No more excuses that it's too hard to find truth. (It really isn't)
It's an obligation of citizenship.
There are plenty of reasons that people avoid truth in today’s world. Some just want the convenience of someone telling them what to think, based on some aspect of their identity, such as political party, state they live in, what their neighbors or religious leaders think, and on and on and on, ad nauseum. Some want to be in a certain “crowd” or movement. Others, want to “virtue signal” or simply don’t have time to do research… or so they claim. Some also don’t bother because they legitimately are so focused on other issues or commitments that they may not have time. Regardless of the reason, if you vote, you must make the time. Our founders considered this an obligation of citizenship.
With the core of my profession being influence in support of national security, mis and disinformation is one of my specialties. I research, teach, mentor and have been an operator or practitioner in combat zones and in other areas of national security, that help to protect the US with ethical influence. Also, to the annoyance of many, I was raised by a father who began his long, successful career in education, by teaching History and Civics. Both by example and teaching, he imbued me with a sense of honoring our nation by being an informed, participating citizen. This background gave me focus from the time I could read, sitting in front of his home library, absorbing all manner of our founder’s intentions for our nascent republic.
“Paying it forward” by teaching and mentoring, is my way of acting on my childhood and professional interests. Today’s TAT is to help others find that sense of patriotism, instilled in me by both my parents, one a lifelong Democrat and one a lifelong Republican. Both often crossed party lines when the situation dictated, but their votes were discussed (not argued) based on merit, not party.
I have often written on the topic of “fake news” or as it’s professionally called, malign influence. Malign influence can involve both foreign and domestic efforts by all manner of operations, be they government, personal, organization, political etc. Even marketers employ malign influence, to give themselves advantages over competitors. In some cases, and of which this is the most dangerous version, unethical marketers, working for political reasons are often employed by foreign and domestic people or groups looking to undermine the US and other foreign allies. This has been and still is the case with Russia, the MAGA movement and the army of unethical marketers selling “fake news” and un-American conspiracy theories.
Politics have always been brimming with unethical types selling snake oil to achieve victory. This has been true with all political parties in US history. Today’s GOP though, is a different story because they have fully embraced the anti-American narratives, largely sponsored by Russia and her friends in the US. Unlike the Cold War, where the then, Soviets used something called Active Measures against the US and our Western allies, mostly NATO, today’s Russian influence operates in conjunction with the current, MAGA controlled GOP. Countless investigations by US intelligence services, investigative journalists and congressional committees have long had the evidence. The current GOP leadership, their party and those who fund them, have during the Trump era, wielded conspiracy theories as one weapon to undermine public knowledge of these facts.
A whole industry of alleged, news sites have grown up around the perpetuation and promotion of these conspiracy theories. A well-known case is the “big lie.”
In the two and a half years since the last election, a whole list of supporting conspiracy theories has grown up around supporting the big lie. Where once was a cottage industry of dirty trickers in politics, now exists a complex web of highly paid influencers that will say and do anything to acquire a political win. This occurs in both parties, but it is the GOP that is somewhat quietly, still collaborating with Russia. The SSCI, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence detailed this in a 3- and 1/2-year investigation, completed in August of 2020. Volume V of the five volume report, dealt solely with CI threats (counterintelligence threats) and was nearly a thousand pages long.
Now that we know what Russia is selling and that one of only two major US political parties is assisting, we have to look hard at how both maintain popular support among the MAGA crowd. The short answer is that the now massive, Yellow Journalism, 2.0 industry that includes FOX, Newsmax, Breitbart, Townhall, Gateway Pundit and literally thousands of other sites, reach out around the clock to hold the attention of Republicans with new and sustained conspiracy theories that subconsciously trigger Americans to support a very long list of un-American values that include some that are also pro-Russian. This is what the Think Tank, Narrative Strategies calls, Narrative Warfare.
Narrative Warfare simply means that malign influencers, design campaigns and messaging that subconsciously triggers people to behave in a predictable manner. Yes, this means that the MAGA crowd has been duped by pros to support values that they call patriotic but are in truth, un-American. FOX has been conditioning audiences with these substituted un-American values for nearly 30 years. In other words, FOX has turned those who consider themselves, “conservative” into Pavlovian dogs, spewing fake values and fake patriotism. MAGA is not conservatism but an extremist movement, more along the line of a cult that wittingly and unwittingly supports Putin and big dollar donors to GOP campaigns. There is nothing patriotic about this... NOTHING!
The question is “what do we do about it.?”
The Way Ahead
Finally, back to the topic of pursuing truth as a matter of good citizenship and national security.
Number one, MAGA is a national security threat of the highest order due to what we’ve discussed above. Calls for authoritarian rule, the attempt to overthrow a US presidential election by subverting the US Constitution should be enough to convince you but yet… there’s more. Foreign policy in the Trump years favored the other Populist/ Nationalist thugs around the world, including Russia. The administration tried its best to dissolve or mortally wound NATO. Yes, this is the very NATO that has bolstered its unity in support of Ukraine against a genocidal Putin. Weakening our global unity with like-minded nations while simultaneously enabling Putin, did and still does weaken our national security dramatically.
