In Putin’s Russia, Trolls Fool Even You

In a long story on the Russian hack that I believe falls for at least one piece of propaganda (I’m working on writing this up, but it will take time), Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti quote Christopher Painter talking about how much people deny they’ve been duped by propaganda, but suggest only Trump supporters would be so naive.

He added that “people don’t like to admit they’ve been fooled” — hence the strenuous efforts from Mr. Trump and his supporters to deny or dismiss the significance of the Russian interference.

They then use Harry Miller — a Trump supporter who got paid to organize a rally with a fake Hillary in prison — to portray the kind of rubes who fall for propaganda.

A case in point would be Harry Miller, a devoted Trump supporter in Florida who was paid to organize a rally in which a woman portraying Mrs. Clinton sat behind bars on the back of his pickup truck. It turned out that the people who had ordered up the rally, “Matt Skiber” and “Joshua Milton,” were pseudonyms for Russians at the Internet Research Agency, according to the Mueller indictment.

But don’t tell that to Mr. Miller. Contacted via Twitter, he insisted that he had not been manipulated by Russian trolls.

“They were not Russians, and you know it,” Mr. Miller wrote, adding, “If you don’t then you are the one snookered.”

Here’s the part of the Internet Research Agency indictment that describes Miller getting duped.

In or around late July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other false U.S. personas to organize a series of coordinated rallies in Florida. The rallies were collectively referred to as “Florida Goes Trump” and held on August 20, 2016.

a. In or around August 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to communicate with Trump Campaign staff involved in local community outreach about the “Florida Goes Trump” rallies.

b. Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook and Instagram to promote the “Florida Goes Trump” rallies.

c. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used false U.S. personas to contact multiple grassroots groups supporting then-candidate Trump in an unofficial capacity. Many of these groups agreed to participate in the “Florida Goes Trump” rallies and serve as local coordinators.

d. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used false U.S. personas to ask real U.S. persons to participate in the “Florida Goes Trump” rallies. Defendants and their co-conspirators asked certain of these individuals to perform tasks at the rallies.

For example, Defendants and their co-conspirators asked one U.S. person to build a cage on a flatbed truck and another U.S. person to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform. Defendants and their co-conspirators paid these individuals to complete the requests.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that Miller was duped, just like I believe Shane and Mazzetti were duped. I believe I got duped in 2016 too!

But there’s a part of the IRA indictment that might help explain why Miller got duped, one that reporters ought to chase down before they single out others for being duped, because it might help them understand how they, too, might get duped.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”


78. On or about August 19, 2016, a supporter of the Trump Campaign sent a message to the ORGANIZATION-controlled “March for Trump” Twitter account about a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 2”) who was involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 2’s email address at the domain On or about the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that email account.

79. On or about August 19, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account sent another message to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 3”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations. On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

During precisely the period when Miller was networking with Russian trolls to set up a real campaign event, the very same trolls using the very same fake identities were networking with actual Trump campaign staffers about the very same campaign events in the very same state that Miller was. That means it is quite possible that he had validation from real people he trusted that the trolls duping him were real.

Virtually anyone — including NYT reporters — might get fooled if the trolls duping them networked in via real trusted people.

As I disclosed July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

66 replies
  1. Buford says:

    oh yeah…I have been fooled by propaganda…the point being, Knowing that you were duped by propaganda, should be a lesson learned….learn how NOT be fooled by propaganda…BUT, it seems the rooskies have learned some lessons as well….they are getting better and better at looking like a republican, and sounding like a republican…Active measures is nothing to snort at…

    • Avattoir says:

      In crossing and bridging waterways, it makes sense to consider the shortest routes, even as we know that often those don’t turn out the most secure or surest.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      That’s an important distinction. Everyone has biases, and falls for propaganda that plays to those biases. But when Miller doubles down in the face of the facts, he’s acting in the same way that the NY Times management reacts to Bari Weiss. Some people, when they’re conned, double down in the face of the truth, just as people who bought in to Bernie Madoff refused to believe he was a pyramid scheme operator.

      The method mentioned in the piece above is part of the scheme. Miller got validation from mainstream members of the GOP, Madoff got validation from his client list, and Weiss gets validation from having worked for the Wall Street Journal. At a certain point, some people are going to stop looking at the details and simply coast on the fact that they committed in the first place, and when challenged go back to who else was part of the scheme.

  2. Stan says:

    Yeah, I got fooled by the Russian Bernie propaganda slamming Clinton. Rightwingers can’t touch me, but someone claiming that Hillary literally stole the nomination from Bernie and “here’s proof” (as opposed to having the DNC backing that non-Dem Bernie did not) did at least get under my skin, even if I didn’t 100% buy it. There were enough of those little hits from people I thought were on my “team” that by the time the election came, I wasn’t enthusiastic about her at all. Still voted for her, thank goodness, but they undermined my enthusiasm that might have encouraged more people to vote for her.  So now I don’t trust anyone. Nice.

