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by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Does it seem like supporters of Donald Trump are out of touch with reality? Why are they so dismissive of claims that Russia attacked us? Even in the face of truly damning information about how the Donald Trump Jr. colluded with Russian’s to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, the far right and their Representatives in Congress seem unmoved. Why?
|Map of cyber activity by Right-wing websites during the 2016 election to counter mainstream media advantage.|
Recognizing that computer algorithms currently use by social media keep me from viewing the conversations of those who don’t share my views, I began reading conservative websites such as Breitbart and Info Wars for clues. I forced myself to listened to broadcasts of the Alex Jones Radio Show on Info Wars. For those who don’t know him, Alex Jones is a popular right-wing talk show host. He has millions of listeners and claims those numbers are growing as Fox News numbers decline. He is also the manager or owner of a number of conservative media outlets.
You probably are familiar with Breitbart. It was initially financed by recluse billionaire, Robert Mercer. Steve Bannon was the man in charge there until after this past last election.
As I browsed through these websites, one particular radio show caught my attention. I listened in detail (took notes) to a radio broadcast of Alex Jones on July 12, 2017 (http://rss.infowars.com/20170712_Wed_Alex.mp3). Using this as a starting point, and having sampled other content on both Breitbart and Infor Wars, some patterns emerged that I want to share.
First, the verbiage of Alex Jones’ show can’t be easily unpacked. It is dense with disinformation, oblique references, inflammatory innuendos and repetitive conservative and nativist memes. The overall narrative establishes and affirms an alternative frame of reference for his conservative listeners. The broadcasts contain a blitz of buzz words and references to long debunked Obama era scandals, as I would characterize them, woven into a story line that alters the context of current events. The content is clearly intended to evoke elicit emotions in the listener.
But the biggest insight was that these conservative sites ring exactly the same alarm bells about democracy under attack and a pending authoritarian takeover that those on the left worry about. Info Wars also points to the same means and methods used to attack America as do the rest of us do, such as media disinformation and internet propaganda. But these conservative websites substitute Islamic jihadists for Russian oligarchs, and they substitute “Marxist” liberals for rightwing nationalists.
In effect, this counter narrative creates two American world views that are mirror images. It unites us in our worst fears for American democracy while irreconcilably dividing us politically. We agree that we are at war conducted through information warfare, but we have different enemies waging this war and different ideas on what are foreign enemies trying to accomplish. We can’t come to any mutual understanding because we have an entirely different framework and different sets of facts.
For factual confirmation of the conservative world view listeners are referred to other conservative websites, such as understandingthethreat.com. Here is what the site says about its founder:
John Guandolo is the Founder of UnderstandingtheThreat.com, an organization dedicated to providing strategic and operational threat-focused consultation, education, and training for federal, state and local leadership and agencies, and designing strategies at all levels of the community to defeat the enemy.
That enemy is radical Islam. Guandolo’s website promotes the view that the real threats to America originates from Middle East terrorist organizations. The site has been active since June of 2012 and appears to be hosted in Montreal, Canada, according to its domain registration data.
On the other side, Rachael Maddow had Michael Carpenter on her show recently. He was a U.S. Deputy Assistant Director of Defense before retirement. His take on our strategic threats places Russia at the center of the attacks on our democracy. From what he saw in the past, the cyber operations during the last election are consistent with what Russia has employed in places like the Ukraine. Typically, Russia seeks proxies and allies in the foreign countries they attack to help carry out their cyber operations. They try to penetrate the networks of insurgent political groups seeking power within a foreign county. They do this, and help support those groups, to have influence as those groups gain power. He has no doubt that this has included infiltrating far rightwing groups in America and, by extension, the GOP.
For Alex Jones, his constellation of media outlets continue to create and maintaining this alternative world view focused on terrorists as the existential to America democracy. Those how believe this are convinced the investigations of the Trump Administration are witch hunts and that the allegations of Russian interference are smokescreens by the “deep state” to conceal a leftist takeover of America. They point to their universe of alternate facts, theories and political conspiracies to prove there is an unholy alliance between the liberal elites and Islamist Jihadists seeking to impose Sharia Law on America. They deny the DNC was hacked by Russia, claiming there is no evidence. They see the accusation itself is proof of “deep state” preparations for a coup against Donald Trump. Even more moderate Republicans are held in suspicion. One commenter on Alex Jones’ show said, “The GOP establishment hates Trump more than MSNBC.” In other words, the Republican establishment is complicit with the liberal elites in working with Hamas and other Islamic groups to bring about an authoritarian state and Sharia Law in America. The CIA, NSA and FBI are all in on it and can’t be trusted.
The Goal of Islamic radicals, according to Alex Jones, is to create chaos in America; to destabilize us so that out of the chaos the jihadists can bring about a radical leftwing revolution, an authoritarian state and implementation of Sharia Law. Rodger Stone, a guest on his show, said, The elite have to assume there will be no elections in the future, but a global takeover. An authoritarian state in America.”
