[Editors Note: Links to reporting about the Nashville ATT bombing are here because the guy was apparently obsessed about 5G cell service, which is the subject of much paranoia and disinformation. The bomber also believed in Lizard people.  Somehow these nonsensical beliefs and the credulous who embrace these beliefs are interrelated.]

 

1/17/2021    Deceptions in the time of the ‘alternative facts’ president, by Calvin Woodward, AP

Trump’s fabrications were the racing heartbeat of his rallies. The counterfeit fed the charisma.

1/17/2021   Three ways the media can vanquish the Big Lie that will linger even after Trump is gone, by Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post

The NYU professor and press critic Jay Rosen put it memorably: “In the same way that you might begin an interview with a pro forma, ‘this is on the record,’ or ‘how do you spell your name?’ journalists (and talk show bookers) should set the ground rules with, ‘Very quickly before we start: who was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election?’ ” If the answer is “we need to investigate that” or “President Trump,” simply withdraw the opportunity.

 

In the bad-faith political world we live in, these kinds of sound policies will be branded as liberal bias and a free-speech violation. Not so.

 

“This isn’t a cancel culture,” Christopher Krebs, whom Trump fired as head of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told CNN last week in arguing why it’s essential to shoot down harmful false claims as he did. “There has to be an accountability culture in the United States right now.”

 1/17/2021   Fox Settled a Lawsuit Over Its Lies. But It Insisted on One Unusual Condition, by Ben Smith, The New York Times

On Oct. 12, 2020, Fox News agreed to pay millions of dollars to the family of a murdered Democratic National Committee staff member, implicitly acknowledging what saner minds knew long ago: that the network had repeatedly hyped a false claim that the young staff member, Seth Rich, was involved in leaking D.N.C. emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Russian intelligence officers, in fact, had hacked and leaked the emails.)

 

Fox’s decision to settle with the Rich family came just before its marquee hosts, Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity, were set to be questioned under oath in the case, a potentially embarrassing moment. And Fox paid so much that the network didn’t have to apologize for the May 2017 story on FoxNews.com.

 

But there was one curious provision that Fox insisted on: The settlement had to be kept secret for a month — until after the Nov. 3 election....

 

11/24/2020   Fox paid seven figures to settle lawsuit over bogus Seth Rich conspiracy story, by Michael Isikoff, Yahoo News

 

1/13/2021    Four years ago, I wondered if the media could handle Trump. Now we know, by Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post

Since last week’s outrageous and deadly attack on the Capitol, incited by Trump, the gloves have come off. The language that journalists feel free to use is far more direct, far less mired in cautious respect for the highest office in the land.

 

As Roy Peter Clark wrote a few days ago, in a dissection of a front-page Washington Post report that used words like “saboteurs” and “attempted coup” to describe the MAGA marauders: “I am astonished . . . by an epiphany: Language that pushes the boundaries of traditional neutrality can be used in a responsible news report.”

 

The reality-based national press, though flawed and stuck for too long in outdated conventions, has managed to do its job — with dedication and with bravery, given the dangers created by Trump’s antipathy to what he calls “the enemy of the people.”

 

 TweetOfAlexJones 2021 01 10

1/10/2021   Alex Jones on video claiming that the White House coordinated with him personally to lead the insurrection march.

1/7/2021   The pro-Trump media world peddled the lies that fueled the Capitol mob. Fox News led the way, by Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post

“Fair and balanced” was the original Fox News lie, one of the rotten planks that built the foundation for Wednesday’s democratic disaster.

 

Over decades, with that false promise accepted as gospel by millions of devotees, Fox News radicalized a nation and spawned more extreme successors such as Newsmax and One America News.

 

Day after day, hour after hour, Fox gave its viewers something that looked like news or commentary but far too often lacked sufficient adherence to a necessary ingredient: truth.

 

Birtherism. The caravan invasion. Covid denialism. Rampant election fraud. All of these found a comfortable home at Fox.

1/5/2021   In 1,386 days, President Trump has made 29,508 false or misleading claims, Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post  [ Updated Nov. 5, 2020 ]

The Fact Checker’s ongoing database of the false or misleading claims made by President Trump since assuming office.

 

The false claims that Trump keeps repeating, By Glenn Kessler and Joe Fox, The Washington Post [ Updated Nov. 5, 2020 ]

The Fact Checker has evaluated false statements President Trump has made repeatedly and analyzed how often he reiterates them. The claims included here – which we're calling "Bottomless Pinocchios" – are limited to ones that he has repeated 20 times and were rated as Three or Four Pinocchios by the Fact Checker.

 

 

White Evangelical Racism

Publication Date: March 2021

The American political scene today is poisonously divided, and the vast majority of white evangelicals plays a strikingly unified, powerful role in the disunion. These evangelicals raise a starkly consequential question for electoral politics: Why do they claim morality while supporting politicians who act immorally by most Christian measures? In this clear-eyed, hard-hitting chronicle of American religion and politics, Anthea Butler answers that racism is at the core of conservative evangelical activism and power.


Butler reveals how evangelical racism, propelled by the benefits of whiteness, has since the nation’s founding played a provocative role in severely fracturing the electorate. During the buildup to the Civil War, white evangelicals used scripture to defend slavery and nurture the Confederacy. During Reconstruction, they used it to deny the vote to newly emancipated blacks. In the twentieth century, they sided with segregationists in avidly opposing movements for racial equality and civil rights. Most recently, evangelicals supported the Tea Party, a Muslim ban, and border policies allowing family separation. White evangelicals today, cloaked in a vision of Christian patriarchy and nationhood, form a staunch voting bloc in support of white leadership. Evangelicalism’s racial history festers, splits America, and needs a reckoning now.

 

- Anthea Butler, University of North Carolina Press

1/4/2021   We must stop calling Trump’s enablers ‘conservative.’ They are the radical right., by Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post

These days, the true radicals are the enablers of President Trump’s ongoing attempted coup: the media bloviators on Fox News, One America and Newsmax who parrot his lies about election fraud; and the members of Congress who plan to object on Wednesday to what should be a pro forma step of approving the electoral college results, so that President-elect Joe Biden can take office peacefully on Jan. 20.

 

But instead of being called what they are, these media and political figures get a mild label: conservative.

 

Engagement data on content from Facebook pages that post about U.S. political news

1/2/2021   Conservatives spent 2020 accusing Facebook of being biased against them, but engagement data tells a different story, by Kayla Gogarty, Carly Evans and Spencer Silva, MediaMatters

1/2/2021   Right-wing media used violent rhetoric to sow disinformation in 2020, by MILES LE & AUDREY BOWLER, MediaMatters

As Americans joined nationwide protests against racial injustice following the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020, right-wing media’s response was vicious and divisive. Conservative media figures painted Black activists as violent terrorists endangering the lives of its viewers and civilization itself, while outlets like Fox News celebrated white, right-wing vigilantes as heroes, the true victims of law enforcement.

 

Fox fed its audience wildly inaccurate caricatures of protests in cities across the country, suggested that urban areas were being consumed by violence, and encouraged Trump to re-establish “law and order.”

