Inside #Cult45 is an ongoing contributor project and as such will be presented as a series, updated with new chapters as the project progresses. This post will include the ninth and tenth chapters, MAGA Exhaustion and Imposters. Any specific identifying information to the contributor has been altered to protect the privacy of the author and the subjects.
It quickly became tiring. I had come to question the usefulness of this endeavor at all. Initial impressions simply confirmed my preconceived opinions on the MAGA subculture. Every single detail I had expected was there, in a darkly comical way. They seemed to parody themselves. No one challenged these ideas and themes. The cliches had become real, living breathing caricatures.I started to feel my project would accomplish nothing. The group think and complete denial of reality was on a scale I had never imagined and this discouraged me so much as I was someone who was well aware of and had tried to fight propaganda.
The follow back lists were constant, the sharing of disinformation constant and the hatred for the left was constant and encouraged. There was zero second guessing in this tribe. They were in lock step, united, a mutated version of the conventional right wing we used to have. They were confident in their own reality. The frequent exposure to the propaganda and it’s feverish dissemination was fatiguing. It made me question my own beliefs and value system. It felt like digital indoctrination.
And that feeling of guilt from my insincerity was still there as well. These were people after all, fellow Americans. The interactions were “pleasant” between us Trump supporters. But I was the betrayer. It always felt like having folks congratulating you for something you didn’t do, but you accepted the praise anyway. Like I was constantly hiding behind a mask, waiting to be exposed. I was always the outsider, a faker, despite my cordial and well acted encounters with these people. This was going to be more difficult than I initially imagined.
The second day found me at 459 followers by nightfall. If I kept up this rate of connecting with others, then perhaps I could start to get a better cross section of the society. I figured if I kept harvesting more followers, kept getting on lists and following lists, I could get more responses to my Tweets and have a decent amount of replies to analyze. I continued to plan towards my goal of cleverly positing ideas and questions that may challenge their belief system without blowing the whole project up. Real vetted news perhaps could be introduced in a Tweet, perhaps with a vaguely concerned question being asked about it, sowing some doubt, looking for opinions.
I wanted to be able to test the boundaries of their worldview. Not change minds, but simply record the results. I wanted to see if there were logical thought processes when confronted with a challenge to the MAGA dogma. This would be the most challenging part of the project. I was going to have to research some methods of questioning that wouldn’t blow up in my face and prematurely end the whole project in mass blocking and a reporting party of my profile.
So, the same process went on. Followers were gathered, I would craft appealing Tweets, retweet particularly “good” Tweets, that appealed to the MAGA group. It started to dawn on me that there was no verifiable way to attribute all my findings to actual Trump supporters.The way I looked at it was this. We knew according to all U.S. Intel declassified reports that the Russian Active Measures campaign had made use of inventing and disseminating manufactured conspiracies and propaganda.
This was widely reported and common knowledge.(but denied as a hoax by this particular group) The IRA troll farms were used to spread the conspiracies and propaganda far and wide to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. However, they did more than just that. They were interacting online, on Twitter and Facebook with U.S. citizens to heighten ideological and political divides. This was reported to be a tactic that would be in play even more in 2020 due to the fact that many Americans were now more knowledgeable to the “Fake News” storms of 2015.
For those not familiar, here is a decent description of how Russian Active Measures are used to topple western democracies. This is from former FBI agent Clint Watts, who testified before the Senate Committee on Intelligence in reference to the 2016 election interference.
1. Undermine citizen confidence in Democratic governance.
2. Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures.
3. Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and Democratic Institutions.
4. Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations.
5. Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.
Now, there was still massive amounts of propaganda being used to blur the lines between fact and fiction in the Twittersphere, even the GOP and the President himself were parroting actual Kremlin talking points. However my concern was that there really was no way to confirm any identities of my MAGA subjects. The Kremlin’s paid disrupters were fluent in English, well versed in American political discourse as well as savvy to our pop culture. Their pictures were no different than our pictures. They could look, act and sound like us. They were paid by Russian FSB and GRU Intelligence services to mimic Americans effectively and to increase partisanship divides through discourse. They were professionals. For all intents and purposes, many of my subjects could be exactly like me, imposters working for another group with ulterior motives.
Immediately following this idea was the thought that Russia was most likely more interested in dividing the left this time around. It was an election year. It was directed to split us, on the left, to cause us to in-fight and even perhaps sit out the 2020 elections altogether. Think back to the Bernie or bust phenomenon in 2016 and the never-Hillary propaganda. The same methods were now being heightened ahead of November. Now we had never-Bernies and never-Bloombergs as well. There were rampant threats to not vote if candidate X wasn’t nominated. It had been getting worse every day. Left wing Twitter and Facebook was truly at odds with itself, with constant fighting between users and even between groups of users. Divide and conquer. It was effective and fairly simple with an enraged liberal community reeling from three years of Trump. We were all fearful and emotional due to his Presidency, the divisive damaging policies, the constant, blatant corruption and the truly devastating show trial acquittal in which the GOP senate completely abdicated their responsibilities as impartial jurors. Liberals had been beaten, betrayed and were weakened.
This reasoning brought me back full circle. The MAGA cult that I had experienced did not fight amongst themselves. Russia wanted the MAGA faction strong. I couldn’t find a rational reason for them to be manipulating the right at the same level they would want to manipulate the left. The purpose now was perhaps to divide the left, cause fear uncertainty and doubt and hopefully depress voter turnout. Russia needed Trump in power. Trump needed Russia’s assistance to stay in power. It was a symbiotic relationship. He stood a decent chance of being tried and convicted if he was not re-elected. If he was not re-elected, Russia would face crippling sanctions. There was plenty of evidence that trolls and bots were active, sowing discord at that very moment among liberals. There had been a dramatic shift in the online tone and interactions between moderate liberals and leftists. Some was obviously organic but the amount of division pointed to foreign interference as far as I was concerned.
We had been warned over and over that this was going to occur. The Mueller report and multiple Intelligence agencies testified on the likelihood of this style of attack to be repeated. This rationale assisted me in deciding to proceed as planned, and follow through. Sure, some MAGA folks may not be real Americans but they sure were well versed in acting real. And in the end, as far as they were concerned, I was one of the MAGA clan anyway. So, I decided very unscientifically that the results may not be so skewed after all. I would push forward.