Witch hunts start out with a hunt for a witch. But almost immediately the witch-hunters see witchcraft everywhere. Eventually they even turn upon each other.
Witness the events this past week when The New York Times, CNN and Hilary Clinton were among liberal forces who fell to accusing other democrats and liberals of being Russian government “assets”, “agents”, “puppets”.
In an article titled “What, Exactly, is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?”, The New York Times reported about the Congresswoman from Hawaii that “an array of alt-right internet stars, white nationalists and Russians (my emphasis) have praised her.”
(Again, I have to protest The New York Times’ on-going use of “Russian” as a blanket term synonymous with criminals or traitors. Substitute any other national or ethnic category — “Chinese,” or “Israelis”, or “Italians” — and it will grate on you. But Russians are apparently untermenschen and can be spoken of collectively.)
Gabbard alleged recently that the 2020 election process is being rigged by the Democratic National Committee and corporate media. The New York Times says this has “some Democrats wondering what, exactly, she is up to in the race, while others worry about supportive signs from online bot activity and the Russian news media.”
It’s a pretty stunning hit job by The New York Times of Gabbard, who is a major in the U.S. Army National Guard who served two tours in Iraq, and who is now one of the most courageous voices against never-ending wars abroad.
But Gabbard has been smeared for years now, ever since she resigned in 2016 as vice chair of the DNC — remember, she was a rising star in the party, and she threw that away on a matter of principle. She endorsed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, and called out the DNC for what she (and others) saw as a rigged primary process. The DNC and Hillary Clinton (and their loyal media) have been making Gabbard pay for it ever since.
The NYT article alleges that on the message board 4chan, “some right-wing trolls and anti-Semites fawn over Ms. Gabbard, calling her ‘Mommy’ and praising her willingness to criticize Israel.” (This may be the most pathetic part of the whole exercise. How is this news? You found “anti-Semites” — on an anti-Semite-frequented message board — “some” of them “fawned” over a woman who is a minor public figure — they traded in off-putting comments about her — and that is the fault of the woman?)
The article dutifully notes Gabbard has rejected any praise she’s received from neo-Nazis and their ilk — praise which the article itself concedes reflects their support for her opposition to U.S. wars abroad and her willingness to criticize Israel. These are positions, by the way, with broad support among some patriotic and thoughtful Americans, not just among some neo-Nazis.
Most interesting to me though is the ongoing, concerted campaign to smear Gabbard as some kind of Russian government agent. The NYT article, two days before the October debate, kept this moving forward:
The questions [about Gabbard among Democratic leaders] deepened on Thursday after Ms. Gabbard threatened to boycott Tuesday’s debate, arguing that the corporate news media and the Democratic National Committee are working together to rig the event. (The New York Times is a co-sponsor of the debate with CNN.)
That message resonates with many of Ms. Gabbard’s supporters … But it’s also an argument that reminds some Democrats of the narrative pushed by Russian actors during the 2016 presidential contest, when an operation by internet trolls worked to manipulate American public opinion: that the electoral system is broken and cannot be trusted. …
Criticizing our electoral system “reminds” some people of how Russian internet trolls also criticized our electoral system. So … criticizing the electoral system is treason?
Democrats are on high alert about foreign interference in the next election and the D.N.C. is well aware of the frequent mentions of Ms. Gabbard in the Russian state news media.
An independent analysis of the Russian news media found that RT, the Kremlin-backed news agency, mentioned Ms. Gabbard frequently for a candidate polling in single digits, according to data collected by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a group that seeks to track and expose efforts by authoritarian regimes to undermine democratic elections. …
Laura Rosenberger, a former policy aide to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and director of the Alliance, sees Ms. Gabbard as a potentially useful vector for Russian efforts to sow division within the Democratic Party.
Gabbard has indeed been frequently and favorably mentioned on RT and other Russia-associated media. NBC News went through this in detail back in February.
Is this surprising? She argues we should get out of Syria. Russia also thinks we should get out of Syria. (So do many Americans, including arguably most Democrats! See this latest Rasmussen Reports poll.) Obviously the Russians will respond favorably to this — just like U.S. media would respond favorably to, say, a Russian politician who wanted to advocate for more Russian democracy and rule of law. (Would U.S. independent and government media be doing something sleazy if we put our opinions out there about said hypothetical Russian politician? No. Would it be meddling in Russia’s affairs? Maybe. Would we have the right to voice our opinions anyway? Yes.)
