Murtaza Hussain has reported an important story on the ongoing propaganda campaign sponsored by the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) cult. This is the group of discredited Iranian exiles that has been building up its support in the West over the last decade by cultivating ties with and paying many Iran hawks, including the current National Security Advisor John Bolton. Hussain has found that a prominent online figure, Heshmat Alavi, is a fake persona created by the MEK’s troll farm in Albania to harass and attack journalists and analysts that criticize the cult and oppose war and regime change in Iran:
There’s a problem, though: Heshmat Alavi appears not to exist. Alavi’s persona is a propaganda operation run by the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e-Khalq, which is known by the initials MEK, two sources told The Intercept.
“Heshmat Alavi is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK,” said Hassan Heyrani, a high-ranking defector from the MEK who said he had direct knowledge of the operation. “They write whatever they are directed by their commanders and use this name to place articles in the press. This is not and has never been a real person.”
Heyrani said the fake persona has been managed by a team of MEK operatives in Albania, where the group has one of its bases, and is used to spread its message online.
The MEK has long been harassing and attacking journalists and analysts that oppose their fanatical regime change agenda and their creepy, abusive organization. On occasion, I have also been subjected to some of this same treatment on Twitter when I have pointed out the group’s past and its current abuses against its own members, but others have had to endure much worse harassment and threats for a long time. The Alavi case goes beyond unleashing the usual army of bots against the group’s critics. In this case, the fake persona was able to publish dozens of articles in Western news and opinion outlets promoting the MEK as the main Iranian opposition group and advocating for regime change in Iran:
Alavi, whose contributor biography on the Forbes website identifies him as “an Iranian activist with a passion for equal rights,” has published scores of articles on Iran over the past few years at Forbes, The Hill, the Daily Caller, The Federalist, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya English, and other outlets.
The problem here is not just that the MEK has managed to spread its poison in Western media using this fake persona, but that so many of these outlets readily accepted submissions from a pro-MEK trolling operation. It isn’t surprising that a creepy cult intent on rehabilitating its image in the West would resort to trickery and lies, but it is disturbing how willing so many of these outlets were to lend legitimacy to that effort and broadcast outright propaganda. It is equally troubling how long the MEK was able to get away with this before the deception was uncovered.
The Alavi case is an important piece of a larger story about how advocates of regime change in Iran have been resorting to harassment, intimidation, and smears of Iranian and Iranian-American journalists, analysts, and genuine activists for years. It is similar to the recent scandal involving U.S. government funding of the so-called Iran Disinformation Project that engaged in similar smear tactics and harassment against many of the same people, and it is part of the same phenomenon of shouting down credible opponents of regime change and war in an attempt to control the debate. Fortunately, thanks to Hussain’s story, Twitter has suspended the Alavi account and the fake persona has been outed to the entire world. No doubt the MEK will keep trying to promote their message in Western media outlets, and some will be happy to oblige them, but an important part of their campaign of deception and intimidation has been exposed and stopped.