Category: Everything Else

Putin’s disinformation campaign claims stunning victory with Capitol Hill ‘coup’

Russian information warfare ops have had one goal ever since the Cold War began: to sow chaos and undermine Americans’ sense of a shared reality. Trump was just a means to that end

By Omer Benjakob

As a shirtless, horned man stood at the dais of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, the words Harvard Law School Prof. Yochai Benkler told Haaretz ahead of the 2020 election sprang to mind. Since the Cold War began, Soviet – and then Russian – information warfare campaigns have never been about pushing out a single message.

Prof. Benkler, one of the leading authorities on disinformation online, explained that the primary role of Russian propaganda “is to create a world where nothing is true and everything is possible.

“As the chaotic scenes played out on Capitol Hill, I also recalled what researchers at the Rand Corporation said after completing a massive study into disinformation efforts on Twitter ahead of November’s election: The Russian campaign’s goal was never to push out a coherent, pro-Trump message, but instead to subvert America’s democratic institutions and sow distrust. President Donald Trump was just a means to that end.

Morgan J. Freeman (@mjfree) January 6, 2021

We tend to think of disinformation as a social media problem. We also tend to think of it as a new issue. However, research such as Benkler and Rand’s shines a light on the infrastructure of the #StopTheSteal campaign, which morphed into Wednesday’s violent attack on democracy.

Research into disinformation paints a more complex picture, helping us understand the events that led up to the ridiculous yet seemingly sincere bid to prevent the formation of a democratically elected U.S. government. It also helps explain why Trump’s attempts to send his saboteurs “home” – or Facebook and Twitter’s decisions to remove his “call-to-arms” videos – failed to be as potent as the lies he propagated through social media in the previous months.

The fraud that led to a coalition of far-right conspiracy theorists besieging the Capitol was one founded on a baseless, thoroughly debunked and intentionally distorted perception of the election. Benkler’s study, conducted by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, actually focused on disinformation about the U.S. presidential election’s integrity – the purported justification for the Trumpists’ assault on the legislature that was voting to certify President-elect Joe Biden‘s victory.

Titled “Mail-In Voter Fraud: Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign” and published in early October, it found Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on the validity of the voting process to be “the central disinformation campaign of this election.” That campaign, Benkler explained, was specifically designed to “raise doubts about the validity” of vote counts, and the goal was “generally to raise questions about the election’s legitimacy.”

A supporter of President Donald Trump carrying a Confederate battle flag on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol near the entrance to the Senate, January 6, 2021. 

Mike Theiler/REUTERS. The fact that such claims were given front-page coverage – even in The New York Times and other outlets that toiled to debunk them – gave them a credibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin could only dream of.” They only win if we retell their story as if it’s true,” Benkler told Haaretz last autumn.

Yet retell it the U.S. president did: ahead of the election, on Election Day itself, and in the subsequent months following his defeat. But other stories were also told. The Rand study, led by former marine-turned-social scientist William Marcellino, focused on online foreign interference in the 2020 election. It mapped out the different networks of Russian bots active on Twitter. More importantly, the study provided a small glimpse into the actual content different U.S. political groups were being targeted with.

“The pro-Trump troll camp could actually have been labeled the pro-QAnon camp,” Marcellino explained. “It’s always the same type of story: Someone has some devastating information that would help Trump take down the swamp or deep state, but someone – usually the Jews or the media – is preventing them from making the information public.” Jake Angeli, 32, sporting horns and body paint, yells his thanks to President @realDonaldTrump and Q.

The latter is presumably a reference to QAnon, a controversial far-right group.

BrieAnna J. Frank (@brieannafrank) After the election, with swamp-draining information no longer a viable political flag to rally around, the talk online increasingly shifted to the coming “storm” – and storm the capital its proponents eventually did. But they were not alone. This conspiratorial logic, the Rand researchers found, was a particularly viral idea. As a theme, it was disproportionately used in the Russia campaign to target the U.S. right and far right, extending well beyond QAnon.

However, this logic was also used against far-left voters by, ironically, enhancing conspiratorial claims that Trump was Putin’s puppet, that the Kremlin had compromising material on the U.S. president, and that Trump colluded with Moscow to steal the election from Hillary Clinton in 2016.

