The New and Sophisticated McCarthyism

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By CHRIS HEDGES*

Occluding critics in a decadent and corrupt society is equivalent to turning off the oxygen to a seriously ill patient.

The ruling class in the US – made up of the traditional elites who rule the Republican Party and the Democratic Party – are employing draconian forms of censorship on their left and right critics in a desperate effort to cling to power. Traditional elites were discredited for forcing a range of attacks on workers, from deindustrialization to trade deals. They were unable to stem rising inflation, the looming economic crisis, and the ecological emergency. They were unable to carry out significant social and political reforms to ameliorate widespread suffering, and they refused to take responsibility for two decades of military fiascoes in the Middle East. And now they have launched a new and sophisticated McCarthyism. Character assassination. Algorithms. Shadow Hiding. Deplatformization.

Censorship is the last resort of desperate and unpopular regimes. It magically appears to make a crisis go away. Censorship consoles the powerful with the narrative they want to hear, fed back to them by media courtiers, by government agencies, by political groups. think tanks and the academy. The Donald Trump problem is solved by censoring Donald Trump. The problem with leftist critics like myself is solved by censoring us. The result is a make-believe world.

YouTube disappeared six years from my show On Contact on RT, despite the fact that not a single episode dealt with Russia. It's no secret why he disappeared: he gave a voice to writers and dissidents - including Noam Chomsky and Cornel West - as well as activists of the Extinction rebellion, Black Lives Matter, third parties, and the prison abolitionist movement. My program railed against the Democratic Party for its subservience to corporate power; he excoriated the crimes of the state of apartheid from Israel. He has covered the Julian Assange case in numerous episodes. He gave a voice to critical military personnel, many of whom were combat veterans, who condemned US war crimes.

It no longer matters how prominent you are, nor the size of the audience that follows you. If you challenge power, you run the risk of being censored. Former British MP George Galloway detailed a similar experience at the panel organized on April 15 by the News Consortium, in which I participated: “I was threatened with travel restrictions if I continued the television programs that I did for almost an entire decade. I was stamped with the false label of “Russian state media” – which I never had when I was presenting a program in Russian state media. This label was given to me only after I stopped having a program in the Russian state media, which ceased because the [US] government made it a crime for me to do so.”

My 417 Twitter followers were growing by the thousands a day, rushing by like a runaway train, and suddenly it stopped on the side of the road as the Elon Musk story emerged. I expressed the opinion that the oligarch he undoubtedly is, I prefer Elon Musk to the kings of Saudi Arabia – who turn out to be currently the majority shareholders of the company Twitter. As soon as I got involved in this fight, my viewership numbers were literally crushed, shadow bans and all the rest...

All of this is taking place before the aftermath of the economic shock brought about by Western policy and our ill-named leaders has really hit yet. When economies start to not only slow down, not only hiccup, not only experience levels of inflation not seen for years, or decades, but become a shock, as well it can be, there will be even more for the state to suppress, especially any alternative analysis. about how we got here and what we must do to get out of it.

Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq and an intelligence officer for the US Marines, denounced the lie about weapons of mass destruction before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He was recently banned from Twitter for offer a counter-narrative to the dozens of murders in the western suburb of Bucha in the Kiev region. Many of the victims in Bucha were found with gunshot wounds to the head and with their hands tied behind their backs. International observers and eyewitnesses blamed Russia for the murders. Ritter's alternative analysis, right or wrong, saw him silenced.

Ritter lamented the Twitter ban on the forum: “It took me three years to get four thousand followers on Twitter. I thought it was a big deal. Then this Ukraine thing came along. It exploded. When I was first suspended for questioning Bucha's narrative, my Twitter account had reached 14 followers. When my suspension was lifted, I had 60 followers. When they suspended me again, I was close to 100k followers. It was out of control, which is why I'm convinced the algorithm said: You must delete. You must delete. And they did. I was abusive and harassing them by telling what I thought was the truth. I don't have the same understanding of Ukraine as I did of Iraq. In Iraq, I was out in the field, doing the work. But the observation and assessment techniques you are trained in as an intelligence officer in any situation apply in Ukraine today. Simply looking at the body of information available, you cannot but come to the conclusion that [the massacre] was carried out by the Ukrainian national police, mainly because they have all the elements. You have the reason. They don't like Russian collaborators. How do I know this? They said so on their website. You have the national police commander ordering his subordinates to shoot the people of Bucha on the day in question. You have the evidence. The dead bodies in the street with white armbands, carrying packets of Russian food. Can I be wrong? Certainly. Could there be information there that I'm not even aware of? Certainly. But these are not there. As an intelligence officer, I consider the available information. I access available information. I make assessments based on what information is available. And Twitter found this to be objectionable.”

