Michael Tracy: How the Censors Won

Journalist Michael Tracy writes How the Censors Won.

Thomas Rid testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017

On March 30, 2017, the Senate Intelligence Committee convened one of what would become an endless series of exhaustive hearings on “Russian interference in the 2016 election.” Media, cultural, and political elites — bewildered and angry — were desperate to get to the bottom of how a former beauty pageant proprietor and reality TV show host could have possibly just won the presidency.

Understandably dissatisfied with explanations that would require any kind of reckoning with their own seismic faults, politicians and journalists poured an enormous amount of resources into directing blame for the ascendance of Donald Trump at nefarious external actors, with Russia and its devious online trolling initiatives suddenly catapulted to public enemy no. 1.

The star witness in that 2017 hearing, appearing right alongside former National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander, was Thomas Rid. Impressively presented by C-SPAN as a “War Studies Professor” at King’s College London, Rid made a passionate case that the US body politic had been woefully unprepared to contend with an onslaught of what he called “the dark art of disinformation.” Rid’s mission was to alert the Senate and the Nation as a whole to just how dire a threat this new breed of “disinformation” posed.

Rid placed particular emphasis on the problem of “unwitting agents” getting duped into advancing the geopolitical objectives of hostile foreign states, in this case Russia, by aiding in the propagation of their “disinformation” offensives. “Three types of unwitting agents stand out,” he intoned, remarking on the various culprits for the polluted political atmosphere which purportedly enabled Trump’s rise. “WikiLeaks, Twitter, […] and over-eager journalists aggressively covering the political leaks while neglecting or ignoring their provenance,” he charged.

Later, in his scarily-titled book Active Measures, Rid would elaborate at length on the Journalists Doing Russia’s Bidding theme — lamenting that in the heady days of the 2016 presidential campaign, “reporters, worn down by breakneck news cycles, became more receptive to covering leaked, compromising material of questionable provenance.” Taken for granted by Rid was that the allegedly “questionable provenance” of these materials ought to have been journalists’ paramount consideration, as opposed to whether the materials were 1) authentic (which they were) and 2) shed light on the secret behavior of the country’s most powerful political factions (which they did).

In any event, the three entities that Rid singled out for condemnation in the testimony — WikiLeaks, Twitter, and “over-eager journalists” — either capitulated to varying degrees in the ensuing years to his demands, or were otherwise neutralized. The founder of WikiLeaks was prosecuted by the US government and currently languishes in UK prison, which removed one of the central threats that so troubled Rid. Twitter, whose founder once espoused a relatively maximalist conception of free speech (at least compared to other social media companies) drastically changed its philosophy on such issues — embarking on repeat banning sprees, suppressing newsworthy materials falsely classified as “Russian disinformation” just weeks before the 2020 election, and eventually purging the sitting president from the platform.

Even more excitingly for Rid, elite journalists’ attitude toward the alleged menace of “disinformation” became increasingly indistinguishable from his own. In the years since that 2017 testimony, it was more and more the journalists themselves who led the charge in demanding censorship to curtail supposed “disinformation,” especially if they could somehow speciously link such “disinformation” to “harassment” and/or “violence.”

And the “over-eagerness” of journalists to report newsworthy information that Rid had condemned was replaced by journalists instead harboring extreme paranoia about being accused of aiding scary foreign influence campaigns — and thereby turning into “unwitting agents” of those scary foreigners. That created a new industry-wide taboo against doing anything which may be perceived as assisting in the dissemination of unjustly “hacked” materials, even if those materials are authentic and expose the malfeasant conduct of powerful officials. Thus, in the years since Rid’s testimony, journalists converted into the most vocal advocates for the suppression of online political speech and the constriction of the bounds of acceptable political discourse — in large part to counteract the claimed threat of “disinformation.” Rid had gotten exactly what he wanted.

So he was perfectly justified in expressing pleasure this week upon the publication of the latest Intelligence Community Assessment regarding “foreign threats” during the 2020 election. Rid gushingly proclaimed the document “remarkable” and indicated how “impressed” he was by it, with his pleasure extending to heaping praise on Facebook for having been “particularly proactive” in purging Extremely Dangerous political content from the internet. “Twitter also delivered,” Rid added.

The most telling part of the “Intelligence Community Assessment” was its contention that a key tactic of Russia is “exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US.” Variations on this Rid-adjacent theme have frequently percolated in elite discussions of the horrors of “Russian interference” since 2016: the idea that Russia seeks to gain world domination by inflaming domestic divisions in the US and undermining confidence in US institutions, and so journalism which unduly inflames domestic divisions and/or undermines confidence in institutions ipso facto helps Russia. But weirdly, you’ll notice, this decree never seems to apply to by far the most inflammatory purveyors of division in the country, that being mainline corporate media. It’s their foundational business model. Also left out of the equation is whether these vaunted institutions deserve confidence in the first place, or if lacking confidence in them is in fact the only rational response to their deceptions and corruptions.

