The world reacted in horror as images emerged of a chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria this week – but Russia and far-right commentators had a different reaction.
Kremlin commentators claimed that the attack was entirely fake – or ‘staged’ by first responders in Syria to stoke tensions.
The claim was echoed by far-right commentators and conspiracy theorists in the West.
David Knight of Infowars said, ‘This is the fourth time we’ve come up with an incident as an excuse to go to war.
‘I say fake because we’ve seen it in 2013. Every time there looks to be victory for the Syrian government, there’s a Syrian gas attack.
Knight claims that subsequent investigations meant that ‘every time we found out that it wasn’t what they said.
Russia’s spokesman Lieutenant-General Viktor Poznikhir was more specific saying, ‘Acting purely as a terrorist organisation, the odious ‘White Helmets’ once again staged for the cameras a ‘chemical attack’ on the civilians of Douma.’
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His views were echoed by Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizov, who said, ‘We’ve seen another staged event. There are personnel, specifically trained – and you can guess by whom – amongst the so-called White Helmets, who were already caught in the act with staged videos.’
Why do conspiracy theorists blame the White Helmets?
The White Helmets are officially known as the Syria Civil Defence, and are a volunteer search and rescue operation which operates in rebel-held areas of Syria.
The organisation has been targeted by a disinformation campaign believed to have been organised by the Kremlin, and staged via state-owned media channels such as Russia Today.
Various viral images and videos have been used to ‘prove’ that the White Helmets are faking evidence of attacks by Assad’s government.
The White Helmets have provoked the ire of the government by using handheld devices to film atrocities – and have since been targeted by repeated smears on Russia Today and Sputnik.
In the West, far right commentators such as Alex Jones of Infowars have echoed the Kremlin’s views
Jones said in a previous attack, ‘Alex Jones said, ‘The White Helmets, an al-Qaeda affiliated group funded by George Soros and the British government, have reportedly staged another chemical weapon attack on civilians.’
Former Apprentice contestant turned far-right commentator Katie Hopkins has described the White Helmets as ‘Oscar winning’.
I stand with the @EmbassyofRussia on this. Islamic militants deliver gas attack on children in a controlled environment. Oscar winning White Helmets prepped & ready to deliver the tragedy to the MSM who are complicit. #FalseFlag https://t.co/n1J11CxQE3
— Katie Hopkins (@KTHopkins) April 10, 2018
Who do conspiracy theorists think is behind the staged attacks?
Conspiracy theorists have been keen to paint themselves as ‘anti war’ – claiming that dark forces within Western governments are using faked chemical attacks to provoke conflict.
This week, conspiracy site Infowars filmed a segment which it claimed was aimed at ‘preventing World War 3.’
David Knight said on Infowars, ‘We no longer even try to pretend that they attacked us.’
‘We’ve seen what I believe to the same thing in the UK in the attack on the Skripals. Absolutely false narrative.’
Infowars has claimed that the whole event is a ‘false flag’ staged by dark forces within Western governments – the so-called ‘deep state’.
On Infowars Dr Steve Pieczenik said: “My take is that we have been involved in a false flag for quite some time.
‘I spent three weeks in Syria before all this occurred, before the wars broke out, and I can assure you Bashar al-Assad is not interested in chemical warfare.”
Others claim that the ‘false attacks’ are somehow being staged by either Isis or Al Qaeda.
Katie Hopkins said, ‘‘ISIS are using civilians to achieve international support / a ‘humanitarian’ reprieve.’
Other conspiracy theorists have claimed that Jewish groups want to escalate the conflict to destabilise the region – claiming that Jewish figures in America are also involved.
Like provoking international outcry against Syria. Who's funding the White Helmets and perpetrating the chemical attacks? I don't know but it's not Al Assad The turmoil in the region is obviously in Israel's interests. The US Jewish lobby/Neocons want an escalation!
— Simon Harris ||*|| (@simonharris) April 9, 2018
This is one instance where we have to be much more critical. There is no way Assad did this. This is pure false flag from Mossad controlled terrorists in white helmets. Dershowitz believes that anyone that is not Jewish is cattle to be used at will by Israel.
— Cody Blaine (@libertywagon) April 8, 2018
The arab-hating jewish hawks have now completed their takeover of the White House. This false flag chemical attack has been expected, and trailed, for some days now. Just had to allow the White Helmets time to set up their recording equipment. Another Oscar nomination ?
— David Deevoy (@DavidDeevoy) April 8, 2018
Do any serious news organisations believe the attacks were faked?
In America, right-leaning networks such as Fox have given air time to suggestions that chemical attacks in Syria have been faked.
The network’s Tucker Carlson described Donald Trump’s proposed strike against Syria as ‘foreign policy by viral video.”
Carlson said, ‘We should be skeptical of this – starting with the poison gas attack itself.
‘All the geniuses tell us that Assad killed those children. But do they really know that? Of course they don’t really know that – they’re making it up. They have no real idea what happened.’
Is there proof chemical weapons have been used?
As yet, it’s not been officially established by international bodies, but French leader Emmanuel Macron says he has seen ‘proof’.
The UN World Health Organisation has demanded access to the area to verify reports from local partners that chemical weapons have been used.
The official international chemical weapons agency OPCW is to deploy a fact-finding mission to the area.
— OPCW (@OPCW) April 10, 2018
The Syrian-American Medical Society (Sams) said in a report, ‘More than 500 cases -the majority of whom are women and children – were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.
‘Patients have shown signs of respiratory distress, central cyanosis, excessive oral foaming, corneal burns, and the emission of chlorine-like odor.’
French leader Emmanuel Macron says he has seen ‘proof’ that chemicals were used.
Macron said this week, ‘We have proof that last week chemical weapons, at least chlorine, were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.’