 

While right-wing and white supremacist groups took advantage of the escalating situation to incite violence, far-right personalities focused on the police narrative that the protesters are violent to justify police's use of excessive force and violence against peaceful protesters, and they relentlessly hyped up the supposed threats posed by anti-fascists.

 

Trump used this fearmongering to justify military action and attack his political enemies. The narrative that anti-fascists were behind the violence at protests caused panic in small towns across the U.S., where residents gathered to defend their homes from attacks that never happened.

1/2/2021   Nashville Bomber Rambled About Aliens in Letters Sent to Pals Before Suicide, by Tracy Connor, Daily Beast

The Nashville suicide bomber sent packages full of conspiracy theories—including that lizard people control the earth—to friends in the days before he blew himself up in his RV, WTVF reported. Anthony Warner rambled on about UFOs, aliens, the moon landing, and 9/11 in a nine-page letter.

1/2/2021    In 1960 Reporter / Author Gene Fowler Saw The Impending Danger of Who Decided What’s News In Newspapers

Gene Fowler wrote the following in 1960:

 

…the besetting evils of a haywire economy, as well as the reprisals exacted by ferocious minorities against anyone who prints unpleasant truths, has taken much of the do-and-dare spirit out of the makers of newspaper policies. When appeasement supplants editorial enterprise, and silences the outspoken criticism of evil men, the newspaper forfeits its character, loses its influence—and eventually its life. Public servants become public masters. All freedoms are endangered when that of the press is assailed.

12/31/2020   Dumber and more dangerous: Fox's 2020 race to the bottom, by John Kerr and Audrey Bowler, MediaMatters

For the first time ever, Media Matters has named Fox News our Misinformer of the Year. In addition to the network's lies, propaganda, conspiracy theories, bigotry, and misinformation, Fox's coverage of -- well, everything -- in 2020 was also frequently very stupid.

12/30/2020   Petula Clark shocked that ‘Downtown’ played before bombing, Associated Press

12/30/2020   Nashville man’s girlfriend warned he was building bombs, by By KIMBERLEE KRUESI and ERIC TUCKER, AP

12/29/2020   Bomber to neighbor: The world is ‘never going to forget me’, By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, DENISE LAVOIE and MICHAEL BALSAMO, AP 

12/29/2020   The Resistance’s Breakup With the Media Is at Hand, by McKay Coppins, The Atlantic

The White House spent four years vilifying journalists. What comes next?

12/29/2020   Newt Gingrich: Democrats are trying to 'brainwash the entire next generation', by David Smith, The Guardian

The 77-year-old Republican former House speaker says Trump will ‘remain a dominant figure for a fairly long period of time’

 

Some blame Donald Trump. Others blame social media. And those with longer memories blame Newt Gingrich for carving up America into blue states and red states racked by mutual fear, suspicion and alienation.

 

As speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999, the Republican arguably did more anyone else to sow the seeds of division in Washington. “Newt Gingrich turned partisan battles into bloodsport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump’s rise,” reflected the Atlantic magazine in 2018.

12/28/2020   How right-wing misinformation filled the void left when local newsrooms cut staff, by ALEX WALKER, ZACHARY PLEAT, CASEY WEXLER, SPENCER SILVA & JULIE TULBERT, MediaMatters

We are seeing the likely consequences of this dynamic already, as many stories were missing from the pages of local newspapers and the airwaves of local broadcast news in 2020. Local news outlets failed to warn viewers about health risks of political rallies, declined to inform people that a politician running for national office was making racist statements, and omitted right-wing extremist violence from their reporting. While local outlets fail to cover vital stories in their community, right-wing media have plenty of room to fill the gaps with misinformation via local talk radio, news stations owned by conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, and hyperpartisan local sites.

12/28/2020   Biden accuses Trump administration of obstructing his national security team, by David Smith, The Guardian

President-elect says his advisers encountered roadblocks from the defence department and the office of management and budget

12/28/2020   Nashville Explosion: What to Know, By Rick Rojas and Adam Goldman, The New York Times

DNA tests of human remains found at the scene match a 63-year-old Nashville man identified as a person of interest in the explosion, which ripped through downtown Nashville Christmas morning.

12/26/2020   Federal Agents Scour Home as They Hunt for Clues in Nashville Blast, By Rick Rojas, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio and Steve Cavendish, The New York Times

Investigators said they were working to determine whether more than one person was involved in the Christmas Day explosion that rattled the city.

12/26/2020   Nashville Explosion: What to Know, By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, The New York Times

12/6/2020   Listen: Misinformation Mailbag, by James Hamblin and Katherine Wells, Social Distance, The Atlantic

How do you talk with a loved one who believes pandemic conspiracy theories?

12/3/2020   Trump’s election lies are part of a much broader strategy. Here’s how it works, by Nicholas Goldberg, Los Angeles Times

Trump persists, declaring noisily and repeatedly to all who will listen that the election was stolen by corrupt Democrats. Almost a month after the polls closed, he’s still insisting that the voting discrepancies were “tremendous,” the election “rigged,” the voting machines “fixed” and that there were “dead people voting all over the place.”

 

Some view this as self-delusion, the inability of a narcissist to face up to his own defeat. But that’s too generous. In fact, it is deception plain and simple, the logical culmination of Trump’s grand, four-year-long assault on the truth. Baselessly undermining the integrity of the election — the most elemental symbol of American democracy — is merely a fitting finale to his dishonest presidency.

 

This final big lie is classic Trump. He offers no facts or evidence. It’s just his word against everybody else’s. And that’s the heart of the strategy.

 

From the moment he took office, Trump has used his powerful platform — and the outsized megaphone that goes with the presidency — to create an alternative reality in which his truth is as good as anyone else’s truth, even if it isn’t exactly, well, true. The idea was that if he cast doubt on information put forth by society’s traditional arbiters — the scientists, the experts, the judges, the journalists — it would leave ordinary Americans rudderless and uncertain what to believe. If every “expert” who disagreed with him was a liar, as well as a partisan or an enemy of the people or a member of a vast conspiracy, then their facts posed no challenge to his “facts.” Americans would have to decide what to believe based on who screamed the loudest and who was saying what they wanted to hear.

12/3/2020   More than 40 states plan on suing Facebook next week. Here's what the lawsuit is likely to do, by Matthew Rozsa, Salon

Will Facebook ever face any repercussions for its actions? The possibility of antitrust action looms

11/29/2020  Troll: Why are Neo-Nazis called right-extremists when the actual Nazis were socialists/leftists?  by Shayn McCallum, PhD, Quora

Because, for possibly the millionth time I have had to say this, the Nazis were not leftists.

 

Other than the deliberate propaganda of writers like Jonah Goldberg, I believe the confusion about where the Nazis fell on the political spectrum comes from a specifically American misunderstanding of what “right” and “left” mean.

 

Because the USA was founded as a kind of “anti-Europe”, its politics developed in a very different way from European politics. I have often heard Americans here repeating the fallacy that “left means big government, right means small government”. This actually has nothing to do with what “left” and “right” mean and this feeds the general confusion concerning inter-war politics in Europe.