Alex Jones defines Sharia Law as total warfare against our culture, social institutions, political systems, military systems, our media and our American way of life. According to Jones, these jihadists are experts in political influence operations. Note that this is just what our Intelligence community is saying about Russia.
These are the alt-right media voices that conservative GOP members in the House and Senate are hearing . These are the sentiments reflected in their core constituents, their power base. Is it any wonder they hardly react to the US Intelligence community’s warning about Russia? The men and women of the GOP are just as patriotic as any of us, but they are straddling two very different world views. They have to know that both worlds can’t be true. Either the Russians are undermining our democracy in league with ultra conservatives oligarchs to divided America, or it is the Islamic extremists doing the same thing in league with liberal Democrats and the deep state (i.e., our Intelligence community).
Since even the most conservative GOP members aren’t ranting in the halls of Congress about jihadists destroying American democracy, I assume they know which scenario is more likely. They also know how to stay in power. Even if a Republican lawmaker doesn’t share their constituents world, they can’t challenge their base without losing their seat. The GOP is, in fact, compromised.
I said earlier that the content of Alex Jones’ show is densely packed with disinformation. In fairness, his listeners have no problem understanding his messages. If they were to watch Chris Hayes or Rachael Maddow, they would have the same critique as me of his show. We really do have two different perceptual realities. The forces creating this schism have to be well organized, well funded and very entrenched to pull this off. It’s time to uncover everyone involved in the media warfare that is tearing us apart. It’s time to fight back, reunite and restore civil democracy in America.
by Brian T. Lynch
President Donald Trump is fomenting a constitutional crisis that he cannot be allowed to win. In an official White House press release today, Donald Trump’s Administration said elected officials in San Francisco “… have the blood of dead Americans on their hands” for opposing the Sanctuary Cities Executive Order that would strip away the city’s federal funding for not fully engaging in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The press release said, “Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation.”
The press release was a response to a lawsuit filed by San Francisco and other county officials requesting an injunction against enforcement of financial sanctions against them. They argued that the Executive Order is unconstitutional.
After hearing both sides of oral arguments in federal court, Judge William H. Orrick granted the injunction against the Administration, barring it from withdrawing any federal funding to cities and counties until after the issue can be adjudicated in a trial. In the judges legal opinion, the merits of the case presented by the city and counties would likely prevail at trial.
Summary of Judge Orrick’s Ruling.
According to Judge Orrick’s ruling, the Trump Administrations Sanctuary Cities Executive Order:
- Violates the separation of powers because it improperly seeks to wield congressional spending powers
- Is overbroad and coercive, violates 10th Amendment prohibition against commandeering local jurisdictions
- Is so vague and standardless that it violates the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause
- Deprives local jurisdictions of Congress’allocated funds without notice or opportunity to be heard, violating the procedural due process requirements of the Fifth Amendment and because the Counties have not been named “sanctuary jurisdictions” pursuant to the Trump Administration Order
Judge Orrick’s goes on to detail the substance of this federal court hearing:
- Trump’s lawyers said at oral argument the Sanctuary Order is merely an exercise of the President’s “bully pulpit” to highlight a changed approach to immigration enforcement. Administration lawyers didn’t even respond to the constitutionality of the order itself, but instead argued that the Counties lack any standing in the court as the Executive Order didn’t change existing law
- Under the Administration’s interpretation of the Order, as presented by Trump Administration’s lawyers in court, Section 9(a) applies only to three federal grants in the DOJ and DHS, and provisions to withhold federal funding under those three grants can already be enforce under existing law.
- Trump’s own lawyers in court disavowed the Government’s right to affect most of the billions of dollars in federal funds that sanctuary cities receive every year
- Yet other language the Executive Order tries to include all other federal grants, and all federal funding as subject to sanctions against municipalities that don’t comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts.
- President Trump called his Order “a weapon” to use against these jurisdictions.
- The Attorney General warned that jurisdictions that do not comply with Section 1373 would suffer “withholding grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants,” and the “claw back” of any funds previously awarded
- The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Sanctuary Cities Executive Order cannot place new conditions on federal funds
- The Tenth Amendment requires that federal funds be unambiguous, must bear some relationship to the funds purposes and that the financial incentive cannot be coercive.
- Federal funding that bears no relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened because a city has chosen an immigration enforcement plan which is at odds with the Administration’s plans
- Judge Orrack therefore granted the County’s request for an injunction to prevent the Administration from withholding federal funding until after full hearing on the matter determines whether the Order is constitutional, saying “… this injunction does nothing more than implement the effect of the Government’s flawed interpretation of the Order.”
