After disappearing from our public conversation for a few weeks, Russia came back with a vengeance. By now, you’re probably familiar with the story and timeline but tl;dr: the Trump campaign was in frequent contact with Russian intelligence; Flynn resigned; Trump and his team still can’t get their story straight; reporters are salivating over the prospect of a mega-scandal; Pence is clearly trying to distance himself; and Sally Q. Yates is an American hero.
Meanwhile, Russia is playing the weirdest game of I’m not touching you with America right now. A Russian spy ship parked itself 30 miles off the coast of Groton, Connecticut, for a little while, and a Russian aircraft buzzed a US Navy ship three times in one day. If you’re a bit overwhelmed by all of this, Vox has an explainer detailing the three main threads of Russia-Trump scandals.
Now seems like a good time to remind folks that there’s no question that Russia was attempting to manipulate our presidential election with a pretty sophisticated disinformation and trolling campaign, including the DNC and Podesta leaks. Equally important is that they’re using the same tactics all over Europe, most notably in France, Germany, and Italy. And as I pointed out last week, the so-called alt-right are also organizing to spread disinformation and extremist views in other countries via similar campaigns.
It’s been fascinating to read right wing media this week. In their view, Michael Flynn is a patriot and American hero who was ousted by a left-wing conspiracy (the neo-Nazi variety of this is blaming Jews). They’re also newly concerned about leaks and the ‘deep state’ after openly celebrating and encouraging leaks and hacks for months. (BTW, if like me you’re both concerned about Trump and deep state theory issues from a lefty perspective, Rick Perlstein’s Facebook post is a clarifying read.)
But the Trump subreddit has been the most informative. They’re a community that serves as a connector for mainstream but Internet-savvy Trump supporters with the 4chan diehards, a community where the edgiest of so-called alt-right culture and targeted campaigns originates. This week in the Trump subreddit they’re parroting right wing media in their praise of Flynn and panic over the ‘deep state’. But they’re also posting and upvoting what seems to be increasing number of conspiracy-related content. The #Pizzagate and Seth Rich conspiracy theories reemerged this week after being noticeably absent in the top threads. And there was a strange but wildly popular post attempting to connect the Clintons to a busted child-trafficking ring in Ghana.
There’s a lot to unpack about the Trump administration’s connections to Russia, but I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that Russian is working in tandem with the frog squad. I still have more questions than answers about how much of what we see online comes from Russian operatives versus the frog squad. But perhaps that doesn’t matter. They’re clearly allies with shared goals and tactics. For organizing purposes, it probably helps to think of them as being facets of the same movement.
I’ve said this before, but considering Putin’s increased favorability with Republicans, it bears repeating. Russian operatives weren’t attacking Democrats or Republicans. They were attacking America. They’ve attacked a core tenet of our republic: fair and democratic elections. They’ve undermined a free press. Given this, the behavior of Trump, congressional Republicans, and their allies in the so-called alt-right this week is inexcusable.
The above is an excerpt from Ctrl Alt Right Delete, a weekly newsletter devoted to understanding how the right operates online and developing strategies and tactics to fight back.