Roger Stone and the Propaganda Moving the Overton Window: It’s Time to Admit America is Under Siege From Within.
By now, it’s clear the Overton Window has shifted since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president three years ago. Much of what was once unthinkable in political and media discourse is now the norm. Trump has accomplished much of this himself with outrageous statements and claims, but he hasn’t done so alone. An army of Alt-Right trolls have normalized Donald Trump’s behavior time and time again. Why have they done this? Who benefits from it? To understand the details of the operation, you have to understand Trump’s longest serving adviser, Roger Stone.
For starters, Roger Stone’s contacts with Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks meant he was communicating with a GRU officer (Guccifer 2.0) and a GRU cut-out, WikiLeaks. This was long suspected, but now we know for certain. Yet, it’s easy to see these contacts as a single instance, rather than a long running pattern of behavior. When we look at Stone’s history, we see that’s simply not the case. His connections with the Kremlin and Kremlin associates are numerous, and Stone often serves as a focal point for U.S. citizens working to further Russia’s interests in America. These actions are intended to help Donald Trump maintain his office. This is achieved with the Kremlin’s help, as well as American citizens working wittingly and unwittingly to further their cyber operations. These various factions on the right often appear independent of each other. Many times, they may not even like each other, but their goals overlap too often to be ignored.
Stone’s rules, as he described them in 2008 to Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker, still apply today. These rules are: “Attack, attack, attack — never defend” and “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.” Even if the game changes slightly, even as the names come and go, the rules for Stone don’t change. These tactics are a product of Stone and Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn. They spent years learning from Cohn together, and Trump and Stone’s relationship is full of many examples of dirty tricks together in the decades since.
In 2017, Stone described their relation to Trump this way: “Pro-Americanism,” Stone said, “is a common thread for McCarthy, Goldwater, Nixon, [and] Reagan. The heir to that tradition is Donald Trump. When you combine that with the bare-knuckled tactics of Roy Cohn — or a Roger Stone — that is how you win elections. So Roy has an impact on Donald’s understanding of how to deal with the media — attack, attack, attack, never defend.”
But really, it’s not Pro-Americanism. It’s Chekism with an affinity for Vladimir Putin.
Neither Trump or Stone’s tactics have changed one bit over the years. Even today, they’re still getting away with the old tricks. So, it’s time to expose their tactics and their army of disciples. It’s time to know the enemy.
Roger Stone’s history with Paul Manafort and the Kremlin.
Anyone who has paid much attention to the news for the last two years is likely to know who Paul Manafort worked for. For roughly a decade, Paul Manafort — Donald Trump’s former campaign manager — worked for the Kremlin’s man in Ukraine. Directly or indirectly, Paul Manafort worked to advance Putin’s agenda, and he did so willingly and knowingly. However, Manafort certainly wasn’t on an island in Kiev. Two of the men who worked in Ukraine alongside Manafort were his longtime business partner Roger Stone and Stone’s protégé, Michael Caputo.
Caputo himself has a long history with the Kremlin, who he acknowledges as his former employer.
Caputo worked as a PR guy for Gazprom, the Russian state-owned natural gas company, but he also served as an adviser to Russian president Boris Yeltsin while he lived and worked in Russia, most notably during Yeltsin’s winning 1996 re-election bid.
Caputo and Stone also worked together in Ukraine at least once, in 2007. The two men have a long history working together and for Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, Stone is less than honest about what he was up to as well.
By now, it’s public knowledge that Paul Manafort’s roughly decade long work in Ukraine was done for their pro-Russia President, Viktor Yanukovych. The woman Stone calls a “nut-case,” Yulia Tymoshenko, was actually jailed by Viktor Yanukovych with the help of Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Writing for The Guardian, Luke Harding has described Manafort’s efforts against her as “black ops” designed to discredit public opinion of Tymoshenko abroad. We are sure to learn more about this activity as Manafort’s trial continues.
