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Ocasio-Cortez called Trump a racist. The White House response may have proved her point.

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Eugene Scott writes in the Washington Post:

In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on CBS on Sunday night, Anderson Cooper asked freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “Do you believe President Trump is a racist?” The New York congresswoman didn’t even pause before responding: “Yeah. Yeah. No question.”

The Trump administration hit back almost immediately by dismissing the 29-year-old’s intelligence. A White House statement said that Ocasio-Cortez’s “sheer ignorance on the matter can’t cover the fact that President Trump supported and passed historic criminal justice reform,” adding that the president has also “repeatedly condemned racism and bigotry in all forms.”

It’s a telling response, one that displays the White House’s lack of awareness about why nearly 6 in 10 Americans agree with Ocasio-Cortez’s opinion that the president is a racist, according to a February 2018 Associated Press poll.

For starters, the fact that the Trump White House — an administration known for its lack of diversity — accused a young Latina woman of “ignorance” on the matter of racism didn’t go unnoticed.

And it reflects what many people see as a broader pattern of disrespect toward Americans of color.

After nearly 20 years, the president has yet to apologize for calling for the death of five Latino and black teenagers who were wrongly accused of assaulting a white woman in Central Park. When the topic of police brutality of people of color arises, Trump has criticized black activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement and gone so far as to call NFL players protesting racism and police violence profane names.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired,’ ” the president said to roaring applause in Huntsville, Ala., at a 2017 campaign rally. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2019 at 8:40 pm

The Networks Blew the Call

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I have to agree with James Fallows on this. From the Atlantic:

On tuesday night, Donald Trump is planning to give an address on immigration, the southern border, and the government shutdown that has arisen from his insistence that any budget measure must include money for “the wall.”

When plans for the speech were announced on Monday evening, I opined on Twitter that it would be better for the major broadcasts not to carry the speech. There would have been crystal-clear precedent for their turning him down: In 2014, when Barack Obama gave a speech on his immigration-policy plans, neither CBS nor NBC nor ABC aired it live, on the argument that circumstances made the message “too political.” A closer parallel would be hard to find.

There was also a clearly unprecedented reason not to carry the speech: namely, that nearly everything Trump says on this topic is intentionally inflammatory and either carelessly or deliberately untrue. Politics always involves spin and selective emphasis, but the networks would know for sure ahead of time that they were using their resources to advance untruths.

But the networks said yes, they’ll presumably air the speech, and the question now is what else they can do to cope with the reality of an office holder who doesn’t care that he lies.

Below I make the case that the networks and other news organizations must themselves break precedent, to keep up with what Trump is trying to do. Knowing that Trump is going to attack the truth this evening, they must take active measures to defend it. They have this day to prepare. A commitment to real-time, onscreen fact-checking is at this point the most feasible goal for a speech mere hours away. In the longer run, all major media need to think about how to deal with the endless skein of choices like this they’ll face in the next two years.

It’s been nearly four years since Trump came onto the national-candidate scene. In that time, the “normal” media outlets have shown their near-helplessness against three of Trump’s most important weapons and tools.

One is the total impossibility of reestablishing the dividing line between news and entertainment. Back during Bill Clinton’s first term, I argued in Breaking the News that outlets had to be careful to remember that news and entertainmentwere not the same thing. Parents know that protein and vegetables are different from Mountain Dew and Spam. People filing suit or going on trial know that there’s a difference between a TV-style Judge Judy and a real, working magistrate. Schools are designed to be different from comedy clubs. And so, I argued, people in charge of the news had to remember to make their information as interesting as news could possibly be, rather than the most objectively interesting spectacle ever. In a contest for attention between entertainment and anything else, entertainment will always win. That’s what it’s for.

The challenge for the news media was to “make the important interesting,” rather than to search for the purely interesting. Car-crash footage or the last seconds of a sudden-death playoff game will always be more eye-catching than reports on a drought, or sexual-harassment patterns, or emergency-room standards, or a million other topics. But things that are merely interesting will never lack for coverage. The definition of news is that it attempts to explain things that matter, things that a democratic society needs to know about in order to make sane decisions.

Trump has been the most entertaining figure on the public stage since he came down the golden escalator in 2015. TV news, in particular, has therefore not been able to resist showing him (and his rallies) or talking about him. It’s the civic equivalent of seeing that 9-year-olds are guzzling down Mountain Dew and asking for more Spam, and just giving them more. Trump’s going live? Let’s switch to the White House! This needs to change.

The second, long discussed, is the difference between Trump and all previous figures when it comes to public lies. From Richard Nixon and long before to Bill Clinton and long after, normal public figures have told normal lies. That is, they have lied when they had to; they have lied when it was useful; they have lied when they thought they wouldn’t get caught.