Read Judge Orrick’sInjunction against Trump’s Sanctuary Cities Executive Order in full: http://www.politico.com/f/?id=0000015b-a6d5-de92-a17b-aed55e780001 …
Trump’s outrageousresponse to the Sanctuary Cities injunction sets up a serious constitution crisis. His Administration is at war with another co-equal branch of government and the checks on his executive powers that were built into our constitution. We can’t allow him to win this fight in the courts or in the court of public opinion.
Here is the Administration’s outrageous press release printed in full:
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate ReleaseApril 25, 2017
Statement on Sanctuary Cities Ruling
Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation. Federal law explicitly states that “a Federal, State or Local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” 8 U.S.C. 1373(a). That means, according to Congress, a city that prohibits its officials from providing information to federal immigration authorities — a sanctuary city — is violating the law. Sanctuary cities, like San Francisco, block their jails from turning over criminal aliens to Federal authorities for deportation. These cities are engaged in the dangerous and unlawful nullification of Federal law in an attempt to erase our borders.
Once again, a single district judge — this time in San Francisco — has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country. This decision occurred in the same sanctuary city that released the 5-time deported illegal immigrant who gunned down innocent Kate Steinle in her father’s arms. San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands. This San Francisco judge’s erroneous ruling is a gift to the criminal gang and cartel element in our country, empowering the worst kind of human trafficking and sex trafficking, and putting thousands of innocent lives at risk.
This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge. Today’s ruling undermines faith in our legal system and raises serious questions about circuit shopping. But we are confident we will ultimately prevail in the Supreme Court, just as we will prevail in our lawful efforts to impose immigration restrictions necessary to keep terrorists out of the United States.
In the meantime, we will pursue all legal remedies to the sanctuary city threat that imperils our citizens, and continue our efforts to ramp up enforcement to remove the criminal and gang element from our country. Ultimately, this is a fight between sovereignty and open borders, between the rule of law and lawlessness, and between hardworking Americans and those who would undermine their safety and freedom.
By Brian T. Lynch, MSW
In preparation for my last article, “It Has a Name: FASCISM“, I read different views on the nature of fascism. As I read I was struck by two facts:
1) There is a lack of scholarly consensus on the nature of facism, and
2) despite this shortcoming, the picture that emerges provide insight into the ultra-conservative political transformation we have experienced in the last few decades.
I recognized that while it takes root on the fringe of right-wing politics, elements of it have been integrated throughout our body politic. Manifestation of it have surfaced in many of our institutions over time. To see this more clearly, a coherent description of fascism would help, one that accounts for its less obvious developmental stages over time.
I wanted to find the common denominators in the various descriptions using the Wikipedia’s, Definitions of fascism, page. It includes contributions from political philosophers such as Umberto Eco, Georgi Dimitrov, Emilio Gentile, Stanley G. Payne and many other. I found the fascism entry from the Encyclopedia of Marxism particularly useful and a good format off which to work. What follows is my own compilation of the words and ideas these original authors.. Some of what follows is verbatim, some paraphrases and some reworked to combine similar ideas by different authors. It isn’t strictly my original work, so please don’t credit me or accuse me of plagiarism because it isn’t properly attributed. All references to original statements can be found by comparing the texts to the Wikileak’s Definitions of fascism site.
To quote myself from my last article, “Fascism may take different forms as it metastasizes, but it is always built on three legs: A ruthless authoritarian leader, an extremely nationalistic base and a loyal cadre of uber-wealthy crony capitalists. The goal of fascism is always the same, to optimize power and prosperity for the fittest members of society, as defined by those aligned with their leader.
I hope readers here finds the following “meta-description” of fascism helpful.
Mass Movement: Fascism derives public support by creating a mass movement with multi-class membership in which prevail, among its leaders and the militants, middle sectors members who are mostly new to political activism. The movement organizes as a militant political body or political party whose identity is not based on existing social hierarchy or class origin, but on a sense of fellowship with other members of the movement. Movement identity is often cultivated through a campaign to raise fear of differences between the dominant social group and minority groups within the society. Fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate social division, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants. Members believe themselves to be invested with a mission of national regeneration, consider themselves in a state of war against political adversaries aimed at conquering a monopoly of political power by use of all available means. In this way fascist movements are able to gain power and political control, even by electoral means, without broad public consensus. Ultimately, a mature fascist state usurps democratic rule and the rule of law.
Authoritarian Leadership: Fascist states come into power through an authoritarian, charismatic leader whose thematic speeches and theatrical rhetorical style evoke the strongest possible emotions among their loyal followers. All fascist states have authoritarian leaders, but not all states with authoritarian leaders are fascist states. What most distinguishes fascist authoritarian leaders from other authoritarians are their methods and means to gain and hold on to power, political power for personal gain and self-aggrandizement being their primary interests. Fascist leaders are obsessed with their adversaries, real or imagined, often resulting in the hyping-up of enemy threats. There is a ethic in fascist administrations that action for action sake is a sign of strength while deliberation and consultation are signs of weakness. Once in power fascist administrations move to make structural changes in both social and government hierarchies to consolidate power and strengthen their control. Fascist authoritarian leaders see themselves as dominant and superior people, qualities that entitle them to lead others by autocratic rule. They often exhibit narcissistic traits and usually inflate their own talents, accomplishments and moral authority. Fascist leaders fundamentally distrusts democratic institutions and principles. The hold themselves self out as the ultimate interpreter of the popular will.
