The distance from Damascus to Edinburgh to Ohio totals about 10,000 miles, but for two straight American men pretending to be lesbian bloggers covering different continents around the world,Â the distance from the truth was immeasurable.
A conversation between Clinton Fein and Tanya Domi.
Clinton:Â LezGetReal for a second. There are so many layers to this story that I donâ€™t really know where to begin. In a nutshell, a State Department investigation into the sudden disappearance of Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, a widely read Syrian woman blogging as â€œA Gay Girl in Damascusâ€ turns out to be a hoax perpetrated by â€œA Straight Creep in Edinburgh,â€ Tom MacMaster, who is actually American.
In a half-hearted, non-apologetic apology, MacMaster, a Middle East activist from Georgia USA, claimed that despite leading everyone to believe he was Amina, he was dealing with very real issues and giving voice to things that needed to be spoken about. “I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone â€“ I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about. I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in this year of revolutions. The events there are being shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.”Â Seemingly unaware of the extent to whichÂ his elaborate hoax was diverting attention away from real issues facing actual Syrians in an increasingly brutal crackdown onÂ protesters.
Then it turns out that the person who helped solve the case because her suspicion was aroused by the IP address of the â€œA Gay Girl in Damascusâ€ site (although the State Departmentâ€™s findings would have anyway), was Paula Brooks, the founder of theÂ LezGetReal web site, who helped launch â€œA Gay Girl in Damascusâ€. Only, it turns out Paula Brooks is really a 58- year-old retired military veteran and construction worker, Bill Graber. (The picture of him that I used in the graphic for this article was provided to the Washington Post by Graber. but who verified that it’s him?)
Tanya: Clinton, I do not know where to begin on the LGR and the â€œGay Girl from Damascusâ€ blog hoaxes. I am filled with such a range of emotions about this hoaxâ€”rage, anger, exasperation, shock and some disbelief.Â I mean, two white heterosexual American men who had the audacity to pose as lesbians.Â There is such disrespect and mockery in their actions and the presumption that they could pass as â€œgay girlsâ€ and in the course of propagating these blogs, played with womenâ€™s hearts and minds.
In the case of â€œAmina Abdallahâ€, MacMaster, the man behind the faux Syrian lesbian, has cruelly played all of us to be fools in his sport, with lesbians as his game. Bill Graber, who posed as â€œPaula Brooksâ€ on LezGetReal blog, as a deaf lesbian motherâ€”what a con! I do agree with feminist psychotherapist Susie Orbach who has called these lesbian personas a â€œdouble inversionâ€â€”exploiting the â€˜illegitimacyâ€™ of the person they were impersonating to give themselves legitimacyâ€.
Clinton: â€œWe Are All Khaled Said,â€ one of the social media activism success stories, to a large degree responsible for the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and the blossoming of the Arab Spring in the Middle East said this in response to this whole sordid affair: â€œI think this hoax is a stab in the back to Online activists and especially to those who need to hide their identity to protect themselves from dictators. I believe that many people’s trust in social activism have been shaken by this hoax.â€
I donâ€™t even want to get into the whole pathology of heterosexual men posing as lesbians â€“ yet!
Tanya: Interestingly enough, I am reading Arabist Joseph Massadâ€™s tour de force book titled Desiring Arabs at the moment, in which the author posits that â€œthe Prophet prohibited suhaq, or sapphism, just as the Quâ€™an prohibited adulteryâ€.Â Knowing about such prohibitions under Sharia law, for Ammina publicly identifying as â€œA Gay Girl in Damascusâ€ struck me as so, so audaciousâ€”a death wish, if true.Â And, unlikely, as well. It immediately raised a red flag to me.Â I was intrigued and decided to watch her alleged kidnapping play out, figuring if this woman really existed, she would most likely be murdered, execution style by zealot religious police.
And let me just add that I have always, always been uncomfortable with the LGRâ€™s tagline:Â â€œA gay girlâ€™s guide to the worldâ€.Â â€œA gay girlâ€ is not the customary adjective and noun used by lesbians to refer to themselves.Â Younger women commonly call themselves â€œqueerâ€ and older women like myself call ourselves â€œlesbianâ€.Â But â€˜gay girlsâ€™? I always thought that tag line was a bit off and oddâ€”sort of discomforting.Â I fortunately was never pulled into the LGR and it never called out to me.
Clinton: Samya from Muslimah Media Watch wrote a brilliant essay as to why this is damaging to the cause of global online activism and Arab women. And while I agree with her insights, I donâ€™t agree with her conclusions, because with both â€œA Gay Girl in Damascusâ€ and LezGetReal there were signs. Signs that we chose to ignore. And so I donâ€™t think we get off the hook that easily without looking at what those were and why and how we missed them.
