Carlos Lozada | I Looked Behind the Curtain of American History, and This Is What I Found – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“In the realm of folklore and ancient traditions, myths are tales forever retold for their wisdom and underlying truths. Their impossibility is part of their appeal; few would pause to debunk the physics of Icarus’s wings before warning against flying too close to the sun.

In the worlds of journalism and history, however, myths are viewed as pernicious creatures that obscure more than they illuminate. They must be hunted and destroyed so that the real story can assume its proper perch. Puncturing these myths is a matter of duty and an assertion of expertise. “Actually” becomes an honored adverb.

I can claim some experience in this effort, not as a debunker of myths but as a clearinghouse for them. When I served as the editor of The Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section several years ago, I assigned and edited dozens of “5 Myths” articles in which experts tackled the most common fallacies surrounding subjects in the news. This regular exercise forced me to wrestle with the form’s basic challenges: How entrenched and widespread must a misconception be to count as an honest-to-badness myth? What is the difference between a conclusive debunking and a conflicting interpretation? And who is qualified to upend a myth or disqualified from doing so?

These questions came up frequently as I read “Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past,” a collection published this month and edited by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer, historians at Princeton. The book, which the editors describe as an “intervention” in long-running public discussions on American politics, economics and culture, is an authoritative and fitting contribution to the myth-busting genre — authoritative for the quality of the contributions and the scope of its enterprise, fitting because it captures in one volume the possibilities and pitfalls of the form. When you face down so many myths in quick succession, the values that underpin the effort grow sharper, even if the value of myths themselves grows murkier. All of our national delusions should be exposed, but I’m not sure all should be excised. Do not some myths serve a valid purpose?”

“. . . . . Zelizer writes that the notion of a revolutionary Reagan era did not emerge spontaneously but was “born out of an explicit political strategy” aimed at exaggerating both conservative strength and liberal weakness. This is another recurring conclusion of “Myth America” — that many of our national mythologies are not the product of good-faith misunderstandings or organically divergent viewpoints that become entrenched over time, but rather of deliberate efforts at mythmaking. The notions that free enterprise is inseparable from broader American freedoms, that voting fraud is ubiquitous, that the feminist movement is anti-family — in this telling, they are myths peddled or exaggerated, for nefarious purposes, by the right.”

With Falsehoods About Pelosi Attack, Republicans Mimic Trump – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — Speaking on a conservative radio talk show on Tuesday, former President Donald J. Trump amplified a conspiracy theory about the grisly attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, that falsely suggested that Mr. Pelosi may not have been the victim of a genuine attack.

“Weird things going on in that household in the last couple of weeks,” Mr. Trump said on the Chris Stigall show, winking at a lie that has flourished in right-wing media and is increasingly being given credence by Republicans. “The glass, it seems, was broken from the inside to the out — so it wasn’t a break-in, it was a break out.”

There is no evidence to suggest that. Mr. Pelosi, 82, was attacked on Friday with a hammer by a suspect who federal prosecutors say invaded the Pelosis’ San Francisco home, bent on kidnapping the speaker and shattering her kneecaps.

But Mr. Trump, a longtime trafficker in conspiracy theories who propelled his political rise with the lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, has never let such facts get in his way.”

Thomas B. Edsall | Why Conspiracy Theories Flourish in Trump’s America – The New York Times

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.

“Whether he is out of power or in office, Donald Trump deploys conspiracy theory as a political mobilizing tool designed to capture anger at the liberal establishment, to legitimize racial resentment and to unite voters who feel oppressed by what they see as a dominant socially progressive culture.

The success of this strategy is demonstrated by the astonishing number of Republicans — a decisive majority, according to a recent Economist/YouGov survey — who say that they believe that the Democratic Party and its elected officials conspired to steal the 2020 election. This is a certifiable conspiracy theory, defined as a belief in “a secret arrangement by a group of powerful people to usurp political or economic power, violate established rights, hoard vital secrets, or unlawfully alter government institutions.”

