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Moscow Attack: The Popularisation of Far-Right Conspiracy Theories in Mainstream Media

Moscow Attack: The Popularisation of Far-Right Conspiracy Theories in Mainstream Media
23rd April 2024 Joshua Bowes
In Insights


In the immediate aftermath of the 22 March attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall, social media was replete with misinformation, including conspiracy theories surrounding the affiliations of the perpetrators. Despite the terror cell Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)  claiming responsibility for the mass shooting in a statement made to their Telegram and multimedia news outlet Amaq, users on 4chan and Instagram pointed to alternative culprits. In comments left on social media posts, users allude to fringe conspiracy theories popularised on 4chan, which posit that the United States and Israel are the real perpetrators of the attack, using the Islamic State as a shadowy force to carry out an orchestrated geopolitical agenda under the guise of terrorism. The idea that the CIA and Mossad either collaborated with ISKP or provided material support to the group spread from 4chan’s ‘politically incorrect’ (‘/pol/) community to mainstream social media platforms, making the pervasiveness of far-right misinformation visible to millions.

This Insight will show how social media users have made conspiratorial claims about the role of Israel and the United States in the violent attack at Crocus City Hall that killed more than 130 people. 

4chan’s Reaction to Moscow Attack

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, 4chan’s ‘politically incorrect’ board was flooded with discussion threads pertaining to the details of the attack. Many of these posts included speculation about the authenticity of ISKP’s claim of responsibility, which was reported on mainstream media pages. In one of these 4chan discussion threads, one comment made by a 4channer at 8:44pm on 22 March, just hours after the attack, reads: “I’m inclined to believe it was ISIS, they do work for mossad/cia, that’s a proven fact. Of course they’d use their muslim puppets to carry out attacks in Russia, who fought against them in Syria” (Figure 1). While this user acknowledges the reality of Islamic State’s involvement in the attack, they assert that the U.S. and Israel are undoubtedly behind the attack, weaponizing the Islamic State’s distaste for Russia as a means of dealing a blow to the Kremlin. Another comment, posted in the early hours of 23 March, reads: “Yes I think Jews want to lure Russia into another mijahideen war…just like they want US democrats to do…Enough of pandering to these evil Jews…we won’t defend these spoiled rotten Jews into yet another war on the Middle East.” Riddled with antisemitic rhetoric, what this user is trying to convey is that America and Israel are warmongering nations seeking to spark a regional Middle Eastern conflict for the purposes of enriching a unified military-industrial complex, further empowering the U.S. and Israel financially. 

Figure 1. 4chan users on ‘/pol’ share their conspiratorial views that the Moscow attack was carried out by Mossad and the CIA.

A third post, starting a new thread and accompanied by an image of a female Israeli soldier, reads: “Are there normies who still don’t believe they are a CIA/Mossad plant?” This user also writes that Islamic State “hasn’t done anything in years” and that they have suddenly appeared to carry out a “terrorist attack against a country they have nothing against” (Figure 2). Implying that the Islamic State would not be able to abruptly re-materialize to carry out such an egregiously violent attack, this user attempts to show that the group is funded and armed by the CIA and Mossad, the United States’ and Israel’s intelligence agencies, respectively. Islamic State has conducted many attacks in recent years within Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, but these attacks have not been as widely publicised as the Crocus City Hall attack.  This 4channer also employs the commonly used 4chan term ‘normie.’ A ‘normie’ is a term used to describe a non-4channer perceived to be mainstream and unaware of such apparently obvious conspiratorial claims. A fourth comment reads “ISIS is just the CIA/Mossad sock puppet for terrorist attacks. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that church and mosque shooting/bombings happen all the time but if it’s a synagogue it’s stopped. How convenient.” This remark is indicative of the conspiracy that because Islamic State and its affiliate groups do not seem to be interested in attacking Israel or a diaspora of Jews despite calling for such violence, the group must be aided and backed by a powerful group of elitist Jews in cooperation with Mossad and the CIA.

Figure 2. 4chan users insinuate that ISIS is a puppet of the CIA and Mossad.

The Transmission of Fringe Conspiracy Theories to Mainstream Social Media Platforms

As outlined above, in the immediate hours following the attack, 4channers were incredibly active online, quick to share an assortment of ideas pitting the Islamic State as an extension of a joint US-Israel government operation to attack Russia. However, these ideas have appeared to have spread to more mainstream social media platforms like Instagram, where conspiratorial claims soared in popularity in the days following the attack, amassing hundreds of likes. One comment, left on ABC News’ post sharing ISIS’ claim of responsibility, reads ‘ISIS?… yea okey,” accompanied with numerous laughing emojis (Figure 3). This comment had 122 likes at the time of screenshot and had numerous comments agreeing with the sarcastic implication that the attack was not carried out by ISIS, as reported. One reply, with 20 likes, reads: “ISIS = CIA, From now on, CIA operations will be carried out under the name of ISIS in different countries.” This comment epitomises the conspiratorial belief that ISIS is a weapon of the CIA used to augment power and a means of legitimising government and military action. Another comment on ABC’s post reads “So it was America?” and had 97 likes at the time of study. A third, reads  “ISIS = Israel Usa” had 183 likes and 19 replies. Another reads ‘ISISrael” with 97 likes. 