Loyalty: Fascism demands extreme loyalty to the national leader and his loyal followers. “Disagreement Is Treason” – Fascist movements devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action and threats to leadership. Fascists therefore delegitimize democratic institutions and accuse them of “no longer representing the Voice of the People.” Public discourse takes on a militancy. Bullying ,harassment or aggression is often directed at people or groups perceived as disloyal.
Nationalism: Fascism places a very strong emphasis on patriotism and nationalism. It is a xenophobic form of Nationalism that is fearful of disloyalty and sabotage from marginalized groups living within the country and especially distrustful of foreigners and immigrants. Criticism of the nation’s main ideals, especially in matters of war and the military, is lambasted as unpatriotic at best, and treason at worst. Fascist propaganda messaging broadcasts threats of attack, while justifying preemptive war. It invariably seeks to instill in its people the warrior mentality: to always be vigilant, wary of strangers and suspicious of foreigners.
Right Wing: Fascists are fervently against: Marxism, Socialism, Anarchism, Communism, Environmentalism; etc – in essence, they are against the progressive left in total, including moderate lefts (social democrats, etc). Fascism is an extreme right wing ideology, though it can be opportunistic. It often embraces social conservatism and traditional values while rejecting or exploiting libertarian or core conservative principles when it is to their benefit.
Hierarchy: A fully developed fascist society is ruled by a righteous leader, who is supported by an elite secret vanguard of wealthy capitalists. Democratic institutions are restrained and mass media falls under state control and all forms of dissent is suppressed. Hierarchy is prevalent throughout all aspects of society – every street, every workplace, every school, will have its local demagogue monitoring and pressuring for loyalty to and conformity with the fascist regime. The absolute power of the social hierarchy prevails over everything, and thus a totalitarian society is formed. Representative government is acceptable only to the extent that it can be controlled and regulated. Any who oppose the social hierarchy of fascism can be imprisoned or executed.
Anti-equality: Fascism loathes the principles of economic equality and disdains equality between immigrant and citizen. Some forms of fascism extend the fight against equality into other areas: gender, sexual, minority or religious rights, for example.
Religious: Fascism contains a strong amount of reactionary religious beliefs, harking back to times when religion was strict, potent, and pure. Nearly all Fascist societies are Christian, and may be supported by Catholic and Protestant churches. In more recent times fascist ideology is often supported by the fundamentalist Christian right.
Capitalist: Fascism does not require revolution to exist in capitalist society: fascists can be elected into office (though their disdain for elections usually means manipulation of the electoral system). They view parliamentary and congressional systems of government to be inefficient and weak, and will do their best to minimize its power over their policy agenda. Fascism exhibits the worst kind of capitalism where corporate power is absolute, and all vestiges of workers’ rights are eliminated. Fascist states develop a corporative organization of the economy that suppresses trade union liberty, broadens the sphere of state intervention, and seeks to achieve, by principles of technocracy and solidarity, the collaboration of the ‘productive sectors’ under control of the regime, to achieve its goals of power, yet preserving private property and class divisions
War: Fascism is capitalism at the stage of impotent imperialism. War can create markets that would not otherwise exist by wreaking massive devastation on a society, which then requires reconstruction! Fascism can thus “liberate” the survivors, provide huge loans to that society so fascist corporations can begin the process of rebuilding.
Voluntarist Ideology: Fascism adopts a certain kind of “voluntarism;” they believe that an act of will, if sufficiently powerful, can make something true. Thus all sorts of ideas about racial inferiority, historical destiny, even physical science, are supported by means of intimidation or violence, in the belief that they can be made true. It is this sense that Fascism is subjectivist. Fascism also employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary – “newspeak” – in order to limit critical reasoning.
Anti-Modern: Fascism loathes all kinds of modernism, especially creativity in the arts, whether acting as a mirror for life (where it does not conform to the Fascist ideal), or expressing deviant or innovative points of view. Fascism invariably burns books and victimizes artists; artists who do not promote the fascists ideals are seen as “decadent.” Fascism is hostile to broad learning and interest in other cultures, since such pursuits threaten the dominance of fascist myths. The peddling of conspiracy theories is usually substituted for the objective study of history.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Fascism: A political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. – Merriam-Webster
It’s time to call a duck a duck. Putin’s Russia is a fascist state.
