How Fascist Leaders are Using “Irregular Warfare” Against America

by | Jun 4, 2024 | Politics, Corruption & Criminality

Image by Roberto Lee Cortes from Pixabay

How Fascist Leaders are Using “Irregular Warfare” Against America

by | Jun 4, 2024 | Politics, Corruption & Criminality

Image by Roberto Lee Cortes from Pixabay

The techniques of irregular warfare are part of what helped the US and western Europe bring down the Soviet Union. Now fascists like Putin and others are applying them back against the United States.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Trump lies that the guilty verdict against him—by a jury of his peers that his own attorneys picked—is an illegitimate, politically motivated show trial.

Trying to help Trump destroy Americans’ faith in our democracy and its justice system, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman today said of Trump’s trial:

“If we speak about Trump, the fact that there is simply the elimination, in effect, of political rivals by all possible means, legal and illegal, is obvious.”

Hungary’s dictator Viktor Orbàn and Italy’s neofascist Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, both also argued that Trump is the victim of political persecution.

Right wing media commentators and Republicans in Congress have leaped at the opportunity to echo Putin and Orbàn.

This sort of propaganda is called “irregular warfare” (IW)—warfare by means outside of troops, bombs, navies, etc.—and the US used to be an expert at it. Typically, irregular warfare involves the use of propaganda, proxies, or people willing to betray their own country.

Irregular warfare is part of how the US and western Europe brought down the Soviet Union (although that system also disintegrated from within under the weight of its own corruption and rot), with propaganda systems like the Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Europe.

A keen observer of this process was an irregular warfare leader based in East Germany at the time. Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin supervised spying and propaganda operations within East Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall, when he moved to Moscow where, in 1999, he became the head of the Russian government and is now the longest-serving Russian leader since Stalin.

Having been on the receiving end of US and western European propaganda efforts, Putin dedicated himself to turning the tables on us, since the democratic example of America (and other western nations) is a thorn in his autocratic side. And he’s had considerable success, including helping get his man Trump into the White House where Donald then handed a western spy over to Putin’s Foreign Minister Lavrov in a secret Oval Office meeting during his first month in office.

Two months later, US intelligence had to pull another spy out of Russia because they had evidence Trump had given his name to Putin as well. Trump may well represent the single most successful irregular warfare program Putin has ever run against America.

On July 31, 2019, as Trump was ramping up his 2020 campaign, he had another of what by that time were more than 16 private, unrecorded conversations with Putin. The White House told Congress and the press that they discussed “wildfires” and “trade between the nations.” No droids in this car.

The following week, on August 2nd, The Daily Beast’s Betsy Swan reported that Trump had just asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for a list of all its employees (including all our “spies” across the world) who had worked there more than 90 days, and the request had intelligence officials experiencing “disquiet.”

Fourteen months later, The New York Times ran a story with the headline: “Captured, Killed or Compromised: C.I.A. Admits to Losing Dozens of Informants.” The CIA then alerted American spies around the world that their identities had probably been compromised, apparently by President Donald Trump himself.

Also in 2019, when the international press verified that Putin was paying the Taliban bounties to kill American service members in Afghanistan (and 4 had already died as a result), Trump refused to demand the practice stop, another possible sign that Putin ran him, not the other way around.

As The New York Times noted at the time:

“Mr. Trump defended himself by denying the Times report that he had been briefed on the intelligence… But leading congressional Democrats and some Republicans demanded a response to Russia that, according to officials, the administration has yet to authorize.”

Instead of stopping Putin from offering the bounties, Trump shut down every US airbase in Afghanistan except one (there were about a dozen), intentionally crippling incoming President Biden’s ability to extract US assets from that country in an orderly fashion.

Today, Republicans—particularly House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and committee members Cory Mills (R-FL) and Michael Lawler (R-NY)—have used the resulting chaos and associated American and Afghan deaths as a political club to beat up President Biden.

Trump also took an axe to the Voice of America—an institution viscerally hated by Putin for half a century—appointing [Michael Pack], a rightwing hack and friend of Steve Bannon’s to run the organization, who promptly fired the heads of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia and shifted their coverage away from defense of democracies. According to The Washington Post:

“He ousted the diplomats and media professionals on oversight boards and replaced them with low-level Trumpists from other government agencies. …

“Having driven off the American media professionals at VOA, Pack went after the more than 70 foreign journalists who work for the organization, refusing to support the renewal of their U.S. visas as they came up. He claimed to be acting for security reasons and insinuated, on no evidence, that some of the staff were spies. … Now, they are being forced to repatriate, in some cases at personal risk. A VOA report in late August said 15 were returning home and another 20 had visas that will expire by the end of the year.

“They weren’t Pack’s only targets. He attempted to fire the board and cut off the funding of the Open Technology Fund, an organization that supports Internet freedom initiatives, such as tools to circumvent firewalls. A court blocked the firings, but the fund was forced to suspend 49 of its 60 projects. Among those affected were journalists and activists resisting government crackdowns in Hong Kong and in Belarus.”

The damage to the Voice of America continues to this day as most of Trump’s people are still there; just three months ago, The Hill ran an article titled “Putin’s influencers? Why is taxpayer-funded VOA spreading his propaganda?”

