By Michael Hotchkiss
In light of the recent revelations that the US intelligence community has officially and publicly said that Russia is interfering in US elections and using tactics which have influenced “public opinion” across Europe in the past, let’s look at a plausible scenario of how a nation like Russia might be attempting to influence public opinion and election outcomes without directly engaging in vote count manipulation. My intention here is not to pigeonhole anyone psychologically, nor to offend, but to remove some of the mystery around this perplexing election season (and national security threat) for people who aren’t familiar with current events and social psychology.
The theory has been offered that Putin’s right wing efforts are analogous to the Comintern under Stalin (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/12/vladimir-putin-conservative-icon/282572/). The Comintern was the worldwide organizing body and intelligence gathering operation of the communist movement, and was based in Russia. The difference between the Comintern of yesteryear and Putin’s loose network of right wing populists is that populism isn’t mostly a seductive ideology or moral cause like Marxism or communism was — this seems to be mostly applied social psychology that appeals to the unconscious desires of a certain subset of the population which is likely to bebiologically predisposed towards conservatism (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Over the past couple of years, psychological research has highlighted some consistent themes related to right wing voting tendencies:
- Research tying mortality salience spread in propaganda to increased malleability to right wing narrative: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4536404/
- Research tying mortality salience to more hostile treatment of outgroups in terrorism interrogations: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00694.x/abstract
Research tying intent to vote for Trump to mortality salience:
Research highlighting “resting” authoritarian personality traits in Trump voters:
- (A good primer of Trump voter psychology highlighting much of the above research concisely: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201609/the-psychology-behind-donald-trumps-unwavering-support)
Evidence in media and politics for promotion of the narratives which create subconscious salience of the psychological threats above:
- Links have been proven in Germany in particular, of Kremlin propaganda pushing false stories about migrant rapists and crimehttps://www.thelocal.de/20160127/kremlin-propaganda-targets-germanys-refugee-weak-spot
Many of Donald Trump’s most controversial positions have been tied to hostility to immigrants from both Mexico and Muslim countries; as well as specifically the terrorist threat posed by Muslims and ISIS.
- In referring to Mexicans, Trump described them as “…people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with [them]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”:https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/08/donald-trumps-false-comments-connecting-mexican-immigrants-and-crime/
- Donald Trump Jr. notably tied the imagery of death to Skittles and Muslim immigrants: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/19/politics/donald-trump-jr-twitter-refugees/ . According to research, this primes us for Mortality Salience.
Evidence that Russia is amplifying the refugee crisis which is exacerbating right wing populist voting in Europe, called heretofore ‘weaponization’ of the refugee crisis:
The potential ‘statistical segment’ targets of this operation in the USA:
- Research by Five Thirty Eight highlights that there is a potentially 12 million-strong margin of white conservative registered voters who did not vote in 2012 and if they did vote — would be sufficient to potentially deliver the electoral and popular votes to Trump: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/missing-white-voters-could-elect-trump-but-first-they-need-to-register/
Conclusion and Analysis:
Think about the ‘gestalt’ themes of “rapist-murdering migrant Muslims and/or Mexicans” we’ve heard about so much in Europe and the US from controversial politicians. Now appreciate that that same theme is used globally in Russian propaganda, playing directly into the concepts of authoritarian control, manipulation of fear, and terror management as we’ve learned above. Talking about immigrants, national decay (“Make America Great Again“), terrorists, and ‘different others’ trigger subconscious fears of death and revulsion which caused heightened states of arousal in (some) conservatives.
In addition to these very factors being potent psychological “activators” for relatively large percentages of the population (~35%) in the US, we see a good amount of evidence that the geopolitical efforts of countries like Russia (and client states Iran and Syria) are the very ones driving the refugee crisis in Europe which is then amplified through proven Russian propaganda outlets like RT, Sputnik, and various others which are more loosely connected through paid advertising and family relationships — like ZeroHedge (who’s owner is the son of a Bulgarian pro-Putin propagandist). (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-29/unmasking-the-men-behind-zero-hedge-wall-street-s-renegade-blog)
There has been lots of talk about how Donald Trump will plausibly benefit from terrorist actions. He has grandstanded for being “correct” when terrorist attacks have happened. He has portrayed Muslims and Mexicans as terrorists and criminals, respectively; enabling him to capitalize on events which are tied to these groups and amplify the psychological message.
It has been proven that for example, Russia is behind at least some aspects of the ISIS propaganda and hacking machine known as the “Cyber Caliphate”; which is arguably inspiring many home grown terrorist actions. In this case again, we can argue Russia is potentially fanning the flames which will benefit their apparently anointed candidate in the US. (http://observer.com/2016/06/false-flags-the-kremlins-hidden-cyber-hand/)
There is also significant research that shows that Russia released files to WikiLeaks following hacks of Democratic Party institutions, and has led to the cultivation of a classic Soviet-style “disinformation” operation around the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, which perpetuates a belief in a murder-spree by Hillary Clinton (aka the “Killary Narrative”). Trump’s informal campaign adviser Roger Stone claims to be in direct contact with Julian Assange and has publicly promoted this theory now churning in both left-wing (hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters) and right wing circles. (http://observer.com/2016/08/vladimir-putin-has-already-won-our-election/)
My argument is, not only will this cause chaos and mistrust in the US political system — it will plausibly “activate” large portions of the conservative voting populace who will plausibly then turn out to vote for candidates like Donald Trump and thus enable “legitimate” democratic victories and isolationist regimes which are friendly to – and perhaps in some cases compromised by – Russia, and thus in Russia’s interests. Theytried in Scotland, it happened with Brexit, it nearly happened in France (and could still), and it can certainly happen here too.
I believe that the vociferous complaint by the Russians which was revealed to have recently occurred at the UN despite the speech which prompted it not having mentioned Russia at all apparently is indicative of their vested interest in this political strategic model. (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/un-criticism-of-trump-prompts-russian-response-229287)