How Russian Trolls Imitate American Political Dysfunction

How Russian Trolls Imitate American Political Dysfunction

Suppose you were a vast global conspiracy plotting to foster discord among Americans. How would you approach your task?

You might try to spread some salacious but dubious accusations—say, that a politician is a “devotee of Bigfoot erotica.” But that particular charge would feel kind of stale, since a Democratic congressional candidate already lobbed it at her rival this summer.

Maybe you could think bigger, and make a video that tries to red-bait a candidate by linking him loosely to George Soros and, from there, even more loosely to “antifa.” But that would be superfluous because the National Republican Congressional Committee already funded such an ad.

You could always signal-boost some evidence-free conspiracy theory—perhaps the idea that “unknown Middle Easterners” have infiltrated the caravan of immigrants marching toward the Mexican border. But you’d be wasting your patrons’ money: That theory already got an enormous signal boost when the president of the United States endorsed it on Monday.

It’s enough to make you feel a little pity for Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, a Russian woman who stands accused of plotting against the United States. Last week, the feds charged her with what CNN is calling a “conspiracy to hurt American democracy,” but her alleged activities look a lot like … American democracy. What’s a subversive got to do to actually have an impact around here?

Read the rest at

Don’t Rebrand the ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ Program—Just End It

Don’t Rebrand the ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ Program—Just End It

The question shouldn’t be which groups the program ought to target. It’s whether the program should exist at all.

For the Southern Poverty Law Center, the move suggests that “President Trump wants the government to stop its efforts to prevent terrorism by far-right extremists.” For Jezebel, it’s “another victory in a long series of wins for Neo Nazis, the KKK, and other violent and terroristic groups.” Salon calls it “pandering to white supremacists.” The target of their ire: a plan to rebrand the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program. According to Reuters, which cites “five people briefed on the matter,” the Trump administration wants to rename it “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” or maybe just “Countering Islamic Extremism,” and to focus its attention on Muslim terrorists rather than the various domestic right-wing kinds.

In practice, CVE’s efforts are already focused overwhelmingly on Muslims. But the big question here shouldn’t be which groups ought to be the program’s targets. It’s whether the program should exist at all. No matter whether it’s aimed at Islamists, white nationalists, or anyone else, the CVE approach has two big problems.

First: It rests on the idea that the best way to root out terrorism is to fight “radicalization.” This idea has support among both Democrats and Republicans, but the evidence supporting it is sparse. When investigators at the British think tank Demos (not to be confused with the U.S.-based liberal group of the same name) spent two years studying the differences between violent and nonviolent radicals, they found that while nonviolent radicalism can be a stepping stone to terrorism, it can draw people away from terrorism too. Meanwhile, there were other forces pulling people into terrorism that didn’t have much to do with ideology at all. Other probes have reached similar conclusions. So the focus here is all wrong: Radical ideas do not usually lead to violent tactics, and violent tactics do not emerge only from radical ideas.

Don’t Rebrand the ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ Program—Just End It

FDR’s Internment Policies Haunt Us

FDR’s Wartime Violations of Civil Liberties Are Not a Good Precedent for Anything

And you don’t get points for not being as bad.

Last night on The Kelly File, Carl Higbie, the spokesman for a pro-Trump PAC, defended the idea of a federal registry of Muslims by citing the World War II–era internment of Japanese Americans as a precedent, weakly adding “call it what you will, it may be wrong”:


Megyn Kelly immediately leaped on this, and Higbie quickly declared that he did not in fact favor internment camps. The video then went viral.

The video also gave me a dose of deja vu. Last December, shortly after Trump started pitching the idea of keeping Muslims out of America, this exchange took place on Good Morning America:

DONALD TRUMP: What I’m doing is no different than what FDR— FDR’s solution for German, Italian, Japanese…

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re for internment camps?

TRUMP: This was a president highly respected by all. He did the same thing. If you look at what he was doing, it was far worse. I mean, he was talking about the Germans because we’re at war. We are now at war. We have a president that doesn’t want to say that…

Read the rest by Jesse Walker at Reason.

Don’t Rebrand the ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ Program—Just End It

Welcome to the Fight Against Unchecked Power

You may have heard of whataboutism—the practice of rejecting criticisms of a regime on the grounds that other regimes do bad things too. Well, whataboutism has a cousin. Call it wherewereyouism: the impatient disdain that civil libertarians start to feel right after an election, when many members of the newly disempowered party suddenly rediscover the virtues of limiting government power.

It’s an understandable feeling, and I’ve sometimes been prone to it myself. (Back in 2009, when the Tea Party protests started taking off, my initial response was: “Why weren’t you marching when Bush was pushing through TARP?”) To an extent, it’s not just understandable but valuable. As center-left types watch Donald Trump take control of a presidency whose powers grew greater while Obama was in office, making the executive branch an even vaster and less accountable maze of surveillance and secrecy and unilateral punitive action, it’s a fine time for libertarians (and for those progressives who kept their wits in the Obama years) to try to seize the teachable moment: “You see? YOU SEE? Now will you listen when we warn you what could happen?”

Read the rest by Jesse Walker at Reason.

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