Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone has written perhaps the best summary of how absurd political discourse in the U.S. has become - as nonconforming opinions are now "blacklisted" over the manufactured specter of "red dawn" Putin puppets behind just about controversial topic.
"One of the first rules of a shunning campaign is that it doesn't have to make sense," Taibbi writes. "It just has to be what everyone's saying. Since most Americans went to high school, we tend to be instinctively familiar with the concept."
The crazy inverse logic of the new national blacklist was on full display after special prosecutor Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian "troll farm" operatives in February. In the wake of this foreign meddling charge, CNN reporter Drew Griffin banged on the door of an elderly female Trump supporter named Florine Goldfarb and accused her of being a Russia-collaborator. -Rolling Stone
Goldfarb attended a pro-Trump rally allegedly promoted over Facebook by "Russian trolls," despite no Russians having attended, nor any pro-Russia topics discussed. As Taibbi writes "They were plain, ordinary, Floridian Trump supporters – idiots, maybe, but not traitors."
While CNN's treatment of Goldfarb is a prime example of Russophobia in action, its nebulous underpinnings are perhaps the most frightening aspect of the propaganda campaign which has gone completely off the rails.
Since Trump's election, we've been told Putin was all or partly behind the lot of it: the Catalan independence movement, the Sanders campaign, Brexit, Jill Stein's Green Party run, Black Lives Matter, the resignations of intra-party Trump critics Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, Sean Hannity's broadcasts, and, of course, the election of Trump himself.
We've jumped straight past debating the efficacy of democracy to just reflexively identifying most anti-establishment sentiment as illegitimate, treasonous, and foreign in nature. -Rolling Stone
As Taibbi notes, feeding the ongoing Russiaphobia is a propaganda website run by The Alliance for Securing Democracy called Hamilton 68 - a website which claims to track 600 Twitter accounts which they say have a "relationship to Russia-sponsored influence." It's impossible to verify their claims, as the group does not disclose their methodology - yet anti-Trump politicians and pundits alike repeat its claims uncritically. On their advisory council are NeverTrumpers Bill Kristol and David Kramer - the guy John McCain sent to London to meet with Christopher Steele and bring back the discredited Trump-Russia dossier.
Less than a year ago, Bill Kristol joined with ex-CIA officials, Marco Rubio's top aide & a few Dem hawks, and created a new group purporting to track Russian Twitter activity based on secret designations. It now dominates every headline, every pronouncement uncritically accepted https://t.co/Lo3Nrt5y1b— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 19, 2018
"An offshoot of the German Marshall Fund, the site represents an unpleasantly unsurprising union of neoconservative Iraq war cheerleaders like Bill Kristol and Beltway Democrats like would-be Clinton CIA chief Michael Morell," writes Taibbi.
Hook, Line, Sinker
With "Hamilton 68" at the media's disposal to justify the ever-rabid claims of Kremlin influence, the entire Russian excuse for Hillary Clinton's loss has metastasized into absurd theatre. "More and more often now, the site's pronouncements turn into front-page headlines," notes Taibbi - such as the #Releasethememo hashtag which went viral prior to the release of "FISA memo" authored by the House Intel Committee majority.
When the dashboard declared that Nunes' #Releasethememo campaign had become the "top-trending hashtag" among Russian twitter accounts, a gaggle of press outlets and politicians rushed to point out that Nunes was doing the work of the enemy. (Even Rolling Stone got into the act, accusing Nunes of working "in concert with Russian propagandists"). -Rolling Stone
Let that sink in. The FBI placed two anti-Trump / pro-Clinton agents in charge of both exonerating Hillary Clinton and investigating Donald Trump. In fact, the entire top-brass of the FBI was clearly of the same political opinions, as they all worked together to exonerate Clinton and launch a witch hunt against Trump. When House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes summarized the FBI's abuse of the FISA court by using an unverified dossier to obtain a spy warrant (which used intel from Kremlin officials), people began calling Nunes a Russian agent!
"Is it possible that we actually have a Russian agent running the House Intel Committee on the Republican side?" posited MSNBC anchor John Heilmann in reference to Nunes.
Of course, after news quietly broke that #Releasethememo had been sent viral by domestic Republicans, even one of the creators of Hamilton 68 began to downplay the story.
It didn't matter, because Hamilton 68 had by then moved on to its next set of headlines. The group that has seen Russians behind both left and right political causes, behind the Roy Moore Alabama Senate campaign and the decision of California Democrats to deny their endorsement to Dianne Feinstein, was soon a main source for stories about Russians playing havoc with the Parkland shooting in Florida.
The Russians, Hamilton 68 now said, were sowing discord on both sides of the gun control debate by pushing contradictory hashtags like #guncontrolnow and #NRA. -Rolling Stone
Twisting the narrative
Between an announcement by Deputy Attorney General that the Russian influence campaign had zero impact on the election, and comments by New Yorker journalist Adrien Chen, who did a deep dig on said "troll farm" in 2015, significant damage has been done to the official story.
Tried to tamp down the troll farm panic on @chrislhayes show last night. It's 90 people with a shaky grasp of English and a rudimentary understanding of U.S. politics shitposting on Facebook. https://t.co/Y93er6ZMJg— Adrian Chen (@AdrianChen) February 20, 2018
In order to save face since nobody is buying the unraveling narratives of Russian election influence and collusion with the Trump campaign, the media has subtly shifted their reporting from "Russian election influence" to that of sowing general discord among Americans - a conclusion reached by Facebook VP of advertising Rob Goldman in a series of tweets fired off after Special Counsel Robert Mueller's laughable indictment of 13 Russians.
