All That’s Fit to Shoot

Round-Up: Maria Butina’s Russian Fundraiser

— Round-up of news coverage re: Shooting the Messenger story about the Kremlin-backed company paying for Maria Butina’s legal expenses

Via “The Enigmatic Russian Paying Maria Butina’s Legal Bills” by Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic, March 20, 2019:

Maria Butina, the first Russian to plead guilty to seeking to infiltrate and influence American policy makers in the run-up to the 2016 election, remains somewhat of a mystery. But her prosecution in Washington, D.C., last year shed light on yet another avenue through which Russia tried to influence American politics in 2016: namely, via an old-fashioned, on-the-ground operation, conducted not by experienced spies but by disarming political operatives. New revelations about Butina’s legal-defense fund in Russia shows that one of her backers has been trying to promote fringe separatist movements in the U.S. since well before 2016.

In 2018, Alexander Ionov, the founder of the NGO, called the Anti-Globalization Movement, began raising money for Butina through a fundraising website that says all proceeds will be “used to finance legal protection and to improve the conditions of Maria’s detention in prison.” The website was first discovered by freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones. To date, Ionov has raised about 2 million rubles (approximately $30,000) to help pay her legal fees, he told me in a recent interview. The Russian embassy, which has been advocating for Butina’s release, did not return a request for comment.

Click here to read the full story.

Via “New Details Revealed About a Mysterious Russian Who Funds Maria Butina’s Defense” by Tana Ganeva, Raw Story, March 20, 2019:

Maria Butina, the Russian woman who’s alleged to have infiltrated gun rights and conservative circles to sway the outcome of the 2016 election, is still in custody awaiting her sentencing. She’s been in jail since July. According the Washington Post, Butina is cooperating with authorities

Ionov is raising money for Butina’s defense through a group called the Anti-Globalization Movement. The website, peppered with glossy photos of Butina, purports to tell “Maria’s story.”

“Help me change my situation,” it reads in Russian.  Freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones first unearthed the site and detailed Ionov’s history and potential Kremlin ties.

Writing on his blog Shooting the Messenger, Jones observes that the group that’s hosting the site for Butina’s legal bills got a Russian presidential grant of 3.5 million rubles (approximately $53,000) to bring members of Texas and California secessionist groups to a Russian conference in September of 2016.

Click here to read the full story.

Investigate Russia and Law & Crime also picked up the story. 

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SCOOP: Maria Butina’s Russian Fundraiser Hosted and Boasted U.S. Separatists Prior to 2016 Election

— The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia was paid by the Kremlin to fly Texas and California separatists to Moscow in September 2016

Maria Butina (source)

Maria Butina’s legal defense fund is being handled by a Kremlin-backed Russian company that hosted and boasted U.S. separatist groups shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), which is accepting donations on Butina’s behalf through a fundraising website set up last year by her lawyers, received a Russian presidential grant of 3.5 million rubles (approximately $53,000) to fly the leaders of Texas and California secessionist movements to Moscow for a sovereign nation-building conference in September 2016.

The second annual Dialogue of Nations conference, financed by a charity overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin, brought together representatives from around a dozen self-styled national liberation movements including Nate Smith, executive director of the neo-confederate Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM), and Louis J. Marinelli, co-founder of the Yes California Independence Campaign.

“[AGMR] supports the full sovereignty of nation-states including the sovereignty of Russia as an independent player on the political, economic and cultural world stage,” reads AGMR’s mission statement. “The movement aims to promote all aspects of the national security and traditional moral values. It opposes the attempts to impose a ‘new world order’ and the disastrous unification, which might result in the emergence of a single mega-totalitarian world state.”

The exact history of AGMR’s involvement with Butina—who in December pleaded guilty to engaging in a Kremlin-backed conspiracy to infiltrate prominent conservative groups in America—is unclear. But according to domain registration records, AGMR began its fundraising efforts in October with the launch of MariaButinaFund.ru, a Russian language mirror of Butina’s U.S. fundraising site, MariaButinaFund.com, launched two months earlier.

“The Maria Butina Foundation was created by her lawyers to collect donations in order to ensure her best possible protection in court,” reads a message on the Russian version of the site, which includes payment details for AGMR’s Alfa Bank account in Moscow.

Gregory M. Wade, an Alexandria, VA-based bankruptcy attorney listed as the administrator of both sites, did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll, listed as the fund’s co-founder, also declined to comment.

