Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world

Anne Applebaum writes: The Enlightenment belief that we can know and understand reality — that we can measure it, weigh it, judge it, use reason to explain it — underlies all of the achievements of Western civilization, from the scientific revolution to the Industrial Revolution to democracy itself. Ever since René Descartes asked himself how it was possible to know that melting wax is the same thing as a candle, we have believed that reason, not mythology, sensibility, emotion or instinct, provides a superior way to understand the world. But is that still true?

If the strange case of Sweden and its immigrants is anything to go by, then the answer is probably no. This odd story began last month, when President Trump began ranting, memorably, about dangerous immigrants at a rally in Florida: “You look at what’s happening last night, in Sweden! Sweden! Who would believe this, Sweden!” The following morning, puzzled Swedes woke up to find the world’s media asking them what, actually, had happened last night. The answer — other than some road closures — was nothing.

In an Enlightenment world, that would have been the end of the story. In our post-Enlightenment world, things got more complicated. Trump explained that what he had seen “last night” was not a terrorist attack — though that was certainly implied in his speech — but a filmmaker named Ami Horowitz who was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The interview was indeed terrifying: For those unfamiliar with the techniques of emotional manipulation — and they are the same, whether used by Fox News or Russia Today — it should be mandatory viewing. As the two were speaking, a clip of an aggressive, brown-skinned man hitting a policeman, presumably in Sweden, alternated in the background, over and over, with a clip of a burning car. The repetitive, frightening images were bolstered by more clips from Horowitz’s film, in which Swedish police officers appeared to be confirming a massive rise in crime linked to immigration. Carlson, meanwhile, marveled at the stupidity and naivete of the Swedish nation helpless to confront this menace. No wonder the president was upset.

But the next day, the Swedish police officers protested: Horowitz had never asked them about immigration, and had cut their interviews to make it seem as if they were answering different questions. Moreover, while Sweden did — generously and admirably — accept 160,000 refugees in 2015, and while there are genuine problems absorbing and acculturating them, Swedish crime rates remain low, particularly if you compare them with crime rates in, say, Florida.

A faked film had inspired the president to cite an imaginary crisis — but the story didn’t end there. [Continue reading…]

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Trump aides have nothing to say about his wiretap claims

The New York Times reports: President Trump has no regrets. His staff has no defense.

After weeks of assailing reporters and critics in diligent defense of their boss, Mr. Trump’s team has been uncharacteristically muted this week when pressed about his explosive — and so far proof-free — Twitter posts on Saturday accusing President Barack Obama of tapping phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

The accusation — and the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the former national intelligence director, James R. Clapper Jr., emphatically deny that any such wiretap was requested or issued — constitutes one of the most consequential accusations made by one president against another in American history.

So for Mr. Trump’s allies inside the West Wing and beyond, the tweetstorm spawned the mother of all messaging migraines. Over the past few days, they have executed what amounts to a strategic political retreat — trying to publicly validate Mr. Trump’s suspicions without overtly endorsing a claim some of them believe might have been generated by Breitbart News and other far-right outlets.

“No, that’s above my pay grade,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary and a feisty Trump loyalist, when asked on Tuesday at an on-camera briefing if he had seen any evidence to back up Mr. Trump’s accusation. The reporters kept at him, but Mr. Spicer pointedly and repeatedly refused to offer personal assurances that the president’s statements were true.

“No comment,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier in the day. Last week, Mr. Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

“I don’t know anything about it,” John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said on CNN on Monday. Mr. Kelly shrugged and added that “if the president of the United States said that, he’s got his reasons to say it.”

Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, have said they will add Mr. Trump’s request to pre-existing inquiries into intelligence community leaks.

But Mr. Nunes and Mr. Burr said they had not seen specific evidence backing up Mr. Trump’s claim.

Other Hill Republicans have responded with similar verbal shrugs. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday that he “didn’t know what the basis” of Mr. Trump’s statement was. [Continue reading…]

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Greenwald, Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge, Assange all use same ‘deep state’ formula to push back against Russia story

The first step in dismissing someone’s concerns is to brand them as hysterical.

Trump’s ties to Russia, the hacking of the DNC, Trump administration officials lying about their communications with Russians, a global disinformation campaign that is undermining democracy and empowering right-wing authoritarian leaders and parties across the West — the attention being directed at all of this, is, some observers claim, all part of an “anti-Russia frenzy” that is being stoked in order to topple the Trump presidency.