Trump just lies. He doesn’t know, or he doesn’t care, about the difference between claims that are true and those that are obviously made up. (Daniel Dale, of the Toronto Star, has indefatigably cataloged Trump’s lies, at a rate of more than 100 a week.) Maybe 4,000 “terrorists” have been apprehended at the southern border? Maybe zero? Who can ever really know? Over the past week, Trump has claimed that former presidents “privately” told him they supported building his wall. All four living ex-presidents have taken the unusual step of denying that they said any such thing.It is very hard for the press to fact-check or otherwise cope with a figure of this sort. In exposing someone’s lies, they rely on the fact that he or she would care about being caught—much as religious or ethical leaders rely on the power of the guilty conscience.

Trump doesn’t care. He can’t be shamed. The press (except for Dale) tires of detailing his lies before Trump tires of telling them.

The third is the press’ whipped-dog cringe in anticipation of criticism about any supposed bias toward the left. The simplest illustration, again, is the contrast between their handling of Obama’s recent request in 2014 and this one by Trump. After the Obama decision, news executives lost not a moment of sleep out of concern about attacks from liberal groups for “right-wing bias.” They thought about it as a news decision, and presented it that way. But the certainty of an “enemy of the people!” onslaught by Trump, Fox News, and their allies indisputably weighed on the executives’ minds yesterday.

The network executives’ position has a lot in common with that of the Senate Republicans. Each group knows with perfect clarity what Trump is actually doing. The Senate Republicans know that Trump is using the wall as a distraction and life raft. They know that because they unanimously approved, by voice vote, a plan to keep the government open, with no mention of the wall, before Trump panicked in the face of criticism from Ann Coulter and Fox News. They could pass that resolution again tomorrow—but they won’t speak up in public, so fearful do they remain of being criticized, too. For their part, the network executives know exactly what Trump will do if given air time. (Though they also realize that the formal Oval Office speech is Trump’s weakest venue. He’s not good at reading prepared texts, with his trademark ad-libs of “That’s so true” when he encounters lines he has clearly never seen before.) But they are giving it to him.

They were not afraid of criticism for turning down Obama. They are afraid about what would happen if they turned down Trump. You can think of lots of explanations. But the difference is clear.

An instructive parallel:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2019 at 4:43 pm

‘But Mr. Trump had not read the letter’: Television is running the country

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Eric Wemple writes in the Washington Post:

The resignation letter of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis runs just shy of 600 words. For the average reader, digesting such a missive is an undertaking of about three minutes, maybe a bit less. Way too much, in other words, for the president of the United States.

If President Trump had wanted just the CliffsNotes version of the letter, he could have read merely these three sentences: “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances. Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”

That’s about 100 words, or about a half-minute of investment for the average reader. Again, that’s asking a lot for this particular fellow. The New York Times reports:

But Mr. Trump had not read the letter. As became apparent to the president only after days of news coverage, a senior administration official said, Mr. Mattis had issued a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarians. The president grew increasingly angry as he watched a parade of defense analysts go on television to extol Mr. Mattis’s bravery, another aide said, until he decided on Sunday that he had had enough.

Indeed: On Sunday, Trump declared that Mattis would be leaving his post on Jan. 1, not in February, as Mattis had intended.

The snap decision resulted from a policymaking “process” governed by television. Here was a letter addressed to the president himself. Instead of reading it and sorting out its tone and message, he outsourced that job to the people on whom he relies the most. Commentators on cable news and other media, that is.

The list of precedents highlighting this depraved dependency is getting unruly. Just think back to the shutdown drama, as Trump knuckled under to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and people on Fox News who knocked him for caving on wall funding. Or all the times that he derived governmental policies based on the programming of “Fox & Friends.” Or the time he vowed to get to the bottom of the land-reform situation in South Africa based on an error-laden presentation by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Or the fact that his communications director — Bill Shine — is a former Fox News guy and a buddy of host Sean Hannity. Or the fact that he adjudges former Fox News presenter Heather Nauert sufficiently qualified to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

On one level, Trump’s approach to the resignation of his defense secretary makes sense. Early in the presidential campaign, Trump was asked where he got his military advice: “Well, I watch the shows. I mean, I really see a lot of great — you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows and you have the generals,” he said. For such a dedicated liar, that was a moment of honesty, not to mention a campaign promise fulfilled: Instead of reading Mattis’s letter, he turned to television to figure out what this general had to say.

