In 2017, I was attacked by the far right as well as Russian actors after speaking publicly as President Obama’s deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia; today, the campaign against me appears to be domestic, albeit aided by Russian trolls. The political stakes are higher for all Americans this year, not just me. The tactics behind these attacks reveal a frightening development for American democracy.
In President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, disinformation and intimidation tactics are commonly used to silence domestic opposition. (So is murder.) False allegations, followed by contradictory, also false, narratives are the norm in Russian media and political discourse. Misinformation is so prevalent that many Russians are largely indifferent to what is actually true. In Trump’s America, similar tactics are taking hold. What began as a disconcerting nexus between Russia and the reactionary right in this and other countries has become part of the American right-wing repertoire.
Trump surrogates, including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News hosts such as Tucker Carlson have essentially accused me of treason for being one of the “fraudulent originators” of the “Russia hoax.” These attacks are part of Trump’s larger “Obamagate” allegations, a narrative that distracts attention from his administration’s disastrous pandemic response and attempts to deflect blame for Russian interference onto the Obama administration. This disinformation campaign seeks to color as illegal the Obama administration’s efforts to prevent and investigate Russia’s actions.
These high-profile accusations have been accompanied by a tsunami of online troll attacks targeting my congressional campaign. Our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, email, and phone lines have been overwhelmed with a stream of vile, vulgar and sometimes violent messages, emotionally exhausting staff and volunteers. As our team interacts with supporters online, the attacks spread to them. These intimidation efforts have compromised our work..
There is evidence that Russian actors are contributing to these attacks. The same day that right-wing pundits began pumping accusations, newly created Russian Twitter accounts picked them up. Within a day, Russian “disinformation clearinghouses” posted versions of the story. Many of the Twitter accounts boosting attacks have posted in unison, a sign of inauthentic social media behavior.
Our country must be able to conduct safe and fair elections, free from foreign interference and domestic intimidation. Americans must demand an end to the rampant dissemination of fake news through social media. Now, more than ever, we must fight for truth and for those speaking truth to power."
You don't save something by destroying it...