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  January 26, 2015

American Sniper: Honoring a Fallen Hero or Whitewashing a Murderous Occupation?

TRNN Top Stories 2015: Journalist Max Blumenthal says the film American Sniper promotes lies falsehoods about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle along with the US invasion and occupation of Iraq
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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His most recent book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. His other book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller. Max is co-host of the podcast Moderate Rebels.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

The new film American Sniper has ignited controversy for its depiction of the actions of Iraq War veteran Chris Kyle. While the movie has been praised by many for its portrayal of Kyle as a war hero grappling with PTSD, groups like the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee have warned they've collected hundreds of violent messages targeting Arabs and Muslims from moviegoers of the hateful film.

Now joining us to discuss this from Tucson, Arizona, is Max Blumenthal. Max is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. His latest book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

So, Max, as we get started, let's watch a clip from the trailer, which is based on the book by Chris Kyle.


So, Max, that clip from the trailer showed one of the opening scenes, where Chris Kyle shoots dead a young child with a bomb. Talk about the reaction this film has gotten, especially from the right wing.

MAX BLUMENTHAL, AUTHOR, GOLIATH: LIFE AND LOATHING IN GREATER ISRAEL: Well, let's talk about that scene first, 'cause that scene really says a lot about the film. That child in the film is one of three Iraqi children who are portrayed in American Sniper. All three are portrayed as terror children, children who just simply want to kill Americans. The other child is tortured to death with a drill by [incompr.] a made-up character who's an al-Qaeda henchman named the butcher. And the woman is one of, I think, three or four women who were in the film, and all are portrayed as terrorists or terrorists' little helpers, except for one little woman who is the mother of the child who's butchered for being a collaborator.

And so you see a portrayal throughout this film of Iraqis as endemic terrorists and of the country as overrun by foreign fighters from al-Qaeda. These two figures at the beginning are portrayed as al-Qaeda operatives. In fact, when Chris Kyle was on his first tour in Iraq in 2003, there was no al-Qaeda, there was no al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. So this is the first distortion of the film. And from start to finish, the film was filled with lies and distortions [incompr.] hero out of a pathological liar and a mass killer whose glory is not really--there's very little evidence to support that he inked 160 confirmed kills. The Navy has produced very little evidence.

But the first distortion is in this trailer, where what appears to be a locally based resistance, resisting an occupation and an invasion, is falsely portrayed as foreign fighters who have international ambitions to kill Americans. And it goes from there.

I think that this film has become a vehicle for resuscitating the morale of middle America and red America after the complete and utter failure of the war in Iraq. It's a lost war predicated on a humongous lie. And there are many Americans out there who want to believe that they were actually, the troops were actually fighting for some kind of freedom, for Americans' freedom, and that the war was worth it, that they didn't die in vain, that they didn't get their legs and arms blown off just to advance the geopolitical ambitions of Dick Cheney the draft dodger and a bunch of softhanded neocons. And so that's false.

When I pointed out on Twitter that this film was basically a vehicle to help America overcome Iraq war syndrome, that it portrayed an unrepentant, sadistic killer as an anguished figure who was deeply reflective as he mowed down faceless Iraqis and I attempted to de-exceptionalize the portrayal of American troops in this film, I was daily reached with death threats and hate tweets from the bowels of white America.

NOOR: And, Max, it wasn't just you that received death threats. As I mentioned in the introduction, Arabs and Muslims have received hundreds of them. And civil rights groups like the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination League have warned that this may incite violent acts, which has been repeated throughout the history. These types of films or these type of--when wars are launched in America, those Arab--or perceived to be of Arab descent are targeted. And we know that that's an ongoing pattern, in at least recent U.S. history.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, many of these hate tweets and death threats were documented by the journalist Rania Khalek, who's Lebanese-American. And the death threats she gets are somewhat different than the kind I get, because she herself is an Arab-American. And so she collected them in a [storify (?)]. And the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee was so disturbed by what they saw and the fact that so many of Arab Americans and Muslims are getting these threats for simply criticizing the film and its portrayal of Iraqis, threats that are direct threats, like I will kill you where you live, and then, beyond that, more general threats against--you know, collective threats. We see many people Tweeting after coming out of the theater that the film has inspired them to kill ragheads, that they want to kill Muslims, that they hate Muslims a million times more than they did before they saw the film. These are all Tweets that Rania has documented. And so now the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee is actually collaborating with law enforcement to monitor these threats. And we have to recognize that this film has been released at a time when Islamophobia in Europe is peaking after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher deli attacks. So there's a convergence between the far right inspiring Islamophobia and a violent backlash against Muslim immigrants in Europe and the attempts by Republicans and right-wing elements who have really gotten behind this film and see this film as part of their ongoing culture wars, a vehicle for the culture wars, that there is a convergence between these two elements to inspire hatred and incite violence against Muslim Americans and Arabs. And so these are definitely disturbing times.