And then he became enraged. That makes a lot of sense, too: Cable news is designed to tweak you, to bait you, to titillate you and, sometimes, to anger you. It’s a dangerous formula even for folks who read a lot and who are not president of the United States. It’s a lethal formula for a guy who doesn’t read and who is president of the United States.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2018 at 3:24 pm

The power of memes: They have pulled us in a technological direction

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That’s what Susan Blackmore discussed in her TED talk on “temes.” And here it is in a passage from Patrick O’Brian’s novel Post Captain, the second volume of the series that begins with Master and Commander:

Stephen settled in at the Rose and Crown, called for a horse, and rode slowly towards Dover, reflecting upon the nature of dunes; upon the extraordinary loneliness surrounding each man; and on the inadequacy of language – a thought that he would have developed to Jack if he had been given time. ‘And yet for all its inadequacy, how marvellously well it allows them to deal with material things,’ he said, looking at the ships in the roadstead, the unbelievable complexity of named ropes, blocks, sails that would carry the crowd of isolated individuals to the Bosphorus, the West Indies, Sumatra, or the South Sea whaling grounds.

Post Captain (Vol. 2 of the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian), page 369 | Location 5113-5118

That’s damn near explicit If you’ve watched the TED talk.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2018 at 1:06 pm

Agents of doubt: How a powerful Russian propaganda machine chips away at Western notions of truth

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The initial plan was a Cold War classic — brutal yet simple. Two Russian agents would slip onto the property of a turncoat spy in Britain and daub his front door with a rare military-grade poison designed to produce an agonizing and untraceable death.

But when the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal was botched, the mission quickly shifted. Within hours, according to British and U.S. officials who closely followed the events, a very different kind of intelligence operation was underway, this one involving scores of operatives and accomplices and a scheme straight out of the Kremlin’s 21st-century communications playbook — the construction of an elaborate fog machine to make the initial crime disappear.

Dozens of false narratives and conspiracy theories began popping up almost immediately, the first of 46 bogus story lines put out by Russian-controlled media and Twitter accounts and even by senior Russian officials, according to a tabulation by The Washington Post — all of them sowing doubt about Russia’s involvement in the March 4 assassination attempt. Ranging from the plausible to the fantastical, the stories blamed a toxic spill, Ukrainian activists, the CIA, British Prime Minister Theresa May and even Skripal himself.

The brazenness of the attempt to kill a Russian defector turned British citizen at his home in southwest England outraged Western governments and led to the expulsion of some 150 Russian diplomats by more than two dozen countries, including the United States. Yet, more than eight months later, analysts see a potential for greater harm in the kind of heavily coordinated propaganda barrage Russia launched after the assassination attempt failed.

Intelligence agencies have tracked at least a half-dozen such distortion campaigns since 2014, each aimed, officials say, at undermining Western and international investigative bodies and making it harder for ordinary citizens to separate fact from falsehood. They say such disinformation operations are now an integral part of Russia’s arsenal — both foreign policy tool and asymmetrical weapon, one that Western institutions and technology companies are struggling to counter.

“Dismissing it as fake news misses the point,” said a Western security official who requested anonymity in discussing ongoing investigations into the Russian campaign. “It’s about undermining key pillars of democracy and the rule of law.”

Variations on the technique existed during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union used propaganda to create alternative realities. In the early years of President Vladi­mir Putin’s rule, Russian officials and state-owned broadcasters promoted false narratives to explain the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian security official who died in 2006 after being exposed to a radioactive toxin in London.

But the disinformation campaigns now emanating from Russia are of a different breed, said intelligence officials and analysts. Engineered for the social media age, they fling up swarms of falsehoods, concocted theories and red herrings, intended not so much to persuade people but to bewilder them.

“The mission seems to be to confuse, to muddy the waters,” said Peter Pomerantsev, a former Russian-television producer and author of “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible,” a memoir that describes the Kremlin’s efforts to manipulate the news. The ultimate aim, he said, is to foster an environment in which “people begin giving up on the facts.”

Moscow has repeatedly rejected such accusations, while suggesting that Britain is responsible for any confusion over what happened in the Skripal case. “Nine months has passed and so far we have not been presented with any official results of the investigation,” Russia’s London Embassy said in a statement to The Post. “The Embassy still has no access to our Russian citizens,” a reference to Skripal and his Russian daughter, Yulia Skripal, who was also sickened in the attack.

Yet the same tactics that were observed in the wake of the Skripal poisoning have been employed multiple times since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, in each case following roughly the same script. When pro-Russian separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 passengers and crew members, Russian officials and media outlets sought to pin the blame on the Ukrainian government, suggesting at one point that corpses had been trucked to the crash site to make the death toll appear higher.