In 2010, after Viktor Yanukovych defeated Yulia Tymoshenko in the election that year, Stone and Caputo’s man, Volodymyr Lytvyn formed a coalition consisting of his Lytvyn bloc, the Communist Party and Yanukovych’s pro-Kremlin Party of Regions. At best, Lytvyn can be described as an opportunist, but it’s still fair to say his opportunity came from his decision to align with the Kremlin. Their cooperation worked out well enough that in 2011, Lytvyn was presented the Russian Order of Friendship in 2011 by then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.
The fact of the matter is a guy like Michael Caputo — who lived in Russia for years and admittedly worked for the Kremlin — who goes on to work for Ukrainian politicians really is continuing the work started in Russia. Yanukovych was an obvious Kremlin stooge. He did little to hide this fact, but there are plenty of others in Ukraine who would happily see the country reunited with Russia as it was in the days of the Soviet Union. Anyone who’s interested in maintaining Ukraine's sovereignty and pushing back against Putin’s Russia wouldn’t hire a guy with known Kremlin connections. It’s simply too risky. Furthermore, Paul Manafort was already in Ukraine working for Yanukovych when Stone and Caputo showed up. Why would any real opposition candidate hire Paul Manafort’s longtime friend and business partner? The idea that Lytvyn was not pro-Russia really beggars belief.
Yet, this represents a pattern of behavior with Roger Stone especially. He prefers to keep an air of mystery and a degree of deniability around him at all times. He doesn’t work for the Kremlin publicly, but his protégé does, presumably while staying in contact with Stone. Paul Manafort worked for the Kremlin’s man in Ukraine with his good friend Stone in and out of the country, but rarely in an official, public capacity.
While Trump’s campaign and Mueller’s current investigation have forced Stone into the limelight like never before, he’s consistently managed to stay somewhat aloof, at least in the eyes of the media who still frequently reach out to him for quotes. It’s time to put the questions and accusations aside and get at the heart of who Roger Stone really is. He’s the Kremlin’s man.
Steve Bannon and Sam Nunberg are working together now. Don’t be surprised.
We recently learned that Roger Stone’s protégé Sam Nunberg and Trump’s former campaign CEO and White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, are working together ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Their goal? Keep Congress in the hands of the GOP to prevent Trump’s impeachment. The somewhat odd part about all this is that earlier this year Steve Bannon was excommunicated from Trump’s inner circle. In the process, Bannon lost his job running Breitbart News and was slammed by other Trump cronies. Nunberg’s recent antics were much the same. He’s repeatedly said he expects Roger Stone to be indicted, and he’s claimed not to care about Donald Trump. Yet, only a few months after their breaks from Trumpism, these men return to save Trump’s job.
Were their fights with Trump and Trump’s surrogates manufactured fights put out for media consumption? Only they know. Perhaps they were fake. Maybe the fights were real, but the groups have since made up. In truth, what matters are the present facts. Sam Nunberg and Steve Bannon are working together to help Donald Trump. As is the case with so many former associates, Trump’s various friends and allies tend to always find their way back into the fold. Though Nunberg and Bannon may not seem the most natural allies, they’re more closely aligned than you may think. We can thank Roger Stone and Cambridge Analytica for helping us connect the various dots.
Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Cambridge Analytica and the Trump orbit.
Cambridge Analytica alums are working with Brad Parscale for Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Steve Bannon, the former Vice President of Cambridge Analytica, was described as the boss by former employees. Roger Stone also claims he was the one who introduced Cambridge Analytica’s research to Donald Trump in the first place.
As I said, Stone is always in the mix. Take Lee Stranahan, for instance, a Stone associate who worked for Breitbart before moving to Russian state-owned Sputnik. As you can see, the move didn’t seem to change the men’s relationship at all.
