[See update at bottom with WaPo corrections noted by Christopher Rufo, the subject of the CRT training piece cited as an example in this article. – J.E.]
It seems to be the nature of modern communication. The advance over the modern communication of 100 years ago – which in terms of all previous human history was a breakpoint of modernism – is real and evident.
And it’s this. Instead of hearing new, radical themes blasted at the public over megaphones and radio waves, and being caught by surprise, we are seeing them become radical in living color, before our eyes, through a panoply of media. No surprise is possible, because many of us have seen the themes coming for years, and all of us have to one extent or another watched them develop.
Oddly enough, as we watch the pageant of 21st-century propaganda play itself out before us, I’m ambivalent about its power to break and enslave us. It’s so nakedly visible what’s going on. We’re being afforded so much opportunity to recognize and reject it: to face it down and force it to collapse and flee into the woods, as predatory communism ultimately did in the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union from 1989 to 1992.
Let me propound briefly a framework for what’s going on here. A hundred years ago, an assault on the world’s peoples was beginning with a group of “worldview”-holding ideologues seizing a “world-historical” moment – a dialectical inflection point – to consolidate a convenient but temporary “national” basis for achieving global transformation.
You will correctly guess that I refer to the Soviet revolution of 1917 and its aftermath.
Lenin was still in power in 1921, but within a few years of Stalin’s ascent the Soviet Socialists had accepted that their vision of the state withering away would have to be rejiggered into the future. The sword’s range went only so far, and the pen worked very slowly. The state remained an almighty convenience.
Nevertheless, the operative words in their self-appointed eschaton were worldview, world-historical, and global. The worldview in question was of Karl Marx’s class-divided humanity struggling in the clenched jaws of “capitalism.” The world-historical moment was an earthquake in the dialectical process between antithetical entities (capital and labor), with the bourgeois arrangement of nation-states being the dialectical tension spring by which capital held onto power and held labor back. World War I was the obvious candidate for such a “moment.”
For class division to be ameliorated, the tension spring had to be overstressed and sprung. “Capital” could not be left free to arrange power for itself. The sovereignty of nations had to lose meaning for labor to come into its rightful utopian condition.
“International,” in this context, was a pragmatic, not an aspirational, term; e.g., for setting up a Socialist International, which seeded nations with socialist cadre, linked first to each other by their socialist vocation, but acting through the infrastructure of nationhood. Remaining in a condition where the adjective “international” had meaning was not the goal.
Since the end of the Cold War, we have largely forgotten that. Supranational globalism, eliminating nationhood and the defensive prerogatives of sovereignty, was always the goal of Marx’s executive disciples.
That approach was an ineffective one, however. Gaining power by the sword was quick, but only feasible in weak, dysfunctional, mostly pre-devastated nations (and proto-nations, like the horde of liberated colonies after 1945). Socialism, a highly efficient mechanism of destruction, would never make its enslaved nations stronger and more desirable and sustainable than freedom.
A better model was needed: one that didn’t try to advance the worldview, the world-historical moment, and the globalism from a position in the sh**hole countries, but from the strong, prosperous countries. Ideally, in fact, the worldview – the premise for ushering in globalism – would ride in at the apogee of the world-historical moment, waving at cheering crowds from the drop-top Cadillac of the strongest, most prosperous country of all.
America, not a dank gray Soviet Union, would make the world seem safe for the state to wither away.
I wrote about this several years ago, arguing that the Left of the day was hoping to leverage America’s power and unique reputation to implement a transnationalist – even supranationalist – agenda, while at the same time engaged counterproductively in tearing America’s power down. I got a lot of blowback at the time (mostly from Deplorables), but I think more people would see and understand the point today. Perhaps it took the Left’s manifold excesses and the distinct counterpoint of a Trump presidency to illuminate it.
Before moving on, I suggest skeptics consider this reality. No global institution prospers, even now, without the imprimatur of the United States on it. The UN would still be a League of Nations-style, half-vast curiosity if it had not been literally founded by the United States. We didn’t just “join” the UN; we sponsored it and made it happen. The U.S. is the sine qua non of the UN, and that’s still the case today. If we exited it, the UN could certainly continue, somewhere, doing something, but it would instantly lose all credibility as the voice of the “concert of nations.”
With that in mind, recall that the U.S. didn’t found the UN to rule as a global body, but to facilitate consultation and agreement on purposes among member nations, whose sovereign prerogatives the UN is chartered to respect.
That’s what could be sold to American voters: consultative nationalism. To subvert that principle via the vehicle of the UN, the view held by America must be subverted.
Subverting America is the supremely effective way to subvert everything, for those in pursuit of a worldview demanding globalism at a world-historical moment. To keep America useful for this purpose, the point is not to dismantle all her power, but to sideline and silence – let’s be clear here – the people who voted for Trump, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of affection for Trump. With those voters silenced, the still-useful elements of American power can be put firmly under the control of the world-historical moment’s timekeepers.