The first time I was exposed to LezGetReal was on Twitter, where we followed each other and briefly communicated. I have no idea who was managing their Twitter account. Although I found the word â€œlezâ€ to be incongruent with the content, which I thought was sincere and smart actually – David Kato, Uganda, The Family. The same way you were uncomfortable with the LGRâ€™s tagline. I have lots of friends who are lesbians and I have never, not once, heard any of them use the term â€œlezâ€ to identify themselves. I always thought it was either a kind of derogatory term or one that you would see on porn sites to titillate straight men. Now it kind of makes sense in a way, as does the irony of the â€œGetReal.â€ It seems to me now the very name LezGetReal was a taunt â€“ how could we have missed it?
A good few lesbian bloggers I have read in the last couple of days are understandably pissed. People are calling for global regulation to prevent this kind of hoax from happening again. Samaya wrote â€œ[T]he MacMaster case should give rise to more serious global regulations to ensure that the Web, widely acclaimed as a window of opportunity for women aspiring for social and political advancement, would not be used for extortion and defamation.â€
I could not disagree more. What we need are smarter tools that enable us to authenticate voices and better filters, both technological and organic, not a global Big Brother. The need for anonymity trumps our desire to accept anything at face value. Yes, this may be a setback for global activism and Arab women in the short term, but in retrospect, thisÂ didn’tÂ pass the smell test, and we should have caught on sooner Period.
Tanya:Â As a feminist, I think people should read Samyaâ€™s essay to learn why it is so important to create space for them in the cyber public square –yield to vital Arab womenâ€™s voices during this seismic moment in Middle East history.Â So much of womenâ€™s lives are spent behind the doors of purdah in the Middle East. Like lesbians and gays, Middle East women are forced to hide by custom and lawâ€”finding an outlet online is vital to them, like breathing air.Â Therefore it is so shameful that MacMaster usurped a cyber platform by posing as a â€œgay girlâ€ for his own amusement and uninformed purposes.
Nonetheless, I do share your opinion Clinton that we should not regulate blogs or the net to prevent these hijackings.Â Power put into the hands of a censor is quite dangerous and todayâ€™s hero could be tomorrowâ€™s enemy.Â No regulating entity should have that kind of power. That is why we must build resilient democracies that provide multiple opportunities to make known these transgressions in the public square and let the chips fall where they may.
Clinton: McMasters and Graber are both fraudulent, smug, self-important assholes with major issues and bizarre motivations I think need exploring, (which we will) but letâ€™s own our willingness to be so successfully duped. Discernment is our responsibility, not the people creating content authentic enough to fool us.
Tanya: LGR is now a damaged brand and should be taken off life support and shut down. The key bloggers at LGR have seriously damaged credibility, perhaps irreparably harmed by the revelation that Paula Brooks never existed. Their claims that they never knew Paula Brooks were Bill Graber ring hollow.Â Pull the plug.
(Image: Clinton Fein)
Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-â€‹known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoyâ€‹.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, â€œa nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.â€ Feinâ€™s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newmanâ€™s Own First Amendment Award.
Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than aÂ decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.
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‘I’m Broke’: One Day Before Shutdown and With No Plan McCarthy Says He Has ‘Nothing’ in His ‘Back Pocket’
Just 30 hours before his own Republican conference likely will have succeeded in shutting down the federal government of the United States, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy candidly admitted to reporters he’s run out of ideas.
Earlier Friday in an “embarrassing failure,” 21 House Republicans killed legislation from their own party, a short-term continuing resolution, that would have kept the federal government open.
Later on Friday afternoon, swarmed by reporters, McCarthy was asked if he was going to tell them what his plans are. He sarcastically replied, “No, I’m going to keep it all a secret.”
When pressed, he said he would “keep working, and make sure we solve this problem.”
“What’s in your back pocket, Speaker?” another reporter asked, pressing him for an answer.
“Nothing right now. I’m broke,” he admitted, apparently referring to options and ideas to avoid a shutdown.
But another reporter asked Speaker McCarthy the main question: Would he partner with House Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to put the Senate’s bill before the House.
He refused to answer.
After Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) failed House vote to keep the federal government open…
Reporter: “What’s in your back pocket, Speaker?”
McCarthy: “Nothing right now. I’m broke.” pic.twitter.com/pB2SWhOSVr
— The Recount (@therecount) September 29, 2023
Just before 5 PM CNN’s Manu Raju reported on the ongoing House Republicans’ closed-door meeting with the Speaker, a meeting where the 21 Republicans who will likely be effectively responsible for the shutdown reportedly did not attend.
