The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.
— Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928
For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it. The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now afflicts the production of our news.
— Nick Davies, Flat Earth News, 2008
There is a strange uncanny quality to a number of recent stories. In fact, an uncanny quality to nearly everything recently. And it is a quality that includes paranoia, but also the sense of living within some increasingly malevolent psy-ops experiment. Now everyone runs for cover when this idea of psy-ops is introduced. The conspiracy theorist label is the most feared appellation in contemporary culture. But the truth is that I cannot recall a time when there was so much psychological disquiet running through the populace of North America and Europe. But especially, unsurprisingly, in the U.S. Edward Snowden released information last week that set the CIA black budget at 52 billion (and change) for 2013. Of course, there is some reason to suspect Snowden himself is part of this budget (see how this goes?). One writer noted:
In comparison, the Department of Homeland Security was allocated $55.4 billion in 2013. The black budget comes in at a figure larger than the sums received by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce and NASA this year combined.
A few years ago the late Daniel Inouye wrote:
There exists a shadowy government with its own Air Force, its own Navy, its own fundraising mechanism and the ability to pursue its own ideas of the national interest, free from all checks and balances, and free from the law itself.
Today, it is estimated (!) that there are close to 200 special access secret intelligence programs in the U.S. government. Nobody has any idea how many are employed in these programs or, obviously, what they do. Nor does anyone have any clear idea how much money there is to which they have access. Now the recent Snowden leak prompted a number of online publications, many of them ostensively liberal (Wired, The Verge) to declaim the obvious — that’s a lot of money — near more than most small countries spend on everything in a year. But see, anyone paying any kind of attention knew all this. And when James Clapper notes that much of the secret budget is targeting North Korea, you know that such leaks are part of the psy-ops themselves. For you know Clapper is lying because his mouth is moving. Nobody in the intelligence community really thinks the Pentagon fears North Korea. Lots more discussion makes mention of Pakistan, Hezbollah, and Syria. The usual targets the CIA and Pentagon want America to fear. Not a word about false flag ops or domestic propaganda. Are we to believe the black budget is not spent on propagandizing the U.S. public? Are we to believe the CIA covert program does not engage in false flag operations?
Take this notification about Armageddon that occurred in Hawaii recently. I mean seriously, think about what happened. Bill Van Auken wrote:
The “false alarm” delivered to a population of 1.5 million in the US Pacific island state of Hawaii on Saturday morning has laid bare the clear and present danger of a nuclear war. Cell phones lit up with the text message “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Television and radio broadcasts were interrupted with the chilling announcement that “A missile may impact on sea or land within minutes. This is not a drill.” For 38 minutes, residents of and visitors to Hawaii were confronted face to face with nuclear Armageddon. Parents frantically sought to find and protect their children, families said last goodbyes and people desperately sought largely nonexistent shelter in anticipation of a nuclear blast.
Thirty-eight minutes, huh? Okay. Van Auken adds:
There is no reason that anyone should blindly accept this official story as true. Given the record of the US government in staging provocations and launching wars based upon lies, not only severe skepticism, but outright suspicion is called for.
Of course. The problem, though, runs even deeper than just the idea that somehow this intentional false alarm was meant to frighten the public about Nuclear War. It may be that, too, although while I don’t think the U.S. will attack the DPRK (they are too useful as the regional villain), it’s certainly useful to normalize the very idea of nuclear war. But this false alarm does something else. It is part of the manufacturing of existential terror. And certainly it fits in seamlessly with the spike in internet censorship (see Diane Feinstein and Adam Schiff letter to Mark Zuckerberg…I mean you can’t make this shit up). Or listen to Monika Bikert, the Facebook rep as she talks of the doubling of Facebook personnel devoted to weeding out subversives, or what she called counterspeech (sic). Fear, fear, fear everywhere. Even fear of your neighbours. Most everyone is aware of Google and YouTube and Facebook now deleting voices they don’t like, and effectively disappearing web sites that are anti- capitalist and anti-imperialist. For your own good, of course. Normal.
Or think about the Robert Mueller investigation and the massive propaganda campaign against Russia that has taken place the last year. The entire “Russia-gate” narrative is a fiction. But much of the educated white populace are now literally frothing at the mouth in outrage (for what is often unclear, actually, but Trump inspires a new level of hatred and contempt in many) and falling over themselves to laud praise on Mueller and the FBI. Ponder that a moment or two.
Clint Watts, jar head ex Army, and ex FBI, and now head of some creepy organization that works on censorship (Alliance for Securing Democracy), spoke to a judiciary hearing last year and said:
Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.