As Marcellino put it at the time, “This is how [the Russians] undermine America’s democracy – by fostering mutual distrust and polarization that will keep us so busy that we won’t have time to focus on them and what they’re doing to us.”

It’s not the first time such parallelism has been employed. Emails leaked online in 2016 that were purportedly from Putin’s adviser and chief ideological spin doctor Vladislav Surkov revealed a similar plan to foment chaos in Ukraine.

According to the so-called Surkov leak, the Russians planned to “support both nationalist and separatist politicians, and to encourage early parliamentary elections in Ukraine, all with the aim of undermining the government in Kiev.”

The tactic of pushing contradictory forces as well as disinformation campaigns was also seen in Georgia and, more recently, Belarus. Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber, January 6, 2021, in Washington.

Win McNamee – AFP Truth decay Benkler’s report caused a minor storm by defying the conventional wisdom regarding fake news and social media, claiming that Trump, his GOP surrogates and the network of far-right media outlets serving as their mouthpieces were actually the main sources of disinformation. They created an ecosystem of lies, of which social media was but one small facet, he observed.

The Russians, both offline and online, were merely amplifying them. “I’m not a Russia expert, but everything I’ve read from what I consider to be good work on Russian propaganda suggests that its primary role is to get us not to trust anything anymore,” Benkler told Haaretz. In the United States, this tactic tapped into what another group of Rand researchers called “truth decay.” This is the social process in which the question of what constitutes a fact is politicized, its distinction from opinion becomes blurred, and trusted institutions of truth are rendered obsolete – a process certainly aided by social media, and more so by Trump, but also extending far beyond it into the wider media ecosystem and back in time.

“From the perspective of Russian propaganda efforts, if your goal is to disorient your opponents’ population, then nothing is better than the mainstream media saying that we live in a post-truth age,” Benkler said. “There’s only a small segment of American society that actually lives in a post-truth world. But it’s like that because it has been subjected to decades of disinformation and propaganda,” he added, citing Fox News and climate change denial as pre-social media examples.

Russia’s social media campaign ultimately played a marginal role, according to Benkler, but the media was elevating both its importance and its messaging. “The media is taking all the remaining trust and authority it has not yet lost to Putin, and using it to say exactly what he wants” – that Americans no longer have a shared sense of reality, Benkler explained. All of these facets were on display Wednesday when self-described “proud American nationalists” desecrated one of America’s holiest political sites at one of its most sacred moments.

No matter how hateful, false or inciting tweets may be, it takes more than just 140 or 280 characters to create the conditions necessary for an adult man sporting horns to seriously attempt a raid on the capital of his own country. Watching him on that dais, with no plan and no shirt, a bewildered look on his face, brings to mind what Trump’s former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, called the biggest threat to the election – and it wasn’t Russia.

Rather, he said last October, “It’s what we’re doing to ourselves. The Russians cannot create these fissures in our society, but they can widen them.”

Omer BenjakobHaaretz Correspondent

Tehran’s 20 percent enrichment is designed to extort Washington | Opinion

Newsweek · by Behnam Ben Taleblu and Andrea Stricker

Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is now enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at its underground Fordow enrichment facility. The move is Tehran’s most egregious violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, officially titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to date.
It serves as a dangerous reminder that the regime has always retained the ability to weaponize its nuclear program-both literally and for extortion and intimidation-at any time of its choosing. The Islamic Republic is reportedly using six cascades of its 1,044 currently installed first-generation IR-1 gas centrifuges at Fordow to increase the concentration of uranium-235 in 4.1 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride feedstock to 20 percent.

In other words, it’s producing uranium that qualifies as “highly enriched”-the level needed for nuclear weapons. Although states prefer to enrich uranium to higher purities for nuclear weapons-typically to 90 percent or “weapons-grade”-producing 20 percent enriched uranium takes most of the overall effort required to make weapons-grade uranium. In other words, Tehran’s 20 percent gambit drastically cuts down the time needed to get “weapons-grade” uranium.