AGMR was founded in 2012 by Alexander Ionov, a prolific Russian lawyer and businessman whose “work to strengthen friendship between peoples” has been commended by Putin himself. Ionov denies working at the behest of the Kremlin. However, a close look at his various pursuits, including a prominent position on the public council of Moscow’s interior ministry, suggests they enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.

Alexander Ionov (source)

Ionov’s involvement with TNM and Yes California, for instance, came shortly after both groups were reportedly approached by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory, to participate in a series of anti-Hillary Clinton rallies. Yes California later relocated its headquarters to AGMR’s offices in Moscow.

In 2017, Ionov represented Russian hackers Pyotr Levashov and Stanislav Lisov against claims by Spanish security services that they’d used fake social media accounts to promote Catalonia’s independence from Spain, a cause both AGMR and the IRA have also actively helped to promote. The pair were later extradited to the U.S. where they pleaded guilty to various cyber crimes.

In December, Ionov even attempted to visit Paul Whelan, the U.S. citizen currently being detained in Moscow on spying charges. Experts in Russian politics, including former CIA officer John Sipher, believe Whelan was arrested in retaliation for Butina’s prosecution in the U.S., claims denied by Putin’s spokesperson.

Ionov’s other connections to Butina include Vladimir Ovsyannikov and Roman Khudyakov, high-ranking State Duma officials who helped support Butina’s gun rights group, the Right to Bear Arms (RTBA). The two men currently work under Ionov at his private contracting firm Ionov Transcontinental (IT), which provides a range of legal, financial and security services, as well as helping to facilitate business relationships between foreign clients and Russian government agencies.

Ovsyannikov, IT’s Vice President for Government Relations, became involved with RTBA in 2013 after giving a speech at one of its rallies. Khudyakov, IT’s Vice President and a former Russian presidential candidate, joined the group that same year in an initiation ceremony along with Alexander Torshin, the former Central Bank governor who allegedly directed Butina’s activities in the U.S., and David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, one of many prominent conservative groups Torshin allegedly used to gain access to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign.

When prosecutors indicted Butina last July, alleging, among other things, that she had traded sex for political access, Khudyakhov quickly rushed to her defense.

“She was friends with many men, with me, with other men, with men from all over the world,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Prosecutors later retracted the allegation.

Recently, Ionov himself has come out in support of Butina, describing her in an interview with Voice of America (which did not disclose their affiliation) as a “human rights activist…who did not (collaborate) with Russian state bodies.”

Ionov did not reply to multiple requests to comment for this story.

Butina is currently awaiting sentencing. To date, she has raised approximately $16,700 towards the cost of her legal fees, but still owes her lawyers $610,000, according to a recent interview with her father, Valery Butin.

Bad Fan Fiction (Redux)

— Prior to suing HBO, Michael Jackson’s estate hired a takedown lawyer to scrub erotic fan fiction from the web

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Michael Jackson’s estate is suing HBO for $100m over the tell-all documentary Leaving Neverland.

The documentary, containing graphic allegations that the late singer sexually abused two young boys during the late 80s and early 90s, has caused outrage on all sides, from boycotts of Jackson’s music to counter-boycotts of the film by die-hard fans. Yet despite their steadfast devotion, recently it was the fans themselves being pursued by Jackson’s legal team.

Prior to the release of the documentary in January, Jackson’s estate hired notorious British takedown lawyer John Giacobbi, better known as “Web Sheriff,” to scrub Jackson fan erotica from the Internet. Giacobbi’s campaign, which took place over the period of a year between January 2017 and March 2018, sought to eradicate countless erotic descriptions and photoshopped images of Jackson from Google’s blogging platform.

John Giacobbi aka “Web Sheriff” (source)

In order to successfully remove the offending content, described as belonging to a subculture of “libellous innuendo” and “obscene and malicious falsehoods,” Giacobbi sent Google approximately 70 run-on, barely intelligible complaints, citing everything from the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act to European privacy laws to United Nations anti-money laundering regulations.

