With his entire archive retracted by the Southern Poverty Law Center and a growing record of disgrace, Alexander Reid Ross now collaborates with ex-CIA agents, cops, DHS officials, and a GOP congressman turned “Bigfoot scholar,” with funding from a Koch brother.
Through his many hatchet jobs smearing anti-war leftists as crypto-fascists engaged in a supposed “red-brown” alliance with the far-right, writer Alexander Reid Ross has earned widespread derision and the retraction of his entire archive by one of his former publishers. Ironically, the self-described anarchist is now openly collaborating with a network of former cops, spies, right-wing Republicans, and Department of Homeland Security agents at a militaristic think tank funded in part by billionaire Charles Koch.
Ross’ fellowship with the recently founded Network Contagion Research Institute suggests the US national security state has an increased interest in undermining the progressive anti-imperialist forces he has targeted for years – and is also curiously uninterested in his long record of journalistic malpractice.
Ross introduced his “red-brown” (communist-fascist) theory to a national audience in a series of stem-winding screeds published by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog in 2018. His articles consisted of confusing Venn diagrams and wild insinuations linking anti-imperialist and progressive activists with white nationalists and the Kremlin.
In one entry, Ross alleged that Brian Becker, a veteran anti-racist and anti-war activist, was in league with the Oathkeepers because he once debated a member of the far-right group on his radio show. In another, Ross accused liberal Nation Magazine publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel of ultra-conservatism and Kremlin ties largely on the grounds that she was married to Stephen F. Cohen, a top Russian scholar and US foreign policy critic. Ross then blamed Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal for a deadly shooting spree by a neo-Nazi because – well, there was simply no basis for his defamatory claim.
Ross’ blog posts were so full of errors and slanderous attacks that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was forced to delete his entire archive. In March 2018, after the SPLC scrubbed Ross’s work from its website in humiliation, it issued an effusive apology to his many targets, including the authors of this article. When Ross’ disgrace became the subject of national embarrassment and widespread mockery, he blamed “pro-Russia trolls” and cried that he had been “censored.”
The SPLC issued a similar apology in April, after retracting Ross’ libelous hatchet job targeting Cohen, the former Princeton professor and renowned Russia expert. “We take this opportunity to emphasize that the opinions expressed in it are those of the author, not SPLC, and we regret any confusion that our posting it may have caused,” the organization stressed.
Following the publication of this present article, James W. Carden, a former State Department advisor who has since become a critic of hawkish US foreign policy, who was also attacked by Ross in his defamatory rants, said former SPLC President Richard Cohen “called me to apologize for this moron’s article. Richard could hardly believe that he was let down so badly by his editorial team.”
“He was embarrassed by this Portland creep,” Carden added, referencing Ross.
Richard Cohen (SPLC) called me to apologize for this moron's article. Richard could hardly believe that he was let down so badly by his editorial team. He was embarrassed by this Portland creep. Of course only @thedailybeast under noted idiot Noah Shachtman would run this dolt.
But never one to let a bit of inconvenient fact-checking get in the way of his fanatical war on the anti-imperialist left, Ross continued. This February, he sat down at his laptop and fired off a series of emails to numerous prominent left-wing media personalities, probing them about right-wing connections that existed primarily in his own imagination. Ross wound up publishing a characteristically long and barely coherent rant at the Daily Beast accusing his targets of “playing footsie with the right.”
Among those smeared by Ross was academic Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, whom he accused of Holocaust denial. Finkelstein spoke at length about his family’s suffering during the Holocaust in the interview that Ross referenced in his article, which Finkelstein conducted on the podcast TrueAnon. But Ross, in an especially revealing example of his misleading smear tactics, chose to ignore his target’s personal testimony. Indeed, Ross did not mention Finkelstein’s family history at all, and omitted his well-established scholarly credentials, describing the academic merely as “an anti-Zionist activist.”
