Periods of generalized fear and mass hysteria are not new to the United States. In the aftermath of both World Wars, a virulent Red Scare spread near and far. Thousands were caught in an official dragnet aimed at capturing Communists and other dissenters. At the same time, the government and powerful interests terrorized the rest of the population with fear of incrimination and stoked hatred toward those with ‘dangerous’ ideas. Threats were manufactured.
The suddenly shrunken ranks of principled civil libertarians, those yet to be cowed by the hysteria, saw parallels with witch hunts and inquisitions for good reason. They saw fear spawning outrageous claims and ridiculous charges. The fear of nuclear annihilation contributed to the madness of the 1950s, along with the cultural vulgarity of zombies and vampires. Flying saucers, alien invaders, rock and rollers, fluoride, motorcycle gangs, juvenile delinquents, and defiant atheists added to the terror of that time.
Some saw this as sheer insanity, but behind the orgy of fear was a calculated purging of domestic dissent and a stoking of foreign aggression and intervention, both essential for the crafting of a post-war political and foreign policy consensus. The calculation came easy to wealthy and powerful elements who had absorbed the lessons of the post-Civil War South, an era that nurtured outrageously contrived threats attributed to former slaves. The demonization of African Americans in the South during Reconstruction and after served well as the basis for the virulent racism that protected the privileges of the white upper classes. Fear sustained a terroristic, racist ruling class
Therefore, US elites readily recognize the value of fear-mongering as an instrument of persuasion, as an arm-twister, as a lever of consent. They foresee and secure the eager complicity of the corporate media in amplifying these fears.
True to form, the lapdog capitalist media accept their mission of uncritically following the lead of US policy makers in manufacturing conflict in Eastern Europe, in Latin America, Northern Africa, and, most diligently, the Middle East. Media bought and sold the contrived excuses for invading Iraq without a whimper of dissent. The current Western consensus on Syria is grounded from “reporting” bylined Beirut or Ankara, where US embassy press releases are readily and safely available, or from the claims of a London-based “observatory” that incredibly touts reliable sources from afar in every oppositional town or village in Syria.
The foundation for this perversion of objectivity is fear, fear of ill-defined “terrorism,” fear of Islam, fear of brown people. As a result of this madness, the Middle East is fractured.
The historic success of fear-mongering has emboldened US rulers to offer a further set of demons, another source of great evil-- Russia. At a moment of slack political credibility, at a time of lost confidence in the US electoral process, Russia-bashing is serving as a useful distraction. It’s difficult to discern an evil-inspired motive for Russia to want to destroy our rotting political system when its system resembles our own money-driven, elite-dominated, craven media “pseudo-democracy.” Maybe they hope to retaliate for the US intervention in securing political changes throughout Eastern Europe, especially on multiple occasions in Ukraine. Doesn’t anyone remember US diplomat Victoria Nuland crudely selecting the leaders for a US-friendly Ukraine?
Despite no evidence-- credible or otherwise-- that any real damage has been accomplished by Russian perfidy, the millionaire TV news readers and the screeching commentariat have succeeded in turning public opinion around in a short span. Gallup reports that in the winter of 2010, most US respondents (47%) had a “favorable” opinion of Russia. By a small margin, most people had put aside the Cold War craziness. But by the spring of 2017, 70% of the respondents now had an “unfavorable” view of Russia. A remarkable turnaround based on little more than fear-mongering and innuendo.
Russia-bashing has long since moved beyond the charge of political influence that energized it. Like previous US infections of political hysteria, Russia now causes everything from tooth decay to impotence. One could see it only too clearly in a series of copycat headlines that appeared a week or so ago. BBC, Time, CNN, Reuters, The Times, ABC, and a host of other prominent media outlets featured a close variation of the headline Putin Ordered a Passenger Plane to be Shot Down. Some headlines were more shrill than others, some added that he called off the hit, but the lasting impression was that the callous Putin was about to order a commercial passenger plane to be blown up with the death of many innocent people before backing off. For those who bothered to read on, the plane was believed to be directed by a terrorist and heading for the Sochi Olympic games. Action was called off when the threat proved bogus.
Given that the emergency procedure would be and is a commonplace with any competent security service, it is difficult to understand why so many news services chose to highlight such an insignificant Putin anecdote, except to exploit the existing anti-Putin mindset.
No opportunity is missed to further expand the fears of a Russian plan to destroy the US, though no one has exposed a credible motive.
Nearly all previous fright orchestrations have parlayed fear of a foreign “enemy” into a domestic crackdown-- threats from Reds abroad mean threats from Reds at home, for example.
So far, the RussiaGate fanatics have seemingly sought few domestic leftist foes to boil in oil.
That may be changing.
An unlikely witch hunter, the iconic liberal Southern Poverty Law Center, served up a pot-boiler conspiracy theory linking the “Brown” with the “Red”-- the so-called “alt-right” and the anti-imperialist movement. The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left wing resentment, authored by Alexander Reid Ross, a geography graduate student at Portland State University, pretends to expose a kind of united front between left and right knitted together by dark forces involving Putin, Rasputin-like Russians, and Russian “soft-power networks.”
