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Trump-Russia and other Russia-related sources of polarization

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

This is an excerpt from Defusing American Anger on Russia-related issues that factor into our toxic polarization. This includes an examination of:

  • Irresponsible and overzealous Trump-Russia coverage, and how that factors into Republican-side anger

  • Republican-side Russia- and Putin-appreciation


To learn more about these excerpts and see all of them, go here.


Russia 

To many people, liberal-leaning mainstream news coverage of the Trump-Russia connection was often exaggerated and irresponsible. In the eyes of many conservatives, this exaggeration was done purposefully by some media and some politicians to embarrass and remove Trump. 


The perception amongst many liberals is that Russia significantly influenced our election, primarily through fake news and misinformation. The perception amongst many liberals is that there was likely a significant Trump-Russia connection, even if it wasn’t found in the Mueller investigation. 


For the purposes of defusing anger, it’s important to see how both sides can have understandable and rational reasons for these perceptions. 


Russian election interference

The idea that Russia may have significantly impacted the 2016 election, or American politics in general, is something covered in the previous Elections chapter. But to recap: there’s no good evidence that Russia affected the 2016 election. Some experts will make a case that Russia did influence the election; some will make cases that Russia didn’t and that any effect would be miniscule compared to other factors. 


Considering the very different views it’s possible for knowledgeable people to have about this, it would seem a mistake to be too certain in either direction.


The Trump-Russia connection 

It seems clear that liberal-leaning media did a lot of just plain bad journalism on the Trump-Russia front. For liberals, it’s important to understand this perspective, because it plays a big role in conservatives’ anger at liberals, their distrust of liberal-leaning media, and their defense of Trump.


I want to emphasize this point: for many Trump voters, the mainstream media’s Trump-Russia coverage was one of their main reasons for coming to believe that a large number of people and institutions were corrupt. It was one of their main reasons for believing that Trump was waging a noble war against a corrupt media, and for seeing Trump’s belligerence as justified. This perception also contributed to election distrust: it contributed to Trump voters believing that powerful forces were working against Trump in underhanded ways. 


Again, you don’t have to agree with these things, but you should be willing to try to see what so many people see. You should be willing to examine how bad and irresponsible some of the media coverage really was. 


Glenn Greenwald wrote a piece for The Intercept examining bad media coverage of the Trump-Russia connection and of Russian efforts to affect our politics. His article was titled Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story. Personally, I think that Greenwald is a very polarized and polarizing figure, but I believe that while also thinking he's made many valid points about some bad behaviors of liberal people and organizations.


Here’s one excerpt from Greenwald’s compilation: 


Trump Aide Anthony Scaramucci is Involved in a Russian Hedge Fund Under Senate Investigation (CNN): On June 22, 2017, CNN reported that Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci was involved with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, under Senate investigation. He was not. CNN retracted the story and forced the three reporters who published it to leave the network.


Here’s another couple excerpts: 


CNN Explicitly Lied About Lanny Davis Being Its Source – For a Story Whose Substance Was Also False: Cohen Would Testify that Trump Knew in Advance About the Trump Tower Meeting (CNN): On July 27, 2018, CNN published a blockbuster story: that Michael Cohen was prepared to tell Robert Mueller that President Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting. There were, however, two problems with this story: first, CNN got caught blatantly lying when its reporters claimed that “contacted by CNN, one of Cohen’s attorneys, Lanny Davis, declined to comment” (in fact, Davis was one of CNN’s key sources, if not its only source, for this story), and second, numerous other outlets retracted the story after the source, Davis, admitted it was a lie. CNN, however, to this date has refused to do either [...]


Donald Trump Jr. Was Offered Advance Access to the WikiLeaks Email Archive (CNN/MSNBC) The morning of December 9, 2017, launched one of the most humiliating spectacles in the history of the U.S. media. With a tone so grave and bombastic that it is impossible to overstate, CNN went on the air and announced a major exclusive: Donald Trump, Jr. was offered by email advanced access to the trove of DNC and Podesta emails published by WikiLeaks—meaning before those emails were made public. Within an hour, MSNBC’s Ken Dilanian, using a tone somehow even more unhinged, purported to have “independently confirmed” this mammoth, blockbuster scoop, which, they said, would have been the smoking gun showing collusion between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks over the hacked emails (while the YouTube clips have been removed, you can still watch one of the amazing MSNBC videos here).