“McCarthy is telling [Republicans] now there aren’t many options to avoid a shutdown, according to sources in room. He says they can approve GOP’s stop-gap plan that failed, accept Senate plan, put a ‘clean’ stop-gap on floor to dare Democrats to block it — or shut down the government.”
He adds, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) largely responsible for the impending likely shutdown and the impending possible ouster of McCarthy said: “We will not pass a continuing resolution on terms that continue America’s decline.”
At midnight Saturday Republicans will likely have succeeded in furloughing 3.5 million million federal workers – two million of them service members in the U.S. Armed Forces – and countless contractors, while financially harming untold thousands of businesses that rely on income from all those workers to keep running – unless Speaker McCarthy puts a bipartisan continuing resolution approved by at least 75 U.S. Senators on the floor, legislation every House Democrat is likely to vote for.
Should he do so, many believe he will have also signed his own pink slip.
But whether or not the government shuts down, and whether or not McCarthy puts the Senate’s CR on the floor, according to The Washington Post the far right extremists in his party are already moving to oust him “as early as next week.”
The Biden campaign is making certain Americans realize the blame for the impending shutdown sits at McCarthy’s feet.
Here is Kevin McCarthy a few months ago praising the deal he made with President Biden to avert a government shutdown, which he is now reneging on pic.twitter.com/B4rVNzNXkZ
— Biden-Harris HQ (@BidenHQ) September 29, 2023
At 6:23 PM Friday evening, Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman wrote on social media: “HOUSE REPUBLICANS HAVE NO PLAN TO KEEP GOVERNMENT OPEN.”
Watch the videos above or at this link.
‘Bad News’ for Sidney Powell as First Trump Co-Defendant in Georgia RICO Case Takes Plea Deal: Legal Expert
“Under the terms of an agreement with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s office, Hall pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit election fraud, conspiracy to commit computer theft, conspiracy to commit computer trespass, conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy, and conspiracy to defraud the state,” NBC News reports. “Under the terms of the deal, he’s being sentenced to five years probation.”
CNN previously reported “Hall, a bail bondsman and pro-Trump poll-watcher in Atlanta, spent hours inside a restricted area of the Coffee County elections office when voting systems were breached in January 2021. The breach was connected to efforts by pro-Trump conspiracy theorists to find voter fraud. Hall was captured on surveillance video at the office, on the day of the breach. He testified before the grand jury in Fulton County case and acknowledged that he gained access to a voting machine.”
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, a professor of law and frequent MSNBC contributor, says Hall “was in the thick of things with Sidney Powell on Jan 7 for the Coffee County scheme involving voting machines. If he’s cooperating, it’s a bad sign for her.”
Hall’s plea deal “spells bad news for, among others, Sidney Powell,” says former Dept. of Defense Special Counsel Ryan Goodman, an NYU Law professor of law. Goodman posted a graphic showing the overlap in charges against Hall and Powell, which he called “alleged joint actions.”
With breakthrough for Georgia DA (@TamarHallerman reporting: “SCOTT HALL has become the first co-defendant in the Fulton election interference case to take a plea deal with prosecutors.”)
That spells bad news for, among others, Sidney Powell.
Example of alleged joint actions.👇 pic.twitter.com/odMM5C7JtX
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) September 29, 2023
See the graphic above or at this link.
Far-Right Republicans Kill GOP Bill to Keep Government Running in ‘Embarrassing Failure’ for McCarthy: Report
With a shutdown less than 36 hours away, far-right Republicans in the House of Representatives Friday afternoon voted against their party’s own legislation to kept the federal government running. Democrats opposed the content of the bill and voted against it. Just 21 far-right members of the GOP conference were able to effectively force what appears to be an all but inevitable shutdown at midnight on Saturday.
“HARDLINE HOUSE RS take down stopgap funding bill. 21 GOP no votes. 232-198,” reported Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman just before 2 PM Friday.
NBC News reported that a “band of conservative rebels on Friday revolted and blocked House Republicans’ short-term funding bill to keep the government open, delivering a political blow to Speaker Kevin McCarthy and likely cementing the chances of a painful government shutdown that is less than 48 hours away.”
“Twenty-one rebels, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a conservative bomb-thrower and a top Donald Trump ally, voted Friday afternoon to scuttle the 30-day funding bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, leaving Republicans without a game plan to avert a shutdown. The vote failed,” NBC added. “The embarrassing failure of the GOP measure once again highlights the dilemma for McCarthy as his hard-liners strongly oppose a short-term bill even if it includes conservative priorities. It leaves Congress on a path to a shutdown, with no apparent offramp to avoiding it — or to quickly reopen the government.”
A bipartisan group of at least 75 U.S. Senators has passed two bills this week that would keep the government running. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has refused to allow it to come to the floor for a vote.
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