 

See, European conservatism, especially in Central Europe, was not based on “small government” at all (and still isn’t) but rather on the idea of law and order, the naturalness of hierarchy, and maintenance of traditional authority. For much of the early history of European conservatism, it was feudal-nostalgic, monarchist and highly militaristic. It was not necessarily in favour of liberal capitalism, although it was not opposed to it as long as the “right people” were making money and nouveau riche riffraff weren’t getting ideas above their station.

 

Now, maybe you can begin to see why the Nazis and fascists belonged to the Right. The USA is dominated by a history of economic liberalism, whereas Europe took its time warming up to liberalism and tended to prefer managed capitalism. This is why European conservatives seem so confusing to Americans because America has no history with this kind of conservatism (or not much-- the Southern Confederacy nostalgics have some points in common with them).

 

When you look at the European Right, by US standards they all appear “left wing” because the European right tends to be instinctively statist.

 

So, what of the Left? Well, historically, the Left is characterised by an emphasis on popular sovereignty-- bottom-up democracy and a rejection of hierarchy, traditional privileges and top-down authority. Anarchism was, for many years, the iconic form of leftism and, as is well known, anarchism is fundamentally opposed to the state. The values of all leftist movements, regardless of what they end up doing in practice (and the Left in power is famous for betraying its own values) have always been centred on freedom, equality, and solidarity.

 

Now, back to the Nazis. Nothing about the Nazis, or the fascists was in any way “left wing”. On the contrary, their ideology aligned closely with the traditional values of the German Right. As for “socialism”, until Hitler took over the NSDAP, the party did advocate a kind of authoritarian socialist economy but Hitler tossed all that out, keeping only the name for two reasons: for “brand continuity” and to better compete with the Left (which, divided into mutually-hostile socialists and Communists, was the most powerful and popular movement in Weimar Germany).

 

In any case, for over 70 years, it has been taken for granted that Nazism is “extreme right” and this is because people have known clearly what those terms mean. The confusion today comes from a general lack of knowledge concerning political theories and ideas resulting in a lot of misconception and fallacies.

11/24/2020   Creepy Bespoke Chat-n-Hate Board, Parler, hacked.  Thousands of Haters had their SSNs and DMs leaked., Twitter

11/23/2020   Right-Wing Social Media Finalizes Its Divorce From Reality, by Renée DiResta, The Atlantic

Fox News acknowledged Trump’s loss. Facebook and Twitter cracked down on election lies. But true believers can get their misinformation elsewhere.

11/14/2020   Conservatives Flock To Mercer-Funded Parler, Claim Censorship On Facebook And Twitter, by Shannon Bond, Weekend Edition Sunday

Parler, founded in 2018, touts itself as "the world's premier free speech platform." On Saturday, CEO and co-founder John Matze said one of the privately owned company's early investors is Rebekah Mercer, who along with her father, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, has been a backer of President Trump and is also a major donor to conservative causes, including Breitbart News and former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

 

"What we've seen in the past with some of these other fringe or alternative social media sites is, if there's no rules and if it's really siloed, then what happens is it gets more and more extreme," she said.

 

That includes Gab, an alternative social network that has become notorious for hosting anti-Semitic and white nationalist content. It was used by the accused 2018 shooter at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

 

"Once you start fact-checking, you're introducing bias..." Matze replied

11/13/2020   So Let's Talk about Parler, Where did it come from? By Dave Troy, Twitter ThreadReader

Founder John Matze met his now wife, Alina Mukhutdinova, in May 15, 2016 in Las Vegas. Alina is from Kazan, Russia. She was on a two week road trip “vacation” across the USA with a friend.

11/12/2020   Americans Were Primed To Believe The Current Onslaught Of Disinformation, By Kaleigh Rogers, FiveThirtyEight

11/12/2020   Twitter Says Steps To Curb Election Misinformation Worked, by Shannon Bond, NPR

11/12/2020   Twitter Keeps Some Measures It Says Slowed Election Misinformation, by Shannon Bond, NPR

11/11/2020   She fell into QAnon and went viral for destroying a Target mask display. Now she’s rebuilding her life., by Travis M. Andrews, The Washington Post

A later video shows her in the garage of her home, after her husband has summoned the police. She’s telling them that she’s the “QAnon spokesperson” and explains that she has been on the phone with President Trump “all the time.” They detain her to bring her to a nearby psychiatric facility, as she yells, “You’re doing this to me because I’m Jewish.”

11/9/2020   Ex-RNC Chair Michael Steele Says Republican Party Needs A 'Political Enema', by Ed Mazza, HuffPost US

Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee, said it’s time to clean house within the GOP now that President Donald Trump has lost reelection to President-elect Joe Biden.

 

“It’s particularly disappointing when I see members of my party’s leadership sycophantically kowtow to an egomaniacal henchman who has one view of the world and that’s himself,” Steele told Larry Wilmore.

 

Steele, a senior adviser to the never-Trump conservative group The Lincoln Project which endorsed Biden, said he doesn’t want to fight his own party.

 

“But you gotta deal with stupid,” Steele said. “What the party’s gonna need when this is all said and done is a political enema. And I’m happy to deliver it.”

11/8/2020:   The media never fully learned how to cover Trump. But they still might have saved democracy. by Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post 

Over the past four or five years, I’ve been sharply critical of the media, including that subset I like to call the “reality-based press” — as distinguished from, say, the mendacious bilge spewed by the likes of Sean Hannity and Alex Jones. My continuing complaint has been that mainstream journalism never quite figured out how to cover President Trump, the master of distraction and insult who craved media attention and knew exactly how to get it, regardless of what it meant for the good of the nation.

 

He was a deeply abnormal president, but we constantly sought to normalize him, treating his deranged tweets like legitimate news and piously forecasting, every time he sounded the least bit calm, that he was becoming “presidential.”

 

From the beginning, TV news far too often took his public rallies and speeches as live feeds, letting his misinformation pollute the ecosystem. And we took far too long to call his falsehoods what they often were: lies. And far too long to call his world view what it clearly was: racist.

 

Maybe worst of all, we employed the time-honored method of treating both sides of a controversy as roughly equal. This might have been fine at an earlier moment of history. But it was almost criminally misleading in the Trump era, particularly when it came to the coverage of his Republican enablers in Washington.

 

Few have expressed this problem better than Thomas E. Mann of the (mildly left-leaning) Brookings Institution and Norman J. Ornstein of the (traditionally conservative) American Enterprise Institute in a piece titled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”

 

“We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story,” they wrote. “But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.” Mainstream journalists have been so worried about being called biased by the rabid right that they’ve spent the past four years in a defensive crouch, far too often favoring this false balance over simple truth-telling.

11/7/2020:   Stephen Miller Will Have Some Free Time Soon, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The New York Times

James Baldwin once said, “What white people have to do is try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a [Negro] in the first place, because I’m not a [Negro], I’m a man, but if you think I’m a [Negro] it means you need it.”

 

I understand the context of this quote in the Black struggle, but it also had meaning for me as an undocumented immigrant. I have noticed that when people try to be nice, they often call immigrants “undocumented laborers.” I think it’s a funny little thing to be hated for your essence and loved for the dialectical small of your back and the apparent jointlessness of your hands.

11/7/2020:    QAnon Lost and Confused After Trump’s Election Showing, by Will Sommer, The Daily Beast

Now, it’s starting to look to even some of the most dedicated followers—some of whom have sacrificed family in their devotion to the conspiracy theory—that QAnon might actually have been nonsense. And they aren’t sure what to do.