Not only do something like 71 percent of Republicans — roughly 52 million voters, according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst poll released on Jan. 6, 2022 — claim to believe that Donald Trump won the 2020 election despite indisputable evidence to the contrary, but the Republican Party has committed itself unequivocally and relentlessly to promoting this false claim.”

Vanessa Barbara | Bolsonaro-Supporting Brazilian Telegram Channels Are Wild and Sinister – The New York Times

Ms. Barbara is a contributing Opinion writer who focuses on Brazilian politics, culture and everyday life.

“SÃO PAULO, Brazil — When Elon Musk reached a deal to acquire Twitter, right-wing Telegram groups in Brazil went wild. Here at last was a muscular champion of free speech. Even more, here was someone who — users rushed to confirm — wanted Carlos Bolsonaro, son of the president, to be Twitter’s managing director in Brazil.

That was, of course, not true. But I wasn’t surprised. I had been following these groups on the messaging app for weeks, to watch how misinformation was spread in real time. In Brazil, fake news seems to be something that the population at large seems to fall victim to — Telegram just offers the sort of deepest rabbit hole you can go down. So I knew — from horrible, eye-sapping experience — that for many right-wing activists, fake news has become an article of faith, a weapon of war, the surest way of muddling the public discussion.”

Who Is Behind QAnon? Linguistic Detectives Find Fingerprints – The New York Times

” “Open your eyes,” the online post began, claiming, “Many in our govt worship Satan.”

That warning, published on a freewheeling online message board in October 2017, was the beginning of the movement now known as QAnon. Paul Furber was its first apostle.

The outlandish claim made perfect sense to Mr. Furber, a South African software developer and tech journalist long fascinated with American politics and conspiracy theories, he said in an interview. He still clung to “Pizzagate,” the debunked online lie that liberal Satanists were trafficking children from a Washington restaurant. He was also among the few who understood an obscure reference in the message to “Operation Mockingbird,” an alleged C.I.A. scheme to manipulate the news media.

As the stream of messages, most signed only “Q,” grew into a sprawling conspiracy theory, the mystery surrounding their authorship became a central fascination for its followers — who was the anonymous Q?

Now two teams of forensic linguists say their analysis of the Q texts shows that Mr. Furber, one of the first online commentators to call attention to the earliest messages, actually played the lead role in writing them.”

“. . . . Mr. Furber said in an interview that he had inherited his passion for American politics from his parents, who had taught in Canada and traveled around the United States. He visited often while building a career in software development and writing for trade publications.

His fascination with conspiracy theories, he said, began with questions about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Then, around 1996, he found a site spinning alternative stories about the suicide of Vincent Foster, the Clinton White House counsel, and other deaths falsely said to be linked to the Clintons. “That sort of kicked off my interest,” he said.”

Far-Right Extremists Move From ‘Stop the Steal’ to Stop the Vaccine – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/us/far-right-extremism-anti-vaccine.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage

DL: Just when I think it’s really bad, it gets worse.

“Adherents of far-right groups who cluster online have turned repeatedly to one particular website in recent weeks — the federal database showing deaths and adverse reactions nationwide among people who have received Covid-19 vaccinations.

Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, the numbers are used by many extremist groups to try to bolster a rash of false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with titles like “Covid-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction — and Could Wipe out the Human Race” or “Doctors and Nurses Giving the Covid-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.”

If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.

Bashing of the safety and efficacy of vaccines is occurring in chat rooms frequented by all manner of right-wing groups including the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to spark a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations.”

How Senator Ron Johnson Helps Erode Confidence in Government – The New York Times

“BROOKFIELD, Wis. — Senator Ron Johnson incited widespread outrage when he said recently that he would have been more afraid of the rioters who rampaged the Capitol on Jan. 6 had they been members of Black Lives Matter and antifa.

But his revealing and incendiary comment, which quickly prompted accusations of racism, came as no surprise to those who have followed Mr. Johnson’s career in Washington or back home in Wisconsin. He has become the Republican Party’s foremost amplifier of conspiracy theories and disinformation now that Donald Trump himself is banned from social media and largely avoiding appearances on cable television.