While scholars may debate what fascism is, we all know it when we see it, or so we think. We have been slow to see it in Russia. Perhaps the shadow of communism in the former Soviet Union is blinding us to what Russia has become, a totalitarian fascist regime.
Correctly applying that label to Russia is important to understanding our own national politics and the growing swirl of suspicious connections between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The most direct links, so far, appears to be a network of contacts between a shady collection of Trump’s operatives and shadowy Russian oligarchs. Whether or not Russia influenced our elections as alleged, this web of contacts by crony capitalists and intermediaries is just what one would expect between two fascist authoritarian leaders. Yes! Trump’s political movement in America has a name. Fascism!
Growing income inequality, the insurgence of the political right here and abroad, rising nationalism, the vilification of differences (racial, religious, ethnic, etc.), the ascension of an authoritarian leader in the U.S. and the confluence of billionaire capitalists bent on undermining democratic institutions for self-gain are unmistakable signs that fascism is reemerging in the 21st century.
A few words about fascism may be necessary since the term has been muddled, perhaps intentionally so. In general, it is an authoritarian form of government empowered by a multi-class nationalistic populism and a power sharing alliance with the wealthy elite. Fascism may take different forms as it metastasizes, but it is always built on three legs: A ruthless authoritarian leader, an extremely nationalistic base and a loyal cadre of uber-wealthy crony capitalists. The goal of fascism is always the same, to optimize power and prosperity for the fittest members of society, as defined by those aligned with their leader.
Without this understanding it is difficult to grasp the trans-national collaborations we see surfacing, not just between some conservative billionaires in the West and Russia, but also between them and other rich oligarchs the world over. Without understanding fascism it is impossible to grasp the national transition undermining our own democracy. It is impossible to grasp the extent to which fascism has already infected our democracy.
With or without Russia’s help, Donald Trump won the election without the popular vote through every available method used to rig elections. These included voter suppression measures in all its forms, traditional precinct dirty tricks, exploitation of electronic and mail-in voting, publication of hacked DNC emails, an FBI email investigation dust-up days before the election and the latest in mass marketing methods funded by billionaire campaign supporters. But it also included something new, the latest in “cognitive warfare” technology. These are essentially internet mind control techniques unleashed on us by Cambridge Analitica, a political propaganda company employed by Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. (See Propaganda in the Digital Age – Mind Control on a Massive Scale)
All of this activity requires coordination among highly loyal followers, the kind of coordination that the Alt-right’s alternative media machines and crony capitalists’ connections can accomplish. And it requires the kind of loyal followers who know what Donald Trump will do for them when in power regardless of what he says to get there.
Does all this seem too incredible to believe?
Good! We should all be skeptical about what we read on the internet and what messages issue from the halls of power. So in keeping with my Data Drive Viewpoints theme, let’s conduct a rigorous, scientific style thought experiment to test my hypothesis.
The hypothesis is: Donald Trump is the leader of an American fascist movement.
The goal of experimental methods is to disprove the hypothesis by proving the opposite to be true. This thought experiment must therefore prove the opposite by showing that Trump does not do what fascist dictators do. Here there is space for readers to pick their most important markers of fascist dictators. There are many such lists to help you choose fascist characteristics. Select the characteristics most convincing to you and state them as their opposite. Wikipedia offers helpful lists under their definition of fascism page. So for example, characteristic on one of the list, entry #4 reads:
#4. Anti-equality: Fascism loathes the principles of economic equality and disdains equality between immigrant and citizen. Some forms of fascism extend the fight against equality into other areas: Gender, sexual, minority or religious rights, for example.
To state this in its positive form, the null hypothesis is: Donald Trump and his administration will:
- Assure all immigrants are afforded the same rights and due process as U.S. citizens
- Respect and enforce the civil rights of members of LGBT community
- Respect and enforce the civil rights of ethnic and racial minorities
- Guarantee freedom of religion and civil liberty for all religious groups, including Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities in America.
We can now count up all the qualifying future incidences where this proves true or false. Let’s try one more example from a different list of fascist characteristics. This list contains the following point:
“Disagreement Is Treason” – Fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action, as well as out of fear that such analysis will expose the contradictions embodied in a syncretistic faith.
[Note: The word syncretistic used here means the merging of different ideological strains to assert an underlying unity that may or may not exist.]
The null hypothesis to prove might read:
Donald Trump and his administration will: Encourage intellectual discourse from a diverse variety of stake holders to critically examine and analyze legislative and policy options best suited for the common good.
Donald Trump and his supporters will: Express appreciation for those who may disagree with him).
The point here is to keep looking for signs that President Trump, his administration and supporters are not acting like fascists. Be as objective as possible and take a fairly large sample over the next several months. Once you have your own results you can decide for yourself if my hypothesis is true.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
“World War III will be a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” – Marshall McLahun
I noticed it during the 2016 election. My Twitter and Facebook accounts were awash in anti-Hillary comments. Many comments seemed to piggy-back on my own reservations about her. Other comments were wildly inaccurate and mean-spirited.