The new coalition of left and right that has brought together Trump supporters and nominal Trump opponents, seem to be agreed on this: the best way of addressing the story of Russian interference in American democracy is to ignore Russia.

After all, if for decades you have been obsessed about the enemy in Washington, how can all this Kremlin talk be seen as anything other than another sinister plot spawned by the American masters of the Deep State?

Apparently the term Deep State is new to some on the right, but it’s popularization by Glenn Greenwald is serving the Trump camp well.

 

For those who are eager to counteract the effects of the unremitting flow of Russia-related stories involving team Trump, the latest piece of ammunition has been provided by Michael Tracey whose supposed deconstruction of the story cycle is being hailed as a “must read.”


I don’t think Greenwald gets directions from Moscow, but if he did, they would be very concise: keep doing what you’re already doing.

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Russia heats up its infowar with the West

Ilan Berman writes: When it comes to Russian propaganda, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Over the past several months, Americans have become acutely aware of a phenomenon that Europeans were already all too familiar with: the pervasive, corrosive nature of Russian propaganda. Russia’s purported attempts to meddle in the U.S. presidential election remain a major topic of national debate—one that could, even now, lead to fresh Congressional investigations and a political showdown between Capitol Hill and the new White House.

Yet the scope of Russia’s propaganda machine is still poorly understood by most Americans. Many may by now be familiar with Moscow’s highest profile media outlets, like television channel RT (which the Russian government funds to the tune of some $250 million annually) and the flashy Sputnik “news” multimedia website (which is likewise lavishly bankrolled by the Kremlin). But the full range of Russia’s information operations are still truly appreciated only by the small cadre of foreign policy and national security professionals who have been forced to grapple with their far-reaching and negative effects.

That effort is enormous, encompassing billions of dollars and dozens of domestic and international media outlets in an architecture that dwarfs the disinformation offensive marshaled against the West by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. [Continue reading…]

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Who is Nils Bildt? Swedish ‘national security advisor’ interviewed by Fox News is a mystery to Swedes

The Washington Post reports: In a segment on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” that aired Thursday, host Bill O’Reilly spoke with two Swedish nationals about allegations that Sweden had become a more dangerous place in recent years because of immigration.

One guest, Swedish journalist Anne-Sofie Naslund of the Expressen newspaper, pushed back against O’Reilly’s comments, suggesting that her country was far safer than it was being presented.

Nils Bildt, billed as a “Swedish defense and national security advisor” by Fox News, told O’Reilly that Naslund was “rather incorrect” and that there had been big problems with integrating immigrants into Swedish society. “These things are not being openly and honestly discussed,” Bildt said.

It was only a brief segment, but it quickly caused controversy back in Sweden, where reporters and experts suggested that Bildt was unknown within the Swedish national security world.

The Dagens Nyheter newspaper reported Friday that neither the Swedish armed forces nor the Foreign Ministry had heard of Bildt. Johan Wiktorin, a fellow at the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, took to Twitter to suggest he had not heard of Bildt either. [Continue reading…]

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Fake news, fake Ukrainians: How a group of Russians tilted a Dutch vote

The New York Times reports: Harry van Bommel, a left-wing member of the Dutch Parliament, had persuasive allies in convincing voters that they should reject a trade pact with Ukraine — his special “Ukrainian team,” a gleefully contrarian group of émigrés whose sympathies lay with Russia.

They attended public meetings, appeared on television and used social media to denounce Ukraine’s pro-Western government as a bloodthirsty kleptocracy, unworthy of Dutch support. As Mr. Van Bommel recalled, it “was very handy to show that not all Ukrainians were in favor.”

Handy but also misleading: The most active members of the Ukrainian team were actually from Russia, or from Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, and parroted the Kremlin line.

The Dutch referendum, held last April, became a battering ram aimed at the European Union. With turnout low, Dutch voters rejected the trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, delighting Moscow, emboldening pro-Russia populists around Europe and leaving political elites aghast.

It is unclear whether the Ukrainian team was directed by Russia or if it was acting out of shared sympathies, and Mr. Van Bommel said he never checked their identities. But Europe’s political establishment, already rattled by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the election of President Trump in the United States, is worried that the Netherlands referendum could foreshadow what is to come. [Continue reading…]

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Russia is targetting French, Dutch and German elections with fake news, EU task force warns

The Telegraph reports: Russia is seeking to influence the outcome of several key elections in European countries this year with fake news, a special task force set up by the European Union has warned.