We know Vladimir Putin is a proud Chekist who is known to celebrate and whitewash the KGB’s history. The Soviet State’s Chekists were created by the decree of Vladimir Lenin in 1917. Bannon’s claim to be a Leninist deserves mention then, and it could help explain why Lee Stranahan’s transition to Sputnik was so seamless.
Focus on the facts and avoid the spin as often as possible.
Despite their various connections over the years, Roger Stone and Steve Bannon have effectively managed to keep a degree of deniability between them. This is evident in the article I referenced above on Sam Nunberg and Steve Bannon’s newly formed venture to protect Trump. The article mentions Roger Stone’s association with Nunberg, and it notes the quotes by Nunberg saying he expects Stone to be indicted. Yet, it fails to mention the various intersections I’ve discussed here, and the fact that Nunberg is a full fledged Roger Stone protégé.
Let’s make this as clear as possible. Stone, Nunberg, Michael Cohen and Corey Lewandowski were the four original members of Trump’s presidential campaign. Nunberg and Stone worked together for years and wrote op-eds together on Breitbart, the site Bannon called the “platform for the alt-right.” Additionally, Roger Stone is a longtime writer for Breitbart. His first byline there was in September of 2009. From the time Donald Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015 until election day, Stone was the sole author of 19 articles published by Breitbart. Given this, maybe Steve Bannon wasn’t lying when he claimed he was Trump’s campaign manager back in 2015.
Yet, as I said with Nunberg and Bannon, much of this context isn’t public knowledge. It’s either been forgotten or lost in the midst of fights, fake fights, disavowals or repudiations. This is what Trump’s people do. They attempt to muddy the waters to the point that no one knows what is true and what is not. Who is friends and who is really enemies? What’s the difference between the Alt-Right and the Alt-Lite? I’m not saying divisions don’t occur. I’m saying focusing on them is helping their cause. The various factions on the far right worked together to get Trump elected. They pushed Pizzagate and then disavowed Pizzagate. They promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory, but lately they’ve disavowed QAnon. This pattern happens over and over again.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t track these people and follow their movements. We need to know what they’re up to, but we can’t get lost in the details without seeing the bigger picture.
What’s the key takeaway? The Alt-Right and Alt-Lite have worked together before. They’ll work together again. They supported Donald Trump before. They’ll support him again, and even though he’ll “deny, deny, deny,” Roger Stone will be there urging them on, right until the moment he goes to prison.
Roger Stone’s associates are a big focus of Mueller’s investigation.
The list of Roger Stone associates who have already been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is long. So far, the list includes John Kakanis, Sam Nunberg, “Manhattan Madam” Kristin Davis, Randy Credico, and Andrew Miller, who recently refused to appear before a grand jury is now being held in contempt.
The blame for the hacks of the DNC and subsequent release of damaging info on Hillary Clinton’s campaign was put on Russia. Though the reporting linking the hack to Russia was presented by a non-partisan group of cyber experts at Crowdstrike, the Trump campaign and its surrogates denied these facts and counterattacked. Roger Stone led this charge. He did this by claiming the Clintons had Seth Rich, a DNC employee, murdered.
Why did Stone do this? To cast doubt on Russia as the source for the hacks on the DNC. Instead, from Stone’s telling of events, the material was “leaked” from Seth Rich and given to WikiLeaks. In Stone’s version, Russia wasn’t involved at all. Instead, according to Stone’s telling, it was a lone DNC official who decided to help Donald Trump, and once the Clintons discovered what he’d done, they had Seth Rich killed. Ridiculous as this story is, Stone was not alone in telling it. WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information on the person who murdered Seth Rich. This story became a rallying cry for Trump supporters online. The conspiracy was convenient in that, if true, it meant there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. If the information came from a DNC official and not Russian hackers, how could there be?
Now, over two years after his death, we can say with certainty that Seth Rich did not provide the material given to WikiLeaks. Robert Mueller’s recent indictment tells us this is the case. However, in the end, the lie served its purpose in obfuscating the truth of the releases by WikiLeaks before the election.