There was, alas, just one small problem with this massive, blockbuster story: it was totally and completely false. The email which Trump, Jr. received that directed him to the WikiLeaks archive was sent after WikiLeaks published it online for the whole world to see, not before. Rather than some super secretive operative giving Trump, Jr. advanced access, as both CNN and MSNBC told the public for hours they had confirmed, it was instead just some totally pedestrian message from a random member of the public suggesting Trump, Jr. review documents the whole world was already talking about. All of the anonymous sources CNN and MSNBC cited somehow all got the date of the email wrong.


To date, when asked how they both could have gotten such a massive story so completely wrong in the same way, both CNN and MSNBC have adopted the posture of the CIA by maintaining complete silence and refusing to explain how it could possibly be that all of their “multiple, independent sources” got the date wrong on the email in the same way, to be as incriminating—and false—as possible. Nor, needless to say, will they identify their sources who, in concert, fed them such inflammatory and utterly false information.


Sadly, CNN and MSNBC have deleted most traces of the most humiliating videos from the internet, including demanding that YouTube remove copies. But enough survives to document just what a monumental, horrifying, and utterly inexcusable debacle this was. Particularly amazing is the clip of the CNN reporter having to admit the error for the first time, as he awkwardly struggles to pretend that it’s not the massive, horrific debacle that it so obviously is…


Another story Greenwald highlighted was Trump Created a Secret Internet Server to Covertly Communicate with a Russian Bank. This was a story originally covered in Slate, which was then covered by other outlets, and which Hillary Clinton tweeted about several times. One tweet from Clinton read, “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” This story was eventually shown to be false. Fortune published an article titled, “No, Donald Trump is not talking to Russia on a secret server.” 


In addition to the Trump-Russia connection, Greenwald also examined bad, hysterical coverage of Russian attempts to harm America. Here’s one example of that: 


Russian Hackers Invaded the U.S. Electricity Grid to Deny Vermonters Heat During the Winter (WashPost): On December 30, 2016, the Washington Post reported that “Russian hackers penetrated the U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont,” causing predictable outrage and panic, along with threats from U.S. political leaders. But then they kept diluting the story with editor’s notes—to admit that the malware was found on a laptop not connected to the U.S. electric grid at all—until finally acknowledging, days later, that the whole story was false, since the malware had nothing to do with Russia or with the U.S. electric grid.


And here’s another story highlighted by Greenwald: 


On November 24, 2016, the Washington Post published one of the most inflammatory, sensationalistic stories to date about Russian infiltration into U.S. politics using social media, accusing “more than 200 websites” of being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans.” It added: “stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign [on Facebook] were viewed more than 213 million times.”


Unfortunately for the paper, those statistics were provided by a new, anonymous group that reached these conclusions by classifying long-time, well-known sites—from the Drudge Report to Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute—as “Russian propaganda outlets,” producing one of the longest Editor’s Note in memory appended to the top of the article (but not until two weeks later, long after the story was mindlessly spread all throughout the media ecosystem). 


The badness of that particular story was covered more in-depth in a New Yorker article by Adrian Chen titled The Propaganda About Russian Propaganda, in which he described the nature of that anonymous group’s report: 


But a close look at the report showed that it was a mess. “To be honest, it looks like a pretty amateur attempt,” Eliot Higgins, a well-respected researcher who has investigated Russian fake-news stories on his Web site, Bellingcat, for years, told me. “I think it should have never been an article on any news site of any note.” [...]


The story of PropOrNot should serve as a cautionary tale to those who fixate on malignant digital influences as a primary explanation for Trump’s stunning election. The story combines two of the most popular technological villains of post-election analysis—fake news and Russian subterfuge—into a single tantalizing package. Like the most effective Russian propaganda, the report weaved together truth and misinformation.


Bogus news stories, which overwhelmingly favored Trump, did flood social media throughout the campaign, and the hack of the Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s e-mail seems likely to have been the work of Russian intelligence services. But, as harmful as these phenomena might be, the prospect of legitimate dissenting voices being labeled fake news or Russian propaganda by mysterious groups of ex-government employees, with the help of a national newspaper, is even scarier. Vasily Gatov told me, “To blame internal social effects on external perpetrators is very Putinistic.”


