Citing a recent McCarthyite smear piece by The New York Times, Senator Marco Rubio published a letter on Wednesday that he’d sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for the investigation of American leftist antiwar groups, claiming they are “tied to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and operating with impunity in the United States.”
Rubio listed nine organizations that he said should be investigated “for potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.” Included in Senator Rubio’s blacklist of suspected Chinese foreign agents is the renowned peace activism group Code Pink, which has been drawing attention to the destructiveness of US warmongering, militarism and economic warfare for decades.
“According to the New York Times, many progressive organizations have received funding from Neville Roy Singham, a leftist U.S. citizen who lives in Shanghai and has ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” Rubio writes. “Yet, none of the entities tied to Singham have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The U.S. must enforce its laws more fiercely in the face of foreign adversaries who abuse our open system to advance their malign interests.”
Rubio’s letter is just the latest in the rapidly escalating push within the US government to use FARA to persecute antiwar activists, Chinese nationals in the United States, and those deemed insufficiently hostile toward China. As Amanda Yee recently observed with Liberation News:
“Under Biden, FARA has been invoked to target Black liberation activists like the African People’s Socialist Party for criticizing U.S. involvement in the Ukraine war and Chinese American hotel worker and organizer Li Tang ‘Henry’ Liang for advocating peaceful relations between the United States and China.”
It’s worth taking a close look at the New York Times piece referenced by Rubio, because the ridiculousness of its arguments and the hypocrisy it accidentally exposes are worth drawing attention to.
First of all we should point out the irony of an outlet like The New York Times publishing an article accusing anyone of being involved in propaganda. The New York Times has supported every US war and has been run by the same wealthy family since the late 1800s, and it has an extensive history of peddling McCarthyite red scare propaganda throughout the years. It has been singled out consistently and aggressively by critics of US propaganda like Noam Chomsky for its unique role in setting the agenda for news reporting throughout the western world in a way that benefits the information interests of the US empire.
The article in question is titled “A Global Web of Chinese Propaganda Leads to a U.S. Tech Mogul,” and it ultimately amounts to nothing more than a report saying “uh, hey, there’s a rich guy who likes China.” Despite the complete emptiness of its claims, the article took no fewer than eleven people to write (Mara Hvistendahl, David A Fahrenthold, Lynsey Chutel and Ishaan Jhaveri are credited as authors, Joy Dong, Michael Forsythe, Flávia Milhorance, Liu Yi and Suhasini Raj contributed reporting, and Susan C Beachy and Michelle Lum contributed research).
This platoon of journalists could have been out doing real investigative journalism on real issues like poverty in the United States or the victims of Washington’s drone wars, but instead they were put toward research on an American millionaire named Neville Roy Singham, whose sole offense appears to be throwing his wealth around in support of China and communism instead of the US empire and capitalism.
Despite the article’s ominous tone and the self-congratulatory grandiosity of its eleven co-reporters, the claim that Singham is actually an agent of the Chinese government is studiously avoided. The authors use sleazy phrases like “Singham’s ties to Chinese propaganda interests” and report that he has done communisty things like calling people “comrade” and writing in a notebook with a hammer and sickle on it, but at no time do they actually attempt to dispute Singham’s forceful assertion that he has no ties to the Chinese government. All they do is say he’s used his money to promote support for China and communism, and then try to frame that as a dark and suspicious thing using tone and insinuation.
“I categorically deny and repudiate any suggestion that I am a member of, work for, take orders from, or follow instructions of any political party or government or their representatives,” Singham told the Times via email. “I am solely guided by my beliefs, which are my long-held personal views.”
No attempt is made to refute Singham’s claim in the article. As far as the actual data in their reporting is concerned, Singham is just some rich American using his money to promote values he supports in the same way rich Americans do every single day. The only reason it’s framed as malevolent is because he’s doing it in support of a country the US government doesn’t like and an ideology the US government doesn’t approve of. Which only makes sense if you’re a propagandist for The New York Times or one of their brainwashed rabble of victims.
