[Note: these remarks were given at the Hudson Valley Writers Resist event at the Rosendale Theatre in Rosendale, N.Y., on Saturday, May 20.]
BY NOW, you know all about Russia. You know that Trump and his collaborators are guilty, and will go down. This means Flynn, Manafort, Roger Stone, Carter Page, Rudy Giuliani, Devin Nunes, Jason Chaffetz, Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Uday and Qusay Trump, and, oh yes, Paul Ryan and Mike Pence. All of them are complicit, all of them will pay the price—eventually.
For today, though, I want to talk about active measures. Active measures are various techniques Russian intelligence uses to fuck with us. Given how successful the FSB has been, I want to make you aware of five active measures the Russians have undertaken here, as outlined by expert Clint Watts. If you know what they’re doing, you can fight back.
- Undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance
- Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures
- Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions
- Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations
- Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction
Let’s look at them one by one:
1. Undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance
Putin tells his people that the US is just like Russia, that our democratic institutions are bullshit. We need to show him that they’re not. The protests, the calls to our representatives, the op-eds and letters to the editor—all of this runs counter to his objective. What he wants is for us to feel hopeless. Don’t take the bait. If you feel particularly bad, pick up the phone and call John Faso and scream at his aide about impeachment. Works for me!
2. Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures
This means Dems versus GOP, but also factions within the Democratic party. Look, I could stand here and riff for 20 minutes about how Bernie Sanders is just as much of a Useful Idiot to Putin as Trump is, and it would piss most of you off, and it would also be true, but what good would it do? Forget about Hillary and why she lost. Forget about Bernie and how he would have beaten Trump. Keep your eyes on the prize—getting Orange Hitler out of the White House, and the GOP out of the House and Senate. You want to know where the good conservatives are? On Twitter, on top of the Russia story. Louise Mensch, John Schindler, Evan McMullin, Jennifer Rubin, Rick Wilson—all conservatives, all part of my team. History shows this time and again: If we are united, we cannot lose.
3. Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions
One of the reasons the GOP is in power—check that, THE reason—is because our election system is corrupt as all get-out. Gerrymandered districts, oppressive voting ID laws, rigged counting systems, Citizens United, and an underlying architecture that allows Missi-fucking-ssippi to have as many senators as California. You want to rail against something? Rail against that. All of this hideous stuff that Trump has done so far can be undone by a Hillary or a Biden or a President Gillebrand—ahem—in an hour. It’s all executive orders. But the voting system has to be reformed, or we’re all fucked.
4. Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations
This one hasn’t worked so well here, although Fox News is trying. Sean Hannity and his Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon-sized head was on Twitter arguing that Stalin was peachy keen because, after all, the Soviet Union was an ally during World War Two, so #MAGA. That’s such a mendacious oversimplification of actual history, but most Americans are ignorant, so this is the shit they try to pull. Don’t fall for it. NATO is good. NAFTA is good. The sanctions on Russia are working. Putin is not our friend!
5. Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction
Fake news. Trump generates it, and then accuses legit media of disseminating it. And a third of the country believes him, because he sounds so alpha when he talks, and he played a successful businessman on TV, and isn’t he draining that swamp.
We know Fox News is Russian state propaganda now, and Breitbart, and InfoWars. But there are a lot of left-leaning outfits that are equally dubious. Take that stuff with a big grain of salt. It may also be fake news, just the kind we want to hear.
I get my news first from Twitter. Sources like Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor report stuff, and it’s like raw intelligence. Much of it bears out days weeks months later, some of it doesn’t. But it generally points me in the right direction, suggests where stuff is headed. I share it only when I think it’s valid or legit, and I make sure and indicate if it’s speculative. The big papers, the New York Times and especially the Washington Post, have been great in the last few months—ever since the Comey hearing on March 20th. They get things wrong, too, but they try to be honest. The Associated Press, my former employer, is a not-for-profit cooperative owned by every big paper in the country. It has to be objective—that’s its mission. If AP prints it, take it to the bank.
One more thing, before I go: the idea that Pence is worse than Trump? No no no no no. I hate Pence with the fire of a thousand suns, but he’s just a generic bad politician with incredibly unpopular ideas. There is no cult of personality built around Mike Pence. People don’t shout MIKE PENCE before committing hate crimes. Mike Pence is a dipstick, but he’s not unhinged like Donald. He won’t start a war with North Korea as a lark.
Stay strong, folks. Stay together. What we’re doing is WORKING. We will take that Orange Motherfucker down.