Two fundamental accidents contributed to this censorship. The first was the publication of classified materials by Julian Assange and the Wikileaks. The second was the election of Donald Trump. The ruling class was not prepared for this. The revelation of their war crimes, corruption, callous indifference to the plight of those they dominated, and extreme concentration of wealth undermined their credibility. Trump's election, which they did not expect, created in them the fear of being supplanted. The institutions of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have joined forces to demand ever-increasing censorship of social media.

Suddenly, even fringe critics became dangerous. They should be silenced. Dr. Jill Stein, the 20016 Green Party presidential candidate, has lost about half of her social media following after she mysteriously went offline for 12 hours during the election campaign. The discredited Steele dossier, paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign, accused Stein, along with Trump, of being Russian agents. The US Senate Intelligence Committee spent three years investigating Stein, issuing five different reports, before exonerating her.

Dr. Stein spoke about the threat to freedom of expression during the forum: “We are in an incredibly dangerous time. It is not just freedom of the press and freedom of expression, but democracy itself in all its dimensions that is in danger. Now there are all these draconian laws against protest. There are 36 laws passed that are as bad as a 10-year prison sentence for protesting on a sidewalk without a permit. They differ from state to state. You need to know your state's laws if you want to protest. In some states, drivers have been issued licenses to kill if you are on the street as part of a protest.”

The first indication that we weren't just being marginalized – it is accepted that if you challenge established power and practice independent journalism, you will be marginalized – but censorship arrived in November 2016. Craig Timberg, a technology reporter at The Washington Post, published a story entitled “Experts Say Russian Propaganda Effort Helped Spread fake News during elections”. This was referring to some 200 websites - including the truthdig, in which I wrote a weekly column – as “Routine Salesmen of Russian Propaganda”.

Unnamed analysts, described as "a collection of researchers with backgrounds in foreign policy, military and technology" belonging to the anonymous "organization" PropOrNot, led the attacks in the story. The report of PropOrNot released a "list" of 200 offensive websites that included Wikileaks, truthdig, Black Schedule Report, Naked Capitalism, counter punch, AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute. They said that all these sites, whether unintentionally or intentionally, functioned as Russian agents. No evidence was offered for these accusations, because obviously there was none. The only common denominator was that these were critical of the Democratic Party leadership.

When we challenge the story, the PropOrNot tweeted: "Oh look at all the angry little Putinists trying to change the subject - they are so angry!"

We were blacklisted by anonymous robots who sent messages on Twitter – which were later deleted – that read as if they were written by a “gamer” living in the basement of his parents' house.

Timberg did not contact any of us prior to publishing the story. He and the newspaper refused to reveal the identity of those behind the PropOrNot. I taught the master's course at Columbia University's School of Journalism. If one of my students had turned in a story like Timberg as a class duty, he or she would have failed.

Established elites desperately needed a narrative to explain Hillary Clinton's defeat and their own growing unpopularity as a party. They said that the fake news were planted by Russians on social media to elect Trump. All critics, right and left, have become Russian agents. Then, the fun began.

Os outliers  that many of us find repugnant, have begun to disappear. In 2018, Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify deleted from their platforms the podcasts, pages and channels of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website info wars. The precedent was set. Having done it to Jones, they could do it to anyone.

