Everyone wonders where this is going — why the Donald Trump campaign seems more theory than fact.
By what logic did he hold a Tuesday evening rally in Washington state, a place where he has no chance of winning any Electoral College votes? How come he doesn’t have more campaign offices in crucial states, or any states for that matter? Why are his surrogates so laughable? Is he really planning to leverage a new media company on a presidential bid, win or lose? What is his relationship to the ‘alt-right,’ and why is it so happy about his fire-breathing immigration speech last night?
Meanwhile: what are we to make of this strange season, with mysterious threats to US Department of Agriculture offices, Russian hackers rifling through voter registration data, and the CEO of Breitbart News becoming Trump’s campaign CEO? Why does the press keep falling for fake Donald Trump ‘pivots’ such as his ‘immigration policy speech’?
Mika Brezinski spoke to this impression of a Potemkin campaign on Tuesday morning when she let slip her exasperation that the Morning Joe panel was seriously discussing what Trump might be planning to say while ignoring the Republican Party, which Trump has lit on fire.
Aren’t they losing everything right now? Look at their candidate! Look at this conversation! We’re talking about nothing! We’re talking about a guy who means nothing, who says nothing, who has no opinions. We’re talking about a speech, that will probably end up being something that he doesn’t mean. And we’re pretending to try and “translate strategy” out of it. That’s your party! That’s your leader! You have something to lose, by sticking by this? I think, down the line, yes, you do! I do! I don’t know what we’ve talked about, honestly. Nothing!
Rachel Maddow also confessed that night that she had reached the limits of her understanding of Trump as an electoral phenomenon. At this late stage of the campaign, “a candidate’s time is unbelievably precious,” she said, wondering why Trump chose to rent a large arena in Everett instead of, say, Florida or Colorado or Ohio or any other state where he might have a chance of catching up to Clinton. Unable to discern the advantage Trump was looking for, Maddow asked: “why are they spending their candidate’s time and their donors’ money to do this?”
In case you can’t make out the small type: yes, Giuliani’s hat reads “MAKE MEXICO GREAT AGAIN ALSO” pic.twitter.com/lxypF9MVhL
— Rebecca Sinderbrand (@sinderbrand) September 1, 2016
So here’s a frightening hypothesis: what if the intentions of the Trump campaign (and perhaps more importantly, the intentions of people lurking behind the Trump campaign) are no longer specifically about electing a president, but rather about tearing up the civic contract of American politics?
Because if you wanted to undermine the United States by whipping up a very angry, very motivated mob, feeding them disinformation and fringe conspiracy theories in order to create post-November chaos that blurs the line between politics and war in America, then you could do no better than the current trajectory of the Donald Trump campaign.
If you simultaneously wanted to discredit America’s patchwork elections system, you would probably intrude on voter databases (just to show it can be done), especially if your patsy candidate helpfully trashes that system with accusations of fraud in advance. If your objective is to destroy American public confidence in critical infrastructure, then disrupting federal activity related to the food supply is one good way to begin. (I have no proof that is the case and mention the possibility only as speculation.) Even if Trump can’t win, leaks and hacked emails are great ways to hobble a Clinton presidency through a sustained drip of sensational headlines. Then there’s always that helpful wave of armed reactionaries whenever a Democrat is sworn in as president, so if you want to stir up civil strife that will threaten America’s very constitutional structure, this election season and its aftermath will offer many opportunities.
Furthermore, if you wanted all of this to happen — if you even just encouraged some of it from afar, with plausible deniability, via indirect and untraceable influences — you would be practicing ‘Fourth Generation Warfare.’ And you’ll never guess which cast of characters are yuuuje fans of this very concept.
Stop me when this sounds familiar: America should go back to an earlier time, withdraw from the world behind protective walls and barriers, disentangle ourselves from alliances and trade agreements even as we reindustrialize our cities and return to a simpler, ‘golden era’ way of life, when nonwhite people knew their place and foreign degenerates were not everywhere among us with dangerous notions of equality before the law. Also, there should be lots of light railroads for some reason.
Sound like ‘Make America Great Again’? It’s called ‘Retroculture,’ and it’s a key concept in the racist philosophy of paleoconservative William S. Lind, who thinks it would be swell if monarchy made a comeback as a form of government in the 21st Century. In fact, the more you learn about Lind’s views, the more Trump’s outlook seems deeply influenced by his thinking, which has infused the hard conservative right in recent years. As sociologist Dr. James Scaminacci III observed in an interview with Chauncey DeVega this summer,
Trump’s core policies are all consistent with Lind’s writings since 2005. Lind called for a Berlin-style wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, supported the Minutemen militia on the border, likened Latino and Muslim immigrants to invaders that had to be stopped, considered Muslim immigrants an imported cultural disease, and, if good immigrants came in, it was the destructive Black culture that turned them bad, and opposed Wall Street conservatives.