Ross then attempted to link leftist comedian Jimmy Dore to the Pizzagate conspiracy on the grounds that a promoter of the far-right narrative once retweeted him. Next, he attacked the hosts of popular socialist podcast Chapo Trap House for an obviously humorous comment about the US being ruled by “a cabal of cannibalistic psychotic abusers,” baselessly linking them to the right-wing QAnon conspiracy cult.
The smears went on for 4500 words, targeting a dizzying array of lefty podcast personalities, both major and almost unheard of, in an absurdly obsessive manifesto that ultimately said more about the paranoid mind state of its author than any of his targets.
Like most readers, the editors of the Daily Beast appeared incapable of deciphering Ross’s scrawling. But they published it anyway, exposing themselves and its author to widespread mockery and embarrassment when the article’s multiple falsehoods, copy errors, and generally demented quality came to light.
Among the many false claims featured in Ross’s piece was that podcaster Nick Mullen dropped “the n-word multiple times on Bill Maher.” In fact, Mullen has never appeared on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher – and it was Maher who used the n-word on air.
Did your editors run this claim through fact-checking? Or did they, like 99.9% of your readers, just give up on a bottomless, incoherent rant about podcast & Twitter comments? Maybe this time your screed will achieve just Correction-level, besting your normal Full Retraction. pic.twitter.com/F5qywnY46f
The derision and contempt inspired by Ross’s diatribe became so intense that Daily Beast editor-in-chief and former Clinton operative Noah Shachtman attempted to wash his hands of the editorial disaster, declaring that his managing editor, Katie Baker, was singlehandedly responsible “for landing this incredibly complex, important story.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Beast quietly updated and corrected Ross’s article without inserting an editors’ note that would have stood as a permanent marker of the journalistic catastrophe.
Ross’s disgrace soon became the subject of a Daily Dot article that carefully surveyed his extensive record of wild smears and facepalm-level falsehoods. Desperate to salvage his credibility, Ross issued a statement to the Daily Dot that read as though it had been crafted by a bargain basement reputation management specialist. He claimed that he was dedicated to “honest journalism” that enables readers to “work through society’s increasing divisions and negotiate common ground for a more decent, peaceful, and just world for future generations.”
Under sustained questioning, Ross was ultimately reduced to beseeching his interviewer not to publish her report: “I am concerned, based on your questions,” he complained, “that your article will perpetuate the intense and damaging campaign against me, becoming fodder for people who have very little commitment to either truth or dignity.”
With his long trail of retractions and editorial embarrassments — and his risible excuses for them — it is difficult to understand how a serial bungler like Ross continues to find work. But even as his byline has become a dangerous liability to any journalistic institution, he has found cachet within a new and lucrative racket dedicated to combating online “disinformation” and anti-establishment “conspiracy theories.”
By marketing himself as an anarchist and “libertarian socialist” with an inside track on both the radical left and fascist right, Ross has managed to make himself seem useful to the national security state hardliners behind the burgeoning counter-disinformation industry. And by impugning left-wing anti-imperialists as “conspiracy theorists [who] undermine a democratic political consensus,” he has signaled to his employers a commitment to the shared cause of defending the US national security state against perceived domestic threats.
So in a twist of comical irony, the “red-brown” researcher Ross has become a senior research fellow at a recently founded think tank backed by billionaires, including the right-wing oligarch Charles Koch. There, Ross has co-authored reports with the retired chief of operations for counterintelligence at the CIA, ex-Department of Homeland Security officials, former police officers, and even an erstwhile Republican congressman who proudly calls himself a “Bigfoot scholar.”
Ross was invited to speak at what the Integrity Initiative called its “main event,” in Seattle, Washington in December 2018. There, he delivered a typically incoherent talk laying out a furtive network of “red-brown” alliances and “syncretic” communist-fascist media outlets. His presentation ended by accusing Zero Hedge, an alternative financial and news outlet, of inspiring anti-migrant militia violence on the US-Mexico border.
