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Clearing up misperceptions about Chechnya -- one Reddit post at a time

In the mad rush to identify the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing, Reddit, the popular link-sharing site, was at the center of vigilante campaigns online to pick out suspicious individuals in photos from the finish line. The effort ran into the expected problems -- racial profiling and the identification of innocent people as suspects -- and left many people skeptical about the utility of incorporating the Internet hivemind into police work.

But that doesn't mean Reddit is always a source of confusion rather than clarity. With Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Chechen heritage in the spotlight, Aslan Doukaev, the head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's newly formed North Caucasus Service, participated in a Reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything") on Tuesday to clear up some misconceptions about his native Chechnya and the nature of the groups waging a brutal campaign against Russia for Chechen independence. Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A, which offered insight not only into Doukaev's unique perspective but also into the questions people are grappling with as they digest the latest developments in the terrorism investigation:

Question: In his comments [Chechen] President Ramzan Kadyrov, seemed as though he was anti-American. Is that the way he wished to come across or is he in fact down on America?

Aslan Doukaev: Yes, he has recently adopted and [sic] anti-american stance. It is not exactly clear to me why he has done that. One possible explanation is that there are rumors he was included in the so-called Magnitsky list, meaning he would be denied entry into the USA. Ordinary Chechens, however, never harbored any negative sentiment toward Americans.

Q: Other than the fact that the two bombers were ethnic Chechens, in your opinion, does this story really have anything to do with Chechnya? In the wake of the bombings, lots of news sites have clamoured to explain "the Chechen connection." In your view, is there any merit to this?

AD: Neither of those two men nor their family ever lived in Chechnya, but I cannot rule out that the Chechen tragedy may have affected their world view. I have to emphasize again that if there was some anger or frustration which they experienced, it was totally misplaced, and I do hope a careful investigation will shed some light on this.

Q: What can you tell us about the 19 years of conflict [in Chechnya]?

AD: The conflict is usually divided into the first and second Chechen wars. The Russians sent their army to crush the separatist aspirations of the Chechen people in 1994. The first war resulted in the killings of tens of thousands of people and the destruction of the main cities and towns in Chechnya. Probably hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, but in the end, the Chechen guerilla [sic] army was able to inflict serious losses on the Russian forces and a peace treaty was signed. However, the Russians never intended to leave Chechnya alone. In 1999 Putin sent the Russian army to bomb Chechnya again. The conflict in Chechnya inevitably spread to the neighboring territories such as Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. These days Chechnya is quieter then [sic] some of those territories. The conflict has a profound effect on the mentality and psyche of a lot of young Chechens, and it is possible that the two young me were in some way affected by what they saw on their television screens. And if that was the case, it is quite clear to me that their anger was misplaced.

Q: Can you explain a little bit about the separatist movement in Chechnya regarding why they wish to be independent from the Russian federation? Is this a sectarian issue down the Sunni/Shia split, just more of an independence movement, or something else?...

AD: The separatist sentiment in Chechnya intensified in the last years of the Soviet Union and was particularly strong right before the demise of the Soviet state. Chechnya was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th century after several decades of war. So Chechnya was conquered by force, in effect. The desire to be free never went away. After the Bolshevik revolution, Chechnya suffered another tragedy when in 1944 Joseph Stalin deported the entire Chechen population from the Caucasus to Central Asia and Siberia. This act was designated as an act of genocide by the European Parliament in 2004. The list of grievances which Chechens harbor against Moscow is quite long. The issue has nothing to do with any sectarian divide or anything of the kind. It's just a normal desire of one ethnic group to be free from another.

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Ron Paul fans furious over Rand Paul's drone flip-flop

Ron Paul's vibrant fan base is in open rebellion today over Rand Paul's perceived reversal on domestic drone strikes. The Kentucky senator, whose famous 13-hour Senate floor filibuster did much to strengthen his ties with his father's hardcore following, told Fox Business Network on Tuesday he's OK with drone strikes on American citizens who, for instance, rob a liquor store.

"I've never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on," Paul said. "If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash. I don't care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him."

While it's true that Paul has always made an exception for "imminent threats" -- a 9/11-like moment -- the liquor store scenario struck many libertarians as a very low threshold for domestic drone strikes, especially considering Paul's Senate floor remarks, which if you recall, took a more anti-drone stance. Here's Paul on the Senate floor:

I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.

Now, a phalanx of Ron Paul and libertarian forums are revolting at the senator's perceived reversal.

"I am stunned by Rand's statement," reads a blog post on the Daily Paul, one of the largest Ron Paul fan sites. "Unmanned killers in our skys O.K.??? Really? Get away from the Neocons and war mongers Rand, their arrogant and self-righteous air is rotting your brain."

"How cute. The Politician emerges," wrote Paladin69, a user on RonPaulForums.com.

"I disagree with shooting first and asking questions later," added forum administrator Josh Lowry.

"The hell with arresting him I guess," wrote user The Gold Standard sarcastically. "Just fire a missile at him and move on to the next mundane."

Reddit's brand of libertarian politics also repelled Paul's hypothetical. "A missile into the storefront seems like dramatically excessive force," wrote Reddit user Ohyeahthatsright. "Rand then seems to be supporting the militarization of police in their use of 'tools'. I thought he was against the 'police state.'"

Other libertarian-leaning commentators, such as the American Conservative's Jordan Bloom, gave Paul more credit. "Paul wasn't as clear as he should have been," he writes. "It seems like he's trying to describe a firefight-type situation in which the cops are forced to neutralize a thief robbing a liquor store, but the way he actually describes it sounds far more innocuous."

Today's flap is not the first he's had with his father's powerful online fan base, and it surely won't be the last. But by all accounts, his principled filibuster greatly rejuvenated his credibility with libertarians following his heretical endorsement of Mitt Romney during the presidential election. With today's remarks, he appears to have chipped away at that newly gained goodwill.

 Update: In response to the backlash, Sen. Paul released a statement about his views on domestic drone strikes. "Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations," Paul said. When asked if he was retracting his hypothetical about an armed liquor store thief being killed by a drone, his spokeswoman Moira Bagley told Foreign Policy "not retracting." Here's the full statement:

My comments last night left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed.

Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster.

Additionally, surveillance drones should only be used with warrants and specific targets.

Fighting terrorism and capturing terrorists must be done while preserving our constitutional protections. This was demonstrated last week in Boston. As we all seek to prevent future tragedies, we must continue to bear this in mind.