Those who are expelled from social media platforms tend to be political actors who operate outside the ambit of hegemonic left/liberal corporate consensus, rendering them susceptible to marginalization per the framework popularized by Rid and the Intelligence Community he holds in such high esteem. Which demonstrates the ultimate function this framework: to limit and constrict the range of acceptable political opinion in the US, because deviation from the acceptable range invites accusations that one is “furthering the cause of Russia” (as Rid put it in the 2017 testimony). And during the Trump years, “furthering the cause of Russia” was seen as tantamount to abetting Trump and thereby fascism, which as you might imagine is not the greatest thing for journalists’ career prospects.

After the publication of the Assessment this week, there were momentary flutters of an attempt by corporate media acolytes to hype a zombie Russiagate revival — it was alleged in the Assessment that Russia had technically “interfered” again — but this attempt quickly fizzled. Even journalists groping for a titillating storyline to fill the Trump-sized hole in the media landscape can evidently recognize that this sequel was never going to be as good as the original. And either way, why bother focusing too much on whatever “interference” may or may not have occurred during the 2020 election, if it ultimately did not impede the achievement of the outcome that cultural and political elites so viscerally craved — the removal of Trump.

The comparatively muted reaction to the Assessment provides further evidence that “disinformation” and “interference” are only regarded as existentially dangerous by political and media elites if it can be causally tied to what they regard as a bad political outcome — such as the election of Trump. Imagine if just 42,918 votes in three states had been shifted from Joe Biden to Trump in the 2020 election, and Trump had won Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin and thus another term in the White House. Does anyone with basic memory-recall facilities of the past several years doubt for one second that even the slightest indications of “Russian interference” would’ve been frantically hyped again as a causal explanation for Trump’s victory? But with Trump out of the picture, the narrative has ceased to perform the function it served during the 2016-2020 period. So the narrative propagators can just claim victory and move on.

In other words, Rid is entitled to celebrate his role in fostering what is now a far more stringently regulated and policed online information ecosystem. He — the censor — won.

POSTSCRIPT: There’s thematic continuity between Rid’s successful crusade to bludgeon US political and media culture into submission, and the latest round of anti-Substack hysteria that is now reaching a fever pitch among embittered and resentful journalists. Though Rid isn’t expressly calling for the destruction of Substack like so many others are, he was a critical figure in inculcating the key premises that underly this escalating drive for censorship — excessively obtrusive “content moderation,” de-platforming, and other speech-suppression initiatives in the name of combatting “disinformation.” For those interested, I was on Tucker Carlson’s show last night discussing the rage-fueled journalist-led drive to destroy Substack.

Liberty Blitzkrieg: Chinagate Is the New Russiagate

Michael Krieger at Liberty Blitzkrieg writes about the current nonsense of blaming China for the US (and other countries’) lack of preparedness and the reasons behind it (dodging responsibility for incompetence by local, state, and federal politicians and bureaucrats, coupled with the need to extend the national security state and the flow of spice money). Who didn’t see China lockdown a few hundred million people and think, “Whoa, this looks serious” — apparently politicians. They must have just thought, “I wish I could do that.” Chinagate Is the New Russiagate.

I’ve become convinced the next major event that’ll be used to further centralize power and escalate domestic authoritarianism will center around U.S.-China tensions. We haven’t witnessed this “event” yet, but there’s a good chance it’ll occur within the next year or two. Currently, the front runner appears to be a major aggressive move by China into Hong Kong, but it could be anything really. Taiwan, the South China Sea, currency, economic or cyber warfare; the flash points are numerous and growing by the day. Something is going to snap and when it does we better be prepared to not act like mindless imbeciles for the fourth time this century.

When that day arrives, and it’s likely not too far off, certain factions will try to sell you on the monstrous idea that we must become more like China to defeat China. We’ll be told we need more centralization, more authoritarianism, and less freedom and civil liberties or China will win. Such talk is nonsense and the wise way to respond is to reject the worst aspects of the Chinese system and head the other way.

– From my 2019 piece: Two Paths Forward with China – The Good and The Bad

As the clownish farce that is Russiagate slinks back into the psyop dumpster from which it emerged, an even more destructive narrative has metastasized following the U.S. government’s incompetent response to covid-19.

It was clear to me from the start that Russiagate was a nonsensical narrative wildly embraced by a variety of powerful people in the wake of Trump’s election merely to serve their own ends. For establishment Democrats, it was a way to pretend Hillary Clinton didn’t actually lose because she was a wretched status quo candidate with a destructive track record, but she lost due to “foreign meddling.” This allowed those involved in her campaign to deflect blame, but it also short-circuited any discussion of the merits of populism and widespread voter dissatisfaction (within both parties) percolating throughout the land. It was a fairytale invented by people intentionally putting their heads in the sand in order to avoid confrontation with political reality and to keep their cushy gravy-train of entrenched corruption going.

