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Lez Get Real, Shall We?

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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, the distance from the truth was immeasurable.

A conversation between Clinton Fein and Tanya Domi.

 

Clinton:  LezGetReal for a second. There are so many layers to this story that I don’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 “A Gay Girl in Damascus” turns out to be a hoax perpetrated by “A Straight Creep in Edinburgh,” 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 – 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.” Seemingly unaware of the extent to which his elaborate hoax was diverting attention away from real issues facing actual Syrians in an increasingly brutal crackdown on protesters.

Then it turns out that the person who helped solve the case because her suspicion was aroused by the IP address of the “A Gay Girl in Damascus” site (although the State Department’s findings would have anyway), was Paula Brooks, the founder of the LezGetReal web site, who helped launch “A Gay Girl in Damascus”. 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 “Gay Girl from Damascus” blog hoaxes. I am filled with such a range of emotions about this hoax—rage, anger, exasperation, shock and some disbelief.  I mean, two white heterosexual American men who had the audacity to pose as lesbians.  There is such disrespect and mockery in their actions and the presumption that they could pass as “gay girls” and in the course of propagating these blogs, played with women’s hearts and minds.

In the case of “Amina Abdallah”, 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 “Paula Brooks” on LezGetReal blog, as a deaf lesbian mother—what a con! I do agree with feminist psychotherapist Susie Orbach who has called these lesbian personas a “double inversion”—exploiting the ‘illegitimacy’ of the person they were impersonating to give themselves legitimacy”.

 

Clinton: “We Are All Khaled Said,” 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: “I 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.”

I don’t even want to get into the whole pathology of heterosexual men posing as lesbians – yet!

 

Tanya: Interestingly enough, I am reading Arabist Joseph Massad’s tour de force book titled Desiring Arabs at the moment, in which the author posits that “the Prophet prohibited suhaq, or sapphism, just as the Qu’an prohibited adultery”.  Knowing about such prohibitions under Sharia law, for Ammina publicly identifying as “A Gay Girl in Damascus” struck me as so, so audacious—a death wish, if true.  And, unlikely, as well. It immediately raised a red flag to me.  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 LGR’s tagline:  “A gay girl’s guide to the world”.  “A gay girl” is not the customary adjective and noun used by lesbians to refer to themselves.  Younger women commonly call themselves “queer” and older women like myself call ourselves “lesbian”.  But ‘gay girls’? I always thought that tag line was a bit off and odd—sort of discomforting.  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 don’t agree with her conclusions, because with both “A Gay Girl in Damascus” and LezGetReal there were signs. Signs that we chose to ignore. And so I don’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 “lez” 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 LGR’s tagline. I have lots of friends who are lesbians and I have never, not once, heard any of them use the term “lez” 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 “GetReal.” It seems to me now the very name LezGetReal was a taunt – 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 “[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.”

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, this didn’t pass the smell test, and we should have caught on sooner Period.

 

Tanya:  As a feminist, I think people should read Samya’s essay to learn why it is so important to create space for them in the cyber public square –yield to vital Arab women’s voices during this seismic moment in Middle East history.  So much of women’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 law—finding an outlet online is vital to them, like breathing air.  Therefore it is so shameful that MacMaster usurped a cyber platform by posing as a “gay girl” 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.  Power put into the hands of a censor is quite dangerous and today’s hero could be tomorrow’s enemy.  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 let’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.  Pull the plug.

(Image: Clinton Fein)

 

Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-​known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoy​.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, “a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.” Fein’s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newman’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 a 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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‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’: RNC’s ‘Chilling’ MAGA Chant Echoes Trump – and ‘1930’s Germany’

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Echoing Donald Trump’s fist-pumping and shout immediately after his ear was nicked by a would-be assassin who killed an innocent bystander Saturday, attendees on the first day of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Monday broke out into chants, yelling, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

“Having finished the prayer and pledge, and rendition of ‘God Bless America,'” LaPolitics Weekly editor and publisher Jeremy Alford reported, “RNC delegates almost immediately begin chanting the same war cry @realDonaldTrump emitted upon being shot: ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ ”

Baptist minister Brian Kaylor, who has a PhD in political communication, is the author or co-author of five books, including “Sacramental Politics: Religious Worship as Political Action,” and “Baptizing America: How Mainline Protestants Helped Build Christian Nationalism.”

