Former Mint Press journalist painted swastika on synagogue to discredit Ukraine, court told
A former journalist who worked for publications linked to Iran and Russia appeared in an American court this week accused of spray-painting a swastika and the word “Azov” on a synagogue in Michigan.
A detective told the court that Randi Lucile Nord, 35, had “planned to do as many hate crimes as possible” and blame them on Azov in the hope this would undermine US support for Ukraine.
At the time of the alleged offence, Nord was wearing a court-ordered tag in connection with another case where she is accused of breaking into a Church of Scientology building and starting a fire.
According to police, Nord returned to the US in March after spending two years in Serbia. Before that, she had spent four years working as a journalist and during that time her byline appeared on the websites of Iran’s Press TV, the Tehran Times and Russia’s Sputnik News.
However, most of her work was published by Mint Press News, a notoriously unreliable website which is US-based but has links to Iran. Nord was billed as one of its staff writers and 47 articles appeared there under her name.
A search of internet archives shows that sometime between November 2021 and April 2022 Nord’s name was purged from the Mint Press News website. The web page listing her articles was removed and the byline on her articles was changed from “Randi Nord” to “Mint Press News Desk”.
Based in Minnesota, Mint Press was established in 2012 by Mnar Muhawesh who was then still in her mid-twenties. She had previously studied broadcast journalism at university and worked for a local TV station in Minneapolis. The initial investment, she said, had come from “retired businesspeople”, though she declined to name them. The Mint Press company was registered in her name, though an email address and phone number given on the registration form were those of her father-in-law, Odeh Muhawesh, a substantial Minnesota businessman.
Jordanian-born Odeh was known in religious circles as “Sheikh” Odeh. During the 1980s he had spent five years in Iran, studying in the holy city of Qom. In the United States, aside from his business activities, he gave lectures on Islam, took part in inter-faith dialogues, and was an adjunct professor in the theology department at St Thomas University in Minnesota. He had no formal role at the Mint Press website but it appeared to staff that he was acting as an adviser.
Mint Press came to international attention in 2013 after Syrian government forces killed hundreds of people in a nerve agent attack on Ghouta near Damascus. A few days after the attack Mint Press reported claims from anonymous sources in Syria suggesting Saudi Arabia had provided rebel fighters with chemical weapons but neglected to tell the rebels what they were or how to use them. As a result, according to the sources, the rebels had handled the weapons “improperly”, accidentally causing mass deaths in Ghouta. Implausible though the story was, Syria’s ally, Russia, complained that UN investigators were not taking it seriously (more details here).
Despite that debacle, Mint Press later received the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism — named in memory of a Lebanese-American journalist who died in a car crash while working for Iran’s Press TV. The stated purpose of these awards is to honour non-mainstream journalists who “tell challenging truths in difficult times” but the nomination and judging process is unclear.
The list of previous winners — of whom there have been more than 40 — includes advocates for conspiracy theories and others who have been prominent defenders of the Assad regime.
The first person to receive a Serena Shim Award was Eva Bartlett, a journalist/activist who has written favourably about North Korea as well as the Assad regime, followed later by Vanessa Beeley whose inaccurate reports from Syria have been much praised on social media.
Besides Mint Press, prize-winning websites include Consortium News which disputed the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and The Grayzone which accused OPCW investigators of a cover-up. Individual recipients included Caitlin Johnstone, an Australian blogger who supported “false flag” theories about the chemical attacks, historian/journalist Gareth Porter who was a board member of Consortium News; Whitney Webb, a Mint Press contributor; and three of The Grayzone’s staff — Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton and Aaron Maté.
One especially odd choice to be given the award was Peter Ford, a former British ambassador to Syria who has described the White Helmets organisation as “jihadi auxiliaries”. Although Ford has written a few articles and given interviews he isn’t really a journalist but until last year he was a director of the British Syrian Society — headed by Fawaz Akhras, President Assad’s father-in-law.