Once the continuing pattern is recognized, the pattern of ancillary developments is easy to see. We just had a big development pumped out by the Biden administration. It’s one that sets in motion the real, no-kidding weaponization of propaganda by the state: the way to leverage propaganda to gut our protected rights of speech and thought, destroy American lives, and neutralize diverse political views.
Daniel Greenfield wrote a superb analysis of it in his discussion of the new National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, the first national strategy of its kind. (The U.S. has had for decades a National Security Strategy and a National Military Strategy, typically updated by a new administration in its first year in office.)
As his treatment makes clear, the document isn’t really about countering terrorism. It touches very little on the most persistent sources of terrorist assaults on our domestic order and tranquility. The purpose of the “strategy” appears rather to be designating white people, conservatives, and Republicans (the latter two of any race, creed, or sexual orientation) as probable terrorists whose political speech amounts to terrorist incitement.
I commend his treatment to your perusal, and won’t rehash it here except to highlight this passage:
The National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism redefines the terrorist threat as coming first and foremost from political opponents of the Biden administration. And it defines that threat as a primarily political and ideological battle rather than a violent threat.
The new strategy doesn’t come up with any new ideas for fighting terrorism. Its ideas fall into the murky territory of preventing terror through everything from internet censorship to critical race theory. Biden is rebooting Obama’s CVE or Countering Violent Extremism program to target Americans in a battle of ideas against “misinformation” and “racism”.
This also defines the administration’s two approaches: indoctrination and suppression.
The National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism redefines domestic terrorism as a domestic ideological struggle against people who disagree with Biden and his partisan party.
The strategy’s concluding sentence speaks of “finding ways to counter the influence and impact of dangerous conspiracy theories that can provide a gateway to terrorist violence.”
As Greenfield connects it:
It warns of “an information environment that challenges healthy democratic discourse” and cautions that, “today’s digital age requires an American population that can utilize essential aspects of Internet-based communications platforms while avoiding vulnerability to… harmful content deliberately disseminated by malicious actors online.”
The binary model is a choice between people who believe everything the media tells them or terrorists. Fighting terrorism requires a national security system that indoctrinates its citizens.
And the focus for the balance of this article is on how swiftly the mechanism is being put to use.
Employment: Army guidance
These are just three examples, but they come from three separate sources, and illustrate the use of the disinformation-is-terrorism propaganda theme.
I will simply take them in the order I saw them on Saturday, 19 June.
The first was a tweet from the U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command.
In today's environment, it's important to distinguish between misinformation/disinformation, and legitimate information.
— U.S. Army Europe and Africa (@USArmyEURAF) June 19, 2021
This tweet irrationally proposes that any piece of information that prompts an “emotional response” in you is likely to be disinformation (or perhaps misinformation, or some other, illiterately-named variant of Informational Malevolence).
The implication – laid out in the terrorism strategy – is that prompting the emotional response amounts to inciting terrorism against public order, which order can only (by implication) be maintained if there is no emotion-provoking thought deviating from the approved “information.”
The thesis of the tweet doesn’t withstand the slightest analysis. Human communication almost invariably prompts an emotional response of some kind, which may run along a spectrum from enthusiastic embrace to angry rejection. TV ads can make us cry, and feel foolish for doing so. Political slogans can make us laugh and think someone else must be a fool. Basic truths like “It’s raining here” may be emotionally neutral information for some, but a source of existential anxiety for others.
The inherent absurdity of the vague, mantra-ready “disinformation” proposition makes me suspect that no one the public would associate with the Army, such as a mid-grade NCO proficient in his or her specialty, composed it. It looks to me like something prepackaged by propaganda writers and handed to the uniformed sentries of the Army’s Twitter accounts, for dissemination as soon as the new terrorism strategy was on the street.
That latter observation is the point. This is a mechanism being brought to life, like Frankenstein’s monster. The goal is not to convey information or encourage positive behavior; it’s to gain leverage over the will of people, by attaching punishments to arbitrary rules about information.
Everyone in the Army understands that his career – his rank, livelihood, freedom, reputation, honor – is at risk if he’s caught facing the “wrong” way on the matter of “disinformation.” The soldier isn’t told in advance which way he’s to face, on what commands. He doesn’t have the choice to ponder it and accept or reject a directive. Rather, he buys beforehand into being provided these cues on an arbitrary basis, at arbitrary points. The orders are supposed to be lawful, but when the institution itself is blowing up the very idea of intrinsic meaning (e.g., “disinformation” could be anything the Biden administration or CNN says it is), lawfulness won’t hang in there very long as a limiting factor.
That’s how the military works. It’s why the military is a premier place for a rollout.