 

“It's hard to keep the faith when your wife and daughters have left you and we didn't get the decisive MOAB win we deserved on election night!!” complained one QAnon supporter on a QAnon forum on Friday, as QAnon believers tried to cheer one another up. “No win for me-PERIOD!!”

11/6/2020:   Former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon Loses Lawyer After Suggesting Beheading of Fauci, By Benjamin Weiser, Michael S. Schmidt and William K. Rashbaum

Mr. Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump, said the heads of the F.B.I. director and Dr. Anthony Fauci should be put on pikes, leading Twitter to ban one of his accounts.

 

Mr. Bannon, in his comments, invoked punishment from the medieval era.

“I’d actually like to go back to the old times of Tudor England,” Mr. Bannon said. “I’d put the heads on pikes, right? I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats: You either get with the program or you’re gone.”

 

On Friday, a prominent lawyer who was defending Mr. Bannon against fraud charges in federal court in Manhattan abruptly moved to drop him as a client, one person familiar with the matter said.

 

The loss of his white-shoe representation was just the latest setback for Mr. Bannon, 66, who has struggled for political relevance since losing his job at the White House eight months after Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

11/6/2020:   How Claims of Dead Michigan Voters Spread Faster Than the Facts, by Jack Nicas, The New York Times

The tweets began to arrive Wednesday night, carrying explosive claims that people in Michigan were voting under the names of dead people.

 

Austen Fletcher, a former Ivy League football player turned right-wing internet journalist, said in videos posted to Twitter that he had discovered registration documents on a State of Michigan website that showed that four people with reported birth dates from 1900 to 1902 had submitted absentee ballots ahead of Tuesday’s election. “How long has this been going on?” he asked.

 

By Thursday morning, Mr. Fletcher’s videos were the talk of the Republican internet. “Why is it taking regular Americans to expose this level of obvious corruption?” said Candace Owens, a conservative commentator, sharing one of the videos to her 2.7 million Twitter followers.

 

Yet a few phone calls by Mr. Fletcher would have revealed evidence that indicates that what appeared to be fraud were run-of-the-mill clerical errors.

 

Follow this story on Twitter

11/6/2020:   Alleged QAnon Goons With AR-15 Arrested Near Philadelphia Vote Center, by Pilar Melendez, Blake Montgomery and Jamie Ross, The Daily Beast

The Inquirer reported that a Hummer matching the description was seen with stickers linked to the QAnon conspiracy movement, including a large “Q” and “#WWG1WGA,” which the pro-Trump conspiracy theorists use to stand for “Where we go one, we go all”—the group’s motto. Photos of a silver Hummer parked near the Convention Center show a parking violation envelope tucked under the windshield.

11/6/2020    Incendiary texts traced to outfit run by top Trump aide, by FRANK BAJAK and GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press

“This kind of message is playing with fire, and we are very lucky that it does not seem to have driven more conflict,” said John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s online watchdog Citizen Lab. Scott-Railton helped track down the source.

11/1/2020:   How Trump and Barr’s October Surprise Went Bust, By Murray Waas, New York Magazine

Shortly after the resignation of his prized deputy and with the election looming on the horizon, Durham phoned Barr. He forcefully told the attorney general that his office would not be releasing a report or taking any other significant public actions before Election Day, according to a person with knowledge of the phone call. Dannehy’s resignation constituted an implied but unspoken threat to Barr that Durham or others on his team might resign if the attorney general attempted to force the issue, according to a person familiar with Durham’s thinking.

11/1/2020:   My party is destroying itself on the altar of Trump, by Benjamin L. Ginsberg, The Washington Post

Benjamin L. Ginsberg practiced election law for 38 years. He co-chaired the bipartisan 2013 Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

 

This is as un-American as it gets. It returns the Republican Party to the bad old days of “voter suppression” that landed it under a court order to stop such tactics — an order lifted before this election. It puts the party on the wrong side of demographic changes in this country that threaten to make the GOP a permanent minority.

 

These are painful words for me to write. I spent four decades in the Republican trenches, representing GOP presidential and congressional campaigns, working on Election Day operations, recounts, redistricting and other issues, including trying to lift the consent decree.

10/30/2020   DEEP STATE, DEEP CHURCH: HOW QANON AND TRUMPISM HAVE INFECTED THE CATHOLIC CHURCH by Kathryn Joyce, Vanity Fair

Catholicism’s increasingly powerful political right reflects fringe America, fueled by paranoia, conspiracy, racism, and the threat of apocalypse.

 

Donald Trump has pinned his 2020 hopes, in part, on dissident Catholics who view the church as compromised, the pope as an unorthodox interloper, and their theology as not just compatible with, but spiritual backbone for conspiracy theories like QAnon. What happens after Tuesday, in the Church and in this country, in some ways will mirror this battle.

10/29/2020   QAnon Is Supposed to Be All About Protecting Kids. Its Primary Enabler Appears to Have Hosted Child Porn Domains. By AJ Vicens, Ali Breland, Mother Jones

One dark irony of QAnon has always been that the conspiracy theory, which holds that President Trump is waging a war on a cabal of elite liberal pedophiles, rose to prominence on 8chan, an imageboard where users swapped child pornography.

 

But that irony may have a darker, deeper layer: Mother Jones has uncovered that Jim Watkins, the owner of 8chan and its successor site, 8kun, controls a company that hosted scores of domains whose names suggest they are connected to child pornography.

 

[ Today's psychological concept: Projection.  As if there was any doubt that QAnon believers are the dumbest simps on this planet.]

10/20/2020   The Right’s Disinformation Machine Is Getting Ready for Trump to Lose, by Renée DiResta, The Atlantic

First, the machine that moves information through the far-right ecosystem is preparing its audience for the very real chance that Trump will lose. Its goal is simple—to preemptively delegitimize any outcome but a clear victory by the incumbent. Second, QAnon, whose adherents have deep ties to countless other large communities, has become a linchpin in that ecosystem, and the absurdity of its claims in no way reduces its political influence.

9/22/2020:    The men behind QAnon, Experts and researchers said the key to "Q" is hiding in plain sight., by Chris Francescani, ABC News

Earlier this month, the fact-checking website Logically identified QMap’s developer, or operator, as an IT expert living in New Jersey. The IT executive denied any association with Watkins to Daily Dot, a tech-centric website.

 

Until it went offline, QMap was hosted by the same content delivery network (CDN) service as 8kun. The CDN only hosts two other domains: Watkins' domains and The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.

 

The host service company “was started right … at the end of October, 2019,” Brennan said. 8kun launched weeks later.

9/20/2020   The Supply of Disinformation Will Soon Be Infinite, by Renée DiResta, The Atlantic

Disinformation campaigns used to require a lot of human effort, but artificial intelligence will take them to a whole new level.

 

Someday soon, the reading public will miss the days when a bit of detective work could identify completely fictitious authors. Consider the case of “Alice Donovan.” In 2016, a freelance writer by that name emailed the editors of CounterPunch, a left-leaning independent media site, to pitch a story. Her Twitter profile identified her as a journalist. Over a period of 18 months, Donovan pitched CounterPunch regularly; the publication accepted a handful of her pieces, and a collection of left-leaning sites accepted others.

