Max Blumenthal(l), Anya Parampil(r)

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How the Grayzone went from left-wing darling to right-wing influencer

Why is a left-wing publication cozying up to the right?

 

Mathew Foresta

Tech

Posted on Jan 1, 2024   Updated on Jan 2, 2024, 7:39 am CST

A fog has settled over the Grayzone.

Run by Clinton insider Sidney Blumenthal’s son Max, the nominally leftist website is popular in certain circles, with nearly half a million followers across social media. 

Its stories have been retweeted by celebrities and Blumenthal recently garnered attention for asking U.S. officials tough questions about refusing to brand Israeli actions in Gaza a genocide. 

But Blumenthal and the site have amassed critics that claim its helped spread disinformation about Syria, Ukraine, and China

While its founders hold some progressive beliefs, like support for Palestinian rights, its authoritarian bent has been seeping out for years.

It has taken stances in line with the Assad regime, Vladimir Putin, and CCP officials.

These dictatorial regimes seem to take a liking to the Grayzone’s efforts. One of its articles was cited by a Chinese government official denying the country committed crimes against the Uyghurs. Over the summer, Blumenthal spoke at the United Nations Security Council in denunciation of U.S. aid to Ukraine. 

And its turn to the far-right, with its founder embracing and appearing with politicians and influencers in the movement, is exemplary of a burgeoning movement of leftists turning to the right.

In a recent piece, “Losing the Plot: The ‘Leftists’ Who Turn Right,” Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet point to “the rabbit hole of a Manichaean anti-imperialism, in which the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as creating an opening for those who should ostensibly despise right-leaning views instead embracing them. 

In recent years, this proclivity has become more pronounced. The war in Ukraine, COVID-19, the Trump years, the rise of LGBTQ rights, and the 2020 election has led to an ascension of reactionary figures who, for different reasons, share with the Grayzone the common enemy of U.S. hegemonic power and groupthink from more mainstream Democrats and Republicans. 

This presents new potential allies, audiences, and online affirmation, and has led Blumenthal to rub shoulders with right-wing figures, take up the anti-vax cause, and defend a credibly accused abuser.

And it exploded with a massive fight between partners at the site. 

The drama became public in October when Blumenthal and former co-editor Benjamin Norton exchanged insults and accusations online. 

“Why did I leave The Grayzone? Because it’s run by an unstable meglomaniac with no coherent principles,” Norton tweeted on Oct. 4. “He took a hard right-wing turn, intentionally appealing to Trump’s ‘MAGA’ followers.”

Norton went on to accuse Blumenthal, along with his wife and fellow Grayzone writer Anya Parampil, of moving to the right in an appeal to supporters of former President Donald Trump. 

He continued, accusing them of dining with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, insulting the left broadly, and being self-aggrandizing “opportunist contrarians.”

Blumenthal fired back. 

In a lengthy tweet he claimed Norton, a supporter of vaccines, did not leave the Grayzone last year but was in fact fired for publicly criticizing his colleagues anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine stances, which Blumenthal referred to as “jab mandates.” 

He went on to accuse Norton of multiple ethical and contractual breaches including deceiving Patreon investors and stealing social media login credentials for both the Grayzone and “Moderate Rebels,” their joint series of podcasts and shows. 

Blumenthal concluded by attaching a cease and desist letter from February 2022 stating that Norton was fired the previous month for alleged “inappropriate and inflammatory posts on social media related to your Grayzone colleagues in breach of the agreement,” and “neglecting for an extended period to carry out your normal work duties.” 

The letter goes on to accuse Norton of taking Moderate Rebels and unilaterally rebranding it “Multipolarista.” 

It ended with a threat of legal action if, among other things, log in credentials were not turned back over to Grayzone.

Norton admitted he “signed legal terms of resolution” with Blumenthal, but went on to claim, “I had created social media accounts for a podcast that we co-hosted but which I singlehandedly produced, edited, and promoted; I always ran those accounts, and he never had access. So, being the bully he is, he used some of his vast wealth to hire a corporate lawyer to try to seize them, ridiculously claiming I ‘stole’ accounts that he never had access to, which I created and always ran myself.”

Blumenthal then branded him a “scoundrel.”

“In over two decades in independent media, I have not worked with a more cowardly, unethical scoundrel than Ben. As he arrives in a new country to benefit from the goodwill of his hosts, citizens must be warned that a criminal mind is lurking in their midst,” Blumenthal tweeted.

The conflict had been percolating privately for some time, with Blumenthal sharing video of a bitter argument on a public bus in Nicaragua that apparently occurred earlier in the year. 

Blumenthal posted a recording of the incident during their online feud, claiming he confronted Norton for violating their mediation agreement. The video shows Blumenthal tossing accusations at a seated Norton who is shielded by a man and woman who Blumenthal claims are his twin brother and girlfriend. 

