FAKE NEWS, TRAITORS AND TREASON: HOW LIBERALS AND THE MEDIA ARE GALVANIZING THE ALT-RIGHT
“Let me just mention briefly one threat in particular that should concern all Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike — especially those who serve in our Congress: the epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year. It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences.”
- Hillary Clinton
Having tracked Infowars, Breitbart and other alt-right* media outlets through the election cycle, the idea that they function entirely on a desire for fantasy could not be further from the truth. They begin with a very simple proposition — You’re not being told everything by the media. They argue that mainstream media outlets are only presenting a limited and controlled amount of information to the public. The function of the media is to control the context through which people understand issues. In fact, their definition would probably sit very close to Chomsky and Herman’s (1988) definition of how mass media in the United States manufactures consent:
“In sum, the mass media of the United States are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions and self-censorship, and without significant overt coercion. This propaganda system has become even more efficient in recent decades with the rise of the national television networks, greater mass-media concentration right-wing pressures on public radio and television, and the growth in scope and sophistication of public relations and news management.”
Their first goal is to create this break with mainstream media. It is to highlight that there’s a contradiction between what the media presents and actual material reality or the viewer/reader’s lived experience. There is at least something of a kernel of truth in many of their arguments — it’s perhaps easier to believe that Hillary Clinton is involved in the occult than a noble and honest politician with everyone’s interests at heart.
The key to the growth of alt-right media lies in its structure. Firstly, Trump’s longterm political adviser and friend Roger Stone played a crucial role in this growth by identifying these media outlets as entities who could propagate and spread Trump’s message. Stone, who has been effectively blacklisted by most mainstream outlets, first made his name in the 1970s as part of Richard Nixon’s Committee To Reelect The President. He later worked for Reagan and Bush Senior although he always retained a reputation as “Nixon’s man in Washington” and the one man who was determined to uphold Nixon’s vision of the United States. He is known for playing ‘hardball’ and resorting to dirty tactics to obtain his goals. While he officially left Trump’s campaign in August 2015, he remains extremely close to Trump and speaks with him regularly. He is one of his closest confidants. Alex Jones has been very open about the role Roger Stone played in setting up his interview with Trump. Indeed, Stone called Alex Jones the “single most important voice in the alternative conservative media.” It is extremely likely that Steve Bannon was recruited to Trump’s campaign through Stone too.
“History is a set of lies agreed upon”
Roger Stone, quoting Napoleon Bonaparte.
What did Stone see in Infowars? Primarily, they shared a common hatred of the political establishment — Democrats, Republicans, the media and (global) business leaders. It would not take long for them to find agreement on a whole range of issues. But as Stone said again and again on Infowars, it was their reach that drew him to them. Before the election campaign, Jones claimed that Infowars had 6,500,000 monthly unique visitors and over 40,000,000 unique page views. The Youtube channel had between 1 to 2 billion views in total. 260,000 users listened to the audio stream a month and the video stream received 5,000,000 views a month. Their Facebook page is currently approaching 700,000 likes with Jones himself passing the 500,000 follower mark on Twitter. But there’s also Infowars’ rapidity — they have live streams, they post several videos a day and they are able to respond to mainstream media stories almost instantly with well produced videos citing a variety of other sources — despite the accusation of being ‘fake news’, the majority of Alex Jones’ show is essentially collating news stories from other media outlets and offering commentary on them.
It should therefore come as little surprise that the alt-right have quickly adopted this ‘fake news’ label and begun to deploy it against mainstream media outlets. Every story published by a mainstream outlet is picked through with the likes of Jones explaining the inaccuracies, what has been ignored, contradictory arguments and potential vested interests those involved might have. It all leads to one conclusion — the real ‘fake news’ is the mainstream media outlet. It strengthens the very argument these outlets first lure viewers in with. In their naivety, the very weapons liberals and mainstream media are using are being turned back on them. And this new media will always be faster and able to propagate its message quicker in a more effective manner by speaking directly to the audience. It is perhaps these structural lessons that the left should learn from and perhaps emulate.
It would be very easy to laugh at this if it didn’t have potentially very serious consequences. Trump has repeatedly stated that he thinks mainstream media outlets are part of a conspiracy against the American people. He has repeatedly stated that he would like to change libel laws to make it easier to sue reporters. At his rallies, he would regularly turn his attention to the media pen telling those in the crowd where the liars and fabricators were. Journalists were meeting with a barrage of boos, insults and chants of “Tell the truth!” It is going to be a hell of a lot easier for Trump to go after what he sees as “fake news outlets” now that the term has been spread, legitimized and actually opened traditional media up to even more scrutiny.