Those duped by the malign influencers have succumbed to the perpetual barrage of miss and disinformation day and night on the alleged news sites, talk shows and advertising. After audiences have been conditioned, it takes little to make them do as you please. The psychological triggers have already been installed in their brains. Like Pavolov’s dog, they will then behave as they have been conditioned to, almost always, subconsciously. Those so conditioned, will then behave as those pesky, proverbial lemmings and follow each other off a cliff. When those lemmings make up the controlling element of the GOP, those lemmings will push the rest of us off that cliff in the stampede. This just means that the US, based on our real values, will go off that cliff too.
This potentially mortal, national threat could be minimized, by each citizen upholding their citizen’s responsibility to be well and accurately informed. At the very beginning of this article, I noted a lot of excuses that people use to maintain their unwillingness to search for truth. The main reason that I do not buy those excuses is that we all now have a high-speed computer in the palm of our hands, several hours a day. On their phones, most all of us know precisely how to find reviews for food, the best prices on the goods we shop for, ratings for movies, sports teams, even dating apps. If we have time to find the best and most cost-effective services, we have time to find truth. When I say, “that it’s just not that hard,” I’m being deadly serious. If you can find the best steak restaurant for your weekend date, you can find reliable news sites.
I’ve written on the topic of finding reliable news and information sites a couple of times for the extraordinary folks at Homeland Security Today Magazine. (Highly recommend and they have a free newsletter that is the best in the industry.) Finding truth is easy with any number of highly rated fact-checking sites. What really matters in the case of US national security, is that when we find truth, that we understand how this applies to being a good citizen or better yet, a patriot. We all see patriotic a bit differently based on our life experiences, but what FOX and the MAGA movement has done is, they have replaced real American values with fake American values, like Christian Nationalism. Once someone’s identity is affixed to a narrative, dislodging it requires expertise in Narrative Warfare. This requires the FBI and Homeland Security, whose responsibility it is to protect the US domestically, to urgently adopt and employ a radical change in what they are doing now, and that is demonstrably, a failure.
Waiting on innovation in most government, occurs at a glacial pace. What citizens can and must do, is to challenge ourselves and others to talk, not argue about sources and put them into, an American values context. For example, in many states, there is a strong push towards vouchers for schooling. The context is not about your personal wishes but about whether or not, vouchers is constitutional. The historical interpretation by all previous Supreme Courts, is that vouchers are, unconstitutional. This is the hardcore truth, but it misses the mark without adding context based on our identity as good American citizens.
In order to add context, leaders must provide context to the facts, by becoming narrators and engaging audiences at both the conscious and subconscious levels. Websites alone, devoid of an army of narrators (public affairs) are of little to no value, once we’ve reached the place we are now, regarding hyper-partisanship. It’s not just leadership by government either. Community and religious leaders, left/ right or otherwise, should be leading the charge by adding the context of real American values, not the fake bunch.
When teaching, especially in a group that is new to influence or related fields, I will often dare them to use a handful of tools put together by professionals to verify information. One is the “Journalists’ Toolbox.” If students want a shortcut, I simply dare them to read only, local news, Reuters, The Associated Press and BBC News for two-weeks, to see the difference between heavily biased materials and reality. Another way to find reality is when “googling something,” look for the little blue rectangles next to the name of a site. The labels are assigned by an independent news evaluator service called NEWSGUARD, a highly reputable company. They have a percentage listed in those little blue boxes which tells you the credibility rating of the site. If the percentage displayed is under 90%, I highly recommend choosing something higher.
For many Americans, taking this simple dare or using some super simple online tools, will require a great deal of personal courage. The deeper someone has identified with a narrative or set of narratives, good or bad, the harder it becomes for them to challenge themselves. Those false narratives become part of their identity. This is but one reason that political parties are not even mentioned in our Constitution and that G. Washington, our only independent POTUS, despised and feared what would happen if parties (factions was the term, at the birth of our nation) became more important than the country.
When it comes to Narrative Warfare, breaking the hold of false narratives is a tough task that requires time, intense planning, and sustained campaigning, even for those who know how. Like all ethical influence in support of our national security, building resilience to fake news and campaigning to sustain it, requires training and expertise not currently available in the community. In fact, there are so many obstacles to cohesive, effective campaigning in ethical influence, one might say that we are unarmed on the battlefield of influence.
We must remember that in our republic, it’s not the government’s job to do everything for us. During WW II, we all participated whether in service or at home, even children pitched in. We felt it our patriotic duty. We are now at war with aggressors who wield malign influence, rather than bombs, ships, planes etc. Some of those aggressors are foreign and some domestic, or as in the Trump era, both. If we are to successfully survive these attacks, we must all pitch in again. Yes, it would be good if the FBI and DHS could handle this better but that is not currently in the cards. In this case, we must all become like those courageous “Minutemen” who took matters of national defense, personally and responded to the challenge. Sometimes this will mean challenging family, friends and others to take the dare mentioned above. It means advocating for local leaders to take up the call. Mostly, we must have the courage to seek truth too.
In my youth, Superman expressed the great American narrative best: Truth, Justice and the American Way