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April 21, 2014

Long-Rumored Clinton White House Memo Pushing Idea of the Internet as an Incubator for Right-Wing "Conspiracies" Finally Released to Public

Via Althouse, the document that probably served as the basis for Hillary Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy" remark.

The actual document is here. There's not much to it. It's a fairly crude political blast-fax type thing (from the age of the blast-fax -- the emails of yesteryear).

Interesting, it uses the term "conspiracy theory" to apply not just to what would typically be termed conspiracy theories (the various theories about Vince Foster's death) but also to any derogatory story the Clinton White House wished to delegitimize. Thus, the Paula Jones and Gennifer Flower accusations -- which were not "conspiracy theories" in any sense, but just accusations that Clinton (falsely) denied -- are termed "conspiracy theories" pushed by the "right-wing."

Whitewater also gets namechecked as a "conspiracy theory."

The document is especially paranoid itself* about the powers of this newfangled "Internet" machine:

The right wing has seized upon the internet as a means of communicating its ideas to people.

Moreover, evidence exists that Republican staffers surf the internet, interacting with extremists in order to exchange ideas and information.

Egads!

Other interesting points:

The memo is much-concerned on partisans' ability to transmit memes via this "Internet" and then get them into "mainstream" news coverage. Note that the left has spent the last twenty years building up a serious and well-funded infrastructure of professional agitators whose only goal is to just that, but for the left.

Media Matters and all the rest are frequently able to get their stories picked up by the "mainstream" media, and, per Sheryl Attkisson, are also active in coordinating email/phone call/whisper campaigns to "controversialize" news stories they don't like and get them pulled from "mainstream" media broadcasts and articles.

The other interesting thing, of course, is that the names "Richard Mellon Scaife" and "Joseph Farah" litter the document like mentions of the devil in a medieval treatise on the plague.

Twenty years later, and they're still working off the exact same playbook. It's just that the Koch Brothers are the Devils of the Day.

* Note how establishment players are often extremely paranoid about "the fringe" (that is, anyone who's non-establishment).

This 2009 article describes "the paranoia of the center" (or the putative center -- certainly They think they're the center) and how their hateful suspicions about anyone Not Like Them can lead to deligitimization campaigns and suppression of vital debate.

We've heard ample warnings about extremist paranoia in the months since Barack Obama became president, and we're sure to hear many more throughout his term. But we've heard almost nothing about the paranoia of the political center. When mainstream commentators treat a small group of unconnected crimes as a grand, malevolent movement, they unwittingly echo the very conspiracy theories they denounce. Both brands of connect-the-dots fantasy reflect the tellers' anxieties much more than any order actually emerging in the world.

When such a story is directed at those who oppose the politicians in power, it has an additional effect. The list of dangerous forces that need to be marginalized inevitably expands to include peaceful, legitimate critics.

The Paranoid Style in Center-Left Politics

This isn't the first time the establishment has been overrun with paranoia about paranoiacs. The classic account of American conspiratology is Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," a 1964 survey of political fear from the founding generation through the Cold War. A flawed and uneven essay, Hofstadter's article nonetheless includes several perceptive passages. The most astute one might be this:

"It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through 'front' groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy."

Hofstadter didn't acknowledge it, but his argument applied to much of his audience as well. His article begins with a reference to "extreme right-wingers," a lead that reflected the times. In the early 1960s, America was experiencing a wave of alarm about the radical right. This had been building throughout the Kennedy years and then exploded after the president's assassination, which many people either blamed directly on the far right or attributed to an atmosphere of fear and division fed by right-wing rhetoric. By the time Hofstadter's essay appeared, the "projection of the self" he described was in full effect. Just as anti-communists had mimicked the communists, anti-anti-communists were emulating the red hunters.

It's an important piece, worth reading again every year.

So, it appears that the Democrats became paranoid about these "right wing extremists" using the Internet to "spread [their] ideas" to the mainstream media, and then spent the next twenty years diligently creating a virtual media paramilitary militia army to transmit their own memes and enforce their community-based narratives.


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posted by Ace at 05:17 PM

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