Chasing Amina

Over the past few days in speaking with Ali and Ben from Electronic Intifada, we shared information, links and theories about the blogger behind Amina of Gay Girl in Damascus. Ben and Ali have now posted some of the evidence collected. The Amina blogger is connected strongly with Thomas (Tom) J MacMaster and Britta Froelicher, formerly from Georgia, now living in Scotland.

The blogger behind Amina has been exchanging long emails with me for the last few days, and also shows up as several of the people commenting on the post below, Painful doubts about Amina. I continued email contact out of concern for the person behind the hoax. I feel fairly sure I was speaking with Tom MacMaster.

A couple of days ago I realized LezGetReal.com editor Paula Brooks, who had worked with Amina, was being interviewed by mainstream media. Brooks had not communicated by voice to the reporters — only over email or chat. Brooks’ online presence looked a bit thin. Ben and Ali tried to verify any of the facts of her education and employment, and could not find evidence of Paula Brooks’ existence. I spoke with people who were close to Brooks and should have met her — but who had never seen her. I have no direct evidence that Brooks is Tom MacMaster, but circumstantial evidence shows it is a good avenue for research. If Brooks is *another distinct hoaxer*, that will be very odd, and will need more investigation.

I’d like to warn people who have been in contact with Amina — and with Paula Brooks — to be skeptical about others they know online who they have not met in person.

Journalists covering a story about a hoax should be careful to verify the existence of their sources.

I have compassion for the mental and emotional state of the Amina hoaxer. But the pattern that the person shows in their engagement with others is very disturbing.

Many people have good reason to conceal their identity and to develop relationships online under a screen name. They might like to express an aspect of their personality that would not mix well with their professional life. They might have gender identity issues they are working through. They might be in a family situation that makes it unsafe for them to come out as gay. They might write fiction using characters whose stories are under copyright. None of those, however, are excuses for deception and manipulative behavior.

In my talk at SXSWi on “fiction and hoax” bloggers, I suggested that intelligence agencies should begin to hire or should be hiring creative writers with technical proficiency, who can run deep cover online “agents” to establish a credible online footprint.

Perhaps that has come to pass, but in the case of Amina, perhaps the writer behind Gay Girl in Damascus is acting from their own motivations, exploring gender identity and relationships or perhaps partly from loving the feeling of being embedded into Internet drama and weaving believable fiction. The person may be mentally ill in some way. Their feeling of being unsafe may have led them into creating alter egos who bravely face danger.

Yet in leaving smokescreens of lies, the shells of Amina and Rania, AmandaLynn and others I could name, the hoaxer hasn’t just hurt the people who thought they were close to Amina. They wasted the time of a lot of activists, human rights workers, journalists, and people concerned about Syrian politics. By their lies, they harmed the fabric of social trust. Lies and hoaxes do damage to communities. The hoaxer did political damage.

I tried to persuade the Amina-blogger, who was emailing me, to step forward and make a public statement on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, at the least to assure readers that she was not in police custody. The writer’s response was to continue creating new layers of deceit. We discussed postmodern constructions of identity and gender issues for several days. Meanwhile I continued digging into the backgrounds of the online identities connected with Amina, working with Ali, Ben, and keeping in touch with others working on the same story.

This weekend, I haven’t been able to do any research or keep up with the comments on this blog, as I’ve been mostly offline at the Foo Camp conference in Sebastopol. I’m very glad that Ali and Ben (as well as Andy Carvin and Jillian York) continued research and put together such a careful explanation of their reasoning and of the evidence. I hope other people who have more resources at their disposal can bring the truth to light, and that the hoaxer gets a healthier kind of attention, support and help in their real life identity.

Note: I work for BlogHer and you can verify my identity with my employer, or with Danny O’Brien from the Committee to Protect Journalists. There are also records and videos of my public speaking appearances at technical conferences, so for anyone wondering if I am a real person: yes I am.

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372 Responses to Chasing Amina

  1. between4walls says:

    A commenter at Electronic Intifada says Paula Brooks is deaf, which could explain email interviews.
    Thanks to you and Ben and Ali for digging into this story.
    Is it possible to post the emails with the blogger behind Amina, or would that be improper?

    • Julia says:

      There are ways for people who are deaf to communicate that don’t require e-mail. If someone has an online presence, access to technology and high speed internet they can make it work.

    • critic says:

      Well, first Electronic Intifada started blocking LezGetReal from responding to any of the accusations agains them. And now they’ve apparently closed off the discussion on their comments section, so no one can voice any concerns about what they’ve done to either Paula Brooks or to LezGetReal.

      Unless Liz Henry has evidence to the contrary, I don’t really see how LezGetReal was anything other than another victim of Amina’s. Instead they and Paula Brooks are having their names rung through the mud.

      The fact that Electronic Intifada won’t even let anyone post concerns on this matter is a bit obnoxious

      • Jade says:

        Agree.

      • Caoimhe Snow says:

        The Washington Post article identifies Paula Brooks as a pseudonym. Which is perfectly acceptable in context, but I wish she had made that clear at the time that she was being quoted in national/international news. Especially when the news story is about someone not being who they say they are.

        • Laura Burchard says:

          A pseudonym is one thing, and perfectly legitimate. A faked identity is an entirely different thing, and “Paula Brooks” is, 99 percent certain, a faked identity. Claiming three masters and a doctorate (with the number of masters growing in between linkedin and facebook)? Claiming to be using a pseudonym for fear of losing her job, yet giving out incredibly specific information that would make it a snap for anyone who knew her to identify her (exactly how many deaf lesbian archaeologist mother of twins do you think are working at the Smithsonian?) The claims of being an NSA researcher at the same time as getting two degrees at different universities? Smells like sock spirit. Hell, at this point I’m wondering whether anyone has met Linda Carbonell.

      • Benjamin says:

        I responded to LGR and Paula’s accusations in a comment on the post. http://lezgetreal.com/2011/06/apology-from-amina/comment-page-1/#comment-166998 I’m not interested in belaboring the matter, and I don’t really know what can appease Paula and LGR short of just accepting their assertions without question. I don’t want have a disagreement with LGR and Paula.

  2. elithea says:

    you are, indeed, a very real person–with whom i have talked and laughed and broken bread and even, on at least one occasion, knit!–still fighting the good fight. thanks, liz.

    • Liz Henry says:

      <3 Thanks elithea — and of course I knew you best as “e.” before we met in person. Some of my loveliest friendships and alliances, and much of my career, have come from blogging and the Internet and the relationships I formed there.

  3. Caoimhe Snow says:

    Tom MacMaster on an alternate-history mailing list:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RomanByzantineAltHist/message/3670

  4. Al says:

    I just wanted to compliment you on the research work you and electronic Intifada have made on “Amina”.
    I’ve been reading your blog for the last 3 days now, even if I’ve never taken part in the debate via comment.
    I used to follow Amina’s blog, and when I read of her abduction and the doubts about her existence on Tue/Wed I started thinking about her blog. I study Arabic, and I’ve been in Syria.
    One thing about Amina’s blog has always intrigued me: as far as I know, she has never used Syrian dialect in her posts, and the only Arabic there was from the Quran (even if in Latin script).
    She talked about different accents, not dialects. But if your family is Arab (half Arab, in her case) and live in an Arab country, you’re supposed to make extensive use of spoken Arabic, which is different from Standard/Classical written Arabic. I’ve read that those who were in touch with her have chatted in English (it doesn’t prove anything, but..)
    This point, together with her deep knowledge in history, religion etc. has made me think of an expert, a professor, a researcher. Who has been in Syria, but is not Syrian. I’ve read again many posts on the blog, and her description of the city (the old city, the view from the rooftops, the mosque).. well, to me, seems a tourist’s one.
    And now that MacMaster’s connection has come out, I’m pretty sure this affair is drawing to an end.

    So, thank you again. [And sorry for my English!]

  5. harriet_the_spy says:

    wait – what?? So everyone here on your site for the past few days has been trying to sort out the real Amina story and all the while you were corresponding with “her” and keeping that all to yourself? And the person behind LezGetReal.com could be another hoaxer?

    I have to lie down now. I have a huge headache.

    • Liz Henry says:

      Hi Harriet — No, not quite! People commenting here, and other people, have been emailing and calling me with more background details, some of which were told in confidentiality or with some concern that they shouldn’t be public (the MacMaster details for example) without more direct and certain corroboration, and certainly not before trying to directly contact MacMaster.

      One of the people emailing me (well, at least one) began writing longer and longer emails with their hypotheses about Amina-blogger’s motivations, and I began to feel it was the Amina-blogger testing the waters in how I or others would react to a confession or to the real identity of the blogger. I tried to answer in ways that were sincere and compassionate and thoughtful, and which preserved the possibility that: the emailer was the hoaxer; the emailer was *not* the hoaxer; the emailer has complicated identity issues and may need support and help; the emailer is some person unrelated to the hoax who is attracted to the drama and wants (my and others’) attention.

      By Friday I became much more sure the emailer was Amina, but I was on the road on Friday and then have been at this conference, with intermittent internet (and cell phone) coverage.

  6. Cher says:

    I like that you compassionately describe some of the valid reasons people conceal/alter their identities on the web. I did know a person who loved to infiltrate various communities as alternate egos and just cause mayhem and confusion just for the fun and attention he got for it, but I believe also in order to explore some gender issues he had as well. It’s very frustrating, however, when false identities wind up wasting folks’ time or otherwise disrupting their forums, preying on the compassionate.

  7. Blondie says:

    All those who use the internet for truth and knowledge are deeply grateful for your inexhaustive efforts to find this “character”. It is deeply saddening that Amina, or the blog in the very least, is a complete hoax; and a warning to all activist-bloggers, and anyone engaging in anything on the internet really, that things are not always as them seem. In this age of political and human rights activism we are so keen to believe in everyone’s story, because everyone DOES have a story, that is important to tell – the internet gives those without a voice the opportunity to be heard. It is incredibly worrying that the person behind the hoax, as you describe your interaction with them, is unwilling to take responsibility for their actions – it is selfish and immoral. It appears that the blogger is now incarnating themself as “Jasmine” in comments below the latest post on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog. I personally feel that Lecic should take the blogger to court for identity fraud, for stealing her photos. Many, including friends of mine, and I’ve no doubt many who read this, have been deeply hurt and betrayed by this individual’s selfish and childish actions.

  8. Blondie says:

    May I suggest Liz Henry or another individual makes copies of the blog in its entirety before it gets taken down by the offending individual?

    • Liz Henry says:

      Anyone who could do screengrabs of the LinkedIn profiles , blogs, etc Including say the AmandaLynn/Brittney Williams/Andrea nexus of identities, please do and make them available to the public. You could also submit them to the internet archive archive.org so they will be kept there. I’m in a conference talk right now! Must look away from Internet! Agh!

  9. Dan Murphy says:

    So, if i’m reading this post right, “amina” has been using sockpuppets to post comments on your blog. Which are the socks?

  10. Tovah Liebenthal says:

    Where is the comment?

    http://he.netlog.com/aminaarraf

  11. Oscar says:

    ‘Amina’ has come to life and deleted all comments, wiping out the complaints and evidence of fakery on her blog

  12. H says:

    Tom MacMaster has just confessed on GGID to being Amina.

  13. Corona says:

    There is a post on GGID in which Tom MacMaster claims to be the sole author of all content on the blog. But I still suspect that it is Britta Froelicher who wrote most of it and he is covering it up. This is because her academic background shows an interest in Syria and more knowledge of the country.

  14. Keri says:

    Mr. MacMaster sure gets around. In Istanbul now, is he? Whose payroll are him, and his wife on? His decent is despicable no matter what his excuse. I’d like to see the Scottish national papers get on this story, considering him and his wife are under Scottish jurisdiction. http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/

  15. praghmatic says:

    The question is, which one of them was putting “Amina” listings on dating sites, and maintained an email-and-chat-only, girlfriend-girlfriend relationship with a woman in Canada for months?

    Oh yes, and what role did that aspect of Amina’s persona play in their tireless efforts to expose “liberal Orientalism”?

    • Jade says:

      Yes, this is exactly what I’ve been wondering. It seems that he’s going to go long with the line “I did it all fir Syria” but the dating sites and the relationship with Bagaria seem to show he was just using the plight of Syria to gain access to lesbian attentions.

  16. A says:

    Thank you, Liz and others, for your research regarding this story. It’s nice to have some resolution and accountability.

    I appreciate the confession on his blog, but could it be more condescending?! We don’t need him to “illuminate” the events occurring in the Middle East through lying and manipulation. The people who were invested in his blog are also likely those who already follow the Arab revolutions closely, and are interested and concerned in their outcome.

    While I respect that his intent may not have been malicious, he wasted numerous people’s time, hurt people who were genuinely invested in the character he had created, distracted from actual events occurring in Syria, and damaged the credibility of other eyewitness accounts from the region.

    I think there should be some personal and professional consequences for such gross ethical violations. It kinda kills me to know they are on vacation right now in Istanbul trying to “have a nice time and not deal with all this craziness at the moment.”

    That said, it’s nice to finally know the real story.

    • Violette says:

      I couldn’t agree more. The whole condescending aspect just negated any last shred of sympathy I would have had for him.

  17. Blondie says:

    Considering the remarkable climax this has all come to (and I’ve only been skim-reading internet comments and blogposts in general, not even researching), it is clear that there was some serious breach of “social trust”, as you call it Liz, and manipulation. Can we call for Britta to be sacked from her position as an associate fellow from the CSS at St. Andrew’s? If all of this was explained to them, I doubt the Dean would want such a publickly manipulative individual to remain on his staff, considering the prestige and high academic standards that St. Andrew’s and the CSS have. The recent publications by the CSS are absolutely invaluable resources to Syria analysts, students and enthusiasts alike, and it is wrong that such highly-regarded publications be tainted by the association of the unsavory actions of such an individual.

  18. Keri says:

    This is rather cheeky, considering. “We are on vacation in Turkey and just really want to have a nice time and not deal with all this craziness at the moment.” from http://www.tweetdeck.com/twitter/acarvin/~YYIS5

  19. Mircea says:

    Hi Liz,

    I’ve been following this story on your blog for a few days now, though I never commented. My heartfelt congratulations to you and all your readers for all your hard work. I think there are some very grave and disturbing issues regarding LGBT rights discourses and the Middle East at play here. MacMaster’s ridiculous and offensive claim about “liberal Orientalism” makes me so angry, because he did more than anyone else to perpetuate it!

    I have a modest theory of my own to add, now that we know the identity of the perpetrators. Based on this NPR interview with Sandra Bagaria:
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/06/09/137071842/gay-girl-in-damascus-a-personal-friend-sifts-through-whats-real
    it seems that Tom & Britta may have freaked out after Sandra repeatedly tried to call “Amina”‘s residence in Syria and then wrote up the post about the security services visiting her father and her subsequent need to go underground. It may be that this is the point at which they wanted to curb the lies to avoid detection. They might have concocted the abduction as a way to finally put the character to rest, or go out in a blaze of glory. Though why they never anticipated an international outcry that would lead to more questions is still a mystery…

    Again, thank you Liz and everyone else who’s put time into this. Though there were a lot of wild speculations and false leads, it was all part of an investigative process that managed to get to the bottom of things within days. If anything, that should give us some hope.

  20. Blondie says:

    But above all, congratulations to every single person who dedicated their time to this. Your efforts have been rewarded, if not in the way any of us wanted. But I completely agree with “A”, and think there needs to be more than just responsibility taken to make Tom and Britta accountable to their actions.

  21. praghmatic says:

    The freakout theory sounds right.

    There was a somewhat similar story many years ago – as I recall it, a middle aged American woman created a high school girl persona and developed intense online friendships. But people kept wanted to meet her, and she was getting tired of the drama.

    So eventually she concocted a dramatic “dying of cancer” scenario to go out on. Of course this made her friends frantic and eventually led to her exposure.

  22. hfm says:

    MacMaster writes his readers an apology from the future- he dated his post ‘July 12th’.
    Your post was illuminating & insightful.

  23. Oscar says:

    MacMaster has been ‘befreinding people’ as ‘Amina’ for at least five years:

    http://twitter.com/#!/acarvin/status/79997563654254592

  24. Jules says:

    Oh, gee… It seems we never run out of surprises concerning the baseness of human behavior. If Sandra Bagaria really has nothing to do with this, then all my sympathies go to her.

    • praghmatic says:

      According to @acarvin and others, she (Bagaria) is utterly heartbroken and looking into talking with a lawyer.

  25. delux says:

    Liz, I’m having a very hard time feeling compassion for this hoaxer when there is such a long and historic trend of white people faking poc identities for the benefit of their pet causes (and self aggrandizement). I’m hoping we havent all forgotten Margaret Jones yet.

  26. Oscar says:

    And has MacMaster dismantled his lesbian dating profiles, the ones he has sprayed around using the photographs of Jelena Lecic ? He has been using her photographs to ‘befriend’ people, whilst masquerading as a woman, for years.

    His ‘creation’ reeked of Orientalism, and he has the brass neck to talk of it!

  27. Oscar says:

    Maybe the ‘kidnapping’ wasn’t a panic, maybe it was just a ‘vacation break’.

    • nasim says:

      that’s exactly what I was thinking! He thought that people will be suspecious during his “vacation” so he turned it to be a “kidnapping”.. you know for one week an then Tom/Amina would be back to their loving audience! A hero I might add, who could talk about the horrific experience in the Syrian prison.. or the wonderful trip to Istanbul Turkey! what an ASS!

    • Jade says:

      Hes actually admitted it was exactly that.

      “His post last Monday, in which he posed as a cousin of the blogger claiming she had been kidnapped by Syrian security services, “was, stupidly, my sort of ‘away message'”, written as he and his wife left for a holiday in Istanbul, he said.”

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/13/gay-girl-damascus-tom-macmaster

  28. Corona says:

    While there probably are many emotional reasons for the fake blog, Froelicher and MacMaster are driven ideologues who undoubtedly believed that they were advancing political beliefs that they by publishing their blog.

    One common theme throughout their blog is that being gay in the Arab world is not as bad as people in the West believe. It’s obvious why people who are so anti-Israel would want to make that claim. Once one realizes that the reality is otherwise, supporting a single bi-national state with the right of return would mean supporting a resolution to the conflict that results in taking away political freedoms currently enjoyed by gay Israelis. In left wing academic circles, both being pro-Israel and anti-gay rights are unfashionable views. Thus, they need to deny to themselves and others that Palestinian rights and gay rights are at odds with each other.