Here’s a typical example of Giacobbi’s work courtesy of the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

WEB SHERIFF® Creative Protection™ Incorporating Entertainment Law Associates™ Tel : +44(0)208-323 8013 (UK) / / +1-424-238 4551 (LA) / +1-212-601 2723 (NY) Fax : +44(0)208-323 8080 (UK) / +1-434-238 4301 (LA) / +1-212-601 2601 (NY) websheriff@websheriff.com http://www.websheriff.com NOTIFICATION Pursuant to (as applicable) DIGITAL MILLENIUM COPYRIGHT ACT (COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT NOTICE) EUROPEAN UNION COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE (COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT NOTICE) FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION E-COMMERCE REGULATIONS (VIOLATION OF CONSUMER PROTECTION REGULATIONS) EUROPEAN UNION E-COMMERCE DIRECTIVE (VIOLATION OF CONSUMER PROTECTION REGULATIONS) CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS (INVASION OF PRIVACY NOTICE) UNITED NATIONS ANTI MONEY LAUNDERING CONVENTION (PROCEEDS OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES NOTICE) INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON CYBER CRIME (PROCEEDS OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES NOTICE) – and – NOTICE OF BREACH OF ISP’S / HOST’S PUBLISHED TERMS OF SERVICE NOTICE OF BREACH OF WEB-SITE’S PUBLISHED TERMS OF SERVICE PORNOGRAPHY NOTICE *** PORNOGRAPHY ADVISORY – For the avoidance of doubt, the published images that are the subject of this complaint comprise, inter alia, images and artwork of our relevant client / principal that comprise pornography and defame our said client’s / principal’s legacy and, as such, any publication and / or broadcast and / or distribution of such images / pornography is a gross violation of our client’s / principal’s legacy and the rights of the Estate (and on a web-site that has no age or content warning). Additionally, the published images / pornography in question are featured in direct juxtaposition and conjunction with unauthorized and unendorsed advertising for third party goods and services, which de facto ‘product endorsements’ are entirely bogus and constitute infringements of our client’s / principal’s right-of-publicity, goodwill and all other pertinent rights of an intellectual property nature. Such activities also blatantly contravene and violate Federal, European Union and international consumer protection laws and Human Rights legislation and treaties. 

And so on.

It’s unclear why Jackson’s estate was moved to hire Giacobbi, as the offending blogs have since been deleted by Google. But as I documented in a previous post, one of the now-deleted blogs, titled MJ Fan Fictions, included “semi-erotic adventures” involving the blog’s owner, Trinette Rani Johnson, and Jackson’s character Daryl from the Bad music video.

Head of Russian Propaganda Site USA Really Calls It Quits

— Alexander Malkevich and his website USA Really were sanctioned for “attempted election interference” last year

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Alexander Malkevich, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Russian propaganda website USA Really, has quit the project after he and his site were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in December.

Malkevich, who currently leads Russia’s Civic Chamber of Mass Media, from which he advises the Kremlin on media policy, said he left USA Really at the end of last month to focus on his work in Russia, including writing “several books” on U.S. elections.

“I decided to turn into my numerous projects in the field of civil society both in Russia and abroad,” Malkevich explained in an e-mail. “I have also plan to write and publish several books about the US elections and about the history of elections in the Russian Federation. This year I also have to finish my doctoral dissertation in the political sciences so I have too much work and I don’t have time enough for the USA really.

“I would like to mention that Leo Savin [a Russian political analyst and former editor of pro-Putin think tank Katehon] will be the next face of this media outlet,” he added.

USA Really HQ (source)

Malkevich’s exit comes just a few months after U.S. prosecutors accused USA Really’s parent company, the Federal News Agency (FAN), of being involved in Project Lakhta, a Kremlin-backed, multi-million dollar social media disinformation campaign allegedly intended to “sow discord in the U.S. political system.”

USA Really’s alleged role in the campaign included “efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues,” according to a statement by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). “In June 2018, USA Really attempted to hold a political rally in the United States, though its efforts were unsuccessful.”

In November, Malkevich was briefly detained by the F.B.I. during a trip to the U.S. as “a public observer” of the midterm elections. During that same trip, he gatecrashed an election night party at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he later claimed he was physically accosted by celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti’s entourage.

“This never happened and I don’t travel with an entourage,” Avenatti told Shooting the Messenger. “Putin must be so proud of this nonsense.”

Michael Avenatti with Alexander Malkevich (source)

Since December, USA Really has faced a number of setbacks after the Treasury Department prohibited U.S. individuals and businesses from transacting with the site.

In January, the site’s security certificate and PayPal account were revoked, restricting its ability to operate and do business within the U.S. Last month, Google followed suit and yanked the site’s analytics account, blocking its ability to access reporting data on its readers.

The sanctions also appeared to take their toll on USA Really’s American contributors, at least three of whom have since left the site, fearing possible legal repercussions. OFAC guidelines state that “fines for [violating sanctions] can be substantial” and “in many cases, civil and criminal penalties can exceed several million dollars.”