I was a Bernie supporter and not happy with the way the DNC and Democratic leadership conducted the primaries. Still, Hillary Clinton was clearly a normal candidate while, in my view, Donald Trump was not normal on many levels. I could never be persuaded to vote for Donald Trump.
When anti-Hillary messages mirrored my concerns I sometimes “liked” the comments or added my own in support of my views. When outrageously false anti-Hillary claims were posted I mostly ignored them, but sometimes took issue. This would often lead to a running debate with some implacable troll on social media. I debated them, not to change their minds (impossible), but to make sure others reading these posts would be exposed to a more reasonable set of facts and opinions.
During these social media debates I noticed a lot of others respondents chiming in with “likes” or retweets opposing my views. The longer I pressed the debate, the greater the number of these mostly silent opposition supporters grew Sometimes as many as 20 or 30 different respondents would like, share or retweet my opponent’s posts, even days after the conversation ended. Some of these follow-on’s appeared to bolster randomly stupid or meaningless statements made by the Hillary hater.
That’s when I realized something unusual was happening. My assumption was that all these respondents were part of a coordinated system of trolls. I resisted the feeling that I was in the minority, because my independent research confirmed that I held majority views. But I did get the feeling that somehow I was talking to myself.
Suddenly, after the election, all these feverish Twitter and Facebook respondents disappeared. Did you also notice that?
Only now, through my curiosity and continuing review of articles on internet propaganda, am I beginning to realize the full horror of what I experienced during the election. I was under a sophisticated psychological attack.
Propaganda as we commonly think of it today involves what spies call “active measure” used to demoralize or destabilize civilian populations in times of war. Dropping fliers from airplanes, broadcasting news on Radio Free Europe, writing op-ed pieces under pseudonyms or stealing classified documents and releasing them publicly to embarrass adversaries are examples that come to mine. More recent examples include false flag attacks or leaking fake information that appears to be damaging but then proving it is wrong when your opponent tries to use it against you. This technique damages the credibility of your opposition instead.
The Russian connection to the DNC email hacks and subsequent Wikileaks publication appears to be the next generation of “active measures” propaganda. Gallons of ink have been used exploring these events to prove that Russia interferred in our elections. And they did. This is all well and good. but at its root the only thing new about this sort of propaganda is the sophisticated hacking used to steal the documents. Otherwise, it is old style propaganda. Media attention to it only serves as a distraction to the whole new world of electronic propaganda unleashed on us during the election. These are new, covertly developed military grade techniques never used on this scale before a few years ago (in the BREXIT, Vote Leave Campaign, Read the first article in the bibliography below.).
COGNITIVE WARFARE: Cognitive warfare is a toolbox of cyber propaganda techniques that both models mass populations and profiles individuals to change their beliefs or attitudes. It has many aspects and methods that utilize super-computers, massive databases and sophisticated computer algorithms to weaponize information gathered from our digital footprints to use against us. Some techniques model and manipulate whole societies to bring about social change while other techniques profile and manipulate individuals or groups to alter a person’s attitudes and behavior. These methods go by names such as Bio-psycho-social profiling, Recoding (of mass consciousness), Strategic drowning (of mainstream media content, for example), micro-targeted propaganda, etc. These propaganda techniques can be highly effective and operate on an emotional level without our specific awareness.
So where to begin? The amount of information needed to fully explain the new propaganda is way beyond the scope of this blog post. It is honestly beyond the scope of my own understanding at this point as well. This article can only serve as an introduction to the topic. At the conclusion I will point you to several lengthy articles that go into more detail.
ALGORITHMS: To understand the basics of cognitive warfare methods we must start with computer algorithms. These are sets of computer code instructions that allow a computer to analyze huge amounts of data and automatically make complex decisions for further action based on their continuous analysis. Algorithms can be simple or mind-bendingly complex, as their use in modern day financial trading illustrates. In the area of financial investments algorithms monitor the markets and social media sites (like Twitter, to see what’s trending) and then make split-second decisions on buying and selling stocks. It is estimated that over 70% of all stock trades are computer generated transactions.
But algorithms are ubiquitous in social media as well. From Google’s search engine to Twitter’s suggestions as to who to follow, algorithms have become our window on the world. As such they have an enormous impact on our outlook. Each of us who searches a term on Google may receive different information in a different order, depending on our digital footprint on the internet. This impacts our thinking. Robert Epstein, of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology says,”.. these personalized results impact our opinions and behavioral patterns without our awareness.” Of Google he writes, “We are talking about the most powerful mind-control machine ever invented in the history of the human race. And people don’t even notice it.”
There is much more we need to know about these algorithms running in the background of the cyber world, but for our purposes here it is sufficient to know that a knowledge of them and how to manipulate and exploit them is the basis on which cognitive warfare operates.