 

Then, in 2018, the editor of CounterPunch received a phone call from The Washington Post. A reporter there had obtained an FBI report suggesting that Alice Donovan was a “persona account”—a fictitious figure—created by the Main Directorate, the Russian military-intelligence agency commonly known as the GU. Skeptical of the Russia link, but concerned about having potentially published content from a fake person, the CounterPunch editors pored over Donovan’s oeuvre, which spanned topics as varied as Syria, Black Lives Matter, and Hillary Clinton’s emails. They found her to be not only suspicious, but also a plagiarist: Some of the articles bearing her byline appeared to have been written instead by another woman, Sophia Mangal, a journalist affiliated with something called the Inside Syria Media Center.

 

The ISMC’s “About” page claimed that the group, ostensibly a cross between a think tank and a news outlet, was founded in 2015 by a team of journalists. But as the CounterPunch editors dug further, they realized that Sophia Mangal was also a fabrication. So, it seemed, were the others at ISMC whom they tried to track down. CounterPunch published a January 2018 postmortem detailing what its investigation had found: articles plagiarized from The New Yorker, the Saudi-based Arab News, and other sources; prolific “journalists” who filed as many as three or four stories a day, but whose bylines disappeared after inquiries were made to verify that they existed; social-media profiles that featured stolen photos of real people; lively Twitter accounts that sycophantically defended the Syrian dictator and Russian ally Bashar al-Assad. The ISMC, it seemed, was a front. Its employees were purely digital personas controlled by Russian-intelligence agents.

 

Read more

 

Renée DiResta is the Technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory

9/16/2020   Nearly two-thirds of US young adults unaware 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, by Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian

According to survey of adults 18-39, 23% said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure

8/29/2020:  Fox News pulled off the air in Britain, by Charles Riley, CNN

 

PDF:  The Conspiracy Theory Handbook, by Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook

8/3/2020:  The Lasting Trauma of Alex Jones’s Lies, by Megan Garber, The Atlantic

The systems that have for so long helped to enforce the notion of collective truth in America are no longer sufficient: Deception is everywhere. And it is dangerous.

7/2/2020   What happend with the USA? How come that their is so much hate between the democrats and republicans? Was their a trigger or is it something that is already going on for a long time but due to social media its more widespread and visible? - Adam Austin, Quora

I argue with both conservative and liberal friends about this exact subject often. Both sides are racing away from each other as fast as they can, but the reasons for it aren’t the same.

 

The trigger was not social media. It was actually this man, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

 

Before Trump or McConnell or Ted Cruz, Pelosi or AOC or Bernie, there was Newt MFing Gingrich.

 

Since the US functionally has a two party system, both parties once knew the only way to govern was through a method that now is viewed as abhorrent: compromise. While the parties often disagreed, there was a loyalty to the institution of the US Government over party affiliation.

 

Believe it or not, there was a time when the US political parties were not the tribal messes they are now. Nixon, a Republican, wasn’t ousted by Democrats. It was his own party that forced him out of office. Granted, they paid the price for it. Democrats controlled House and Senate, and maintained that control for many years. It looked like Republicans would never win again.

 

But, during that time, the parties worked together. A party couldn’t always count on their representatives voting on party lines 100% of the time, and so the understanding was that if you needed something done, you reached across the aisle, because both sides were working towards the same goal, albeit in different ways.

 

Then along came ole Mr. Gingrich. He had a theory, that politics was not about governing for the people. It was a war for power that needed to be won, and the Republican Party wasn’t nasty enough to win it.

 

“One of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal, and faithful, and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around the campfire but are lousy in politics.

-Newt Gingrich


^Newt speaking to West Georgia College. He later stole all their Christmas presents, to teach them a lesson on trickle down economics

 

Newt identified a hole in US politics. Previously, it was believed you needed to have good ideas to win elections. He disproved that by showing legislators don’t need to legislate to win seats…they needed to make people afraid of an enemy. And that’s what he did. He flung insults, he picked fights, he pushed conspiracy theories against his Democratic and Republican colleagues alike. If he could stop the whole government machine from functioning, he knew the American people would throw it out the window.

 

“His idea was to build toward a national election where people were so disgusted by Washington and the way it was operating that they would throw the ins out and bring the outs in.”

-Norm Ornstein

 

Democrats were tyrannical socialists bent on destroying the American way of life. Republicans who worked with Democrats were traitors in the war for seats in Congress. He picked fights with both sides. Those fights were reported on by the media, rare dramas in the dull political landscape. This raised Gingrich’s profile further. The more outlandish his accusations, the more colorful his insults, the more coverage he received and the more his plan worked.

 

 

Compromise was no longer an effective form of government. It was now being considered lost ground in the political war. As Gingrich gained power, Republicans began to realize that his strategy was working. The more Americans were willing to believe that Democrats were out to destroy what they held dear, the more Republicans won elections. Conservatives willing to reach cross the aisle to work with their colleagues were getting forced out and replaced by ideologues who viewed their opponents not as colleagues, but as Gingrich did; as the enemy.

 

Republicans regained the House, which they hadn’t held in 40 years, and the Senate, which they only had for 6 of the previous 40. Since Newt Gingrich was elected, Republicans have held the House for 20 of 26 years, and the Senate for 16 years during the same frame.

 

Democrats started to realize what was happening too late. And let’s be real, they still don’t totally understand though. Ideas don’t matter in elections. As Jeff Daniel’s character Will McAvoy asked in The Newsroom, “if liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so goddam always?”

 

It’s because emotions matter, and Newt Gingrich made people afraid of monsters called Democrats. But the Democrats are starting to figure that out. That’s why Bernie, an unknown in 2012 to all but the most politically-focused, has become such a left-wing force. It’s why Warren has made such a name for herself with her “win the fight” attitude. It’s why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez handily unseated Joe Crowley.

 

 

Democrats were still trying to govern the old way, and they just kept losing. So now they’re electing people who will fight back against the Republicans in more or less the same way. Conservatives may hate AOC, but she’s a devil of their own design, the next step for Democrats in this new, sick political arms race.

Now, 66% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats don’t just disagree with each other, they believe the opposite parties’ policies are an actual threat to the nation.

 

That’s how we got here. Not because people argued more on social media, or we opened ourselves up to fake news. It’s because Newt Gingrich had the idea to make his fellow Americans the enemy.

 

 

6/18/2020:  “He's the Chosen One to run America”: Inside the cult of Trump, His rallies are Church and he is the Gospel, by Jeff Sharlet, Vanity Fair

Trump’s rallies—a bizarre mishmash of numerology, tweetology, and white supremacy—are the rituals by which he stamps his name on the American dream. As he prepares to resume them for the first time in months, his followers are ready to receive.

June 2020:  The Prophecies of Q, by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.