Despite those setbacks, Malkevich appeared resolute in comments last month to The Daily Beast, describing the sanctions as a “WITCH HUNT” and insisting that “ALL ANERICANS [sic] CAN WRITE ANYTHING FOR US.”

USA Really did not reply to a request for comment regarding Malkevich’s exit from the site.

Shooting the Messenger has followed USA Really since April last year, and in June scooped Malkevich’s involvement in the site.

Via POTUS Press Pool with Julie Mason, Sirius XM, April 19, 2018:

For those of you who are looking for a job, there’s a Russian troll farm that’s recruiting English-speaking journalists. Uh, you know, need a few extra bucks? It’s called the Federal News Agency, whichFederal News Agency used to be the name of, like, a transcription service here in Washington DC, so when I first saw that I was, like, “wait, what?” Anyway, Federal News Agency, a pro-Russian website linked to the Internet Research Agency, has been recruiting English-speaking journalists to work on its “Wake Up, America!” campaign. This is according to Shooting the Messenger. Here’s the adI’m going to read aloud from the ad:

“Due to the growing political censorship imposed by the United States, there remains less and less of information sources that are not under control of the U.S. authorities. In this regard, U.S. citizens cannot receive objective and independent information about events occurring on the territory of America and throughout the world.”

What!? Come on. “Under control of U.S. authorities”—Russia, come on, be smarter than that. Be smarter than a Russian troll, Russia. Anyway, so they are hiring. If you dream of working for a Russian troll farm, you can check it out.

Via “New Russian Media Venture Wants to Wage ‘Information War’ in Washington, D.C.” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, June 10, 2018:

A Russian government adviser who aims to wage an “information war” in the U.S. and Europe is running a new media venture a block from the White House that cybersecurity experts say has ties to the country’s infamous disinformation apparatus.

In April, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN) announced the creation of an American outlet called “USA Really.” Its website and accompanying social media pages sprang up in May and quickly began promoting a mid-June rally to be held in front of the White House in protest of “growing political censorship… aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation…”

USA Really’s “flash mob” protest was initially scheduled for June 14, in what it says was a recognition of Flag Day and President Donald Trump’s birthday. But rather than applying for a rally protest with D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), which oversees such events, it asked the city’s film and television office for a film permit, the type that movie studios obtain before taping scenes on D.C. streets.

The FAN posted a copy of an email from the film office, which referred USA Really to the MPD. “Your permit application is denied,” the email read, “since we’ve determined that this is a rally more so than a filming…”

MPD told Dean Sterling Jones, [an] investigative writer who’s followed the USA Really case for weeks and first reported Malkevich’s involvement, that it had received no requests for a rally permit from the group.

Bogus Copyright Complaints Sought to Suppress Michael Moates Sexual Harassment Claims

— At least three young women have accused conservative writer Michael Moates of sending sexually suggestive messages

Multiple bogus copyright complaints sought to suppress sexual harassment claims made last year against conservative writer and D.C. Chronicle founder Michael Moates.

The complaints, sent in Moates’ name over a five-month period starting October, requested that Google delist six news articles concerning Moates’ alleged misconduct towards three young women, including two underage girls.

Michael Moates (source)

The three women, Purity Thomas (16), Hadassah Cohen (17), and Kylie Thomas (20), assert that Moates sent them inappropriate and sexually suggestive messages during discussions online and over text message. The claims, including that Moates told Cohen that she “couldn’t possibly be telling the truth that [she] was a proud virgin…because [she] was too gorgeous for that,” were first reported in October by Right Wing Watch, a liberal watchdog site of conservative media.

According to statements and screenshots posted online, Moates texted Purity Thomas—then 15—that she was a “beautiful crazy chick.”

“This is Michael, correct?” Thomas asked in reply.

“Yes lol,” Moates wrote back. “Sorry I made a mistake lol”

Thomas, currently the executive director of pro-life women’s group reLOVE, had reached out to Moates to discuss her experience of being physically assaulted during a protest. But after talking to him, “[she] thought, ‘You’re not coming anywhere near my team,’” Thomas told Right Wing Watch.

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In another exchange that allegedly took place over Facebook, Moates propositioned Kylie Thomas, an advocate for sexual and domestic assault survivors, to go on a date with him.

“Maybe I can get you drinking if I can get that date,” Moates suggested.

“Sounds bad,” Thomas replied. “Sounds like a reason mothers give daughters pepper spray.”

