How Democrats’ Rage-Tweeting Will Help Russia Weaponize the Election — Again
The intraparty social media spats of today will inspire Putin and Co.’s memes of tomorrow

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 29 January 2020

TO: His Excellency Vladimir V. Putin

President of the Russian Federation 4 Staraya Square Moscow 103132, Russia

DATE: 29.01.20

RE: Operation Infektion, 2020

Dear President Putin,

Per your request, here is a preview of our weaponized memes for the 2020 campaign. As was the case in 2016, Twitter activity in the 2020 primary season is once again providing us with troves of intelligence on which wedge issues to leverage against Americans in the general campaign and beyond. It’s as if this platform is doing our work for us!

To date, Bernie Sanders has emerged as the clear leader in the ability to stimulate potentially toxic responses. As in 2016, we base our enthusiasm for his candidacy — much as we did for Trump’s — not on a particular policy position but purely on the intensity and endurance of the hostilities he catalyzes. After monitoring the most popular and virulent Twitter threads in this election cycle, we’ve identified several trending topics as fertile ground for future exploitation:

Bernie’s bros Sanders’ endorsement by Joe Rogan — a progressive, pot-smoking podcaster, comedian, reality star, and mixed martial arts celebrity — elicited immediate fear and outrage from the woke corners of the political left. Among his most controversial stances, Rogan believes that trans women should not be permitted to compete against cis women in mixed martial arts. He also once made a joke comparing a black neighborhood to the movie Planet of the Apes. By happily acknowledging Rogan’s support, Sanders has dangerously aligned his campaign with the “incel” and “bro” communities.

The Rogan endorsement appears to be what Americans might call “a gift that keeps on giving.” New permutations emerge by the minute. The Sanders campaign celebrated the endorsement, leading to widespread accusations from neoliberal PACs that he was deaf to straight white male privilege. This, in turn, provoked the radical left to accuse mainstream Democrats of hypocrisy. In another echo of the Trump phenomenon, the more Sanders is attacked, the more alienated young men rush to defend him on social media.

We will stoke and amplify both sides of the resulting debate on whether appealing to young white men is anathema to the progressive values the left espouses. Already, Bernie is being accused of pandering to Nazis! Most actionably, the controversy reveals exploitable divides within the American left. Bernie’s supporters argue that transphobic and misogynist young men should be welcomed as comrades in the universal war against capitalism. Those focused on cultural identity believe such voters would corrupt the moral integrity of the party. We are already quite experienced at pitting class activists against race activists, a Soviet strategy dating back to the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Amazingly, these two groups of activists still do not realize they are the same people!

Neoliberals vs. Bernie Again, we win on both sides here as we can inflame both wealthy moderates, who fear a Sanders presidency, as well as Bernie supporters, who fear the neoliberal deep state conspiracy against him. Sensing his antipathy toward global imperialism and banking interests, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have already begun a preemptive campaign against Sanders. We can simply reap the harvest of their opposition research. Our memetic campaigns will focus mostly on spreading Hillary’s anti-Sanders messaging since Obama still fails to elicit strong revulsion from most progressives (in spite of his banking industry bailout). Clinton has already employed schoolyard language — “nobody likes him,” she said just this month — suitable for retweets and has invoked classic and resonant identity politics tropes in order to call out his hatred of female politicians. We will apply equal effort toward the distribution of messaging from the incels and others who are most triggered by Clinton’s persona and associations.

Burisma Biden Our earlier work with Rudy’s team, though costly, is finally paying off. Democrats have at last fallen into the impeachment trap we set for them. For Trump supporters, Joe Biden is now synonymous with the effort to undermine their duly elected leader. To the right, the Biden family name represents decades of entrenched cronyism and corruption.

Democrats, meanwhile, equate Biden with their own fatigue. They are tired of justifying the Bidens’ history and tired of attacking Trump for exposing it. These dynamics alone should provide enough fodder to exacerbate existing rifts.