    • orionATL says:

      this is an honest revelation. i have observed of myself recently a similar disturbing propensity that, even as i am aware of it, invades my decision making and lodges there.

      i think all homo sapiens are very strongly inclined to remember prominently not only bad things that happen to them, but stories about bad things and bad people. i have even read that this tendency is evolutionary (but then isn’t every human activity evolutionary these days :) ).

      this tendency to remember the negative about others, combined with strong loyalty, is i suspect the basis of the great power of negative political advertising.

      in any event my personal observation of the phenomenon of the difficulty of forgetting negative assessments of others stems from observing myself recently with regard to restaurants and primary care physicians. the internet is the easiest place to find “ethiopian reataurants” or “priimary care physicians”. however, the infomation available to a reader is obviously suspect for the simplest reason that a restaurant may serve hundreds of customers in a single week and a single physician may see 40 to 80 patients a week, but an internet review site might have 5 or 15 or 25 reviews covering years. some of whom are from people with a bad experience. the only quick rule of reliability is if all are bad. nonetheless, try getting some particularly affecting negative reviews out of your head. i find they continue to devil my thinking.

      i found this same type of thinking (negative anecdotes) affecting my judgements about voting for judges with no party label in a recent election.

      and i always, yes always, look at the 1’s in the amazon ratings when i want to buy an item. any negatives at 10% or greater i consider a warning. smart? maybe, maybe not. plus there are often great explanations for what is wrong :)

      propaganda, deliberate misinformation or distortion of information works powerfully on all of us when combined with the fuel of personal loyalty to a cause or party or meerly unfamiliarity and uncertainty in decision making.

      • Geoff says:

        There are many ways to be better at this. One is to understand patterns in negatives, and rely on consistent facts represented by various people, and cross reference those people, by looking at their other reviews, to see if they are just generally a person that reviews when they are upset, etc. For example, sushi restaurants. Complaints : rice is not made right, eg. too sticky, or too vinegary, or dry and old, or fish is falling apart, separating along the connective tissue (not fresh) etc. Someone would have to be shown to know how to criticize, and that criticism would have to be found to be consistent across reviewers. Lots of 1 star ratings with the same issues would make the negative impression stick.

        From the wayback machine, before the Grey Lady had fallen so low…(dont get me started on Judy Miller)

        But in the case of the Bernie/Hillary contestation for the Democratic nominee, you could already read enough from the basic reporting to see that the establishment wanted no part of a social democrat on the ticket. We just didnt realize how actively the DNC worked against this. Of course, the unfortunate thing is the way we found out what they were up to, but in the end, it was nice to know what was in those leaked emails, just because it confirmed a lot of people’s suspicions. But it also fed into believing just about anything negative they read, since clearly, lots was going on behind the scene’s that people were unaware of. All of this just feeds into the breakdown of trust in institutions, which is ironic, since instead, the beliefs randomly go find an outlet in the ridiculous world of political discussion on Facebook, or Twitter. This whole episode has been quite detrimental.

        Worse still, if we paper over this episode the way we papered over the criminality of financial institutions in the housing bust (and the people that ran them for their own benefit before, and looted the carcass of the economy to benefit after) this country will be in even far worse state. I don’t know how this wound gets healed. But I feel like we needed an economic enema in 2009 and didnt get one..just words of hope and change and no action. And we are going to need a political enema now, which is linked to the dirty money of the economy, and I fear we wont get that either. (but I digress….)

        • Rayne says:


          …But in the case of the Bernie/Hillary contestation for the Democratic nominee, you could already read enough from the basic reporting to see that the establishment wanted no part of a social democrat on the ticket. We just didnt realize how actively the DNC worked against this. …

          This is the part that gives away people who are NOT active Democratic Party members because they’d know that
          1) Bernie carpetbagged his way into the party to use its infrastructure, doing nothing to build the party prior to changing from Democratic Socialist to Democrat just in time to announce his candidacy;
          2) The party itself at local level does the work related to the primaries, not the goddamned DNC. If Bernie wanted better results he should have joined the party years earlier, helped build it, shown up at local party fundraisers across the country. Jesus Christ, his fellow Vermonter Howard Dean showed him how it was done, built a nonprofit advocacy group for progressives and ~still~ Bernie couldn’t find his ass with both hands.

          This is exactly how the Russians fucked with people who only vote left of center, who might openly identify as Democrats, but aren’t actually participants within the local party. In my state, Michigan, I’ve guestimated the average number of ACTIVE show-up-do-the-work Democratic Party members at 25-30 persons per county. With 83 counties that means we have less than 3000 people who are activist party members in a state of ~10 million residents. ALL the rest of the hundreds of thousands of voters who select candidates with a D after their name don’t have a fecking clue how the party actually works. They are easily told, “But the DNC/dingo ate my primary/baby!” and they’ll believe it because they can’t be bothered to find out if that’s the truth.

          How do any of the public who aren’t active local party members really know what those emails meant other than what equally out-of-touch journalists told them — journalists who try to remain neutral by never joining their local party or participating in party events? You may still be played even now about what the hacked emails meant if nobody inside the party is investing any time on whether the emails are word-for-word accurate let alone what they meant in context, or are staying silent because there’s still a fucking investigation underway. Christ, that useless Debbie Wasserman Schultz is gone as is the team she worked with during the campaign; who’s left to say anything concrete about those emails?

          And now here YOU are, somebody who’s made a whopping 34 comments at this site to date under this username, pontificating about the emails and poor Bernie, implying the DNC is rotten, blah-blah-blah for roughly 400 words.

          See how it works?

          Now knock off the fucking Bernie-was-robbed shit right the fuck now because that was part of Russia’s disinformation operation. You’re actually perpetuating it by repeating the frame. And Jesus Christ, people, read some George Lakoff.

        • marksb says:

          Really good points Rayne. I feel like I was vaccinated against disinformation campaigns through my Bircher dad, the aniti-war movement, and being active duty during said war and the Nixon years. The lies and propaganda were personal and killed people I knew. But during much of 2016 half my family were forwarding and repeating propaganda and lies, helping with the ratfucking, based on nothing other than a generalized dislike (built through decades of propaganda) of the most-qualified candidate to run in decades that allowed them to automatically believe whatever bullshit was posted about the candidate and Democratic officials. I couldn’t make any headway against this waterfall of disinformation no matter how much calm, reasoned, evidence-based logic I used. At one point several members of my college-educated, professional-career family were sending around a Russian troll-originated thing about how expensive HRC’s designer dress was at a rally, and that showed how out of touch she was with mainstream Americans. Grrr!