State-controlled Russian media unleashed a fusillade of falsehoods after the assassination of reformist politician Boris Nemtsov in Moscow in 2015 and after at least three deadly chemical weapons attacks against civilians by Syria’s pro-Russian government.

And apart from these concerted campaigns, there is a daily churn of false or distorted reports that seem designed to exploit the divisions in Western society and politics, especially on issues such as race, violence and sexual rights, and that are pushed by droves of operatives posing as ordinary citizens on social media accounts.

While many of the individual stories are easily debunked, the campaigns have had a discernible impact, as measured by opinion polls and, occasionally, public statements by Western politicians casting doubt on the findings of the intelligence agencies of their own governments. In October 2015, months after U.S. and European investigators concluded that Flight 17 had been brought down by a Russian missile fired by separatists, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump told CNN that the culprit was “probably Russia” but suggested that the truth was unknowable.

“To be honest with you, you’ll probably never know for sure,” he said.

Results such as these have encouraged what private groups say is a massive and ever-increasing investment by Moscow, which has placed numerous news outlets fully or partly on its payroll and operates at least one troll factory in which scores of employees disseminate pro-Kremlin messages using thousands of fake social media accounts.

The cost of this matrix is about $1.3 billion a year, according to Russian budget documents — a modest sum, considering the benefits, said Jakub Kalensky, until recently an official with the East StratCom Task Force, a rapid-response team created by the European Union to counter Russian disinformation. Unlike the covert operations used by Russia to influence foreign elections, Russia’s distortion campaigns rarely invite retaliation, he said.

“For Russia, they are a cost-effective method for disrupting and undermining us,” Kalensky said. “You can have quite a good result for the money spent.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including an interesting graphic tracking how it worked in the Skripal case.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2018 at 8:09 am

DHS crushed this analyst for warning about far-right terror

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The GOP in Congress pitched a fit when DHS was to release a report on dangers of terrorism by far-right groups. Their temper tantrum was heightened because the report came out shortly after Obama was inaugurated for his first term and was released by Janet Napolitano, DHS Secretary, even though the report was conceived and prepared by the George W. Bush administration. The GOP viewed the report as a Democratic tactic to sully the fine name of the conservative movement—apparently the GOP decided that sullying the conservative movement was something they themselves could do and do better, and as it turns out, they were right.

The companion report, on dangers of terrorism by far-left groups, excited no comment by the GOP or, for that matter, by Democrats. Both reports were fact-based evaluations of public danger, but the uproar in Congress and in the Republican noise machine (Fox News, etc.) resulted in the report on danger from the far right being withdrawn. (Of course, we have seen that, with or without a report, the far right does present dangers: Charlottesville is one example.)

Spencer Ackerman’s article in Wired was published in August of 2012, and it begins:

DARYL JOHNSON HAD a sinking feeling when he started seeing TV reports on Sunday about a shooting in a Wisconsin temple. “I told my wife, ‘This is likely a hate crime perpetrated by a white supremacist who may have had military experience,'” Johnson recalls.

It was anything but a lucky guess on Johnson’s part. He spent 15 years studying domestic terrorist groups – particularly white supremacists and neo-Nazis – as a government counterterrorism analyst, the last six of them at the Department of Homeland Security. There, he even homebrewed his own database on far-right extremist groups on an Oracle platform, allowing his analysts to compile and sift reporting in the media and other law-enforcement agencies on radical and potentially violent groups.

But Johnson’s career took an unexpected turn in 2009, when an analysis he wrote on the rise of “Right-Wing Extremism” (.pdf) sparked a political controversy. Under pressure from conservatives, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repudiated Johnson’s paper – an especially bitter pill for him to swallow now that Wade Michael Page, a suspected white supremacist, killed at least six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For Johnson, the shooting was a reminder that the government’s counterterrorism efforts are almost exclusively focused on al-Qaida, even as non-Islamist groups threaten Americans domestically.

“DHS is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism, as is Congress,” Johnson tells Danger Room. “There’ve been no hearings about the rising white supremacist threat, but there’s been a long list of attacks over the last few years. But they still hold hearings about Muslim extremism. It’s out of balance.” But even if that balance was reset, he concedes, that doesn’t necessarily mean the feds could have found Page before Sunday’s rampage.

Johnson left DHS in April 2010 after “they dissolved my team,” he says. Had he still been at DHS, he says he would have published an analysis calling attention to a growing number of attacks on mosques, which he thinks could serve as a “warning” to Sikh communities that are often mistaken for Muslim ones. But finding so-called “lone wolf” terrorists like Page is a challenge no matter their motivations, since they operate outside established extremist cells and often don’t have criminal records, making it difficult for law enforcement or homeland security officials to spot them.