5/21/2020:  Life at the Trump Tailgate: Spiked Slurpees, Culture Wars and the Coronavirus Hoax, by Tim Alberta, Politico

Michigan is beset by disease, floods and joblessness, but it’s voter fraud conspiracies that really frighten the president’s supporters

5/21/2020: Once Again, Democrats Are Caught in the Trump Trap, by John F. Harris, Politico 

5/20/2020:  I Spent a Week Down the Right-Wing Media Rabbit Hole—and Was Mesmerized by It, by Philippe Reines, Daily Beast

Here’s what it’s like to spend a full week of COVID-19 quarantine holed up consuming nothing but Fox News, talk radio, conservative websites, and One America News.

The Atlantic:  Shadowland

Fueled by the internet, partisan media, and the 45th president of the United States—paranoid thinking is more powerful, and more dangerous, than ever, threatening not just individual facts, but the idea that empirical truth exists at all.

5/17/2020:  “Immune to Evidence”: How Dangerous Coronavirus Conspiracies Spread, by Marshall Allen, ProPublica

Conspiratorial videos and websites about COVID-19 are going viral. Here’s how one of the authors of “The Conspiracy Theory Handbook” says you can fight back. One big takeaway: Focus your efforts on people who can hear evidence and think rationally. 

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4/11/2020   Trump’s Socially Distanced Campaign Backed by a new loyalist press secretary, the president’s coronavirus briefings have replaced reelection rallies. By Olivia Nuzzi, Art by Barbara Kruger, New York Magazine

“It’s completely discordant. It’s literally a matter of life and death — and a sideshow,” says a senior Republican congressional staffer. “Everyone is kind of amused by Trump and his jokes at a rally. But this isn’t a joke. To say that at a briefing about a pandemic that’s killed 15,000 Americans so far and is going to kill more? It just shows he’s incapable of rising to the occasion.” The staffer adds, “I try not to watch. It’s pretty depressing.”

3/10/2020   The Conspiracies Are Coming From Inside the House, by Renée DiResta, The Atlantic

Four years ago, when Russia’s internet trolls wanted the American electorate to lose confidence in democracy, they had to work hard at it—by recirculating cynical postings from obscure social-media accounts, or by making up their own.

 

The message then was that everything in American society had been rigged: elections, football games, the stock market, primaries, polls, the media, “the system.” But this litany of conspiratorial messages bubbled up from the lower reaches of the social-media universe—for instance, from Twitter accounts whose Russian owners had worked painstakingly to gain followers.

 

In 2020, though, the vitriol, conspiracies, and incessant allegations of rigging aren’t coming from outsiders. They’re being driven by real influencers in the United States—by verified users, many from within the media, and by passionate hyper-partisan fan groups that band together to drive the public conversation.

2/10/2020   The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President, by McKay Coppins, The Atlantic

How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election

 

The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside.

 

The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

 

As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen: “That’s right, the whistleblower’s own lawyer said, ‘The coup has started …’ ” Swipe. “Democrats are doing Putin’s bidding …” Swipe. “The only message these radical socialists and extremists will understand is a crushing …” Swipe. “Only one man can stop this chaos …” Swipe, swipe, swipe.

 

What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.

2/5/2020   The right needs to stop falsely claiming that the Nazis were socialists, by Ronald J. Granieri, The Washington Post

The Nazis hated socialists. It was the governments that rebuilt Europe that embraced social welfare programs.

1/31/2020   The Conservatives Trying to Ditch Fake News, by McKay Coppins, The Atlantic

Jonah goldberg, the conservative author and longtime fixture at National Review, used to have a go-to metaphor he’d deploy whenever he found himself defending one of his noisier compatriots in the right-wing media.

 

“I had this whole spiel about how the conservative movement is like a symphony,” he told me in a recent interview. “You need the fine woodwinds like Yuval Levin or Irving Kristol, but you also need that guy with the big gong who just smashes out the notes.” Sure, the talk-radio ranters were shouty and crass, he would reason, but they had their part to play.

 

These days, Goldberg has abandoned such rationalizations. “We’re holding a lot of symphonies where it’s basically all gong,” he said. “I didn’t think the gong would swamp the woodwinds quite the way it did.” Looking back, he admits even he was part of the problem: “I could be quite loud.”

1/9/2020:  Of Ants and Men: Ant Behavior and Political Polarization May Be Driven by the Same Processes, Princeton University 

In a paper published January 8, 2020, in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Tokita and Tarnita examined two forces known to drive political polarization and added them to an existing model for how division of labor arises in ant communities. They found that a feedback between these two forces simultaneously resulted in division of labor and polarized social networks. 

10/21/2019   When the U.S. Used 'Fake News' to Sell Americans on World War I, by Patricia O'Toole, History.com

8/21/2019   They Just Wanted to Entertain, by Brian Rosenwald, The Atlantic

AM stations mainly wanted to keep listeners engaged—but ended up remaking the Republican Party.

 

No one set out to turn the airwaves into a political weapon—much less deputize talk-radio hosts as the ideological enforcers of a major American political party. Instead the story of how the GOP establishment lost its power over the Republican message—and eventually the party itself—begins with frantic AM radio executives and a former Top 40 disc jockey, Rush Limbaugh.

 

In the fight for a devoted audience, allies became foes. Former House Speaker John Boehner explained what that meant for Republicans, telling Politico, “‘I always liked Rush [Limbaugh]. When I went to Palm Beach I would always meet with Rush and we’d go play golf. But you know, who was that right-wing guy, [Mark] Levin?”—Levin launched in New York in 2002 and entered national syndication in 2006—“He went really crazy right and got a big audience, and he dragged [Sean] Hannity to the dark side. He dragged Rush to the dark side. And these guys—I used to talk to them all the time. And suddenly they’re beating the living shit out of me.”

7/17/2019   The Nationalists Take Washington, by Emma Green, The Atlantic

7/16/2019   Trump’s Greatest Contribution to American Politics, by Todd S. Purdum, The Atlantic

The fight on the House floor about Trump’s racist tweets illustrates, yet again, how singularly unprepared Washington is for a president like him.  In his racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color, Donald Trump violated the norms of civilized public discourse in ways no modern president has come close to doing. And in its effort to condemn the president’s virulent remarks, the House Democratic majority dispensed—by raw party-line vote—with parliamentary niceties dating to the pen of Thomas Jefferson himself.

 

Welcome to another great moment in Washington 2019, where the 45th president seems more determined than ever to keep defining deviancy down, and to encourage everyone else to see the moral high ground as just another slippery and shifting partisan slope.

 

The day began normally enough for this non-normal age, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi determined to pass a nonbinding resolution rebuking Trump’s series of tweets attacking the four Democratic members as America-hating socialists who should “go back” to where they came from, even though all but one of them were born in the United States.

 

But in her floor speech in support of the measure, Pelosi declared, “There’s no excuse for any response to those words but a swift and strong unified condemnation. Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president’s racist tweets.” That was too much for Republican Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, who rose to ask the speaker whether she’d like to “rephrase that comment.”

 

“I have cleared my remarks with the parliamentarian before I read them,” Pelosi rejoined before walking away from the lectern in the well of the House. Collins was not satisfied, protesting that the speaker’s words were “unparliamentary” and should be “taken down,” or stricken from the congressional record, in accordance with long-standing House protocols that ban personal invective in floor debate. Among the authorities that govern House procedure in this regard is Thomas Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice, published in 1801 and used by the House since the 1830s. It forbids language “which is personally offensive to the president” (and was, of course, written by that greatest of American conundrums: the man who wrote that “all men are created equal,” yet owned slaves).