This is how Russia wins the information war. There is no concern for truth, only reaction to what we perceive to be true. Once the truth comes out, it hardly matters. The next round of propaganda is already out being pushed. Disproving these lies is always going to take time. Making up stories and lying to your audience is quick and easy. As I’ve discussed before, the reporting in the lead up to the election was a case of reflexive control for the mainstream media. They reported the documents put out by WikiLeaks ad nauseum, believing this to be journalism. It wasn’t, but they believed it was, so they did it and kept doing it. WikiLeaks disclosures were never as damning as they were promised to be, but the releases continued to be a story, a focus of attention away from the horrible things the voters could have learned about Donald Trump. Instead of more coverage of Trump’s mob connections, racism or sexual assault, all the media kept talking about was WikiLeaks.
The Alt-Right trolls in Roger Stone’s orbit all worked toward the same goal in 2016 — electing Donald Trump. They did so in coordination with WikiLeaks, which was a cut out of Russian Military Intelligence (GRU). Their work together since Trump won has been less obvious, less overt, and at times, it appears significantly less united in a common cause. There are, however, many distractions between these various factions, some of which may or may not be true.
Whatever the case, Trump’s people find a way back to helping him eventually. If that’s for ideological reasons or simply because they’re mercenaries for hire is not our concern. Nor does it really matter if they believe the things they’re saying, the conspiracies they’re pushing or the hate they’re spewing. It doesn’t matter, because their words are being spread online and Russian disinformation efforts and cyber operations are helping them. One of the more obvious cases was the #ReleaseTheMemo push on Twitter. Was it Russia or was it the Alt-Right? It was both, or perhaps more accurately, what’s the difference?
Pizzagate and other conspiracy theories pushed by the Alt-Right.
The conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate ultimately ended with gunshots and a police standoff at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. in December 2016, but it all started with the tweet seen above by an account claiming to be operated by a Jewish lawyer in New York. The account would turn out to be fake, and the Pizzagate conspiracy theory ultimately resulted in an arrest at Comet Pizza. However, the momentum around the movement online really took off on November 16, 2016 when Jack Posobiec decided to dine there. He recorded himself and streamed the video but was eventually asked to leave the restaurant. It created a scene, all of which was documented and posted online. In the hours after Posobiec left Comet Pizza, according to the Washington Post, #pizzagate peaked on Twitter.
When the dust settled, no “child prostitution ring” was uncovered. Nothing was discovered at all, because the allegations were pulled out of thin air. Even Alex Jones issued an apology on his website to Comet Ping Pong, which is bizarrely now deleted.
As expected, the usual suspects in Stone’s orbit were involved in pushing Pizzagate — Jack Posobiec, Mike Cernovich, Mike Flynn Jr. and others. Pizzagate was a ridiculous idea on its face, but to at least some voters or potential voters, it was real, at least for as long as Trump’s people needed it to be. Why push these lies days before the 2016 election? Because this is how Stone and his army of trolls defended Trump.
This is achieved not by disproving the worst stories or theories about him, but by offering alternative narratives about Hillary Clinton and her associates that were just as bad or worse. Facts are never important to Stone’s closest allies.
The Access Hollywood tape on which Donald Trump boasts about grabbing women by the pussy nearly cost him his candidacy, but when it didn’t, his supporters needed to hit back and defend him. One way was to push a conspiracy theory like Pizzagate. The idea being that, yes, Donald Trump does like to brag about grabbing women by the pussy, but “Hillary Clinton runs a child sex ring.” If both were actually true, which would be worse? Obviously the child sex ring would be worse, but it was also obviously FALSE to the mainstream media. Those who did call out these lies were instantly labeled as “fake news.”