Ross expresses his debt to an intellectual godfather, an anonymous self-styled anarchist blogger, “Vagabond,” who devoted 46,000 words in January to a meandering, unhinged attack on the US left for its “crypto-fascism.” Oddly, the acid-tongued Vagabond even castigates his sycophant, Ross, for posting on Counterpunch-- the “red-brown cesspool.”
A sample of Vagabond’s writing captures its ominous, conspiratorial tone:
Now, why should the Stalinoid/Marcyite WWP and the PSL be shunned, apart from their obvious history of genocide denial and support for atrocities, lies in their alliance with fascists. The difference with Ross and the Marcyite parties is that Ross, while unfortunately published by CounterPunch, does not himself collaborate with fascists while the Marcyite parties are active collaborators of Lyndon LaRouche and Duginists.
The supreme irony of this innuendo-laced diatribe is that it is so reminiscent of the language of the attacks in the late 1960s on the National Welfare Rights Organization and the Marxist left by the National Caucus of Labor Committees and its guru Lyn Marcus-- the aforementioned Lyndon Larouche. Like Larouche, Vagabond equates sharing a position on a public issue, any and even the most casual associations, or even attending a meeting or conference with the sin of “active collaboration.” This ‘gotcha’ politics was once solely the posture of the McCarthyite right, but has now become a signature feature with phony ‘antifascists’ like Vagabond and Ross.
Sadly, this charge of “red-brown” alliance seems to have gained traction in some anarchist and ‘antifa’ circles. In contrast to Vagabond’s shrill rants, Ross chooses a slightly more measured tone, referring to the imagined left-fascist connection as “syncretic”-- “syncretic networks,” “syncretic news sites,” “syncretic figures,” “syncretic hub,” etc. Despite the attempt at academic-sounding cosmetics, both authors share the goals of guilt by association, of slandering the left.
Unshorn of the dubious web of ‘associations,’ the argument at the center of the attack-- if it can be dignified by calling it an argument-- is quite simply and transparently invalid:
The ‘fascists’ or ‘alt-right’ supports a multi-polar world
The Russians support a multi-polar world
The left supports a multi-polar world
Ergo, The ‘fascists/alt-right,’ the Russians, and the left are in alliance or, in a “syncretic” relationship.
Repeatedly, Ross (and others) build their case around the allegation that support for a multi-polar world-- a world without one solely dominant power-- is the tell in demonstrating underlying alliances, common networks, or sympathies. It must never occur to those seeing conspiracy that people could support the same end-- a multi-polar world-- for vastly different reasons. It must never occur to Ross, Vagabond, and their ilk (or the Southern Poverty Law Center) that the rational alternative today to a multi-polar world is a unipolar world like the one envisioned by the ruling class of the US. US elites brashly claimed that world for themselves after the demise of the Soviet Union, costing those standing in the way millions of lives.
But it is futile to reason with pathologies.
To add the illusion of seriousness, Ross supplies the reader with a pretentious network ‘map’ that obfuscates more than it clarifies, a Venn diagram that is not a Venn diagram, and a “conceptual model” that is a Venn diagram. The point of this exercise is only to present the Far Right and the Hard Left visually as overlapping or interlinked, just in case the narrative proved too convoluted and tenuous to suggest such a conclusion.
It is a curious picture, displaying a bizarre caricature of the left and singling out only those elements of the left that challenge the current US foreign policy line: active measures against Russia, Assad’s Syria, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, and others. From Black Agenda Reports’ Margaret Kimberley to ANSWER’s Brian Becker, outspoken anti-imperialists are labeled as part of a “red-brown” network. Workers World Party, Party of Liberation and Socialism, and even the Green Party’s presidential candidate, Jill Stein, are allies of the fascists in this demented picture. The leading anti-imperialist organizations, the ANSWER Coalition and the United National Antiwar Coalition are similarly charged with ‘brown’ affiliation.
Of course the glue that binds these individuals and organizations to the hard right, in the estimation of Ross and friends, is Russia, its foreign policy, and especially its media arms-- RT and Sputnik. An appearance on either medium guarantees the “red-brown” disgrace.
For those in power, for those who crafted the imperialist policies that brought death, destruction, and chaos to the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and a host of other countries troubled by US intervention, an attack on the small, but dedicated “red” US left could not be more welcome.
History has shown that the vaunted liberal US values of fair play, due process, measured judgement, presumption of innocence, etc. are only credible when they are exercised under duress. Civil liberties are of greatest use precisely when they are most unpopular.
History also shows that in the most challenging times, in times of witch hunts and inquisitions, few liberals will step away from their comforts in defense of their values. Liberal fidelity runs thin.
With the endorsement of Ross’s baseless slander of the anti-imperialist and Marxist left, the Southern Poverty Law Center adds another chapter to that liberal history of disappointment, hypocrisy, and spinelessness.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has, on March 14, taken down the Ross posting. It is no longer accessible. In place of it, an “Explanation and Apology” has been posted that is neither an adequate explanation nor a sincere apology for the contemptible views originally posted. As SPLC sees it, “the article did not make the “point as clearly as it could or should have”, an explanation worthy of an adolescent caught in a fib. Further, the apology is extended to “those who believe they have been falsely described in it…”. There is no concession here that they have been falsely described. In my view, this weaselly “correction” only underscores the treason of the liberals in these dangerous times.