The death of a 46-year-old African American at the hands of a white police officer has poured salt in America’s old wounds and revived the spectre of the 2012 Black Lives Matter movement. And yet, a high-profile Obama-era aide has somehow caught the glimmer of Moscow’s hand behind the widespread riots.
Barack Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice has claimed that the nationwide mayhem over the in-custody death of George Floyd was inflamed by Russia.
“I would not be surprised to learn that they [the Russians] have fomented some of these extremists on both sides using social media. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they are funding it in some way, shape, or form”, Rice told CNN on Sunday providing no evidence to in any way back her assumption.
US Reviving Cold War Playbook
“These baseless accusations are part of a pattern we have seen since the 2016 election where high level officials in the intelligence community, the Democratic Party, and the media have sought to deligitimise social movements in the US by reviving an old trope from the Cold War that Moscow is somehow stoking the flames of racial tensions in America”, says Max Parry, an American independent journalist.
According to him, it is a repeat of what occurred during the Civil Rights Movement in past decades which blamed the Soviet Union and communism as being behind it.
“It is a contemptuous view of black Americans that robs them of their agency and dismisses their grievances”, he insists. “Previously, everything from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests to Black Lives Matter has been blamed on the Kremlin”.
Parry refers to US Senator and ex-Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris who claimed during her recent campaign that Russia deliberately used racism to shatter the nation’s pillars of democracy in the course of the 2016 election cycle.
“The paranoia is squared when it comes to suggesting that Russia is somehow feeding the protests”, agrees Jonathan Power, a veteran foreign affairs columnist, film-maker and author. “There are deeply held feelings within black society about the savagery of some of the police. The protesters don’t need anyone’s help to feel this angry, much less Russia’s”.
Dr Anthony Moretti, associate professor at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania, is equally unsurprised by Rice’s attempts to blame the riots on Russia: “There will be pockets of the country that will suggest the Russians are assisting the worst of the protesters”, he suggests. “The bitter truth is my country’s long and often horrible history of race relations is what is on display for the world to see”.
A Bolt From the Blue
The former Obama aide’s claims came out of the blue, according to David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University, who highlights that no mainstream US reports had been suggesting “the violence and legitimate demonstrations after George Floyd’s murder were the result of outside forces such as by the Russians” until Rice voiced her allegations.
“The focus on the violence has turned to either white supremacists (fascists) or left-wing anarchists wanting to use Floyd’s murder for their own political advantage”, he underscores.
Susan Rice’s speculation about Russian interference was a very odd note, echoes Matthew Wilson, associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. According to him, it is “characteristic of the fixation of many in the Democratic establishment on Moscow’s supposedly nefarious role in American domestic affairs”.
He does not rule out that Washington’s international rivals “take some measure of satisfaction in civil unrest in the United States”; however, “too much focus on foreign actors obscures the central story of domestic divisions and lawlessness”, Wilson warns.
“It is not Russians – or Chinese, or Iranians – looting American businesses, smashing windows, and setting police cars on fire”, the political scientist underscores.
The growing protest movement was triggered by George Floyd’s deadly arrest in Minneapolis last Monday. One of four police officers arresting him, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee to the man’s neck until the latter fell unconscious and eventually passed away. The police officers involved were fired the following day while Chauvin was later charged with murder and manslaughter.
In the aftermath of Floyd’s death – which evoked strong memories of Michael Brown and Eric Garner dying at the hands of US police officers in 2014 – riots have erupted in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and dozens of other cities.