About “disinformation” and “terrorism,” the general public is to understand that the same arbitrary dynamic applies to each citizen.
Employment: Social media “discussion”
The second example is the ratio for a tweet from Marco Rubio in which he condemned Marxism for seeking to divide people with allegations of oppressors versus victimized groups.
Marxism divides people into either oppressors or victims, calls for the overthrow an “evil” system & then seizes complete power in the name of “fairness”
The old Marxism used class warfare to divide people
The new Marxism uses identity politics
But the goal is the same
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 19, 2021
The Washington Examiner wrote the sequence up, including a number of the tweets denouncing Rubio’s supposed ignorance about Marxism. Most of them contained some variant of this sentiment:
I ask this with sincerity Senator Rubio, have you read any of Marx's work? If yes, what texts? If yes, are you willing to have a real discussion of Marx's critique of capital in a way that is intellectually honest and follows the actual texts/critique?
— Jim Keady (@JWKeady) June 19, 2021
Quite a few included these thoughts:
Only someone ignorant as to what Marxism is would say that it "divides people into either oppressors or victims". Marxist socialism is fundamentally about a society with no ruling class. That means no oppressors and no oppressed. You only get that with an economy like capitalism.
— The Socialist Party (@OfficialSPGB) June 19, 2021
Many were just stupid. But there were also those that jumped in vigorously to deploy the new “disinformation” totem.
Marxism doesn't divide people. Conservative disinformation about Marxism divides people.
— Jason Kishineff is a Rabid Anti-Imperialist. (@kishineff) June 19, 2021
The Examiner provided a definition of Marxism to enliven the discussion:
“Marxism” is defined as “the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Marx, [especially] a theory and practice of socialism, … including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society,” according to Merriam-Webster.
You could park an aircraft carrier in every one of the gross elisions and conceptual interstices of the typical social-media discussion of Marxism, and naturally you can do so here. Marxism defines and propounds a framework of class division, for example, but that doesn’t mean class divisions actually exist in Marx’s terms. It doesn’t mean Marx properly defined “capital” – which he, by the way, is the one who did. It doesn’t mean the dialectical dynamics Marx proposes are (or were) actually in operation. Marxism isn’t inherently a description of reality; that’s something we get to have opinions about.
To say Marxism is a theory is to make the point opposite the one Marxism’s apologists usually intend. It doesn’t mean Marx isn’t responsible for inducing people to perceive pernicious divisions by class. It means precisely that he is responsible. Packaging a theoretical narrative about social divisions in the human condition is how divisive ideas are communicated.
That’s effectively Rubio’s premise, as he likens class divisions to identity divisions in a Marxist dialectical framework; i.e., one that’s about socially divisive antitheses and struggle. The premise goes unstated, which is unhelpful in dealing with critics. Even if he stated it, however, I doubt his social-media critics would engage the premise in a thoughtful way.
Whatever. It’s a social-media interaction.
Which would be harmless enough, except that now we’ve got the “disinformation is terrorism” card formally added to the deck. And as night follows day, tweeps showed up to play it. “Conservative disinformation about Marxism divides people.”
Whatever else you can say about that sentence, the first thing you can say is that it’s tailored directly for the threat-defining terms of the Biden administration’s National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.
Employment: Mainstream media discussion of “facts” about CRT-based identity training
The final example is an article from Friday at the Washington Post, which has a peculiar feel to it, rolling out like the Army tweet cited above at the same time as the domestic terrorism strategy.
The article singles out Christopher Rufo, documentary-maker and activist, for his work with parents’ groups across the nation opposing the introduction of Critical Race Theory (CRT) into public schools as an organizing framework for curricula.
In a sense, the article seems uncharacteristically restrained. It suggests Rufo has made invalid claims about some instances of CRT-based training, but it doesn’t wield the usual attack adjectives and characterizations (“baseless,” “says without evidence,” etc.) in doing so.
Nevertheless, it clearly means to leave the impression that what Rufo has said isn’t backed up by facts.
Testing that proposition runs us up against semantics, however, and possibly unprobed conflation – and speciousness. One of the examples used by Rufo is introduced as follows:
The Treasury Department, [Rufo] said, had hired a diversity consultant named Howard Ross who “told Treasury employees essentially that America was a fundamentally white supremacist country and, I quote, ‘Virtually all White people uphold the system of racism and white superiority.’”
Rufo said that Ross was “essentially denouncing the country” and asking White Treasury employees “to accept their White privilege, accept their white racial superiority.” A post about this training on Rufo’s website is headlined, “Treasury Department tells employees all white people are racist.”
To support these conclusions, Rufo posted a 33-page document prepared for the Treasury on his website, but the document does not say that all White people are racist or that America is a fundamentally white supremacist country. It does not ask White people to accept “their white racial superiority.”