No matter how Pizzagate started, the trend continues
Once a gun-firing Pizzagate-believer found no evidence of the conspiracy taking place and was arrested after surrendering to police, the Pizzagate movement stopped being pushed online. Even in the world of conspiracy theories, there are leaps some people can never make. This was one of them. However, that hasn’t stopped other conspiracy theories from by this same group of trolls. Mike Flynn’s son, in particular, was fired from his job on the Trump transition team for his advocacy of Pizzagate. After it was thoroughly debunked, Flynn Jr. has not stopped tweeting, and he moved on from Pizzagate to Pedogate. The name changed, but the narrative has stayed the same.
There’s no denying the Overton Window has shifted under Donald Trump. What was once extreme is now normal. How has this been accomplished?
The rise in popularity of pro-Trump news outlets like Infowars and Breitbart have been instrumental in making this happen. How so? These sites remain fiercely loyal to Donald Trump. They rarely criticize him and find creative ways to blame Democrats or shift the focus away from Trump’s corruption, poor decisions and failures. They do this in spite of the absurdity of their argument because, again, the goal isn’t truth. It’s changing what people are talking about. It’s about protecting their guy. It’s about reflexive control and forcing the “liberal media” to respond to their actions, no matter how absurd.
“Free speech” means pushing the Overton Window further and further.
According to Bloomberg:
There’s a revolution going on in online conservative media. Breitbart and Infowars are attracting audiences that are too angry for Fox News, and communities of conspiracy theorists and Internet trolls thrive on platforms like Reddit and 4Chan. Then there’s the upstart social network Gab.ai. The content on Gab tracks closely with the fixations of the populist right in the Trump era — desire for restrictive immigration policies, disdain for “political correctness,” disapproval of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem — with outright racism and bigotry mixed in. But the site’s management and its users seem particularly furious about one subject: Big Tech.
Gab was started a year ago by Andrew Torba, a 26-year old entrepreneur from Pennsylvania. Torba has ridden its success into the upper ranks of right-wing rabble-rousers. He rubs elbows with former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, and debates best practices on website moderation with Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. When Torba donned a suit for a recent appearance on Infowars, he made sure to mention he was doing so because the infamous political operative Roger Stone had chided him about his wardrobe.
Gab’s founder, Andrew Torba, decided to leave Silicon Valley two years ago and found Gab in Austin, Texas. This happens to also be the headquarters of Alex Jones’ Infowars, and with Roger Stone playing a more and more active role during the same time period, there’s been a predictable amount of crossover between the two groups.
Infowars and Gab both advocate for free speech no matter what, but even for them, there’s a limit. They don’t want to admit there’s a limit, being the free speech crusaders they claim to be, but yes, there are individuals who are in fact too extreme for Gab and Infowars. Why? Because that’s how the Overton Window works. Gab and Infowars are far right sites. They profess views that are nowhere near the mainstream, but they have an audience. A sizable one, in fact, and one they hope to grow. How do they pull it off? By having a straw man who’s yes, more extreme than they are. I’ll let Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson show you.
Despite the fact that Gab is a haven for the Alt-Right and the supposed free speech platform where anti-semitism and hate is the norm, even Gab has its limits. Last year, the Daily Stormer’s Weev was banned from the platform. It seems some messages are too extreme even for Alt-Right Twitter.
Gab is where the Alt-Right continues its fight once they’re banned from other sites. It’s where they stay organized. It’s where their hate continues to grow. Everyone needs validation at some point, and Gab offers the Alt-Right friends who agree with them. No matter what Torba says, he allows threats and reprehensible views on his site.
Much like Russia Today (RT) functions for Vladimir Putin, Infowars bases its messaging on what Donald Trump is saying or doing. They justify his absurd statements. They normalize his irrational behavior. They attack Trump’s enemies and condemn those who would call out his lies. This is how propaganda works, and it’s why Roger Stone has become Alex Jones’s partner at Infowars over the last few years. To be clear, they do not hide their love for Vladimir Putin.
Yet, successfully moving the Overton Window always requires one thing: a more extreme view than the slightly-less-extreme message being put out. So, as absurd as this seems to the average person, there is in fact a more extreme message than Infowars being put out there. It comes from the founder of the Alt-Right, Richard Spencer.
