Mueller Trump Russiagate
Russiagate is no longer about whether or not Russia 'hacked' the 2016 US election, or 'rigged' it to ensure Trump would win. No, U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictments last week against thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian entities based in St Petersburg means that the Russian government stands accused of the broader crime of 'sowing discord' in the US body politic as a whole.

The indictments were based on: The Russians are accused of having "the strategic goal of sowing discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election." In order to do this, they adopted false online personas; traveled to the United States "to collect intelligence" and staged political rallies while posing as American voters.

As he presented the document, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stressed that there was no evidence that these actions changed the results of the election. No actual votes were altered, nor was there any indication of any links to either the Russian government or the Donald Trump campaign. This was not about 'collusion' or the alleged hacking of the DNC, but about the manipulation of public opinion via the purchasing of social media ads and the creation of multiple social media accounts, which they called 'trolling'.

That isn't actually what trolling means - the correct term, as used by the professionals, is 'strategic communications', which the U.S. intelligence community certainly knows how to use when interfering with US politics. This is trolling: a small German publication baiting German ultra-trash tabloid Bild into publishing a 'bombshell scoop' about Russian bots targeting German politics, thereby mercilessly mocking the U.S. (and Western) propaganda theme of 'Russian trolls'. It's no surprise that the types of people who staff Western media have zero insight, and thus zero sense of humor, and are thus easy prey for real trolls!

Just as the collusion and hacking narratives proved to be pure imagination rather than fact, the 'trolling' was also so limited as to be entirely ineffective politically, amounting to little more than a for-profit online marketing scheme that largely boosted American mainstream media content, much of which made zero reference to U.S. politics. As if to obscure this fact, U.S. political figures and media commentators have hysterically blown this issue out of proportion by placing it on a par with 9-11 and Pearl Harbor.

Theater Of The Absurd

One of the accused Russian entities is the 'Internet Research Agency' (IRA), which apparently employs between three and four hundred people, although only about 90 are said to work in its unit focused on the U.S. market. This is the same company that was accused last year of attempting to manipulate the Brexit referendum vote in the UK by purchasing three adverts on Facebook that cost less than one dollar, and another six on Twitter for $1,000. For the 2016 US presidential election, they allegedly spent $100,000 on Facebook advertisements, including such gems as this:

Satan vs Jesus Russian trolls US elections 2016
Facebook pointed out that the ads were placed between June 2015 and May 2017 and often mentioned political or social issues, like LGBT rights or gun control, but rarely mentioned a specific political candidate or the US presidential election. Should we assume then that the examples in the indictments are cherry-picked to make the case for 'election meddling' look more likely? Were these taken out of context or assumed to be something they were not? The problem with the indictments is that all the accused are in Russia, so it is very unlikely that they will ever face trial in the US, and therefore there will never be any need for the accusations to be proved in a court of law.

The document claims the Internet Research Agency supported Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and disparaged Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, by staging political rallies and posing online as Americans. It is also accused of touching upon a range of issues, including immigration, Black Lives Matter, Muslims in the U.S. and regional movements. In 2016, it is said to have encouraged U.S. minorities not to vote or to vote for a third party candidate like Jill Stein. Curiously, in July 2016 the company organized the rally "Support Hillary. Save American Muslims", and after the election in November 2016, it organized rallies both in favor and against Donald Trump. Of all the rallies said to have been promoted by the Russian 'trolls', the only one that resulted in a large gathering was an anti-Trump rally that was promoted and covered by CNN and MSNBC, and attended by filmmaker Michael Moore.

To get an idea of the size of the rest of the rallies, watch this video of two opposing rallies against radical Islam and in defense of American Muslims which actually met on the streets of Houston in May 2016 - both allegedly organized by the Russians:

It is also interesting that, according to Rob Goldman, vice president of Facebook ads, the majority of advertisements were purchased by the Russians after the election:

Unable to make much sense of what the actual political objective of the operation was, the indictment points out that in May 2014 (long before Trump had announced his presidential intentions), the company had come up with a strategy of "spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general" - as if the American public did not have reasons enough to distrust the system and US society was not already divided long before now. This is, of course, the crux of the matter: the U.S. Establishment is reeling from popular unrest, and thus concocts conspiracy theories to project the source of nationwide American dissent onto Russia.

The Washington Post reports that a Columbia University social media researcher, Jonathan Albright, analysed 36,000 accounts sent by supposedly Russian accounts and found that most were sharing stories produced by widely-read American mainstream media news and political commentary - not foreign news sources. The most common shared links were to Breitbart News, followed by The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle, while RT ranked 19th and Sputnik didn't even make the top 25. Furthermore, the stories themselves were generally factually accurate. Therefore, Mueller's indictment is against Russian 'trolls' highlighting the contradictions in the American political system that were already long-established. What a terrible crime!

What The Trolls Were Really Up To

Moon of Alabama has observed that the activities of the IRA are consistent with an online marketing scheme - that is, after all, what 'troll farms' are for - in which fake online personas are created and maintained until they gather a following, with the intention of promoting customer products or services. Click-bait websites that generate advertisement revenue are part of such a scheme. This implies that the online personas - 'sock-puppet' accounts - must engage on social or political issues to generate interest from like-minded people, but the issues themselves are incidental to the money-making scheme.

The indictment itself seems to confirm it in Point 95, where it says:
Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.
This would explain the inconsistency of the apparent political objectives of the 'trolls', their involvement in social issues rather than political, and the fact that most of their efforts took place after the election.