          Point is, good progressive, intelligent, educated, rational people were taken in by (in hindsight) obvious bullshit. How? Why? And how does one counter that? It’s an interesting set of questions and even my communication-studies professor wife just shrugs.

        • Rayne says:

          The first problem HRC’s campaign faced was +20 years of negative propaganda from Fox. An entire lifetime of it from my kids’ perspective, both of them voting for the first time in a general election in 2016. My kids couldn’t offer me any specifics about their relative discomfort with HRC — they even liked her platform — but a lifetime of background abuse aimed at HRC laid the groundwork. While Fox blustered we never noticed that the person the right-wing feared the most was HRC.

          The second was the invisibility of the disinformation campaign. Like this anecdote you shared:

          …At one point several members of my college-educated, professional-career family were sending around a Russian troll-originated thing about how expensive HRC’s designer dress was at a rally, and that showed how out of touch she was with mainstream Americans. …

          What was its point of origin? Why didn’t everybody universally get that message? It was slippery because it happened only on a micro-targeted basis after users logged into their own social media accounts. Even two people in the same household using the same device might not get the same message.

          I remember in 2013-2014 hearing about social experiments being conducted using social media — Facebook mentioned in particular. I was freaked out about it then, remember complaining about it but most users just shrugged. And now we know what they did with their experiment: they A/B switch tested the hell out of everybody so they could tell who was most likely to get pissed off enough about certain hot topics — like HRC in designer clothing — but pissed off enough to be moved to action, like sharing or voting against HRC in protest.

          Still sickens me every time one of my friends sends me a poll or a What Hogwarts House Are You test. A/B testing, all of it.

        • marksb says:

          Huh. I’ve seen this in bits and pieces lately, but yours is the most concise summary of a program testing propaganda for precise delivery. Of course, having done marketing and product management and moving into the “lean startup” framework over the last few years, it all fits perfectly with a micro-market analysis of consumer taste and a demographic breakdown of responsiveness to specific messages. (Hits self in the forehead.)


        • Rayne says:

          Yes. They used marketing against us. Plain old-fashioned capitalist marketing which saturates our environments so heavily we had no suspicion at all they were screening us.

          And then they matched it up against other databases like voter rolls and picked out relationships between certain kinds of behaviors and voting habits and *boom* they knew to target the white centrist suburban soccer mom who’s a closet racist and sent her fearmongering messages, and then sent the white crunchy-green-libertarian crossovers messages about HRC meeting with Wall St bankers. Produced higher educated white female voters for Trump and undervotes at top of ticket with more of the crunchy-green-libertarian set.

          The people who were immune to their marketing bullshit: black women.

        • orionATL says:

          two women who are experienced democratic congressional leaders are under the kind of “personal qualities” attacks that clinton recieved from the republicans from the 2015 bengazi character assassination plot in the house forward. they are senator claire maccakill and congressman and minority leader nancy pelosi. these attacks are not about the legislation or policies they support or have supported, they are about these women leaders’ character and personal qualities.

          the attacks on pelosi is a DIRECT continuation of the successful attack on candidate clinton. they are about about pelisi being an evil witch-person like clinton, not about specifics of what she has supported, e.g., affordable care act, abortion rights, the obama economic stimulus package to help the desperately struggling u.s. economy in 2009. they are about being a bad woman who is powerful – or is that a powerful bad woman.

          i watched what turned out to be the first attack on a powerful dem female political leader since clinton’s defeat a mere 5 months earlier, in the april 2017 special election to replace congr. tom price of georgia. i had not heard pelosi demonized before. who was running such ads in georgia of all places? who could care about pelosi here? turned out they were being run by – can you guess? – the republican congressional campaign committee. pelosi-hatred became the main theme of the latter part of that campaign and has continued to be the go-to strategy for republican congressional campaigns to this day.

          clearly the repub calculation is: it worked with clinton, so let’s try peloisi-hatred on the rubes in —-. bingo! it worked. after that it’s been pelosi attacks all over the united states, though pelosi represents only a district in california and has not been speaker with any of its powers since 2010 – 8 yrs the house has been under republican leaddrship:

          nor surprisingly, some democratic congressional candidates have been compliant, evasive, cowardly in the face of these attacks:

          senator maccaskill of missouri has been subject to similar attacks in her re-election campaign for senator. it’s her husband that is the star of the defamation campaign, but of vourse that carries over to maccaskill:

        • Sabrina says:

          Great point regarding the continuation of anti-Hillary propaganda with Pelosi. From our northern vantage point, I remember becoming aware all of a sudden that the idea of nominating a political stalwart like Pelosi would be “suicide” for the Dems in 2020, or something to that effect. I’ve heard her speak on a few occasions, including YouTube videos, and I think she is extremely bright and eloquent, with a natural empathy that one can pick up on simply by watching how she interacts with other people.
          The idea that her nomination would be the end of a Democratic win in 2020 is ridiculous. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t *also* true. I think part of what people are talking about here is this idea that takes hold. There are two parts to it- the first is what the person believes for themselves, the second and more insidious part (and where overwhelming the information stream with disinfo works SO well) is the sense that *many* others feel a certain way about a candidate. This leads to natural censoring in conversation, such that, for example, in 2016 any praise of Clinton would have been tempered with a caveat about how she is the shoe-in nominee, or not “exciting” (god knows what that means in politics- isn’t competence preferable? That always gets me!), or perhaps even a disclaimer that her policies are just a continuation of the status quo as she is too “entrenched” in her political system. Whatever the caveat, the point is the sudden *awareness* that many others feel that she is a lackluster choice, and we begin to define our own belief by (what we perceive as) society’s belief, generally.
          This is a slippery slope, as a commenter mentioned above- they still voted for HRC, but the enthusiasm was dampened. That’s crucial, because even without people too discouraged to vote for HRC, they were at least unenthused enough to not go out of their way to ensure high turnout. Her win felt guaranteed, anyway, as a direct result of those factors I mentioned earlier (she was due the honor, etc)- however, those beliefs only became easier to believe once we felt that others felt she was “flawed”, but the better of two evils. It’s easier to believe that, with as many people that believe she is flawed, she will still win since she’s not as bad as her competitor. This line of thinking led directly to underestimating Trump’s chances since he wasn’t seen as a possible contender- how could he be, if the election were already decided?
          I still see people who claim that HRC ran a poor campaign and she never took responsibility for it. That seems patently untrue- she was eminently qualified and actually seems to like politics. Yet, this conclusion is the logical endpoint of (as was mentioned upthread) decades of tearing her down. Many of her “flaws” were often direct signs of her intelligence, but of course spun as her being “out of touch”.
          Anyway, sorry for such a long comment. I’m glad to see people on here have also looked at her qualifications and past and found that not only was she NOT a poor candidate, but was much MORE qualified than many of the more recent presidents had been, having held high elected WH positions for decades. Which, unfortunately, ended up working against her in the end. To bring it back full circle to Pelosi, I feel that these same attitudes that have made HRC a candidate *equally* as poor as Trump would end up dogging Pelosi for many of the same reasons. If she were nominated in 2020, I can see a repeat of 2016 all over again.
          But if not someone politically experienced as a Democrat, then who? The US may be forced to go with a populist figure (like Avenatti, who is still miles behind HRC in political know how) simply because “establishment Dems” are too radioactive to even nominate.

        • Rayne says:

          The Pelosi disinformation operation is a hedge against the possibility that Trump and Pence both are removed from office should a Dem majority take the House — Speaker of the House is third in line of succession and Pelosi may be speaker once again under a Dem majority.

          They are going to do to her exactly what they’ve done to HRC: question her age, question her ideology, question her wealth and health, count on it. Just waiting for them to question her taste in clothes because then you’ll know they are really, REALLY worried and must play to all smaller demographics.

          As for Avenatti: somebody needs to get to that dude and explain to him that like Bernie, carpetbaggers better build the party they want first. Nobody is entitled to Democrats’ votes when they haven’t put in the effort to earn them.

        • Rayne says:

          Let’s not forget Elizabeth Warren who represents a credible threat to the financial industry which was just peachy with Trump’s election. I don’t think she has a chance in 2020 because of the damage disinfo has already done.

          I think they are targeting McCaskill because her seat has been on the bubble and they don’t want her handling investigations after 2018 if the Senate flips; they only need to budge votes by equivalent of MOE and character assassination will do it.

        • Eureka says:

          I second this on reading Lakoff- easy enough to do, as he has an accessible blog.  He’s been on my mind a lot lately for a few reasons, not least of which is some synonymy in his and Marcy’s exhortations to MSM to wise up in their coverage, and with instructions on how to do so.  Plus there was something in one of his books or a book about him about the Nixon-era ratfuckers hiring linguists to better manipulate the populace that I was trying to track down.  Anyway, this man has been begging the media and general readers to take his expertise- free- and learn how to properly frame/understand 45 et al.’s propaganda.

        • Eureka says:

          Yeah, I think the whole “I am not a crook” thing is why 45 endlessly repeats the headless “No Collusion!!!”  I’m not sure he has succeeded on that front (disassociating himself from ‘collusion’), and there are perils to that effort in the annoying way that the media has now decided to call all conspiracies ‘collusion’ (e.g. the other day, MSNBC covered the Ticketmaster story as “colluding” with scalpers).  So he wins with yet more word spreadage, but he loses (on that one) because it has diffused in a way that sinks badness and criminality into his effort to sanitize conspiracy.

        • Rayne says:

          He’s shouted and tweeted “No collusion!” so often it’s impossible to think of the word without associating him with that word. I don’t think he’s helped himself at all with his reflexive response to deny any conspiracy with Russia.

        • koolmoe says:

          (Rayne reamed me out for a similar comment in one of my first appearances here. While I thought calling me a troll was a bit much, I was a bit humbled and I took it as a teachable moment.  :)

  3. klynn says:

    It’s more than propaganda. It is vranyo and it is a component of maskirovka. It was a pattern throughout the election season and prior.  Your observation is spot on. Of course they network via real, trusted people. The next set of questions should examine the history of the real trusted people. But you need to put any propaganda in the context of vranyo and maskirovka.

    • SteveB says:

      For clarity and because there’s a paywall

      A Russian friend explained vranyo this way: ‘You know I’m lying, and I know that you know, and you know that I know that you know, but I go ahead with a straight face, and you nod seriously and take notes.’

      maskirovka, which itself is a hard-to-translate umbrella term for a range of Soviet-era military strategies intended to confuse and deceive the enemy by misrepresenting reality and masking (“mask” is the etymological root of the word) the nature of the threat that Russian forces represent.

