‘Trumped-Up Charge’: Journo Max Blumenthal Arrested After Exposing Failed US-Backed Venezuelan Coup

© Sputnik screenshotJournalist Max Blumenthal
Journalist Max Blumenthal - Sputnik International
On Friday, journalist Max Blumenthal was arrested on months-old assault charges dating to the Venezuelan opposition’s siege of that country’s embassy in Washington, DC, in April and May. Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, an activist who defended the embassy, told Sputnik the move was an effort to punish opponents of the US-backed coup attempt.

“I was not party to any violent actions around the Venezuelan embassy,” Blumenthal said in a Monday statement. “This ginned up claim of simple assault is simply false.”

The writer and editor of The Grayzone was hauled into a police van from his home in Washington, DC, Friday morning in what journalist Ben Norton said looked like “a SWAT-style raid.” Blumenthal was shackled for hours in several cells and cages with other inmates, only to learn he’d been charged with simple assault - a misdemeanor - originating from an incident in the spring outside the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. He was released Saturday evening.

An individual familiar with the case told The Grayzone the warrant for Blumenthal’s arrest had initially been rejected, only to be revived five months later without the defendant’s knowledge.

“This charge is a 100 percent false, fabricated, bogus, untrue, and malicious lie,” Blumenthal said. “It is clearly part of a campaign of political persecution designed to silence me and the The Grayzone for our factual journalism exposing the deceptions, corruption and violence of the far-right Venezuelan opposition.”

“We tried to uphold international law. That’s why we were at the embassy, and that’s what the US has been violating,” Benjamin, co-founder of anti-war activist group Code Pink, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Tuesday. Code Pink helped form the Embassy Protection Collective in April 2019, along with the ANSWER Coalition, Popular Resistance and the Black Alliance for Peace. 

“I would just encourage your listeners to be supportive of Max and his travails, but also of trying to stop the ongoing coup in Venezuela.”

The Embassy Protection Collective defended the Venezuelan embassy for 37 days, during roughly half of which the activists were split between those besieged inside the building and those outside, who were blocked from entering the structure or bringing food, water, medicine and other supplies inside.

At times numbering more than 100, the Venezuelan opposition outside the embassy was chocked full of wealthy Venezuelans who fled to the US after the socialist government of Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998, ushering in a government for the poor masses of Venezuela for the first time. The expatriates, in turn, stood to gain financially by the US overthrowing the government of President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, which it had been trying to do since January 23, 2019, having made a previous attempt in 2002.

Journalists and activists documented the abusive tactics of the opposition outside the embassy, which US police enabled even while maintaining an air of neutrality - tactics that included assault, harrassment and threats of rape, lynching and other malicious acts.

“There was one incident where myself, my partner Tighe Barry and [Code Pink National Co-Director] Ariel Gold were all attacked, physically, by one of these people - and we had it on video! One of the journalists had it, and we showed it to the police; the guy was right there, they held the guy, and then they said, ‘Alright, either you’re going to all get arrested or none of you get arrested.’ What the hell is that about? We didn’t do anything; we were standing there, and we got attacked,” Benjamin told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou.

“Repeatedly, we tried to get people arrested who were attacking us, and now to see that Max has been arrested in this SWAT team kind of way on a trumped-up charge months after the fact is just infuriating - in fact, it makes me want to go back and demand that those people who attacked us get arrested.”

Several activists were arrested over the course of the siege, most for simply trying to usher food into the building in inventive ways, but others for resisting the attacks made against them by opposition members.

​The four activists who remained inside when US police stormed the embassy on May 16 also have charges against them that could land them in prison for a year with fines up to $100,000 if convicted.

“They have been harassing us, they have been so terrible in the way they have been overtly supporting [Venezuelan opposition leader Juan] Guaido’s opposition people, allowing them to take over the buildings. I mean, before we took over the embassy, the US government had allowed them to take over the Venezuelan government’s military attache building, and it was because of that that we asked the Venezuelan government: ‘Can we be a protection for the embassy?’ So this started as soon as the US decided to try to make the coup in Venezuela, and the recent treatment of Max Blumenthal is just one more example of how desperate they are to try to give legitimacy to this Venezuelan opposition,” Benjamin said.

Blumenthal’s reporting, in conjunction with other investigative journalists via The Grayzone, has helped expose one item of dirty laundry after another in the United States’ attempt to orchestrate a coup d’etat in Venezuela, including the extensive connections between Guaido and the US State Department, as well as the fraud and corruption at the core of the Guaido-aligned opposition.

Just one example of the impact of The Grayzone’s reporting on the coup effort was the resignation last month by Venezuelan right-wing economist Ricardo Hausman from his position at the Inter-American Development Bank following an expose by The Grayzone’s Anya Parampil. Parampil’s investigation brought to light the economist’s conflicts of interest and opaque financial practices as he worked to support Guaido’s coup from inside a major organ of international finance capital after Guaido’s nonexistent government appointed him as their representative to the bank.

Just hours before Blumenthal was arrested, another Grayzone article brought to light that Guaido coup leaders are drawing millions of dollars per year directly from the coffers of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to finance their efforts, making them direct employees of the US government.

“This is outrageous, and it’s too bad that the US press does not cover these issues, that US politicians aren’t outraged that we are paying for this entire attempted coup, including all the salaries of these people who have absolutely no government that they represent,” Benjamin noted. “They have taken over an embassy, but they can’t use the embassy; they’ve taken over consulates they can’t use, military attache buildings they can’t use; and all of this being done with our tax money.”

“So I am just so upset [at] what they have done to Max, what they continue to do to people in the US who are supporting the rightful Venezuelan government, and how this coup attempt is creating so much misery inside Venezuela. It’s a failed coup attempt, obviously, but it’s one they haven’t given up on and are continually looking for ways to tighten the economic sanctions, making things harder and harder for the Venezuelan people.”
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