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The news is out that Russians have been indicted on charges of interfering in the last presidential election, much to the chagrin of Republicans and Trump supporters. The indictment is certain to curl the lips of Democrats, and Hillary Clinton supporters in particular, in grins of righteous vindication. But we need to resist these gut level reactions and take thoughtful stock of what is going on in our country.
We are polarized as never before. What the Russians did was simply to use our own momentum against us in a classic judo type of social engineering that proved so effective it should be frightening. And it should prompt us to take off our combative gloves and come together as Americans to reclaim the civility of Democracy that is our saving grace in a country that is often torn and divided by the issues that threaten to push and pull us apart.
This is the indictment:
“A grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s office. The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare” against the United States with the stated goal of spreading mistrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” *
Unfortunately, we are fat and easy targets.
We need to pay close attention here, but we have to put down our weapons against each other to absorb the full impact of what the Russians were able to do. They used us and against ourselves, and it was easy work – too easy!
The Russians set up Internet based operations making them appear to be owned and operated by people within the United States. They used fictitious and stolen identities, fraudulent bank and accounts and false documents. They posed as “politically and socially active Americans” communicating with “unwitting Americans” through Social Media action groups. They advertised on social media networks, and they engaged and paid “real Americans” to carry on political campaigns, promote political candidates and agenda and stage political rallies.
For instance, “’Black Fist’ … was confirmed to be part of the Internet Research Agency’s operation — the self defense classes were an apparent attempt to stoke fear and gather contact details of Americans potentially susceptible to propaganda.”**
According to the report, these Americans didn’t know they were communicating with and being manipulated by Russians. These Americans were so easy to manipulate because they are losing the ability to vet their own political inclinations; they are losing the ability to be self-reflective; they are losing the ability to be civil and respectful of each other. These Americans are quick to judge, quick to jump to conclusions, quick to affirm their own narratives and quick to criticize others.
These Americans are us.
The Russians pitted us against ourselves. But for what end?
“[They] engaged in activities and rallies to support the president-elect while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election.” Sometimes they supported contrary rallies in the same cities on the same days. For those Republicans licking their wounds, this might be some solace; and for Democrats who might be tempted to smirk, this should give you pause.
The indictment indicates that the Russians “intended to incite discord in the United States and undermine confidence in Democracy”. The Russians simply fueled the fires that are already burning, and they did to sow discord and contention, and it didn’t take much effort for them to succeed.
In fact, I’m not sure they needed to do anything at all because we are already doing it to ourselves. They just gave us a nudge in the direction we have already been going. For instance, “‘Heart of Texas,’ a page that posed as a pro-Texas secession organization, promoted a ‘Stop Islamization of Texas’ protest at the opening of a library at an Islamic Center on May 21, 2016. The same troll group used another page, ‘United Muslims of America,’ to promote a ‘Save Islamic Knowledge’ event at the same time.” According to the same report, “After the election the group used its pages to promote events celebrating the election of Donald Trump and events protesting Trump’s election.”
While the liberal groups are screaming that the Russians meddled in the election to get Trump elected, the conservative groups are screeching about Hillary Clinton’s deals with Russians in the past – and the Russians are just smiling.
I actually wrote on this very subject last June, long before the recent indictments:
“Are we Americans that gullible? Or are we simply unwilling to suspend our penchant to believe everything that affirms our political views? Maybe its a matter of not being able to stop the momentum of our own biases as they carry us down the streams of our own predispositions…
“We are so hell bent on affirming our own biases about anything political that fake news has become a booming business!….”
“With virtually nothing growing in the no-man’s land in between, and little communication across the expanse, each side is primed for the propaganda it wants to hear. A little fake news here, a little drama there, and the war on both sides might be fueled for several generations to come, even while we seem know and admit that we are being manipulated.
“We just can’t stop ourselves.”***
Or can we?
Hopefully, we can stop this madness, but both sides will need to put their ideological weapons down long enough to talk peace. We need to replace party line politics with some real thought, analysis and self-reflection. We need be honest about our own ideological shortcomings and stop to consider that our political enemies are really our neighbors, our friends and even our own family members – they ultimately want what “we” want, which is a better America, a better world and a better future our children and grandchildren.
We all want the same thing!
Just because we disagree on how we achieve our mutual goals doesn’t mean that have to sharpen the pitchforks. We need to relearn civility and respect and the art of the compromise. If we can’t do this, we will continue to be the targets of future information wars that will wreak havoc on our socio-political psyches, undermine any remaining confidence in our political systems and threaten our Democracy.
*For the press release by Rod Rosenstein:
***See Political Gullibility? Or Unwillingness to Suspend Belief?