If you’re curious to learn more, I recommend checking out Greenwald’s Intercept article. The examples he gives are supported by other sources, including other liberal-leaning mainstream news outlets. 


One of many sources of conservative-side anger in this area was regarding the Steele dossier. The Steele dossier was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016, as opposition research. It was a collection of reports and allegations of misconduct by Trump and his team and their dealings with Russia. It was treated as solid information by the press and political leaders. It got significant attention despite being very weak. A 2019 Rolling Stone piece by Matt Taibi was titled ‘Corroboration Zero’: An Inspector General’s Report Reveals the Steele Dossier Was Always a Joke. To quote from that piece: 


The Steele report reads like a pile of rumors surrounded by public information pulled off the Internet, and the Horowitz report does nothing to dispel this notion.


At the time the FBI submitted its first FISA application, Horowitz writes, it had “corroborated limited information in Steele’s election reporting, and most of that was publicly available information.” Horowitz says of Steele’s reports: “The CIA viewed it as ‘internet rumor.’”


Worse (and this part of the story should be tattooed on the heads of Russia truthers), the FBI’s interviews of Steele’s sources revealed Steele embellished the most explosive parts of his report.


The “pee tape” story, which inspired countless grave headlines [...] and plunged the Trump presidency into crisis before it began, was, this source said, based a “conversation that [he/she] had over beers,” with the sexual allegations made… in “jest”!


Steele in his report said the story had been “confirmed” by senior, Western hotel staff, but the actual source said it was all “rumor and speculation,” never confirmed. In fact, charged by Steele to find corroboration, the source could not: corroboration was “zero,” writes Horowitz.


Meanwhile the Steele assertions that Russians had a kompromat file on Hillary Clinton, and that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of coordination” between the Trump campaign and Russians, relied on a source Steele himself disparaged as an “egoist” and “boaster” who “may engage in some embellishment.” This was known to the FBI at the start, yet they naturally failed to include this info in the warrant application, one of what Horowitz described as “17 significant errors or omissions” in the FISA application.


The Steele dossier, despite its flaws, was also used as supporting evidence to investigate several people, like Trump-appointed foreign policy advisor Carter Page. To quote from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz: “We determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team’s receipt of Steele’s election reporting on September 19, 2016 played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order."


Many Trump voters were upset with how the media and politicians handled these topics. To many Trump voters, they saw a purposeful plot by powerful people to smear Trump. Even if you don’t think it was a concerted plot, hopefully you can see how people might perceive that. If you’d like to understand the criticisms of Trump-Russia media coverage better, I recommend a blog post by Matt Taibi titled It's official: Russiagate is this generation's WMD.  


A free news media is of course an important institution, because it’s important to be able for everyone to be able to speak truth to power and bring attention to bad things done by the powerful. But the more sensationalistic and biased news outlets are in their approach, the more public trust they’ll lose, and the more conservatives will seek out their own news sources, and the more we’ll become polarized. We can defend a free news media while acknowledging that they often contribute to our divides, and also while we criticize them in the hopes they’ll do better. 


Beliefs in “Deep State” plots

If you’re someone who thinks that the entire Trump-Russia connection was fabricated and overblown, and a big “nothing burger,” are you willing to see that there were some valid reasons for that investigation? It’s possible to think that the Trump-Russia coverage was irresponsible and overblown while also understanding how the investigation arose through understandable processes.


To quote from a 2019 BBC article summarizing the Trump-Russia investigation: 


At least 17 Trump associates had contacts with Russians or Wikileaks, which released hacked documents, during the campaign or transition, according to an analysis of public records by the New York Times, with at least 100 face-to-face interactions, phone calls or electronic messages with Russians or Kremlin-linked figures and at least 51 individual communications.


Trump aides known to have had contact with Russians include the president's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, his son Donald Trump Jr, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.


The president's supporters point out that interactions with foreign nationals are routine during any White House campaign, but three Trump associates have now admitted lying about these encounters.


The special counsel has indicted more than 30 people, including four members of Mr Trump's campaign team or administration, an adviser and long-time ally, and 26 Russians, as well as three Russian companies.


If you think that the Trump-Russia focus was overblown and exaggerated, are you willing to examine how there were some valid reasons for why some people considered it a reasonable thing to look into? 