Technically, Iran is resuming 20 percent enrichment, having previously attained this level from 2010 to 2013. While the United States and the European Union had traditionally diverged in their approaches to Iran, that historic peak in enrichment was key to bringing them together to address the nuclear issue through tough sanctions.

In November 2013, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran reached an interim nuclear deal known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). Starting in 2014, in exchange for partial sanctions relief, Iran halted 20 percent enrichment but retained the equipment and knowledge to resume it at will. With the attainment of the JCPOA in 2015, despite continuing to enrich at lower levels, Iran managed to score another victory and keep the Fordow facility open. Iranian officials prize Fordow for its alleged “invulnerability” to military strikes, and was initially built in secret to produce weapons-grade uranium for its early crash nuclear weapons effort.

Fast forward to the aftermath of the killing of Iran’s top military nuclear scientist in November 2020. The country’s hardline parliament passed a law calling for a resumption of enrichment at 20 percent purity, among other escalatory measures. Seen in this light, Tehran’s decision to go to 20 percent avenges the loss of a key scientist, but still aims to elicit sanctions relief from the incoming Biden administration, should the new president hesitate to reenter the JCPOA, exited in May 2018 under President Donald Trump.

The move also signals, however, a greater tolerance for risk taking, which if not met with equal pressure, will be a harbinger of greater challenges. The Islamic Republic embarked in May 2019 on a policy of graduated escalation, designed to raise American security risks while overtly violating the JCPOA. But even then, it still did not cross the 20 percent threshold. That is, until now.

A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility. 


Two factors helped to dampen Iran’s drive to resume 20 percent enrichment. The first was the Trump administration’s demonstrated willingness to meet pressure with pressure, and the second was the regime’s desire to keep the transatlantic community divided and Europe in Tehran’s corner. Now, with the Trump administration’s term in office nearing a close and Europe unable to serve as a foil to American economic pressure, elites in Iran understand that greater nuclear boldness is likely to result in a greater reward.

Specifically, given that the incoming U.S. administration seeks a departure from the Trump administration’s policies, the recent escalation is perfectly timed to add leverage to the Iranian position if nuclear negotiations commence. Today, Iran’s resumption of 20 percent enrichment at Fordow positions it to quickly and consistently reduce the time it requires to make adequate fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Selling this policy on Twitter, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif framed 20 percent enrichment as a “reversible” move. But in so doing, he inadvertently shined a light on a fact American policymakers failed to heed before, but must now acknowledge if they seek a durable non-proliferation agreement with Iran: any deal that relies on political compromise alone to check the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions is a non-starter.

President-elect Biden would be wise to recognize that staying the course on American pressure is the only hope for reaching a better deal and addressing Iran’s nuclear threat once and for all.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrea Stricker is a research fellow.The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.

This is what white people can do to end racism

Study what your forefathers did, then do the opposite

Protesters barricade the street with bikes at City Hall in New York on June 30. Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

By Brando Simeo Starkey

Four hundred years later, America’s congenital demon still bedevils it. A nation built for white people, though reliant upon Black sweat, remains unable to exorcise the paradoxical evil inherent in its birth. Time after time, this country reproduces its sins rather than atone for them. Yet, with protesters capturing the streets amid a global pandemic and coercing public opinion to swing in their favor, one hopes the day of reckoning has finally come.

The video-captured killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers jolted not just America, but the world. Black Lives Matter, a movement conceived in the blood of unarmed Black men, convinced the masses of its central thesis — America devalues Black life. Change of some sort appears imminent.

But to really complete the unfinished business of Reconstruction and the civil rights movement, white people must fight it out with each other over what being a respectable white person means. The victors need to allow only the anti-racist to be considered worthy of inclusion in the group. White folk must create an environment that compels other white folk to learn lest they incur the social wrath that accompanies not behaving like a respectable white person.

Many white folk continue to pose the question: “What can I do?” The answer is simple. Study what your forefathers did. Then do the opposite.

At about 3 a.m. on Sept. 61875, a white married couple, William Haffa and his wife Alzina, woke up to the furious barking of their dog in their Hinds County, Mississippi, home.