        • SteveB says:

          No problem. Thanks for bringing article to my/our attention. It’s a semi-paywall – 3or4 free articles per month then subscription only.

      • orionATL says:

        in american military speak, “maskirova” is “mildec”:

        “… MILDEC …

        Denial and deception operations are a combination of operations security and MILDEC activities, supported by a wide-range of IRCs, to protect critical information, facilitate surprise, and deliberately mislead an adversary to achieve a tactical, operational, or strategic advantage.…”

        mildec in preparing for battle and on the battlefield is as old as war, but after the press coverage of vietnam, i.e., what war really looks like, i think the u.s.military and their political masters felt that they had to extend military deception to the press and the american citizenry. thus, e.g., the bush admin’s prohibition on press coverage of dead soldiers being repatriated to dover air force base and stringent military control of press in iraq including threats to punish and threats not to protect.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        I tend to avoid the Russian terms, because… well, what has Fox News done for years? The space for Putin-directed bullshit exists because Murdoch and Ailes created it.

  4. Bob Conyers says:

    It’s a common tactic of Alt right trolls to deflect claims that they’re Nazis by claiming they’re just curious about finding the truth, stressing minor, insignficant differences with Nazis, and playing up some normal, non-Nazi side of their personality.

    Which is why it was so disturbing for the NY Times to run its infamous piece about the Ohio Nazi where they played up the idea that he was just curious, wasn’t a pure Nazi, and did all kinds of normal things like go grocery shopping. And then when everyone started complaining about the transparent trolling, the Times’ senior management doubled down on the validity of the piece, even as the reporter started hinting publicly that it was dawning on him what was going on.

    To this day, the Times management clearly still doesn’t get how trolling works.

  5. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Social engineering isn’t just for phishing. I’m not a fan of grand unified theories, but I’m okay with the idea that Putin’s interference domestically and internationally aims to undermine trust networks, especially those that operate at a distance through affiliation. Ratcheting high-trust societies down to low-trust ones.

    • William Bennett says:

      Ratcheting high-trust societies down to low-trust ones

      In a nutshell. Exactly this. And it works whichever way the TrumpTreason game plays out.

  6. TheraP says:

    The term Byzantine also conjures up this complicated slight of hand maneuvering or speaking, which seems to come second nature in some, maybe most, eastern societies.

    If you’ve never read Orhan Pamuk, I highly recommend two of his novels, two of his best in my view:  “My Name is Red” and “Snow”.   The first is set in medieval Turkey, the second in a more modern Turkey.  Both have complicated plots, Byzantine twists and turns, innumerable layers of conspiratorial jockeying, and labyrinths of double crossing.   He writes beautifully.  The translations are excellent.  And, in the end, you will understand better a mindset which we – in the West – are ill-equipped to deal with.  (I say this with all humility.)

    These are haunting, devious, magnificent stories.  Poetic at times.  Fascinating.  But more than anything, an entry into a way of thinking and maneuvering which few of us (other than EW in her graduate training and dissertation) are equipped to navigate.

    (“The Sympathizer:  A Novel” is a much darker book by a Vietnamese writer, which also haunts and defies our usual way of thinking about cause and effect and truth or consequences.)

    Novels are safe ways to get an understanding of what we’re trying to parse or thread our way through – without putting ourselves and our nation at terrible risk, as we’re faced with now.  Ways to inoculate ourselves in a sense.  Because it’s probably going to get worse.

    • Erin McJ says:

      I’ve had similar thoughts – I’ve felt like the best people to try to imagine what’s going on behind the scenes here might be fiction writers. I suppose literature PhDs have some relevant skills here too!

      • TheraP says:

        I haven’t read “Crime and Punishment” since I was teenager, but it strikes me as another good entry into this whole murky swamp of intrigue and lawlessness.

        I recently downloaded one translation for a dollar or two, but I see another right now (an Amazon version) that you can download for Nothing (as in $0.00!). I’m planning on rereading this soon. I wonder if it will trouble me less at 73 than it did at 15 or 16. Or more…

        As an aside, nightly now I go to bed, thanking all my lucky stars that I am an anonymous, relatively innocent bystander to these terrible events we are living through.

        • Rayne says:

          Project Gutenberg has a translation of Crime and Punishment by Constance Garnett for free as an html file. Not certain why this doesn’t show up when using their search tool under either title or author name. Should be able to open in browser, save file as html, move/copy to ereader/tablet/cellphone for reading.

  7. klynn says:

    “Virtually anyone — including NYT reporters — might get fooled if the trolls duping them networked in via real trusted people.”

    I see what you did there. Nice.
    Looking forward to when you are able to tell more of your story.

  8. William Bennett says:

    Lot of ways to play this particular mirror game. The parallel with Judy Miller reporting “anonymous” stories from Dick Cheney, and Dick Cheney citing that reporting in justifying the Iraq debacle comes to mind. “Access journalism,” I believe it’s called.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Henry is great, though that piece from January pulls its punches somewhat: large parts of the US have no tradition of free and fair elections, and the parts that do have that civic tradition generally did so because the people in charge never feared the voting power of people who didn’t look like them.

  9. Marty says:

    Does anyone else wonder if Bernie’s campaign manager, Tad Devine, who happens to be the business partner of Paul Manafort, and also did work in Ukraine, will end up getting rolled up in all this before all is said and done? He said the word “rigged” in front of the camera so often, you’d think he was an 19th century sailor.

  10. e.a.foster says:

    With a federal election coming up in 2019, Canada had best beware.  thank you for sharing.  it is easy to see how it all was done, once it is down on paper.