The perception that Trump had strong connections to Russia was based on real reports. This isn’t to say that this was proof of anything bad happening, but more just to explain why people thought there might be something interesting there. And it’s also easy to understand the interest when we combine that with the fact that we know Russia attempted to influence our election. And, in addition, some Trump associates were found to have lied about their communications with Russian contacts.  


A 2018 New Yorker article titled Trump’s Miss Universe Gambit discussed Trump’s Russia connections, and mentioned how it seemed to coincide with him needing an influx of money. Here’s an excerpt from that piece: 


Trump’s interest in the country goes back to the days of the Soviet Union. His first book, “The Art of the Deal,” published in 1987, begins with an account of a typical day in his life, including a phone call with an acquaintance who conducted a lot of business with the Soviet Union. “I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government,” Trump wrote. “They have asked me to go to Moscow in July.” Later that year, he did go to Moscow and what was then Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), but his plans to build there never came to fruition.


Trump returned to Moscow in each of the following decades, hoping to add one of his eponymous towers to the city’s skyline. His regular visits have led some to speculate that Trump had a kind of obsession with the country, but he looked for deals all over the world, and he returned to Russia because that’s where the money was. A longtime adviser to Trump told me, “It’s a major metropolitan city, and around the years of 2000, give or take, with the privatization, there was a lot of money in Moscow.”


The atmosphere of post-Soviet Russia also seemed to suit Trump. He traveled to the city again in November, 1996, during the raucous “Wild East” days following the collapse of Communism and the Soviet system. His arrival in Moscow came after a plunge in his financial fortunes. (His 1995 tax return, published in part by the Times in 2016, showed losses of nine hundred and sixteen million dollars.) He had lost the trust of American banks and was forced to search for credit and business opportunities abroad. In a news conference shortly after his arrival in Moscow, he said that he planned to invest two hundred and fifty million dollars to build a pair of luxury apartment towers in the city, one to be called Trump International and the other Trump Tower. 


In addition, he said that he was looking into renovating and running two famous hotels from the Soviet era. As Trump said in a Mark Singer profile in The New Yorker, published a few months later, “We’re looking at the Moskva Hotel. We’re also looking at the Rossiya. That’s a very big project; I think it’s the largest hotel in the world. And we’re working with the local government, the mayor of Moscow and the mayor’s people.”


And there were other reports, like this one from a 2017 Vanity Fair article


Dodson had planned to play nine holes with Trump and Eric, along with pro golfer Greg Norman and Trump’s bodyguard, and when he got there, Dodson asked where Trump was getting money. “He just sort of tossed off that he had access to $100 million,” said Dodson, whose curiosity was piqued:


“So when I got in the cart with Eric,” Dodson says, “as we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks—because of the recession, the Great Recession—have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.’ Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting.”


Eric Trump responded on Twitter that the story is “completely fabricated and just another example of why there is such a deep distrust of the media in our country.” [...] 


Donald Trump has maintained that neither he nor his businesses have any ties to Russia whatsoever.


Again, this isn’t to say such things prove anything bad happened, but it simply helps explain why many people thought there might be improprieties there. 


To look at this from another angle: it’s easy to imagine that if Bernie Sanders had had some history of, for example, Venezuelan business dealings and visits, media outlets of all sorts would understandably be interested in looking into that. And if that were to happen, I’m sure most of us would agree that conservative-leaning news outlets would be creating a lot of exaggerated and irresponsible framings. 


If you’re someone who thinks that a liberal-leaning “Deep State” exerts a very powerful but hidden control over our government, then how do you explain the Mueller investigation not finding Trump guilty of anything? If the “Deep State” were so powerful, wouldn’t Trump have gotten in more trouble? If there were hidden and powerful anti-Trump forces, why did the Steele dossier get outed as containing such weak, bad information? 


On a similar topic: if this liberal-biased “Deep State” was so powerful and capable of affecting elections, wouldn’t they have given a few more elections to Democrat congresspeople? 


When talking to Trump voters, one thing often mentioned in this area is the unfair way that Carter Page was treated. Carter Page was a petroleum consultant who had previously had some ties to Russia, including being criticized by some people for being excessively pro-Russia and pro-Putin. In 2016, he was appointed as a foreign policy advisor in Trump’s administration. Before Trump’s election, he’d been being surveilled and investigated for his potential links to Russia. During the Trump-Russia investigation, the investigation into Page got pulled into that. Page did end up being exonerated: the Mueller Report said that, “The investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.” And in 2019, the Justice Department determined the last two of four FISA warrants to surveil Page were invalid. 