    • Jade says:

      Oh bulldust. Tom wasn’t doing this for Syria, he lost the right to claim that when he created dating profiles and a relationship with Sandra Bagaria.

      • Mark says:

        You’re right. He didn’t do this for Syria. But, for whatever reasons he did it, he still injected his own ideology to the blog, trying to convince the West about characteristics of the Syrian regime and opposition movement that weren’t realistic.

        • nasim says:

          what wasn’t true about syrian regime and anti regime?? All his posts about the revolution were “stolen” from the Syrian revolution FB page or youtube channel!

          • Mark says:

            (1) MacMaster implied that secret police of the regime who came to seize someone from their house could be shamed by the father into leaving the person be. That is supposedly not characteristic of the way that regime thugs would behave.

            (2) MacMaster also implied a level of tolerance of open gay identity and behavior (such as kissing her girfriend on the mouth at the airport, and helping lead the opposition movement as an openly gay girl) which is also probably not realistic.

            (3) While highly-critical of Israel and Jews, MacMaster also implied an underlying tolerance that is probably not typical, suggesting that Amina had studied Hebrew and was fantasizing about working in Syrian embassy in Tel Aviv after a peace deal. How many people in Syria are talking about wanting to do that??

            • Nasim says:

              I agree with what u said in this post.. I was just talking about revolution videos and news! I posted a similar comment on the “painful doubts about Amina” last week! The kissing on the mouth part though is true for both gay and straight! many facts Were twisted in many ways to show Tom’s ignorance of the REAL Syria! But I don’t think he was trying to downgrade, he was just ignorant of those facts.. Because, he also made a lot of mistakes describing Damascus and it’s streets. Made mistakes in his Arabic writings! And if any Syrian who lives in Syria actually read his blog, he would have spotted the mistakes! But Syrians never heard of Amina, only the west did! Well until now, now Syrian regime is using this blog to prove the conspiracy against Syria from the West, thanks to Tom!!!!!!!!

          • JMS says:

            MacMaster downplayed the repressiveness and brutality of the regime considerably, as Mark details.

      • Mark says:

        I agree with you about the dating profiles, etc. I wish the mainstream media would be taking this seriously. Instead of the softball interviews they are doing with him, they should be hitting him harder on why he was setting up profiles on so many dating sites, publishing erotic lesbian poetry, carrying on lengthy communications with lesbians he met online (about what, exactly?), etc.

    • pj says:

      So that’s why he blogged she was kidnapped and maybe killed for being a lesbian in Syria? Warmongering Neocon Nazis think they are so clever. At least try to make sense.

      • Mark says:

        There was no implication that she was kidnapped for being a lesbian–but rather for being an anti-government activist.

        And yes, GGID worked hard to downplay anti-gay persecution in Syria, and also to downplay anti-Semitism in the country.

        • nasim says:

          to be honest.. I’m Syrian and we’ve never heard of anyone being prosectued for being “gay”! Of course, that may be becuase they are not expressing their sexuality! But still there are no incidents of punishing andyone for their sexual orientation.. As a matter of fact, one well known doctor’s son came back from the U.S to out himself to his dad and to all the Syrian society! It was considered a “scandal” but was never treated as a crime that should be punished!

        • Nasim says:

          Anti-semitism????? You do know that Arabs are Semites, too right?!?? So Syrians can’t possibly be anti- themselves!!!

          • Corona says:

            In the context in which the word anti-Semitism was used, it meant anti-jewish. I am sure you were aware that was the case when you responded. Responding to someone’s statement by redefining what they say is a logically flawed method of argument. It does not address what is said at all. This is because words don’t mean, people mean.

            • nasim says:

              Well, Arabs or Syrians are neither Anti-Semite nor Anti-Jewish! Judaism is a religion and no one can be Anti-religion brought by God! Arabs including Syrians are anti Zionism, which is a totally different concept! Many Americans are anti zionism so that’s not an “arab thing” and those anti-zionism Americans I met happend to be Jewish! Syrians sympathize with Palestinians(which is not a nationality even in the U.N’s eyes) because Palestinians are our family, friends and neighbors who were displaced from their villages and their homeland and can never return.. One example and then I won’t come back to this discussion board.. My mother is a Palestinian who traveled by foot when she was 8, with her family from their village to Syria, my aunt was killed on the way, their house was destroyed and so did many houses in their village, moreover, they can’t even go back to just “look” at the ruins of their house!
              I just invite you for once to listen to the other side of the story before blurting out the word “anti semite”or “anti jewish”. Us Syrians are closer to Palestine and Israel and we know that even though the popluation of Israelis and Palestinians is the same INSIDE Israel or as we like to call it Palestine.. Israelis occupy more than 75% of it, claiming they are naturally growing and expanding according to their population and building new settlements! Go look at the Israeli, Palistinian map and the demographics relating to it, please… Do you know how many times did Israel break any U.N or Security council resolution?
              As I said, Arabs and Syrians are not anti-Jewish not Anti-semite! They are against oppression.. and in their eyes Palestinians were and still are oppressed! They are close to the conflict and they’ve heard both sides and chose one side to support, because they are strongly connected to Palistinians, not to Mention the Jolan heights that are Syrian lands but still occupied by Israel, and that they have family there that they talk to through megaphones at the borders because they can’t cross over to see their own families in Jolan ..
              Anyways.. thank you liz for exposing Amina’s identity.. and because this board is being used to accuse Arabs, and Arab Americans(including me) of being what they are not.. I’m going to stop here!

              • Liz Henry says:

                Thanks for your contributions Nasim — I left the comments open on this post to allow discussion, but yes, there are probably better places to write and discuss politics!

            • demize says:

              @corona you have pretty much outed yourself as some sort of zio-simp, so your comments will be evaluated in that light from hence onward.

    • Corona says:

      Tom & Britta are committed ideologues. While they might have all sorts of motives to have made the fake blog, it doesn’t change the fact that the content of their blogs was impacted by their ideology. They did misrepresent the status of gays in Syria and the role of religion in the Arab world because denial of the true nature of religious extremism among Arabs advances the goal that they seek which is a single bi-national state with the right of return in the place of Israel.

      • Corona says:

        pj,

        At no point in the blog does “Amina” ever suggest that the cause of her being arrested was her being a Lesbian. In fact she repeatedly claims to have never received any critical e-mails from religious Muslims and that it is not as hard to be a Muslim in Syria as people would think.

        I am not sure if you generally have a reading comprehension problem or you only misrepresent things when debating “Warmongering Neocon Nazis.” Either way, you hardly represent your position well.

  29. Card says:

    Anyone have any theories as to why they didn’t think that having Amina kidnapped would lead to public action? Especially considering “Amina” is American. Surely they couldn’t have been that stupid.

  30. Oscar says:

    What real Syrian gays think of the ‘apology': http://gaymiddleeast.com/news/news%20317.htm

    • Straight Midwesterner says:

      Careful with that; a lot of knowledgeable people believe that that site is run by the ISraeli government

  31. Oscar says:

    “Thank you Tom MacMaster”

    http://beirutspring.com/blog/2011/06/12/thank-you-tom-macmaster/

    “You have forever tarnished the reputation of bloggers in this region who chose to write in English. One day if I’m kidnapped by my government, many readers won’t care because I could turn out to be another Amina. A fictional entity concocted by a western fool who had good intentions.”

  32. mischi says:

    First off, thanks to Liz, Ben, Ali and the rest of y’all who helped crack the case!

    Also, can I just say that the “apology” on the blog was really offensive. Not only did Tom MacMaster not apologize to the individuals he hurt, or to the women whose identities he violently appropriated, but he also accused his detractors of practicing a form of “liberal Orientalism.” I honestly cannot imagine a more orientalist piece of garbage than the “fiction” he and his wife have been writing… so to stand there and accuse his critics of practicing the mode of reasoning that he embodies is a total load of BS.

    PS @lizhenry I would be more inclined to agree with you that we should try to be sympathetic to the blogger in question if his apology hadn’t been so offensive. As is, I just can’t muster any sympathy for him or his wife… sorry.

  33. Pingback: Amina Arraf, lesbienne syrienne, serait en réalité Tom MacMaster, hétéro américain | Yagg

  34. mischi says:

    PPS @lizhenry – since you’ve been emailing on-and-off with this Tom MacMaster character, do you think you could help supply some insight into why he and Britta perpetuated this hoax? I’m still a bit confused on that bit… especially the dating sites? And all the alt-history postings? What was going on there?

    Also, do you have any insight into why his apology ended up being such a non-apology? Do you have a sense that either Tom or Britta recognize the harm they’ve done?

  35. Card says:

    Also, you said there was talk of gender identity in his emails with you. Do you think he was just using that topic to obtain sympathy or throw you of track?

  36. Oscar says:

    “MacMaster’s interest in Syria also seems to have been deepened by his 2007 marriage to Britta Froelicher, a woman he met in Georgia on an online dating site.”

    http://ht.ly/5fY0b

    I wonder if he used his ‘Amina’ profile, complete with stolen photographs, to hook her.

  37. nasim says:

    Thank you for exposing this hoax! And all we need now is an interview with this lunatic and his wife, to know who’s responsible for what! There are a lot of question marks here, that are totally unrelated to Syria and the Middle East he was trying to gain sympathy for! What about Sandra? What about the fake pictures? What about the tons of dating sites? what about the presence of Amina years ago on line? what was he trying to do? what was he trying to prove?
    I just can’t believe that he’s taking a vacation while others are being hurt and scarred! This guy needs a punishment, a real one!

  38. Oscar says:

    Up until very, very recently, he was trying to convince, via ‘proof-wielding’ sockpuppets, journalists and others who were closing in on him that his ‘Amina’ creation was real. He fought tooth and nail to try to keep his hoax running. He did not want exposure, and now, having deleted all the comments that held scores of proofs of his fakery and gameplaying, his blog still hangs out there for the world to admire ‘his/her writing’. The apology was an insult, a denial of the harm that he done, to individuals and to people in general, in Syria and around the world. He has been ‘role playing’ as a woman for at least five years. He has made fake profiles of his ‘Amina’ character in Hebrew, English, and who knows what other languages, always with stolen photographs. He, masquerading as a woman, pursued and developed a relationship with a woman in Canada, for which literary/revolutionary/political purpose he has yet to explain. How many other deceived women are out there? And all this game-playing done with the knowledge of his wife. Years of cultivating his ‘female’ creation, then he leeches off the suffering of the Syrian people to push his Orientalist fantasy further.

    This is not a creative writing excercise, this is not a political ploy, this is not a ‘well-intentioned thing’. There is something profoundly sick and disturbed about MacMaster’s cynical and manipulative behavior and if their employers have any sense he and his accomplice wife should be kicked from their posts.

    • Ain says:

      Thank you thank you thank you.

      Almost exactly what I’ve been thinking about this since the reveal, there is a seriously creepy and unsettling side to this story that goes far beyond ideology.

      I hope somebody contacts Carnegie College (Where Tom teaches) and lets them know what sort of person they have teaching students there.

    • leslie says:

      his apology seemed phony. he was ‘deeply touched’ by the reactions. i’m sure he was but not in a way that had one ounce of sympathy. what about the poor girlfriend of ‘amina’?

  39. noemi says:

    amazing for all the wrong reasons.

  40. Oscar says:

    The Guardian:
    “Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/13/syrian-lesbian-blogger-tom-macmaster

    And now MacMaster and his accomplice wife are rubbing their hands looking forward to the media auction.

    Disgusting.

  41. anon.concerned.citizen says:

    I do find it a bit obnoxious that just 2 or 3 days ago Ali Abunimah was busy pushing the “Israel Created Amina” conspiracy theory, pointing the finger at mossad, etc.

    Well, turns out in the end the hoaxers were just a two Americans who are pretty active in the Pro-Palestine movement.

    So maybe next time a little calm and reason can prevail before everyone jumps on board with crazy Israel conspiracy theories.

    Peace out.

    • critic says:

      well good luck raising this concern on the Electronic Intifada. They just closed off the discussion in the comments. I guess feedback ain’t their thing

    • Caoimhe Snow says:

      I think it’s a testament to their credibility that they looked into this and revealed the truth, even when the truth went against their personal theories and ideologies.

      • anon.concerned.citizen says:

        I would buy that more if they had stated a brief, one-sentence apology for their earlier baseless accusations.

    • Karin says:

      anon.concerned-citizen – don’t count your chickens yet because all the eggs may not have hatched.

      The suspicions of Abunimah were aroused because of an Amina site in Hebrew. What’s up with that?

      As time goes on, surely more will be revealed about McCormack/Froelich. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the ‘real” identities of this pair hide a few more secrets. Frankly nothing about this pair adds up for me, certainly not this keen interest in Syria. Why mostly Syria and not other ME countries? The reference to “liberal orientalism” in the ‘apology’ sounds a bit cooked-up to me too. Like someone fed it to them. Certainly not as a real progressive would speak.

      Anyways, someone capable of fabricating this much information about themselves i likely comfortable with diguise, period.

      Besides, there’s nothing “crazy” about israel conspiracy theories. When a country acts like a mafia, sending hit squads to eliminate people they don’t like, collateral damage be damned, making up crap about “nuclear weapons” in Iran and generally engaging in despicable selfish acts, then yes, it is only wise to include their operatives among the suspects. No different than the police does when a crime is committed in a neighborhood. They first pay a little visit to the local gangs.

      • anon.concerned.citizen says:

        If you read the WashPo interview you’d see there’s nothing surprising about their interest in Syria:

        “MacMaster’s wife, Britta Froelicher, knew about the blog from its inception, MacMaster said.

        She’s a graduate student in Syrian politics, so our normal dinner table conversation is about Syria, and she would help me hash things out. While the writing has been mine, she’s been helping out. She thinks I’m ridiculous. But she knew I was chatting with women, she’s fine with everything. [MacMaster did not pass the phone to Froelicher, though it sounded as if she was in the room for part of the interview. When we asked to talk to her, he said, “I want to take full guilt.”]”

        And yes, there is something “crazy” about Israeli conspiracies when they constantly assume that all of the worlds wrong can be blamed on Israel. There’s no country in the world that doesn’t engage in “despicably selfish acts” — as you put it — and yet Israel is always made out to be exceptional. Sorry, but it rubs me the wrong way.

        • Karin says:

          anon.concerned: It’s not Israel that’s exceptional (though it is, and often not for the best). It’s the Mossad and what it’s willing to do. Which is why there are not a few intelligence agencies – among western countries – that won’t cooperate with it. The Mossad is truly unique among intelligence operatives in that it adopts mafia-style tactics – sometimes in broad daylight.

          The confession by MacMaster clears nothing for me – if anything I am even more certain that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. What exactly I can’t say.

          And you didn’t answer my question: does MacMaster strike you as a “real” progressive? does Britta? what does “progressive’ even mean in this kind of context?

          Anyways, you sound like an Israeli apologist – maybe even a PEP? – and this is probably not the place to debate that kind of knee-jerk apologetics. If you want to discuss these issues come on over to Mondoweiss where you’ll be in good company ( a blog “Amina” listed 3rd from the top on the favorite blogs list. A little curious I’d say).

          • say what? says:

            Yes, the mossad invented the amina alter ego years ago and wrote trashy pseudo-queer fiction on some obscure blog just so that they could one day trap you with their super special amina-intelligence-gathering ploy. That makes sense. And is totally logical. (please do note the sarcasm).

            Please this wonderful commentary, ironically posted just last night: http://www.arabawy.org/2011/06/13/the-almighty-israeli-spies/

            It concludes with the following line: “Dear Mukhabarrat, stop treating us like children. Who the hell is this Israeli super agent who will single handedly go around fomenting protests, agitating against the army in the streets and mosques? Get a life, grow up….”

            I could quote the exact same thing to you (just change “Karin” with “Mukhabarrat”).

      • Ramsey M. says:

        Fully agree with you

  42. Pingback: Chasing Amina | Composite

  43. Sophia says:

    It makes me optimistic that some people like Carvin, Liz, Ben and Ali devote a great deal of personal resources and time to find the truth.
    Many thanks and Bravo !

  44. Fred says:

    Links of potential interest:

    Tom picking tomatoes:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/Margarete.Froelicher/AtlantaVisit#5384412795488426754

    Tom and Britta:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/Margarete.Froelicher/BrittaTomSMenagerie#5384410827907655506

    “Dr. Garbage” Froelicher making up a story:
    http://www.govexec.com/features/1003/1003s4.htm

    Dr. Franz Froelicher reports an Edinburgh PhD.
    http://www.alsap.org/Gunsight/Gunsight.htm
    http://community.adn.com/adn/node/115646?page=2

    Is Thomas perhaps a Thomas Jarvis born in North Carolina in 1971 and the son of Richard Kerwin MacMaster, PhD 1968 Georgetown, history author with an interest in Shenandoah and Mennonite history? The August County Historical Society published a book of his in Staunton.

    http://www.amazon.com/Richard-K.-MacMaster/e/B001JSBCHC

    http://personal.georgiasouthern.edu/~jpellegr/ulster-scots/macmaster.html

    Perhaps Eve, a former Turkish peace corps volunteer and writer with a history degree, is the mother of Thomas?
    http://www.gainesvillemennonites.org/aboutus.htm

  45. Pingback: Lesbian Syrian woman Amina Affaf has been found and is safe! A “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog a Hoax | Politisite

  46. Caoimhe Snow says:

    Tom’s interview with the Washington Post:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/tom-macmaster-the-man-behind-a-gay-girl-in-damascus-i-didnt-expect-the-story-to-get-so-big/2011/06/13/AGhnHiSH_blog.html

    According to some twitter reports, Syrian state news agency has weighed in on this, possibly alleging American conspiracy.

    And it seems that Tom gave an interview to the BBC.

  47. Pingback: 'Gay Girl in Damascus' Blogger Admits to Writing Fiction Disguised as Fact - NYTimes.com

  48. Pingback: The Lede: ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ Blogger Admits to Writing Fiction Disguised as Fact | Latest Updates

  49. Lucretia Pruitt says:

    I’ve run shrieking at you and hugged you more than one in person… You’d better be real or that must’ve looked really odd to people around me!