“Can you tell the Moderate Rebels patreons why you stole the account from me? How much money you stole from me, because we had a fifty-fifty agreement,” Blumenthal says.

“That’s a fucking lie,” Norton retorts.

“You stole tens of thousands of dollars from me,” Blumenthal continues.

The video shows Parampil mocking Norton for hiding behind his brother. Norton sits in a huff, angrily flipping off the camera while Blumenthal says “you’re a white collar criminal, you’re guilty of computer fraud, you should be in jail. Jackson Hinkle was right, everything he said was right about you.”

The reference to Hinkle is telling of Blumenthal’s and the Grayzone’s recent political shift.  

Hinkle—an online influencer on the right who drew attention for dating a Russian beauty pageant star with a history of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric—is also a full throated supporter of both former President Donald Trump and Putin.

Recently banned from YouTube, he previously said “I do everything for the clout. You’ll never see me do something not for the clout. That’s the only way I operate.” 

When Blumenthal released the cease and desist letter, Hinkle celebrated by calling Norton a “criminal” and “asshole” in one tweet and excoriating him once more while defending a well-known Russian fascist in another.

Blumenthal and Hinkle were speakers at an February rally denouncing U.S. aid to Ukraine. 

The eclectic array of attendees included conspiracy theorists, noted fascist agitators, USSR nostalgics, and those celebrating far-right violence. At one point Hinkle called a heckler a “fucking f****t.” 

But this was not Blumenthal’s first right-wing protest action. 

In March 2022 he gave a speech at an anti-vax mask rally that devolved into him shouting, “they called you an anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, trucker, fascist, Tucker-watching traitor, trucker, fascist, Tucker lover, anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, all their insults just get lost, it all blends into one, the same bullshit, the same war, the same war.” 

Parampil also spoke at the rally. There she sang the praises of Scott Ritter, a convicted sex offender and former UN weapons inspector who criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq. 

“I want to give it up to Scott Ritter. He unfortunately couldn’t speak today, but I just want to point out that more than anybody on this stage Scott is actually someone who knows what it feels like to risk and lose everything and he did it in order to stand up to the greatest humanitarian catastrophe so far this century, the Iraq War. So, thank you Scott.”

She went on to take a jab at transgender people, something she recently did on social media as well. 

“I actually think it’s great that people can come together and discuss the areas where they disagree. And we can debate whether or not teenage girls should have to share locker rooms or compete in athletics against biological males another time.”

Her tweets also lend credence to Norton’s claim that the couple has a close relationship with Carlson.

Parampil previously appeared on Carlson’s former Fox News show where she was welcomed as “one of our favorite guests.”

In a tweet announcing her latest book, Parampil thanked her “friends” Oliver Stone, Francisco Rodriguez, Roger Waters, and Carlson.

In another, about her book the “Corporate Coup,” she claimed “Tucker helped make my reporting-and this book-possible.”

“Tucker is 1 million times more of an upstanding character-& more personally likeable-than 90% of the insecure, careerist, & socially toxic ‘leftists’ I’ve known,” she tweeted.

A leftist appearing on Carlson’s show isn’t completely out of the ordinary as the former Fox host pushed some right-wing critiques that on the surface can seem to align with a segment of anti-imperialists. But Carlson isn’t the only prominent figure on the right they’ve endorsed.

When far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) took a photo with Code Pink anti-war activists, praising their protest against U.S. funding of Ukraine, Parampil retweeted the picture with “Based MTG.” 

Blumenthal similarly offered his praise, writing “This is the kind of unity that terrifies the US war state.”

These are not the only figures Blumenthal has spoken up for. 

Recently, he joined in on the far-right-dominated defense of Russel Brand. Thorough investigative reporting revealed Brand had been accused of rape and sexual assault. Blumenthal defended him with conspiratorial rhetoric.

“If Russell Brand had just made the requisite celebrity pilgrimage to Zelensky and kept his mouth shut about the Covidians he would have dodged this bullet. Whatever the merits of the allegations might be, this much is obvious,” he tweeted, appearing to insuate the reporting was influenced by leftist agendas

Blumenthal’s march right has affected staffing at the Grayzone. Recently he brought aboard Liam Cosgrove, a reporter whose credits include the Federalist and Zero Hedge.

Thus far, Cosgrove has done two stories for the publication, both critical of U.S. support for Ukraine. He also once called the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act as, “a key piece in the arsenal for U.S. intelligence agencies’ war on free speech.” 

Blumenthal, Norton, and Parampil did not respond to requests for comment.

For his part, Norton is now operating a site called the Geopolitical Economy Report, formerly Multipolarista. 

It features work similar to his contributions to the Grayzone. 

Blumenthal, meanwhile, continues to march a once progressive site rightward into the arms of a newfound movement of hard-right and hard-left that could, in the coming years, grow in size, scope, and influence. 

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*First Published: Jan 1, 2024, 9:00 am CST