“LOL I would never take advantage,” Moates wrote back. “lol more of hey your cute youve been drinking lets go to dinner haha.”

source

Shortly after the story was picked up by Raw Story and a number of other media outlets, someone sent Google three copyright complaints in Moates’ name requesting that the search engine remove the offending articles because they included Moates’ personal Facebook and Twitter photos. Last week, another three complaints were sent to Google, also in Moates’ name.

“The self-taken photograph with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity was taken from Facebook,” reads one of the complaints. “Photograph (selfie) taken with Tomi Lahren,” reads another.

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U.S. copyright law stipulates that the publishing of copyrighted photos might be considered Fair Use if used in a journalistic context, as with the Right Wing Watch and Raw Story pieces.

“The fair use of a copyrighted work…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting…is not an infringement of copyright,” Section 107 of the Copyright Act states.

In an e-mail, Techdirt reporter Tim Cushing said that the use of Moates’ photos was “clearly fair use.”

“Moates’ use of social media is a key aspect of this story, so the use of screenshots of his social media posts isn’t copyright infringement,” said Cushing. “At best, Moates should be contacting the sites directly and requesting they remove the photo. Targeting the entire URL is just an attempt to remove a critical article under the pretense of protecting his IP [Intellectual Property].”

Moates with Sean Hannity (source)

It remains unclear if Moates sent the complaints, as he didn’t reply to a request for comment. But in September, Moates told The Daily Beast reporter Lachlan Markay that he planned to file libel lawsuits against a number of conservative women who’d made sexual harassment claims against him. 

As of publication, Google has not delisted the targeted articles.

Former Trump Campaign Aide Michael Caputo Is Enlisting MAGA Supporters to Shield Him From Antifa

— 200 members of the MAGA Quick Reaction Force are prepared to face down anti-fascist protesters at Michael Caputo’s home and office

Michael R. Caputo (source)

Former Trump campaign communications adviser Michael R. Caputo has created a new mass text system to alert nearby Donald J. Trump supporters to Antifa protests of his home and office.

The new system was announced on the MAGA Quick Reaction Force website (MAGA-QRF.com), which was registered by Caputo’s public relations company in November shortly after anti-fascist protesters targeted the Washington, D.C. home of Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“My family has endured dozens of threats of death and violence due to my high-profile Trump connection and my involvement as a witness in the bogus Russia investigation,” Caputo said in a statement published on MAGA-QRF.com. “I’ve developed a way to push back on Antifa protesting outside my home or office, which is more likely than you might think…I assembled a group of 200 nearby Trump supporters who have pledged to come on a moment’s notice to assemble peacefully between my house and the Antifa protestors to assure my wife and children don’t even see them.”

Antifa, a loosely organised, militant anti-fascist movement whose tactics involve physical violence and harassment, gained notoriety in 2017 following its protests of prominent alt-right figures such as professional provocateur Milo Yiannapoulos and white supremacist Richard Spencer.

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“I’ve installed a mass text capacity on my smartphone to reach them [members of the MAGA Quick Reaction Force],” Caputo explained in his statement. “I’ve tested the system. Within minutes, Antifa will be vastly outnumbered.”

It’s not Caputo’s first attempt to mitigate the damaging personal repercussions of his involvement in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference. 

Caputo recently set up two legal funds, one to cover the costs of his “voluntary cooperation with multiple US Government investigations,” and another to raise $100,000 on behalf of former Trump campaign adviser and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, who was indicted last month for allegedly lying to congress about his interactions with Wikileaks during the 2016 presidential election.

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Shortly after his own testimony to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee in July 2017, Caputo initiated a surreptitious campaign to purge his Wikipedia biography of his work for Russia state-backed media company Gazprom.

Via “Ex-Trump Aide Scrambles to Scrub Russia From Bio” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, November 6, 2017:

Former Donald Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo is determined to prove that he did not work for Vladimir Putin, and he’s using every tool at his disposal to do so—from a congressional ethics complaint, to a defamation lawsuit, to a surreptitious Wikipedia edit campaign.

Sean Dwyer, an employee of Caputo’s PR firm, Zeppelin Communications, was blocked from Wikipedia in August after he was caught using multiple pseudonymous accounts to purge Caputo’s page of alleged Putin ties, according to an investigation by the site’s editors. After the accounts were exposed as what Wikipedia calls “sock puppets”—multiple accounts run by the same person as part of a coordinated editing campaign—Dwyer admitted he had financial ties to the subjects of his edits…

Given what Caputo characterizes as widespread—and even malicious—misrepresentations of his work in Russia, “Wikipedia inaccuracies barely even make it on my radar,” he said.