The main goal of the Russian propaganda and misinformation effort is to divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us. It has stoked fear and hatred amongst Americans. It is working incredibly well. We are quite divided as a nation.— Rob Goldman (@robjective) February 17, 2018
The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election. We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Tump and the election. https://t.co/2dL8Kh0hof— Rob Goldman (@robjective) February 17, 2018
Taibbi points out that the MSM is still using the Hamilton 68 "dashboard" to base their ongoing claims of Russian influence - sans the "collusion" and "election influence" memes they've been shoving down our throats for nearly two years.
The New York Times put a piece about Russia's Parkland meddling on page A1, the choicest real estate in American journalism, and outlets like Wired, Newsweek, Vanity Fair and countless others trumpeted the same story. Even Fox News, usually a Russiagate doubter, got in the act, citing Hamilton 68 to say: "Russian bots aren't pro-Republican or Pro-Democrat. They're just anti-American." Fox wrote the story in a way that used the Hamilton 68 data to make it seem like the Russians didn't have an exclusive preference for Donald Trump.
And perhaps the most salient point in the article:
But the defense of Trump was really a distraction. The palmed card in this propaganda trick was the mere fact that right-wing media, too, were now accepting the core principle of projects like Hamilton 68: that a foreign enemy lurks everywhere in our midst, and the source of political discontent in this country comes not from within, but from without. -Rolling Stone
So here we are - with American mainstream Russophobia having "progressed to the point where an anti-Russian documentary won the Oscar and host Jimmy Kimmel proudly declared, "At least we know Putin isn't rigging this competition!"
From Trump to Bernie Sanders to Brexit to Catalonia, voter repudiation of the status quo was the story of the day. The sense of panic among political elites was palpable. The possibility that voters might decide to break up the EU, or put a Trump, Corbyn, or Sanders into power, led to a spate of "Do we have too much democracy?" essays by prominent think tankers and national press figures.
Two years later, the narrative has completely shifted. By an extraordinary coincidence, virtually all the "anti-system" movements and candidates that so terrified the political establishment two years ago have since been identified as covert or overt Russian destabilization initiatives, puppeteered from afar by the diabolical anti-Western dictator, Vladimir von Putin-Evil. -Rolling Stone
Meanwhile, the Hamilton 68 project launched in August 2017, has been accusing Russians of inspiring division and discontent on a wide variety of topics, from police brutality and Black Lives Matter, to the invasion of Iraq, to the expansion of NATO - while "Think-tanks and pundits have increasingly followed suit, demanding that all good patriotic Americans renounce such "Putin-backed" protest movements," writes Taibbi.
And the "Russia did it!" movement is gearing up for the 2020 election - preemptively painting Bernie Sanders as a Putin puppet meant to divide the Democrats.
A major target of this idiocy has been Sanders, who is already being pitched to the public as the Kremlin's next Manchurian Candidate. "When Russia interferes with the 2020 election on behalf of Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders," the Washington Post unironically asked last November, "how will liberals respond?"
Unless you really believe that Bernie Sanders is a Russian agent, it's incredibly suspicious that a major consequence of the #Russiagate mania has been the disappearance of progressive voices from traditionally blue-state media.-Rolling Stone
Taibbi notes that even if the Russian meddling claims are true, "the realness of a foreign threat in no way precludes Americans' ability to make a total cock-up of their response to it," pointing to George W. Bush's rediculous "Homeland Security Advisory System" of color-coded threat levels to let Americans know how afraid to be on any given day.
"For seven lunatic years we toggled back and forth between RED (severe threat) and GREEN (low threat) levels of paranoia, until in 2009 the program was quietly scrapped. By then we'd already blundered into Iraq, destabilized the entire Middle East, helped give birth to ISIS, and sacrificed countless American and Iraqi lives for no good reason at all, thanks in large part to cynical government efforts to hype up public fears of Islam," writes Taibbi.
In a book written by former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, it was revealed that in 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft asked Ridge to raise the threat level right before the presidential election in an effort to guarantee a Bush win.
"There was absolutely no support for that position within our department," Ridge wrote. "None. I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?'"
And who exactly was in charge of the threat level? " Creeps like Ashcroft, wraithlike Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and CIA chief George Tenet. Oh, and then-FBI director Robert Mueller, who also oversaw a sweeping effort to interview thousands of Arabs in America in a program that at the time was compared to our profiling of Japanese-Americans in World War II."
The Hamilton 68 "dashboard," Taibbi writes, almost exactly mirrors Bush's Homeland Security advisory program. It has no real purpose but to provide the public with a constant dose of fear, and is run by the same Neocon war mongers whose policies have more than doubled the national debt, destabilized the Middle East, and led to the mass exodus of Islamic refugees which Europe is currently "enjoying."
In closing, Taibbi notes that while "Sleazeballs like Paul Manafort and Trump are, like Putin himself, capable of anything," and that "We'll find out soon enough what exactly they all got up to together, if anything," - we should be able to admit that others - "like the millions of Americans on both sides of the aisle who voted against status quo politicians two years ago - aren't, and weren't ever, traitors. And any campaign to label them as such is potentially more dangerous than anything, even a Trump presidency."