The EU is reportedly allocating more funds to its East StratCom task force to counter the disinformation, amid fears Russia will target elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands

“There is an enormous, far-reaching, at least partly organized, disinformation campaign against the EU, its politicians and its principles,” a source close to the task force told Germany’s Spiegel magazine.

It is “highly likely” Russia will try to influence European elections “as it did in the US”, the source said.

The number one target is Angela Merkel, who has been subjected to a “bombardment” of fake news over her refugee policy and support for economic sanctions against Russia.

Disinformation is “part of state policy” and a “military tool” for the Kremlin”. [Continue reading…]

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Are we entering an era in which ‘truth’ is whatever Trump wants it to be?

Shortly before Trump took office, Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrote: Although we cannot yet know what kind of president he will be, from his June 2015 declaration of candidacy to his January 2017 inauguration, Trump has undertaken two parallel projects aimed at unsettling the mental habits and moral foundations of American democracy. First, he has cultivated a political persona that inspires adulation and unquestioning loyalty that can be mobilized for action on his behalf. Second, he has initiated Americans into a culture of threat that not only desensitizes them to the effects of bigotry but also raises the possibility of violence without consequence.

The founding moment of this era came one year ago, when Trump declared at a rally, “I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters.” Trump signaled that rhetorical and actual violence might have a different place in America of the future, perhaps becoming something ordinary or unmemorable. During 2016, public hatred became part of everyday reality for many Americans: those who identify with the white supremacist alt-right like Richard Spencer openly hold rallies; elected officials feel emboldened to call for political opponents to be shot (as did New Hampshire and Oklahoma State Representatives Al Baldasaro and John Bennett, among others); journalists reporting on Trump and hijab-wearing women seek protection protocols and escorts. The bureaucratic-sounding term many use for this, “normalization,” does not fully render the operations of memory that make it possible. Driven by opportunism, pragmatism, or fear, many begin to forget that they used to think certain things were unacceptable.

The risk is that the parameters of thought and action will be nudged to align with those of the leader, easing the retrofitting of history to suit his personalization of the land’s highest office. Trump’s success at this in a country known for individualism, and with no history of living under an authoritarian ruler, shows how susceptible people are to such approaches.

Trump’s bullying charm anchors this culture of threat. From the start he cultivated a relationship with followers founded on an allegiance to his person, and not to a party or principle. He devised campaign rituals (loyalty oaths, “lock her up” chants directed at imprisoning his opponent) that created a bond of charismatic authority and accustomed his constituents to his heavy hand. At his rallies he harangued his crowds, directing them emotionally, urging them to punish protesters as he expressed his own desires to punch offenders in the face. “You were nasty and mean and vicious, you wanted to win, right?” he told his fans after the election.

Twitter has been an excellent training ground for the acceptance of Trump’s cult of personality and the memory politics that undergird it. His skill at orchestrating the news cycle through tweets keeps Americans caught in the web of an “eternal present,” their attention focused on his aggressive outbursts that are dissected by the media and the public with the fervor of Communist-era Kremlinologists. His domination of the media landscape, on Twitter and elsewhere, realizes the authoritarians’ dream: to be everywhere present while remaining in your palace, and able to influence both big policy decisions and small daily habits with a few strokes of your pen. The writer Italo Calvino, who recalled that Mussolini’s face was “always in view” during the first 20 years of his life, would have appreciated how a few critical tweets from the leader-to-be led the storied Ford Motor Company to quickly scrap long-held plans for a $1.6 billion assembly plant in Mexico, and express its “confidence” in his business acumen.

The deference to the leader allows another crucial element of authoritarian rule to fall into place: the discrediting of all alternate sources of information. The confusion sowed by Trump from the start of his campaign (“we’ve got to figure out what’s going on”), which crucially extends to the facts of his personal history (Putin? “I don’t know him”), built to a blanket denunciation of all non-Trump information. “Media is fake!” the president-elect tweeted on January 8, preparing Americans for the onset of a new era in which truth is what Trump wants it to be. [Continue reading…]

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From headline to photograph, a fake news masterpiece

The New York Times reports: It was early fall, and Donald J. Trump, behind in the polls, seemed to be preparing a rationale in case a winner like him somehow managed to lose. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a riled-up crowd in Columbus, Ohio. He was hearing “more and more” about evidence of rigging, he added, leaving the details to his supporters’ imagination.

A few weeks later, Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash, sat down at the kitchen table in his apartment to fill in the details Mr. Trump had left out. In a dubious art just coming into its prime, this bogus story would be his masterpiece.