He writes: “Delegates yelling ‘fight!’ during RNC shows the danger of what Trump’s instinct was on Saturday.”

READ MORE: Was Trump Hit by a Bullet or Not? Calls Mount for Campaign to Release Medical Records

Attorney and SiriusXM host Dean Obeidallah posted a short clip of the moment, remarking: “Bone chilling to see at #RNCConvention people chanting ‘Fight’ in unison with one arm punching in the air. Instantly conjures up rallies from 1930’s Germany. There is no other way to put it.”

The fist-pumping is very visible in the bottom portion of the frame:

Author Stephen Beschloss responded: “Here’s the Trump Republican Party’s ‘unity’ message: Fight.”

Professor of history and fascism and authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat also responded, writing: “You know what to do, Americans. We can avoid this nightmare. Never become resigned or fatalistic. That’s what they want.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein, also an NBC News/MSNBC contributor, also posted a clip, and remarked: “Expect to hear this a lot this week.”

Watch the videos above or at this link.

READ MORE: Biden Channels Lincoln in Address on Trump Assassination Attempt: ‘We Are Not Enemies’

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Was Trump Hit by a Bullet or Not? Calls Mount for Campaign to Release Medical Records

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Critics are calling for Donald Trump’s campaign to release his medical records in the wake of Saturday’s attempted assassination, noting that no physician has gone on record to give the American people any information, which some are saying is a lack of transparency.

Trump has stated he was wounded by the shooter’s bullet, but reports have also stated the bleeding on his right ear was from shards of glass from his teleprompter.

“Trump has posted that his ear was pierced by a bullet, but the sad fact is that he’s an unreliable source. News organizations need to wait for more credible confirmation of what happened,” wrote journalist Steven Beschloss on Saturday.

“Why haven’t we heard from the medical staff or others confirming whether Trump was or wasn’t hit by a bullet?” he asked Monday, adding, “If indeed Trump was cut by a piece of glass, then all the talk that he was shot is factually wrong. This needs to be clarified by the authorities involved, no matter whether it contradicts the Trump narrative.”

Investigative journalist Jonathan Greenberg on Monday asked, “What is Trump hiding?”

READ MORE: ‘Just the First Step’: Trump Declares ‘Uniting Our Nation’ Means Ending All Cases Against Him

“Did Trump actually get shot in the ear? If that’s the case, why has he not released the medical report & images of the wound? Why should we trust the most successful liar & con man of all time, who has lied about all his medical records so far?”

Professor of journalism Jeff Jarvis on Monday also asked, “why have we not seen a medical report from the hospital that treated Trump? Why have we not seen reporters vocally demanding it?”

He added: “Let’s at least try to demand transparency from the campaign and doctors. I don’t see anyone trying.”

“Trump was taken to Butler Memorial Hospital close to where the attack happened, but no details have been officially released,” The Daily Beast reported Monday.

Calling it a “Mystery,”  The Beast reports, “the Trump camp has not disclosed what kinds of tests the former president underwent, how he was treated and for what types of injuries, and if there will be follow-ups. While such details may seem insignificant, the American public tends to expect maximum clarity about presidential health, as the public storm over President Joe Biden’s mental acuity, one led by members of his own party, demonstrated.”

The lack of transparency into Trump’s health after the assassination attempt is in line with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s refusal to release full information surrounding his overall health in general.

While President Joe Biden has released a good deal of data from his doctors on his health, Trump has released very little.

