Payback? The arrest of Max Blumenthal

The way Blumenthal’s arrest was handled should send a chill down our collective spines because it shows a widening war on left-wing journalists and whistle-blowers that is remarkably resilient to changes in government.

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At 9am on October 25th, Washington D.C. police arrived in full force at the door of journalist Max Blumenthal, threatening to kick it down if he didn’t immediately answer. When he complied, according to his own statements in an interview he gave shortly after his release, he had to argue with the heavily armed officers in order to be able to get his coat and, after doing so, was hurried out into a waiting police van still wearing his pajamas. This, unfortunately, would not be the final indignity he would face in the almost two days he was held without access to a lawyer.

One thing he noted in the interview cited above was how throughout the experience with D.C.’s justice system, both in the paddy wagon and in a couple holding cells, the unfairness of it was on display time and again. Held part of the time with 50 other people, he couldn’t help but notice that almost all of them were black or brown.

Although the warrant for his arrest was five months old and seems to have been passed on by an earlier prosecutor before being revived later, Blumenthal was held for 36 hours, at least five of them in shackles, before he was released, still in his pajamas, to find his way home.

It does seem odd that the warrant for simple assault, which we’ll get to shortly, led to such a show of force on the part of police, as the journalist himself explained after his release, “If the government had at least told me I had a warrant I could have voluntarily surrendered and appeared at my own arraignment…. Instead, the federal government essentially enlisted the DC police to SWAT me, ensuring that I would be subjected to an early morning raid and then languish in prison for days without even the ability to call an attorney.”

Blumenthal is a well respected for his work on the left, with his reporting having appeared in venues including The Nation, Alternet and Salon and currently along with other dissident voices like Aaron Matte and Ben Norton on the Grayzone.com, an investigative journalism project that regularly breaks stories ignored by mainstream outlets. Unapologetic and unafraid, Blumenthal himself has written critical stories about, among other things, the U.S. foreign policy establishment, the war in Syria, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the nexus between the Venezuelan opposition and powerful interests in the United States and other western countries. As we shall see, the warrant is obviously related to the latter.

Beginning in April and ending on May 16th, when the last four occupiers were removed by authorities, the Venezuelan embassy in the tony Washington, DC neighborhood of Georgetown was occupied by activists including members of Code Pink, who called themselves the Embassy Protection Collective. They remained there with the expressed permission of the property’s owner, Venezuela’s government. 


Almost immediately after the activists began to hold the embassy as its diplomatic staff were forced to leave when their visas were not renewed by the U.S. government, the building was surrounded by supporters of the Venezuelan opposition, some of whom even tried to break into the building through the back door.

At the time, as most readers will remember, the U.S. government and establishment press were working to legitimize Juan Guaido, a little known opposition deputy in the country’s National Assembly, as the country’s president, despite the fact that Nicolas Maduro had just been easily returned to office in an election deemed free and fair by the majority of international observers.

Despite this, Guaido was duly declared the country’s new president by the United States, Canada and most EU countries as well as that supranational body itself. Embassy staff in both the U.S. and Canada had their credentials removed and in the latter embassy, with no protectors, was closed indefinitely.

Blumenthal himself traveled to Venezuela last year and reported on the way the western press has distorted the reality of life there, making enemies of powerful Venezuelan oligarchs and in the American foreign policy establishment that has long supported their rule.

Judging from contemporaneous reports and live-streamed video footage, the opposition protesters surrounding the Georgetown embassy were daily demonstrating the racism and sexism elites in Latin America have long been known for. As opposed to the show of force by D.C. police at Blumenthal’s home five months later, authorities, including Secret Service officers tasked with protecting diplomatic missions, stood by and allowed those besieging the embassy to hurl abuse at and even attack those trying to bring much-needed provisions to those inside.

Blumenthal was one of those who attempted to get supplies to the occupiers but was stopped by the opposition protesters from getting through to them. At the time, a number of activists were arrested for trying to throw food, sanitary products and other supplies to those inside the embassy.

In the ongoing case against him, the reporter is accused by Venezuelan opposition activist Naylet Pacheco of repeatedly kicking her in the stomach, a serious charge indeed if true, but there are a variety of reasons to doubt it, not least of which is the fact that authorities first dropped the charges and then reinstated them months later. It’s also somewhat strange that with so many cameras on the scene, multiple searches for video of the supposed attack yielded no results.

Although it is by no means as serious, many commentators in alternative media couldn’t help but compare what’s happening to Blumenthal with the ongoing trials of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange. While so many mainstream American news outlets have cheered on the anonymous whistle-blowers who brought a likely quid pro quo between the current U.S. president and the leader of Ukraine to light, a publisher like Assange or a journalist like Max Blumenthal can’t expect the same sympathy if they dare to embarrass the wrong people or expose their lies.

One can agree or disagree with some of the opinions the reporter has expressed in his writing but what makes him and his Grayzone peers somewhat exceptional is that they admit their biases in a way that mainstream journalists mostly do not, with so many of the latter pretending to meet the impossible standard of pure objectivity. Although the antics of the current occupant of the White House are immensely distracting and the issue of free speech has been hijacked by conservatives to allow them to attack the marginalized, the way Blumenthal’s arrest was handled should send a chill down our collective spines because it shows a widening war on left-wing journalists and whistle-blowers that is remarkably resilient to changes in government.

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