Figure 3. Instagram users speculate as to the role of ISIS in carrying out the Moscow attack

A lesser-known Instagram page named ‘Project_Knowledge,’ known for frequently sharing fringe political conspiracy theories, also made a post not long after the attack made headlines. While the page’s post itself merely provided the authentic details of the attack, a multitude of comments alluded to potential involvement from the US and Israel. One of the top comments on this post acquired over 600 likes at the time of study, and reads “CIA have entered the chat.” Another comment reads “Israel! Secret Intelligence Service” (Figure 4). A third, with over 130 likes, reads “Ahhh yes the CIA at it again.” Other comments, with dozens of likes, read ‘Does this look similar to US state funded events to anyone else? Or just me?” and “Classic Israeli mossad.” Another comment reads “We all know isis was created by the cia and they are a part of the American democracy y’all so dull and blind.” A final comment pits blame on the US and expresses weariness over Russia’s retaliation, reading “US escalating matters…great. Putin will retaliate.” 

Figure 4. Conspiratorial comments alluding to the role of the US and Israel have acquired hundreds of likes on Instagram.

Accelerationism Gone Mainstream

Given the evidence, the fringe conspiracy theory that the Moscow gun attack was carried out by an actor or actors other than ISIS has gone mainstream, amplified in the comments sections of social media posts with large collections of likes and support. The sentiment that the United States, Israel and any other government is implicitly involved in the carrying out of terrorism is a level of scepticism characteristic of the far- and alt-right on 4chan but also reflective of the radical accelerationist view that a shadowy force of globalist Jews controls the world. 

Accelerationists posit that in order to displace the vindictive agenda of these globalist figureheads, a complete upheaval of society is required. While the remarks studied in this Insight do not directly call for such a societal dismantling, they are a nod to a broader conspiratorial worldview that those who are in power use geopolitical conflicts and violence for the funding of the military-industrial complex. In other words, in the case of the Moscow attack, conspiracy theorists suggest that ISKP was employed by the US and Israel as an instrument for dealing a blow to Putin. By funding and arming ISKP, the CIA and Mossad have financial incentives and can simultaneously legitimise the use of violent force against an adversarial leader. Russia’s war in Ukraine legitimises a Western-led attack on Russia. Those engaged in such a conspiratorial worldview suggest that because of the perceived clear and obvious involvement of the US and Israel in the carrying out of terrorism, society must be overrun to rid the world of such an all-powerful group of globalist Jews.


The discourse and ideas disseminated on 4chan’s ‘/pol’ are indicative of the forum’s broader pervasion of fringe and extreme views. The popularisation of politically-oriented conspiratorial views on mainstream media is not a new phenomenon; the prevalence of mis- and dis-information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 onwards is reflective of this trend. For reasons that should be tackled in future all-encompassing research, the transmission of extremist views from fringe online message boards to globally popular social media platforms like Instagram is representative of the porousness of the Internet. As evidenced in this research, comments alluding to the involvement of Israel and the United States in the perpetration of the Moscow attack have acquired lots of online support in the form of likes. Beyond the mere liking of this content are more dangerous implications. The procurement of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of likes on conspiratorial comments and remarks reinforces the algorithmic output of Instagram content to continue to be conspiratorial in nature. In other words, when conspiratorial comments receive likes, they rise to the top of the comment section, meaning they become more visible to all users across the globe who are shown the post in their feed. Users’ continuous support of conspiratorial ideas procreates such discourse, in a way, because they become more prominent the more likes they receive. As such, the saturation of such staunchly fringe speculative social media comments on mainstream media outlets like ABC News is alarming. In terms of practical recommendations, it is imperative that mainstream tech companies cater their algorithms to protect free speech but also to verify political claims. When conspiratorial ideas are so easy to see and interact with, the threshold for radicalization is very low. Even the smallest amount of mis- and disinformation has the potential to push a fringe individual into a violent act. Algorithms should be capable of detecting rampant falsities to protect impressionable persons, including youth and children, from spilling over into real-world violence. Events of political dissent, like that of the accelerationist 6 January 2021 incursion of the United States Capitol building, began with online discourse similar to that studied here. As such, the seeds of violent accelerationism continue to be sowed online. The conspiracies shared in this research have the potential to catalyse real-world violence against the perceived enemy: the CIA, Mossad and the globalist force of Jews puppeteering global conflict for financial gain.

Joshua Bowes is a Research Associate with futures think tank South Asia Foresight Network (SAFN) in Washington, D.C, focusing on South Asian security challenges. His research primarily covers synergetic thinking, militancy, armed conflict and extremism.