 

There is hardly moral equivalence between Trump’s norm-shattering comments about the congresswomen and Pelosi’s protocol-pushing insistence that the president’s words were racist. But there was just enough uncomfortable overlap to prove, once again, Trump’s singular genius: his ability, through his own relentless uncouth behavior, to goad others into actions that leave them subject to criticism as well. The day’s events showed, yet again, how singularly unable establishment Washington is, with all its rules and decorum, to cope with a presidency like Trump’s.

 

In the hour-long state of confusion and fevered consultation that followed Collins’s objection, the presiding officer, Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, at last lost his patience and stalked off the rostrum. “We don’t ever, ever want to pass up, it seems, an opportunity to escalate, and that’s what this is. We want to just fight. I abandon the chair,” he said, an abdication apparently without precedent in the modern annals of the House.

 

Soon enough, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland—as it happens, a long-standing rival and frenemy of Pelosi’s—took the chair and was compelled to declare that “characterizing an action as ‘racist’ is not in order” under House rules. But Hoyer also called for a vote on whether Pelosi’s remarks should be excised from the record, and by a strict party-line vote, the majority decided they should not. In another, the Democrats restored Pelosi’s ability to speak on the House floor again before day’s end—a privilege she would have lost if the objection to her words had stood.

 

Near the end of the debate, Democratic Representative John Lewis of Georgia, one of the last living icons of the civil-rights movement—whose skull was fractured by state troopers on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama—was unblinking in summing up the stakes of the argument over Trump. “I know racism when I see it,” he told his colleagues. “I know racism when I feel it. And at the highest level of government, there’s no room for racism. The world is watching. They are shocked and dismayed because it seems we have lost our way as a nation.”

 

By day’s end, the original measure condemning Trump passed easily, 240–187, with just four Republicans and the chamber’s lone independent, Justin Amash of Michigan, voting with the Democrats.

 

Pelosi accomplished what she’d set out to do: make clear to Americans that the House majority uniformly rejects the president’s invective. But rather than grapple with the substance of what Trump actually said, Republican lawmakers chose to focus on the speaker’s breach of protocol and turn their outrage back on the Democrats. “We have rules for a reason,” the minority whip, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, insisted, while the Republican minority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, struck a lugubrious tone. “It is a sad day for this House,” McCarthy said, after reading from the first page of Jefferson’s manual, which declares: “It is very material that order, decency and regularity be preserved in a dignified public body.”

 

What McCarthy did not read is the passage that comes just before that sentence, in which Jefferson argued for the necessity of rules and norms. “And whether these forms be in all cases the most rational or not is really not of so great importance,” Jefferson wrote. “It is much more material that there should be a rule to go by than what that rule is; that there may be a uniformity of proceeding in business not subject to the caprice of the Speaker or the captiousness of the members.”

 

It is the utter shredding of that precept—the very idea that there must be an agreed-upon set of rules and procedures and, yes, facts—that remains Trump’s abiding contribution to political debate, not just in the House of Representatives, but in the country as a whole. And it’s a contribution that is likely to echo down through history, long after the particulars of today’s bitter battle are forgotten.

7/15/2019   All About That Base, by Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic

With his attacks on Democratic women of color and his threats to undocumented immigrants, President Trump has only one small audience in mind.

 

A day after President Donald Trump tweeted that four women of color in Congress should go back to the countries “from which they came,” a reporter asked him today if he’s troubled at all that his comments have been called racist, and that white nationalists have found “common cause” with him “on that point.”

“It doesn’t concern me,” the president replied, “because many people agree with me.”

 

And perhaps no comment from Trump sums up his approach quite so well as his justification that “many people” share his views. Who are these people? Trump doesn’t say. But it seems clear he believes it’s the people who voted him into office.

July/August 2019:  Why Are Right-Wing Conspiracies so Obsessed With Pedophilia? By Ali Breland, Mother Jones

The story is the same, from the day-care panics to QAnon: It’s not really about the kids. It’s about fears of a changing social order.

 

Beck likens conspiracy theories to parables. The ones that stick are those that most effectively validate a group’s anxieties, with blame assigned to outsiders. In a 2017 paper on Pizzagate and pedophile conspiracies, psychology professor Jim Kline, now at Northern Marianas College, argues that conspiracy theories “are born during times of turmoil and uncertainty.” In an interview, Kline goes further: “Social turmoil can overwhelm critical thinking. It makes us get beyond what is logically possible. We go into this state of hysteria and we let that overwhelm ourselves.”

11/17/2018   ‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America, by Eli Saslow, The Washington Post

NORTH WATERBORO, Maine — The only light in the house came from the glow of three computer monitors, and Christopher Blair, 46, sat down at a keyboard and started to type. His wife had left for work and his children were on their way to school, but waiting online was his other community, an unreality where nothing was exactly as it seemed. He logged onto his website and began to invent his first news story of the day.

 

“BREAKING,” he wrote, pecking out each letter with his index fingers as he considered the possibilities. Maybe he would announce that Hillary Clinton had died during a secret overseas mission to smuggle more refugees into America. Maybe he would award President Trump the Nobel Peace Prize for his courage in denying climate change.

 

A new message popped onto Blair’s screen from a friend who helped with his website. “What viral insanity should we spread this morning?” the friend asked.

 

“The more extreme we become, the more people believe it,” Blair replied.

 

He had launched his new website on Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign as a practical joke among friends — a political satire site started by Blair and a few other liberal bloggers who wanted to make fun of what they considered to be extremist ideas spreading throughout the far right. In the last two years on his page, America’s Last Line of Defense, Blair had made up stories about California instituting sharia, former president Bill Clinton becoming a serial killer, undocumented immigrants defacing Mount Rushmore, and former president Barack Obama dodging the Vietnam draft when he was 9. “Share if you’re outraged!” his posts often read, and thousands of people on Facebook had clicked “like” and then “share,” most of whom did not recognize his posts as satire. Instead, Blair’s page had become one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55.

 

“Nothing on this page is real,” read one of the 14 disclaimers on Blair’s site, and yet in the America of 2018 his stories had become real, reinforcing people’s biases, spreading onto Macedonian and Russian fake news sites, amassing an audience of as many 6 million visitors each month who thought his posts were factual. What Blair had first conceived of as an elaborate joke was beginning to reveal something darker. “No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back,” Blair once wrote, on his own personal Facebook page. “Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they’re being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?”

 

5/10/2018:  Grifter or Grafter: A new parlor game that explains Trumpworld, by Jacob Weisberg, Slate

9/25/2017   What, Exactly, Were Russians Trying to Do With Those Facebook Ads? By Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic

From what we know now, it was too small to seriously influence the election, but too big to be an afterthought.

9/7/2017   The RINO Hunters Become the Hunted, by CONOR FRIEDERSDORF, The Atlantic

Over the last 25 years, the American right has embraced the notion that the worst insult one can heap on an elected Republican is to call him or her a RINO, or “Republican in name only,” which is to say, someone who pretends to be a member of the tribe but is closer to a traitor, because he or she lacks the spine for conservative policymaking, or sells out their own to establishment elites or liberal Democrats.