In January 2021, Ross was named a “senior research fellow” by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), a think tank funded by billionaires including right-wing oligarch Charles Koch. NCRI proclaims its mission is “to track, expose, and combat misinformation, deception, manipulation, and hate across social media channels.”
At the NCRI, Ross has co-authored reports with former top officials of the US national security state whom any self-respecting anarchist would undoubtedly view as an existential threat and absolute menace.
On March 11, the NCRI published a report on “Viral Disinformation of the COVID Vaccine.” The first contributor named in the list of co-authors was Alexander Reid Ross. Collaborating on the project with Ross was Kelli Holden, the former chief of operations for counterintelligence at the CIA.
Holden worked at the CIA for 28 years, retiring in 2019. On her LinkedIn profile, Ross’s colleague describes her former work at the notorious coup-plotting agency:
“Concluding her career as Counterintelligence Chief of Operations for CIA, Ms. Holden served in numerous foreign and Washington-based CIA leadership positions managing significant projects and budgets directly impacting U.S. national security… collaborating closely with U.S. intelligence entities, law enforcement, policymakers, military leaders and foreign partners. She had comprehensive expertise in program management, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, insider threat, and global risk management.”
Joining Ross and Holden as a fellow co-author of the NCRI report was Brian Harrell, former assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Harrell got his start working as a cop at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He then did “anti-terrorist” operations with the US Marines, before moving over to a slew of private security companies and DHS. Harrell’s work earned him recognition in Security Magazine’s list of the “most influential people in security” in 2017.
During Harrell’s tenure, DHS aggressively cracked down on anti-fascists and left-wing activists, formally classifying vandalism by supposed members of the decentralized Antifa movement as “domestic terrorist violence.”
Ross claims to be a staunch supporter of Antifa, and has even sarcastically included the description “Antifa ideologue” in his Twitter bio. How he squares those sympathies with the fact that his co-author was actively involved in a state campaign to criminalize Antifa’s activities is unclear.
A 2020 report in Politico cited a DHS memo that listed anarchists and anti-fascists alongside “domestic terrorist actors,” warning they might exploit the anti-racist protests against the horrific police killing of George Floyd in order to provoke violence.
The Politico article cited Ross’ current colleague, Brian Harrell, who emphasized that – as cops were brutalizing protesters and arresting journalists – “DHS, as the nation’s largest law enforcement organization, will continue to support our state and local police and first responder agencies, to bring a quick, safe, and peaceful ending to the disorderly violence in the streets.”
Another co-author of the NCRI report with Alexander Reid Ross is Paul Goldenberg, who was also named as one of Security Magazine’s “most influential people in security” in 2020.
Goldenberg is a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council (HSAC), and has led numerous DHS committees focused on “violent extremism,” “terrorism,” and “radicalization” – efforts that often target Muslims, Black liberation organizations, and self-styled radicals like Ross’ anarchist friends.
Goldenberg previously served as the head of the transitional policing mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Before that, he oversaw the New Jersey attorney general’s office “domestic terrorism” efforts.
Ross’ colleague began his career as a cop. Goldenberg worked first as a police officer in New Jersey, then spent years as a “deep undercover agent” in Florida, earning the title “South Florida’s Officer of the Year.”
Another associate of Alexander Reid Ross at the Network Contagion Research Institute – a co-author of the March 2021 report with the self-proclaimed anarchist – is former New Jersey state Attorney General John Farmer.
Perhaps the most absurdly ironic association Ross enjoys at NCRI is Denver Riggleman, a staunchly conservative, Tea Party-backed former Republican member of Congress.
A former Air Force intelligence officer who later served as CEO of an NSA contractor, Riggleman became somewhat of a national laughingstock when, during the 2018 Virginia Congressional race, his opponent accused him of having a “Bigfoot erotica collection.”
Riggleman had posted an image on Instagram of a sketch of a furry monster bearing Riggleman’s face, with the creature’s genitalia redacted. The future Republican congressman joked that the picture was part of an upcoming book he wrote called “The Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him.”