    Sooner or later someone is going to coin a term for these Frauds that sticks… They’ve been doing it as long as there has been a way to do it. Newspaper personals, BBS IDs, Usenet & irc, and now all over the rest of our social networks. The fraud of one exposed tends to make you turn a skeptical eye to the next – such a horrible thing to happen to the next “being scrutinized because the last person wasn’t real.” it actually victimizes the next one worse.
    I suppose it’s just part of the world we live in now, eh?

  50. Caoimhe Snow says:

    MacMaster was seeking a literary agent for his Amina novel:

    http://www.minalhajratwala.com/2011/06/a-thousand-sighs-memoir-of-a-hoax/

    Features excerpts from the novel.

    • Jade says:

      Kinda blows his “I did it all for Syria” claim out of the water doesn’t it? What a self serving twat.

  51. mischi says:

    Hi, I’ve been following the comments here re Amina since either Tues. or Weds., and I just wanted to mention one thing that is really bothering me: why were we so quick to cast suspicion on Paula Brooks?

    I read their response online last night, and a few things struck me:
    -First, their writing style doesn’t seem at all like Amina’s
    -Two, they point out that they have communicated in a non-chat way with several journalists (something Amina never did)
    -Three, they admit to using pseudonyms and seem to have good reasons for doing so
    -Four, they appear to be justifiably pissed off

    I’d really like an explanation here. In the blog posting above, Liz Henry basically states that Paula Brooks in a sock puppet. But does using a pseudonym (something they readily admit to) make you a sock puppet? That doesn’t seem quite faire.

    They also claim on the comments to their blog that they feel particularly put out by the way Electronic Intifada appropriated some of the info they passed along, without giving them any of the credit.

    I guess I’m potentially bothered that in a story that is essentially about a white guy appropriating the identity of queer women of color, we seem to have once a white guy appropriating the labor of queer women and then trying to delegitimize these women…

    Can you please clarify?

    • Benjamin says:

      Paula is accusing the Electronic Intifada of not giving her credit for the IP addresses, but in fact we always recognized her as the source. We simply did not find evidence that she exists, and we mentioned this as well. If you read the comment I left on Lez Get Real (linked above) you will see the extent I researched her existence, including a search of obituaries to corroborate her partner Debra Marie Long who passed away in December 2008.

      I am not sure what we are supposed to do. We researched Paula and found a fraudulent educational and work history. I looked into the identity of her partner and found nothing either. Nobody on LGR is identified as writing with a pseudonym. How would you have handled it if you had thought that she may also be a sock puppet eagerly prvoiding evidence that pointed to the identity of Amina?

      • mischi says:

        These are good points, and I do understand your dilemma.

        But in the comments on their blog they also accuse Electronic Intifada of not trying to get a hold of them (via phone or some other media presumably). Is this true?

        They state that they have been in communication with a few other journalists, and its true that at least one journo from Washington Post gives them credit for being “invaluable” in the search for Amina. If they have been in contact with other journalists who can verify their identity, then why didn’t you also try to get in touch with them?

        Again, I understand the dilemma. But I also understand how hurtful it must be to have someone question your entire identity.

        • Benjamin says:

          In the cloud of misinformation, I was not interested in trying to communicate with another not-real person.

          Paula needs to take responsibility for this. http://www.linkedin.com/pub/paula-brooks/4/104/a7 All of this is false. Paula Brooks is a pseudonym and does not need this career history and education history.

          • mischi says:

            Really? I don’t get how Paula having a linkedin profile justifies pointing fingers at her…

            Other journos did take the time to verify whether or not she was a real person.

            I understand that in the heat-of-the-moment you were to caught up to bother reaching out to Paula, but I still don’t understand why you won’t admit that you might have been too hasty in casting judgment.

            Alas, that’s my .02

          • Mark says:

            Mischi,

            It sounds like Benjamin is implying that the info on the Linked in profile is made up (rather than just reassigned to a pseudonym). Spooky if true.

          • mischi says:

            Just to clarify:

            YOU asked me a valid question — e.g. “What would you have done differently?”

            I gave you a valid answer to the question — e.g., I would have tried to reach out to verify the source.

            Instead of responding to this exchange of equanimity, you go back to being defensive/aggressive.

            Not cool. I was really just trying to understand what happened, and if there does need to be an apology this would be a good time to give it (esp. since lezgetreal is apparently suffering from hacker attacks as a result of your accusation).

            wowzers

          • Liz Henry says:

            Yes… I can think of many reasons why Paula Brooks might want to remain pseudonymous, but at some point she probably will need to trust *some* journalist or researcher and explain . I don’t want to unnecessarily out anyone, but I think it’s understandable to doubt Brooks (and probably Carbonell) as reliable sources on the hoax.

        • Charles Hope says:

          Using a pseudonym is one thing, but constructing an entire false history on Linked In is frankly rather excessive, and certainly raises a red flag when sock puppets are being sought. You really don’t get this?

          • mischi says:

            nope, I don’t. Not as long as journalists whom I otherwise trust say they have verified this persons identity. So unless there’s actual proof to the contrary, I really have to wonder about how this aspect of the story is being handled. And I’m very intrigued also to hear what Liz Henry , who previously expressed a lot of anxiety about possibly unfairly questioning “amina’s” identity, has to say about this “paula brook” bit of the story…

          • Liz Henry says:

            I have to keep a fairly skeptical stance. Of course I don’t want to out someone who needs to remain pseudonymous for their own safety. But I have a lot of doubts and questions about Brooks, Carbonell, and Brigitte. If a reporter can verify their existence, that would be
            a relief.

          • Mark says:

            Mischi,

            Who are the journalists that you trust who have vouched for Paula Brooks?

            • mischi says:

              it was one of the WashPo ones (flock?) on a twitter feed, giving Brooks credit and all. But now they just revelaed that Brooks is a guy. So my bad. I can admit when I’ve beed “had”!

              • Gray says:

                Can you apologize, too, Mischi? The guys from Electronic Intifada had good reasons to question the existence of “Paula Brooks”, they were open about this in the comments here, but you still attacked them. They were right, and simply admitting that falls a bit short. Imho this warrants an apology.

      • harriet_the_spy says:

        there is no comment on lezgetreal that I can find about your research on Paula Brooks. can you link to it directly?

  52. Ramsey M. says:

    I am from Syria, and my impression after reading this blog is that whoever created this blog was trying to hide their real intents in a very smart way:

    This is what I believe what the primary intent of the blog: To foment sectarian hatred in Syria.

    Notice how Amina talks. Though she is made to be this incredibly nice and wholesome person, she constantly speaks in a highly sectarian way: She is a Sunni, who is defending with her father Sunni interests and rights. She uses the world Muslim to mean Sunni interchangeably and refers to other muslim sects as (infidels, polytheists and heathen – highly inflammatory characterisations). Her attacks are mostly aimed at the Alawi sect and this is most obvious in the 2007 version of the blog which is much more offensive than the 2011 version. This is highly inflammatory language and can cause a lot of trouble in the Middle East if it becomes common wisdom. Social unrest and conflict can result and many places have had sectarian and religious wars and conflicts as a result of ideas such as these.

    You will also notice in the two versions (more clearly in the 2007 version) attempts to attack falsifying history. Here in a totally fictional event but that is portrayed as reality (like everything else in the blog), Amina claims that Hafez Assad (Syria’s President during the war with Israel over the Golan Heights) caused her Sunni uncle Omar to die by withdrawing and letting a big number of Sunnis to die. He is then portrayed as a traitor to the Sunnis. Readers from the Middle East can easily see through what this blog was trying to achieve.

    This was no ordinary hoax, the author took a lot of effort to pull it off. I believe there was an insidious political goal behind. This was possibly part of a cyber war of words and ideas and manipulation being waged on the internet for political gains.

    Unfortunately, what we are seeing in Syria is a re-emergence of sectarian talk and hatred – If my suspicions are correct, has this blog and others like it been successful and who is really behind this spreading of misinformation?

    • Sophia says:

      Ramsey M.

      I totally agree. There is much more to the story than a character fabrication. There is so much manipulation going on right now but mainly manipulation is in two types and two targets: the first has the Syrian diaspora and westerners as a target and Macmaster’s blog is in this category tryig to convince them that Syria is sectarian, the second, less peaceful and more openly agressive has Syrians living in Syria as a target trying to convince them that if they do not join the revolution all is left for them is civil war.
      http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/10/the_fall_of_the_house_of_assad

      I knew from day one that Amina was a western invention. The story only fooled those who don’t know Syria well or those who know Syria but still wanted to believe the story.

      • Ramsey M. says:

        As a Syrian, I can tell you that it wasn’t obvious to me that this was a hoax, the blog was extremely well written and the people behind it knew Syria very well, enough to fool Syrians and Damascenes. The creators of the blog have an incredible understanding of the different issues and social trends in the city and deep expertise in the different topics in the country that they were able to fabricate things flawlessly and without making too many mistakes (though they made a few).

        It wasn’t obvious to me that this was a hoax while reading it, it’s only after suspicions were raised that my mind unconsciously went back to the small mistakes that were made: the Arabic was very good but certain idioms contained some minor mistakes that a native would not make. The fact that she was gay did not strike me as odd because Damascus seems to have had a change of heart on the subject in the last ten years and gays have clearly become visible and open about it, the reaction of her father regarding her homosexuality is typical of a liberal person and many Syrians are liberal. What I found suspicious though was her knowledge of Turkish and Hebrew and her wish to work as a diplomat in Israel; her expert knowledge of Islam; and her expert knowledge of the region’s history, expertise at the level of a scholar who is specialized in each of these distinct topics (normally you will find scholars who are well known and who can write with expertise on a topic or two, but rarely will you see someone who has achieved scholar-like level in such a wide range of topics). If you combine that with the deep knowledge of Syrian and US gay and lesbian issues, the superior writing skills in multiple languages, the poetry, the knowledge of social and religious issues in Syria, it become clear to me that this could not have been the work of some fantasy-striken grad student in Scotland sitting in his home and typing away on his computer.

        This is the work of a group of experts who are highly specialized in different topics: Syrian politics and the power structure inner workings; Syrian social trends; deep knowledge of all the religions, sects and communities of the Middle East; Middle East history; how to successfully stir and conduct a revolution; expert knowledge of languages, Arabic, English, Hebrew, Turkish and various regional dialects; social and anthropology issues in Syria.

        Notice when this blog came online, in February 2011 after the Tunis and Egypt “revolutions” were either over or underway. Nothing had happened in Syria yet. The blog was a resuscitation of a prior failed blog in 2007 but whose real intents are less clearly disguised. The 2011 blog began as a normal non-political blog but increasingly became highly revolutionary as the protests grew.

        The group of people behind this blog have such a complete mastery of the topics that they cover that they falsify facts with extreme ease, warp the truth, engage in revisionist history and manipulate worldwide opinion to suit their objectives.

        In the recent past, we have seen the uncovering of a lot of these fabrications, many more have not been uncovered. Wars and occupation and theft have been waged under these false pretenses.

        When you put all these things together, I believe we are seeing the work of a governmental agency that has been exposed, most likely the Israelis though there could be a small possibility it could be a US agency. Highly conspirational theory talk, I know, but the only rational explanation I can see.

        • Corona says:

          To have wrote what “Amina” wrote, she wouldn’t have had to be an expert on much. “She” would have just needed access to research sources that would allow her to regurgitate other people’s ideas.

          The notion that this was done by the Israeli government is typical of the paranoia that pervades much of the Arab world. Given the amount that is written about Syria, and one blog is not going to have sufficient impact to justify the resources expended. And if Tom MacMaster was an Israeli intelligence asset, he would not have left all sorts of clues as to his background.

          • Ramsey M. says:

            You are greatly underestimating the level of expertise in the many topics of this blog. I disagree that this was common information easily obtainable from the Internet. Without living in Syria for many years, no one can achieve the level of first hand feel for the country that “Amina” displayed. She spoke like a genuine Syrian girl and fooled everyone on this earth. That she could fool westerners who don’t know the country is one thing but to fool Syrians is another.

            Everything in that blog feels genuine.

            Tell me, can you learn a language as complex as Arabic and Turkish online? And achieve no only mastery of its classical form, which is what most people learn, but also master the dialect that we speak and its many variations. Can you learn about Islam in a such a profound way that you are able to talk about it like an expert in both Arabic and English and provide advanced reinterpretations of it as Amina does? Can you learn about the secret meetings of Qubeisy sisters, part of the underground and illegal Muslim Brotherhood and be able to talk about it as an insider? I can go on and on, the list is endless.

            I agree with you on one issue, one blog (even as widely successful and followed as this) is incapable of really affecting and manipulating worldwide thought and opinion, but replicate this over numerous other blogs, traditional media, forums, … and you get a well organized and successful campaign for misinformation.

            As for the paranoia about Israel that pervades the Middle East, I agree with you that it exists. Much of it is unjustified as we see the hand of Israel in everything that is wrong in our countries. But unfortunately when we see something that has clear objectives (as this blog does) and has the clear fingerprints of a certain spy agency (which has all the above expertise in spades and is able to pull this kind of hoax), you can understand why this paranoia may be justified in some cases.

            Why don’t you think government agencies are capable of doing such as thing (do I need to remind you of the widely dismissed “yellow cake forgery” and how it was used as an excuse to invade Iraq). All government have arms of their intelligence agencies that are specialized in such work. Arab governments efforts are just clumsy at this, their secret police is mostly uneducated villagers who are can barely write in Arabic and probably only their chief can say a few words in proper English. They only know the language of violence. When they attempt to manipulate public thought they are terrible and obvious. If you knew Arabic, you’ll understand what I am talking about. They are not sophisticated at it.

            I believe the Israelis (and other western agencies), are much more sophisticated, they understand human psychology, social issues, cultural issues… They hire people from the best universities. Government invest in such an effort because they understand its power, the power of words in shifting public opinion and create legitimacy and moral outrage. How many people called their local politicians to save “Amina” from the hands of this savage regime, how many have hated it as a result. Politicians are human too and are affected by this kind of manipulation. This type of manipulation is capable of changing the course of history.

            The way I see it is that Israelis have an interest in fomenting sectarianism in Syria. I believe the current government in Israel is not interested in making peace and doesn’t feel the need to give back the land it has occupied in 1967. But Syria is resisting this effort and trying to get back its land (the Golan Heights).

            Now if somehow Israel can foment sectarianism in Syria (which is what I believe to the be the real hidden intent of this blog – the 2007 blog version is much clearer in this regard – see above for why I believe this), it would push Syrians to hate each other and engage in conflict (thus weakening the country and discrediting the gang that is governing – if nothing else, this is a win for Israel), this sectarian conflict may evolve into an armed conflict that results in dividing Syria into smaller statelets based on religious sects and ethnicities (isn’t that what Israel really is, the country of Jews, a religious group and ethnicity) – Syria could then be divided into statelets for the Druze, one for the Alawis, one for the Kurds, one for the Sunnis Arabs, one for the Turkomen, one for the Assyrians, … Suddenly Israel doesn’t feel like a foreign entity in the middle of an Arab universe, it just another religious/ethnic country like others in the neighborhood. And most important of all, it get to keep the occupied Golan Heights because no statelet is able to claim its rightful ownership of the Golan, and in any case no statelet will be strong enough to get it back.

            Read the blog carefully, don’t be taken by the liberal, ecumenical ideas and other fictions, at its essence, this blog is calling for sectarianism through an emphasis on treating non-Sunnis as non-Muslims (a highly inflammatory charge in this part of the world), something which 4 months ago no one was talking about in Syria, it now it is on everybody’s lips, and we are at the cusp of a new sectarian war in Syria with the possible repercussions I have discussed above.

            The win for Israel are the following: a discredited and increasingly hated regime in Syria; no other party for peace-making; religious and sectarian tension and war; and gain of the occupied land once and for all. All of this without spending a dime on armies and fights, don’t you think that would be a good investment for the non-peace seeking government of Mr. Netanyahu.

            This is the bet that Netanyahu is making, stall on time, foment problems in the countries which are resisting, and hope for the best. Hey if Syrians can forget about Iskandarun (currently in Turkey), they will forget about the Golan.

            Now this is what I think, you don’t have to agree. But this is not the work of a Mr. MacMaster from Scotland.

            It wasn’t obvious to me that this was a hoax while reading it, it’s only after suspicions were raised that my mind unconsciously went back to the small mistakes that were made: the Arabic was very good but certain idioms contained some minor mistakes that a native would not make. The fact that she was gay did not strike me as odd because Damascus seems to have had a change of heart on the subject in the last ten years and gays have clearly become visible and open about it, the reaction of her father regarding her homosexuality is typical of a liberal person and many Syrians are liberal. What I found suspicious though was her knowledge of Turkish and Hebrew and her wish to work as a diplomat in Israel; her expert knowledge of Islam; and her expert knowledge of the region’s history, expertise at the level of a scholar who is specialized in each of these distinct topics (normally you will find scholars who are well known and who can write with expertise on a topic or two, but rarely will you see someone who has achieved scholar-like level in such a wide range of topics). If you combine that with the deep knowledge of Syrian and US gay and lesbian issues, the superior writing skills in multiple languages, the poetry, the knowledge of social and religious issues in Syria, it become clear to me that this could not have been the work of some fantasy-striken grad student in Scotland sitting in his home and typing away on his computer.

            This is the work of a group of experts who are highly specialized in different topics: Syrian politics and the power structure inner workings; Syrian social trends; deep knowledge of all the religions, sects and communities of the Middle East; Middle East history; how to successfully stir and conduct a revolution; expert knowledge of languages, Arabic, English, Hebrew, Turkish and various regional dialects; social and anthropology issues in Syria.

            Notice when this blog came online, in February 2011 after the Tunis and Egypt “revolutions” were either over or underway. Nothing had happened in Syria yet. The blog was a resuscitation of a prior failed blog in 2007 but whose real intents are less clearly disguised. The 2011 blog began as a normal non-political blog but increasingly became highly revolutionary as the protests grew.

            The group of people behind this blog have such a complete mastery of the topics that they cover that they falsify facts with extreme ease, warp the truth, engage in revisionist history and manipulate worldwide opinion to suit their objectives.