 

But over time, RINO was hurled at people who were as conservative as anyone else, but less strident in their rhetoric, less averse to compromise, or less reckless in their brinksmanship than their critics (usually blowhard entertainers with no responsibility to govern or even to get their facts right). Most every Republican member of Congress, regardless of their views, harbored the concern that they’d be tarred as a RINO in the next GOP primary by a challenger pandering to a voting base that increasingly mistook fiery rhetoric for a sign of principle or ideological fealty.

 

A surfeit of bombastic huckster-enablers in right-wing media ensured that, over time, attacks on so-called RINOs were less and less grounded in substantive disagreements. Circa 2012, Jon Huntsman Jr., a man conservative enough to be elected governor of Utah, was utterly unable to attract a constituency to back his presidential campaign, because he had accepted a job as ambassador to China in the Obama administration, had a conciliatory manner, and criticized other Republicans in the media. That so many called him a RINO for those transgressions hinted at the degree to which the term had ceased to be about conservative ideology.

7/9/2017:  Misinforming the Majority: A Deliberate Strategy of Right-Wing Libertarians, by Mark Karlin, Truthout

6/17/2017   The Normalization of Conspiracy Culture, by ADRIENNE LAFRANCE, The Atlantic

Trump’s strategy in the face of all this drama has been to treat real and fake information interchangeably and discredit any report that’s unflattering to him. It’s why he refers to reputable news organizations as “fake news,” and why he brags about “going around” journalists by tweeting directly to the people. He wants to shorten the distance between the loony theories on the left and legitimate allegations of wrongdoing against him, making them indistinguishable.

 

Pushing conspiracy theories helped win Trump the presidency, and he’s now banking on the idea that they’ll help him as president. He’s casting himself as the victim of a new conspiracy—a “witch hunt” perpetrated by the forces that want to see him fail.

 

“Donald Trump communicates through conspiracy theories,” Uscinski says. “You can win the presidency on conspiracy theories, but it’s very difficult to govern on them. Because conspiracy theories are for losers, and now he’s a winner.”

5/10/2017   The Technology That Can Destroy a Presidency, by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

From Xerox copiers to secret tapes to missing emails, machines are still at the center of modern political scandals.

3/17/2017   The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency, By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker

How Robert Mercer exploited America’s populist insurgency.

 

During the past decade, Mercer, who is seventy, has funded an array of political projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise. Among these efforts was public-opinion research, conducted by Caddell, showing that political conditions in America were increasingly ripe for an outsider candidate to take the White House. Caddell told me that Mercer “is a libertarian—he despises the Republican establishment,” and added, “He thinks that the leaders are corrupt crooks, and that they’ve ruined the country.”

2/11/2017   Want to Make a Lie Seem True? Say It Again. And Again. And Again, by Emily Dreyfuss, Wired

You only use 10 percent of your brain. Eating carrots improves your eyesight. Vitamin C cures the common cold. Crime in the United States is at an all-time high.

 

None of those things are true.

 

But the facts don't actually matter: People repeat them so often that you believe them. Welcome to the “illusory truth effect,” a glitch in the human psyche that equates repetition with truth.

 

Not to go all Godwin's Law on you, but even Adolf Hitler knew about the technique. "Slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea," he wrote in Mein Kampf.

 

The effect works because when people attempt to assess truth they rely on two things: whether the information jibes with their understanding, and whether it feels familiar. The first condition is logical: People compare new information with what they already know to be true and consider the credibility of both sources. But researchers have found that familiarity can trump rationality—so much so that hearing over and over again that a certain fact is wrong can have a paradoxical effect. It's so familiar that it starts to feel right.

3/16/2016   An Outbreak of Conspiracy Theories, by Julie Beck, The Atlantic

Why do emerging diseases like Zika tend to breed tall tales of sinister plots?

10/21/2015   Going Online in the Age of Conspiracy Theories, by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

A video claiming Back to the Future predicted 9/11 is the latest in a long and often bizarre tradition of questioning key moments in history.

 

“In statistics, a problem akin to apophenia is a Type I error, or false positive,” wrote Katy Waldman in a 2014 Slate article about the phenomenon. “It means believing something is real when it isn’t, based on a misleading pattern in the data.”

6/2/2015   The Agency, by Adrian Chen, The New York Times Magazine

The Columbian Chemicals hoax was not some simple prank by a bored sadist. It was a highly coordinated disinformation campaign, involving dozens of fake accounts that posted hundreds of tweets for hours, targeting a list of figures precisely chosen to generate maximum attention. The perpetrators didn’t just doctor screenshots from CNN; they also created fully functional clones of the websites of Louisiana TV stations and newspapers. The YouTube video of the man watching TV had been tailor-made for the project. A Wikipedia page was even created for the Columbian Chemicals disaster, which cited the fake YouTube video. As the virtual assault unfolded, it was complemented by text messages to actual residents in St. Mary Parish. It must have taken a team of programmers and content producers to pull off.

 

As Savchuk and other former employees describe it, the Internet Research Agency had industrialized the art of trolling. Management was obsessed with statistics — page views, number of posts, a blog’s place on LiveJournal’s traffic charts — and team leaders compelled hard work through a system of bonuses and fines. “It was a very strong corporate feeling,” Savchuk says. Her schedule gave her two 12-hour days in a row, followed by two days off. Over those two shifts she had to meet a quota of five political posts, 10 nonpolitical posts and 150 to 200 comments on other workers’ posts. 

 

Employees were mostly in their 20s but were drawn from a broad cross-section of Russian society. It seemed as if the agency’s task was so large that it would hire almost anyone who responded to the many ads it posted on job boards, no matter how undereducated or politically ignorant they were. Posts teemed with logical and grammatical errors. “They were so stupid,” says Marat Burkhardt, who worked for two months in the department of forums, posting 135 comments a day on little-read message boards about remote Russian towns. “You see these people with a lot of tattoos. They’re so cool, like they’re from New York; very hip clothing, very hip tattoos, like they’re from Williamsburg. But they are stupid.” Management tried to rectify their ignorance with grammar classes.

9/16/2014   It’s All Connected.  What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia, by Katy Waldman, Slate

In statistics, a problem akin to apophenia is a Type I error, or false positive. It means believing something is real when it isn’t, based on a misleading pattern in the data. The equal and opposite misstep, a Type II error, involves attributing a true relationship to chance. Defaulting to Type I thinking may have once conferred a survival advantage: Assume every rustle in the grass is a tiger, and you’ll last a lot longer than the carefree naïf who chalks each disturbance up to the wind. So, the theory goes, human brains evolved into “belief engines” and “pattern-recognition machines,” keen to organize jumbled sensory inputs into meaningful data. We are also expert detectors of conspiracies in random events, whispers in radio static, and the Virgin Mary in grilled cheese.

 

Sometimes these false positives create an orderly perceptual continuum that helps us think. They aren’t strictly necessary, but they are at least usually benign.

1/15/2014   FLASHBACK: The Repulsive Hate Speech That Once Got Sean Hannity Fired, by Carlos Maza, MediaMatters

 

 

4/27/2012:   Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem, by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, The Washington Post

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.

 

It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

 

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.