Well before the first Clinton presidency, Lind served on the Pentagon task force that came up with the term ‘Fourth Generation Warfare’ (4GW) to describe the phenomenon we would later come to know as ‘insurgency’ in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the years, however, his doctrine has focused on psychological operations, information warfare, and other nonlethal means as primary weapons of influence and power. “Television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions,” he wrote in the seminal 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article on 4GW.
A historian and writer rather than a general, Lind has also written a novel about a second Civil War in America. His plot involves a tactical nuclear weapon exploding in downtown Atlanta, an act that forces urban black people out into the countryside, where they are coerced to resume sharecropping in the fashion of their ancestors. Lind’s story centers on an all-white enclave that successfully overthrows the US government, restores Victorian values within a segregated Retroculture, and embarks on a 10th Crusade against Islam.
Lind was a close friend of Paul Weyrich, an architect of the religious right who turned to a more radical vision of change in his later years. Eventually co-authoring a book with Lind, Weyrich’s obituary in the LA Times quotes him describing the next phase of American culture conflicts as “a war of ideology, it’s a war of ideas, and it’s a war about our way of life. And it has to be fought with the same intensity, I think, and dedication as you would fight a shooting war.”
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that in addition to becoming quite influential among conservatives, Lind’s 4GW writings have been an inspiration to all sorts of terrorists. His work has allegedly motivated the assassination of British MP Jo Cox just before the Brexit vote, Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine African Americans in prayer at a Charleston, South Carolina AME church last year, Norwegian Anders Breivik’s 2011 bombing and shooting attacks that killed 77 and wounded more than 300, as well as the recent neo-Nazi assaults and stabbings of counter-protesters in Sacramento, California.
Lind doesn’t seem to mind being linked to these events. In fact, Lind proudly claims that he also inspired Osama bin Laden’s September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Rather than preclude him from membership in the conservative movement, this only seems to burnish his reputation on the right. For two decades, Lind’s views on ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘political correctness’ have been metastasizing throughout the conservative movement like a cancer — most notably in a video produced by the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, but also through blogs and social media during the Tea Party era.
These ideas have deeply influenced the alt-right. As Bill Berkowitz reported for the Southern Poverty Law Center all the way back in 2003, Lind’s peculiar anti-Semitic conspiracy theory was already becoming a common trope among the new, internet-enabled generation of racists and haters who complained that ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘globalism’ were a plot to commit ‘white genocide.’
The theory holds that these self-interested Jews — the so-called “Frankfurt School” of philosophers — planned to try to convince mainstream Americans that white ethnic pride is bad, that sexual liberation is good, and that supposedly traditional American values — Christianity, “family values,” and so on — are reactionary and bigoted. With their core values thus subverted, the theory goes, Americans would be quick to sign on to the ideas of the far left.
The very term, “cultural Marxism,” is clearly intended to conjure up xenophobic anxieties.
[…] “Political correctness looms over American society like a colossus,” William Lind, a principal of far-right political strategist Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation and a key popularizer of the idea of cultural Marxism, warned in a 1998 speech. “It has taken over both political parties and is enforced by many laws and government regulations. It almost totally controls the most powerful element in our culture, the entertainment industry. It dominates both public and higher education. … It has even captured the clergy in many Christian churches.”
William Lind’s views are written into the DNA of ‘birtherism’ and crank narratives about Huma Abedin, baked into the malevolent fantasy of restored white supremacy that does not agree Black Lives Matter. To be sure, Lind’s theory of ‘cultural Marxists’ conspiring to weaken America is rather easy to debunk on a factual level; so is 4GW theory in general. But reality has never been a barrier to conservative thought in our time, so the ‘globalist agenda’ has nevertheless become an article of faith throughout the right wing blogosphere.
That is especially true of Breitbart.com, where the alt-right was already a sublimated presence when Andrew Breitbart was alive and has been welcomed with open arms under the management of Steven K. Bannon since 2012.
Yes, America has seen white nationalist movements before. But no, we have not seen a political fusion quite like the alt-right before.