    • Rayne says:

      I worry some of the same tactics helped Ford get elected in Ontario. I still can’t believe after the disaster his brother Rob was and their crappy policies that Doug won.

  11. Geoff says:


    A few things – I didn’t vote for Trump, and was always going to vote for Hillary because I’m a realist about how politics plays out … so please don’t misunderstand my point. It was fairly obvious for various reasons that there were too many obstacles for Bernie to get the nomination.

    On your points

    1) Agreed, he wasn’t a Democrat, so yes, essentially a carpetbagger, so they would not be pre-disposed to help out someone in this instance. And why should they? But the DNC also should have realized that if he is garnering so much support for the policies he is espousing, they need to do something with their candidate of choice to win over the voters that support those policies. It did not appear that they put much effort into this.
    2) I also don’t disagree with this, Bernie could have joined the party earlier…however, he was trying to have his cake and eat it too. If you are Bernie, and realize independents have no chance, and your views are more closely associated with one party or the other, you attempt to join that party however late it may be. So he by default would run as a Democrat, even though he technically isn’t one. You obviously feel much more strongly than I do that the nominee has to earn their place. And Hillary most definitely did, and it’s reasonable to be resentful of a person that comes in late and coattails on that.

    Also, yes, I’m aware that for people who can’t see through the propaganda, their vote which logically should have been for Hillary for many reasons, was either for Trump or for not voting at all, got played. I’m not one of those people. Not on Facebook, don’t care about any of that garbage news. Didn’t stay home and abstain from voting, and despite knowing many people who would have wanted to vote for Bernie, told them they have to do the right thing and vote for Hillary, even if it means holding their nose.

    You have a point – all those hacked emails, could have been made up. I chose to believe that they were not, although I could be wrong. I interpreted them through the filter of what I’ve seen in politics over the years. It’s an ugly business and getting more ugly all the time. That said, given the reaction to the emails by the DNC ( no categorical denial of their content) made me think they really were actual emails that had been hacked. I didn’t get my opinion of what they meant from what journalists told me, but rather from reading a lot of them, and also knowing how the powers that be tend to operate, and who provides them with the money. In that sense, they aren’t hugely different than Republicans, but that is a systemic problem, related to Citizens United, and ultimately is a reason people should have voted Hillary so that we don’t end up with the situation we have now regarding the SCOTUS.

    The fact that Russia was actively trying to sway the election, and that the DNC was trying to promote its candidate of choice who had worked for this slot for a decade or more, while discouraging her opponent…those aren’t mutually exclusive things. But yes, there is always the possibility that the DNC loved a fair fight and all this was a big misunderstanding, and Bernie voters shouldn’t have felt that they were cheated. But the reality is that they did. It’s going to be hard for many of them to hold themselves accountable. So now, we have to deal with this issue of making people aware that they were played. That is what this site is all about in a way, which is why I love it. But I also am quite scared, honestly, that we wont in the end do what we need to do to fix this problem. The best way we have a chance, it to make people realize what happened, and to make them feel OK to admit that they made a mistake, were taken in, etc.

    Also, I know I’ve pressed a hot button with you, but I like to remain calm in discussing these things. I’m sorry if my framing offends you, but partly, my framing is a type of reporting, as Im not wedded to what Im explaining, but rather discussing how I see things have played out. I know I have been commenting here for long, and I don’t have an established history and point of view, but I’m not trying to be a troll and am always happy to learn.

    • Rayne says:


      …But the DNC also should have realized that if he is garnering so much support for the policies he is espousing, they need to do something with their candidate of choice to win over the voters that support those policies. It did not appear that they put much effort into this. …

      Bernie did absolutely dick to earn minority voters over, particularly women of color (and they still don’t trust him). He spent far too much of his time focusing on the white centrist vote. Stop looking to the DNC for fault with Bernie’s campaign. He totally ignored a core part of the Democratic Party. Walking with Martin Luther King Jr back in the 1960s doesn’t do anything for today’s black teenagers dead-by-cop or locked up in solitary without due process in places like Rikers, or black families paying the highest water bills in the state/nation and still going without clean water, or systematically disenfranchised by voter suppression. And he was a wastrel with campaign funds — Tad Devine personally earned millions and for what?

      You think it’s a hot button with me? Dude, you are doing Russia’s work for them IN THE COMMENTS AT EMPTYWHEEL. No. Just no. I’m not putting up with it. There is nothing more to discuss.

  12. cat herder says:

    Accusing anyone who didn’t show sufficient enthusiasm for HRC and/or her 2016 campaign of being a sucker who fell for the propaganda hook line and sinker isn’t helping, either. If the goal of the operation was to have us attack and mistrust each other over anything and everything, it looks like it is still working spectacularly.

    (This is mostly referring to another thread from a while back that turned so nasty and so disturbed me I wasn’t able to post anything there at the time – self-censorship on my part out of fear of being attacked too.)

    • Rayne says:

      I had my own reservations about HRC. I can point to specific actions for which she was responsible, though, not some vague feeling of not trusting her or some nebulous lack of enthusiasm. And I voted for her because Jesus Christ, TRUMP was the alternative. BUT…I’m done with Poor-Bernie-DNC-screwed-him crap. I don’t care if you think that’s a personal attack because that line of disinfo was developed specifically after the primary to drive voters away from the polls.

      People who want better Democratic candidates and better party operations need to show up at their local office and get engaged. The people you don’t like in the party are leaders by default because not enough people are willing to put in the effort required to keep this republic. I did party activism dragging two kids around with me all over my state (you can ask Marcy about that) so I know what I’m talking about and excuses fail with me.

