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Russian bots are at the gate but the enemy is us

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What the Devil won't tell you

Russian bots are at the gate but the enemy is us

  • Vladimir Putin may have ordered a hit on the U.S. election in 2019 but Americans pulled the trigger.
    President of Russia/TwitterVladimir Putin may have ordered a hit on the U.S. election in 2019 but Americans pulled the trigger.

The other day, I did something I know better than to do. I friended on someone on Facebook with whom I didn't have any mutual friends. I know, I know, I know — but how do I know it's not someone just starting on Facebook or a random person who read one of my columns.

I said “CONFIRM.” Then someone on the other side said, perhaps with a Ural Mountain accent, “Otlichno!”

Excellent indeed. Immediately, "Austin Miller" was delivering me a personal message sincerely requesting my friendship from his military post in Afghanistan.

Aw shit. Here we go.

After years of ignoring friend requests from swimsuit models like Svetlana, Irina and Nadezhda, I was had by a middle-aged senior officer in front of an American flag.

The bots had struck again. But Facebook quickly responded and all messages were deleted before I could even check.

Yes, the Russians (and I guess the Saudis) are coming ahead of the 2020 election to repeat what they did in 2016. Russia didn’t just “buy some Facebook ads.” Russian military intelligence ran a psy-ops operation against the American voter. They created hundreds of false accounts on numerous platforms and spread wild accusations that provoked more than 300 million online responses. And in an election decided by the smallest of margins in just three states, it’s hard to argue it didn’t have an affect on the outcome.

I consider this foreign effort to ambush U.S. elections as a borderline act of war. If I were Number 46, I would tell Vladimir Putin if he does it again, I’m taking back the Crimea.

But c’mon, Libville … their crime was largely convincing us to punch ourselves in the face. They convinced some Bernie Sanders voters Hillary Clinton was an evildoer and stoked latent racial animus to life

The Russians didn’t invent Fox News, a racial backlash to the first black president, or craft a cement-footed response to economic changes smashing in the teeth of small-town America. They didn’t create whatever the hell kind of screeching Griffin-like monster Twitter has turned out to be.

We did that. We do it all the time.  This isn’t only a national trend. It’s local.

The fraud that wasn't

Here's how this stuff gets perpetuated.

The rightwing crackpot "Arizona Daily Independent" blog recently posted a story about the Legislature giving Pima County the right to ask voters to double the Regional Transportation Authority’s sales tax and included the accusation that the original RTA election was fraudulent:

"The County had tried to pass the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) measure, which had failed “four times previously and was far behind in pre-election polls,” but “succeeded in 2006 because of fraud,” according to the Arizona Republic.

The link is actually to the Tucson Citizen's old (and now defunct) archives, and that election got covered by me and my podmate Garry Duffy. There was no consistent polling done prior to the RTA. The county had never before tried to create a regional transit authority. At no point did the Citizen confirm it was fraudulent. I would have remembered winning that Pulitzer Prize if we'd discovered such a thing.

But the idea is to cast doubt on the entire system and neither the Republicans nor the Russians started this particular cockamamie theory.

No, that was the local Left.

Anatomy of a conspiracy

It was born out of a plot that supposedly sabotaged another presidential election but this one was in 2004. 

I covered the meeting held by liberal activists worried in 2006 that Pima County might allow voting device manufacturer Diebold Inc. to win a contract to provide electronic ballot machines on a limited basis. The county used Diebold’s optical scanners to count up vote tallies at the time.

So we have our requisite evil corporation.

Diebold is an Ohio-based company which provided half the ballot machines in Ohio during the 2004 election. Company CEO Walden O’Dell was an absolute moron who infamously vowed in an infamous 2003 letter to "helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president (George W. Bush) next year.'' He did this while running the company responsible for counting a good chunk of the votes in what turned out to be the decisive swing state.

Bush beat then Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in Ohio by fewer than 120,000 votes — had that state gone the other way, Kerry would have won the White House.

Put two and two together and ba-da-bing, a plot to destroy democracy must have been in play. Local liberal activists bought this theory hook, line and casting reel. The fix was in. Bush stole the election in Ohio because Diebold falsified the results, and by God they weren't going to let the same thing happen in Pima County.

Diebold had provided the GEMS software to tally up votes in Pima County. The technology is proprietary, meaning the public has no right to know how its systems actually work. The "election integrity" crowd took over the Pima County Democratic Party. Our elections weren't going to get hacked like Ohio. 

So stop me if you know how this ends.

The first election after this group started its crusade was the RTA election. Therefore – clearly — Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry changed the results, pulling an inside job. If he hadn't, that would mean Bush had won fair and square.

No, it doesn't make sense. That's the point.

No one has ever proven in any way that the RTA election results were faked. Huckelberry has sure lost some ballot questions since that he probably would have preferred to have won.

There are legit issues about election integrity and voting machines — especially involving proprietary tech that the governments buying the machines aren't allowed to know. But that's not good enough for some. They take it the next 400 steps.

