This was originally posted March 31, 2017. I've updated it with the YouTube video by Channel 4 London on Cambridge Analytica (CNNMoney.com and The Guardian details). The original blog post has aged well.
COINTELPRO The FBI began COINTELPRO—short for Counterintelligence Program—in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party. All COINTELPRO operations were ended in 1971. Although limited in scope (about two-tenths of one percent of the FBI’s workload over a 15-year period), COINTELPRO was later rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for abridging first amendment rights and for other reasons.
Had his story ended when he retired as a candy-maker, Robert Welch Jr. might have made his mark on history as the father of the Sugar Daddy, Sugar Babies and Junior Mints. But Welch, whose shrewd leadership helped grow his brother’s Massachusetts candy business a hundred-fold from 1935 to 1956, shifted his aim from caramels to communists.
On this day, Dec. 9, in 1958, Welch — then retired from the candy business — founded the ultraconservative John Birch Society along with 11 like-minded “Americanists,” as they referred to themselves. Their goal was to expose and eradicate the growing leftist threat in America, which they believed to be 40 to 60 percent communist-controlled, according to a 1961 TIME report. Members of the John Birch Society saw communists wherever they looked, from the Oval Office of Dwight Eisenhower (“A conscious agent of the communist conspiracy,” per Welch) to the Bay of Pigs (“a theatrical performance jointly sponsored by Castro and ‘his friends in the U.S. Government’ in order to strengthen the communist hold on Cuba,” as paraphrased in TIME).
The "growing leftist threat"...
COINTELPRO was the government version of John Birch. Though the write up eludes to other groups the FBI had under surveillance, it was felt by African American communities the most, specifically the Black Panther Party; the Nation of Islam; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, etc. The approval of the Communist Manifesto by the likes of Huey Newton and the unrest in the streets likely gave J. Edgar Hoover much alarm. It couldn't have been the treatment of American citizens by their fellow citizens and de facto/de jure Jim Crow laws against them. It was easy to wrap surveillance in the flag and patriotism to hide the racist overtones of the act.
The "growing leftist threat"...
If the Birch philosophy sounds familiar, it's because one of its ardent members was the famous Koch Brother's father, Frank Koch, an MIT oil engineer. He infamously built oil refineries for Nazi Germany and did a considerable amount of business with the Russians.
The Nazis... the Russians...
It was "American" to oppose godless communism. It was easy for the right to demonize the left as unpatriotic, out-of-touch and not fluent in the deified "free market."
The reclusive billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer has been known to fund right wing groups in this country (Steve Bannon) and overseas (Nigel Farage). Like many of the self-made billionaires, he's likely a fan of Ayn Rand and her apotheosis of selfishness in "Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged," lauded by Congressman Ron Paul, Senator Rand Paul, Speaker Paul Ryan and President Ronald Reagan. It's funny how an avowed enemy of religion as a sickness can be so praised by those who put the Ten Commandments, godly masculinity and "family values" on high pedestals.
During the 1960's, COINTELPRO was concerned that foreign powers were infiltrating us and destabilizing our republic in the various Civil Rights organizations. They, along with the John Birch Society, were decidedly anti-communist, such that the Republican Party made this stance a litmus test for two generations. At that time, foreign Russian interference would have been called the KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, or the Committee for State Security). If they were infiltrating Civil Rights organizations, it was a time and an environment ripe for manipulation.
Fast-forward 40 years: 1968 - 2008. Forty years after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the country has gone through a massive experiment in forced busing that would eventually be objected to and eliminated. Cities would through economic opportunities and structured stratification re-segregate more so than 1968. The former Soviet Union would fall in that window in 1989. Then President George Bush (41) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would opine on the "Peace Dividend." The previous Russian Politburo was their 1%. As I recall from Air Force ROTC class in college, they were the ones with the actual money while their populations starved. They had access to things like fashion, food, sex all the while pretending that the Politburo was "temporary" and eventually there would be pure Communism with no hierarchy, no stratification: no "income inequality" as we now call it. It never came. An attempt at reformation from the previous authoritarian communist regime - Democratization - would be attempted and fail. Some would say it was a weakness of Russian civil society, as in democratization usually entails a beneficial tug-of-war from above and below. If citizens aren't putting pressure on their leadership, that leadership will eventually go back to what they know well: ironclad, authoritarian control.
2008 saw the election of the country's first African American president, Barack Hussein Obama, for the first time in 232 years of the republic during a financial free fall compared quite literally to the Great Depression, a concern that furrowed his brow and eventually grayed his mane. A graduate of two elite schools, a Constitutional Scholar and community organizer, he "dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't'." His crowds were compared to rock concerts. We quickly spat out the bubblegum philosophy of a "post-racial" society. We had "grown up" Dr. Maya Angelou commented; poems were composed, t-shirts were made, tearful hymns were sung: we had finally "overcome."
President Obama's name was a source of angst to his legitimacy. Then the Tea Party arose, AstroTurf-fed by dark money - Koch, Mercer et al - as a faux grass movement, their bigotry was hidden - at least initially from their Tea Party selves - behind clever slogans and jingoism: "I want my country back!" The demographics was decidedly, predominately the only original creation of the American continent: "whiteness," and a few people of color comfortable in tokenism and able to maneuver within a religion of white supremacy, that itself masquerades as a faux evangelical Christianity.
The KGB became the FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, or Federal Security Service). Some rumors that they would weaponize misinformation on a scale heretofore unseen. As the former KGB observed an opening in the Civil Rights unrest, the FSB noticed Birtherism, the bigotry, the calling out "YOU LIE" during a president's State of the Union; the praying of Psalms 109:8 and callously calling themselves "Christians." They saw faux voter integrity ID laws designed to act as a 21st Century poll tax; they saw the slaughter of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, and countless others. Add to it the lack of any jurisprudence/convictions of their slayers (the noted exceptions in Davis and McBride): note also the rush to call them "thugs" and disappointed Kentucky fans "students." The clever bigotry giving way to blatant racism, our national pathology laid naked to any intelligence officers to manipulate. From the ascendancy of a rock star African American president, the situation demanded his precise antithesis as counterbalance.
It was simply a change in strategy: if COINTELPRO was correct (though biased), the infiltration was through some Civil Rights organizations. If our current intelligence is correct, the infiltration was through our obvious bigotry: it was designed to shatter our institutional norms, and internationally like democratic republics from within.
With fake news by bots and hackers, servers between Moscow and New York; backroom deals that may have been caught with (possible) FISA-warranted incidental communications monitoring, the Russians merely enacted in real-time cyber attacks the poignant observation President Lyndon Baines Johnson made on a trip to the south with journalist Bill Moyers:
"If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."
With Brexit proceeding in the UK, spurred broadly by bigotry, their next targets to destabilize western democracy are France and Germany, with the ultimate goals of dismantling NATO and the European Union. There would be in essence a "New World Order" - not of the conspiratorial kind - but under the same conditions when "IRA" stood for Irish Republican Army (not Individual Retirement Account): there were a lot of bombings, death and instability. Before the EU, European countries often warred among themselves. That can't be good for tourism, ...or world peace.
We have "given them the store" of white supremacist bigotry, and our republic. I'm concerned apathy, racism, stupidity and tribalism may well not allow us... to get it back.
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