            In the recent past, we have seen the uncovering of a lot of these fabrications, many more have not been uncovered. Wars and occupation and theft have been waged under these false pretenses.

            When you put all these things together, I believe we are seeing the work of a governmental agency that has been exposed, most likely the Israelis though there could be a small possibility it could be a US agency. Highly conspirational theory talk, I know, but the only rational explanation I can see.

            • Ramsey M. says:

              Apologies for the long post.

              The last six paragraphs from my last post were somehow added by mistake from a previous post.

              The post should end with “Now this is what I think, you don’t have to agree. But this is not the work of a Mr. MacMaster from Scotland”

            • Ramsey M. says:

              ie it should end at the 13th paragraph.

              The last 6 are from a previous post that were added by mistake

        • Karin says:

          Ramsey, what you write is very interesting. Your theory as to what the point is – ie fragmentation of Syria through sectarian incitement – is quite plausible. I hope you presented your speculations more widely than just on this blog. They deserve attention, even if speculative at this point.

          I am quite sure, BTW, that further research into the money and employment trail of MacMaster will yield dividends.

          • Ramsey M. says:

            To all readers, please feel free to use any or all parts of my posts when commenting online.

            I tried to write commentaries on a few newspapers websites but was blocked from registering, possibly because I am writing from Syria.

    • Karin says:

      Who has something to gain? whoever gains from the fomenting trouble that could result in the fracturing of Syria.

      For me, this entire sordid episode casts doubt on the Syrian revolution. There are things about it that are totally different from the way things went in Egypt. There may well be civil unrest but it is strange the way things have been escalating to an armed conflict. Where would young people in Syria get arm? why was the epicenter far from the capital? what in fact do we really know about what’s happening in Syria from trusted sources?

      OTOH, it could be that the purpose of the Amina blog was exactly that – to cast doubts on what is behind the ‘revolution” and even on whether there is a revolution going on.

      Smoke and mirrors, that’s what.

      The one thing I am sure of is that neither Macmaster nor the wife, Froelicher are actually progressive. I’d at this point be suspicious of any views they expressed going back at least 4 years.

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  55. Having seen the a YouTube video of Britta Froelicher discussing her work and hearing the BBC interview with Tom MacMaster, I am convinced that Froelicher not only knew of the blog, but was heavily involved in its instigation and writing. MacMaster really had to think about his answers (even though he was not asked “Why was the Amina persona active online for five years?”) and did not seem to have the capacity to “think on his feet” I would expect of someone behind such a hoax. I also think her message, “We are on vacation in Turkey and just really want to have a nice time and not deal with all this craziness at the moment” is a clear indication of the sociopathy required for the hoax. His confession as sole perpetrator came after the Electronic Intifada article inspired hundreds of invective-filled comments on the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog, almost all of which were directed at Froelicher. The only emphatic thing in the piss-weak excuse for an apology was his claim of sole authorship. MacMaster might not technically be a sockpuppet, but he definitely appears to me to be a gunsel.

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  57. Mark says:

    Remember “Jasmine,” who was commenting furiously on GGID blog in passionate defense of Amina, and who then launched her own blog (http://jasminefrompakistan.wordpress.com/)? Anybody notice that that blog has been taken down too?

    I guess Jasmine is also a MacMaster sockpuppet. I think someone had said that Jasmine was a revival of a blogger who had existed years ago with some of the same content and pictures. Jasmine was also Western/Eastern (British-Pakistani). It makes you wonder how many fake lesbians that MacMaster has created over the years (and may be still out there).

    • Liz Henry says:

      I do remember Jasmine and the particularly tacky down-blouse boob photos she posted, which I think have a strong possibility of being Britta. There is one where you can see the lower part of her face, where her cheek and jawline look like Britta’s. I didn’t screengrab all this, but I’m sure someone did.

      • nasim says:

        actually if you have checked her blog after the ‘confession’ you would have seen how shattered she was, taking her self back to the time when she was drugged and wanted to die, she also had a personal pic of herself( in her underwear!!!!).. She was a victim of Tom, too. She thought that she found someone she could consider a role model, but was dispointed and shocked! Of course, she does have a disturbed personality and she does need help, but that doesn’t make he a sockpuppet!

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  59. sean says:

    In this interview, he says that Froelicher was in on it, but she apparently says the opposite:

    MacMaster’s wife, Britta Froelicher, knew about the blog from its inception, according to MacMaster.

    She’s a graduate student in Syrian politics, so our normal dinner table conversation is about Syria, and she would help me hash things out. While the writing has been mine, she’s been helping out. She thinks I’m ridiculous. But she knew I was chatting with women, she’s fine with everything. [During a follow-up interview we conducted with Froelicher, she says she did not know about the blog until this weekend. We’ll post that interview soon.]

  60. Jonquil says:

    Thank you for the legwork, and for the early warning; I think you were among the first to say “Smells like a sockpuppet.”

    I’ll cosign as somebody who has met Liz in person, and let me tell you she is *fierce*.

    • Jesse the K says:

      +1.

      More applause for you, Liz, for your hard work. If you get bored with the 25 other things you manage to accomplish every day, you could think about journalism as a career.

  61. Jonquil says:

    Note to defeatedandgifted: “Gunsel” is actually ’30s slang for a homosexual, which is why Wilmer goes for his gun when called that. Sam Spade is insulting (and possibly describing) both Gutman and Wilmer.

    [/geek]

    • JMS says:

      Yes, but after the movie came out, it almost immediately started to be used as a synonym for “gunman” or “hitman” (presumably by people who were unaware of the other, relatively obscure, meaning).

    • Yes, I’m aware of that implication of the word gunsel. I was using it especially with the connotation of “patsy” in mind, and the sense that the gunsel might pull the trigger, but only pointing it where they are told. I still doubt MacMaster is the brains behind the operation.

  62. Ken says:

    Tom MacMaster has written a fuller apology on his blog:
    http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/2011/06/apology-to-readers_13.html

    Still waiting to hear him apologising for Jasmine though.
    She’s been going for years…

  63. Pingback: American Man Admits to Creating ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus,’ Passing Fiction as Fact | Just Out

  64. Fi says:

    Hi guys,

    I think Jasmine is real and she is very upset (before she took her blog down, she was saying this and how it made her feel like how she felt many years ago when she tried to kill herself – so please be gentle and don’t automatically think that’s just an act), as you can imagine if you defended someone to the hilt because you believed they were real, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. There is a blog history going back a long time and I think I came across something about her fight against the British Nationalist Party. I looked into this when I thought she was a sockpuppet for Tom MacMaster.

    Put yourself in the position of being a bisexual muslim Asian woman, involved in activism, and then think how she must have felt with the role model that was Amina. Don’t judge her so harshly, she is another victim.

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  66. Irem Koker says:

    I am a journalist based in Istanbul, Turkey. I am the first Turkish journalist to report about “Amina Arraf” and her blog and conducted an interview with the blog author via email.

    Today I spent around 45 minutes sitting across Tom MacMaster here in Istanbul at the garden of a hotel located in the historic peninsula. I also met his wife, Britta Froelicher.

    When I arrived at the hotel around noon, he was on the phone with a news organization (I don’t know which one) and our interview ended when his wife interrupted us to say Skype connection is ready for a Guardian interview.

    We ran the story today on our online edition (it is in Turkish but the link is http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/planet/18021813.asp?gid=381 and if you scroll down you can see a gallery of Tom’s pics, all taken today). Unfortunately our English language edition decided not to go with the story, saying they did not cover the Amina Arraf issue at all (maybe the wisest decision ever taken).

    However I do believe those who worried about Amina, campaigned for her release and researched about her when the question marks began to emerge deserve to know details from the first face to face interview conducted with Tom. That’s why now I am writing here as a comment to mention some highlights from my 45-minutes long interview with Tom (all these remarks are recorded in my tape):

    — When we met, his first words were: “If you wanna punch me, go ahead”. He personally apologized me for punking me as Amina Arraf and said he would do the same thing for other journalists as well.

    — I got the sense that he was kind of relaxed as everything comes to a conclusion. His wife were coming and going. She briefly sat with us and it was obvious that she was very tense.

    — My first question was “why”. He smiled and responded: “This initially started as a need of commenting on websites, discussion groups, blogs etc. Nothing terribly complicated. When I found that I myself had an opinion politics of Israeli-Palestinian issue, Turkey, Iraq, things began very quickly to develop.”

    — He said if someone criticizes US policies regarding this region (the Middle East) as a white American, then this person is blamed to be anti-American and hating freedom. When he created an Arab-American character, then noticed people pay more attention and begin questioning whether their own views are offensive for people living in these regions.

    — Basically what he says is that it started as “an innocent initiative” and get bigger and bigger especially after January when the Arab Spring began affecting Syria. At some point, he couldn’t stop it.

    — He says he created Amina Arraf around 2003-2004 (around the time when the invasion of Iraq by US began in April 2003). Amina was active on internet “in some certain periods”.

    — Several years ago he wrote about 100 pages of a book in which Amina was the lead character. He wants to write a book on Amina Arraf “if he gets a book deal”.

    — Amina is a composite of four-five real people, “little from each, quite a bit from myself”, he said. When I asked about the eyewitness accounts in the blog regarding the demonstrations in Syria, he said, it required extreme research and collected all these information and videos from blogs and his contacts in Syria.

    — When I asked him about Sandra Bagaria, his body language obviously changed. He came forward and took a small piece of paper on the table and began cleaning the glass on the table. “This is one of the things I feel bad about,” he said. He spoke more about Sandra but I prefer to share these with her in private if she is ever interested.

    — However he mentioned two other names alongside with Sandra: Jelena Lecic and an American man whom he had business deal with (I don’t know what). He said once he gets back to Scotland, he will get in touch with these people as who he really is and apologize in a personal way.

    — He does not remember how he came across to Lecic’s profile on Facebook. However, according to what Tom told me, he said to himself, “That is exactly how I visualize Amina is look like. If I was making the movie that’s the person I would have hired to play Amina” when he saw Lecic’s pictures.

    — He admitted he created many sock puppets, including Rania. He said: “Even my cat has an email address.” About lezgetreal.com, he said he has no connection with them except when in the beginning they sent him an email asking to be contributor. he said: “I do believe they really exist. But I am not them.”

    — Tom said: “I regret the harm I caused to anyone. I feel a lot of guilt. If someone gets kidnapped and nobody cares it will be on me even if this happens 10 years later. I am bad. I am glad it is over”

    — When I asked whether he is sick or something he responded: “I admit there is a bit of craziness in it.”

    — According to Tom, if you tell him he is handsome, he gets happy. If you tell him his writing is great, he is flattered. So he admitted the media attention boosted his ego, and as his ego boosted he couldn’t stop.

    — I asked him when was the first time he said that things are going out of control, he responded as “when the Guardian contacted me”.

    — My observation is that his mind was telling him to stop at some point, but his ego prevented him to do so. He liked the media attention a lot, although what he was doing had potential to hurt people.

    — He also said he planned to end it with saying that Amina is released after her alleged abduction and then declare in the blog that she leaves Syria and then he deletes everything.

    — One last interesting thing to point out, when his wife came to remind Guardian is waiting, I asked whether she involved or knew about the blog. Tom’s response (exactly as it is recorded): “She knew I was writing a blog but she didn’t know the false name and nobody did.” That is kind of strange given his wife is an expert on Syria, knew the blog but did not know the alias her husband used. This was the weirdest in the interview.

    — I asked him about what he is going to do with the blog, he responded: “I am going to close it very very soon. When I get back to Scotland I will download everything and erase it.”

    This is the major messages he gave today. Now, all I want is a cold beer and move on. We have a refugee / humanitarian crisis on our doorstep and Turkey just get out of a very exhausting election process. I do believe it is time to focus on real people and real issues bearing consequences for real people.

    • mischi says:

      wow, amazing commentary. thank you so much for adding this dimension!

    • Sophia says:

      Thanks for posting a summary and a link to the interview which was well done. So he is giving an interview ti The Guardian, expect a very different interview from this one. Up until the last day and after Carvin, henry and others have raised serious doubts about Amina, The Gaurdian was still publishing articles in which they basically say: Amina is a real person until proof to the contrary. They also gave different types of explanations on why Amina hides her identity. My feeling is The Gaurdian will be really nice to Tom, no hard questions.

      The Guardian has been coverning the Syrian revolution in much the same way the New York Times has covered Iraq in the beginning. They also have their own ‘correspondants living in Damascus’ and posting articles under pseudonyms. They are in the business of identity fabrication…

    • Ramsey M. says:

      Sorry, but for someone who is able to write a rich blog like “Amina’s”, these answers are not satisfactory. His answers are shallow and brief, unlike what I would expect from the creator(s) of this blog. I’m afraid the truth is not out yet and still needs to be found.

      • Jade says:

        Agree. I hate how the whole Sandra Bagaria thing and the dating websites aren’t being questioned more. I mean the fact he was using ‘Amina’ to get chicks totally blows his excuses out of the water for me.

        • Liz Henry says:

          Yes, I don’t think that fits neatly into a “literary experiment gone too far” narrative either.

        • Benjamin says:

          Tom was present in Palestine solidarity groups and also used Amina sockpuppet in those groups, too… long before the GGD blog. This is not just about the blog.

          • Liz Henry says:

            I’m glad you are looking deeper into that. It would be especially interesting if there are other activists using sockpuppet online identities to talk to themselves. Mailing lists and private emails definitely add another dimension to this research!

  67. Tom says:

    Thanks overall to Liz/everyone for the insight and arguably a fascinating new chapter in this field, and to Irem for, finally, some proper reportage.

    Without disagreeing with comments above or denying the tragedy that real bloggers may not be taken seriously (and what I’m about to say is in service of them being taken seriously), and, I stress, bearing in mind I am adding this as a minor dimension rather than arguing against suggestions that this episode was damaging, I would add a note of caution about overindulging ourselves when it comes to MacMaster.

    Suggesting he is “disturbing” or “mentally ill”, and overthinking the reasons behind it, is ridiculous. Ultimately his role was that of writer, quite a good one at that, and if we’ve been taken in by it then it’s not far removed from taking an historical novel as pure fact and then vilifying the author, or from insisting no author ever has a nom de plume. And frankly, I don’t want to know about an author’s reality, I want to know about their ideas or their fantasy. I hadn’t heard about GGID before this story blew up and – sorry everyone – I enjoyed reading it. I’m less interested now that we know who Amina is. He was not a hoaxer, he was a blogger; or are we making an uncomfortable comparison of those two things?

    What is more, the book industry is dying and new writers are feeling their way into digital publishing, partly through generating an online persona or platform. That has been pushed a little further here than many would imagined and than MacMaster would feel, now, was wise, but it’s unknown territory.

    “They wasted the time of a lot of activists, human rights workers, journalists, and people concerned about Syrian politics….” – let it be a lesson to us all, not only “they”. People have long been blase about the credibility of bloggers when they are held up as de facto journalists rather than witnesses, but worse still is that journalists – running scared for their livelihood – have scrambled to be seen to agree, and to become bloggers themselves to steal some credibility or let bloggers do their job for them. The good ones in both camps do their own research rather than endlessly Googling, Wiki-pasting and re-tweeting. Here we learnt that journalism needs to sharpen up its act and recall old values alongside gaining insight via the speed and reach of the new ways.

    “By their lies, they harmed the fabric of social trust…” – no, virtual trust, which is not the same thing; can there even really be, 100%, such a thing? “Lies and hoaxes do damage to communities…” – no, online communities, and in fact this has advanced the science. If one wants one’s own minor examples of self-expression or flirtation or privacy, if one wants to use aliases and passwords, and/or if one wants to be free of censorship, and/or if one wants the Anonymous entities of this world to exist, one has to accept the Aminas as well. Such is the internet.

    “The hoaxer did political damage…” – no, the story about the hoax did political damage in some people’s eyes (in others’ it was educational but putting that aside). That hoax story implicates Mac, journalists and the rest of us as a chain reaction. We can all reflect on that.

    “We discussed postmodern constructions of identity and gender issues for several days” – this aspect is really of no consequence out on the streets, so it’s too bad really, BUT taken in isolation this discussion was an interesting one and, again, the part of it played out here was vastly stimulating, so, genuinely, thank you.

    Overall, it’s the dilemma posed by the all-pervasive nature of the digital world in a nutshell, really: never enough information; too much information; what is “information”?

  68. Ken says:

    This is Jasmine’s last post on The Pakistani Heretical Girl site before it was closed down.
    “It isn’t anger. It’s just emptiness. I am not sure of my feelings as such. Frankly, I am too shocked to say very much. I don’t think I bear this person any ill will, but I would want to know why. I always thought it was a literary blog, but by a woman, a Muslim woman, someone who was from the region and understood.
    Tom McMaster. It is a very British name, like a ruddy sergeant, or a groundkeeper, or a man who repairs machines of war. It is not a name I like very much. I dislike its very Britishness. I am in shock. I need time. All of us need time, even if I definetly don’t feel personally deceived. He never cheated me personally. I think he acted even gallantly somehow, if that’s his real name. Ultimately, he has committed no crime.
    But I am wounded, deep within me and I know I have humiliated myself. I am not sure what I will feel when I wake up.
    I ask myself simple questions. Is he rich? Is he important? Is he married? What does he want from life?
    What do I want?
    I do not know the answer to these questions.
    Perhaps Tom McMaster was searching. Like me. Did he find what he wanted?
    I do not believe Tom McMaster is a coward. I can not hate him.
    Amina? I can not love what is not there. He showed mercy.”

    I think it’s Tom but I doubt we’ll ever know for sure…

    • Ramsey M. says:

      Whomever was behind this hoax has caused incredible damage to so many issues that I don’t know where to start.
      From the few words that this MacMaster has said since being found out, I am pretty sure he was not the main writer behind the blog.
      He comes across along with his wife as two rather stupid people which doesn’t jibe with the superior intelligence that was behind the Amina blog

  69. Fi says:

    “Ken says:
    June 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm
    This is Jasmine’s last post on The Pakistani Heretical Girl site before it was closed down.”