This in an article by Andre Damon. So fear words too.
The public faces of repression. A populace now saturated with online psychological manipulation. Now most of us have noticed, for years, really, the Israeli hasbara trolls on social media. They pop up at odd times to attack any critical discourse on Israeli crimes. The U.S. government does much the same thing for a variety of topics. And it should be noted that there is a precipitous spike in antisemitism on the left. Some of it almost just structural in nature, but much of it blatant. But this is the top text, so to speak. It is never that simple. For the deeper psy-op activities are housed directly in the voices of dissent. Others, all those voices that pop up to attack, with faint praise sometimes, socialist countries — Cuba or the DPRK or Venezuela — are achieving something opposite of what they appear to be claiming. There is always this not quite radical criticism of, say, Hillary and Bill Clinton. But if one just asks…just asks, what about that trail of dead bodies going back decades that seem to follow in the wake of Bill and Hill. Ask that and you are slandered. Ask, say, about any left or even liberal journalist…why is this guy saying this stuff. I’ve asked about Chris Hedges’ unwavering attacks on Slobodan Milosevic. I mean Hedges claims he was there. He should know better. Right? But maybe it’s just a blind spot. I find that hard to understand, but maybe. I mean, maybe it’s all in my head, too. Could be. But if one has any illusions about the CIA and media, here is a useful quick primer.
Conspiracy exists. That’s just a fact. COINTELPRO, Iran/Contra, the ‘babies torn from incubators’ meme, or those mythical rape camps in Serbia, or Operation Northwoods, or Operation Gladio for that matter. Yet, there is an enormous resistance to even suggesting any suspicion about certain things. And that is understandable. After all, there are countless crazy conspiracy stuff one can find. And there are certainly tons of people propagating these crazy theories. And it is tiresome. And the complexity of the experience of dealing with crazy theories is often also just enervating and depressing. Lodged within much of it are various layers of antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism.
For the people who embrace the worst and most unrealistic conspiracy theories are also, usually, just not very smart. Uneducated, and their embrace is part of a character structure built on resentment and anger. From the crude Trumpian build-a-wall-to-keep-out-those-foreigners-who-are-taking-your-jobs, to the latest incarnations of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (just the word Rothschild is enough for me to stop reading) the sheer volume of this stuff is mind numbing. But then there is the possibility that the most outlandish stuff, that which attracts the nativist racists or antisemites might itself fall under the umbrella of that black budget. See how this goes? I mean, I often worry everything too outrageous just might be part of some massive psy-ops.
The latest UFO video has garnered a lot of attention. I’d love to believe it, I really would. And it’s compelling, actually. But those drawings of the flying saucers. Why do they resemble Buck Rodgers serials? Why is the alien aesthetic, as it were, so retro? All these retired military guys, isn’t that a red flag? I don’t know. Or the moon landing didn’t happen meme. It was done on a sound stage in London and directed by Stanley Kubrick. I love that one, I admit. Why? Because those photos, the colour ones, DO, in fact, look like something Kubrick would have done. Do I actually believe it? No. But I get the appeal. I get the appeal for all of it. And I get the appeal because the actual world, itself, is so, well, unreal. Edward Said, not long before his death, did a BBC interview in which he was asked the single thing he felt most about the world at that moment. And he said, “the unreality”.
Did private security teams shoot people after Hurricane Katrina? Yes. So did a lot of cops. Did land get stolen from the poor? Of course, it did. The ruling class is highly opportunistic. Disaster capitalism and all that. But nobody manufactured a hurricane in some lab at DARPA.
But this unreality is not a hallucination. And the denial of it increasingly feels like its own neurosis. It also strikes me, the denial of all conspiracy theory, as a masculine affliction. It is the residual Puritanism or Calvinism of the stoic nose to the grindstone American male. Take Michael Hastings or Seth Rich, and ask yourself if one can with any equanimity accept the official story. Once upon a time people laughed at the idea that the U.S. government trained death squads at a place called School of the Americas. Unreal. But, of course, it was factual. Air America or CIA cocaine importation and the Gary Webb story. Unreal? Yeah. Sure it was.
The shocking fact, Cockburn and St Clair assert, is the utterly quotidian nature of CIA operations. This is a healthy bureaucracy in which organizing drug transshipments, reportfiling, business lunches and clocking-out of the office are the workaday routines of well-educated, well-spoken men in suits. In contrast to the glamorous Hollywood depiction of espionage culture, this is the sphere of public servants, who are bid to do the job of achieving American geopolitical aspirations as best they can: “it should again be emphasized,” write Cockburn and St Clair, that the ClA works not as a “‘rogue’ Agency but always as the expression of US government policy” dictated from the Oval Office. All this might be dismissed as conspiracy theory were it not for the impressive research and documentation in Whiteout.