Funner is faster

I think it's a lot more fun to learn about politics through the lens of surreptitious plots than it is to learn policy, second-order externalities and unintended consequences. Conspiracies are fun. They have intention and obstacle, the building blocks of drama dating all the way back to Aristotle's "poetics." Someone wants something. Something is in the way. Drama ensues with a beginning, middle and an end, with evil being done and often overcome.

Isn't that more fun than learning about daily vehicle trips along main arterials toward attractors? Isn't it easier to follow than understanding public funding and financing options?  Just say a nefarious corporation engineered it and those who can't see it are sheeple.

It sure saves some time.

Some former local candidates (for whom a lot of you readers unwittingly cast ballots at least once) are still on us at for not blowing the cover off how 9/11 was an inside job, with the involvement of something known as the "Zionist State." But no one has explained to me how the Bush administration made planes magically disappear but couldn't make WMD suddenly appear or what the hell we're supposed to do about it in Tucson.

This is the kind of thing that makes the Russians so effective and by “the kind of thing” I mean our own will to believe those who oppose us are evil and capable of absolutely anything.

In fact, it's dangerous to believe the whole system is corrupt because it can normalize actual corruption, and then we're all together on the road to hell.

Politicians can be petty, myopic, craven, self-absorbed, hapless, witless, tone deaf, irresponsible and ignorant. Their default psychological state ranges between hesitant to scared to death and most of their votes are unanimous. Evil? Evil people don't constantly need their bellies rubbed and ears scratched.

We believe the craziest stuff because simple crazy stuff isn't good enough.

Survival guide

There are always going to be people who see the world through tinfoil but you don’t have to be one of them. If something appears on your social media feed, it doesn't mean it's accurate just because it confirms how smart you are.

If it's in a meme, it's probably abject nonsense, or at the very least just a fraction of the story. Memes are even less informative than headlines. Social media provocation is crafted to inflame, not inform. Whether it's a Russian campaign of Facebook ads boosting Trump or pushing Black Lives Matter links, your desire to have your bias confirmed and outrage leveraged — to be told that you're already right and that you're right to be mad about it — is what's being targeted.

Yeah, you know this. But then there there are all the people who I've heard bitch about how gullible everyone else acts on line only to shout out "Oh my God, Republicans in Florida are feeding children to crocodiles!"

Who says so?

"Radicalmarxist dot com."

You gotta read past the clickbait to see the words in the article and see if they include both sides of the story, either in quotes or at least an effort to paraphrase. Maybe check and see if any one else has covered it.

If Florida R's are feeding kids to crocs, the New York Times isn't going to ignore it. If the clickbait worked for "True Blue dot com" then it will work for the Great Gray Lady. They aren't going to ignore it.

If you read the headline, you haven't read the damn story. I write headlines and no one is good enough to embody the sum of a story into a few short words. Reporters' most prolific gripe about copy editors is that the headline doesn't match the story. Copy editors reply you try fitting the word "investigation" into one three lines down a single column of copy. It's how we get the word "probe."

So, click and read, folks. RTFA before you comment.

Also, and this is clutch, always, always, always assume there is more to the story than appears in an article. There always is. Hell, I write 2,000 words and have to delete things when I get rolling.

Understand the difference between a story and opinion. Hard news isn't supposed to just back up the opinion while opinion pieces aren't supposed to be unbiased. That's an important distinction that's too often lost on some readers.

Check the links. 

Honestly, I’ve followed links in articles meant to bolster a claim that actually undermine it. But it’s there and it’s purple, so it must be authentic. Here at the Sentinel, Editor Dylan Smith a few week ago got on me for referring to an Arizona Republic story about a Census report instead of the actual Census report (asshole), which proved the Republic story wrong (jerk). 

For a people who are so cynical about the efficacy of big institutions, we sure love to trust the Internet at first glance. There really oughta be a Facebook policy that requires someone to read an article before they can comment on it.

Sovereignty and sanity

So yeah, the Russians violated U.S. sovereignty and self-determination protected in Articles 1 and 2 of the U.N. Charter. But U.S. voters violated the Latin imperative "caveat emptor" (buyer beware).

Democrats would be cray-cray not to seriously ask themselves how a malevolent carnival barker with a game show got himself within .05 percent of the White House in the first place. The whole establishment may also want to consider how an avowed socialist is seen as a presidential front-runner and not a fringe candidate.

Maybe we like to think that people who disagree with us are evil so it doesn’t matter if we are wrong. Yeah, sure, we think: maybe Hillary Clinton knows more about macroeconomics than I do, but at least I don't run a child sex ring out of a pizza shop basement (with tunnels that extend to a cement plant in Tucson). 

Sure, yes, the Russians are coming (and the Saudis and then probably the Chinese and Iranians) but they are using our own gullibility and sanctimony against us. The Russians are an adversary. Unfortunately, we have met the enemy and it’s us. 

And we are our last line of defense. Let's keep our heads about us.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.

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