READ MORE: As Cannon Dismisses Trump Classified Docs Case Experts Pin Blame on Clarence Thomas

In 2020, when then-President Trump contracted COVID, reporters demanded information from doctors, which was very limited at first, and, as CNN reported, “created confusion.” Part of that confusion was in the timeline of events. It has been reported that Trump, according to at least three of his close aides, had tested positive for the deadly coronavirus just days before one of the 2020 presidential debates, and appeared just feet way from his opponent, now President Joe Biden without announcing his status.

Trump has a history of hiding his medical status.

Even before he was elected, in 2015, Trump only a provided a short letter from Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, who later revealed Trump had dictated to the doctor what to write.

“He dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter,” Bornstein told CNN in 2018. “I just made it up as I went along.”

NBC News in 2018 reported that Bornstein also revealed Trump’s team had “raided” his office and removed all his medical records.

“Bornstein told NBC News that he felt ‘raped, frightened and sad’ when Keith Schiller and another ‘large man’ came to his office to collect the president’s records on the morning of Feb. 3, 2017. At the time, Schiller, who had long worked as Trump’s bodyguard, was serving as director of Oval Office operations at the White House.”

READ MORE: Biden Channels Lincoln in Address on Trump Assassination Attempt: ‘We Are Not Enemies’

 

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‘Just the First Step’: Trump Declares ‘Uniting Our Nation’ Means Ending All Cases Against Him

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Donald Trump, declaring his surviving Saturday’s attempted assassination a “miracle,” reportedly has changed his upcoming address to this week’s Republican National Convention to promoting “unity.” But unlike President Joe Biden’s Oval Office speech Sunday night urging America come together, the ex-president is defining national unity as everyone agreeing all legal and civil cases against him are baseless “Witch Hunts.”

Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after a 20-year old registered Republican with an AR-15 style rifle unloaded eight bullets in the ex-president’s direction, causing his ear to be grazed, possibly by schraptnal or glass, while killing a 50-year old supporter at a rally in the stands behind him, Trump posted just two words to his Truth Social account: “UNITE AMERICA!”

“The former president has told multiple outlets he wants to focus on unifying the country after surviving an assassination attempt,” Rolling Stone reports. “As Trump’s allies and other prominent Republican commentators attempt to weaponize the shooting into a political cudgel against Democrats to silence criticism of Trump and his track record endorsing political violence, it may only be a matter of time before the former president slips back into his old habits.”

Monday morning, barely one hour after U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee in Florida, handed down her ruling entirely dismissing the Espionage Act/classified documents case against the ex-president, Trump expanded on his definition of unity: ending “ALL the Witch Hunts.”

RELATED: As Cannon Dismisses Trump Classified Docs Case Experts Pin Blame on Clarence Thomas

“As we move forward in Uniting our Nation after the horrific events on Saturday, this dismissal of the Lawless Indictment in Florida should be just the first step, followed quickly by the dismissal of ALL the Witch Hunts — The January 6th Hoax in Washington, D.C., the Manhattan D.A.’s Zombie Case, the New York A.G. Scam, Fake Claims about a woman I never met (a decades old photo in a line with her then husband does not count), and the Georgia ‘Perfect’ Phone Call charges. The Democrat Justice Department coordinated ALL of these Political Attacks, which are an Election Interference conspiracy against Joe Biden’s Political Opponent, ME. Let us come together to END all Weaponization of our Justice System, and Make America Great Again!”

Veteran journalist Brian J. Karem responded to Trump’s post, writing: “So much for uniting people. That didn’t last a single day.”

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) added, “I knew this mad man would soon be back. He’s incapable of unifying peanut butter and jelly. For Trump it’s always been me, me, me first (& only).”

Media columnist Justin Baragona noted, “The new Trump tone lasted a record 36 hours.”

READ MORE: Biden Channels Lincoln in Address on Trump Assassination Attempt: ‘We Are Not Enemies’

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