Now a security consultant in the Washington D.C. area, Johnson used to work for DHS’ analysis shop, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A). He supervised a team of six analysts studying what he calls “domestic non-Islamic extremism.” It’s a telling term: the DHS employed as many as 40 analysts who looked at al-Qaida and other jihadist groups’ inroads into the homeland.

Johnson ran everything else. One person on his team worked on the threat from anarchists; another, the threat from animal-rights extremists. Still others looked at anti-abortion radicalism, white supremacy and radical environmentalism. They were supplemented by analysts at the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; but outnumbered by the literally thousands of analysts, operatives and other counterterrorism officials throughout the government who focus on jihadism. “Salaries were our major budget item,” he recalls.

Then, in April 2009, Johnson warned that the election of the first African-American president, combined with recession-era economic anxieties, could fuel a rise in far-right violence. “DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities,” he wrote.

And so began a brief media firestorm. Conservative writers feared that the DHS was demonizing – even, potentially, criminalizing – mainstream right-wing speech. “It’s no small coincidence that [Secretary Janet] Napolitano’s agency disseminated the assessment just a week before the nationwide April 15 Tax Day Tea Party protests,” pundit Michelle Malkin speculated in the Washington Times. Others objected that Johnson’s report unfairly stigmatized veterans.

It surprised Johnson. An Eagle Scout leader from northern Virginia in his early 40s, Johnson became interested in counterterrorism in his teens, after an Arkansas standoff between federal authorities and a millenarian group called The Covenant The Sword And The Arm of The Lord, which stockpiled weapons and explosives to bring about Armageddon. “I was always fascinated with why people use religion to justify violence and believe the world was ending – and had a role to play in hastening that end,” Johnson said.

Stung, DHS responded by cutting “the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings, and held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups,” the Washington Post reported in June 2009.

According to Johnson, his former team now consists of a single analyst tasked with tracking all domestic non-Islamic extremism. His database has been shuttered.

Asked for comment, DHS disputed Johnson’s claim that it gives non-Islamic extremism short shrift.

“The Department of Homeland Security protects our country from all threats, whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence,” spokesman Matt Chandler told Danger Room. “we face a threat environment where violent extremism is neither constrained by international borders, nor limited to any single ideology. This is not a phenomenon restricted solely to any one particular community and our efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE) are applicable to all ideologically motivated violence. DHS continues to work with its state, local, tribal, territorial and private partners to prevent and protect against potential threats to the United States by focusing on preventing violence that is motivated by extreme ideological beliefs.”

Johnson, who has written a forthcoming book about far-right extremist groups, concedes that the definition of “right-wing” in his product was imprecise. In retrospect, he says he should have clarified that his focus was on “violent” right-wing organizations, like white supremacists, neo-Nazis and so-called Sovereign Citizens who believe the U.S. government is an illegitimate, tyrannical enterprise. Much like mainstream Muslims denounce terrorism and object to over-broad analysis portraying Islam as an incubator of extremism, so too do mainstream conservatives denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists and dispute that those groups are authentically right-wing.

Nor does he think DHS should ignore Islamic extremism. “It just needs to be more balanced,” Johnson says. New York congressman “Peter King has held three hearings in the past year on Muslim extremism,” he says, referring to the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, “but he’s yet to have a single hearing on right-wing extremism when there’s been a lot more activity.”

Indeed, since Johnson released his ill-fated report, the Wichita, Kansas, abortion doctor George Tiller was assassinated; a security guard was killed when a gunman with neo-Nazi ties went on a shooting spree at the U.S. Holocaust Museum; the FBI arrested members of a Florida neo-Nazi outfit tied to drug dealing and motorcycle gangs; a man was charged with attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction at a Spokane, Washington march commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday; and several mosques around the country have been vandalized or attacked – including a Missouri mosque that burned to the ground on Monday, which had been attacked before.

As Salon recounts, the FBI has been warning for years that far-right racialist organizations might be interested in suicide terrorism. Peter Bergen, a longtime chronicler of al-Qaida, wrote on Tuesday that far-right domestic terrorism rivals and might eclipse the threat of homegrown jihadism. . .

Continue reading.

In August 2017, Daryl Johnson wrote a piece in the Washington Post with the headline “I warned of right-wing violence in 2009. Republicans objected. I was right“:

Eight years ago, I warned of a singular threat — the resurgence of right-wing extremist activity and associated violence in the United States as a result of the 2008 presidential election, the financial crisis and the stock market crash. My intelligence report, meant only for law enforcement, was leaked by conservative media.

