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The rise of militarized NGOs


Who invaded Crimea? Civil society. Who has occupied government offices and police headquarters in eastern Ukraine, bringing massive instability to that region? Civil society. Who is fighting the governments of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Nouri al-Malaki in Iraq? Civil society. And who are the colectivosconfronting Venezuelan students who protest against the government? Civil-society activists, of course.

These are the official responses, at any rate, by those who have something to gain from distorting reality. The responses range from blatant lies to subtle untruths, but they are all dishonest. By now, it has been well-documented that Crimea was invaded by a military force that included a large contingent of Russian troops whose uniforms bore no insignias or identifying markings. And Angela Merkel’s warning to Vladimir Putin that these practices constituted a clear violation of the international rules of warfare made little difference. The Kremlin continues to organize, coordinate, and finance the pro-Russian “militants” in eastern Ukraine who remain intent on defying Kiev’s authority.

We’ve seen the same thing in Tehran, Havana, and Caracas, where people who take to the streets to protest their leaders are often confronted by violent groups of civilians posing as common citizens who support the regime. In Iran, they’re called the Basij, or the Organization for the Mobilization of the Oppressed. In Cuba, they’re known as the Rapid Response Brigades, and they routinely dole out severe beatings to critics who dare to publicly express their opposition to the Castros’ dictatorship. This “political technology” has been successfully exported to Venezuela, where the well-trained and armed “civilians” battling opposition groups are called colectivos. Orwell himself couldn’t have imagined names that better obscure the true nature of these associations.

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