Russiagate was likewise embraced by the national security state (imperial apparatus) for similar reasons. Like establishment Democrats, the national security state also wanted to prevent the narrative that the status quo was rejected in the 2016 election from spreading. It was incentivized to pretend Hillary’s loss was the result of gullible Americans being duped by crafty Russians in order to manufacture the idea that U.S. society was healthy and normal if not for some external enemy.

Another primary driver for the national security state was to punish Russia for acting like a sovereign state as opposed to a colony of U.S. empire in recent years. Russia has been an increasingly serious thorn in the side of unipolarism advocates over the past decade by performing acts such as buying gold, providing safe harbor for Edward Snowden, and thwarting the dreams of regime change in Syria. Such acts could not go unpunished.

So Russiagate served its purpose. It wasted our time for much of Trump’s first term and it helped prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination. Now we get Chinagate.

When the premier empire on the planet starts blaming external enemies for its internal problems, you know it’s almost always an excuse to let your own elites off the hook and further erode civil liberties. While it appears the novel coronavirus covid-19 did in fact come from China, and China tried to discourage other countries from taking decisive action in the early days, our internal political actors blaming China for their own lack of preparation and timely reaction is patently ridiculous.

If Stacy and myself were able to see the situation clearly and respond early, why couldn’t our government? This isn’t rocket science. The Chinese were acting as if the world had ended in cities across the country and we’re supposed to believe U.S. leaders simply listened to what the CCP was saying as opposed to what they were doing? How does that make any sense?

It makes even less sense considering the Trump administration has been in an explicit cold war with China for almost two years. This concept that the American national security state just took China’s word for what was going on in the early days is preposterous. So what’s going on here? Similar to Russiagate, the increased focus on directing our ten minutes of hate at the Chinese provides cover for the elites, but Chinagate is far more dangerous because the narrative will prove far more convincing for many Americans…(continues)

Click here to continue reading at Liberty Blitzkrieg.

GrayZone: American in Denial – Interview on Russiagate Delusion

The Grayzone has video and a transcript of Aaron Maté interviewing Dr. Gabor Maté – a physician and mental health expert – on how so many people were caught up in the delusion of a conspiracy with Russia, following Trump’s election.


AARON MATÉ: So we’ve just been through this two-year ordeal with Russiagate. It’s in a new phase now with Robert Mueller rejecting the outcome that so many were expecting, that there would be a Trump-Russia conspiracy. Your sense of how this whole thing has gone?

GABOR MATÉ: What’s interesting is that in the aftermath of the Mueller thunderbolt of no proof of collusion, there were articles about how people are disappointed about this finding.

Now, disappointment means that you’re expecting something and you wanted something to happen, and it didn’t happen. So that means that some people wanted Mueller to find evidence of collusion, which means that emotionally they were invested in it. It wasn’t just that they wanted to know the truth. They actually wanted the truth to look a certain way. And wherever we want the truth to look a certain way, there’s some reason that has to do with their own emotional needs and not just with the concern for reality.

And in politics in general, we think that people make decisions on intellectual grounds based on facts and beliefs. Very often, actually, people’s dynamics are driven by emotional forces that they’re not even aware of in themselves. And I, really, as I observed this whole Russiagate phenomenon from the beginning, it really seemed to me that there was a lot of emotionality in it that had little to do with the actual facts of the case.

There is no question that for a lot of people in this country, the election of Trump was a traumatic event. Now, when a trauma reaction happens, which is to say you’re hurt and you’re pained and you’re confused and you’re scared and you’re bewildered, there’s basically two things you can do about it. One is you can own that I’m pained and I’m hurt and I’m bewildered and I’m really scared. And then try and look at what happened to bring me to that situation.

Or you can instead of dealing with those emotions come up with some kind of explanation that makes me feel better about them. So that I’ve got this pain. I’ve got this bewilderment. I’ve got this fear. So what I’m looking at, what does it say about American society that a man like this could even run for office, let alone be elected?

What does it say about American society that so many people are actually enrolled in believing that this man could be any kind of a savior? What does that say about the divisions and the conflicts and the contradictions and the genuine problems in this culture? And how do we address those issues?

You can look at that. Or you can say there must be a devil somewhere behind all this, and that devil is a foreign power, and his name is Putin, and his country is Russia. Now you’ve got a simple explanation that doesn’t invite you or necessitate that you explore your own pain and your own fear and your own trauma.

So I really believe that really this Russiagate narrative was, on the part of a lot of people, a sign of genuine upset at something genuinely upsetting. But rather than dealing with the upset, it was an easier way to in a sense draw off the energy of it in to some kind of a believable and comforting narrative. It’s much more comforting to believe that some enemy is doing this to us than to look at what does it say about us as a society…

Read the transcript here.

(H/t ZeroHedge)