Yes, you read that right. Richard Spencer’s message is too extreme for Infowars. On more than one occasion, Infowars has denounced or attacked Spencer for his white nationalist message. Why? Because doing so makes Infowars seem less extreme and thus more “normal” to its viewers. In essence, as crazy as Alex Jones sounds to objective listeners, his audience knows “at least we’re not supporting Nazis like Richard Spencer.”
There’s a problem with this supposed degree of separation, however.
It’s easy for almost anyone to denounce Richard Spencer. Nobody in 2018 wants to be considered or called a Nazi, not even Richard Spencer. According to Spencer, the Alt-Right aren’t Nazis or even Neo-Nazis. He says his movement is about celebrating and protecting the white race, but ultimately, it’s nearly impossible to separate his message from the Nazis. There’s plenty of crossover with the Trump supporting trolls too.
Yet, while Infowars denounces Spencer as too extreme, they fail to mention how connected the site is to Richard Spencer and his message. The most obvious example is given to us in the form of Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian national whom Alex Jones interviews on his shows.
What’s the connection to Spencer?
Richard Spencer’s wife, Nina Byzantina, works as a translator for Aleksandr Dugin. She was also born in Russia but later immigrated to Canada. Byzantina supports Putin but claims she doesn’t support her sometimes-estranged husband Richard Spencer’s message. Still, we can’t ignore the facts here. Nina works for a pro-Putin Russian nationalist, while Spencer works with various far-right factions with similar Kremlin sympathies. Here’s one detail that often gets missed though. While Dugin’s influence in the Kremlin is actually minimal and often overstated, there’s a reason he has any connection at all — his father.
Notice the pattern. Roger Stone contacted Guccifer 2.0, a GRU officer. WikiLeaks worked as a GRU cut-out after Fancy Bear, also GRU, hacked the DNC. Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were also in contact with “former” GRU officer Konstantin Kilimnik in September and October of 2016. So, it stands to reason Dugin’s GRU connections help explain all the overlap here between the Alt-Right, Roger Stone and ultimately Donald Trump himself.
Roger Stone’s mentor, Arthur Finkelstein, and Alt-Right’s connection to Hungary.
As you might expect, Roger Stone — a man committed to keeping all of us guessing about his real intentions — kept some distance between himself and his mentor, Arthur Finkelstein after Finkelstein’s death in August of 2017. In one interview, Stone described Finkelstein as “a situational conservative.” In another, Stone admitted Finkelstein mentored him and taught him how to “really read polls,” but he went on to say of Finkelstein, “He was against all these things that he was in fact doing.” Despite the attacks and denials, there are clear facts here. As we learned from Glenn Simpson’s congressional testimony, “Finkelstein worked with Stone and Manafort in Ukraine in or around 2005, 2006, for the same cast of bad guys” we know of thanks to all the recent reporting on Paul Manafort.
Finkelstein was a political consultant for over fifty years, and starting in around 2008–09 he began to work in Hungary for the country’s current Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. Since then, Orbán’s government has edged closer and closer to Russia, and one of the ways they accomplished this was by taking a hard line against immigration while also using George Soros as the convenient boogeyman for the country’s woes. This strategy has paid off, especially in the last election when Orbán’s party, Fidesz, won a 2/3 majority in Parliament, granting him the ability to amend the country’s constitution.
How was Fidesz able to pull this off, while simultaneously moving further and further right this decade? They used much of the same tactics we see Trump and Roger Stone attempting to pull off today. Orbán’s Hungary has slowly shifted the Overton Window, and they’ve attacked the same straw man to do it — Richard Spencer.
See, Viktor Orbán might be a right wing Putin loving nationalist, but by disavowing Spencer and forcing him out of Hungary, Orbán tells the world he doesn’t support actual Nazis. It sure does look like clever and effective branding. It also looks quite familiar.