      • Bob Conyers says:

        I think it’s important to add to your point that Obama faced the same challenges in 2008 that Sanders faced in 2016. He won because he combined his message with a really strong grassroots organization that outmaneuvered the oldline support that Clinton deployed, while Sanders tried to bank on his message alone.

        The Sanders insurgency in 2016 was a really clunky, shallow effort compared to Obama in 2008; unfortunately Obama neglected the source of his strength after he won. The Democrats have struggled to understand the methods and value of grassroots party building over the past decade, although there are signs the new generation is learning from the failures of the old school.

    • orionATL says:

      cat herder cries:

      “… Accusing anyone who didn’t show sufficient enthusiasm for HRC and/or her 2016 campaign of being a sucker who fell for the propaganda hook line and sinker isn’t helping, either. If the goal of the operation was to have us attack and mistrust each other over anything and everything, it looks like it is still working spectacularly… ”

      i suspect i was part of that other post and comments that distressed you so deeply, at least i hope so. what happened there is that you and your righteous fellows met one of the few stalwart criticisms you had ever met, and quickly crumpled.

      get something straight, pointing out another’s folly is not an act of “attacking and distrusting”. it is an attack challenging the other’s foolish reasoning and political folly. how else would you respond to one of your children’s foolish assertions?

      in fact, many who disliked clinton were precisely victims of propaganda. some of that propaganda was republican propaganda (cf the endless benghazi hearings, the sham concern about classified email). some propaganda was russian propaganda (endless moral delinquency comments, endless amplify bearnie comments). some proganda was righteous progressive propaganda (the dnc schemed against dear bearnie, clinton met with (horror) bankers, she solicited money from fatcats, she said a politician should have public and private viewpoints).

      which proganda did you fall for, catherder?

      but the big question you must answer for the rest of your life, cat herder is:

      how responsible were you – with your righteous conceits and your obliviousness to realworld politics – for the presidency of the unfit-to-be-president donald trump?

      • DMM says:

        Not at all responsible. How long are people like yourself going to continue the failed strategy of nominating centrist neoliberals? Because it’s been a wipeout over the last 25 years.

        So maybe you get it straight: you’re the one to blame for these losses, not the voters. If the people you keep nominating keep losing, breaking from the party that dominated Congress and the states for nearly 60 solid years, that’s on you. Yet instead of taking responsibility, you continue to blame voters for no longer believing that your candidates will do anything for them except continue the path of expanding inequality (economic and social).

        Take some responsibility.

        • orionATL says:

          dmm –

          yours is the sour, conventional argument one hears all the time from bernie losers.

          “…September 21, 2018 at 8:19 am

          Not at all responsible. How long are people like yourself going to continue the failed strategy of nominating centrist neoliberals? Because it’s been a wipeout over the last 25 years…”

          oh, yes. you are responsible all right, dmm. very responsible. not least because of your dismissive attitude toward millions of fellow democrats and your political puritan attitudes.

          look at the language you use, like some brain-washed prisoner: “centrist” and “neoliberal”. those terms have no serious descriptive meaning. they are just political pejoratives, cuss words you toss at people who support someone you don’t like. then you toss in that old propaganda chestnut “failed strategy”. the fact is, dmm, you’ve lost your own personal political voice, if you ever had one, and are speaking like a negative political advertising zombie.

          hillary clinton got just under 17 million votes in the primaries; sanders got just over 13 million. in terms of percentage clinton won by a crushing amount, 55% to 43%. (and that doesn’t properly count the millions of votes lost in the washington state caucus follies).

          you’d have to be a moron to consider the 17 million who voted for clinton as personally “centrists” out of a pool that proved to number ~130million in the presidential election. the odds are high that they varied from liberal to very liberal. further, while loyalty to clinton was the key factor, there may also have been doubt that the red-faced old windmill with his obsession with income disparity would be a good candidate in the general election.

          in the general election clinton got 66 million to trump’s 63 mill. there is no reason to think that that large number of clinton’s supports were not mostly liberal to very liberal, leaving some more room though for conservative dems.

          “its been a wipeout over the last 25 years.”

          what a silly statement. it marks you as one of those too-dumb-to-breath bernie bros.

          that time period includes 8 years of a clinton presidency and 8 years of an obama presidency. with 8 years of a disastrous bush admin sandwiched in between. the last two years of the 25 have featured the super-disastrous presidency of the incompetent donald trump which your political conceit and folly in the form of personal disdain for a very competent female leader helped to usher in.

          if what you seem to believe were true, then this year should be a good one for sanders’ message, right? but that has proven not to be the case. sanders’support seems to mean very little in primary battles in 2018.

          congratulations on your astute political judgement. keep sucking your thumb and talking to yourself about “centrists” and “neoliberals” and “failed strategy” and see if things get better.

          in the mean time, folks who are democrats who rarely if ever think in the terms of your dismissive vocanbulary are registering voters, and raising money locally for candidates with no state party support, and holding meet and greets, and doing door to door canvassing. this is dem politics where the rubber meets the road.

        • Rayne says:

          … How long are people like yourself going to continue the failed strategy of nominating centrist neoliberals? …

          You have ZERO understanding how this democracy works. You have not gone to your local Democratic Party office and worked on candidate recruitment, fundraising, canvassing, campaigning. You blame others but you clearly refuse to do any work yourself to change the system; it’s easier to blame others and absolve yourself.