After losing the Republican Party’s nomination in the subsequent election, Riggleman returned to writing Bigfoot fantasy fiction. Although he says he does not believe the monster exists, Riggleman published a book in 2020 titled “Bigfoot… It’s Complicated,” in which he identified himself as a “Bigfoot scholar.”
A local newspaper summarized Ross’ colleague: “Riggleman is really into Bigfoot. He’s gone on hunts for the creature. He recently watched a musical performance from a man dressed up in a big hairy suit playing the saxophone — Saxsquatch.”
Riggleman worked on the March 2021 NCRI report with Ross on vaccine disinformation. In December 2020, Riggleman also collaborated with Ross on an investigation into the QAnon conspiracy.
Riggleman has no apparent expertise in technology, and aside from his outré Instagram posts, does not seem to have anything particularly insightful to say about social media. He spends much of his time tending to a distillery he owns in Virginia and lobbying for less restrictive alcohol laws. Why a think tank that claims to be dedicated to research on disinformation employs such a figure is difficult to discern.
Alexander Reid Ross’ employer, the NCRI, lists its funders at the bottom of its official website: the Charles Koch Foundation, of the notorious right-wing oligarch, as well as the Open Society Foundations of the staunchly anti-communist billionaire George Soros.
Working with the ADL, a pro-apartheid outfit that spies on the left
NCRI is also affiliated with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a pro-Israel lobby group with a decades-long track record of collaborating with police agencies to spy on the US left.
Later, the ADL spied on and attacked Black leaders in the civil rights movement. The organization went on to surveil anti-apartheid activists, working directly with intelligence operatives from the white supremacist South African regime.
As it did with activists who opposed South African apartheid, the ADL has spied on Americans who oppose Israeli apartheid, sharing the intelligence it gathers on them with Israeli government officials, which Israel then uses to persecute Palestinians.
In 2017, the ADL called for US police to infiltrate groups that call themselves Antifa in order to spy on the kind of anti-fascist activists with which Ross identifies.
The ADL’s activities have grown so noxious that progressive American Jewish groups organized a “Drop the ADL” campaign, requesting that progressive organizations refuse to partner with the organization.
Despite the ADL’s deep links to US, Israeli, and South African cops, and its extensive right-wing ties, the self-declared anarchist Alexander Reid Ross has been supportive of the organization.
Echoing the messaging of the ADL, Ross consistently portrays critics of the Zionist movement as anti-Semites while echoing liberal Zionist talking points.
But the connections that Ross’ employer have to the ADL go even deeper. In fact, the founder and director of the Network Contagion Research Institute that awarded Ross his fellowship, Joel Finkelstein, worked as a research fellow at the ADL from 2018 to 2020.
Before founding NCRI, Joel Finkelstein worked at Google, a CIA contractor that collaborates extensively with the US military and police departments, assisting them as they spy on activists.
More than “footsie”: Alexander Reid Ross works alongside a right-wing homophobe and NYPD intelligence agent
Rounding out the dubious cast of spooks and cops that Ross has elected to work with at NCRI is Jack Donohue, a veteran New York City Police Department intelligence officer who served as former chief of strategic initiatives at the NYPD.
According to the NCRI’s website, Donohue is a “former three-star chief and 32-year veteran of the New York City police department” with a “role as chief of cyber intelligence and strategy,” and an “innovator of the now annual Cyber Intelligence and Counterterrorism Conference” who “authors expertise reports on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security…”
Finally, and perhaps most hypocritically, the proud anarchist Alexander Reid Ross works alongside a notorious anti-gay, anti-abortion, far-right academic.
NCRI lists Robby George as another strategic advisor. In 2006, Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal published an investigation into George in The Nation, exposing him as a fanatically anti-choice Republican theocrat.
George previously led the National Organization for Marriage, a right-wing lobby group that oppose same-sex marriage. In 2008, Republican President George W. Bush awarded George the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian honor in the United States.