The Times notes that Singham is married to Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans, which you’d think would be taken as a very clear sign that Singham is sincere in his opposition to US imperialism rather than acting as a secret agent of the Chinese government. But this marriage is bizarrely framed as making Singham more suspicious instead, with lines like “Ms. Evans declined to answer questions about funding from her husband” appearing in the text as though receiving funding from one’s spouse would be some kind of damning revelation.
Contrary to Rubio’s insinuations, The New York Times was actually forced to admit in its own reporting that despite the ominous and conspiratorial tone of the article, no FARA violations could be found in Singham’s activities:
“None of Mr. Singham’s nonprofits have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, as is required of groups that seek to influence public opinion on behalf of foreign powers. That usually applies to groups taking money or orders from foreign governments. Legal experts said Mr. Singham’s network was an unusual case.”
The reason legal experts said Singham’s case is unusual when it comes to the question of foreign agents registration is because Singham is not a foreign agent. He lives in China, but he’s a US citizen. He gives money to organizations which support China, but there are no laws against that. He shares an office with a Chinese media company and appears to give them money, but there’s no law against that either. The “legal experts” in question were probably New York Times lawyers telling reporters they can’t falsely accuse US citizens and their associates of being foreign agents on no basis whatsoever.
Rubio’s letter states that “many of the organizations Mr. Singham financially supports are linked directly or indirectly to the CCP,” but there’s no indication in the reporting that any Singham-funded organization is tied to the Chinese government and operating as a foreign agent in the United States. Rubio and his McCarthyite buddies at The New York Times use the fact that Singham funds both Chinese and American institutions to falsely insinuate that there are unregistered Singham-funded Chinese government agents operating in the US, but that claim isn’t actually put forward as a fact in the New York Times piece, because it isn’t a fact. What’s reported is that Singham funds Chinese organizations in China and American organizations in America, both of which are perfectly legal things to do.
The New York Times reports that Singham associates with Chinese people, promotes information that serves the interests of the Chinese government, supports communism, opposes US imperialism, and has an antiwar activist wife. What The New York Times does not report is one iota of information that Singham or the organizations he supports have broken any US laws.
While Marco Rubio and The New York Times frame Singham’s activities as something sinister and subversive, from all evidence presented he’s actually just playing by the same rules that wealthy Americans have been playing by for generations. They both criticize Singham’s funding of a think tank called Tricontinental which puts out commentary and analysis from a Marxist perspective, when other US plutocrats openly pour vast fortunes into think tanks all the time — the only difference is that US plutocrats tend to favor think tanks which support US imperialism and capitalist exploitation.
One of the most depraved things that happens in the US today is the way war profiteering corporations and plutocrats are allowed to fund immensely influential warmongering think tanks, which then go on to influence the thinking of government policymakers in support of war and militarism. Media outlets like The New York Times routinely cite these war profiteer-funded think tanks as experts on foreign policy and international affairs without ever disclosing this immense conflict of interest to their audiences; a recent study by the Quincy Institute found that 85 percent of the think tanks cited in the mainstream press when reporting on the war in Ukraine were funded by war profiteers like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
That’s considered perfectly fine and normal in the United States, but a wealthy American funding organizations that want peace and economic justice is viewed by empire managers and the imperial media as an incendiary scandal. According to all facts in evidence Singham isn’t doing anything different from the rich Americans who buy up media outlets and fund think tanks in order to advance their personal agendas, but because his personal agendas involve opposing the US empire and spreading socialist ideas it’s seized on as evidence that gasoline needs to be poured onto the fire of McCarthyite hysteria in Washington.
If you look at the facts of this case you quickly see that they expose nothing nefarious about Code Pink or anyone else Singham supports, or indeed about Singham himself. What they expose is the fact that the entire mainstream political/media class is pointed at war, death and destruction across both sides of the pretend partisan divide, and will attack anyone who tries to stand in the way of the worst impulses of the imperial machine.
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