Thursday, June 08, 2023

Threats to Democracy Round Up - Selected Topics, Early June, 2023

Influence of Hostile Foreign Powers

Think about the implications of having hostile, authoritarian foreign powers trying to disrupt democracy by means overt and covert. Think about the accumulating evidence that this has been and is happening.

Also, see our discussion last month about the importance of this topic.

Trump/Russia Alignment

[No collusion? - How many who helped Trump will turn out to be mainly friends of Russia?] Tara Reade, who accused Joe Biden of sexual assault, defects to Russia- appears on Russian media alongside convicted Russian agent in US Maria Butina

"Trump built the 'Russia, Russia, Russia' case against himself....wanted  to build a tower there.... trusted Vladimir Putin more  than his own government....  made Paul Manafort his campaign chairman"...  
"had longstanding ties to people affiliated with Russian intelligence services.... Manafort  would remove a plank supporting Ukraine from the 2016 GOP platform...."
"Don Jr....Kushner, and Manafort met with a Russian lawyer promising  dirt on Hillary....   Trump’s plea 'Russia... please help me find the 30,000 emails that are missing'"

Striking evidence of Trump/Russia coordination: Russia sanctioned some Trump perceived enemies who pose no obvious threat to Russia: NY AG James, GA Secretary of State Raffensperger, Capitol Police Lt Byrd (who shot Jan 6 insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt)

Alignment of Far-Right Politicians and Russia

Yet another connection between US far-right politics and  Russia: FL Gov DeSantis worked closely with businessman Lev Parnas "arrested in 2019, accused by the U.S. government of funneling a Russian oligarch’s money into American political campaigns"

"head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned Monday of a  rise in anti-government extremism - fueled by authoritarian states such as Russia - that seeks to divide society and topple the government" and outlined how Russia does it in Germany  
How Russia undermines democracy: "use wedge issues to stoke fear and gain new followers....  migration...[using] the myth of a 'great replacement' ...government measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic and combat climate change"
"The more complex an issue is, the more intensively one has to deal with  a topic, the more there is a tendency to seek simple answers and run after people who offer an easy solution for problems....Often...people from the extremist circles"
"disinformation  [is] being spread by Russian state media and internet platforms...key  influencers are also targeted by Russia’s agents.... there are attempts to get close to certain politicians on the right or left fringes"
Note that this story of a top intelligence agency leader warning about the techniques used by Russia and other hostile foreign powers to undermine democracy has so far gotten little coverage: the anechoic effect

Conflicts of Interest, Crime, Corruption

Since 2015, we have asked (here) how the US (and the world) can possibly reduce health care corruption, a major cause of global health care dysfunction, under a thoroughly conflicted and corrupt Trump administration. Since Trump left office, evidence of this corruption has been accumulating.  And now, he is the currently leading Republican contender for the presidency in 2024.

Trump's Conflicts of Interest, Corruption

This is so obvious that he should not have to argue this explicitly, but Manhattan DA Bragg "argued that hush money paid in 2016 to... allegedly on Donald Trump’s behalf was not part  of an official presidential act"

Why aren’t we talking more about Trump’s business with the Saudis? [or, for that matter, Trump's other foreign business interests, including those in authoritarian or even openly hostile countries?]

Looking into foreign entanglements: Special Counsel Jack Smith sought "Trump Organization’s real estate licensing and development dealings in  seven countries: China, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United  Arab Emirates and Oman"

Trump Absconded to Mar-a-Lago with Classified Documents

His lawyer told him: "Donald Trump was put on notice that he could not  retain any classified documents after he was subpoenaed for their return  last year.... The previously unreported warning conveyed to Trump by his lawyer Evan Corcoran"

[More evidence of obstruction of justice?] Trump lawyer said to have been waved off searching office for secret records

New evidence that Trump knew he absconded with classified documents, an apparently illegal act "Trump acknowledges he held onto a classified Pentagon document about a  potential attack on Iran... undercutting his  argument that he declassified everything"

[Did they all obstruct justice?] Trump workers moved Mar-a-Lago boxes a day before FBI came for documents [showing] "greater breadth and specificity to the instances of possible obstruction  found by the FBI and DOJ than have been previously  reported"

Propaganda, Disinformation, Deception

Propaganda and disinformation, often deploying techniques borrowed from the Russians, have become potent weapons against democracy from within. 

See our earlier discussion of this topic here.

[More deceptive propaganda] DeSantis PAC adds fake fighter jets to launch video "the latest instance of political ads including digitally altered videos to promote or attack candidates, making it difficult for viewers to discern what’s real"

After Columbine, the NRA fomented propaganda:"they literally said, are we going to be part of the solution...? maybe we can use these things to drum up hate and fear in our  members... to use them to drive membership...they  chose the latter"

Boebert dismisses antisemitism push as effort to target conservatives  [so @laurenboebert admits that most right-wing extremists, now erroneously labeled "conservative," are antisemitic?]

