Enemies Within: How Russia Continues to Successfully Infiltrate the Far-Left
Did you write this???
This was not the text message I was expecting to receive from my twenty-year-old cousin on the night of January 30th, 2016. Yet, there it was with a link to my most-recent essay on why I wouldn’t be supporting Bernie Sanders. I did not know my cousin to be a particularly passionate political follower so when I asked her how she came across my article she told me that she had found it scrolling through her Twitter timeline. As someone new to Twitter, I knew that I had less than 100 followers so I was unsure as to why my article was apparently making the rounds. It was not until I did a little investigating that I realized none other than Joy-Ann Reid had somehow found my article and shared it on her feed. Hence the article’s sudden popularity from those who were previously unaware of my writings.
What followed the next 10 months was a whirlwind of activity. At the time, The People’s View was a humble little oasis for pragmatic progressives. It was Spandan’s baby and LL, Nancy, Techie, and myself were the only occasional contributors. Despite the quality of writing our community has come to expect, the fact remained that each published essay typically only received a couple hundred of comments. There was no need to moderate the site as our small, tight-knit community rarely disagreed and when they did, it was always respectful disagreement. At that time, we probably had 50-60 reliable readers and commenters, some of whom chose to remain more anonymous than others. As contributors, we simply saw the blog as an opportunity to share our opinions and to perhaps find a way to solidify Democratic support for the candidate we felt would do the most to advance our progressive agenda.
That all changed after January 30th.
As a result of my viral article, our cozy online oasis was invaded by mongrel hordes. The comment section became a war zone for those who felt that we had somehow besmirched the honor of St. Bernard of Burlington. These were not Republicans, mind you, but supposed “Democrats” who felt the need to attack the messenger rather than take a long, hard look at the flaws of their own candidate. Rather than engage in educational discussion, these new visitors would parrot Bernie’s talking points all while ignoring his own abysmal record on such topics as gun control, women’s rights, and engaging people of color. It got to a point where Spandan gave me moderating abilities and for the first time in the blog’s history we ended up having to close comments, as the article in question had generated well over 2,000 comments, easily 10 times the amount of a typical piece. Like it or not, The People’s View was now being a direct target in the Russian propaganda attack against our country.
So it began.
But unlike TPV, many other alleged “progressive” websites weren’t as active in combating the threat. In fact, many of them chose to side with the BernieBro army rather than their loyal community members. The reason for this boiled down to economics: with more active users the sites would be able to generate more ad revenue. Longtime community members who had the audacity to speak in support of Hillary Clinton were bullied and harassed with no consequences from site monitors. It became an echo-chamber of the left, a distorted Fox News where Bernie Sanders was king and everyone against him was a neo-liberal corporate shill. Pro-Bernie articles went to the top of the rec lists while pro-Hillary articles were tossed and in some cases, censored. A line in the sand had been drawn and these sites chose to go all in with the socialist senator from Vermont against the former secretary of state and no amounts of facts or reason could change their minds.
As all this was unfolding, I found myself strangely fascinated with the newfound landscape. This was my first experience is seeing how the far left dealt with dissent within its ranks and the result was terrifyingly authoritarian. In the case of a site like Democratic Underground, articles like my own were censored by a group of moderators whose “just cause” justification for removing articles was never fully explained. Over at Daily Kos not only was my article criticized but the community there also seemed more than willing to try to cast aspersions on my character, as if somehow my LinkedIn bio about me previously having been a sports camp counselor made me unqualified to write about politics. Most fascinating was the amount of extreme vitriol people had for me, simply because I was the author of what people deemed to be a “hit piece” on Bernie Sanders. One gentleman in particular felt it was the best use of his time to create a list of all anti-Bernie Twitter users, accusing us of being paid Hillary shills and ominously warning us that he and his crew would follow us if we ever changed professions. It was truly a bizzarro world where progressives were acting more like Republicans in their blinding hate and animosity toward staunch Democrats who simply preferred a different candidate than their own.
Never being one to back down from a fight (and realizing that these keyboard warriors were all talk), we at TPV continued to publish anti-Bernie pieces throughout the spring and summer. Each new article that we published received an equal number of trolls who were immediately banned from our site. We still closed comments after a short time to make sure that trolls weren’t revisiting older posts and trying to spew their venom on articles that we were no longer actively moderating. We were fortunate to pick up refugees from other progressive websites who felt bullied and threatened by the toxic masculinity emanating from the Bernie Sanders-left. Our oasis grew. Despite the near-constant stream of misinformation that was going around at the time, our community knew better than to believe these sullied talking points, both in favor or Bernie but also against Hillary. By the end of the campaign, we had a staunch group of pro-Hillary supporters and our BernieBro basement dwellers gradually drifted off, realizing that their revolution would not be won one comment at a time on the internet.