Disinformation experts have also pointed to instances of suspicious activity surrounding Ms. Gabbard’s campaign — in particular, a Twitter hashtag, #KamalaHarrisDestroyed, that trended among Ms. Gabbard’s supporters after the first Democratic debate, and appeared to be amplified by a coordinated network of bot-like accounts — but there is no evidence of coordination between these networks and the campaign itself.
This is typical of the vague, sinister, insinuations that we have seen for the more than three years of Russiagate insanity. There have been “instances” of suspicious activity — note the plural. Multiple cases of suspicious activity. What are we talking about? Suspicious of what? Well, “in particular,” a Twitter hashtag “appeared to be amplified” — maybe by “a coordinated network of bot-like accounts”. (Russian bots? That is the implication, of course: The article transitions from experts talking about Russians trying to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids to say “disinformation experts have also pointed to instances of suspicious activity …”)
If one follows the link provided, however, it goes to a Recode article that doesn’t support much suspicious at all. It notes that Gabbard’s exchange with Kamala Harris, which was much discussed after the second Democratic debate in August, led to “widespread but unfounded (my emphasis) speculation that bots were influencing which candidates trended on Twitter and in Google search results.”
In fact, it was an irritated Harris who pushed the narrative that Gabbard was a useful idiot of the Kremlin. Gabbard embarrassed Harris on stage; Harris’s campaign responded by Tweeting out to reporters the NBC News report cited above, about how Gabbard is often featured favorably on Russian state media. (You criticize my record? I call you Russian. Traitor.)
That was the state of play after the August debate. Then this week, in the run-up to the October Democratic Party debate, The New York Times smeared Gabbard as “Mommy” to two or more anti-Semites they found on 4chan, and suggested there was “suspicious”, Russia-related activity surrounding her. Next CNN stepped in, with analyst Bakari Sellers a few hours before the debate saying, “There is a chance that Tulsi’s not just working for the United States of America” — meaning she’s a Russian agent. When he was challenged on that flippant assertion, he doubled down: “That’s not just an allegation,” he said. “There is no question that Tulsi Gabbard, of all the 12 [candidates soon to go on stage], is a puppet for the Russian government.”
Enter Hillary Clinton herself, who after the debate asserted on a politics podcast (hosted by democratic campaign strategist David Plouffe) that Republicans are “grooming” Gabbard to be a third-party candidate, and then added, “She’s a favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. And that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, because she’s also a Russian asset.”
(Actually, if you listen to the podcast — this is around the 35 minute mark — Clinton starts to say the Green Party’s Stein is “a Russian — ”, Plouffe enthusiastically tries to finish her sentence and says, “agent!”, and Clinton continues by saying, “asset,” and then they laugh in agreement and Clinton continues, “Yeah, she’s a Russian asset, I mean totally!”)
It’s interesting, by the way, that for Hillary, the Russians and the Republicans are working together. She starts off saying the Republicans want to run a 3rd party candidate to siphon off Democratic voters; then segues into saying Gabbard and Stein are the 3rd party options out there that the Russians back. This is a high level of delusion, given how aggressively this has been investigated and how little has come up.
Does it look terrible to see Gabbard criticize the DNC, CNN and The New York Times for rigging the terms of the 2020 democratic primaries (again) — and then have Clinton, CNN and The New York Times smear her as a Russian agent / asset?
It does, so much so that other journalists at CNN are uncomfortable. Witness CNN’s Erin Burnett, who introduced her report by saying, “Tonight Hillary Clinton pushes her own Russia conspiracy,” and then turned to her colleague Van Jones, who was clearly (appropriately) upset.
“She is Hillary Clinton. She’s a legend. She’s going to be in the history books, she’s a former nominee of our party — and she just came out against a sitting U.S. congresswoman, a decorated war veteran, and somebody who’s running for the nomination of our party with a complete smear and no facts.”
“Tulsi Gabbard was picked out by the Democratic Party and put at the top of the DNC. They thought she was going to be their golden girl,” Jones continued, “and she got that position in the DNC and she looked around and saw Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other people, Clinton allies, doing stuff they shouldn’t have been doing in the primary, and Tulsi publicly quit and endorsed Bernie Sanders and it’s been payback hell ever since.”
But payback hell with this new, added element: Not just Donald Trump, but anyone who angers The Party, is now presumed guilty of treasonous collaboration with a foreign power. Until they can prove otherwise.