Far right has been praising whistle blowers lately.  What will they think of whistle blowings suggesting that their hero @elonmusk may be marketing a dangerous product: "thousands of reports of problems with Tesla's advanced driving assistance systems"

Wealthy Sen Kennedy (R-LA) went to top schools, spoke with a minimal accent, was a Democrat.  Now he's a folksy far-right Republican. "After he got to the Senate and realized that Fox News...viewers enjoyed his shtick, he went all in on this new persona"

A clearly politicized investigation: Republican chair of House Oversight Committee shows why he is investigating Biden's family finance - to make Biden less popular: "the American people  are keeping up with our investigation"

SCOTUS Justice Gorsuch's view of the US: "With one notable exception... the history of Native Americans — he is willing to ignore or doesn’t even see our  long, peacetime history of repression and internal tyranny"  Did he hear of slavery, Jim Crow etc?

Remember that "tale of homeless military veterans’ being expelled from their  temporary hotel rooms north of New York City so that people coming from  the Mexican border could stay there"? It was a sham, apparently useful for far-right and pro-Trump crowd

@elonmusk's Twitter is "following the playbook of platforms like Rumble, which used to be the go-tos for canceled and deplatformed right-wingers seeking a soft landing and the promise of revenue" Can the remaining non far-right tweeters resist?

Understanding the Propagandists'/Disinformationists' Toolbox, and One New Attempt to Counter It

A cognitive infection: "an anti-woke mind virus — a contagion that spreads not across people but across issues....a faction...hates anything it considers woke...any acknowledgment of social  injustice and...that people should make sacrifices...[for] the public good"

[OK] Republican [state] senator says ‘I don’t want reality’ in hearing on race and education [Redoing the old liar's  paradox: I am telling the truth: everything I say is a lie]

[Basically using the appeal to ridicule logical fallacy] DeSantis responds to NAACP advising against travel to ‘openly hostile’ Florida: ‘Nothing more than a stunt’ [he failed to cite any facts or make any logical arguments]

[Do as we say, not as we do: remember it's all performance art.  They don't believe anything they are saying] @RepMTG’s boyfriend caught in drag video

They're here... "Dozens of fringe news websites, content  farms and fake reviewers are using AI to create  inauthentic content online.... The misleading A.I. content included fabricated events, medical advice and celebrity death hoaxes"

With Climate Panel as a Beacon, Global Group Takes On Misinformation [focused on researching better ways to challenge disinformation]
Fascism, Nazism, White Supremacy, Neo-Confederacy, Theocracy/Christian Nationalism

Again, Trump is currently the leading contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.  Trump and his supporters have shown again and again how they plan to dismantle democracy if given half a chance.  And some of those contending for the nomination are cut from the same cloth.

Trump's 2025 [fascist] vision [pardon insurrectionists, require personal loyalty of government workers, turn law enforcement into political police]   "What Trump is proposing for 2025 ... is the trappings of a democracy. ... But it's a Potemkin village"

"Trump’s efforts to politicize the Justice Department apparently weren’t fascist enough for DeSantis....   what he’s really proposing is a level of executive control...much closer to a dictatorship than anything America has experienced"

Word of continuing investigation is a reminder of one of many of Trump's abuses of power: he fired a national cybersecurity leader who had declared that the 2020 election was secure

[Trump don't need no stinkin' Constitution] Donald Trump reiterates pledge to scrap birthright US citizenship- promises executive order revoking right enshrined in 14th amendment

Jeff Sharlet: "when Trump came down the golden  escalator, that was the fascist aesthetic. Because until then... we didn’t quite have the cult of personality.  We had the founders...myth... violence.... But we believed in... A peaceful city upon a  hill"  

[From promoting free markets to tearing down church-state separation] Charlie Kirk’s ‘Turning Point’ Pivots to Christian Nationalism

Straight out of the authoritarian playbook, far-right  agitator @MattWalshBlog: "Pick a victim, gang up on it, and make an example of it. We can’t  boycott every woke company or even most.... But we can pick one, it  hardly matters which, and target it"

[Remember @RepGosar?  Another extremist politician's "vile rhetoric" breaks up his family] Alabama senator [Tuberville (R-AL)] condemned by his own brother for ‘ignorant, hateful rants’

Like Hitler, Trump demanded personal loyalty: "Within the Presidential Personnel Office... Trump  loyalists... were  on a mission to find and fire people perceived as disloyal to Mr. Trump within the federal bureaucracy" Next time, a new Fuhrer Oath?