A political backlash ensued because of an objection to the label “right-wing extremism.” The report also rightly pointed out that returning military veterans may be targeted for recruitment by extremists. Republican lawmakers demanded then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano rescind my report. The American Legion formally requested an apology to veterans. Some in Congress called for me to be fired. Amid the turmoil, my warning went unheeded by Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security caved to the political pressure: Work related to violent right-wing extremism was halted. Law enforcement training also stopped. My unit was disbanded. And, one-by-one, my team of analysts left for other employment. By 2010, there were no intelligence analysts at DHS working domestic terrorism threats.

Since 2008, though, the body count from numerous acts of violent right-wing terrorism continued to rise steadily with very little media interest, political discussion or concern from our national leaders. As this threat grew, government resources were scaled back, law enforcement counterterrorism training was defunded and policies to counter violent extremism narrowed to focus solely on Muslim extremism. Heated political campaigning by Donald Trump in 2016 pandered to these extremists. Now, right-wing terrorism has become the national security threat which many government leaders have yet to acknowledge.

The mere existence of so many heavily armed citizens filled with hate and anger toward various elements of American society is troubling enough in its own right. They number in the hundreds of thousands. More troubling is the violent convergence now underway within right-wing extremist movements — sanitized with the label “alt-right.” Largely under the media radar, disaffected extremist groups with long histories of squabbling have been independently pooling resources, some even infiltrating our government through the outreach efforts of right-wing extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriff’s and Peace Officers Association. Over the past year, we’ve witnessed political violence erupt between right-wing extremist protesters and counterprotesters at pro-Trump rallies in Minnesota, Washington, California and now Virginia. This rebranded alt-right extremist movement has the ultimate goal to disrupt civil society, undermine government institutions and pick which laws — if any — they will abide by, and what supposed “justice” they will administer on their own authority. 

But the story, in a very real sense, didn’t begin in 2017. As with the Waco and Ruby Ridge sieges during the 1990s, the 2014 Bundy standoff in Nevada and the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge siege in Oregon have served not only as recruitment opportunities for anti-government and hate groups, but they also serve as a radicalization facilitator. Why? Because extremists in the 2014 and 2016 standoffs were allowed to take up arms against the federal government and threaten law enforcement officers without suffering any legal consequences.

More recently, the renewed debates over Confederate monuments, same-sex marriage and Black Lives Matter has reinvigorated alt-right extremists to mobilize toward a more radical fringe element capable of violent action at any moment. Of further concern, a new generation of “charismatic leaders” within the white supremacist movement has emerged after Trump’s election, creating an opportunity for disparate groups to unite under one banner.

Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, militia extremists, and other radical right-wing zealots march side-by-side at pro-Trump rallies across the country. Trump’s endorsement of the border wall, the travel ban, mass deportations of illegal immigrants — these ideas were touted on white supremacist message boards merely 10 years ago. Now they’re being put forth as official U.S. policy. Such controversial plans have placated white supremacists and anti-government extremists and will draw still more sympathetic individuals toward these extremist causes along with the sort of violent acts that too often follow, like Charlottesville.

Rhetoric from the president has further emboldened the alt-right. After the violence in Charlottesville, former KKK leader David Duke welcomed President Trump’s remarks: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.” Similarly, other white nationalists praised the president for not attacking them.

America finds itself overwhelmed with domestic terrorist attacks, increased terrorist plotting and the emergence of new polarizing political issues. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has not only failed to implement an effective strategy to combat right-wing terrorism; it is afraid to even raise the subject in public for fear of political backlash or contradicting its narrow-minded terrorism narrative (e.g., terrorism only comes from Muslims).

Extremists no longer hide anymore. They number in the hundreds of thousands and are extremely well-armed. The political apparatus and the news media appears confused in their reporting of the scope of the domestic terrorist threat — some ignoring it completely. When 9/11 happened, the government made an effort to connect the dots beforehand, but failed because of a lack of communication among agencies. In this case, the government isn’t even trying — and worse, it appears to be enabling the threat to flourish.

The Islamist militants who brought down the World Trade Center’s twin towers 16 years ago (or the ones who rammed their vehicles into pedestrians in London, Paris and Barcelona recently) had no domestic constituency. Their acts weren’t enshrined instantly on social media or obliquely heralded by the president, duly elected representatives or rationalized by media ideologues dead set on preventing a political backlash. The terrorists I have dedicated my life to stopping have had all that going in their favor. This is more than a formula for disaster. It virtually invites the disaster upon us.

