A slick online media machine has recruited a slew of characters from Russian state-affiliated outlets—and joined a sprawling multinational network of pro-Moscow, pro-Beijing content creators backed by a U.S. businessman reportedly probed in India for ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
Since it started posting to Instagram and Youtube in early 2020, nearly all BreakThrough News’ camera-facing personalities have been veterans of Kremlin-backed outfits: former Radio Sputnik host Eugene Puryear; pundit Rania Khalek of video generator ‘In the Now;’ Kei Pritsker, Abby Martin, and Brian Becker of defunct propaganda organ RT America. BreakThrough’s earliest productions lambasted America’s presidential system and persistent racial inequality, and attacked the American and Brazilian responses to the COVID-19 outbreak while praising policies in China.
But beginning in January 2022, amid the build-up to Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, the channel began sharing videos with titles like “Risking World War III with Russia: Why?” and “If NATO Goes to War, U.S. & European Soldiers Will Be Called On to Kill & Die.” More recent clips have carried such headlines as “Leaked Pentagon Docs Show US Elites Want Never-Ending Ukraine War” and “G7 Sends F-16 Jets to Ukraine: Flirting with Disaster, Direct War on Russia.”
These themes are familiar to observers of a particular fringe of the Western political spectrum, where the U.S.’s domestic and international abuses have kindled sympathy for hostile autocracies—and have even tempted a few to accept paychecks and platforms from their state media.
“It’s people who came of political age during the Bush years, and for God knows how many reasons, were disgusted with American foreign policy, and found bedfellows among authoritarian regimes that were also critical of the United States,” says Casey Michel, who heads the Combating Kleptocracy Program at the Human Rights Foundation. “Whether they believe all these things fully, or they are just mercenaries, I can’t say.” [Continue reading…]