    No it was not her last post. This one was. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:gMV3vPZYhyMJ:jasminefrompakistan.wordpress.com/+the+pakistan+heretical+girl&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&source=www.google.co.uk

    And she still has the About page up on her blog, where you will find smaller comment type stuff. Tom MacMaster has said he has nothing to do with Jasmine, she is just a rather vulnerable woman, who go taken in by him. I completely get why this seems untrue, I thought it was too for a while but I’m pretty sure she is real.
    ———
    “This song expresses how I feel right now. I keep blurring between now and Heathrow where I took me overdose. I tried to run for the PIA flight. But Parveen was gone. Drugged. That was 2005.
    This is 2011. The more stuff changes, the more it stays the same. I don’t want to be alone right now. I think when the tears begin, it will be the first small step maybe.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S7Qu5HMiCA

    ——-

  70. Sophia says:

    Many dubious characters have taken up the Palestinian cause mainly because it gives them cover from criticism from people who are sympathetic to the cause. Carlos was one of them and now we have the guy behind The Gay Girl from Damascus. I do not believe in the acitivism of these people. Being an acitivit, a real one, is to have some integrity. This guy with his wife have lied too much to be real acitivists.

    Are we naive to believe that they, alone, from their Edinburgh’s dormitory, could convey what is it to be a gay girl in Damascus and make people sympathetic to the Syrian revolution?

    And I am really irritated by their criticism of Orientalism because in creating the gay girl character they have played on every prejudice and anti-prejudice about Muslim women and Arab countries in general, fooling Syrians and westerners at the same time.

  71. Oscar says:

    “So if we are to take MacMaster’s “apology” sincerely then we are inadvertently embracing his philosophy – the belief that your voice doesn’t matter if you’re a (queer/female/activist) Arab because some white man in American can always write your story better.”
    http://www.kabobfest.com/2011/06/a-gay-girl-in-damascus.html

    • Ramsey M. says:

      This MacMaster guy is full of shit. I don’t believe a single word that he says. Why should we believe any word that he says after this hoax. This story is an onion, the more you remove a layer, the more you find further lies and deceits.

      • Liz Henry says:

        It would be sensible to suspect that this latest story is in some ways “spin” and is MacMaster’s attempt to keep control of the story and give something believable and coherent to the media. But I agree with Ramsey in that I think there are more layers to the story and to the truth. Why automatically believe MacMaster?

  72. Fi says:

    “Ken says:
    June 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm
    You might be right Fi, I’ve had enough of the whole sad affair. When Tom said in the Guardian interview that he had no sockpuppets, he also said he did not delete any posts on his blog apart from ones full of obsenities, which I know as a fact to be untrue.”

    Yes, I know that’s true too cos one of the posts deleted was mine, and I said nothing that was obscene, it was one just presenting the facts as to the so called proxy servers and the fact SANA was using his blog as an excuse to taint all information coming out of Syria. I’m with you, on having had enough of it all.

  73. Oscar says:

    How are people regurgitating the line that MacMaster was a ‘good writer’ ? How was his writing good? It was only ‘good’ if you are foolish enough to accept as authentic the UNauthentic dross he was selling to you as the voice of a Syrian-American lesbian in Damascus. It ‘chimed’ with you, did it? It ‘smacked of authenticity’ to you did it? It was a real ‘window into another world’ was it? It was none of those things. It was not culturally accurate, it was not religiously accurate, it was not geographically accurate, it was not politically accurate. So why this continued insistence on its having been ‘good writing’ ? Good according to what standard? Good in that it conveyed what ? Good in that it illuminated what? Good in that it ‘represented’ what?

    It is Orientalist garbage, part of the lesbian fantasy of Tom MacMasturbator, that’s all.

    • Mark says:

      Just bear in mind that we do not know the identity of the person(s?) above who claimed that this is good writing.

      • Oscar says:

        Agreed and understood, Mark. But any attempts to shirt the shameful and insulting Orientalist hoax into the realms of ‘look at it as a creative writing exercise’ analysis I find as nauseating as the original poorly written deceit.

        • Oscar says:

          Ooops, that should have read:

          Agreed and understood, Mark. But any attempts to shift the shameful and insulting Orientalist hoax into the realms of ‘look at it as a creative writing exercise’ analysis I find as nauseating as the original poorly written deceit.

          • Mark says:

            I agree 100%. Especially because one of the main activities that “Amina” carried out was trolling lesbian dating sites. It’s said that many lesbians on such sites are actually men. I suppose they can all claim to be “creative writers” now.

          • Tom says:

            Don’t worry Oscar, we’re talking about different things. You’re measuring GGID against fact, and fair enough because we were making different points, but I treat first-person blogs by strangers as unreliable and semi-fictional and get my facts elsewhere – evidently you do the latter, too. That was a clear aside in my point so don’t get riled and distracted by it. As for Orientalism, I wouldn’t care if it was Straight Guy in Edinburgh, written by a gay girl in Damascus. No need to point out Edinburgh is a very different place to Damascus; I was adding points about the story of the hoax as opposed to seeing a good world and one evil hoaxer. As I said, I am not disputing it being an embarrassment to MacMasters or a disservice to truthful bloggers. I was adding, on top of that, that in taking someone’s unverified vanity project at its word in a medium riven with fantasy, or in hoping to pick which bits of online expression are acceptable, journalists and some of us became part of the hoax. So describing MacMasters as “disturbed” or “mentally ill” (not your words) is not constructive.

            It didn’t chime with me, I didn’t think it authentic, I’m not interested in authenticity in fiction and I don’t want a window into GGID’s world. As I said, I came to this after it was known ‘Amina’ was someone else, after reading of the uncropped photo and other links to MacMasters, so I could only read it as fiction. I’m not praising the fact that it may have been a creative writing exercise, I’m saying that rather than overthinking it, that’s (partly) just what it likely was. If so, an ill-advised one. Sorry to drone on but I am at pains to show I’m not disagreeing with earlier, different points.

            All of this is simply possible online. Let’s get back to the reality.

    • Ramsey M. says:

      Disagree with you completely that it was culturally, religiously inaccurate.

      I am from Syria and from Damascus. And I can assure you that I was fooled like everyone else. It felt completely authentic

  74. MPetrelis says:

    i wish to bring attention to a sockpuppet created by scott long when he worked at human rights watch, an effort very relevant to this discussion:

    http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/2011/06/ex-hrw-lgbt-director-gay-girl-in.html

    • Jules says:

      Seriously. I feel like throwing up.

    • Mark says:

      Yikes!!!!!

    • mischi says:

      yeah, I take back anything I said above abt Brooks. Gross.

      • Benjamin says:

        Mischi:

        I respect your skepticism about our methods. I always felt really bad about questioning Paula Brooks’ identity, because we were never interested in exposing her.

        • mischi says:

          Hi Benjamin: I was actually just searching for your email online cause I wanted to apologize to you directly for being so rash in questioning. Obviously you guys did a great job in your research, and I really respect you. I was just worried that an innocent “woman” was going to be outed… yeah, I feel stupid about that now. Again though, major props on doing such a great job with your research.

    • Oscar says:

      Statement from the Lezgetreal site:

      http://networkedblogs.com/j6KLT

    • Mel says:

      I am shocked over the years no one wondered why “Paula Brooks” did not use a relay service to speak with people. Apparently the M.O. was for her “father” to talk to people on the phone for her, which is ridiculous. A deaf person would simply use telephone relay service to speak on the phone, I had a very close friend who was deaf and we used it all the time to talk. The last thing anyone would want to do is use their FATHER to relay personal phone conversations. Lord.

      The freak just wanted to talk to these women and get his rocks off. So sick. Someone found a blog of his dating back to 2006 pretending to be a surfing mom, using pics of the same children “paula” used on FB. It is here: http://queen-of-the-surf-pirates.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-01-14T07%3A00%3A00-05%3A00

      Also apparently ran another website back then called “Lesbiatopia” http://www.lesbiatopia.com/

      The use of “Lez” so much in his crap should have been a tip too….I mean, come on, it’s one thing that always rubbed me the wrong way about LGR, I hated the damn name of it and thought it was the corniest least likely thing I’d ever call a website.

      • Julia says:

        One reason he got away with it I think is that no one went “wait, isn’t there assistive technology to deal with this?” Which I would link to general ignoring information about the lives of people with disabilities, othering of PWD, etc.

        I suspect “Paula” blogger didn’t bother to research what it actually means to be a deaf lesbian because he probably could have found assistive technology that would still have allowed him to mask his identity. I think it also speaks to the lack of PWD in main stream media. There was no there to go “hey…no.”

        Also straight guys, stop romancing queer women online and breaking their hearts. KTHX

      • Oh, dear God, yes! It has always reminded me of the whiny-voiced “LezBeFriends!” bullies would yell at school if you were seen to be “too close” to another girl. It’s about as “authentic” as Amina MacMaster’s deathless description of lesbian sex: “we could justify fondling and nuzzling each other’s breasts, groping each other, and finger banging.” Finger banging? Penthouse Letters would reject this.

  75. Judy says:

    Why would anyone believe anything MacMaster says? He repeatedly denied categorically that he was Amina on EI. His denials that t his wife was centrally involved simply lack credibility.
    However, the key issue is the visual evidence that “Paula Brooks” is in factBritta Froelicher. Look at the images here:

    http://hurryupharry.org/2011/06/13/melanie-nathan-on-amina-and-lezgetreal/

    Also, try comparing the image of Paula Brooks with Britta F as she talks and moves her head in the video on this post:
    http://hurryupharry.org/2011/06/12/amina-arraf-britta-froelicher-the-university-of-st-andrews/

    She claimed in 2009 to work for the American Friends Service. But on the thread on EI, an email claiming to be from AFS says she has not worked for them since 2008.
    Should be verifiable.

    Also check out the “paula Brooks” comments on this post from LezGetReal which they have taken down, but which show “paula” having remarkably detailed & accurate background knowledge of MacMaster’s activities in Edin burgh but ascribing them to “Amina”:
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Rp4wFN6vrasJ:lezgetreal.com/2011/06/an-apology-to-our-readers-about-amina-abdallah/+an+apology+to+our+readers+about+Amina+Abdallah&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&source=www.google.co.uk

    I’m 98% sure Paula is Britta.

  76. Oscar says:

    ‘Paula Brooks’ outed ‘Amina Arraf’ and became collateral damage in the process.

    When sockpuppets collide it’s always going to be messy.

    I guess these guys think that real lesbians are incapable of articulating themselves.

  77. Jaelithe says:

    Just popping in to say, excellent work, Liz. Thank you for helping to solve this mystery. It’s very upsetting that attention has been taken away from the real people in Syria who are currently imprisoned or missing.

    (Psst everyone I have met Liz Henry and I can say that Liz Henry is absolutely telling the truth when she says she’s ACTUALLY Liz Henry. In case you were wondering.)

  78. Oscar says:

    Ironic how Graber and MacMaster fancied each other’s lesbian creations. Must have appealed to their inner-lesbians.

    • Liz Henry says:

      I think Paula Brooks also had some strong and rather detailed opinions on Israeli and Arab politics. I can’t quite work them out. But she seems a bit involved in GLBT politics from her posts.

    • That’s beautiful, Oscar! (I used to see that all the time on IRC lesbian channels, too. You could see when kindred spirits were titillated by each other’s straight male representation of a hot lesbian.)

  79. Oscar says:

    ‘Paula Brooks’ did stuff that ‘Amina Arraf’ didn’t try doing:

    http://queen-of-the-surf-pirates.blogspot.com/2007/10/look-whos-one-today.html

    What a messed up world it is.

  80. Oscar says:

    ‘A Gay girl in Damascus’ displays ease of fudging authenticity online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/a-gay-girl-in-damascus-displays-ease-of-fudging-authenticity-online/2011/06/13/AGxBWkTH_story.html

    OK, that’s it, every site administrator, moderator and contributor has to go along to their local police station and present their parents’ and grandparents’ long form birth certificates, their own birth certificates, and have a photograph taken of their genitalia (photograph renewable every five years to weed out any transgender game players), to obtain a certificate of competence to run or contribute to any site or forum and to have an electronic chip inserted in their heads that beams a signal every time they log on which matches with whatever alpha/numeric code corresponds with the ID they have been given permission to post with.

    That should put an end to this kind of nonsense.

  81. Ken says:

    More fun and games: http://oblogdeeoblogda.wordpress.com/

    I’m beginning to doubt my own identity. Has a 25 year old lesbian babe dreamt me up as 51 year old balding straight man for seriously weird sockpuppetry thrills?

  82. Oscar says:

    “[The] lesson of all this: if @lizhenry suspects you are not real, you probably are not”

    Tweeted by Robert Mackey:

    http://twitter.com/#!/RobertMackey/status/80415971755569153

  83. Mark says:

    Britta Froelicher–one of the best-informed and most activist Americans on issues related to Syria–professes to knowing almost nothing about the blog by Syrian-American “lesbian” that used her own photos and caught the attention of the world (even though her husband earlier confessed that Britta knew about it from the beginning):
    http://wapo.st/me9a1d

  84. nasim says:

    Arabs are neither anti Semite nor anti Jewish! Judaism is considered a religion and has nothing to do with all this conflict! Syrians as well as Arabs are anti-zionism and so is many Americans I met who were Jewish btw! The reason behind being anti zionism is that Palestinians (whom are not considered being a nationality, because palestine is not considered a country) are our friends, family, neighbors. They have been displaced from their houses, lands and villages! My mother is a Palestinian who traveled with her whole family when she was 8 by foot from their village to Syria.. their whole village was destroyed at the time, one aunt died under a tree, and moreover they can never go back to even check on the wreck of a house they had once upon a time!
    I won’t discuss that anymore because as we all know we are discussing Amina here! But sometimes it just doesn’t hurt to hear side of the story before blurting out the word .. anti-jewish or anti-semite!

  85. Pingback: On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a hoax | Niklas Smith

  86. harriet_the_spy says:

    something still doesn’t smell right here. If all MacMaster was trying to do was create some fiction to spread his Middle Eastern perspective (he explains this in his Skype interview), then why the long, long backstory? Why create the cousin on Facebook? The amandalynn and jennifercheyenne characters (are they part of this too?) The dating profiles?
    And then lezgetreal.com, also run by a hoaxer, and possibly two other hoaxers as well. (see melanie nathan’s blog post, linked above). the lezgetreal site started by someone who once worked in the airforce.
    I never considered myself a conspiracy theorist but really, i still think this is the work of the CIA or some such. It’s just way too elaborate. And even the story about why seems like a cover-up, a planned cover up. Somehow the idea is that if you make a sockpuppet a lesbian, it makes her far more legit in the liberal world? and less suspect of being an agent?
    I just don’t know. It still all seems like a big, long planned-out scheme to accomplish..something. support a syrian revolution, or go against a syrian revolution, or just put some sockpuppets out there in order to make connections and gather info? Even Britta and Tom’s studies in Scotland – also possible contact-gathering missions?

    I know this: the US Homeland Security organization is huge, huge, huge. They have to be doing something. And if I were them, and they aren’t yet doing this, then they should! It’s a great idea!

    (btw, question everything. are Amina’s dating sites even legit? How hard is it to backdate a blog? that’s probably possible. and wtf was jasmine? she has a super-long back story too.)

    • Liz Henry says:

      Harriet, I agree with you, actually! The goal of online sleeper agents wouldn’t necessarily anything specific like “go against a Syrian revolution” — it would be more like “disrupt particular kinds of activism, organization, and spread disinformation in media outlets.” Do damage to the activists’ ability to form social ties with each other, to organize.

      That seems like a possibility here and in Bill Graber/Paula Brooks’ activities over the years. Graber got the trust of the Lesbotopia and Lezgetreal organizations, volunteered for them, then started to control their infrastructure (and, I think, perhaps their money). Then became abusive and threatening, driving the actual activists out.

      • Mark says:

        What organization would have an interest in disrupting lesbian organizations. The CIA?? The FBI?? Some private right-wing groups??

        As for “Amina,” the bizarre behavior over the years, such as trolling dating sites, grabbing photos from a person on the Web, serving as a sock-puppet for arguments about alternative history or for advertisements for a private ESL school, all make it seem likely she’s the work of a demented individual rather than a disciplined state agency.

        • Jonquil says:

          Liz’s point here — “Do damage to the activists’ ability to form social ties with each other, to organize.” really resonates with me. If you look at the most recent revelations about ‘Brooks’, that’s exactly what the puppet did.

          As to “Why disrupt lesbian organizations?” there is in fact a long history — including the recent case of undercover policemen infiltrating the U.K. green movement and serving as agents provocateurs — of governmental organizations targeting insanely irrelevant (other than being left-wing) activist groups. (I once knew a little old Quaker lady who was very proud of having made the Nixon Enemies list.)

      • Mel says:

        What Bill Graber did was disgusting. So happy the women at Lestopia stood up to it….so SAD that this Bridgette/Linda duo at LGR were all too happy to let him do it there, which really does make me question who they are…..it seems real women have all sniffed him out for the most part in the past, if not as a man then just as someone disturbed. They were happy to play his game and it makes me suspect.

        This account was especially illuminating about his lestopia days :
        http://thewishfulwriter.blogspot.com/2011/06/real-paula-brooks.html

        I would stay far away from LGR, Bridgette LaVictoire and Linda Carbonell….something is not right there.

  87. harriet_the_spy says:

    oh wait – yes. the lezgetreal.com site may have been set up as pure “flypaper.” — to gather an audience who could then have the amina hoax promoted to them (and who would then carry the amina hoax to others). The whole thinking here, as far as I see it, is to put ideas out into the internet which could then, via social networking, be spread out to a larger and larger group. it’s difficult to gather such a following on a single blog, no matter how interesting. but if you have a “community” site such as lezgetreal.com helping to spread your message (and gain facebook friends, etc etc) then you can get a much much larger audience.

  88. Liz Henry says:

    Worse, though, lezgetreal looks to have *been* real but then taken over. Take a look at Mel Nathan’s story,

    https://oblogdeeoblogda.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/paula-brooks-from-lezgetreal-is-a-man-straight-man-fraud-in-the-lesbian-world/

    and at an almost exactly parallel story from a different group of people infiltrated by Graber:

    http://www.lesbiatopia.com/2011/06/man-who-claimed-to-be-paula-brooks.html

    For Graber, I suspect there could be something beyond individual psychological reasons and a sense of entitlement. Are you familiar with the history of conservative think tanks funding campus media in the 80s? This may be something similar – funding people to fake a disenfranchised identity, join a community, get trust, volunteer for work and start handing funds, then accuse everyone else of being X, Y, or Z, kick them out or lock them out of the positions of control. Then you have a platform, are head of a community of activists or readers, and have disrupted and disheartened the actual activists and made it difficult for them to continue doing work in any venue.