Our problem with Biden is that, like the candidate himself, his memetic profile lacks virulence and virility. On his own, he fails to elicit the sorts of amygdala response patterns required for ideological weaponization. It’s as if nobody really cares—not even him. Still, his place in the impeachment origin story, his association with Obama, and his support from Hillary as well as his commitment to “moderation” in a radicalized landscape are all worthy content for future testing.

Warren the snake We like the snake emojis she’s receiving from those who believe she accused Sanders of chauvinism. They are the new emoji equivalent of last cycle’s “nasty woman” and should help normalize misogynist attacks against any females we need to neutralize in the future.

Meanwhile, the first tweets following her coveted endorsement by Iowa’s Des Moines Register once again stirred up anger over her false claims of Native American heritage. This meme is old but evergreen. It appeals to Trump supporters because it identifies Warren with an oppressed minority while simultaneously pointing to an act of egregious and fraudulent misrepresentation. It also inflames minorities, who see a white elitist benefiting from appropriated minority status. It may be useful to us beyond the Warren candidacy for the way it initiates a heated debate about who is authentically, originally American — and who is usurping whose culture. But the meme’s appeal to both MAGA and woke social warriors makes it dangerous. Although such messaging is detrimental to candidate Warren, we do not recommend amplifying any memes that threaten to unite extremists from opposite sides of the spectrum. With your approval, we will tell Yuri to alert our operatives within the Trump campaign as well.

Buttigieg: The CIA candidate Barring deep state interference with vote counts, the gay mayor is at best a vice-presidential contender. But the particular suspicions he raises offer us a window into America’s complex relationship with its security apparatus. Widespread accusations that he is an operative of the CIA color the rest of his professional experience, including his service as a consultant for McKinsey — the same firm already penetrated and defamed by our own Mr. Snowden.

Beyond Buttigieg, however, we can play with the “secret CIA operative” meme, using it to incite conspiratorial responses to any plane crash, new disease, or media phenomenon.

Klobuchar: The Kasich effect Despite leading Mayor Pete in many polls, as well as her half-endorsement from the New York Times, Klobuchar appears destined to fail by virtue of her decency. She tests mimetically free of deep state connection yet also well insulated from social justice fanaticism. Indeed, the only controversies she has been able to trigger concern the way her hair vibrates in strong air conditioning.

Yet her inability to earn more deep-seated contempt from any of the social media factions keeps her from gaining traction with any of those who might oppose them. Thus, she seems destined to fall into the wide, empty gaps between the poles that our long-standing efforts at radicalization have generated — much like the way Republican John Kasich floundered in 2016. This, in turn, could alienate the reasonable, decent, and practical voters from any participation at all. As soon as her campaign is halted, we will begin to emphasize “could have,” “should have,” and “would have” in our messaging about her and other missed centrist opportunities to increase cynicism about the democratic process and keep all moderates from the polls.

Being transparent about Russian interference Unlike the 2016 cycle, where we sought to camouflage our election interference and disinformation campaigns, we now believe the “Russian operative” and “useful idiot” memes serve our purposes. Lindsey Graham’s sudden acceptance of Ukraine/DeepState corruption myths has been blamed on his being compromised by Russian intelligence. Each side of every polar axis can easily be led to see its opposition as Russian operatives, from Sean Hannity, Mike Pompeo, Devin Nunes, and Mitch McConnell to Bernie Sanders, Marsha Blackburn, Lindsey Graham, and, of course, Donald Trump himself. (We don’t need to distinguish between those who are actually working with us from those who are not.) In addition, each accusation nicely tees up rebuttals of American deep state disinformation and almost invariably provokes extended flame wars. We see all such activity as a plus for both the way it catalyzes antagonism and reflects positively on the extent of Russian influence. Our single vulnerability is the Americans’ growing awareness of the way social media can be used to undermine their collective coherence and civil discourse. Luckily, however, even if a vast majority of Americans turn away from Twitter and Facebook, their news media are still dependent on these platforms for incendiary memes capable of garnering good ratings. So as long as we can fool CNN’s research interns that these issues are “trending,” even Americans who have sworn off social media will still be exposed to our work through traditional media channels.

As always faithful servants of Mother Russia, Committee Q