Last month, America’s political and media establishments rallied around yet another item in the endless series of Russia “bombshells.” Two reports, titled “The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency” and “The IRA and Political Polarization in the United States,” were respectively published by the groups New Knowledge and Graphika. They claimed, to much media sensation, that Russia’s Internet Research Agency had posted a highly influential series of memes leading up to the 2016 election.
The sources and the content of these reports showed them to be suspect. Like most of the other dubious Russia reports that we’ve heard about in the last two years, they were both put together by intelligence operatives. And its claims rely upon a list of social media accounts which are reported to be Russian-run without any details being provided for this claim. The revelation that New Knowledge CEO Jonathon Morgan was behind an operation to create a fake Russian bot attack in the 2017 Alabama special election, has further cast doubt on this report’s authenticity.
This is one of the many either unsubstantiated or outright fraudulent Russia stories that have been recently promoted by politicians and pundits. American elites have been eager to seize on these kinds of claims about Russia for quite some time now, but as the Russia hysteria has progressed, even the wildest conspiracy theorizing has become acceptable in mainstream circles.
After last October’s bombs threats against Democratic leaders, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said that he “has the fear”-based in no evidence-that Russia had manufactured the incident. When the anti-austerity “Yellow Vest” protests of last month broke out, pundits throughout the West emphasized still unproven suspicions that Russia had been directly assisting in the movement. And as Glenn Greenwald has pilloried, last September pundits on NBC and MSNBC unquestioningly repeated claims from CIA sources that Russia had used “sophisticated microwaves” to cause “brain injuries” in U.S. diplomats.
This Russophobia campaign among elites is based in an abandonment of objective truth and in a lack of self-awareness about the often comically absurd claims that are being accepted within the anti-Russia groupthink. This dynamic culminated last November with an article from The Guardian titled “Manafort held secret talks with Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy, sources say.” The piece-written by Luke Harding, who already had a history of making up deliberate lies about Assange-neither named its sources, nor explained the fact that Manafort’s passport stamps show he hadn’t entered London in all the years The Guardian claimed he had been having these meetings.
While the piece initially went viral, and no doubt misinformed many people in the process, the obvious holes in the story have forced the media establishment to reluctantly admit its lack of substantiation. And bizarrely, Politico has since featured an article which speculates that Russia had planted the story to try to discredit The Guardian.
Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper's reputation. @WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange. https://t.co/R2Qn6rLQjn
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
Since July of 2016, when the DNC leaks were blamed on Russia based in dubious assertions from the DNC-funded group Crowdstrike, we’ve been regularly hearing claims from intelligence officials, politicians, and pundits which point to Russia as the culprit for Western political events. According to many Democrats, Russia was the deciding factor behind Trump’s election. The more extreme Russia conspiracy theorists blame Russia for Jill Stein’s candidacy. With an attitude that’s hinted at bigoted racial paternalism, The New York Times has implicated Russia in the proliferation of Black Lives Matter. And Trump’s plan last month to partially bring troops out of Syria, which had America-centered geopolitical motivations behind it, is thought to all be the result of Trump acting as Putin’s puppet.
Russia is being blamed for every step in the decline of the U.S./NATO empire and in the upwelling of popular discontent against corporate capitalism. And as these recent Russia stories have shown, the whole affair has become progressively outlandish. Three years ago, I doubt that a public figure could be taken seriously while blaming the outcome of a national election on Internet memes or accusing numerous public figures of being Putin operatives. But these kinds of statements have been thoroughly normalized in our discourse.
No amount of talking about Russia will alleviate the effects of America’s unsurpassed wealth inequality, unending wars, and corporate domination over politics. Click To Tweet The same is the case in France, Britain, Italy, and the other countries where a mass revolt is mounting against the neoliberal order in the form of the spreading Yellow Vest phenomenon. But for now, the narrative around Russia that the ruling elites have created reminds me of this passage from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which the ruling cabal of anthropomorphic pigs blames all of society’s problems on the exiled pig Snowball:
“If a window was broken or a drain was blocked up, someone was certain to say that Snowball had come in the night and done it, and when the key of the store-shed was lost, the whole farm was convinced that Snowball had thrown it down the well. Curiously enough, they went on believing this even after the mislaid key was found under a sack of meal.”
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