The Roberts Court "seized for themselves an active role in doing so, they have repeatedly described other political institutions in overwhelmingly derogatory terms while... positioning [SCOTUS] it as simply a  conduit of disembodied law"

"The to ...degrade the...notion of national citizenship and to leave us... at the  total mercy of the fundamental questions of  political freedom and bodily autonomy into the hands of our local  bullies and petty tyrants"

How Republican states are eroding local democracy "pursuing efforts to diminish local control over policing, elections, and the courts in liberal and racially diverse areas.... 'This is a thing of, ‘Black folks can’t govern. Black leaders can’t govern’'"

[Putting the culture wars and sectarian beliefs ahead of national security]  How GOP attacks on ‘wokeism’ helped lead the Pentagon to abandon its effort to combat extremism in the military

Trying to make their church into the state: Christian nationalist would impose their extreme sectarian beliefs on people of other faiths who believe no such things "people in power who want to assert a version of Christian dominance"

Not conservatives, but nihilists and anarchists: Republicans "would rather watch the American Experiment go up in flames — and smile with a devilish grin... than follow the example of their alleged hero Ronald Reagan, who raised the debt limit 18 times"

[Authoritarians tend to turn on one another in the end] G.O.P. Split in Texas Breaks Wide Open With Drunkenness Accusation

[Selectively targeting local government in areas with large populations of disadvantage minorities and/or their political opponents] Texas Republicans target state’s largest city with voting restrictions

Investigation of abuses of power by Trump appointed leader of Voice of America: "Michael Pack met with a career employee to discuss which senior leaders  at the agency and the Voice of America should be forced out due to their  perceived political beliefs"

"Christian nationalists have hijacked both my Republican Party and my faith community....The result is bad church and bad law.... Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with control"

Goodbye to separation of church and state: Public school board in MS denies trans student wearing a dress access to graduation: because it offended some beliefs of fringe sectarian groups?

Goodbye, separation of church and state- Local government run by "Constitutional Republicans" explicitly proclaim government according to religious values: "importantly reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in the nation’s founding"

Gov Ron DeSantis' Fascist Florida

The state of Florida seems to be a laboratory for the development of a new American fascism.  The latest examples are:

[From opposing policies to vowing to destroy enemies - from disagreement in a democracy to fascism] Ron DeSantis says he will ‘destroy leftism’ in US if elected president

DeSantis sells himself as spiritual [Christian nationalist/ theocratic] warrior in bid to win over pastors

[Dispatch from DeSantis' fascist Florida] Struggles continue for thousands in Florida 8 months after Hurricane Ian as new storm season looms [reminds us that authoritarians are really bad at governing]

Do you really want that Florida vacation "The powerful tourism lobby left the LQBTQ community, Blacks, Hispanics and one of the state’s largest employers out there fighting DeSantis alone....  el que calla otorga? The one who remains quiet, concedes"

[Florida's road to autocracy] Amassing Power, DeSantis Maximized Might of Governor’s Office

It's come to this, again: NAACP "issued a formal advisory warning travelers to Florida that the state is 'openly hostile' towards Black people, people of colour and LGBT+ people" You really want that vacation in Florida?

What me worry? In Ron DeSantis’s 2011 book, now somehow almost impossible to find, he dismissed slavery as "a fact of life throughout human history"

Robert F Kennedy Jr as a Trump Stalking Horse

His name is Kennedy. His campaign is pure Trump. "What makes Kennedy most like Trump, though, is the overlay of conspiracy  and contempt that tinges nearly everything he says, the destructive  distrust in the electorate he seeks to channel"

Candidate for President Robert F Kennedy Jr defends Roger Waters after he performed in "clothing evocative of Nazi attire" a Bannon supported candidate with neo-Nazi shading

Targeting Free Expression, Especially in Education

Needless to say, free expression is a fundamental right in a democracy but also necessary for the practice of patient-centered, evidence-based medicine. Note how many examples come from Florida

Challenging the far right Moms for Liberty "We  treat Moms for Liberty like the KKK,.... If you knew that a  KKK meeting was happening in a church down the street from your house,  everyone would be alarmed, we would be picketing, we would be  protesting"

History: "The first time parental rights emerged as a rallying cry was in response to the Progressive Era effort to ban child labor....the crusade came to be seen as a stalking horse for a larger, far less popular project: dismantling public education"

[After DeSantis' far-right takeover] New College of Florida faculty votes to censure university's board of trustees

[Homage to Niemoller: First they came for the librarians, but I was not a librarian, so... this time, act as if we are all librarians] Librarians sue Arkansas state over law banning them from giving ‘obscene’ books to children

 First they went after the librarians, but I was not a librarian, and I said nothing... but to its credit, FIRE threatens lawsuit "officials in Orem, Utah, forbade library employees from  criticizing government restrictions of book displays for Pride Month"

[A new indirect way to ban books] ‘Mass confusion.’ Rule threatening MO library funding over ‘obscene’ books takes effect [Would be authoritarians still trying to prevent you from reading what they don't like]