BIO-PSYCHO-SOCIAL PROFILING: When I type “Daily Record” into my iPhone search, my local newspaper site come up. Years ago this wasn’t the case. I would get a newspaper with that name in Scotland. We don’t think much about the convenience built into our media systems that allows computers to make assumptions about us. These assumptions are based on our digital profile, where we live, where we are presently located, what we have looked up in the past and other such personal information kept in a database about us somewhere. This is the friendly face of social profiling.
Advances in data storage and retrieval systems, sophisticated algorithms, and methods to analyze and manage massive amounts of data allow media platforms to develop comprehensive profiles on us. This allows them to deliver the content we most want to see. Formerly, the level of detail was based on some grouping we fit into, but increasingly it is based on who we are as individuals. This has been a boon to commercial marketing but it has a very powerful dark side as well.
In the case of Facebook profiles, for example, scientists found that profiles can be correlated across millions of people to produce remarkably accurate individual profiles. When results are combined with data generated by the “like” button people click on approve certain content, the individual profile gets ever more perfect. With just 150 “likes” our profile can predict personality better than our own spouses can, and with 300 likes it knows a person better they know themselves.
Of this profiling data, Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a Swiss mathematician, said, “People just don’t understand the power of this data and how it can be used against them.” This level of understand our personality allows those in control of our profiles to send micro-targeted messages to us that subtlety manipulate our feelings and the association with which our emotions are evoked. For example, if a person is on the fence over how to vote in an election, the people behind the propaganda machines know this about you and can custom tailor messages to that will influence you to vote one way or the other. This technique is called micro-targeted propaganda. There is evidence that this type of propaganda was used in the 2016 election to help elect Donald Trump.
STRATEGIC DROWNING: This is another tool in the Cognitive Warfare arsenal used to influence public discourse and alter our mass consciousness. While bio-psycho-social profiling targets individuals, this technique targets certain segments of the population or even the whole population at once. The idea behind this technique it to flood the cyber-media network with specific alternative messages that drown out conventional news and information. It exploits the algorithms used by media platforms that bring desired content to us. So, for example, if you type “Jews are” into Google search, it will return answers like, “Why do people hate Jews” I just did the experiment as I write this and the picture below shows the top results.
Clearly these are unexpected results for most people who might enter the search terms. (Try it yourself, and don’t be surprised if your results differ from mine based on your profile.) The result over-represent hate groups and the proliferation of these results are the work of nefarious operators who flood the “media ecosystem.”
Cyber media would normally be dominated by conventional information sources such as The New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC etc., but these sources are swamped with hundreds of thousands of links from much smaller alternative information sites. These links to alternative information are intended to exploit the structure of Google secret algorithms to bring these articles to the top of the search results. This has a psychological impact on us personally and gives a false impression about public consensus in America. It blurs the question as to what is really true.
The operational structure for strategic drowning includes a coordinated network of alternative information websites, referred to as micro-propaganda machines, or MPM’s. Each MPM controls a vast warehouse of “bots” which are bogus Facebook and Twitter accounts, etc. These fake accounts exist by the hundreds of thousands. Some are always active to drive public dialogue while some are “sleeper bots.” These are held in reserve and triggered en mass by propagandists to overwhelm news cycles or cover up information unfavorable to their goals. It is also used to create trends and alter public discourse, or change public attitudes.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Jonathan Albright is an assistant professor of communications at Elon University in North Carolina. He analyzed the activity of these MPM’s during the 2016 election and was able to create “spatial map” of that activity. The picture created shows the relative dominance of traditional information sources in the media ecosystem, as he calls it, and the impact on that system by MPM’s during the election. The red nodes are alternative information (propaganda) websites and the red lines radiating from them are links or activity of these sites.
In effect, what you see here is the cognitive warfare battlefield during the last election. This new propaganda arms race is between pro-democracy advocates and their adversaries. It is a war still being waged here and in other Western democracies. It is being waged by both foreign attackers and billionaire Western oligarchs who share converging interests. It is being waged by Russia, who just announced the creation of a new branch of their military calling them “information warfare troops”.
“… Russians have moved into an offensive posture that threatens the very international order.” said Ben Rhodes of the Obama Administration last year.
The propaganda war is also being waged by billionaire controlled corporations specializing in this field, companies like Cambridge Analytica. This is essentially a propaganda company featuring Steve Bannon on its board of directors.
This outline of Cognitive Warfare attacks we were subjected to, and are still experiencing as an attack on our journalism institutions, helps make sense of my social media experiences during the election. I see now how I was being stroked, on one hand (micro-targeted), to fan my discontent with Hillary while being made to feel my views were in the minority (strategic drowning) on the other hand. I know now that many of the trolls I encountered were really computer generated cyberbots. All this has caused be to completely rethink my own on-line presence.