          Well you’re not absolved. When you actually figure out how candidates are recruited and elected to Congress, come back and have a go at blame casting. Better yet, try running for office yourself. Go to your local Democratic Party office and tell them you’re interested and ask them what you have to do to make a credible run for office. Don’t be surprised if the first thing they tell you is that you need to raise $100,000 dollars to finance a bare bones start. Maybe that’ll shatter your naiveté.

          I’m being generous calling it naiveté.

  13. Jan says:

    Not what we have come to consider a “computer virus”, and in the end, it’s not. It’s just an old fashioned virus – carried by humans. How clever is that?

  14. Thomas says:

    I will own up.

    I was fooled by the “metadata argument” with regard to the stolen DNC emails. I was never convinced by the Seth Rich conspiracy theory, but I did think it was possible that someone gained access to the DNC server and stole the emails with a flash drive.

    I thought a sort of “Watergate break-in” might have occurred.

    Of course, Mueller’s masterful indictment of the 12 Russian military officers blew that out of the water and proved that the Russians not only hacked the DNC server but also faked the metadata specifically to throw investigators off their trail.

    Which leads me to believe that the Russians  might have also killed Seth Rich so that they could plant a disinformation story that pointed away from them and at a dead guy.

    Seth Rich’s murder remains unsolved, but Roger Stone, Sean Hannity, Ed Butowski and Jack Burkman kept pushing the “Clinton political murder” theory right up to days before the Mueller indictment. Then, they ALL quit talking about it.

    Russian bots have NOT stopped pushing it, even this week!

    That particular story may have been the story that kept Trump denying the DNC hack right through his summit with Putin.

    Burkman held a press conference claiming a witness would give evidence of the Clinton political murder just days before the Mueller indictment.

    Not one word from Burkman, Butowski, Corsi, Stone or Hannity since then about the Seth Rich story.

  15. Thomas says:

    Sanders/Clinton controversy.
    The delegate count, if I remember correctly, could have given Sanders the nomination if he had the same kind of superdelegate support that Hillary Clinton had.
    But he didn’t.
    Clinton had the kind of institutional support necessary to be an effective president, and Sanders didn’t.
    I voted for Sanders because I thought his ideas and policy proposals were the ideas and policy proposals that I would like to see the Democratic Party adopt and fight for.
    I was able to accept that Clinton would be more effective as a president because of her institutional support, and because I believed that Sanders agenda would get more than lip service from the Democratic Party even if Clinton became president.
    I didn’t feel cheated or disenfranchised. I do think Clinton could have done more to put Sanders ideas and policies forward during the general election.
    However, Sanders campaigned for Clinton in the general election.
    I don’t know how anyone could switch to Trump after voting for Bernie. Such people were never really in Bernie’s corner. They just wanted to vote against Hillary every chance they got.

    • TheraP says:

      Those voters who switched from Bernie to Trump or whomever – I think the propaganda got them so riled up they voted out of spite. A very bad reason, to be sure, to vote against Clinton. But that’s the type of revanchist animus designed to grab some, otherwise idealistic, people. A herd instinct, like lemmings, seems to have done the trick. They lost the overriding objective because they “lost” the means (Bernie) they’d chosen to achieve it. And thus the confusion of means/ends may be one of the propaganda tactics utilized?

      • Thomas says:


        The whole exploitation of the DNC emails was an effort to sow division by parties adversarial to the Democratic Party and specifically to Clinton.

        There was no public interest served at all.

        Thanks for a thoughtful reply!

  16. Thomas says:

    The specifics of the Russian propaganda campaign needs to be more widely distributed.

    They didn’t just circulate memes. They also organized competing issue advocacy rallies and seeded them with provocateurs to incite conflict, which they then videotaped for further propaganda circulation.

    They organized white nationalist rallies and then organized counter-demonstrations.

    They organized anti-Muslim rallies and also counter demonstrations.

    They hired Nigerian actors to pose as “militant blacktivists” and circulated videos of these guys threatening to kill the police. They did that to smear Black Lives Matter, and then used that smear to smear Clinton.
    They flooded social media with 288 million lies. It is estimated that every single voter was exposed to some of their lying propaganda.
    Trump, and the Republican Party, and Fox News, and online “conservative websites” and gullible fools echoed and reinforced the fake stories, defamatory lies and misleading narratives of the Russian trolls.
    Trump supporters are still repeating these stories as if they are facts and they dismiss any factual debunking as fake.
    Trump must be removed from office. I would also argue that there must be some way to make liars pay a price for participating in the above shenanigans. I’m open to suggestions.

  17. Eureka says:

    That title alone is a huge cliffhanger…

    I’m interested in learning more about the left-trolling operations, too.  I keep seeing it in action, but don’t get the breadth of origins/ goals, beyond the party division/misogynist angles.  Though they do endure.

    Does anyone else remember that ? ’80s/’90s thing going around about how ~ In Russia, more women are doctors (than are men/than in the US), i.e. look how great it is for women in Russia?  I cannot recall if it was late USSR or early perestroiyka (sp.).  Nor can I recall the source.  It was just out there, repeated.  Maybe from NY media?  That’s how things got around back then.

    I recalled this after reading the post and comments, making me think of the depth of crowbarring into women’s issues.  I didn’t recognize it as cultural ingratiation then, but I do now.

    I’m a new reader since early July, and like many others have said, I feel thankfulness and relief to have found you.  For the quality journalism, writing, discourse community…and trash talk, too!  So thank you, Marcy, and Rayne, bmaz, and Ed.  And commenters!

  18. tatere says:

    What difference do you think it makes, if any, to have campaign events created and funded by insincere Russians vs insincere Americans? I mean, if Defendants and their coconspirators were employees of Sheldon Adelson, would it matter?

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