And in October 2018 Domestic terrorism is on the rise. Why won’t cable news networks say so?” that begins:

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis published a report, meant for internal use only. The report argued that the future of terrorism threats against the United States would be in homegrown, domestic terrorism, spawned from the right fringes of the political spectrum. Indeed, the 2008 election of America’s first non-white president, combined with the economic collapse of 2007 and 2008, had created fertile ground for hateful, right-wing extremism.

Republicans reacted angrily, demanding that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano rescind the report. Eventually, it was withdrawn, and by 2010, the DHS no longer had any intelligence analysts working in the field of domestic terrorism, as Daryl Johnson, the report’s primary author, detailed for the Washington Post in 2017.

Had the report not proved so prophetic about the rise of right-wing extremism in the US, it would have served as a useful example of what my colleague Matt Yglesias calls “the hack gap” — in which small issues, often related to the identity politics of older, white conservatives, quickly get blown up into national ones thanks to the right-wing media industrial complex.

But the report was ultimately prophetic. To read it today is to see officials sounding an alarm about a world where extremists illegally occupy federal land, or mail pipe bombs to Democratic party leaders, or commit mass shootings that target minority groups. It even seems to warn of the rise of a figure like Donald Trump, who might build speeches around a version of rhetorical extremism that’s been (just barely) gussied up for primetime, but who’s still perpetually courting that extremist base.

Yet members of the media — especially on television — are reluctant to call actions like mailing pipe bombs to Democrats or shooting up a synagogue “terrorism,” despite the fact that they are quite literally intended to terrorize certain populations.

Some of this reluctance stems from questions of definition, which I’ll discuss below. But much of it is thanks to who’s consuming the news on TV and how our 24-hour news networks, especially, rely on those viewers to keep their doors open.

The surprising recent analog to the media’s unwillingness to call right-wing terror “terrorism”

The ways in which cable news coverage have skewed our national conversation is a huge topic, with grave consequences for the future of American democracy. But the headlines of the past week offer an instructive way into that topic, via a story that’s closely related, but without grave consequences for the future of American democracy: the future of former Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s career after her flameout at NBC, and how said flameout at NBC and cable news networks’ broader hesitance to call right-wing terror “terrorism” are kind of the same thing.

Kelly’s surprisingly swift exit from the Today show — and expected departure from NBC News, where she was hired in early 2017 after becoming the breakout Fox News host of the 2016 presidential election — has mostly been attributed to insensitive, deeply clueless comments she made about blackface. But her downfall happened so quickly, as NBC pounced on the opportunity to oust her afforded by the blackface controversy, that it’s clear the network was also motivated by how much of a bust Kelly has been outside of the Fox News ecosystem.

It still isn’t quite clear what NBC hired Kelly to do, beyond generate headlines about the network poaching one of the election’s brightest media stars. Her primetime news magazine, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, didn’t even make it to 10 episodes, while her morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, was also a ratings bust. She had done some reporting for other NBC programs (notably Dateline), but the network didn’t sign a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract with Kelly because it wanted her for occasional Dateline segments.

The cycle of “Fox News personality leaves Fox News and promptly withers” has repeated itself several times since the conservative network launched in 1996. Beyond Kelly, the most notable person to fall victim to this cycle is Greta Van Susteren, who has maintained a healthy career in cable news since she left Fox News in 2016, but who hasn’t ever regained a following like the one she had at the network.

It’s easy to understand why other networks would be so interested in hiring hosts away from Fox News: The network has always boasted huge ratings and personalities, to whom its viewers are very dedicated and loyal. But competing networks who poach these individuals, hoping they might thrive elsewhere, are failing to see what makes Fox News successful.

What makes Fox News successful doesn’t have anything to do with the way its anchors report the news — and everything to do with the way the network’s inherent slant creates a cozy bubble for its core audience of older, white conservatives. It’s this detail that links Kelly’s troubled tenure at NBC News with the media’s unwillingness to call right-wing terror “terrorism,” because both stem from news networks’ desire to replicate Fox News’s success with the older viewers who form the primary audience for cable news.

If you watch a lot of Fox News, even if you aren’t an older, white conservative, it’s not hard to feel the network’s central ethos — that you, our viewer, can never be wrong and can only be wronged — seeping into your bones. To call it a network based in a white supremacist ideology feels a little inadequate, because Fox News actively seeks to never question that central ethos. Instead, it leaves the viewer in a pleasant haze of certainty that some promised new and better world is just over the horizon, so long as [insert out-group here] doesn’t get its way.

In any given week, Fox News ably cycles through any number of Others — Black Lives Matters supporters, Antifa members, Muslims the world over, immigrants, trans people, Democratic politicians, and voters in general. It doesn’t seek to inform; it seeks to placate, to reassure viewers that they are okay and that everything else about white America is okay too. That’s why, when its personalities leave for other news networks, they often wilt — because other news networks still, ostensibly, have a mission to inform viewers of what’s happening in the world.