Mr. Harris started by crafting the headline: “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.” It made sense, he figured, to locate this shocking discovery in the very city and state where Mr. Trump had highlighted his “rigged” meme.

“I had a theory when I sat down to write it,” recalled Mr. Harris, a 23-year-old former college quarterback and fraternity leader. “Given the severe distrust of the media among Trump supporters, anything that parroted Trump’s talking points people would click. Trump was saying ‘rigged election, rigged election.’ People were predisposed to believe Hillary Clinton could not win except by cheating.”

In a raucous election year defined by made-up stories, Mr. Harris was a home-grown, self-taught practitioner, a boutique operator with no ties to Russian spy agencies or Macedonian fabrication factories. As Mr. Trump takes office this week, the beneficiary of at least a modest electoral boost from a flood of fakery, Mr. Harris and his ersatz-news website, ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, make for an illuminating tale.

Contacted by a reporter who had discovered an electronic clue that revealed his secret authorship of ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, he was wary at first, chagrined to be unmasked.

“This topic is rather sensitive,” Mr. Harris said, noting that he was trying to build a political consulting business and needed to protect his reputation. But eventually he agreed to tell the story of his foray into fake news, a very part-time gig that he calculated paid him about $1,000 an hour in web advertising revenue. He seemed to regard his experience with a combination of guilt about having spread falsehoods and pride at doing it so skillfully. [Continue reading…]

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Watch out, Europe. Germany is top of Russian hackers’ list

Natalie Nougayrède writes: One year ago in Berlin, Lisa F, a 13-year-old German-Russian girl, disappeared for 30 hours. When she returned to her parents, she claimed she had been kidnapped and raped by “Arab” men. This was a lie – as she later admitted. She had fallen out with her parents and invented the whole story. But that did little to stop the episode from becoming the centrepiece of a whirlwind Russian disinformation campaign aimed at destabilising Angela Merkel and German institutions.

Russian state media and pro-Russian websites in Germany immediately swirled with reports. Merkel was already under pressure for her open-door policy on refugees. Now German far-right groups and representatives of Germany’s ethnic Russian community held demonstrations. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, described Lisa (a dual German-Russian citizen) as “our girl” and accused German authorities of a cover-up and “whitewashing reality to make it politically correct”.

A diplomatic spat ensued, with the German foreign minister accusing Russia of “political propaganda”. Berlin officials struggled to counter the Russian campaign. But Moscow’s overt meddling in Germany’s domestic politics seeped into the public consciousness – for a while, at least.

Fast-forward to January 2017. The fallout from the Trump-Russia dossier has now placed Vladimir Putin and his power structure at the centre of American politics. For Europeans, a question arises: what could this all mean for the old continent, as it approaches key elections? This year, voting will take place in France, the Netherlands and in Germany. Remembering the Lisa scandal is important, for it says something about what may lie ahead.

Now that Russia’s covert activities are being so intensely discussed in the US, it is high time Europe placed as much attention on what it might, in turn, be confronted with – and to prepare itself. [Continue reading…]

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Three thousand fake tanks: How a network of conspiracy sites spread a fake story about U.S. military reinforcements in Europe

Digital Forensic Research Lab reports: On January 4, a little-known news site based in Donetsk, Ukraine published an article claiming that the United States was sending 3,600 tanks to Europe as part of “the NATO war preparation against Russia”.

Like much fake news, this story started with a grain of truth: the US was about to reinforce its armored units in Europe. However, the article converted literally thousands of other vehicles — including hundreds of Humvees and trailers  — into tanks, building the US force into something 20 times more powerful than it actually was.

The story caught on online. Within three days it had been repeated by a dozen websites in the United States, Canada and Europe, and shared some 40,000 times. It was translated into Norwegian; quoted, unchallenged, by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti; and spread among Russian-language websites.

It was also an obvious fake, as any Google news search would have revealed. Yet despite its evident falsehood, it spread widely, and not just in directly Kremlin-run media. Tracking the spread of this fake therefore shines a light on the wider question of how fake stories are dispersed. [Continue reading…]

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How Putin played the far left

Casey Michel writes: In the aftermath of the U.S. intelligence community’s recent report on the Russian-directed hacking of the Democratic National Committee, it’s easy but misleading to conclude that the Russian government’s propaganda strategy lies solely in advancing the careers of conservative Republicans in the United States. Backing Donald Trump’s candidacy, via steady leaks of stolen communiques to organizations like WikiLeaks, was but one prong of the Kremlin’s assault on American liberal democracy. Part of its campaign to vilify Hillary Clinton involved catering to her rivals on the far-left and pushing any number of crankish conspiracy theories that appeal as much to “anti-imperialists” as to neo-Nazis.