But Putin’s efforts at irregular warfare against the United States have extended far beyond his apparent manipulation of Donald Trump to betray spies and kneecap American anti-fascist propaganda programs.

The Irregular Warfare Center was created within the US Department of Defense in 2021 by Congress; in their January 23, 2024 report “Russian Information Warfare Strategy: New IWC Translation Gives Insights into Vulnerabilitiesthey show how Putin’s efforts have had considerable success recruiting average Americans within the US. For example, as one of hundreds of Putin’s early efforts to help Donald Trump become president, they note that the year of Trump’s election:

“On 21 May 2016, two protest groups faced off in Houston near an Islamic cultural center to demonstrate competing opinions on Texas’ future. Both groups, one which was protesting the perceived Islamization of Texas, and the other in support of the Islamic community, had been organized on Facebook pages. At first glance, this seemed like a normal and innocuous part of the U.S. political process.

“Unbeknownst to most participants, however, both Facebook pages had been created by Russian actors seeking to exacerbate political discord in the United States. This event was not an isolated case; it was a part of a coordinated effort by Russia to meddle in the U.S. elections, both in the social media space and in the physical domain.”

Another example was the promotion of Putin’s assertion the month before he invaded Ukraine in February, 2022 that the US and Ukraine were running bioweapon labs in that besieged nation. As NBC News reported in March, 2022 as the invasion was moving ahead full steam:

“Boosted by far-right influencers on the day of the invasion, an anonymous QAnon Twitter account titled @WarClandestine pushed the “biolabs” theory to new heights…

“Much of the false information [about the alleged biolabs] is flourishing in Russian social media, far-right online spaces and U.S. conservative media, including Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News.”

When viewed in context, Putin’s successes at irregular warfare against the United States, designed to tear our society apart, have been quite breathtaking.

During the summer of 2020, as Trump and Biden were squaring off for the election that year, in the small Oregon town of Klamath Falls about 200 locals showed up downtown with guns, baseball bats, and whatever other weapons they could find around the house. They were in the streets to fight off the busloads of Black Antifa marauders they believed Jewish billionaire George Soros had paid to put on a bus in Portland and was sending their way.

Of course, George Soros had done no such thing and there were no busloads of Black people. But the warnings were all over the Klamath Falls Facebook group, and, it turns out, similar Facebook groups for small towns all over America, apparently as part of another Russian disinformation effort.

From coast to coast that weekend white residents of small towns showed up in their downtown areas with guns, rifles, hammers, and axes prepared to do battle with busloads of Black people being sent into their small white towns by George Soros.

In the tiny town of Forks, Washington, frightened white people brought out chainsaws and cut down trees to block the road leading to their town. In South Bend, Indiana police were overwhelmed by 911 calls from frightened white people wanting to know when the “Antifa buses” were arriving. And in rural Luzern County, Pennsylvania, the local neighborhood social media group warned people that busloads of Black people were “organizing to riot and loot.”

Similar stories played out that weekend from Danville, California to Jacksonville, Florida, as documented by NBC News. It was both a successful test of using social media to create mass panic among credulous Trump followers and, perhaps, a planning session for the violence ABC News documents Trump is trying to gin up if he loses this fall.

One of Putin’s greatest recent IW successes came last July when Federal District Judge Terry Doughty, a hard-right Trump appointee, blocked federal agencies from informing social media companies about Russian and other efforts to spread disinformation on their platforms. In March of this year four Republicans on the Supreme Court granted cert and the case was heard; we’re awaiting the ruling which could come any day.

The issue may be moot: Russia is now moving their efforts to promote Trump and encourage civil strife in the US away from their own trolls posing as Americans, now using instead Trump-aligned US-citizens and congressional Republican influencers.

These include using rightwing media commentators, average citizens active on social media, and even members of Congress who’ve bought into Russian propaganda from issues around Ukraine to vaccines to the alleged theft of the 2020 election (and “planned theft” of 2024). As the Irregular Warfare Center notes:

“[F]uture Russian foreign-targeted OIEs [Operations in the Information Environment] appear to be shifting toward proxy operations, including semi-independent and strategically-chosen influencers on social media, rather than using a directly-controlled team of professionals, as was the case in 2016 with Yevgeny Prigozhin’s “troll factory” that worked to interfere in the U.S. elections.”

This possibility of Trump (and thus Putin) seizing control of US intelligence agencies should he be elected is freaking out former senior US intelligence officials. The headline at Raw Story says it all: “Intel officials ‘very concerned’ about Trump’s intentions for spy agencies.”

The simple reality is that Russia has been using IW techniques in Putin’s war against America—particularly in his efforts to reinstall Trump in the White House—for over a decade and those efforts are now being amplified on a daily basis by Republicans in Congress, rightwing media outlets, and some of our largest social media companies.

With the ability of our government to work with social media and news outlets to combat Putin’s irregular warfare handicapped, and the possibility that Republicans in Congress and on the Supreme Court will further handcuff the Biden Administration’s efforts, the possibility increases that Russia’s useful idiots could succeed in helping Trump prevail this November.

And the election season is now just beginning. Buckle up: to paraphrase Trump’s invitation to January 6th, this is going to get wild.

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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