And yet, Dwyer’s editing campaign, which was first reported by independent blogger Dean Sterling Jones, shows that Caputo was at least aware of the claims and determined to purge them. Dwyer did so through four different “sock puppet” accounts, according to Wikipedia’s investigation, and edit logs show he repeatedly attempted to remove language from the page that tied Caputo’s work for Gazprom to any efforts to burnish Putin’s reputation abroad.

Though it’s fairly common, “sock-puppetry is one of the cardinal sins of Wikipedia,” according to William Beutler, the president of digital marketing firm Beutler Ink and a longtime personal and professional Wikipedia editor. “We do this legitimately every day. But our approach is different from what they do here,” Beutler said in an interview. Unlike Dwyer, “we disclose who our clients are at the starting point.”

Caputo denied that Dwyer had run afoul of any Wikipedia guidelines. “Sean has done nothing wrong except engage with Wikipedia according to their rules, which apparently put him in the sights of a wanker trolling me from his mommy’s basement,” he said.

It’s unclear if Caputo has had to deploy the MAGA Quick Reaction Force, as he didn’t respond to a request for comment. But his site does include this entertaining speech by Christopher Walken from the 2002 cult film Poolhall Junkies.

You got this lion. He’s the king of the jungle, huge mane out to here. He’s laying down under a tree, in the middle of Africa. He’s so big, he’s so hot. He doesn’t want to move. Now, the little lion cubs, they start messing with him, biting his tail, biting his ears. He doesn’t do anything. The lioness, she starts messing with him, coming over, making trouble. Still, nothing. Now, the other animals, they notice this, and they start to move in. The jackals, hyenas. They’re barking at him, laughing at him. They nip his toes, and eat the food that’s in his domain. They do this, and they get closer and closer, bolder and bolder. ‘Til one day, the lion gets up and tears the shit out of everybody. Runs like the wind, eats everything in his path. Cause every once in a while, the lion has to show the jackals who he is.

Fyre Festival Co-Founder Billy McFarland Paid Someone to Write His Wikipedia Bio

— McFarland’s self-promotional Wikipedia bio now describes him as a “fraudster”

Billy McFarland, co-founder of the doomed Fyre Festival, paid a professional Wikipedia editor in 2014 to create his current bio as part of a promotional effort to raise his public profile.

According to Wikipedia editing records, McFarland paid a user with the handle Bernie44 an undisclosed amount to promote his involvement in two tech startups: the failed content-sharing site Spling; and the ultra-exclusive Magnises black card, which with Fyre went down in flames following McFarland’s conviction last year for defrauding investors.

Billy McFarland (source)

“McFarland founded Magnises in August 2013, and officially launched the card on March 1, 2014, aiming to create an exclusive black card that was community-oriented and technology-based, offering perks, guidance and cachet that would improve the everyday life of its members and appeal to the millennial generation,” reads Bernie44’s paid draft from September 8, 2014. “As of August 2014, Magnises has 3,000 members, including actress Rosario Dawson, former NBA player Baron Davis, and musicians French MontanaWale and Gabe Saporta.”

Bernie44 disclosed having been paid by McFarland in accordance with Wikipedia’s June 16, 2014 update to its terms and services.

“[This] is to disclose that I am paid for some of the articles I create and/or edit, in most cases by the subject of the article,” Bernie44 wrote. “Whether paid or not, I always aim to contribute positively to Wikipedia and to edit within Wikipedia’s guidelines, with properly sourced, neutral, constructive edits. I hope my work is judged based on those standards.”

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McFarland found fame in 2017 when his attempt to organise the luxury Fyre music festival in the Bahamas fell apart in spectacular fashion. The $1,200 to $100,000 per ticket event promised two weekends of music, gourmet meals, luxury villas, and parties on yachts with supermodels. But after months of failed preparations, the event crashed and burned in real time, leaving attendees stranded on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma without food, water, or shelter.

Last year, McFarland pleaded guilty to “fraudulently induc[ing] investments into his companies Fyre Media, Inc., Fyre Festival LLC, and Magnises, Inc., including in connection with McFarland’s failed venture to host a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ music festival in the Bahamas.” He was later sentenced to six years in prison.

Adding to that growing list of failures, last week McFarland’s self-created bio, originally titled “Billy McFarland (entrepreneur),” was moved to a new page, “Billy McFarland (fraudster).”