A common allegation in Western media is that the owner of the three accused companies, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has links to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. What we know is that Prigozhin, who started as a hot-dog vendor in the 1990s, came up with his trolling-scheme idea in 2011, after his company Concord Catering had won a government contract to deliver school lunches across Moscow, but was met with complaints from parents after children said the food smelled rotten. In order to counter the bad publicity, he hired a number of young people to go online and promote his food. Over the years, he has come to operate prestigious restaurants in St Petersburg, has catered military bases and once served food to Putin and other government officials. Apart from the IRA, he owns several other companies, including a private military contractor, the Wagner Group.

The tacit suggestion in the Western media is that the above points to the complicity or approval of the Kremlin with Prigozhin's trolling operation (hence the preposterous characterization of Prigozhin as 'Putin's chef'!). However, so far there is no evidence of any such connection. One thing is clear: if the Kremlin thought they could have any impact on the US election by subcontracting 'trolling services' to Prigozhin, they hugely overestimated his company's power to change the outcome of the American elections (an impossible task for Prigozhin's small group of 'trolls') and to keep its activities under the radar.

If there are any 'trolls' sponsored by the Kremlin - either outsourced to people like Prigozhin or directly under the umbrella of the Russian government - they are likely simply defending the image of Russia online and countering the ferocious Western anti-Russian propaganda - and who could blame them for that? Recall the documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden pointing to the involvement of Western spy units in warping discourse online and online propaganda. Would we expect another global power to not respond in kind?

To support their case against Russia, Western media are quoting an ex-employee of Prigozhin's 'troll farm', Lyudmila Savchuk, who is being presented as an "activist" and a "freelance undercover reporter" who "deliberately infiltrated" the company in order to expose it. The heroic aura with which she is presented contradicts Savchuk's own assertion that she joined the company because she was "seduced by their salary". In fact, she sued the Agency for Internet Studies (which appears to be one and the same as the IRA) for alleged non-payment of wages and for failing to give workers proper contracts. However, she now claims that this was done in a bid to expose the workings of the Kremlin 'trolls', which of course guarantees her some Western media attention.

Lyudmila Savchuk
© Dmitry Lovetsky/AP
Former 'Kremlin troll' Lyudmila Savchuk
If this was a secretive Kremlin-sanctioned operation, why would they take the risk of hiring mostly untrained students and young people who, like Savchuk, could turn their back on them and spill the beans at the slightest provocation? Most likely, she is just a former employee with an axe to grind who has air-brushed her cause as 'activism' with the help and encouragement of the media.

The New Pearl Harbor

The indictments do not present any evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia, Kremlin involvement in the 'trolling' operation, or any significant impact on the 2016 election, but this has not stopped the U.S. establishment from presenting them in the most alarmist terms. Drawing a parallel to terrorism, Representative Will Hurd called for a counter-disinformation strategy that "should implement similar principles to those in the Department of Homeland Security's Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism." Meanwhile, political strategist Steve Schmidt tweets in such a way that one would think that Putin had just been uncovered as the mastermind behind 9/11:

Along the same line, Senator John McCain threatened some sort of retaliation:

Foreign Affairs columnist for The New York Times Thomas L. Friedman chastised Trump for not responding to "Russia's direct attack on our system":
Up to now, Trump has been flouting the norms of the presidency. Now Trump's behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office - to protect and defend the Constitution. Here's an imperfect but close analogy: It's as if George W. Bush had said after 9/11: "No big deal. I am going golfing over the weekend in Florida and blogging about how it's all the Democrats' fault - no need to hold a National Security Council meeting." [...]

But whatever it is, Trump is either trying so hard to hide it or is so naïve about Russia that he is ready to not only resist mounting a proper defense of our democracy, he's actually ready to undermine some of our most important institutions, the F.B.I. and Justice Department, to keep his compromised status hidden.

That must not be tolerated. This is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.
This is an irresponsible shift in rhetoric. Friedman is stuck in the 'collusion' narrative and is simply making use of another opportunity to attack Trump. But it gets worse. Representative Jerry Nadler told MSNBC, with a straight face, that the Russian trolling is "the equivalent (of) Pearl Harbor," to the disbelief of presenter Chris Hayes:

Bots for Guns

It was long before the Mueller indictments that the imagination of the American public was captured by the 'Russian troll' menace. Before the release of the indictments on Friday and in the aftermath of the Valentine's Day Florida Parkland school shooting, CNN, Wired and the New York Times ran a story that blamed pro-gun Twitter messages on Russian bots. This proves just how out of touch with reality the U.S. media is. It apparently did not occur to any of their journalists that people talking both in favor and against gun control was what you would naturally expect after a shooting with multiple victims.

The bizarre idea to blame Russia for making Americans love guns was taken from the Hamilton 68 website, which claims to track 600 Twitter accounts selected by one of three criteria:
  1. People who often tweet news that also appears on RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik News, two general news sites sponsored by the Russian government;
  2. People who "openly profess to be pro-Russian";
  3. Accounts that "appear to use automation" to boost the same themes that people in group 1 and 2 tweet about.
The Hamilton 68 website was created by the Alliance for Securing Democracy and the German Marshall Fund, two major NATO Atlanticist think-tanks, and its mission is "to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin's ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe."

This madness is not spontaneous. The usual suspects of the 'Deep State' trolled us all in an effort to get us to believe it. And at the same time they have seen no problem with subverting democracies around the world themselves. Watch former CIA Director James Woosley push the 'Russian election-meddling' narrative on this interview with Fox News - only to confess with a smile that this is what the U.S. itself does:

It is our responsibility to counter the hypocrisy and lies with truth and reason before they create a global tragedy.