I think about these ten months a lot. With every new revelation about the Russian influence campaign such as yesterday’s New York Times article, it makes me realize just how successful that campaign was. Think about it this way: a Russian citizen could cause a random American white dude in his mid-20s to go online and bully and intimidate one of his fellow citizens simply because someone said something about his candidate that he didn’t agree with. That is true psychological warfare at its finest. Russia identified susceptible individuals, planted an idea, provided a target, and then directed the masses to engage these individuals in a way to silence them. They made not have used weapons but they did use words to intimidate and threaten American citizens. The Russians knew exactly who they wanted to reach and knew that Bernie Sanders’ supporters had the needed levels of toxic masculinity needed to openly harass women and people of color.
And this intimidation took its toll. Leading up to the election, many women and people of color were tired of being harassed by both the far-right and far-left. Many chose not to display lawn signs for fear of them being stolen or defaced. Many removed themselves from online communities like the ones mentioned. Many were tired from combating the same lies about Hillary Clinton over and over again and simply chose to nod and smile rather than fight misinformation with facts. Despite receiving the most votes of anyone not named Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton ended up surprising many pundits who believed her to be unpopular. These pundits mistakenly believed that a lack of open energy and excitement meant that her votes would not be there. What they failed to realize is that the lack of open energy and excitement was due to a polarizing political climate that forced her supporters to keep their political opinions, and their votes, to themselves.
This battle is personal to me. Not simply because of the death threats I received but because of the fact that this war is not over. I’m a straight, white male so I’m pre-programmed to laugh off the keyboard warriors. But this Russian influence continues to permeate throughout the far-left even today. From Justice Democrats to Our Revolution to the Young Turks, when you have so-called “progressive” media continue to demean and debase Hillary Clinton while simultaneously lifting up Bernie Sanders, you know the war is not over. When you have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threatening to primary Hakeem Jeffries in her own party, then you know the war is not over. When you see those on the far-left already lining up to attack Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke, you know the war is not over. And when you see the far-left to continue to insist that the whole “Russia thing” is not a big deal, you know the war is not over.
In fact, the war is ongoing. Russia has seen how easily it can take advantage of deep racial and socio-economic divisions that have long existed in our country and they are more than willing to continue to exploit them. And the far-left is more than happy to go along. They have nothing to lose and don’t know enough to realize how interconnected we truly are. The typical BernieBro in his mid-20s cannot see how and why he should care about the refugee crisis on the southern border. He doesn’t see why he should care about women’s reproductive rights. He doesn’t see why he should care about the latest police killing of an unarmed man of color. All this BernieBro cares about is free universal health care and that the billionaires pay their fair share in taxes. Anything other than that is of none of his concern.
In the end, these voters may be unreachable. Each generation has its own Ralph Nader and Bernie Sanders is rapidly becoming ours. But that doesn’t mean we simply give in. In fact, it’s up to us to keep calling them out. Because the more politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talk, the more we see just how vapid they are and the more we see how uninformed their supporters are. The far-left is not the base of the Democratic Party. It never has been and it never will be. They will not have the final say in choosing our next presidential nominee. They will screech and whine about it but they are simply too lazy to organize and create actual, achievable policy positions that could realistically be passed at the federal level. They know this and they know that it is much easier to be a Monday morning quarterback than getting out there and actually playing the game. In the end, no matter how mean and nasty they get, these BernieBros and their ilk simply cannot win based on ideas alone and they know this.
Of course, Russia knows this as well. And because Russia knows this, they will once again try to rile them up and convince them that their chosen candidate will somehow be robbed of the nomination. But now, we’ve seen the playbook. We know who the useful idiots are (looking at you Daily Kos, Young Turks, and Justice Democrats). We know the enemy because we have seen him in the flesh. For every Seth Moulton trying to overturn Nancy Pelosi’s speakership, we see two hundred staunch Democrats ready to follow her into the bowels of hell. This is a war of attrition and there are more of us than there are of them. In the end, like in any good war, we may have to leave our weakest links behind. As we sit here in late 2018, the weakest links are those on the far-left, puttering around while the rest of us are firmly entrenched in the war to take back our country. If they can be so easily manipulated the first time around, there’s no need to give them a second chance. Not when the future of our country is at stake. Not when they’ve already proven themselves to be incapable of making their own decisions.
And not when we need everyone unified to take on America’s first 21st century adversary.
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