It had been looking like a rough month for the Russiagate investigation. Trump has seemed panicked and disjointed, and his slanders have grown desperate and shrill. The Nunes memo, the attacks against the FBI, the talk of firing Robert Mueller, the accusal of bias toward Trump on the part of investigators involved with the case.
All of it pointed a giant red arrow toward something big coming down in their direction. And on Friday, we found out what.
A personal anecdote. The editor of Millennial Democrats was online alongside legions of others, out there for HRC from 2015 onward, every day, for many hours. Anyone who was there back then can tell you. It can be stated categorically that there was a tangible, palpable disinformation campaign going on.
You would go into groups and talk to people, who were steadfast in their refusal to listen far beyond the bounds of reason or even fanaticism. These guys were professionals.
It was like they were getting paid per response. They all seemed to be equipped with the same list of hit points about Hillary Clinton. This became clear after a while because the very same slanders would be laid out every time, in sequential order. In many cases the wording was actually identical, although most took the time to switch about at least a thing or two. And they were just as prevalent on the left as on the right.
It got especially bad during the last month of the Democratic primary, which was a very horrible time filled with chaos and division. During this time, we were savagely attacked. Anything we posted would be Reported as Spam/Abuse by political adversaries from both the far right and left. We were barraged with nasty messages and threats. One particularly rabid group of Bernie Sanders supporters told one of our contributors that they hoped she was gang-raped. The list is very long, and very sordid.
We didn’t blame the people, though. The whole thing was unprecedented, not to mention pretty implausible. Even our intelligence agencies were not fully aware of what was going on. This kind of thing has never happened here before. This sort of attack has in the past been used only by superpowers against small, Third World countries. We were never considered so vulnerable.
The anger and despair caused by the 2016 election opened a door. The smear job on Hillary Clinton represented a quarter- century’s work and God only knows how many millions of dollars on the part of the GOP. They had long ago ensured there was no end of mud to sling. And trusty Wikileaks was always around to make sure there was no shortage of new indecencies. We were all online for this, every single day.
Being involved as a Democratic activist has often been really scary because of the constant Russian harassment. It was a violation of everything we are entitled to as American citizens. Russia used their disinformation machine against us with tremendous effect, just as they have done in Ukraine or Syria. We were actively being targeted, by foreign agents, for participating in our own electoral process.
We had wanted to make our voices heard, and to make a difference in our own futures. Instead, we found ourselves on the front lines of a virtual battlefield, fighting the first skirmishes in this new kind of proxy war we were to be fighting with the Russians.
This, combined with the blatant insanity of the Trump base, and the rabidly overzealous conduct of a dangerously high percentage of Bernie Sanders supporters made for an extremely nasty cocktail of filth for the Russians to fling about on social media, amplifying their messages through a mixture of robot armies and highly targeted advertising.
It is to be hoped, now that our American leaders know, that they will do something to give us a hand. We are still here, and ready to be of service, and as warriors of the information age, we are the ones best placed to do it.
The best defence against Russian trolls is a well-educated public and a lot of tech-savvy Democrats beating them back. No amount of disinformation can ultimately prevail against facts. The key is to get our message out there as far as we can, to as many people as we can. Raising awareness constitutes the one sure path to an ultimate victory.