabilization operations.
But the glorification and support of right-wing violence abroad is not without its consequences. Legitimizing such ideologies – whether in Ukraine, Syria, or elsewhere around the globe – serves to justify them here at home. While many on both the left and right cite Trump’s election as having “emboldened” these groups domestically, decades of U.S. foreign policy have in fact done much of the emboldening. Though many of the aforementioned U.S. politicians would disagree, fascism and right-wing extremism do not suddenly shift from being acceptable to reprehensible once they cross the U.S. border.
Feature photo | Members of Ukraine’s ultranationalist Svoboda party carry torches during a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Jan. 29, 2017. Sergei Chuzavkov | AP