    • Harriet_the_spy says:

      I don’t think the CIA or homeland security would have a vested interest in disrupting lesbian organizations. But if both of these lesbian websites were taken over by Graber, then I revise my hypothesis below to this: Rather than setting up a lesbian community as “flypaper” to get more people to promote planted falsehoods, gain control of a few well-populated lesbian community sites. How much presence was there of Amina information on the other site he took over? I guess I’ll have to look that up myself.

      • Liz Henry says:

        You wouldn’t think so! I wouldn’t either! And yet there is a clear history of intelligence operations, monitoring, and even infiltrating some pretty benign organizations such as environmental groups. They do some really over the top stuff in areas that anyone (to my mind) sensible would laugh at. Check out this one: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jan/09/undercover-office-green-activists

        • Corona says:

          There is a history of intelligence organizations influencing various benign groups based on the (often paranoid) suspicion that these groups are involved in illegal activities. But that is entirely separate from the claim of intelligence organizations creating false identities to persuade the public of false facts.

          The content on internet is massive and the benefit of creating an obscure website whose impact on the public debate would be negligible would not be sufficient to expend the efforts necessary to create it. Of course some websites do go from obscure to mainstream, but as we saw with GGID, its difficult to get away with the scam once the site gets too much exposure.

          The reality is that a website like LezGetReal is not important enough for any intelligence agents to want to infiltrate it to misrepresent facts to the public.

          • Liz Henry says:

            That may be so. And the most common stories about infiltration seem to be of agents provocateurs who are always wanting to push demonstrations to go violent or destroy property — SDS style. I was not suggesting there was a specific agenda other than “disrupt any vaguely leftist media”.

          • Mel says:

            While it might not seem important to the generqal public…..to the gay community it is important and if your effort is to divide and discourage it’s highly effective.

  89. Ken says:

    Sorry to be boring, but do you not think if the CIA or anyone wanted to set up fake blog sites it would be much easier for staffers to do it in a comfy office in Langley, where (I’m guessing) they could make a phone call seem like it’s from Damascus or anywhere else, and have lots of snazzy proxies, and someone of the appropriate sex around at all times to respond to enquiries?
    Mind you, Google traced the Chinese spooks who were hacking them pretty quickly, so perhaps I’m talking out of my Macmaster.

    • Oscar says:

      Interesting career options suggested for graduates from Tom MacMasturbator’s old university:

      http://www.career.emory.edu/students/MAJORS/foreign_language.html

      OK, so he was Middle East history grad, but he was swimming in a pond that gets fished in.

      • Liz Henry says:

        “Swimming in a pond that gets fished in” — ha! Well put.

        I think we have to keep that in mind. Seems like it would be a difficult thing to research and prove. Having a real life identity that matches your online identity is no guarantee of a person acting in good faith, either. I end up back where I started in this — we have to develop our judgement and critical thinking to detect patterns that might indicate … well… bogusness.

    • Liz Henry says:

      I’m just spinning theories — individuals can have incredibly complicated personal and political motivations. Graber could have been just doing it for the lulz.

      • Jonquil says:

        I tend not to believe in conspiracy theories when individual manipulativeness will suffice; I’m surfing around looking for links because I’m curious and mystified. I’m not getting any less confused.
        Billerico has an odd side note. “Brooks” had insider access to press passes. [Quote] Phineas said that Brooks was able to pass off stories that the blog and some other LGBT media were covering to The Rachel Maddow Show, bringing mainstream exposure to the stories.

        Phineas said that Brooks’ family relationships were also uniquely beneficial to the blog. “She had press passes because her father supposedly worked in the White House,” Phineas said. “She had a lot of contact information.” Phineas recalled specifically the high level of access Brooks had to the January 2009 inauguration, which Brooks was able to cover with a surprisingly quick turnover rate. [end quote]

        But the WaPo interviewer describes Bill Graber as “a retired Ohio military man and construction worker “.

        One of these things is not like the other.

    • Sophia says:

      Ken,

      The CIA wouldn’t do that for two reasons: 1) it was revealed after sept. 2001 that they don’t have people who know the terrain, neither the language, 2) it was also revealed that after 2001 gov. intelligence agencies used academics who have a real knowledge of the terrain.

      I think Mac Master is covering for his wife who is cvering for the many academics she is linked with not the least the center for Syrian studies at St Andrews from where her name suddenly disappeared:

      “His wife, Britta Froelicher, was until recently an associate fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews.
      She was recently granted a leave of absence”
      http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/world/Edinburgh-student-39sorry39-for-masquerading.6784603.jp

      Britta organised even a conference with the Syrian ambassador to the USA at the center around the possibilities for peace in the middle east.

      She published in 2008 on the very famous blog about Syria ‘Syria Comment’ as a guest and the owner of the blog is among the people associated with the center.

      The owner of Syria Comment Joshua Landis dismisses in a post today the Gay girl stroy as a ‘juicy distraction’, an insult to the truth and an insult to the many activists who were fooled by this story.

      http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=10202

      My guess is that these academics have to do with a CIA propaganda operation on Syria.

      • Ken says:

        If you’re right, then it looks like the US, and Israel, want the uprising to fail and keep a nice stable, pedictable Dictatorship on Israel’s border. What would happen if anything approaching a stable democracy emerged. Well, the cheeky so and so’s might ask for the Golan Heights back! Or even worse, they vote like the Gazans. Joshua Landis certainly seems to be trying to undermine opposition accounts of what’s being happening. And the sleazy Tom and Britta double act (as seems likely) have certainly done their bit…

  90. Jade says:

    My head is spinning.

  91. Ken says:

    I’m more suspicious of Tom and Britta being up to something spooky. From his Queen of the Surf blog, I think Bill Graber is just an old perv. But I wouldn’t rule out any of the above musings.

  92. Ken says:

    One thing I find strange, perhaps because I live in a smaller country, Wales, that people would start a project together, sometimes involving considerable amounts of money and responsibility, and never meet up for a chat and sign contracts etc.

    One lesson surely is have at least a webcam/skype meeting before committing oneself to anything serious.

    • I’m from Australia, and I think it’s weird!

    • Jonquil says:

      There’s a fairly substantial tradition in American fandom of “meetups”, where people who know one another only online organize a mini-convention to make flesh connections. (As it were.) When one set of people is in California and another on the East Coast — to say nothing of non-Americans — meeting in public and having a chat is often infeasible. I agree with you that Skype would be useful in outing sockpuppets who are changing sex ; it’s by no means sufficent, as there was at least one sockpuppet in a recent LOTR convention/embezzlement case who successfully switched genders to claim to be someone else in the middle of the whole thing.

      I’ve seen a lot of Internet-based fannish fundraising for a known fan who is in financial distress. Nowadays, these usually depend on a chain of trust, where one or more prominent fans say “I know X face-to-face and I vouch for the truth of X’s story.” The Amina/Paula case shows that these chains of trust are easily broken.

      I don’t think it’s possible to say “Only trust people you meet F2F” — as many other people have pointed out, the *point* of internet interactions is that many people can’t easily meet people like themselves F2F.

      Solutions? I have none. I am sticking to chains of trust where, if I don’t know X, I know Y who is vouching for X, knowing that this is an inadequate solution. PGP-signing a friend whenever you meet up?

      • Ken says:

        Melanie Nathan says she lost her house over the Lezgetreal affair.. I understand what you’re saying, and I’m sure it works fine usually. But if you’re putting your house at risk!?!?

  93. Oscar says:

    From the ‘Painful doubts about Amina’ thread:

    leslie says:
    June 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm
    http://www.classmates.com/directory/public/memberprofile/list.htm?regId=8725694068

    Amina Arraf High School Graduate 1994 Park View HS South Hill, VA

    If that was created in June, as part of the ‘Amina’ backstory, it shows that MacMaster (and whatever support he was using) was/were still actively ‘blowing smoke’ and churning out fake profiles, right up to the end – and could still be doing so now, perhaps, beyond it.

    • leslie says:

      that was created after the abduction as far as i can tell. i had searched for it before and only found it on saturday… i’d be interested to see the ip address for that.

  94. Harriet_the_spy says:

    Well, the more these folks want to establish that they are anti-American and pro-Middle East, the more I think they are intel agents.

    Check out the note by “Carbonell” to hoaxer MacMaster, and how “she” tries to re-establish “her” positions:
    http://www.facebook.com/notes/melanie-nathan/finally-an-admission-from-paula-brooks-and-linda-s-carbonell-aaaat-lezgetreal/10150199114616330

    Carbonell is most certainly a sockpuppet as well.

    Do you remember the “12th hijacker” from Sept 11th? Moussaoui? I cant’ find evidence of it now, but I remember hearing a long time ago that when he was applying to flight schools in the US, his letter included something very flattering about America, like, “America has so many opportunities — I love this country!” (or something like that. i wish i coudl find it back).

    Anyway, the part in Carbonell’s letter that reads:
    “Furthermore, because our site is blatantly and unapologetically liberal, we risk our own jobs if our site is connected to us. America is not free. It just pretends to be.”

    …sounds like one of those kinds of things to me.

  95. Ken says:

    Right, here’s one theory, for what it’s worth. Tom and Britta have been either working for, or cooperating with spooks for a while, probably American. They’ll have been picking up and passing on titbits of intel that they’ve garnered through their academic and political activism work. The spooks suggest a long term plan for something like ‘Amina’ so Tom/Britta start laying the background for it. When the Arab Spring kicks off, they go into action. The plan is to undermine any opposition in Syria to keep a nice stable, predictable dictatorship on Israel’s Border. They tell Bill Graber they’re going to out him unless he cooperates and promotes ‘Amina’. Or they just ask him for help. When maximum impact is reached, they tell Bill to give out the IP addresses in Edinburgh. The blogoshere goes wild, and dig up the evidence. Tom and confesses. Opposition undermined, Assad strengthened, job done. And as a bonus, Bill get’s blown too, and distrust is sown within the politically active blogosphere.

    • Mark says:

      Though I am as of yet disinclined to blame anyone but the individuals involved, I did find it very odd when “Paula Brooks,” first, so specifically and adamantly gave up the IP addresses, and then, very soon thereafter, urged people to start looking specifically for a Medieval History grad student in Edinburgh. There was something very odd about how specific and accurate Brooks’ accusations were.

      • Corona says:

        I believe that at the time that “Paula Brooks” said to look for a student of medieval history, all of “Amina’s” posts as threefoldamina. While many of them were not about medieval history, it was still enough to make it reasonable to assume “Amina” had an academic background in the subject.

  96. Corona says:

    No one is addressing the most obvious reason they cannot be intelligence assets. If they were, surely their handlers would have told them to use a new name not connected to an address, use proxy servers or have the handlers post the blog from a different city and don’t post on the blogs pictures that are separately available online under their own name.

    The problem with paranoid conspiracy theories is that they imagine intellegence organizations to be simultaneously smart enough to pull off elabarate hoaxes bit stupid enough to leave evidence in plain sight.

    • Ken says:

      Unless they wanted to get caught. All they had to show that some of the dissident info coming out of Syria was faked by an Westerner to bolster SANA’s propoganda. I doubt if Tom and Britta were high value assets.
      Let me be clear, I don’t necessarily think this is what happened, the sad inadequate fantasist explanation is just as likely.

      • Corona says:

        Under your theory, the US engaged in a scheme that resulted in blowing the cover of an intelligence asset for the very slight benefit it would have to the Syrian government. With the US currently escalating its dispute with Iran, I am not sure why you think the US is trying to shore up the one Arab government that is strongly allied with Iran. But even if they were trying to do so, this does not seem like an effective way to do so.

        • Mel says:

          You think way too large. Your mind needs to adjust….these things are done in small, minute ways.

          You seem as though any and all spook activity is there to incite a single major event and that these just pop up out of nowhere. Pshh.

  97. Jonquil says:

    Examples of Government infiltration of leftist organizations:

    Mark Kennedy, who was sent by the Metropolitan police to infiltrate leftist organizations, and who had a girlfriend within that movement.
    [quoting the Guardian]
    A police officer who for seven years lived deep undercover at the heart of the environmental protest movement, travelling to 22 countries gleaning information and playing a frontline role in some of the most high-profile confrontations, has quit the Met, telling his friends that what he did was wrong.

    PC Mark Kennedy, a Metropolitan police officer, infiltrated dozens of protest groups including anti-racist campaigners and anarchists, a Guardian investigation reveals.
    [end quote]

    The Guardian has a top-notch page of known infiltrators in the U.K.. Note that the page includes both Government and corporate infiltrators.

    I know of no comparable page in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

      • Jonquil says:

        I think I’m going to go look at kitten pictures for awhile.

        • Ken says:

          Don’t blame you Jonquil.
          I’m not sure if I agree with that article, although I’m sure there are loads of state sockpuppets about. What if you have a deliberately clumsy operation, so you’re bound to get found out, and have a ready made sacrificial lamb ready to take the fall, but not before the damage is done. It explains all the porn and dating sites. Who’s going to believe a 40 year old student, lesbian impersonator, is actually a state functionary? I doubt he’ll be back in Edinburgh again. Nice little desk job in Montevideo, beardless, crew cut, who’s going to know? Back in Georgia as Tom MacMaster again in a couple of years, everyone’s forgotten. Maybe I’ve reading too much John Le Carre…

          • Corona says:

            You claim that the reason for “all the porn and dating sites” is so that when MacMaster would be found out, no one would think that he is a state functionary. But if he started a new blog without any past web history, no one would have every identified him. If he were never identified, there would be no need for a cover story.

            Moreover, from a very early age, MacMaster was involved in extremely leftwing causes. It would take a lot of effort for an intelligence agency to turn someone like that. If MacMaster were an intelligence asset, no intelligence agency would not risk blowing his cover over a blog. It’s not like there was much to be gained from this blog.

            Passing on false intelligence to reporters at the New York Times and the Guardian is effective because of their reach. Creating fake bloggers is not.

            • Ken says:

              I don’t disagree with you, but, in my senario, there would be no point in doing it unless the person behind it was caught, and shown to be an American. MacMaster might just have been a useful idiot to point in the right direction. He might not known who was doing the nudging. Anyway, I’m probably drifting more into the realms of fantasy than the sockpuppets, those FBI raids sound a lot more serious.. I’m off to look at pictures of kittens…

    • Jonquil says:

      Glenn Greenwald just tweeted this WashingtonPost story:

      Investigators, according to search warrants, documents and interviews, are examining possible “material support” for Colombian and Palestinian groups designated by the U.S. government as terrorists.

      The apparent targets, all vocal and visible critics of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and South America, deny any ties to terrorism. They say the government, using its post-9/11 focus on terrorism as a pretext, is targeting them for their political views.

      Some are lesbian couples with young children — a point apparently noted by investigators, who infiltrated the activists’ circle with an undercover officer presenting herself as a lesbian mother.

      It. mine.

  98. Mark says:

    Another odd thing about all this, hinted at by Liz several times, is how secretive all the people involved in LezGetReal are. I have trouble keeping track of the various names, changed names, pseudonyms, and changed genders, but it doesn’t seem possible to find any of their pictures online or detailed biographical information either. Again, I’m disinclined to believe in conspiracy theories, but that group seems pretty shady. I am not aware of other gay rights groups in the US whose leaders are so undercover, as it were (but, then again, I don’t really follow these things closely).

  99. Liza says:

    I can confidently say that this is the first time in my 24 years of being online that I have read all the way through more than 250 comments on a post or article of any kind. The closest I can think of is reading long digest email messages from early the 1990s Sappho mailing list.

    First, Liz, and everyone else who worked on this, kudos for your hard work and your compassion for the complex issues this whole strange situation has brought to light. My officemate Dave captured the creepy element succinctly when we were talking this morning — MacMaster and Graber engaged in non-consensual role playing with a LOT of people, particularly lesbians.

    My initial reaction to these exposures was somewhere between amazement and amusement (hence my post on LesbianFamily.org), but the more I read and think, the more I get angry. Be an advocate, be opinionated, engage in political debate — that’s great. But do it honestly, as yourself. Why shouldn’t some straight white guys be advocates for LGBT issues? In fact, they should be! Just like a whole lot of able-bodied people should have had the same thought I had reading this: Why didn’t anyone ask “Paula Brooks” about using relay? It isn’t some secret technology only known to card-carrying members of the Deaf community, and I’m not some heroic ally for having a miniscule amount of familiarity with assistive technologies, or at least their existence.

    If a writer wants to imagine someone else’s challenges/politics/priorities, that’s fine too — and it is why we have fiction in a separate category in the library.

    Speaking as a lesbian mom blogger, I happily invite other people — regardless of sexual orientation or gender — to advocate for legal protections for families like mine. And I invite anyone pretending to be a family like mine to stop lying and walk away from the Internet. Come back only when you can stop lying.

  100. June says:

    I think the point in infiltrating groups such as Gays is the possibility to reach out a big audience. The youth now does not read newspapers as much so they can’t be influenced this way.
    People like Tom are doing this job of carrying ideas towards certain groups on the internet.

    The whole point now is that for a week now, the corporate media is avoiding to discuss the political issues behind this case: manipulation through foreign agents of a local cause. No one discusses the contents of what Amina said, how she pictured Syria. No one asks why can’t journalists do the same job as Liz Henry and the electronic intifada. So this is also an answer as to why these people are made: as smokescreens. Plus their being anonymous might be a way to communicate with other people and to infiltrate. It is their job. Probably Tom and his wife will quickly disappear now from the academic life and get a more discrete position within some US army compound somewhere in a Middle East country.
    Plus don’t forget that all the people who wrote to them through the blog or dating websites got their email archived with the mention “has as interest in Syria/Palestine/the Middle East”.

    • Mark says:

      He says that “After I turn this over, I’ll try go get a job.” I assume that means that he was earning his income through LezGetReal.

    • Bill Graber’s interview is complete crap. He is nothing more than a cyber bully who gets off on taking control of women online and then harassing them to no avail when they don’t comply with his “visions”.