Even if you believe Carter Page was treated unfairly, is that evidence of a vast conspiracy? Considering his Russian connections and his past, is it possible to see that there may have been understandable reasons for why he was investigated? Considering he was exonerated, and that Trump was also exonerated in the Trump-Russia probe, isn’t that evidence that the system is working, even as it may have various flaws? Or at least is it evidence that it’s not as severely broken as many people think it is? Is it possible that any system we have will have flaws and biases and that that’s simply the price we pay for large, complex human systems? 


In the Rolling Stone piece by Matt Taibi previously mentioned, it talks about how the Trump-Russia government leads acknowledged the many mistakes made: 


Much of the press is concentrating on [Justice Department Inspector General] Horowitz’s conclusion that there was no evidence of “political bias or improper motivation” in the FBI’s probe of Donald Trump’s Russia contacts, an investigation Horowitz says the bureau had “authorized purpose” to conduct.


Horowitz uses phrases like “serious performance failures,” describing his 416-page catalogue of errors and manipulations as incompetence rather than corruption. This throws water on the notion that the Trump investigation was a vast frame-up.


If you’re a Trump voter: is it possible to see that many things that people are upset about, on the left and the right, are a result of focusing on the various mistakes and problems that are always present in large, complex human systems? Is it possible to view extremely pessimistic views about the “Deep State” as being similar to the extreme distrust some liberals can have about “the system”?


As we all become more angry, we filter more and more things through our us-versus-them lenses and use whatever we can find to build our cases for why “the other side” is plotting against us. 


Pro-Russia and pro-Putin beliefs 

It seems clear that some powerful media outlets and journalists were hysterical and irresponsible when it came to Russia reporting. We can acknowledge that while also recognizing that Russia seems to have been successful at contributing, however slightly, to our divisions. 


For one thing, the mere attempt at trying to influence American voters sows distrust in our elections and divides us—and as examined earlier, that alone might have been the main point. And we can see how liberal-side distrust in the 2016 election may have contributed to conservative distrust in the 2020 election, in an emotional tit-for-tat fashion. 


And Russian propaganda was aimed at stoking divides across the political spectrum, not just on the right. A 2017 article on TheHill.com was titled Thousands attended protest organized by Russians on Facebook. Here’s an excerpt from that:  


Sixteen thousand Facebook users said that they planned to attend a Trump protest on Nov. 12, 2016, organized by the Facebook page for BlackMattersUS, a Russian-linked group that sought to capitalize on racial tensions between black and white Americans. The event was shared with 61,000 users.


As many as 5,000 to 10,000 protesters actually convened at Manhattan's Union Square. They then marched to Trump Tower, according to media reports at the time. 


The BlackMattersUS-organized rally took advantage of outrage among groups on the left following President Trump’s victory on Nov. 8 to galvanize support for its event. The group’s protest was the fourth consecutive anti-Trump rally in New York following election night, and one of many across the country.   


“Join us in the streets! Stop Trump and his bigoted agenda!” reads the Facebook event page for the rally. “Divided is the reason we just fell. We must unite despite our differences to stop HATE from ruling the land.”


A paper from 2019 by William Aceves, published in the Michigan Journal of Race and Law, was titled Virtual Hatred: How Russia Tried to Start a Race War in the United States. This is from the introduction:  


Throughout the campaign, Russian operatives created hundreds of fake personas on social media platforms and then posted thousands of advertisements and messages that sought to promote racial divisions in the United States. This was a coordinated propaganda effort. Some Facebook and Twitter posts denounced the Black Lives Matter movement and others condemned White nationalist groups. Some called for violence. 


To be clear, these were posts by fake personas created by Russian operatives. But their effects were real. The purpose of this strategy was to manipulate public opinion on racial issues and disrupt the political process.


Whether you’re liberal or conservative, it’s worth examining that the us-versus-them views that some of us have about each other are exactly the types of views that America’s enemies want us to have. If you’re someone who wants this country to heal, you should see that, no matter how they originate, these us-versus-them divides are our greatest threat. 