[The people who support democracy and individual rights strike back] In a deep red Florida county, a student-teacher revolt shames the right

Florida has launched an “unparalleled” assault on higher education- Ron DeSantis is threatening academic freedom everywhere

[Majority of seniors at Florida's New College attend "alternative" graduation after DeSantis' take over] 'We are incredibly resilient': Students vow to make DeSantis' takeover of their school miserable

["Parental rights" measure may give the most power to the most extreme parents] Florida mother behind ban on Amanda Gorman poem has Proud Boys links [and history of antisemitic posts]

[Condoning extremism, insurrection, fascism] DeSantis appears to back woman who led Amanda Gorman poem school ban [who was linked to Proud Boys and antisemitism]

"DeSantis’s obvious relish of this moment shows he believes having an  army of lone parents [maybe with ties to extremism, fascism, antisemitism] out there stirring up cultural controversies...can only help him in the 2024 GOP presidential  primaries"

In this small Illinois town, beware the book police- School district places teacher on leave and police seize books after  parents complain about reading assignment that included LGBTQ-themed  book

"The retrenchment that teachers are facing over the teaching of our  shared history is nearly identical to a proslavery rationale in that  both stymie open discussion of slavery and its impact on society"

Only 1 person has been jailed after instances ProPublica investigated of disruption of a school board meeting, a "a college support of transgender rights." No right-wing disruption about race or gender issues resulted in any major punishment

“Vague and overbroad laws like Montana’s drag statute give unfettered power to government officials to enforce laws in inconsistent ways, favoring one viewpoint or certain types of expression over others”

Targeting Medicine and Public Health

In the 1980s, the first major modern Soviet disinformation campaign aimed to disrupt the West using disinformation about HIV/AIDS.  During the Trump campaign and administration we showed how he and his supporters leveraged disinformation about diseases such as Ebola virus infections and measles. (See discussion here)  And then medicine and health care became even more central to democracy targeted disinformation campaigns as Trump tried to deflect attention from his mismanagement of the COVID pandemic.
Now the rise of Christian nationalism has injected some ancient superstitions into propaganda and disinformation about medicine and health care

[Republican AG didn't need no stinkin' laws] Schmitt had no authority to end school mask mandates as MO AG, judge rules “There exists no Missouri law allowing the AG to involve himself in a School District’s efforts to manage COVID"

[Far-right legislators don't need no stinkin' medical opinions] Texas wants to wean trans youth off meds in a ‘safe and medically appropriate’ way. Doctors say that’s impossible "it’s medically necessary treatment"

A Tennessee woman has been left infertile after being forced to undergo an emergency hysterectomy when doctors refused her an abortion [for an ectopic pregnancy]" Blanket anti-abortion laws hurt patients and  cause the moral injury of health care professionals

Abortion bans harm patients: She was forced to stay in the hospital until her condition was bad enough for treatment. If she left she was warned it could be used as evidence she was trying to kill the baby

In TX medical care is becoming illegal. Republican AG Paxton now investigating a 2nd hospital for caring for transgender patients. First they came for the medical professionals caring for transgender patients, but I was not one of them but I did nothing...

Many transgender health bills came from a handful of far-right interest groups [particularly Do No Harm and the Family Research Council, not state legislators who introduce them. But who leads these groups, funds them, and benefits from their work?]

"Public health and medical policy-making is a messy mix of science and  politics. However, this mix cannot be a deterrent for physician  involvement. Speaking for patient equity, wellness, safety, and our duty"

Demonizing Enemies and Preaching Violence

Demonizing enemies and advocating violence are major parts of the authoritarian playbook.

"Faith that requires coercive political power to realize its own goals is  faith built on violence. Following Jesus, who put away Peter’s sword...imagining violence as an acceptable way of cooperating with God’s kingdom leads to evils"

Christian nationalists' have long been demonizing  enemies: "raised to believe that public schools were tools of a  demonic social order, government 'indoctrination camps' devoted to the  propagation of lies and the subversion of Christian families"

[More threats of violence from Trump world] Kimberly Guilfoyle threatens DeSantis: ‘You’re going to get hurt, and damaged’

"White supremacy itself is not just about membership, about who is and  isn’t white... It comes with a politics  and ideology of division … It’s also their beliefs about the nation and  of the role of violence in enforcing that hierarchy"

[Declaring an unlimited religious war on the rest of us: Their political opponents are now viewed as Satanic] Franklin Graham at Christian media convention: Every 'demon from hell' has been 'turned loose' in society

[The extreme right keeps talking about a revolution or civil war: people are starting to hear this as a call to arms] Truck driver charged with threatening president after crash near White House [He had a Nazi flag in the truck]

[The culture war - actually a verbal war on those who offend extreme sectarians -  threatens real violence]  ‘Threats’ prompt US Target stores to remove some Pride Collection products