Coleen Rowley spent more than two decades with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. What’s she up to now? Attacking antiwar activists by suggesting they’re imperialists for being too critical of Syria’s hereditary dictator.
In a piece published by both the Huffington Post and Consortium News, “Selling ‘Peace Groups on US-Led Wars,” Rowley and co-author Margaret Sarfehjooy conclude that a group of Quaker pacifists in Minnesota – the “Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria,” or CISPOS, which is part of “Friends for a Nonviolent World” – is part of a campaign to promote democracy, “U.S. militarism style,” because it hosted “speakers and essayists with strong ties to the violent uprising to topple the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, resulting in a war that has already taken some 200,000 lives.”
Observe the language here: the initially peaceful 2011 uprising in Syria is characterized as “violent” (a curious critique for a revolutionary leftist) and to blame for all the violence followed; the brutal crackdown by a state armed with modern fighter jets and crude, indiscriminate barrel bombs is left unmentioned, lest the authors themselves be accused of spreading propaganda for a war against a regime with which the White House is currently coordinating its air strikes on Syria. Rowley and her coauthor strongly insinuate that the peaceniks whom they are tarring as imperialists hosted speakers with ties to the US government, but the most they can come up with is that the State Department has given grants to some opposition activists – it’s done the same in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – and that the ex-husband of one woman who spoke to the group was once, nearly a decade ago, in the same room as Dick Cheney. All they have is innuendo and a series of links to tangentially related evidence that isn’t really evidence of anything that undermines the argument that “this Assad guy seems like a bad dude,” ultimately convincing only to those who skim articles that make arguments with which they are already inclined to agree.
There is a glaring omission, however, which was noted by commentator Louis Proyect: That just a few weeks before they were smeared by a former federal agent (right eyebrow status: hella fuckin’ raised), the imperialists of CISPOS were promoting a protest “against US-led Coalition airstrikes on Syria.” Those strikes, like the Assad regime’s record of mass murder, are not mentioned in Rowley’s article, which might make those inclined to engage in a conspiratorial analysis go: Hmm. But one need not think the moon landing was directed by Stanley Kubrick to think that’s really weird.
Indeed, let’s think about this: Imperial powers are actively bombing Syria in the name of a U.S.-led “war on terror” that Assad has repeatedly expressed a desire in joining himself – he tortured people for George W. Bush and long ago labelled all who oppose him “terrorists,” while the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, in The New York Times, has called for “capitalizing on Mr. Assad’s anti-jihadi instincts” – and a former fed decides now is the time to go after those who oppose both bombing Syria and rehabilitating its brutal (but secular and beardless) dictator as a potential ally of the West? Strange, one might say. Makes ya think.
This isn’t the first time a former federal agent has decided to weigh in on Syria by smearing as “imperialists” members of an antiwar movement they were quite late in joining themselves. In December 2011, former FBI agent Sibel Edmonds wrote of a “very troubling switch of position and changes at AntiWar.com.” The issue, in her view: The site’s coverage of Syria, which by virtue of its being insufficiently apologist, was determined to be “MSM produced war propaganda,” a development – a site called AntiWar learning to love the bomb and go pro-war – she blamed on “mystery-undisclosed funders.”
“I have researchers who are compiling data on their recent changes,” wrote Edmonds, “and running background checks on their new team members who have successfully altered this once truly valuable source of information.” There have been no updates since, presumably meaning that the investigation is still ongoing.
Now, is there a conspiracy to co-opt the antiwar movement by targeting those in it who refuse to go along with the rehabilitation of a butcher who U.S. elites appear to now view as a lesser evil? Yeah, probably not, but regardless: the divisive and disingenuous way these former agents of the state have engaged those who — by the way — were on to the whole “antiwar” thing back while they were still serving empire suggests that, perhaps, the antiwar left has been a little too welcoming of those who haven’t quite given up the with-us-or-against-us mentality of a federal agent. At the very least, we should be viewing their work with as much cynical skepticism as we do the work of other, lesser known freelance writers for web-based publications. And while their transformations are very likely genuine, the Left has every reason to distrust anyone who ever freely associated with the FBI.
Amusingly, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, with which Rowley is now associated, knows there’s a good reason for that general policy of distrust, having been targeted by the FBI for allegedly providing “material support” for terrorism, which took the form of expressing solidarity with the victims of war — like millions of Syrians, for instance, who are currently freezing in refugee camps across the Middle East. As Freedom Road’s Tom Burke told me, the FBI infiltrated the organization during a rare moment of unity in the often divisive world of antiwar activism, the bureau having long sought to sow sectarian division on the left (to that end, the FBI’s woman on the inside would often attack her comrades for being insufficiently militant, masquerading as the only real revolutionary in the room). Around the same time, Brandon Darby, an agent provocateur on the payroll of the FBI, helped entrap activists at the 2006 Republican Convention in Minnesota by encouraging them to set off incendiary devices. One of his favorite approaches for dealing with those who questioned the wisdom of his tactics? “Pointing fingers at and ‘snitch-jacketing’ other people, accusing them of being cops, FBI agents, etc.,” according to Lisa Fithian, one of the many activists he betrayed.
In the case of Syria, the trend embraced by Rowley and Edmonds before her is to “imperial-jacket” those who think maybe the opposition to Bashad Assad has something to do with the policies of Bashar Assad, not just the meddling of outside agitators; rather than engage in good faith those who may have a different opinion, and whose years of antiwar activism ought to buy them the benefit of the doubt, Rowley and others like her have chosen to paint them as tools of empire – perhaps willing ones, they not so subtly insinuate – at a time, ironically, when the empire is busy bombing Syria in the name of fighting terrorism, not Bashar Assad. They may not be in the pay of the federal government, but they’re still policing the antiwar left and the effect of their work is the same, turning leftists against each other when they should be working together to fight the common enemy: those who would have us believe cruise missiles are an effective means of addressing a humanitarian crisis.