Amongst conservatives, pro-Russia and pro-Putin views have been increasingly common. My first inkling of this was through my years-long email correspondence with a conservative acquaintance of mine who later became a full blown white nationalist. He also happened to be an early and enthusiastic Trump supporter: when Trump announced his candidacy, this person was the most enthusiastic Trump supporter I personally knew at the time. I wrote a piece examining this person’s views, which I titled Emails from a white nationalist Trump supporter: Examining xenophobia, Russia-appreciation, and fears of cultural change. I wanted to understand this person’s views, because they were so irrational and strange to me. And I thought that understanding those kinds of views was important, because only by understanding such views can you hope to combat them. 


One thing that stood out to me, looking back at his writings, was that he’d been praising Putin and Russia for quite a while. To quote from the piece I wrote about him: 


There are several instances in his emails of him praising Russia or Putin, going back to late 2013. Considering the recent revelations about Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election, I thought this was interesting, and perhaps indicative of this person consuming pro-Russia propaganda via the conservative online sites and channels he frequented.


In his 2013 email about how homosexuality weakens countries, he says, “Russia and India are perhaps the most salient examples of countries that are cracking down on homosexual behavior, especially as it regards the youth of the nation in Russia’s case.” He then quotes a prominent anti-gay writer who wrote: “Russia remains stalwart in its laws that aim to curb the influence of the West’s gay-friendly culture on Russian youth.”


In the same email, he says the following:


Russia is an excellent example of a country that is doing something about the Islamic takeover threat. Faced with a declining birth rate of ethnic Russians; unacceptable levels of immigration from the mid- and far east; and the threat of losing its cultural identity; Russia has taken positive action. Protecting its youth from the population decreasing effects of Western homosexuality propaganda is just one of those positive steps. Can Russia get its birth rate up from 1.7/female and thus increase the strength of its bulwark against the Islamic invasion? We shall see. But it is worth noting that as goes Russia and Europe, so goes the U.S.


He also says:


What might save Russia is a concept that has become anathema, totally politically incorrect, in the E.U. and U.S.: Nationalism! Ethnic Russians are proud of their country, its history and culture. They do not want Western homosexuals or Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants to redefine their culture for them.


In a later email, he shares two articles, one about Germany and one about Russia, with the introduction: “Two articles. Two countries. Two different outcomes. Be ready, American men. We are at a time for choosing.”


The first article promotes an anti-immigrant video monologue made by a 16-year-old German girl who angrily asks, “Where are the men of Germany?”


The second article explains an event that happened in Russia in this way:


A group of 51 refugees were brutally assaulted outside a nightclub in Murmansk, Russia, after they groped and molested women at a nightclub Saturday. The refugees had previously been ordered to leave Norway for “bad behavior” and tried their luck in Russia. What they didn’t realize when they went out clubbing in Murmansk is that Russians have less tolerance when it comes to sexual assault on local women than other European countries.


In email # 60, he shares a short anti-Hillary Clinton video with the intro: “Here’s that 15 second video you’ve been hearing about. Enjoy.” The video is allegedly the work of the Trump campaign (though I can find no evidence of that) and was shared by a Russian site that shared, amongst other things, anti-Hillary and pro-Trump content. 


In email # 64, he shares this list of leaders:


Viktor Orbán, Donald Trump, Shinzo Abe, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Geert Wilders, Andrzej Duda


And then asks, “What do all these men have in common? They all love their country. It’s called Nationalism or Patriotism, or in Trump’s case, America First! Get used to it.”


Where do these kinds of views come from exactly? Is it because Russia’s state-created propaganda outlets (for example, Sputnik and RT.com) have succeeded in getting more views from an American audience? Is it possible that Russia has been subtly promoting such views across the politically conservative online landscape via various published articles and online comments and such? It’s hard to say exactly what’s going on, but there are clearly all sorts of ways Russia might influence us, either directly or indirectly. 


The white nationalist’s effusive praising of Russia echoes some recent conservative-side views. In February of 2022, soon after the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, this is what Lauren Witzke, the Republican candidate for the Delaware Senate, said in an interview


“Russia is a Christian nationalist nation, they’re actually Orthodox Christian and Russian Orthodox. So I actually support Putin's right to protect his people and always put his people first but also protect their Christian values. I identify more with Russian—with Putin's Christian values—than I do with Joe Biden. So, like, there is that there. And you know, Christian nationalist countries also are a threat to the global regime, like the Luciferian regime that wants to mash everything together. But Putin takes care of his people, he looks out for his people. I watched as he deported - like, they literally walked them through the streets, the criminal illegals who were coming into their country, they walked them out, they escorted them and they said, ‘Get out.’ 


