On Tuesday morning, April 8, 2020, Twitter showed a unique item trending in California: “Imam Mahdi” had reached over 24,500 tweets by noon Pacific time, leading analysts to suspect Iran was using the national COVID-19 crisis to push its propaganda.
People of California!
You want to be saved from oppression, corruption, disease and injustice
We are also waiting for Imam Mahdi and Jesus#ThePromisedSaviour
— Maka( Limited-محدود شده) (@Maka1831) April 8, 2020
Imam Mahdi is a figure predominant in Shia (Shiite) Islam, though the belief is familiar to Sunni Islam, too. Imam Mahdi (the 12th Shia Imam) is prophesied to arrive near “the end of times” to lead mankind toward righteousness — and according to some interpretations — alongside the return of Jesus Christ.
The question is: What does a surge of interest in an occult figure like Imam Mahdi have to do with California?
According to Human Rights activist Jeffrey Imm, founder of R.E.A.L Human Rights, Imam Mahdi tweets come at the same time as do Iranian accounts pushing the Russia-backed Cal-Exit campaign.
There has a been a big push of Iran accounts promoting #California secessionist movements [Cal-Exit] also. Twitter is used to “influence,” although the reality of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands in avg 500,000,000 Tweets per day is questionable. Message of hope is greatest strength.
— R.E.A.L Human Rights (@realhumanrights) April 7, 2020
Ryan Mauro, director of Clarion’s Intelligence Network (CIN), offers more insight on the link between Iran and Cal-Exit:
“Russia aligned with Shiite Islamism as a counter to Turkish and Saudi Sunni influence. Strategists around Putin have argued that Iran is like Russia’s Islamic proxy and the central pillar behind their Middle East strategy, which is to empower pro-Russian Islamists as a way of eliminating Western influence.”
Former Congressional candidate, veteran and terror prosecutor, Omar Qudrat, also weighed in on the phenomenon. Qudrat speaks to the larger tactics of adversaries since it remains unconfirmed whether the flood of Imam Mahdi mentions and Cal-Exit tweets were pushed by Iranian troll and bot accounts:
“As the world’s most effective state sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s tools include asymmetric attacks against the United States. The combination of cyber operations and information operations is just one tactical activity set.
Revolutionary powers like Iran, Russia, China and North Korea exploit the ‘gray war’ space to weaken the United States while avoiding a conventional conflict with us.”
While it remains unconfirmed that this is an Iranian operation, Muslim Reformer and Clarion’s National Correspondent Shireen Qudosi finds the tweet surge unnatural:
“It was very odd to see Imam Mahdi trending in California before 9 am, with over 24,000 tweets on the obscure religious reference by noon. As a Californian, I can tell you that Californians don’t wake up thinking about the occultist arrival of the 12th Shia imam. As a Muslim, we’re raised with this prophecy but it hangs in the periphery. It is certainly not something we actively think of or dwell on.
There will always a demographic obsessed with prophecy and the occult especially during a crisis such as the coronavirus, but it is very unnatural to have the tweets come from what look like bot accounts — accounts that are new, without any authentic identification, photos or tweet history — while also writing in very poor, broken English. Iranian Americans are at large a dignified and well-educated community, typically not obsessed with faith let alone occult prophecy. The Twitter trend simply doesn’t match the facts on the ground.”
Clarion Project will continue to track and report on this developing story.