Look at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination committee's bulletin, which was issued to Arab-American and Muslim community centers, which urges people whose lives center around those community centers to take special care when they're going out in public. And that troubles me, that a film has led to this kind of reaction. And I think it's really up to Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper--particularly Bradley Cooper, whose been all over mainstream media whitewashing Chris Kyle--to condemn these threats.

NOOR: And, Max, talk more about Chris Kyle, because he said in his book, I only wished I'd killed more. He called Iraqis savages. He said, I loved what I did. It was fun. I had the time of my life. And he had run-ins with people like Jesse Ventura, who a jury awarded $1.8 million to after Kyle physically attacked and falsely accused him of saying he hates America and that SEALs, quote, "deserved to lose a few".

BLUMENTHAL: Right. Chris Kyle's pattern of lies was confirmed in Jesse Ventura's libel suit. But his family are also American liars. The Kyle family falsely claimed that they've donated 100 percent of the proceeds from his book American Sniper to wounded veterans and veterans who have PTSD. In fact, they've only donated 2 percent. That fact was revealed by the Conservative National Review.

Chris Kyle has falsely claimed to have climbed to the top of the New Orleans Superdome during Hurricane Katrina and sniped to death 30 African-American looters. There's no record of this. Chris Kyle has falsely claimed to have shot carjackers, who he referred to as thugs, with bullets tipped with frog poison. He claimed to possess one thousand bullets tipped with frog poison. There's no record of this. There's no record of him confronting any carjackers. He said in his book that he and fellow snipers had a competition for who could kill the most Iraqis. He boasted about shooting two Iraqis who he believed to be insurgents, at the same time, with one bullet on a moped, and said that that bullet was an efficient use of taxpayer money. Then he later claimed that the IED they were holding somehow disappeared. He said that--when he was accused of shooting a guy, an alleged insurgent who was said to simply be holding a Quran, that he doesn't shoot people Qurans, although he would like to. As he said, he calls Iraqis savages. He said that he enjoyed what he was doing, that it was fun, and that his only regret was that he wished he had killed more. He wrote about a woman who he killed that she was possessed with a savage, despicable evil, and that he was proud to remove that evil from the earth. He has over and over and over in his book dehumanized Iraqis and boasted of killing them.

But what I want to know is: are the 160 confirmed kills, can they be documented by the Navy? The Navy has produced very little evidence about these confirmed kills. And all that's required to confirm a kill is to have a witness claim that this person was killed.

And beyond that, how many of these skills were innocent civilians? We don't see one single innocent civilian killed in American Sniper, this bogus whitewash of the atrocities committed by U.S. troops in Iraq and Falluja. Two hundred people were forced to evacuate, 6,000 were killed, and the local population is now beset with a wave of birth defects and cancers. This isn't seen either.

It all boils down to one soldier who's seen as anguished. And the real Chris Kyle, who appears in American Sniper, his book, in his own words, is a pathological mass killer.

And let me just make one more point, because I've been accused of denigrating our troops. I know plenty of veterans. I have veterans in my own family. And I don't know many veterans who boast about what they did and enjoyed killing people. Most of them regretted it and are deeply, deeply traumatized by what happened. We just need to look at the Winter Soldier hearings that were completely overlooked by mainstream U.S. media after Afghanistan and Iraq.

And then there's Pat Tillman. Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals tight end who went to Iraq and Afghanistan, realized the war was bogus, realized that there were atrocities being committed, turned against the war, was killed in a fratricide, and had his death covered up by the Pentagon and by the same right-wing pundits who were promoting Chris Kyle is a hero.

And Pat Tillman is a study in common courage. And his family are brave people who never lied about anything, who had to campaign against their own government for the truth. What does it say about this society that we're celebrating someone like Chris Kyle and ignoring Pat Tillman and his family in their courage? I think there's another story to be told about our veterans, and it's been completely ignored in this saga.

NOOR: So, Max Blumenthal, there's certainly a lot more to talk about here, but we're going to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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