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Daily Beast: Google Yanks Services From Sanctioned Russian Website

— USA Really has been barred from using Google Analytics as the website’s American contributors reconsider their involvement. Meanwhile, the site’s parent company has postponed its lawsuit against Facebook while its attorneys apply for a sanctions exemption. Read my latest at The Daily Beast

Via “Google Yanks Services From Russian Propaganda Site” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, February 07, 2019:

Tech giant Google has cut off a sanctioned Russian propaganda website from popular tools that allowed the site to track and collect extensive data on the site’s readers.

The website, USA Really, has been barred from using Google Analytics, the company told The Daily Beast last week, depriving the site of reporting data on readers’ countries of origin, time of visit, pages visited, referring websites, IP addresses, and types of operating systems. The information is typically used for search engine optimization and marketing purposes.

It’s the latest setback for USA Really, which has seen multiple other tech firms cut ties with the site after its parent company, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN), was hit with U.S. sanctions in December. Federal authorities accuse FAN of complicity in a widespread, Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign dubbed “Project Lakhta…”

The sanctions have also thrown a wrench into a FAN lawsuit against another tech giant, Facebook, over its closure of USA Really’s pages on that platform, part of a long-running effort to rid Facebook of malicious foreign propaganda efforts…

Both parties agreed on Tuesday to postpone a conference later this month to update a federal judge on the status of the lawsuit. Treasury’s sanctions against FAN require its attorneys—with the U.S. law firms Diamond McCarthy and Whiteford, Taylor & Preston—to obtain a specific license from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to continue their representation…

Sanctions against FAN also have USA Really’s American contributors reconsidering their own involvement, given the possibility that any payments for their writing might run afoul of prohibitions on business dealings with the site.

“Our authors continue to cooperate with us,” Malkevich told The Daily Beast. “They write about their thoughts, about the problems of American society.”

Click here to read the full story.

And here’s a response from USA Really author Jeffrey Silverman, who was quoted in the article:

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A couple of days back The Daily Beast published an article on USA Really titled “Google Yanks Services from Russian Propaganda Site.” The foregone conclusion upon reading the title would be that USA Really is “Guilty as Charged!”

However, I must admit that barring the click-bait like title the article was more balanced than expected.

Since I have been a regular contributor to USA Really, the authors of the Daily Beast article while working on the article contacted me and other writers with their many questions. I was a bit skeptical to communicate with them at first, as my experience communicating with the American mainstream media in the past had not been very productive.

My previous comments to the media were construed to present views that were contrary to mine—taken out of context.  More often than not, to distort what I actually said, with few exceptions.

However, I decided to discuss the matters with them thinking that this might be a chance to tell the true story, the story of how USA Really, just because of its Russian roots, is being harassed.  At least to be able to demonstrate that neither I personally nor USA Really had anything to hide… we were both being upfront and transparent.

My trust in The Daily Beast has paid up, albeit not entirely, but certainly more than I had honestly expected. And I am not the only one who felt this. A colleague of mine during an informal discussion shared:

“Fairly balanced article, I would say. Other than the fact that in the title of the article as well as in the very first sentence they mention USA Really to be a propaganda website; they would have done better by saying ‘alleged propaganda website.”

Surprisingly the article mentioned my true credentials stating, and put all my comments correctly without twisting them, unlike some other previous publications that described me as being an eccentric American with an ax to grind against the US government.

“Jeffrey K. Silverman, a Tbilisi, Georgia-based U.S. Army veteran who previously worked for Radio Free Europe, has written over 30 articles for USA Really on topics as varied as the BDS movement and the tobacco industry. In an e-mail, Silverman said that he continues to write for the site on a paid basis despite the sanctions.

I don’t know how they could legally apply to a US citizen, as the 1st Amendment still applies …”I continue to cooperate, and with greater enthusiasm. I don’t like being told as a US citizen that I am subject to 1984 and USSR-styled censorship.”

With Dean Sterling Jones—the article’s author—I shared my dilemma of not getting an answer from responsible American authorities (Treasury Department and American Citizen Services) about my legal plight and whether I can legally contribute to USA Really, even after asking them multiple times.

Consequently, Dean tried contacting the concerned departments to get their side of the story too. And unsurprisingly, as with my requests, Dean’s too were met by a wall of silence. I know many would say that we did not receive any response was because of the government shutdown, but deep down my heart I know that it is a device of subterfuge—on the part of the US government.

Or maybe they are waiting to ambush me on my next trip to the US, as they have done in the past, [at the airport] or are just not willing or capable of putting anything of substance in writing.