— Joe Biggs (@Rambobiggs) September 1, 2016
Unlike most American right wing social movements, this one is unabashedly inspired by foreign examples — specifically the French “New Right” (Nouvelle Droit) that empowers Marine Le Pen — even as it rails against those pernicious foreign influences that it wants to shut out of Fortress America. In turn, the European right enjoys the steady support of Russian strongman Vladmir Putin:
Russia under Putin’s leadership has been promoting ultraconservative political groups in Europe with the goal of weakening the EU and the liberalism, democracy and cultural pluralism that comes with it. The National Front, a French political party rooted in Holocaust denialism and anti-immigrant sentiment, is open about its financial links to Russian banks, and neo-fascist parties including Jobbik of Hungary, Vlaams Belang of Belgium and the Northern League of Italy likewise have Russian ties.
“As European far-right leaders openly voice their support for Moscow, it would be wise to remember that Putin’s Russia is not just another ‘meddling power’ lobbying for its interests,” writes Alina Polyakova. “It is a government hostile to the West and the value system—democracy, freedom of expression, political accountability—that it represents.”
Putin, by the way, is another big fan of 4GW theory. As described by Adrien Chen at The New Yorker, Putin uses a 4GW approach “to overwhelm social media with a flood of fake content, seeding doubt and paranoia, and destroying the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space” within Russia. “The point is to spoil it, to create the atmosphere of hate, to make it so stinky that normal people won’t want to touch it,” an opposition leader tells him.
This time it’s personal pic.twitter.com/2Q8RDA7ikw
— Titus Flavius (@tarpeian_rock) September 1, 2016
If that sounds like what alt-right Twitter users have already achieved by purging contrary voices and trending hashtags, or by turning Reddit and 4chan into cesspits of ethnic and religious hatred, then you are halfway to understanding what the phenomenon really is all about.
To dismiss the alt-right as ‘mere racism’ is a terrible mistake, for the phenomenon is not monolithic at all. “Many participants appear to see themselves as libertarian or right-wing anarchists,” researcher Chip Berlet says, “while some identity as anti-religious. How much individuals promote direct aspects or forms of fascism and/or Nazism varies.” Defying simplistic explanations, the alt-right presents as a toxic mix of European Identitarianism, ‘Men’s Rights Activists,’ neofascist and neofeudalist political philosophers, as well as transhumanist and techno-libertarian ideas all layered on top of the ‘same old’ white supremacy and patriarchy, with an extra helping of Islamophobia.
The alt-right also stands out from previous reactionary social movements because it was born online. Rather than burning crosses or wearing hoods, adherents prefer to subvert culture and intimidate women and minorities by virtual means. Sure, most of the alt-right is quite enthusiastic about the candidacy of Trump, who consciously imitates Mussolini. But by and large, they are more apt to model their ideas on digital Silicon Valley heroes like Peter Thiel than some analog Manhattan real estate tycoon.
As the largest stakeholder in Palantir, a ‘big data’ surveillance firm that serves the US intelligence community, Thiel knows exactly what 4GW is. By destroying Gawker.com through weaponized litigation (‘lawfare’), thus chilling the free speech of Silicon Valley gossip bloggers, Thiel has demonstrated a key concept of 4GW theory.
Unlike past reactionary movements, the alt-right is not trying to take over’ the establishment. They don’t want to restore the previous regime of white supremacy that coalesced under Ronald Reagan, whom they would denounce today as a ‘cuckservative.’ Instead, the alt-right would destroy the very foundations of the republic in order to recreate a much older system of white supremacy, except with modern technology — like, say, something straight out of a William S. Lind novel.
— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) September 1, 2016
Which brings us to the potential horrors of the post-November landscape.
For months now, political analysts have wondered if Trump will try to realize past dreams of broadcasting greatness by setting up a new media company, possibly with alleged sexual harasser Roger Ailes at the helm, to compete for the space currently occupied by Fox News. Should it happen, this project will naturally be anti-establishment, framing Fox News as the establishment. Like Bannon’s ‘news’ organization, this channel would always attack Republicans first, aiming for the Paul Ryans and Eric Cantors and John McCains of the GOP caucus in Washington before it trains fire on Democrats.
Given some financing, leadership, and perhaps poaching the ever-popular Sean Hannity, it might even thrive to the embarrassment of progressive outlets such as Democracy Now! and The Young Turks. With more than a billion page views this year, Bannon has clearly learned to attract the alt-right. In his avowedly-Leninist fervor to tear down the American establishment so that fringe elements can advance into the center, Bannon is also applying concepts of 4GW. Imagine what he might achieve with, say, a cable channel.
This raises the awful prospect of white nationalism being ‘normalized,’ perhaps even receiving corporate advertisers, displacing mainstream conservatism with something far worse. Like any good 4GW exploitation scheme, the key is to make the conservatives into the instruments of their own oppression.