— Brian Musgrove, review of Whiteout
Catch that? Might be dismissed as conspiracy theory. Would have been. Almost was. For many still is. And yet there are decades of evidence that the U.S. does, in fact, engage in routine clandestine operations on foreign soil (and probably, this same evidence suggests, domestically), up to and including murder. There are a million Hollywood movies with this story line. But if one suggests that something not officially recognised might have been a black op — you are just a conspiracy theorist.
Or in another register, look at the remarkable work of the Innocence Project. Look at the number of men acquitted of murder, rape, assault, and kidnapping. These men were set up. Those men were not convicted because of accidents or just bad legal representation (though they often had that, too). No, they were set up by venal dishonorable racists, white supremacists, men in positions to take away your freedom. If you are poor, especially poor and black or brown or Native American, then your life is always going to be precarious.
And yet, much of America still needs convincing that the death penalty is wrong. People laugh about how everyone in jail claims innocence. Yet we know many ARE innocent.
Or Chelsea Manning’s campaign for congress. The former Bradley Manning launched her campaign with an Orwellian video in which she is dressed in black, wearing a designer hoodie and which suggests nothing so much as some V for Vendetta out take, by way of Oswald Mosley. But, but she is running as a Democrat. What does one make of this, exactly? Unreality. Color me suspicious.
But I want to return to the current wave of antisemitism I see in the West. Much of it on the self identified left. For this represents something symptomatic of the dissipation of critical thinking that is helping foster this climate of unreality. An unreality that aligns psychologically with fascism.
The British ruling class, which was rabidly anti-Semitic, had its own reasons for this support. Out of the First World War, Arab nationalism had emerged as a major threat to domination of the Middle East and Britain hoped that Zionists could be a useful force for policing the Arabs. But Winston Churchill gave another reason for supporting Zionism–defeat of the left wing “International Jews.” In an astoundingly anti-Semitic article titled “Zionism versus Bolshevism,” Churchill wrote, ‘First there are the Jews who, dwelling in every country throughout the world, identify themselves with that country, enter into its national life and, while adhering faithfully to their own religion, regard themselves as citizens in the fullest sense of the State which has received them…( )
It becomes, therefore, specially important to foster and develop any strongly-marked Jewish movement which leads directly away from these fatal associations. And it is here that Zionism has such a deep significance for the whole world at the present time.… [S]hould there be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown, which might comprise three or four millions of Jews, an event would have occurred in the history of the world which would, from every point of view, be beneficial, and would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.
— Anne Levin (International Socialist Review, 2002)
As John Rose wrote:
The shadow of anti-semitism as a partner of Zionism rather than its polar opposite, as the Zionists would claim it to be, hung over the Balfour Declaration. Lord Balfour, the British minister in whose name the declaration was signed, had enthusiastically campaigned for the introduction of the British Aliens Act in 1905 – which aimed deliberately at stemming further Jewish immigration into Britain.
The antisemitism of the educated left today, just as much as the rabid Jew hating of the David Duke variety, both serve to absolve the ruling class of its crimes, to absolve the bourgeois plutocrats and even Capitalism, itself. It’s all the fault of the Jews!
The Zionist project has always employed antisemites and Imperialists. The Arab revolt of 1936 was brutally squashed by the British (something at which they were to become very adept) but with massive Zionist assistance in the form of the Haganah paramilitary. Once the Arab populace was soundly defeated and demoralized the Zionists turned on their Imperial guardians.
Anne Levin again:
In 1945, they declared war on the British and drove them out. In 1947, the United Nations imposed its criminal partition of Palestine, which granted the majority of the land to the minority of Jewish settlers. For the Zionists, this was a green light to begin a terrible war of ethnic cleansing. In 1948, through systematic terror and murder, they drove 800,000 Palestinians off their land and founded the state of Israel on the ruins of destroyed Arab Palestine.
The legacy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still palpable. Remember too that Vladimir Jabotinsky, the right wing revisionist of early Zionism, was much enamored by fascism. The Revisionist newspaper of the time even wrote sympathetically of Hitler, who they believed would discard his antisemitism but trusted he would not discard his more important animus toward Marxism and Bolshiviks. The Israeli massacre of the British at Dir Yassin in 1948 marked the final act for the British mandate of Palestine. The point here is that antisemitism is a hugely useful tool for the current Israeli state. Netanyahu beats the drum constantly. Nothing is more pleasing to Israeli officials than to watch the rise of far right parties today in Europe (all of which echo the language of the Protocols).