But where did Richard Spencer make a name for himself? In part, from RT.
In an article for Foreign Policy, one of Spencer’s allies was interviewed after Orbán forced the founder of the Alt-Right to leave the country. He summarized the situation this way: “In many ways Orbán basically agrees with us,” said Kevin DeAnna, formerly head of a U.S. group called Youth for Western Civilization, who became a kind of leader of the assembled white nationalists in Budapest following Spencer’s arrest. “But if you’re on the far right you try to find someone even further right and point and say ‘hey, look at them.’”
For radical beliefs to become normalized, there always need to be ideas too extreme for the party agree to. There must be an enemy their leaders will not accept. This convinces supporters their right-wing leaders haven’t gone too far, and it maintains a sense of moral high ground among their supporters.
Hungary’s Jobbik Party and Viktor Orbán’s Fidsez.
Until sometime in 2015, the far-right Jobbik party in Hungary was the more extreme right alternative to Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party. Jobbik was reponsible for inviting Richard Spencer and Dugin to rallies in Hungary. Additionally, the party has a history of ties to Russian intelligence and an affinity for Kremlin talking points. However, after Orbán evicted Richard Spencer from Hungary in 2014, “proving” his brand of nationalism wasn’t inherently racist in nature, his Fidesz Party moved further right to the point of being indistinguishable from Jobbik in many ways. The Kremlin sympathies within Orbán’s party are less overt than Jobbik. Hungary is, after all, a member of the European Union, which is largely opposed to Putin’s Russia (at least theoretically).
As Fidesz moved further right, Jobbik was eventually left with the choice of losing members to the country’s ruling party or reinventing themselves. Rather than disband or integrate into Fidesz, the party has attempted to move further to the center and away from their racist and ethno-nationalist rhetoric. At least in terms of appearances, they’ve made this shift look genuine, and they state the party strictly enforces its rules which forbid offensive language or behavior against minorities or women.
As a result of this, Jobbik has maintained a surprising amount of support in Hungary, receiving roughly 19% of the votes cast in 2018 election. However, not everyone is buying the new party line. Emily Schultheis, writing for Foreign Policy, explained this sentiment well:
Jobbik “is definitely showing a different veneer,” says Istvan Ferenczi, a party leader and candidate for the green-liberal party Politics Can Be Different. Still, he says, “it has not been totally convincing. … Fidesz looks more fascistic and far-right than the Jobbik at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that the Jobbik couldn’t switch back.”
Gabor Daroczi, the would-be education minister for the Socialist coalition and a member of Hungary’s Roma minority, says that just because Jobbik has stopped its overt anti-Roma rhetoric doesn’t mean it has changed its views.
He asks if I know the joke about the difference between a rat and a squirrel. There is no difference; a squirrel is just a rat with “much better PR.”
“For me it’s the same,” he says. “Jobbik hasn’t changed, but they have better PR.”
Whether or not Jobbik’s decision to move further to the center is genuine or not, it’s clear they didn’t have much of a choice if the party wished to survive. Though Orbán’s government has essentially taken Jobbik’s former policy positions on the far-right, they’ve done so while managing to keep some distance between themselves and the actual Neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer and those people who were (at least officially) members of Jobbik.
The extremism Jobbik once represented has now become the norm in Hungary, but Fidesz was successful in maintaining and growing their base because it was a gradual transformation. The Overton Window does not shift overnight. Radicalization is most successful when its adherents don’t believe their views are radical at all. We’ll never know if Viktor Orbán could’ve pulled this off without the help of Arthur Finkelstein. Bob Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s campaign and coordination with Russian assets and agents of influence will likely expose Roger Stone’s decades of political manipulation, and thereby prevent the slow-moving coup from succeeding in the United States. However, it certainly won’t be for lack of lying.
Special thanks to my research partner Griff Sombke aka @Grzabjj for all his help on this article.