I have presented a great deal of information here and a number of quotes and facts without specific attribution. That is because virtually all of the quotes and many of the fact are from the remarkable work of Carole Cadwalladr, published by The Guardian in London. I have vetted her information by going to her original source and found them to be accurate. If you have stayed with me to this point, I urge you to read Ms. Cadwalladr’s two article for even more background information. She also outlines the connections between the companies providing propaganda services for the wealthy ideologues funding them and the Trump administration.
Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage Carole Cadwalladr, 26 February, 2017
Google, democracy and the truth about internet search https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/04/google-democracy-truth-internet-search-facebook Carole Cadwalladr, 4 December, 2016
The #Election2016 Micro-Propaganda Machine https://medium.com/@d1gi/the-election2016-micro-propaganda-machine-383449cc1fba#.gl16j8e9c Jonathan Albright, 18 November, 2016
And for further reading from my blog on algorithms,
Algorithms Hidden Impact on How We Think http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2017/02/algorithms-hidden-impact-on-how-we-think.html?spref=tw …
Brian T. Lynch, 9 February, 2016
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
I have had to work with people like Donald Trump before. Not folks as materially successful of course, but just as wily, and with very similar personalities. It was my job to extract accurate information from them to assess whether or not their children were at risk of harm. There was always a lot at stake, so simply taking them at face value was out of the question. These interviews were among the most difficult and exhausting of my career. It was like engaging in an emotional game of three-dimensional chess. Extracting even the most innocuous facts was challenging. The experiences, however, had the effect of inoculating me from the expert emotional manipulations that are their genius.
Donald Trump spoke directly to the emotions of many voters during his campaign. It was a campaign like no other, but I recognized him right away. He constructed an elaborate emotional tableau, devoid of factual distractions, that resonated with a frustrated, angry electorate. People read into him whatever they believed. Other candidates and the beltway press tried but could not penetrate his invisible cloak with facts, logic or reason. His burgeoning movement of follower would not be dissuaded. Eventually, enough people aligned their feelings about him with the well crafted self-portrait he created through his speeches. He got just enough votes in just the right places to win the Presidency.
So here we are, a people habituated to the ubiquitous marketing assaults we succumb to every day. We were unprepared to see through the marketing cloud of Mr. Trump and now we have a new President about who we really know very little.
But beware! His disdain for the press, verbal assaults on journalists and his thank-you rally’s around the country are not short lived anomalies. They are harbingers of how he will maintain his power. The deflection of facts and the creation of strong, emotionally evocative impressions is how he operates.
Here is one way to help visualize what is happening. People like Donald Trump have the ability to do with language what a scrim does on a theatrical stage. A scrim is a special type of fabric that can be translucent, transparent, or opaque depending on how stage lights are directed. You can project any image you want on the front of it and it will mask everything from view behind it. When you only light the objects behind it, the scrim disappears like a pane of glass.
Donald Trump created a campaign, and is now building a Presidency behind a giant scrim. When he takes office we will only see what he chooses to project or to reveal. He will continue to divide us and play our emotions like the maestro that he is. My fear is that our only hope of revealing what he is up to will be either by taking control of the lighting board or storming the stage.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
If anyone seriously thought that Donald Trump was running for President out of high mindedness, you can give it up now. He was running to elevate his brand and market the Presidency for personal gain.
Well, he just spent months on the campaign trail wearing a red cap with his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” on it. It became part of his campaign swag.
Every president in history, and any future president, would retire that cap and donate it to the Smithsonian Museum or feature it in their future presidential library. Not this guy. He fully intends to market the image and make a killing off of it. Expect to see some version of it for retail next Christmas while Donald Trump is sipping brandy in one of his Presidential palaces. Billionaires!
How much does this true-spirit-of-Christmas ornament go for this year?
It’s yours for just $149 dollars and no sense! This is the sort of change I never expected, the selling of the Presidency by the President-elect himself.
More than 45 million people, or 14.5% of all Americans, lived below the poverty line last year. I’m certain none of them can afford this overpriced campaign schlock. Perhaps the proceeds for this sale are going to fund food pantries or house the homeless over the holiday season? Well, there is nothing mentioned in the advertising to suggest that.
Maybe this isn’t really being marketed by President-elect Donald Trump. Maybe his business isn’t really financially benefiting. Could it be that some other enterprising fool is cleaning up on his political success?
I thought of that, so I checked. According to the internet advertisement, the link to buy the “classic red MAGA hat” is DonaldTrump.com. It’s his Trump store. To be sure there wasn’t a mistake, I went to the Whois.com website and confirmed that the domain name is registered to THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION (see below).
So there it is! Get yours America! (If you can afford it.) Is this supposed to be our new normal? Do we really have a President who is a businessman for himself first and President for the people last?
This Christmas you should grab a bottle of Trump wine and drown your sorrows, because no one at the highest reaches of government will be marketing you cares away.