Mr. Johnson is an all-access purveyor of misinformation on serious issues such as the pandemic and the legitimacy of American democracy, as well as invoking the etymology of Greenland as a way to downplay the effects of climate change.

In recent months, Mr. Johnson has sown doubts about President Biden’s victory, argued that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was not an armed insurrection, promoted discredited Covid-19 treatments, said he saw no need to get the coronavirus vaccine himself and claimed that the United States could have ended the pandemic a year ago with the development of a generic drug if the government had wanted that to happen.

Last year, he spent months as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee seeking evidence that Mr. Biden had tried to pressure Ukrainian officials to aid his son Hunter, which an Intelligence Community report released on Monday said was misinformation that was spread by Russia to help Mr. Trump’s re-election.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times)

Mr. Johnson has also become the leading Republican proponent of a revisionist effort to deny the motives and violence of the mob that breached the Capitol. At a Senate hearing to examine the events of that day, Mr. Johnson read into the record an account from a far-right website attributing the violence to “agents-provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters.” On Saturday, he told a conference of conservative political organizers in Wisconsin that “there was no violence on the Senate side, in terms of the chamber.” In fact, Trump supporters stormed the chamber shortly after senators were evacuated.

His continuing assault on the truth, often under the guise of simply “asking questions” about established facts, is helping to diminish confidence in American institutions at a perilous moment, when the health and economic well-being of the nation relies heavily on mass vaccinations, and when faith in democracy is shaken by right-wing falsehoods about voting.” . . .

David Lindsay:  Today, March 26, 2021, we recieved a copy of the Wall Street Journal instead of the New York Times. The lead op-ed was by Kimberly Strassel, called “Yellow Journalism Turns Blue,” attacking the left wing fascist press complex of smearing Wisonsin’s Senator Ron Johnson. It was well written, full of distortions, misrepresentations and lies. One has to be concerned about the bubble of miss information supported by Rupert Murdoch and his papers and television shows.

How Pro-Trump Forces Pushed a Lie About Antifa at the Capitol Riot – The New York Times

“At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol — and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”

Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”

What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.

In fact, the rioters breaking into the citadel of American democracy that day were acolytes of Mr. Trump, intent on stopping Congress from certifying his electoral defeat. Subsequent arrests and investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the insurrection.”

Thomas Friedman | Cyberspace Plus Trump Almost Killed Our Democracy. Can Europe Save Us? – The New York Times

To clean up the fake news on the internet, we should quickly get rid of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
“It stipulated that internet/cyberspace companies, which at the time were mostly crude search engines and aggregator sites . . . could not be held liable for defamatory or false posts by people using their platforms, the way The New York Times or CBS could be. ” Tom Friedman writes that Europe is leading the way.

. . . .  ” Shoshana Zuboff named this business model “surveillance capitalism,” and in a Times Op-Ed a year ago she detailed how these sites morphed from “bulletin boards” to “hyper-velocity global bloodstreams into which anyone may introduce a dangerous virus without a vaccine.”

Alas, our lawmakers were either too gridlocked, too bought off or too tempted to use these platforms themselves to produce serious legislation. And the platforms said, “Don’t blame us — regulate us.” But they all also used their vast lobbying powers to resist that.

The result? “While the Chinese have designed and deployed digital technologies to advance their system of authoritarian rule, the West has remained compromised and ambivalent,” Zuboff wrote last month in this paper. “This failure has left a void where democracy should be, and the dangerous result has been a two-decade drift toward private systems of surveillance and behavioral control outside the constraints of democratic governance.”

opean Union, which is already wary of the huge power of these big U.S. companies, has already forced search engines like Google to grant E.U. citizens the right to delete unfavorable or inaccurate online material about them from searches and is more sensitive to the dangers of fringe parties, will use its clout as the world’s largest trading bloc to show us how to democratically project our values into cyberspace.