— (((joshua epstein))) (@thejoshuablog) September 1, 2016
Writing at the Washington Post‘s Morning Plum last week, Greg Sargent noted that Trump’s continued reliance on rallies as his primary interaction with voters makes perfect sense as a long-term strategy to “continue staging his unique form of raucous WWE-style political entertainment, and building an audience that thrills to it, rather than winning a general election.” When Sarah Ellison started this speculative conversation about a Trump-Breitbart News Network at Vanity Fair ten weeks ago, Trump was said to be “irked by his ability to create revenue for other media organizations without being able to take a cut himself,” and “wants to figure out if he can monetize it.”
But ‘monetization’ doesn’t quite cover the enormity of hedge fund mogul Robert Mercer’s ambitions. Far more wealthy than Trump, Mercer has backed various crank causes over the years, reportedly investing over $9.5 million in Breitbart News just a few months before its founder died. As its largest investor, Mercer was then the primary influence behind Steve Bannon taking over Breitbart in 2012. While Ted Cruz was Mercer’s first choice in the Republican nomination race, Kellyanne Conway convinced the billionaire not to intervene in Breitbart’s clear favoritism towards Trump.
Mercer became the 2016 election cycle’s biggest single donor with his contributions to Ted Cruz super PACs. Now that Conway is Trump’s campaign manager, and Bannon is Trump’s ‘campaign CEO,’ Mercer is spending freely on Trump’s behalf, and it would not be the first time he threw big money at a terrible candidate to pursue long-term goals. Furthermore, Mercer made his fortune in automated stock trading, using algorithms to buy and sell faster than human thought, so he’s another example of a ‘big data’ pioneer in Trump’s orbit.
He is at least 93% owner of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that specializes in electing right wing candidates through Facebook apps that “read the minds of voters” by studying 5,000 data points for behavioral microtargeting, or ‘psychographic analysis.’ These voters can be ‘micro-segmented’ into hundreds of categories according to personality profiles, hobbies, income, spending habits, church attendance, and so on, with the information used to target each potential voter with the most efficient motivations to participate in an election. Cambridge Analytica started working for the Trump campaign in July; as I pointed out at the end of my long analysis of the nuts-and-bolts Trump machine last week, this company can provide a sort of social media-driven ‘get out the vote’ machine, perhaps making up some of the organizational ground that the campaign sorely lacks.
Apps built by Cambridge Analytica also relentlessly ask for access to user contact lists in order to locate and mobilize other potential voters, a feature that annoys privacy experts. When Trump’s new app appeared last week, it was immediately criticized for being intrusive.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix is also a “financial analyst and a Director at the Strategic Communication Laboratories, a military propaganda company,” according to his bio. Nix specializes in controlling information to shape public perceptions, applying 4GW theory on behalf of police agencies, militaries, and the United Nations. The company’s director is Nigel Oakes, a flimflam man with a pedigree and a mixed record of success conducting ‘information warfare’ in various countries. Both are British.
These are exactly the right people to help turn a ‘Trump-Breitbart’ project into an actual political movement after the election. When Trump brings Nigel Farage to Mississippi, the political commentariat is confused. Yet this scene makes perfect sense if the long term objective of the Trump campaign is to build a kind of American UKIP — the party which steered Tories over the Brexit cliff, to the delight of Vladimir Putin — so as to challenge a philosophically-bankrupt conservative establishment from the right.
That goal is made easier when ‘mainstream media’ influencers revert to the false objectivity of the Bothsiderist narrative, questioning Hillary Clinton’s wisdom in recognizing the alt-right and pretending that violent racists aren’t thrilled by all the free air time they keep giving Trump. Channels that switched from their regular programming to cover Trump’s remarks last night, justifying the coverage as ‘policy news,’ were hoodwinked into airing an infomercial for the alt-right. It won’t be the last time he pulls this stunt; the same media outlets will likely fall for it again.
In a late segment aired after Trump’s terrifyingly-authoritarian and fact-challenged hate speech last night, Rachel Maddow reflected on the history of nativist movements arising whenever one of the two major political parties in the country no longer functions. The GOP clearly no longer functions except as an impediment to progress, exhibiting no response whatsoever to Clinton’s speech about Trump and the alt-right. Like the ‘Know-Nothings,’ these movements generally evaporate after the historical shakeup is over: “It’s kind of hard to run a national party big enough to sustain itself and grow if the reason you exist is to carve out a large chunk of the people in this country…and define them as the problem,” Maddow observed.
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