“Who is there?” Alzina Haffa hollered out. No answer. She repeated herself. Again, silence.

When William, who had moved the family to Mississippi from Philadelphia in 1870, asked, someone outside responded, “We will let you know who is out here.”

“My God,” Alzina Haffa exclaimed, “they have a yard full of men,” referring to the 50 to 70 armed goons surrounding their place.

Immediately after the Civil War, the state’s majority-Black population, intensely Republican, had dominated Mississippi politics, ousting the Democratic Party that drove succession from the Union. The native white population vowed to reclaim the throne and install a new post-slavery racial caste system. To obtain power, they terrorized the Black population and their white allies like Haffa.

Three months after moving to Mississippi, the white men they rented their land from asked Haffa whether “he was a friend to the white people or to the n—–.” Haffa responded that “he was a friend to anyone, be he Black or white, that was deserving of his friendship.” The landowners threatened him.

The respectable white people killed a traitor and other respectable white people covered it up. Northerners knew such atrocities occurred, but the respectable white people there condoned it.

A couple of years afterward, Black voters elected him as a justice of the peace. White men beat him and his wife in their home.

He later started teaching at a Black school. And the torment persisted. Living under ever-present menace, he never went anywhere alone.

Throughout American history, white people have defined, on matters of race, how a respectable white person behaves. In 1870s Mississippi, Haffa was not a respectable white person. He aligned against the local white population and the ambitions of white supremacy. The goons encircling his home that night behaved consistently with the norms and mandates of the broader white population. They were the respectable white people.

“Men, what have I ever done to you?” Haffa asked, though he knew the answer.

The goons shot him three times through an open window.

“I am going to die,” he told his wife while lying his head on her shoulder right before his last breath.

The respectable white people killed a traitor and other respectable white people covered it up. Northerners knew such atrocities occurred, but the respectable white people there condoned it.

Through this nefariousness, we see how white people disciplined each other, how a respectable member of the race treats Black people. This behavior is taught. This behavior is learned.

After the Civil War, if respectable white people had demanded of each other to treat Black folk as their social, civil and political equals, this country wouldn’t have a race problem today. Instead, white America relegated Black Americans to the bottom of the racial caste system that only endures because respectable white people have nursed it since its infancy.

Over the course of two days in June 1947, Judge Julius Waties Waring, in a federal courtroom in Columbia, South Carolina, heard oral arguments for a lawsuit brought by Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP that challenged the South Carolina Democratic Party’s all-white primary.

In 1944, the Supreme Court invalidated Texas’ all-white primary lawthat limited the state’s Democratic primary to white voters. South Carolina, like other Southern states, enforced a similar law. Winning a Democratic nomination in the South, a one-party region, guaranteed a general-election victory. South Carolina Gov. Olin Johnston called a special session of the state legislature, prodding lawmakers to create a new scheme to exclude Black voters from the only elections that mattered. “White supremacy will be maintained in our primaries,” Johnston said.

To defeat the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Texas case, the South Carolina Legislature treated the Democratic Party as a private club that could create any rules it wished. Waring, however, nixed this ploy, finding that it violated the Constitution. “It is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union,” he wrote in his opinion.

For turning against the caste system and seeing the humanity of Black people, the respectable white folk of South Carolina vilified him. “Waring and his wife have been ostracized by white Charleston society,” the Associated Press wrote, “because of their championship of equal rights for Negroes.” Respectable white people burned crosses on his lawn and fired shots into his home. The federal government paid marshals to guard his property, protection from respectable white people.

Waring was the deviant. His antagonists were the valued members of the group.

In 1951, Waring pushed Marshall to directly attack separate but equal education for children. Part of a three-judge panel that heard Briggs v. Elliott, Waring dissented from the majority opinion that upheld Jim Crow schools. “Segregation is per se inequality,” Waring wrote. Three years later, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court agreed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 followed, ridding the caste system of valuable underpinnings that kept it functioning.

After retirement, Waring, persona non grata in his home state, moved to New York. Only 12 white people attended his funeral in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1968, though about 200 Black folk did.