The destruction of the revolutionary left in Europe by Nazi fascism allowed the Zionist propagandists to manufacture a narrative of Jewish ideological support for Israel. The socialists who fought and died in resistance to fascism have been essentially erased from History…at least Israeli history. The socialist anti Zionism among huge numbers of European Jews has been relegated to Western and Israeli rabbit holes of amnesia. (never mind the Bolshiviks put an end to all racist laws and all anti Jewish legal restrictions in 1917).
The anti-communism of Churchill and the instrumentalization of political Zionism in order to weaken the socialist appeal to Jews were not endeavors free of contradictions. On the Jewish question, Bolshevism at that time had been opposed to Zionism on the ideological front and to anti-Semitism on the political level. British imperialism, in contrast, was promoting Zionism to counter Bolshevism while supporting the elements of the White Guards in the Russian civil war who had a long tradition of anti-Semitism and pogroms. During the civil war, anti-Bolshevik forces killed at least 60,000 Jews.
— Jacques Hersh
Socialist and Marxist opposition to Zionism has existed ever since the modern political movement was launched by Theodor Herzl in 1897. Before World War I, Jewish nationalism was, if anything, more vigorously criticized by Jews than by non-Jews, at least outside Palestine. Jewish adversaries of Zionism at that time included much of the liberal communal establishment in Western countries, “assimilationist” Jews, religious reformers, and most of the preeminent “Orthodox” and ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Russia and Eastern Europe. On the secular Left, the Bund (the leading Jewish workers’ organization in Tsarist Russia), and later the Communists, vehemently opposed Zionism as a utopian, reactionary, “petty-bourgeois” movement.
— Robert Wistrich
Wistrich, himself a defender of the Israeli state, was also a perceptive analyst of contemporary antisemitism. And he recognized the dynamics of prejudice:
On the far Left as well as the far Right, anti-Zionism uses a type of discourse and stereotypes concerning the “Jewish/Zionist lobby,” Israeli/Jewish “criminality,” and Sharonist “warmongering” that is fundamentally manipulative and anti-Semitic. This has penetrated the mainstream debate to the point where 60 percent of all Europeans regard tiny Israel as the greatest threat to world peace; where over a third of those surveyed in Europe and America regularly attribute to Jews excessive power and influence; where Jews are suspected of dual loyalties by ever greater numbers of non-Jews; and where “anti-Zionist” attacks on Jewish institutions and targets show that we are talking about a distinction without a difference. Anti-Zionism is not only the historic heir of earlier forms of anti-Semitism. Today, it is also the lowest common denominator and the bridge between the Left, the Right…
And this is all exactly true. The problem for Wistrich and those critics like him is that Israel IS a criminal state and one that is engaged in something exterminationist regarding Palestinian Arabs. On social media of late I find a nearly never ending discourse on Jewish power, the New Jew World Order, and evil Jewish bankers. And most recently the Jews were behind 9-11.
So, to return to my sense of unreality and psy-ops. One does wonder exactly why this striking revanchist antisemitism? The current sort of stealth fascism of much trendy or branded left discourse fits into this, too. One sees it in the romanticizing of the Kurds (the YPG) and some vague nostalgic and sentimental image of Kurdish nationalism. The Kurds who fight alongside the Imperialist U.S. in Syria, and are armed and trained by the U.S. and UK (long friendly with the Tories). But liberals seem to only care about the perception of Kurdish victimhood. One sees it in the closeted Islamaphobia in much of the left, too. One that often cross-pollinates with western bourgeois feminism. Discussions of head scarves or veils often feel like delivery systems for latent xenophobia.
Holocaust survivor Jacques Hersh wrote at Monthly Review:
This notwithstanding, some survivors found it difficult to comprehend why, after the industrialized and scientific massacre of millions of Jews, as well as that of other ethnic groups and nationalities, together with the persistent anti-Semitism in both postwar Europe and America, the big powers were now willing to accede to the project of a Jewish homeland. Was this change of heart purely a function of guilt over the treatment of European Jews or was there some “intelligent design” involving the mapping of a future international political architecture which the new state formation would help bring about?