There’s nothing new in that, really.

Moscow’s attempts to cultivate America’s far-left long predate the presidency of Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin, according to available evidence, donated more funds per capita to the U.S. Communist Party than any other communist claque during the Soviet period, when Moscow’s intelligence operations against the “main adversary” involved recruiting agents of influence and spies of a progressive background who were sympathetic to the Soviet cause. But the past 18 months have seen a noted spike in information warfare aimed at gulling the Bernie Bros and Occupy-besotted alternative media set, which saw Clinton as more of a political danger than it did Trump.

Perhaps the starkest case in point is Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her constituency. In December 2015, the Kremlin feted Stein by inviting her to the gala celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Kremlin-funded propaganda network RT. Over a year later, it remains unclear who paid for Stein’s trip to Moscow and her accommodations there. Her campaign ignored multiple questions on this score. We do know, however, that Stein sat at the same table as both Putin and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump’s soon-to-be national security adviser. She further spoke at an RT-sponsored panel, using her presence to criticize the U.S.’s “disastrous militarism.” Afterward, straddling Moscow’s Red Square, Stein described the panel as “inspiring,” going on to claim that Putin, whom she painted as a political novice, told her he “agree[d]” with her “on many issues.”

Stein presents herself as a champion of the underclass and the environment, and an opponent of the surveillance state and corporate media, and yet she seemed to take pleasure in her marriage of true minds with a kleptocratic intelligence officer who levels forests and arrests or kills critical journalists and invades foreign countries. Their true commonality, of course, is that both Putin and Stein are dogged opponents of U.S. foreign policy. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s denigration of the media and of information itself is creating an environment that inoculates him from critical coverage

 

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How fake news turns 87 U.S. tanks into 2,000 tanks threatening Russia

I’m not really a fan of this expression “fake news.” For one thing, like any other pejorative it can too easily get hijacked by practitioners of the Trump school of political rhetoric.

So, when it comes to a website like Michel Chossudovsky’s Global Research, while it can reasonably be described as a chronic purveyor of fake news, I think it can just as accurately be described as a piece of crap.

Consider, for instance, this piece of “reporting” based itself on a “report” from actor Janus Putkonen’s, “Donbass International News Agency.”

Global Research reposts the article which begins:

The NATO war preparation against Russia, ‘Operation Atlantic Resolve’, is in full swing. 2,000 US tanks will be sent in coming days from Germany to Eastern Europe, and 1,600 US tanks is deployed to storage facilities in the Netherlands. At the same time, NATO countries are sending thousands of soldiers in to Russian borders.

Following Russian intervention in Ukraine, “Operation Atlantic Resolve” began in 2014 and was designed to “reassure NATO allies and partners of America’s dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region,” according to the Pentagon.

So what about these 2,000 tanks?

It seems like the Putkonen system of military analysis works like this: find a report that includes “2,000” and “tanks” in the same sentence and, voila! You end up with 2,000 tanks.

On January 6, Stars and Stripes reported:

The U.S. Army began unloading tanks and other weaponry in the German port of Bremerhaven Friday, marking the arrival of the first wave of gear that will support the rotation of an armored brigade in Europe.

Over the next several days, the equipment will be offloaded and moved by rail, commercial lines and convoy into staging sites in Poland.

The arrival of the military hardware and troops from the Fort Carson-based 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division marks the start of the first full-time presence of a tank brigade in Europe since the last armored units on the Continent were inactivated several years ago.

In all, the Fort Carson brigade will bring 87 tanks, 18 Paladins; 419 multi-purpose and 144 Bradley Fighting Vehicles; as well as some 2,000 additional vehicles and trailers.

Call me a stickler for accuracy, but I’d say there’s a big difference between 87 tanks and 2,000 tanks, but then again, who’s to say what the U.S. Army might be hiding inside its vehicle-borne portajohns.

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Germany investigating unprecedented spread of fake news online

The Guardian reports: German government officials have said they are investigating an unprecedented proliferation of fake news items amid reports of Russian efforts to influence the country’s election later this year.

The BfV domestic intelligence agency confirmed that a cyber-attack last December against the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) used the same “attack infrastructure” as a 2015 hack of the German parliament attributed to Russian hacking group APT28.

Last month, BfV said it had seen an “enormous use of financial resources” and the deployment of a wide variety of Russian propaganda tools to carry out disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilising the German government. [Continue reading…]

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