      I am the editor of Lesbiatopia. I invited “Paula Brooks” to blog for my site when I first started and he all but tried to take over the site. He became completely unreasonable when I tried to talk to him and began to harass me and write threatening and emails to me and the other writers, trying to get them to take his side and not mine. I had to cut him out. He tried to lock me out of my blog but luckily I got it back before he was going to erase everything. Because of this, he decided to go start Lez Get Real and that’s how that site was born. Only two of the Lesbiatopia writers went with him, Julie Phineas (who left LGR in 2009) and Bridgette LaVictoire.

      If his intention was to help lesbian women, he went about it the wrong way and it concerns me that he can easily take up a new identity and begin his bullying all over again. I am trying extremely hard to get the truth about Bill Graber exposed.

      http://www.lesbiatopia.com/2011/06/man-who-claimed-to-be-paula-brooks.html

  101. Oscar says:

    http://networkedblogs.com/j9h3k

    My Apology To Our Readers For Amina Abdallah and Paula Brooks – Redux
    06-14-2011 by Linda S. Carbonell

    “We pulled the apology for our involvement with the “Amina” hoax because there were some comments in it that were based on information from Bill Garber. I am issuing this apology and explanation because I was the one who ended up in the center of maelstrom, who was tricked into talking with the press, issuing defenses, trying to cover up something I didn’t even know was happening.

    So, let me start over…..

    Last February, we were contacted by a young woman who said she was Syrian-American. She gave her name as Amina. Initially, she was asked to write about being gay and Muslim. We were given the impression that she had left England and returned to Damascus to be with family. Then, she started doing what I – me, personally, not the blog – really needed. I wanted someone in the region who could do a much better job of explaining the Arab Spring to Americans than I could from 5,000 miles away.

    Our executive editor, the person we knew as Paula Brooks, helped “Amina” set up A Gay Girl In Damascus, and carried her stories on our blog. We believed we were doing a service for the people in the Middle East who were and are fighting and dying for liberty. I have spent my entire life believing that liberty cannot be imposed by an occupying army and not all peoples will practice democracy the same way we do. That’s why I wanted her stories. And let’s face it – she’s a damned good fiction writer.

    Then, last week, someone named Raina used the GGD site to post a story about an abduction at gunpoint. All very dramatic and very scarey. BUT – big ass but here – we did not identify her as Amina Arraf, that came from somewhere else. We didn’t even break the story and we have tried to say very little. Well, the rest of us have, I’m the guilty party for any appeals about Amina’s safety.

    Were we used by this person? Yes. Did we believe her? Yes. Did we care what happened to her? Damn yes. And that’s what hurts so much. Did we lose sleep over Amina? Yes. Were we scared out of our collective minds? Yes.

    Tom MacMasters is now facing an investigation by the University of Edinburgh and the wrath of the activists and protesters in the Middle East. I spoke yesterday with a reporter from al Jazeera in London, and frankly, if I were Tom I’d be on the next plane back to Georgia rather than face what’s waiting for him overseas. He has jeopardized the real protesters and the real victims of Assad’s tyranny. He has taken attention away from two ten-year-old boys who were tortured to death by the secret police in Damascus and their bodies dumped on their parent’s doorsteps as a warning to protesters. There are tens of thousands of real victims in Syria, and their stories are now being dismissed by the Assad regime as hoaxes because of MacMasters.

    But, back to what happened at LGR…..Totally unbeknownst to us, Bill Garber was suspicious of the abduction story and was trying to get Amina exposed by other sites, including Electronic Intifada. The rest of the staff knew nothing about this. When the story broke about Amina actually being a man named Tom MacMasters, Bill Garber’s sockpuppet theater crashed around him and the staff of LezGetReal. Bill had hoped to keep LGR out of it, but we got dragged in. He was already in the process of turning over the site to others and withdrawing the Paula Brooks character from the internet. The exposure of Tom MacMasters cost us the opportunity to let “Paula” retire quietly.

    Are we all thoroughly furious with Bill? Yes. The only consolation we have is the fact that though none of us are close enough to Ohio to do bodily harm to him, his wife is equally furious. We are all real people. Bridgette has been giving live interviews with other LGBT sites to prove that, something that has not been easy a marginal agoraphobic with acute anxiety disorder. Elizabeth Flock at the Washington Post verified that all the rest of us are real. Doing that meant giving up something very important to me – writing and presenting myself under my maiden name. Keeping one’s maiden name was not a choice when I got married. It just wasn’t done. I have used it for almost thirty years for writing letters to editors and joining political groups on-line. I am Linda Carbonell. LaVictoire is the guy I married 39 years ago.

    There is very little I can say about Melanie Nathan, for reasons Melanie is aware of. There were certain statements I made based on the information I had. I apologize if I have damaged her in some way. Her fight is with Bill Garber and I will leave it at that for the moment.

    I also apologize to Electronic Intifada for a couple of things….first of all, I really was working entirely off Bill Garber’s persona as Paula Brooks. That means I was coming from a position built on his lies. I apologize for any accusations I may have made. Second, when posting a comment on their site, I apparently missed including African-Americans as victims of hate crimes. That was entirely my error and it was one of omission, not prejudice. There’s a reason people write crib notes for awards shows. If you don’t have it all written out, you are bound to forget someone. The only defense I can offer is that Bill was doing a masterful job of pushing everyone’s buttons at that point, and I was very stressed by the “fears” he was filling us with.

    Bill Garber has turned over the site to Bridgette LaVictoire, with me as her assistant. We are still trying to sort out the mess in here, and that is being complicated by the fact that the site has received so much traffic in the past 36 hours that we are crashing every five minutes. We are trying to find a computer programmer we can afford.

    We have also received a couple of comments that say we can not be trusted because none of us ever did the research to uncover Bill Garber. I promise I will apologize to the first person out there who has ever done a thorough back-ground search on a potential employer. The “Paula Brooks” persona was successfully on-line for three years before Bridgette met her on another site. None of us has the computer expertise to track IP addresses and whatever else some people think we could have done to expose Garber. Penelope Garcia doesn’t work for this site.

    We are not a Department of Defense site or a CIA site or an NSA site or any of the other things we have been accused of in the past two days. Except for me, our writers are lesbians and a transgendered person. The programmer we are hoping to hire is bi-sexual and we have recently enlisted an additional writer who is a young gay man and are trying to bring in a talented young woman who used to publish an on-line comic strip with gay superheroes (don’t ask). Here in Vermont, some of our LGBT groups have an additional letter in their acronyms “A”. It stands for “allies.” That’s what I am. The mother of a transgendered person, the foster mother of a lesbian and someone who believes deeply in the rights of the LGBT community. My presence on this site has been questioned by some commenters, but that is a choice to be made by the other contributors. I will make my case to them.

    I do not believe that lesbian rights and women’s rights are two separate issues and that leads me to another accusation that has been thrown at us. I first came on this site because it pissed me off that there were two young women in Sweden who were being denied even an investigation into their charges of rape by Julian Assange because Assange was selling his bullshit that America was going to extradite him and kill him. If our government wanted him dead, they wouldn’t bother with extradition. I’m old enough to remember when assassination was a common tool of the CIA. Having him die in our custody would be too stupid even for our government. Those two women deserve to have their cases investigated, not shoved under the rug because a bunch of people think Assange is the hero of the free world. The two have nothing to do with each other. History is replete with men and women who did great things and were total jerks in their personal lives.

    Lesbians get raped too. It should not be possible for any man to avoid having a rape charge investigated on political or religious or any other grounds. Assange’s fans have a right to their opinion. So do I.

    When I wrote my first piece after my feminist diatribe against Assange I said that if you are looking for LGBT news, just bypass anything with my byline. I also said that no one in this country – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, straight, celibate, inter-sexed or eunuch – can isolate his or herself from the events of the world. We in America have become so tunnel-visioned in our view of activism that we fail to see how we are all part of a larger tapestry, a nation in deep trouble. There is a very old saying – divide and conquer – and that is what has been done to all of us. When people get obsessive about the rights of one disenfranchised or discriminated group, they become a minority. When all groups who are disenfranchised and discriminated against stand together, they are a majority. We need to be a majority.

    That was what was so exciting in Egypt this winter. Alone, the unemployed, the Copts, the women, the merchants, the army, none of them could overthrow Mubarak. When they joined together, they took down a despotic regime in just 18 days. We have less than 18 months.

    The “lez” in LezGetReal can stand for “lesbian” or it can stand for “let’s” Where this site goes in the next few weeks will be up to the staff, not to me. I hope you will all let us know what you think about our future direction and I hope you will hang with us while we pick up the pieces and reclaim our voices. Next year will be my 17th presidential election, and I truly think it will be one of the most important ones in our nation’s history.

    One last thing, since I have now been informed that there are people out there who are insisting I prove my existence…..

    Ninety percent of Bill Garber’s bullshit was for our benefit only or appeared only on Paula Brooks’s Facebook page. In the early days of LGR, Garber wrote some pieces about “Paula Brooks” life that quickly disappeared off the site. None of them were important in the scheme of the universe. They were no more and no less than those movies we see that are “inspired by true events.” That’s the difference between Bill Garber and Tom MacMasters. MacMasters created a fictional character who did all sorts of dramatic and important things in the middle of a revolution in Damascus and became a news story carried around the world. Seriously, around the world. I read the story of her abduction on papers from London to Jerusalem to Sydney. Garber created a fictional AUTHOR of mostly non-fiction news items and stories that mirrored the lives of many single, lesbian mothers. There have been literally dozens of men who used women’s names to write romance novels, and even wrote those novels in a first-person voice. There are hundreds of men and women who have used pen names to write everything from novels to theater reviews to restaurant reviews. Jonathan Swift, author of Gullver’s Travels originally published under the names Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff and M. B. Drapier. George Sands was a woman named Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. An extremely popular contemporary writer named Elizabeth Peters is actually Barbara Mertz.

    Should Bill Garber have fessed up and labeled his “Paula life stories” as fiction or as stories told to him by others? Absolutely. But he never set off an intervention by the State Department to find and rescue a fictitious character. Does it matter that my great-aunt died of an illegal abortion? Yes, because making abortion illegal does not stop abortion, but making it legal stops the dying. Will I give out her full names? Hell no. And neither would any reporter for any mainstream newspaper without the written permission of her living relatives. It’s called “anecdotal evidence.” It means there are stories that back up what we are saying, personal stories about real people, instead of just statistics. We all try very hard to back up our stories with cited sources and research. This incident will probably result in our boring you to death with even more citation.”

  102. Corona says:

    There might be a violation of intellectual property laws in copying the whole article rather than a brief except. Besides for that, it makes the site harder to read when one post is so long. The better practice is for people to post an except with a link for people who want the whole article.

    • Liz Henry says:

      On the other hand, long or complete excerpts are very useful in cases like this where people revise or delete their public statements.

      • Oscar says:

        I posted it all as their site keeps crashing and the article is unobtainable most of the time at present – that, and as Liz points out, the fact that their articles keep vanishing/being amended.

      • Kenzo Mogi says:

        Next time use webcitation.org, so you can archive the whole site at a given moment

  103. Harriet_the_spy says:

    re: linda’s latest letter, i have four words:
    I. Don’t. Believe. Her.

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  105. Harriet_the_spy says:

    i’m not the only one with visions of conspiracy theories dancing in my head
    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2011/06/who-financed-tom-macmaster.html

    • Mark says:

      They are having an interesting discussion on that page regarding who financed MacMaster and Froelicher all these years in their travels, etc.

      Earlier, I had heard that he was previously associated with (the owner?) of ESL Instruction & Consulting, Inc. a private English-teaching school in Atlanta targeted at foreign students. He’s listed as the contact name for it here (http://educatelink.localwin.com/members/f-tmacmaster.html) and the Website of it is here (http://eslinstruction.com/).

      Does anybody have more info? Was he the owner? If so, how does someone apparently without a graduate degree come to start or purchase a private language school? Or, if he wasn’t the owner, what did he do there? What kind of students from what countries attended that school, and how were they able to recruit students. (This kind of school, known as an IEP or Intensive English Program, usually recruits students directly from overseas and provides them with I-20 visa support for attending an educational program. My guess is that Atlanta isn’t a typically popular destination for such a program.)

      I’m not joining any conspiracy theories yet, but I do think that some journalist (or committed blogger) needs to dig deeper into MacMaster’s and Froelicher’s background.

  106. Elyse says:

    I’m confused by this: Linda’s married name is LaVictoire (but she writes under her maiden name, Carbonell) and then there’s another writer on the same site who also has the last name of LaVictoire?

    “I am Linda Carbonell. LaVictoire is the guy I married 39 years ago.”
    “Bill Garber has turned over the site to Bridgette LaVictoire, with me as her assistant.”

    • harriet_the_spy says:

      was just thinking the same thing. also, i haven’t read enough of linda’s backstory, but, um…is she with that guy she married 39 years ago? and if so, i guess that means she isn’t gay? Or, if she split with him years ago after coming out, why would she still have that last name? color me confused.

      • Mark says:

        Linda Carbonell LaVictoire wrote (see above) that she is an “ally,” not a lesbian. I can’t explain why there are two LaVictoire’s, but it does raise an interesting possibility. Bridgette LaVictoire says that she was born with a male body but a female identity. She also makes no mention of any sex-change procedures. Perhaps Bridgette LaVictoire is Linda Carbonelle La Victoire’s husband? In which case Linda perceives herself to be in a heterosexual relationship with her husband as a male, but her husband perceives himself/herself to be in a homsexual relationship with a woman???

        OK, now my head is really spinning!!! (Of course there are other possibilities on why they have the same last name too.)

      • No, Linda is not a lesbian, she is an “Ally.” Bridgette is her daughter.

  107. Bystander says:

    It’s entirely consistent with what she says in the piece above:

    Here in Vermont, some of our LGBT groups have an additional letter in their acronyms “A”. It stands for “allies.” That’s what I am. The mother of a transgendered person, the foster mother of a lesbian and someone who believes deeply in the rights of the LGBT community.

    Brigitte LaVictoire is presumably her transgendered daughter.

    • harriet_the_spy says:

      Nah, followed the link to Brigitte (only put up in may of this year, btw) and she must be the lesbian foster daughter.

  108. Bystander says:

    Britta has rejigged her crazy heroin addict Pakistani girl blog.

  109. Ken says:

    Oh no, please no….

  110. Mark says:

    MacMaster was listed as the contact name (http://educatelink.localwin.com/members/f-tmacmaster.html) for ESL Instruction & Consulting (http://eslinstruction.com/), a private language school that recruits students from overseas and offers them expensive English classes with I-20 visa support. Does anybody know if MacMaster was the owner? Manager? Teacher? Wayback machine indicates a Website for the school from at least January 18, 2002.

    Lots of related questions about his financing or expertise to work at or own such a school.

    • Mel says:

      It’s interesting isn’t it? He had enough money to own home, didn’t he? A home he still owns….and to travel the world.

      • Corona says:

        MacMaster paid $115,000 for the house on 7/16/1999. If he got an 80% mortgage, with closing costs, he would have needed to come up with $25,000 to buy the house. So he must have been working for the CIA because there is no other way he could have had $25K.

        • Liz Henry says:

          Hmm. Lots of middle class people of my generation have parents who can give, or interest-free-loan, them $25K. I don’t think that speculating about someone’s money saved in this way will result in any sort of logical conclusion. People also do sometimes manage to save money over time…

          • Corona says:

            My comment was a response to Mel’s and it was an ill-advised attempt at sarcasm. It’s hard to convey tone on the Internet. But from my prior comments I thought it was obvious that I regard the notion that MacMaster is an intellegence operative to be extremely implausible.

            • Mel says:

              Your attempt at sarcasm was unwelcome and unnecessary. I wrote that in response to someone asking if he owned the ESL school. I’m going to presume he had a better job than just student or ESL teacher to be able to afford his own home, so perhaps he did own the school.

              Are you now just trolling these comments to flame people?

            • Liz Henry says:

              Oh, hilarious – I took you seriously!

  111. Mark says:

    Froelicher was granted a “leave of absence” from her position as as associate fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews:
    http://news.scotsman.com/world/Edinburgh-student-sorry-for-masquerading.6784603.jp

  112. Ken says:

    Tom, go home to your mother, it might not be ok, but it will be better…

  113. Ken says:

    jasminefrompakistan

    June 14th, 2011 at 6:47 am
    Me pics were all on Shaadi and lifted back in 2006. I don’t put anything with my face in it, nothing that isn’t already out there and has been so since years. I cant do nothing about it.
    If you get involved with any woman, any place in the Arab world, or anywhere else, purporting to be me, using my pics, then it’s got nothing to do with me. I have already had complaints from 4 different men, one involving a marriage scam with a Turkish woman, supposedly, the rest involving men who wired transferred a woman in Lebanon, one in Cairo, the other two was in Tunisia, if i remeber rightly.
    My face has been used then to con guys out of money, yes, you’re not telling me anything new. My pics were then used to trap guys, so please, don’t get involved with anything cos i got nothing to do with it- at all, those things are scams to trap lonely men.

    If this is not the words of Tom MacMaster/Britta, I humbly apologise,

  114. Oscar says:

    The weird world of the lesbian hoaxers

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/14/weird-world-lesbian-hoaxers

    ……Both cases, says the feminist writer Beatrix Campbell, can be seen as a portrait of male dominance – men needing to infiltrate discussions where they wouldn’t otherwise have an obvious, and certainly not an authoritative, place. She says that when it comes to MacMaster, “he clearly doesn’t have a clue about what the politics of identity has tried to reveal, which is, first, that we are not all white men, and second, that white men are always treated as the supreme identity. Here he is, doing the same thing – claiming the virtue of representing a repressed condition, in a repressed part of the world, deciding that he is the person who will give that voice. That is the supreme irony. Here we have a boundaryless white American boy absolutely habituated to a kind of supremacy, and reiterating that supremacy through his blog. It speaks to an omnipotence that doesn’t understand its own limits.” As Carolin says, he is ignored the first rule of being an ally, which is “don’t try to speak for the people you’re trying to support”.

  115. mischi says:

    To Liz Henry and other folks who have spent time thinking & writing about sock puppets:

    The fallout from this whole Amina/Paula Brooks mess has really spooked me. I’m starting to wonder how many other individuals on my twitter or facebook feeds might be equally “unreal”.

    So, I have to ask: are there any clues or patterns one should be particularly careful to pay attention to?

