A so-called activist that has been writing anti-Iranian articles for right-wing outlets in the U.S. is not a real person, but an account run by an Iranian opposition group, The Intercept reported Monday.
Heshmat Alavi is touted as an activist with a “passion for equal rights” and has been featured in publications such as The Hill, the Daily Caller, the Saudi Arabian owned outlet al-Arabiya English and The Federalist. Most notably written in Forbes magazine, where 61 byline articles between April 2017 and April 2018 have been published.
Alavi’s writings are aimed at a Washington audience, working to increase anti-Iranian sentiment in the U.S. and suggest regime change. The articles written have been seen by a number of prominent conservative figures in the U.S., and have even influenced decisions made by American President Donald Trump.
When the White House claimed the Iran nuclear deal was increasing Tehran’s military budget, it used a Forbes article written by Alavi for justification.
But The Intercept found that Alavi is not a person but an online persona created by the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK).
“Heshmat Alavi is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK. This is not and has never been a real person,” Hassan Heyrani, a high-ranking defector from the MEK, told The Intercept.
“The Mojahedin wants to show to the world that their narrative has support, even from people who are not directly members of the group,” the news outlet wrote.
However, while using writing to hint at overthrowing the Iranian regime, Alavi’s articles have also suggests giving control of the country to MEK and its leader Maryam Ravagi.
While currently the organization has been using political lobbying and writing articles to try and depose the Iranian government, the MEK have a complicated history. It was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department until 2012, and was on the side of the Islamic Revolution in Iran until the group fell out of favor with the Islamic Republic of Iran and was pushed into exile.
Alavi’s persona has not only been used to publish articles, but is a part of MEK’s social media strategy that has many pro-MEK accounts to push the organizations agenda. Alavi’s Twitter account boasted 30,000 followers, including conservative think tank employees and journalists.
According to The Intercept, some of the outlets where Alavi’s articles would frequently appear have said they no longer publish his work, citing violations of publication standards.
Since the news outlet published the story, Alavi’s Twitter account has also been suspended, according to the persona’s online blog.