A few weeks ago, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, released an open letter that pulled no punches. She noted that she had watched on television “as the angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. I found those images deeply unsettling. … This is what happens when messages spread by online platforms and social media become a threat to democracy.”

She noted that in December the E.U. leadership had proposed to the European Parliament a Digital Services Act and a Digital Market Act to make sure that “what is unlawful in the analogue world is in the future also unlawful online … We also want the platforms to provide transparency regarding how their algorithms work. … We also want clear requirements for internet firms to accept responsibility for the way in which they distribute, promote and remove content” and to mitigate the systemic risk they can pose.” . . .

Michelle Goldberg | QAnon Believers Are Obsessed With Hillary Clinton. She Has Thoughts. – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; photo by Eric Thayer for The New York Times

“A clear indication that Marjorie Taylor Greene was more than a dabbler in QAnon was her 2018 endorsement of “Frazzledrip,” one of the most grotesque tendrils of the movement’s mythology. You “have to go down a number of rabbit holes to get that far,” said Mike Rothschild, whose book about QAnon, “The Storm Is Upon Us,” comes out later this year.

The lurid fantasy of Frazzledrip refers to an imaginary video said to show Hillary Clinton and her former aide, Huma Abedin, assaulting and disfiguring a young girl, and drinking her blood. It holds that several cops saw the video, and Clinton had them killed.

When Greene posted a picture of Donald Trump with the mother of the slain N.Y.P.D. officer Miosotis Familia on Facebook, one of her commenters described Frazzledrip and wrote, “This was another Hillary hit.” Greene replied, “Yes Familia,” then continued, “I post things sometimes to see who knows things. Most the time people don’t. I’m glad to see your comment.”

Contemplating Frazzledrip, it occurred to me that QAnon is the obscene apotheosis of three decades of Clinton demonization. It’s other things as well, including a repurposed version of the old anti-Semitic blood libel, which accused Jews of using the blood of Christian children in their rituals, and a cult lusting for mass public executions. According to the F.B.I., it’s a domestic terror threat.

But QAnon is also the terminal stage of the national derangement over Clinton that began as soon as she entered public life. “It’s my belief that QAnon really took off because it was based on Hillary Clinton,” said Rothschild. “It was based specifically on something that a lot of 4chan dwellers wanted to see happen, which was Hillary Clinton arrested and sort of dragged away in chains.”

I was curious what Clinton thinks about all this, and it turns out she’s been thinking about it a lot. “For me, it does go back to my earliest days in national politics, when it became clear to me that there was a bit of a market in trafficking in the most outlandish accusations and wild stories concerning me, my family, people that we knew, people close to us,” she told me.”  . . .

“. . .  Looking back to the 1990s, it’s easy to see QAnon’s antecedents. In “Clinton Crazy,” a 1997 New York Times Magazine story, Philip Weiss delved into the multipronged subculture devoted to anathematizing the first couple. He described “freelance obsessives, the people for whom the Internet was invented, cerebral hobbyists who have glimpsed in the Clinton scandals a high moral drama that might shake society to its roots.”

The people Weiss wrote about targeted both Clintons, but there was always a special venom reserved for Hillary, seen as a feminist succubus out to annihilate traditional family relations. An attendee at the 1996 Republican National Convention told the feminist writer Susan Faludi, “It’s well-established that Hillary Clinton belonged to a satanic cult, still does.” Running for Congress in 2014, Ryan Zinke, who would later become Trump’s secretary of the interior, described her as “the Antichrist.” (He later said he was joking.) Trump himself called Clinton “the Devil.”

For Clinton, these supernatural smears are part of an old story. “This is rooted in ancient scapegoating of women, of doing everything to undermine women in the public arena, women with their own voices, women who speak up against power and the patriarchy,” she said. “This is a Salem Witch Trials line of argument against independent, outspoken, pushy women. And it began to metastasize around me.” In this sense, Frazzledrip is just a particularly disgusting version of misogynist hatred she’s always contended with.” . . .