So while Ross falsely smears anti-imperialist leftists, claiming they are participants in a supposed “red-brown” conspiracy, he is actively collaborating with far-right Republicans who have dedicated their lives to limiting the constitutional and civil rights of women and LGBT citizens.
It is impossible to overstate the irony of an anarchist academic huckster engaging in a sordid alliance with reactionary securitocrats and accepting sponsorship from a Koch brother while spinning out his retracted, discredited conspiracies.
The mysterious making of Alexander Reid Ross as an “expert”
Alexander Reid Ross is mostly a fringe figure. But he does have friends who promote his conspiratorial work with a religious-like fervor.
Ross’ political allies created a highly sympathetic Wikipedia article for him, which really just amounts to a piece of crude marketing, in October 2020. A look at the page’s edit history shows it was written by the same trolls who, in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s guidelines, rabidly vandalize and even delete the entries on anti-war journalists and scholars.
Another editor who has helped shape Ross’ page is Philip Cross, the notorious British troll who edits Wikipedia for hours each day, relentlessly pushing the hawkish propaganda line of Western governments, and vandalizing the pages of prominent anti-imperialists, including Max Blumenthal’s Wikipedia entry, to downplay their accomplishments, play up controversies, and falsely impugn them as Russian assets.
With mysterious entities such as Cross providing Ross with de facto marketing services, Ross has been able to survive the humiliating PR disasters that are unleashed when his lie-filled works blow up in his editors’ faces, as they so often do.
His editors appear to share his support for interventionist US policies and a burning resentment of the anti-imperialists who challenge them. That might help explain why Ross faced no consequences for a 2020 article in the liberal Zionist Israeli newspaper Haaretz which has since been discredited.
In the long and characteristically confusing piece, Ross claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been supporting neo-Nazis in the United States. As evidence, he pointed to a white supremacist group called The Base.
However, The Base has long been suspected of serving as a front for US law enforcement, and therefore as a geopolitical tool aimed at painting Russia as the world’s most prolific exporter of white nationalist ideology.
Given his pedigree, perhaps it is only a matter of time before Nazarro joins Ross as a counter-disinformation researcher at the NCRI.
Alexander Reid Ross, wannabe Grayzone contributor
Before Ross made himself the laughingstock of leftist Twitter and a collaborator with cops, he made himself known to The Grayzone. A few months before publishing the paranoiac smear job that was ultimately retracted by the SPLC, Ross contacted Max Blumenthal to pitch an article for publication in AlterNet’s Grayzone Project, a predecessor to The Grayzone (now independent of AlterNet).
Ross delivered his confusing pitch behind two assumed names, “Lilac” and “Sasha,” using an email from the radical environmentalist website earthfirstjournal.org. He proposed to write an article exposing the DHS’s surveillance of Antifa activists – an ironic angle considering his present-day work.
Ross has previously worked as an editor of Earth First Journal under the pseudonym “Lilac Sash@.” In 2010, he posted a job listing seeking “short term journalistas (sic)” to help with the publication: “you get paid $200 a month plus a roomy house to live in and free organic food donated from the local co-op,” Ross wrote. “We also have bicycles on hand.”
At the time, Earth First was a top target of the FBI, which had labeled it an “eco-terrorist” organization.
Today, it is worth wondering what any of the deep green direct-action radicals that were once a part of Ross’s house-sharing activist world think of his contemporary work with hardline former CIA agents, DHS officials, and cops.
As for the 2017 pitch to The Grayzone by Ross – or is it “Lilac”? – it was turned down.
Clarification: Ross’ paranoiac SPLC smear job was published several months after his pitch to AlterNet’s Grayzone Project, not weeks – and months after Max Blumenthal’s two-part exposé of the Syrian White Helmets, which Ross framed in the SPLC as Russian disinformation.
Update (March 15): This article was updated after publication with the statement from James Carden and further information about the SPLC’s retraction of Ross’ false and defamatory articles.