After the civil rights movement, respectable white people preserved the caste system. From statehouses, respectable white people stole Black voting power through gerrymandering. Respectable white people gorged on tough-on-crime rhetoric, leading to an incarceration explosion. For decades, respectable white people defied judicial desegregation mandates, banishing Black students to inferior schools. Respectable white people fled cities en masse in favor of suburban white enclaves, leaving Black folk in cash-strapped and resource-deprived cities. Spurred by respectable white people, state budgets were slimmed down, preventing mayors in those suddenly Black-majority cities from using the power of the purse to improve Black lives. Black folk gained some measure of upward mobility, despite employment discrimination by respectable white people.

The legal underpinnings of the racial caste system sank, but from the northern border to southern border, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, respectable white people kept it afloat.

On April 22, 1870, Frederick Douglass spoke at Tweddle Hall in Albany, New York, to celebrate a wondrous occasion, the ratification of the 15th Amendment. The slog for racial equality, Douglass believed, reached the finish line.

“But what does this 15th Amendment mean to us?” Douglass asked. “It means that color is no longer to be a calamity,” he answered. “That race is to be no longer a crime; and that liberty is to be the right of all.”

Across the nation, Black people commemorated the ratification. In Detroit, Black folk conducted “one of the most interesting and important celebrations that ever took place in that city” where “the sidewalks, roofs of buildings, balconies and windows along the line of the procession,” according to the New Era, “were thronged with spectators.”

One hundred and fifty years later, however, American streets are now crammed with Black folk and their allies protesting police brutality and all manner of racial trauma heaped upon Black existence.

Since the close of the civil rights movement, America has improved on race. The ranks of respectable white people who oppose anti-Black bigotry have swelled. The chants of “Black Lives Matter” echo on the roads of Utah. When a white woman attempted to sic the police on a Black bird-watcher in Central Park, New York, she was not the respectable white person in the tale — the respectable white people criticized her. Practicing explicit racism, unlike the times of the Haffas and Waring, generally conflicts with respectable white personhood.

But respectable white people who act to further the caste system as long as their racial animus remains hidden are a sizable contingent within the white population.

Prosecutors still try Black defendants for alleged crimes more often and seek harsher penalties than comparable white defendants. Real estate agents still discriminate against Black buyers seeking to move into white neighborhoods. Secretaries of state still close Black polling places to prevent Black voting. Respectable white people dominate these vocations, proof that the opponents of Black progress remain in their labs, concocting anti-Black schemes. But when they are charged with racism, respectable white people exonerate them.

Some white folk face censure for thinly veiled racist acts, but they still retain their powerful perches. When NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant maligned President Donald Trump, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham told them to “shut up and dribble.” When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees reiterated his antagonism toward kneeling during the national anthem, however, she declared, “He’s allowed to have his view about what kneeling and the flag means to him.”

Some respectable white people denounced her. Yet, Ingraham continues as a respectable white person making millions of dollars a year for a cable news show with millions of viewers per day. The racial caste system survives because of people like her.

White folk once functioned like a syndicate to maintain the racial caste system, policing each other to preserve a world of privileged whiteness. They must now reverse course, become a syndicate that furthers the cause of true equality. All of the tools that white folk brought to bear in furtherance of the caste system must be harnessed to create its antithesis, an anti-racist world.

“We are a great nation,” Douglass said as he neared the conclusion of his speech in 1870. “Not we colored people particularly, but all of us. We are all together now. We are fellow citizens of a common country.”

For this country to live up to its founding conceit as articulated in the Declaration of Independence — that all men are created equal — America needs respectable anti-racist white people to wage war for the soul of their race. And win.

That is what white people can do.

Dear White Friends

By Gregory R. Owens Sr

Dear White Friends,
“White people’s number one freedom in the United States is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those other than white. The number two freedom is to deny you are ignorant”. Jane Elliott.

Use your freedom to teach other white people about the institution of racism and white supremacy in our country. Then and only then will we start to become a more perfect union.

Black people are tired of being burdened with feeling as though its our job to teach white people about racism.

White supremacy is the institution your ancestor’s created in America, and it’s the institution you continue to benefit from while denying blacks of racial equality.