Twitter, Google, Facebook and YouTube used the accusation of foreign influence to begin employing algorithms and shadow banning to silence critics. Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, the chairman of Kingdom Holding Company, which had scrapped Elon Musk's recent offer to buy the social media platform, has a large equity stake in Twitter. It's hard to find a regime more despotic than Saudi Arabia, or a regime more hostile to the press – but I digress.

Sites that once attracted tens or hundreds of thousands of followers suddenly saw their numbers plummet. Google's "Project Owl," designed to eradicate fake news employed “algorithmic updates to reveal more authoritative content” and to degrade “offensive” material. Traffic has dropped on sites like alternet in 63%, DemocracyNow at 36%, ––––Common dreams in 37%, truthout in 25%, The Intercept in 19% and counterpunch by 21%. The website World Socialist Web had its traffic decreased by two thirds. Julian Assange and the Wikileaks were practically erased. In 2019, editors of Mother Jones wrote that they experienced a sharp decline in their Facebook audience – which translated into an estimated loss of $600 over 18 months.

IT staff at truthdig, where I had a weekly column at the time, found that impressions – specific words like “imperialism” entered into Google and showing recent stories, including mine – now did not include my stories. Referrals to the site from impressions contained in my stories dropped from 700k to 200k over a 12 month period.

But pushing us to the sidelines was not enough, especially with the imminent loss of the Democratic majority in Congress in the November 2022 elections and Joe Biden's abysmal numbers in public opinion polls. Now we must be erased. Dozens of lesser known websites, writers and videographers are disappearing. For example, Facebook removed a “No Unite The Right 2-DC” event linked to a page called resisters, which appeared to be publicizing a counter-demonstration on the anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Paul Jay, who runs a website called The Analysis published an essay on February 7, 2017 entitled “A Failed Coup Inside a Failed Coup”. YouTube banned the story, saying it was "content that promotes false claims that disseminate hoaxes, errors, or flaws that changed the outcome of a US presidential election is not allowed on YouTube."

After posting on March 13 that the US funded biological labs in Ukraine and blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Biden's foreign policy, Tulsi Gabbard said she was shadow banned on Twitter. The podcast account Russians with attitude was suspended on Twitter. It covered the information war in Ukraine and “denounced” the Ghost of Kiev. Social media platforms have been especially tough on those questioning the US government's Covid policy, blocking and forcing users, social media platforms or online publications to delete posts.

These sites make billions of dollars selling our personal information to corporations, advertising agencies and political public relations firms. They know everything about us. We know nothing about them. They explore our tendencies, fears, habits and prejudices. And they will silence our voices if we don't conform.

Censorship will not stop America's march towards Christian fascism. Weimar Germany tried to stop Nazi fascism by enforcing strict anti-hate language laws. In the 1920s, they banned the Nazi party. Nazi leaders, including Joseph Goebbels, were prosecuted for hateful language. Julius Streicher, who ran the virulent anti-Semitic tabloid Der Stümer, was dismissed from his teaching post, was repeatedly fined, and had his newspapers confiscated. He was taken to court numerous times for defamation and served a series of prison sentences.

However, like those serving sentences for the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, or like Trump, the persecution of Nazi leaders only increased their stature the more the German ruling class failed to deal with economic and social misery.

There are many similarities between our times and the 1930s, including the predatory power of international banks to consolidate wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs and to impose punitive austerity measures on the global working class.

“More than anything else, the Nazis were a nationalist protest movement against globalization,” notes Benjamin Carter Hett in his book The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and The Downfall of the Weimar Republic [“The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Fall of the Weimar Republic”].

Closing critics in a decaying and corrupt society is equivalent to turning off the oxygen to a seriously ill patient. This hastens mortality rather than delaying or preventing it. The convergence of an impending economic crisis, a bankrupt ruling class's fear that they will soon be ousted from power, the mounting ecological catastrophe, and the inability to stop self-defeating military adventurism against Russia and China, set the stage for an implosion. from the USA.

Those of us who see it coming and who desperately try to avoid it become the enemy.

*Chris Hedges is a journalist. Author, among other books, of Empire of illusion: the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle (Nation books).

Translation: Rubens Turkienicz to the portal Brazil 247.

Originally published in The Chris Hedges Report.

 

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