Syria is a mess, and has been since the uprising and subsequent civil war that has pitted portions of the populace against each other. American interests are hard to define in the area, as many of the groups fighting have committed atrocities or teamed with international terrorist organizations.
One group that has been fairly innocuous, however, are the Syrian “White Helmets”, a volunteer organization officially known as the Syria Civil Defense. They operated out of the rebel-held territories and attempted to act as search-and-rescue operators and first responders in locations targeted by bombs.
Lauded by the UN, NATO and the United States, they were considered to provide one of the best public faces for the Syrian opposition. Because of that, they were often singled out for attack by Assad and, subsequently, by Russia.
That’s where things get interesting, on the conspiracy side.
First and foremost, one thing must be addressed: an organization is comprised primarily of its membership, and actions taken by members absolutely reflect upon the organization. But when isolated members take actions which are rebutted or actively denounced by the organization, they should not be considered representatives.
The requirements for helping the White Helmets in Syria were usually thinks like a willingness to exert large amounts of time and physical effort moving bricks away from piles to rescue people pinned under the rubble. With the multitude of factions, large and small, who were participating in the rebellion; and the ties that the majority of them had to terrorist groups, it seems unreasonable to assume that none of the volunteers in the White Helmets had any ties to terrorists. It’s actually quite likely that most of them either had performed medical work or rescue work on someone who had been, or was in the future, a terrorist.
That, however, was one of the slivers of truth with which the Russians attempted to tar the White Helmets. Another was the possibility of Soros funding. Soros absolutely does fund many left-wing organizations, and some of them contributed to the White Helmets.
That does not mean that they were a subsidary of Soros, particularly without any paper or funding trail to demonstrate it. Rather, it is quite likely that the Soros organizations – many of which are funded not to do his bidding, but rather because he likes the causes they are already behind – were donating cash because they appreciate the idea of saving innocents from war.
A cynic might even say that they merely wanted to use the good public relations of such an act to make themselves look more palatable to their volunteers and donors. Even a cynic, though, would be hard pressed to say that a small amount of money diverted from progressivist organizations would outweigh, in importance, a large amount of money from governments… and the US alone was reportedly responsible for a third of their funding.
The Russian efforts to tar the White Helmets were plentiful. They repeatedly claimed that the group was falsely claiming that barrel bombing and chemical attacks were happening. When chemical attacks were proven, they were accused of initiating chemical attacks and blaming Assad.
They were using existing concerns which had been bandied about US talk media for years, that perhaps Assad had been falsely accused of using chemical weapons by a pro-Al Qaeda, pro-Muslim Brotherhood left-wing cabal (such as in the Rush Limbaugh segment below). Seeing the atmosphere of willing conspiracy belief, Russia offered talking points for any willing ally.
Infowars picked up on this and disseminated it widely to the US conspiracy base, where it became “common knowledge” that Assad was being unfairly targeted by a false flag operation. Shortly afterward, President Trump stopped funding for the White Helmets, only to release it a month later after the OPCW – the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – determined that there was chemical weapon use and that their use was almost certainly from Assad.
Despite the investigation, the conspiracy theorists who were already primed to trust Assad over others continue to place their faith in Russia.
The White Helmets, on the other hand, have been fleeing the country as the last wisps of rebellion dissipate. Canada has welcomed many of the refugees as people who were dedicated to humanitarian action in the face of war.