Anti-Semitism, the German socialist leader Bebel therefore felt, was ‘the socialism of idiots.’ Yet what strikes us about the rise of political anti-Semitism at the end of the century is not so much the equation ‘Jew ≈ capitalist,’ which was not implausible in large parts of east/central Europe, but its association with right-wing nationalism.
— Eric Hobsbawm
Gianfranco Fini of the Italian National Alliance and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, have also professed their admiration of Zionism and the ‘white’ ethnocracy of the state of Israel, while on other occasions making their anti-Semitic views plain. Three things that draw these anti-Semites towards Israel are, first, the state’s ethnocratic character; second, an Islamophobia they assume Israel shares with them; and, third, Israel’s unapologetically harsh policies towards black migrants from Africa…
— Neve Gordon
Kim Domenico (at Counterpunch) had a perceptive piece on the Me Too movement. And it touches on this increasing friendliness toward the fascist sensibility in liberals as well as the far right.
But reading story after story in the news, hearing the salacious details discussed at parties, one can begin to feel the taking down of successful men of business and the arts as being tinged with that McCarthyist kind of sadism, of puritanical vindictiveness. Like all stories coming from Identitiarianism, it blots out the Much Bigger problems of free market capitalism and imperialist wars, of rule by oligarchy and plutocracy, of which dirty “old satyrs” are but one symptom and not the worst, while forefronting victimhood.
And in another piece she writes:
Eyes are off the fascism discernible in this mood of furious vengeance that casts the offender as a special category of monster, tosses aside due process, innocence until proven guilty, and ruins the alleged offender’s reputation for life.
The crimes of the ruling class are absolved. Institutional violence against women is mystified.
I have read, a number of times, in fact, Aziz Ansari described as a pig. Sometimes by people I know and like. The Ansari narrative, driven by an online tabloid site that solicited such gossip for months, is a sterling example of unreality (I have noted, however, a certain backlash to that particular story…however small). The United States is, today, a crumbling empire where the white bourgeoisie clings ever more deliriously and desperately to their privilege…even if sometimes only illusory. A privilege that includes the right to be victims. A nation of bruised feelings. Victim’s rights is partly an outgrowth of a new sub phylum of narcissism.
The prison system is cutting out visits by family and friends. Only a pay for Skype call is allowed. Prison libraries are being shut down, too. This is gratuitous sadism. Or, maybe a sort of surplus sadism. For the society is one run on resentment and disappointment. The average American is consumed by both. No prison visits. Unreality.
The current under the radar rise of fascist thinking in the liberal West is both disturbing, for obvious reasons, but also haunting. It feels unreal. I see or hear people I know saying things that I find shocking. Racist and xenophobic and mostly just vindictive and vengeful even. The tolerance for American wars speaks to this, I think. Yemen is being reduced to rubble but America simply doesn’t care. The erosion of public education and its effects are partly masked by the addiction to technology. Smart phones, I suppose, in particular. But I say that sincerely. The weird masturbatory text compulsion eats up hours of everyone’s day. People no longer even look at each other. Where Walter Benjamin once marked the shock of late 19th century urban life with the rapid passing of faces in a crowd, today the shock is of the passing faces not seen. Life takes place on screens. A life increasingly unreal.
And yet, one will be called a conspiracy theorist for just asking questions. Just that. And right now it seems to me EVERYTHING should be questioned. There are literally a dozen books now, by serious journalists, outlining the media manipulation and covert activities of the intelligence services here and in the UK. The CIA has manufactured fake news stories since Allen Dulles. And they even admit to manipulating polls, creating or destroying website popularity (and page view counts), and hiring trolls or shills to highjack social media discussions. But it is hard to imagine the intelligence community does not engage in far more concrete activities. Of course, the flip side is that such speculation (a side bar benefit) encourages paranoia. It is natural to feel this way given that nothing can be trusted. Nobody and no institution.
German journalist Udo Ulfkotte recently said (reported by Eric Zuesse):
Most of the journalists you see in foreign countries … European or American journalists …, like me in the past, are so-called non-official cover. … Non-official cover means what? You do work for an intelligence agency…
And Hollywood is, again, a means to normalizing such activities. It offers mild rebuke, but mostly it just valorizes the duplicity of the government. Of all western governments. And the consequences for such normalization, and the discouragement of skepticism, is the growing expression of this latent xenophobia, racism and antisemitism. The ruling class and its stenographers, the ownership class and its affluent flatterers, have colonized the western imagination. And it is leading to this sense of pervasive unreality. And this unreality seems designed to promote a new fascism. One that makes use of all the old tropes and symbolism, only retrofitted to appear new. And it is growing.