But on the issue of labeling domestic terrorism as terrorism, Fox News is an extreme outlier that’s still not really outside of the mainstream. All 24-hour news networks are reticent to rattle the cages of the status quo too much. Even the left-leaning MSNBC rarely reports on issues like domestic terrorism without a frame of “teaching the controversy”: Some people say we should call this terrorism, and what do you think?

The reason for this is self-evident: A cable news network needs you to keep watching, and the best way to make sure you keep watching is not to suggest that the country is rife with right-wing, extremist terror. That might chase away conservative viewers, who could react poorly to that summation of what’s going on, no matter how accurate. It could also alienate left-leaning viewers, who might take from that assessment a call to action that goes beyond watching TV.

If the country is coming apart at the seams, there are probably better things any of us could be doing than watching cable news. Cable news networks might call these problems by their names, or by some closely affiliated, near synonym — as Tucker Carlson did in a recent segment on “political terrorism.”

But they’re usually framed as problems stemming from “both sides” and rarely as problems driven primarily by those on the far right. And even when they are framed that way, the very format of cable news means they slip rapidly down the memory hole, disappearing after a day or two as they’re obscured by the core mission of any 24-hour news network: Keep people watching, at all costs.

That means placation on some level, and while placation isn’t unique to modern TV news, it’s a decidedly different beast when it lasts all day long, instead of for just a half-hour in the evening and a few hours in the morning, as it did in the era of the big three broadcast networks, before CNN launched in 1980.

Trump is a natural outgrowth of the cable news era

It’s tempting, for so many people, to think of Trump as an aberration, a weird, over-the-top reaction to a particular moment in history. In some ways he is. Certainly the abject grossness of much of what he says and does are the sorts of things more typical Republican politicians wouldn’t indulge in. George W. Bush might have been famous for misspeaking, but he was never so crass.

But as essentially any person who pays more attention to policy outcomes than to the theatricality of politics will tell you, Trump’s platform is more or less a mainstream Republican one. Even the actions he undertakes that draw the most criticism (the family separations at the US-Mexico border, for instance) are tacitly sanctioned by many other Republicans. And his economic policies are straight-down-the-middle for a president from his party.

What can make him feel like an aberration, in spite of all that, are the many dark elements of society he’s stirred up, sometimes inadvertently but often intentionally. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon — they all worked toward divisive policies but spoke the bland platitudes of “coming together as a nation” much better than Trump.

Trump’s worldview reminds me sometimes of the Daleks from Doctor Who, murderous aliens who were created after an endless series of guided mutations, designed to isolate their worst qualities. They learned to view the world only in terms of strong versus weak, of endless conflict and division, of extermination. But the Daleks, fascist though they were, had some sort of larger worldview, albeit a horrible one. I’m not sure Trump does beyond, “This should be mine.” And the “this” is literally everything.

This type of entitlement is a consequence of many things in our culture, from entrenched systems of racism and sexism, to the kinds of stories we tell, to a massive religious movement that actively welcomes the end of the world, to the way that so-called “politically incorrect” humor has gradually had the irony sanded off so that it’s now just plain old racism, to the way the internet has made it easier for white nationalist movements to radicalize the young and the vulnerable.

And it’s not like print and online publications haven’t fallen for the false equivalency of “Well, one side sends pipe bombs, but the other side yells at people in restaurants!” But at least those other forms of media allow for slightly more nuance than television does, once you get beyond the headlines.

Meanwhile, in the wild world of social media, there’s always . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2018 at 9:10 am

“I Don’t Grieve Over His Cruelty. I Grieve Over Yours.”

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John Pavlovitz, of the “Stuff That Needs To Be Said” blog, says something that needed saying:

I really don’t care about him.

I know you think I do, but my sadness really has nothing to do with him.

I know who he is—and more accurately, I know what he is.

I know that he is just a mirror.

He has simply revealed clearly the disfigured ugliness of the place I call home and the people I live here alongside—and that is the thing I grieve over. And this is not the mourning over a singular loss, it is a daily grieving.

I grieve when I see elementary school teachers dressed up like a border wall for Halloween.
I grieve when I see a white woman screaming obscenities at two Muslims teenagers at a stop light.
I grieve when I see a Jewish professor’s office littered with spray-painted swastikas.
I grieve when I watch a father of four being tackled by ICE agents outside immigration offices.
I grieve when I witness white high school seniors making a “Heil Hitler” arm gesture during class photos.
I grieve when I see . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2018 at 5:15 pm

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