And you know, I can respect that and I can respect the fact that Putin does everything he can to protect his people.” 


And there are other conservatives you can find saying similar things. 


Is it possible that this new, effusive praise from conservatives for Russia and Putin is due simply to a natural overlap in philosophies? Sure, that’s also possible. Is it possible that our increasing polarization naturally leads people to think “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and as such creates strange bedfellows and alliances? Sure, that’s also possible (a likely example of that is below). Is it possible that these are fringe ideas and aren’t that significant and won’t be a major factor in future GOP positions? Sure, that’s also possible.

Extreme polarization can result in views that strike many people as unreasonable. 


But it’s worth examining the idea that the increasing respect American conservatives have for Russia and Putin might not be a coincidence and may be due to some planning by Russia. 


In the past, narratives that were critical of America and its role on the world stage were largely the territory of the left. But with conservatives’ increasing distrust of American institutions, we can see how we’re now in the situation of having many people on both the left and the right who, in their distrust of America, have become more likely to believe Russian narratives, and other anti-American narratives. A 2022 Washington Post piece by Ian Buruma was titled Why Putin Unites Extremists on Left and Right and examined this phenomenon: 


Two old friends of mine once sat on opposite ends of the political spectrum. One used to be pro-American—a liberal Cold Warrior and defender of the Vietnam War. The other was very much in the leftist camp, a lifelong opponent of “American imperialism” and a committed anti-Zionist. Both are now keen promoters of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda: Ukraine is a U.S. puppet state dominated by Nazis, Putin is a man of peace, Russia must defend itself against a warmongering North Atlantic Treaty Organization and so forth. [...]


Until quite recently, far-right French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour called Putin a brave nationalist defending his country against NATO. “I would dream of a French Putin,” he once said. His far-left rival Jean-Luc Melenchon defended Russian atrocities in Syria and blamed NATO for the invasion of Ukraine.


There’s a book Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism, written by Ion Mihai Pacepa, who had previously been a key player in Russia’s information warfare operations in the 1960s and 70s and who later defected to the United States. In his book, he describes the huge budget Russia had for propaganda and deception, and describes how one strategy used was an effort to plant pro-Russia and pro-communist views inside of various works by artists, like plays and books and such, in order to win the hearts and minds of American liberals and other liberal-minded people across the world. 


He describes the creation of various works of art dedicated to boosting the mythology of Che Guevara, because they thought Che would be a valuable and useful symbol: 


In the 1960s, Che Guevara became a kind of icon for the liberation theology movement. At that time, the Kremlin’s popularity stood at an all-time low. The Soviets’ brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and their instigation of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis disgusted the world, and every Soviet bloc ruler tried to save face in his own way. Khrushchev replaced the “immutable” Marxist-Leninist theory of the world proletarian revolution with a policy of peaceful coexistence, while pretending to be an advocate for peace. Alexander Dubĉek gambled on a “socialism with a human face,”and Gomulka on “let Poland be Poland.” Ceauşescu announced his “independence” from Moscow and portrayed himself as a “maverick” among communist leaders. [...]


“Operation Che” was launched with the book “Revolution in the Revolution,” a primer for communist guerrilla insurrection, which praised Che to the skies. The author, French terrorist Régis Debray, was a highly regarded KGB agent. In 1970, the Castro brothers shifted Che’s sanctification into high gear. Alberto Korda, a Cuban intelligence officer working undercover as a photographer with the Cuban newspaper Revolución, produced a romanticized picture of Che. That now-famous Che, with long, curly locks of hair, wearing a revolutionary beret with a star on it and looking straight into the viewer’s eyes, has since inundated the world.


Pacepa, the author of this book, is known for being a bit untrustworthy: he’s made some allegations that haven’t been proven and some that have been debunked. While some of his information is respected by the intelligence community, it’s a good idea to take some of what he alleges with a grain of salt.


But from Pacepa’s writings and other things we know about Russia, it seems safe to say that Russia has previously engaged in hidden and deceptive efforts to win the hearts and minds of American liberals. And it’s worth considering that, these days, Russia might be just as focused on influencing American conservatives as it is on influencing liberals, if not more so.


This has been an excerpt from Defusing American Anger.

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