The Post continues:
The document does advise participants not to “shy away from language like ‘Whiteness,’ ‘racism,’ ‘white supremacy’ and ‘allyship.’” It includes, as part of a list of resources, a link to a YouTube video of Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility.” The document summarizes the video by saying she “discusses the roots of White supremacy, of which she asserts virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism.”
Note first of all that these details do not prove that Mr. Howard Ross never said, during a training session, that “Virtually all White people uphold the system of racism and white superiority.” Having read the Post account, we are no wiser on that matter. It’s possible that Ross said those words and Rufo was informed of them by an attendee, or heard them in a video. We won’t know unless there is further investigation.
But perhaps a more significant point is that what the 33-page written document says is not evidence that would refute Rufo’s depiction of the inflammatory, loaded-premise nature of the material being used. WaPo writes as if that point isn’t visible, when any sensible reader can see it clearly. Ross certainly could have said what Rufo attributes to him. It would have been perfectly consonant with the quoted language of the written document.
Pulling these logical fast ones in measured tones is an interesting art. The Post does it again with Rufo’s example of training set up for Sandia National Laboratories, which does work for the Energy Department. The Post reports that the company “sent White men in senior leadership positions to a four-day training program.”
Documents Rufo posted show that sessions focused heavily on White and male privilege, and the company that sponsored the program confirmed as much. One page lists more than 60 examples of White privilege such as “not being rejected for a loan,” assuming local schools are of good quality and being accepted into a country club.
Yada-yada-yada. WaPo calls out Rufo for alleging “the program ‘forced (participants) to write letters of apology to women and people of color,’” but says “there is no evidence of that.”
Rather, “Participants were asked to write statements ‘directed at women, people of color and other groups’ about the meaning of the event.” Which sounds, in fairness, like apologies, per se, were not “required.”
A few sentences later, the article makes the point that “This program was not mandatory,” which doesn’t seem to relate back to anything previously said, other than the point about the “forced apologies.”
Ah, but it turns out the program wasn’t voluntary either. “[T]eam supervisors, managers and other senior officials were required to choose an unconscious bias training to attend from a list of several options, an Energy Department spokeswoman said.”
Really, WaPo is being no more careful to leave a precisely documented and perfectly stated impression than their reporting implies Rufo’s is. Not only is that care not being taken: the opposite would be a fairer reading of what’s being served up in the article. Rufo is right, on the essentials: white men were singled out for mandatory training, and the training was quite as full of combatively weaponized premises as he said it was. WaPo’s effort is to make him seem wrong by emphasizing non-essentials.
Why does this matter? Because when “disinformation is terrorism,” the tiebreaker is who decides what disinformation is. Does anyone doubt, as the National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism makes its stately progress, that, both being about equally imperfect, the Washington Post, and not Christopher Rufo, will be the “runner” to whom the tie goes, every time?
This all seems very predictable. Humanity has been here before, with the manufactured crises (“Disinformation! Terror!”), the demonized demographic groups, the “crisis”-justified truncation and corruption of law and due process. How can it not go down the worst, predestined path?
The sense I have is that we see it too clearly already for it to take us unawares. In fact, the vote for Trump in 2016, the similar votes struggling to break out in many other countries, the local efforts across America to reject the politics of self-loathing, victimhood, and other-demonization in the schools, the state legislatures and governors using every tool of law to oppose the “crisis” agenda (climate catastrophe, disease catastrophe, racism/xenophobia/gender-bigotry catastrophe) that propounds a world-historical moment ripe for gutting borders, civic nationalism, and nationally-protected rights – all of these trends are with us because we see what’s being attempted.
We see this time. The communication modes are too many and varied for us to remain blind. It hasn’t become clear just yet what this clarity may be preparing us for, but it does make us wrong to dismiss hope. If there is vision, may we not say that the people at least need not perish? America is 245 years old this year because, incredibly, we have beaten the odds every time. Don’t count us out.
*UPDATE*: Christopher Rufo, the subject of the Washington Post article used as example three, obtained corrections from the Post and extenuating comments in email correspondence which he posted at Twitter. To view the original article versus the corrections, click through to Rufo’s tweet thread. Form your own judgments.
WINNING: The Washington Post's hitpiece against me has collapsed.
They have admitted to fabricating a timeline, retracted or added six full paragraphs, reversed a key claim, and failed to produce evidence of a falsified quotation.
Democracy dies when the media lies. pic.twitter.com/gfKdpy4sal
— Christopher F. Rufo ⚔️ (@realchrisrufo) June 22, 2021
I doubt readers will be surprised by this development. Again, the point in the LU article: when the Biden administration undertakes to identify “disinformation” and “misinformation,” it will be using “mainstream, accredited” sources like WaPo — to make conclusions like whether conservative speech is incitement to domestic terrorism. The Biden administration will call this “due process,” even though it violates the most basic premise of the First Amendment.