Or, maybe these sanctions are but a Red Herring because there must be some serious reason for picking on a fringe alternative media site, and based on my experience they are testing the waters to understand as to who they can block next?

Click here to read Silverman’s full article.

Mumbai Cyber Police Demand Personal Details of Modi Critics

— Mumbai cyber police are demanding that U.S. tech companies hand over personal details of Internet users who insulted Indian PM Narendra Modi

Last year, I blogged about efforts by Mumbai’s “cyber police crime division” to purge the Internet of doctored images of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. Since that post, the officiously censorious division has refocused its efforts on trying to scrub the Internet of derogatory terms associated with the famously gaffe-prone Indian PM.

Narendra Modi (source)

Recently, the division sent Google a criminal complaint ordering the removal of all search results for “Feku No. 1,” a derogatory Hindi slang term that, according to Urban Dictionary, refers to “[a] person who tries to project himself as a people’s leader by spreading false propaganda using paid media and crony capitalists.”

The term became synonymous with Modi in 2013 when a political opponent used it to mock the Indian PM and, according to the complaint, is allegedly intended to “outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs,Defamation” and “create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India.”

The complaint was filed by senior inspector Ravi Sardesai, who according to one news report is “an old hand at handling cyber crime.”

In a separate criminal complaint, Sardesai also recently ordered Google to remove all search results for “CHUTIYA modi.” According to Urban Dictionary, Chutiya is “[a] uniquely Indian expletive [that] classifies the recipient as either an idiot, or an ignoramus or someone behaving stupidly. Derived from Chut, Hindi for vagina.”

But Sardesai’s most aggressively heavy-handed demand, listed as a “TOP PRIORITY BASIS so as to avoid Law and Order problems in Maharashtra and INDIA,” sought that U.S. tech companies, including Google and YouTube, immediately furnish mobile phone numbers, e-mail and IP addresses of creators of the offending content.

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Section 91 of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure permits “any officer in charge of a police station” to request “any document or other thing” from “the person in whose possession…such document or thing is believed to be.”

A quick scan of the invaluable Lumen Database, which archives online takedown demands, shows that Sardesai has sent dozens of similar demands within the past year, most of which include requests to “BLOCK/DELETE” a seemingly endless flow of allegedly “defamatory morphed/vulgar photos” of Modi.

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Per my previous post on the Mumbai cyber division’s legal shenanigans, those photos include a widely shared photoshopped image of Modi homoerotically embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on a beach.

Twitter is Censoring Criticism of Turkish President Erdoğan

— Twitter deletes ‘insulting’ tweets/accounts by critics of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following court order

Since 2016, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sued, arrested, and detained thousands of opposition journalists, academics, civil servants, and other critics of his government’s increasingly authoritarian policies.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (source)

Online, Erdoğan’s efforts to control his public image have been equally aggressive, with a seemingly endless string of takedown requests, censorship demands, and court orders demanding the removal of mocking satirical cartoons and images, “hurtful, exaggerated words,” and “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Adolf Hitler.

Now it appears that Erdoğan has found an ally in U.S. social media platform Twitter.

Within the past month, Twitter has deleted over a dozen tweets and suspended a number of users for violating “[Erdoğan’s] personal rights by being insulting,” in compliance with a December 28, 2018 court order obtained by the Turkish leader and subsequently posted by the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests.

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The court order does not specify the substance and manner of the insulting content. However, details gleaned through a review of a few remaining uncensored tweets suggest that Erdoğan objected to the online dissemination of a Guardian newspaper article titled “2018: Year of the Autocrat” by foreign affairs reporter Simon Tisdall.

That article, which included stinging criticisms of “America’s first ‘rogue president'” Donald J. Trump, Russia’s “rigged poll” president Vladimir Putin, and North Korea’s “ever-grinning dictator” Kim Jong-un, described Erdoğan as having “bullied his way to another presidential term and sweeping extra powers.”

The court order also sought to halt the dissemination of news of a corruption scandal involving Erdoğan’s son Bilal, and at least one tweet that appeared to mock Bilal’s moustache.

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According to Twitter’s biannual transparency report, Turkey leads the world in Twitter censorship demands, accounting for 508 of 628 of all court orders filed in the first half of 2018.

According to that same report, in 2018 Twitter withheld 1464 tweets and “filed 113 legal objections with Turkish courts in response to 508 court orders on the grounds that they did not comply with the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of press, and/or did not specify the content at issue. Four objections were accepted in full and one was partially granted.”