    Also, what are the different kinds of motives that might compel someone to create sock puppets that have such a long and involved online presence (as both “amina” and “paula brooks” seemed to have). Some people here are suggesting they could be motivated by a desire to gather intelligence and/or disrupt activist organizations… but surely there must be other reasons? I mean, “Paula Brooks” wrote about surfing — what was the motive here? I’m just confused, and more than a little bewildered.

    Anyway, it would be nice to get more insight into the world of sock puppets (a term which until a week ago I had never heard of, but now can’t stop thinking about!). Again, thanks!

    • As Liz pointed out in the previous post on Amina, there are a number of reasons why someone would perpetrate such a hoax. There are as many reasons as those that inspire IRL fantasists.
      To me, the definitive inspiration for MacMaster is evident in an exchange with the Washington Post reporters who were investigating the story:
      ‘He insisted he had never heard of her or the blog before the news of the arrest broke.
      “Look, if I was the genius who had pulled this off, I would say, ‘Yeah,’ and write a book,” he said Friday…’ [my emphasis].
      I think this is the closest to the truth we will get from MacMaster. He thinks he is a “genius,” and he wants to write a book. Before this hoax, apparently nobody noticed his “genius” or his great writing skills.
      Looking at the numerous interactions that unfortunate people had with “Paula Brooks” / “Bill Graber,” there are a range of possibilities, none of which are flattering to whoever that person “actually” is. But I am reminded of a comment in Anna Broinowski’s film on Norma Khouri, Forbidden Lie$ (2007), in which one commenter states that the compulsive liar not only needs to get away with the lie, but to rub their victim’s face in the fact that they were duped. In an article on the saga, Khouri is quoted:
      “Look, I did lie, but I lied for a reason. It
      wasn’t fame and fortune I was after, not at
      all. It was about the issue [of honour killings].
      And I apologise to you for lying. I justified
      it in my head as the ends justifying the means.
      I hated lying to anyone about anything.”

      And since “Khouri” is a professional con artist and compulsive liar, we can surmise this statement actually means, ‘It was about the fame and the fortune, had nothing to do with honour killings, and I loved lying about everything.’

    • Ken says:

      Not that I would want to defend the toe rag, but has ‘messias’ the same meaning in Portugese as Messiah has in English? If it has, the guy has totally lost the plot..

      • Mark says:

        Read the rest of the article. It’s pure vomit. “I was very brave to write these things.” “I see nothing wrong in what I did,” etc.

        • Eli says:

          Absolutely revolting. I was going to say “unbelievable,” but of course it’s believable. I wouldn’t put anything past this guy, unfortunately.

          Wonder if the English-language media have seen this, given the stark differences between his supposedly apologetic and contrite stance in the interviews that he gave them and this nonsense — if so, I’d expect to see at least a blog on it from one of the newspapers. I can’t imagine they’ll be happy that it appears that he’s still jerking them around.

          Maybe they’ll reinterview him after they see this and really go after him instead of the ridiculous softball questions in the first set of interviews. There’s a lot he still has to answer for (starting with the fact that his stated justification for the blog is entirely inconsistent with both the dating sites/extended relationship with Ms. Bagaria, and with the amount of effort he put into building up this sock puppet over the last how many years?)

    • Reader says:

      That’s a fake interview done by a man named Ryan who has a youtube site extolling his attempts at planting fake stories as MacMaster

  116. Ken says:

    Stuff here about Bill Graber/Paula Brooks:
    http://www.bilerico.com/2011/06/lez_get_real_inside_the_imagined_life_of_paula_bro.php

    And an interview with Bridgette LaVictoire of Lezgetreal, about 18 minutes in:
    http://www.cbc.ca/video/news/audioplayer.html?clipid=2002045448

  117. Oscar says:

    Melanie Nathan’s final weeks at fraudulent ‘Lez Get Real':

    http://www.bilerico.com/2011/06/melanie_nathans_intense_final_weeks_at_fraudulent.php

    ‘Lez Get Real’ successors clarify time with ‘Paula Brooks':

    http://www.bilerico.com/2011/06/lez_get_real_successors_clarify_relationships_with.php

  118. Oscar says:

    Our friend: Lez Get Real’s Paula Brooks:

    http://www.gaelick.com/2011/06/our-friend-paula-brooks/16220/#tab=tab1

    (Complete with ‘her’ ‘Pentagon sources’….)

    • Juli says:

      How odd that in May 2011 “Paula” claimed to have adopted a Mennonite boy named Joshua. And Tom MacMaster’s mother is a Mennonite minister?

      The absurd compounds with Joshua/Yeshua as the Messiah…and now MacMaster’s claim he is the Messiah for Lesbians in Syria.

      “23/05/11
      Paula:
      I adopted another kid

      me: What’s his name?
      10:18 PM Paula: Joshua
      me: Love that name
      10:26 PM Paula: I love the boy
      10:27 PM he is a real sweety
      he is deaf
      me: yeah, I remember that from when you met him
      Paula: but sooo smart
      him coming here
      was like turning on a light
      10:28 PM its funny to watch him too
      a month ago he was living in the middle of the rain forest with Menonite Missionaries
      10:29 PM now he is in Washington DC
      me: that’s a change!
      Paula: but just getting everything
      10:33 PM me: how old is he?
      10:34 PM Paula: 3″

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  120. Robin says:

    It should be noted that Tom MacMaster has changed his own name on his Facebook account to “Tomas Mac Maighstir” possibly in an attempt to avoid being deleted if he is friends with anyone.

    Another interesting factoid is that Britta’s father Franz Froelicher is long time military. He served in Air Force Intelligence and later (if not still as adjunct) on in the Army Corps of Engineers. In 2003 he gained a nickname, “Dr. Garbage” as one of those in Iraq who procured local contractors to clean up the trash from the streets. I would suggest currently it is his son-in-law who needs to be tossed out with the trash.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/10/magazine/lives-talking-trash.html

    http://savannahnow.com/stories/101899/LOCchatfranz.shtml

    Franz Froelicher of Savannah hasn’t done it all, but he’s still trying. The American-born son of Swiss parents has been around the world “a few times.” He’s worked in U.S. Air Force intelligence, built Swiss-style chalets in Alaska, and taught geology at the University of Southern Mississippi. At 63, he is a chemist in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In his spare time, he’s been serving as president pro-tem of the Coastal Bicycle Touring Club.
    ****************
    Why is it that everyone is assuming Britta is Quaker because she worked with AFSC? Her father certainly is not Quaker if he served in US Air Force Intelligence unless be became Quaker later. Why is it that Franz was serving the invasion and subsequent occupation while AFSC was actively opposing both? Britta worked with AFSC later and seems to have done some wonderful work with Iraqi refugees here. Thing is, there would not have been Iraqi refugees to deal with if we had not perpetrated an illegal war upon the nation of Iraq which was based on lies.

    Has anyone determined that Britta is Quaker? Or pacifist? Or even opposed the war on Iraq itself? I know several folks who work with AFSC who are not Quaker so that is not a pre-requisite for working with them.

    In any case, she is married to a piece of garbage. It is most ironic that her own father’s nickname includes the same word.

  121. Robin says:

    Oscar, he changed his name, not created another Facebook account. I checked for sure on a link I have posted several places which WAS Tom MacMaster but now reads Tomas Mac Maighstir. Facebook allows you to do that, change your name, then when it shows up even years ago, it automatically changes it to your new name.

    In case anyone is worried that poor Tom has no friends, set your worries aside. Max Blumenthall was on his friend list and checked out what is going on there

    http://maxblumenthal.com/2011/06/inside-tom-macmasters-facebook-world-where-friends-and-family-support-his-hoax/

    That brings a whole new meaning to the word “clueless”

  122. Oscar says:

    “We are objects to them with our quaint and ‘authentic’ customs and ways of life; we are the benighted ones in our culture who simply need a mighty whitey, a hero from amongst them, to come to us and teach us about our oppression and lead us into the promised land.”

    Tom MacMasturbator, the ‘mighty whitey’ who stepped up to the plate to lift the white man’s burden AND indulge in some of his favorite lesbian role-play at the same time.

    Cached at his now locked but probably not deleted because he still wants to publish his fantasy blog in some format:

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:w7v4Wel1ceMJ:damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/2011_05_19_archive.html+We+are+objects+to+them+with+our+quaint+and+%E2%80%98authentic%E2%80%99+customs+and+ways+of+life%3B+we+are+the+benighted+ones+in+our+culture+who+simply+need+a+mighty+whitey,+a+hero+from+amongst+them,+to+come+to+us+and+teach+us+about+our+oppression+and+lead+us+into+the+promised+land.&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&source=www.google.co.uk

    • Eli says:

      Right? And then in his first round of media interviews, he justifies his actions by saying that he was “illuminating” these issues for a Western audience.

      It’s enough to make your head spin.

  123. libby says:

    Just to add another twist.

    Has anyone checked whether Bill Graber is who he says he is?

  124. Robin says:

    Note that in his first interview he said, “Tell me that I am a good writer and you make me happy”. (The guest post after this one feeds that need in Tom)

    Add in another factoid re Tom, his mother is a Mennonite minister and accomplished author of Christian children’s books

    http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1946241.Eve_B_MacMaster

    Psychiatrist please.

    Libby, I think WaPo did that on Graber. Ex military current construction worker/pretend lesbian gay rights GUY who stole his own wife’s picture and driver’s license to pull off his hoax.

    • libby says:

      Yes I’ve read the article – but it seems all interviews have been done over the telephone, and the only source of who Graber says he is is Graber himself.

      For a person who spent an incredible amount of time online as “paula brooks” he seems to have left a thin trail as “Bill Graber”

    • Oscar says:

      “Psychiatrist please.”

      How about referring Tom to Kari Froelicher ?

      http://www.godlycounseling.com/therapistbio.html

      She’s on Tom’s father’s FB friends’ list so it shouldn’t be hard to arrange an exorcism:

      http://www.facebook.com/people/Franz-Froelicher/1826657066

      I see that the father has kept a picture of Thomas MacMaster and Britta Froelicher on his page, unlike Mother Froelicher who locked, albeit a day late, all her Picasa albums containing pictures of the pair.

  125. Jonquil says:

    And Paula Brooks shows up at lesbiatopia and starts throwing around threats unless Lesbiatopia takes down pictures of him, with a veiled reference to something somebody did to Pam Spaulding (of Pam’s House Blend).

    “You would lose that bet… just like Ms Gannon is gong to lose my copyright infringement suit…

    Ask Pam Spaulding who Steve Gibson is”

  126. libby says:

    Hmm

    A search of the domain registration history of Lezgetreal shows that it was originally registered to “Paula Brooks” at 1234 Hemlock Dr Fairborn Ohio with the associated telephone number of (937) 305-5518 is registered to William Graber.

    • Gray says:

      But nobody at LezGetReal checked that before, and asked “who the eff is that William Graber”? Tsk tsk…

  127. Robin says:

    The address checks Libby. But run the address. You will come up with Greene County Recorder’s office and a nice easy report.
    Sheriff’s deed. Foreclosed. (William P. Graber)

    Records show he is 55, not 58 hmmmmm.

    Paula S. Brooks is 43, yes she is at the same address.

    • Robin says:

      Correction, the foreclosure on the Hemlock address was in 1987. Zillow shows the house was last sold 1n 2002, so Bill And Paula have lived there for nine years.

  128. Pingback: middle east » Blog Archive » Beyond the Amina hoax: Real cases in the Middle East

  129. libby says:

    I tried to post this under the thread about the ESL/IBE Language schools.

    There was another person who worked for them who went to Georgia State, studied at St Andrews and now works for a Private University in Turkey.

    Has an MBA but is teaching ESL.

    Oh, and just to spook you all out he’s had a bit of experience teaching English in the Defence contracting/training area.

    http://tr.linkedin.com/pub/steve-allgood/20/587/110

    Steve Allgood.

    Current
    SELI Program Instructor at Ozyegin University

    Past
    Technical English Language Instructor at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems
    Technical English Instructor at Raytheon – King Abdullah Air Defense Academy
    Asst. Director at International Business English (IBE) Atlanta
    see all…

    Education
    Georgia State University
    St. Andrews College
    University of St. Andrews

    • Gray says:

      This will put oil on the flames for those who suspect a CIA ooperation. And I can’t blame them, the profiles of MacMaster, Froehlicher and Allgood would probably be a good cover for a real spook…

  130. Ken says:

    There’s lots of nuggets of intriguing info on Tom and Britta, but it’s all circumstantial. Bill Graber’s more of a mystery. How was a guy living in a two bedroom house in Iowa, supposedly worth $70,000 according to property sites, and virtually invisible on the web, able to develop such useful contacts and access to Washington and East Coast media circles for Lezgetreal? According to Julia Phineas, who co-founded Lezgetreal with Graber, and also worked with him on Lesbiatopia:

    “Phineas was stunned to hear this morning reports that her Lez Get Real co-founder was a heterosexual man. While Phineas had never met Brooks in person, the two corresponded via chat and email every day from Fall of 2008 through 2009. When Phineas would call using the phone, she said she communicated with Brooks through an interpreter, usually Brooks’ father, Bill. Phineas also said that she spoke at one point with a female interpreter and a much younger male interpreter.

    The younger male interpreter, Phineas remembers, was supposedly a staffer at NBC, where Brooks worked her day job. Phineas estimated that in late 2008 Brooks moved from the Outer Banks to Washington, D.C., where she began work for The Keith Olbermann Show around March. Brooks reportedly moved several times in the next year between DC and New York City, where she worked on The Rachel Maddow Show.

    These positions apparently benefitted Lez Get Real. Phineas said that Brooks was able to pass off stories that the blog and some other LGBT media were covering to The Rachel Maddow Show, bringing mainstream exposure to the stories.

    Phineas said that Brooks’ family relationships were also uniquely beneficial to the blog. “She had press passes because her father supposedly worked in the White House,” Phineas said. “She had a lot of contact information.” Phineas recalled specifically the high level of access Brooks had to the January 2009 inauguration, which Brooks was able to cover with a surprisingly quick turnover rate.”
    From http://www.bilerico.com/2011/06/lez_get_real_inside_the_imagined_life_of_paula_bro.php

    Perhaps he was just as good at conning people in the media and politics as he was his co-workers…

    On a lighter note, especially for those outside the US, here’s Jon Stewart on the affair:
    http://lezgetreal.com/2011/06/lezgetreal-makes-the-daily-show/

    If you’re blocked from viewing it, here’s an easy way around the country restrictions:
    http://xtremisreaction.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/how-to-watch-the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-in-the-uk/

  131. Eli says:

    Ugh.  This is such utter, utter bullshit.  

    “‘I mean there was no malice on my part at any point, no intention of really running a massive hoax,’ MacMaster told us in a telephone interview from Turkey, where he is vacationing with his wife Britta Froelicher.”

    From NPR, published 6/13.  Other gems:

    “MacMaster said he created Amina so he could ‘have a discussion about the real questions’ on subjects like the Middle East or U.S. involvement in Iraq. He said with a name like Tom, people would immediately question his alliance to the U.S. But with Amina, people would engage in full conversations.

    MacMaster posted on different websites and listservs as Amina and suddenly he found himself with an “extremely full and vivid character.” He wrote a back story for her and started writing a novel based on her. As a way to flesh the character out, he created profiles of Amina on different social networking sites to create a “depth of character.”

    He used Amina’s profile, he said, so he could snoop around sites that MacMaster couldn’t.”* 

    *There’s no followup at all on that last statement, which I find remarkable.

    “For years, his interactions had no consequences. His relationships were strictly about discussing issues like science fiction and Mid-East politics, but earlier this year things changed.”

    Believe it or not, if this is presented accurately, it appears that he’s talking about LezGetReal here — NOT Sandra Begaria (or at least, not primarily).

    So gross.  This guy is such a monumental asshole.

    Link — http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/06/14/137148644/man-behind-syrian-blogger-hoax-something-innocent-got-out-of-hand  

  132. Eli says:

    I hadn’t seen this interview with his wife. She claims she knew nothing, understands why people are angry and thinks that they have a right to be angry (good for her; he doesn’t seem to have gotten there yet), and says that “[f]urious does not begin to describe [her] feelings” about him trolling online dating sites/hoaxing Sandra Bagaria, etc.

    Says trust is now “an issue.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/britta-froelicher-wife-of-a-gay-girl-in-damascus-talks-about-being-caught-in-her-husbands-hurricane/2011/06/13/AGPJrETH_blog.html

  133. Straight Midwesterner says:

    One thing that gets lost in all the talk of privilege and so on is that, for those of us who followed the blog, “Amina” always claimed to have it in buckets in Syria:
    her Arab family was wealthy, politically and socially connected and so on.
    However, in the blog, she was also half-Anglo and the Anglo half was depicted as ‘white trash’ Appalachians. One grandfather is supposed to have been a senator, the other an alcoholic truckdriver.
    Everyone now who is attacking McMasters for claiming male and Anglo privilege seems to be missing that.

    • I don’t think you know what “privilege” is. And that is how it works: you don’t have to know, you just use it.

    • Ken says:

      Don’t really understand your point, but anyone leaving a TEFL job in Atlanta to start a Masters at Edinburgh University, while his wife does some post grad work at St Andrews, and can still afford extended jaunts to Istanbul, must have some considerably comfy family backing, or access to grants that aren’t normally available to the over forties..

  134. Anonymous says:

    Not sure if people have seen this, but it is revealing from a different perspective on how far he went. Apologies if it is a repeat.
    http://www.nifty.org/nifty/lesbian/beginnings/coffee-shop

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  136. Pingback: Understanding #amina » OWNI.eu, News, Augmented

  137. Anonymous says:

    Has anyone seen this new “gay activist” hoax from today?

    http://maxblumenthal.com/2011/06/anti-flotilla-video-fraud-has-links-to-pm-netanyahus-office-official-government-hasbara-agents/

    Yet another hoax cynically using the mantle of “gay rights” to discredit Arabs/Palestinians and their supporters. This time apparently by Israeli Hasbara agents.

    Didn’t the name Lazarus come up somewhere in the research behind the Amina hoax?

  138. Pingback: Civic fictions at conferences | Composite

  139. I’ve done a little research on this character and I think you’re right about the true identity. However, given the number of aliases and pseudo-identities on the internet, you could lose your mind tracking people like this.

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