Putin loves you; therefore, you love Putin. The enemy re-tweets you, therefore, you're in league with the enemy. We're at war with them, therefore we're at war with you.
One of the first rules of a shunning campaign is that it doesn't have to make sense. It just has to be what everyone's saying. Since most Americans went to high school, we tend to be instinctively familiar with the concept.
The crazy inverse logic of the new national blacklist was on full display after special prosecutor Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian "troll farm" operatives in February. In the wake of this foreign meddling charge, CNN reporter Drew Griffin banged on the door of an elderly female Trump supporter named Florine Goldfarb and accused her of being a Russia-collaborator.
Goldfarb had attended a pro-Trump rally allegedly promoted on Facebook by Russian trolls. There were no Russians at the rally. The group didn't meet to discuss the subjugation of Abkhazia. They were plain, ordinary, Floridian Trump supporters – idiots, maybe, but not traitors.
Not according to CNN.
"That group was Russians," Griffin said accusingly.
"I had nothing to do with Russians," the old lady said.
"Maybe you didn't know it," Griffin countered, "but you did."
Nearly two years into the #Russiagate scandal, accusing people of being in league with Putin has become an almost daily feature of news coverage.
"Is it possible that we actually have a Russian agent running the House Intel Committee on the Republican side?" MSNBC anchor John Heilmann posited not long ago, referring to California congressman Devin Nunes.
The main source of the questions about Nunes was Hamilton 68, a website purporting to track the work of Russian social media bots in real time. An offshoot of the German Marshall Fund, the site represents an unpleasantly unsurprising union of neoconservative Iraq war cheerleaders like Bill Kristol and Beltway Democrats like would-be Clinton CIA chief Michael Morell.
Their Hamilton 68 "dashboard," easily accessible online to civilians and journalists alike, supposedly tells us what the enemy wants us to think at any given moment. Citing a secret methodology, it claims to track 600 Twitter accounts for their "relationship to Russia-sponsored influence," and regularly spits out mysterious conclusions about Putin's preferences in the American political scene. More and more often now, the site's pronouncements turn into front-page headlines.
When the dashboard declared that Nunes' #Releasethememo campaign had become the "top-trending hashtag" among Russian twitter accounts, a gaggle of press outlets and politicians rushed to point out that Nunes was doing the work of the enemy. (Even Rolling Stone got into the act, accusing Nunes of working "in concert with Russian propagandists").
Of course, in keeping with a growing pattern of Russiagate stories being quietly walked back sometime after the sensational headline, reports later broke that most of the Twitter furor driving #Releasethememo came from domestic Republicans – from "inside the house," as the Daily Beast put it. Even one of Hamilton 68's own was later quoted downplaying the story.
It didn't matter, because Hamilton 68 had by then moved on to its next set of headlines. The group that has seen Russians behind both left and right political causes, behind the Roy Moore Alabama Senate campaign and the decision of California Democrats to deny their endorsement to Dianne Feinstein, was soon a main source for stories about Russians playing havoc with the Parkland shooting in Florida.
The Russians, Hamilton 68 now said, were sowing discord on both sides of the gun control debate by pushing contradictory hashtags like #guncontrolnow and #NRA.
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