And the current scare around Russia is having a similar effect…
“We are at war with Russia — or perhaps more correctly we have lost a war with Russia without a battle… We are the victims of a bloodless coup engineered by Russia with at best the traitorous indifference of the Republican party and Donald John Trump.”
“He has been helped into the White House by the evil of another nation… He will hand Putin this country… It’s treason. Resist.”
- Keith Olbermann
Since Clinton first spoke of the alt-right, there has been a repeated habit of trying to imply their origins are foreign or un-American. Clinton foolishly claimed that Putin was the godfather of the alt-right and had been orchestrating the many disparate elements she cited as being part of the network. Whether it was right or wrong of Clinton to speak out, her argument helped to unify a number of disparate elements under one banner. They happily adopted ‘The Deplorable’ label and openly mocked the idea that they were Putin’s agent — much like how Pepe memes became an even more central and key part of their message and humour once the Clinton campaign labelled it as a symbol of hate. Clinton foolishly helped to obscure the domestic origins of the alt-right.
The argument that Trump was beholden to Russia and Putin was raised again and again throughout the debates. It ranged from accusations that Trump praised Putin to the idea that Trump would serve as Putin’s man in the White House. The sad fact is that he brushed all these accusations off again and again. They were totally ineffective. Despite growing anti-Russian sentiment in media and policy circles and events in both Ukraine and Syria, Trump suggesting that he wanted better relations with Russia and that Putin was free to ‘bomb the hell out of ISIS’ was enough to deal with the issue (It’s perhaps worth comparing how effectively Trump dealt with the accusations he played a role in hacking the DNC with how Clinton failed to ever respond adequately to the questions about her e-mail server.)
The idea that Russia helped Trump win the election is again spreading, primarily from liberal and progressive pundits. Like Keith Olbermann, their argument is primarily a nationalist one — that Trump is a traitor to the nation and has effectively committed treason. It is dangerous language to use when Trump himself has not been shy about suggesting that the political establishment has acted against the American people and repeatedly suggested keeping extensive databases on those populations who he feels are more likely to produce enemies of the nation. It’s little surprise that Alex Jones was quick to turn this very language back on Olbermann…
“Olbermann does this whole fake teleprompter read… He’s trying to sound like he’s grassroots. He flips out. He basically calls for war on Russia. He says America is under attack. American is under attack — by the consortium of globalists — the EU, the Pope, the Communist Chinese President and the Saudi Arabians who all brag that they financed Hillary illegally. That’s the foreign powers. The illegals coming in. The government opening the borders to do it. America is under foreign attack and it’s not by the Russians. Americans woke up of all race, colour and creeds. We came together. We want change… We’re no longer a sovereign nation under globalism or the New World Order — getting rid of our borders, transferring our powers to TPP.
You’re who we are at war with. You’re losing the war with us.”
In a 33 minute long video, Jones picks apart Olbermann’s argument piece by piece with a mixture of sources, including Wikileaks emails. While us on the left can state his argument is nonsense, it certainly holds up as more credible than Olbermann’s suggestion that Trump is beholden to Putin. But like the ‘fake news’ argument, what’s most worrying is that Jones is able to turn this argument back on Olbermann and effectively argue that everyone in the political establishment are traitors. It’s the same language that is being used by Clinton supporters across social media. Faced with the prospect of a hyper-nationalist President who propagates the idea there is a great conspiracy against the American people, it is incredibly foolish for liberals and progressives to legitimize the language of ‘traitors’ and ‘treason.’
In all honesty, I wish I didn’t have to write this piece. I’ve made these arguments again and again since Trump was first interviewed by Infowars back in December 2015. During the Republican Primaries, it was obvious that he himself was able to take media criticism of him and use it as part of his argument. This wasn’t just Trump being outrageous for publicity. He carefully responded to every piece of criticism to suggest it was part of the great conspiracy against the American people. His figures surged. Again and again the same mistakes are being repeated. Should people spend four years engaging in these kind of rants against Trump, his support will only grow and his grip on power become tighter. The death of the old media class is inevitable but nobody should be beholden to their last attempt to retain not only relevancy but also a monopoly on the language of opposition. We have to find new weapons.
*I use ‘alt-right’ to describe this network that supports Trump. I do not believe that alt-right itself is a unique ideology and would describe it fascist.