From Russia with lies: Trump Jr and a very modern conspiracy
There is a classic scene in Men in Black where Tommy Lee Jones is explaining to Will Smith about all the aliens who are passing themselves off as Earthlings. “Everyone said I was crazy, but I knew our teacher was from Venus or something like that,” says Will Smith. “Ms Edelson. Jupiter, actually,” Tommy Lee Jones replies. “One of the moons.” Sometimes your feeling that someone comes from a different planet might be true.
Same with conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories – as David Aaronovitch, for one, has argued in Voodoo Histories – are generally a lot of hogwash. They are essentially stupid. There is a whole research group at Cambridge (“Conspiracy and Democracy”) dedicated to deconstructing if not debunking the conspiratorial mind. Maybe the CIA and LBJ and the KGB all murdered JFK (the only requirement is that you have to be able to boil the name down to three letters), maybe President Bush secretly engineered 9/11. And maybe the whole Apollo moon programme was just a Hollywood stunt. Maybe it’s impossible to prove a negative. Conspiracy theories are, by their nature, unfalsifiable. They are also hugely improbable. But, all due scepticism notwithstanding, every now and then a conspiracy theory turns out to be true.
Which is where Russia comes in. The recent revelation about the activities of a guy called Trump (Trump Jr perhaps but surely in some obscure way related to Trump Sr) prior to the US election, specifically with a view to subverting the cause of Hillary Clinton in cahoots with Russia, and therefore ultimately the Kremlin, suggests that this could be one of those rare times. The links are becoming clearer every day.Former KKK leader David Duke thanks Trump for latest comments
What is certain is that Trump won the election (even if he lost the popular vote) thanks to a conspiracy theory. Enough people bought into his absurd idea to the effect that President Obama and a Washington mafia or “elite” (definitely involving a lot of media people, Ivy League professors, the “deep state” and me too at some level) had all banded together to drag the American nation down into the dirt. And, secondly, that a saviour figure (guess who) like a Shane or Clint Eastwood riding into town all alone could come and clean out the stables or “swamp”.
Isn’t that the nuttiest thing you ever heard? Yeah, I’m in. The crazier the better where conspiracy theories are concerned. There is no point having a theory that is not far-fetched and fabulous. You can go on building – why stop with Lee Harvey Oswald? Behind him is one shady organisation, and behind them yet another, and so on. It’s infinite regression in action, involving nearly everyone, and everyone else turning a blind eye.Donald Trump met by angry protesters on return to Trump Tower
This week New York sees the annual ThrillerFest taking place at the Grand Hyatt hotel on 42nd Street, where noir writers of every stripe are spinning their tales. But at the same time there is a teller of tall tales (and tweeter extraordinaire) sitting in the White House. A narrative got him into power (the Hillary narrative barely existed – you can have more of the same – fundamentally boring, like her stultifying autobiography). Now, it is possible, another narrative may well deprive him of power and see him booted right back out again. To be honest (I might as well own up), I rather hope that it will. There would be some kind of poetic justice in that. A re-balancing of the universe.
And this is the point made by Dan Kovalik, who teaches international human rights at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, in The Plot To Scapegoat Russia: How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Russia. The “liberal intelligentsia” are buying into a conspiracy theory about Trump, the idiots. But this argument is itself a conspiracy theory about people falling for a conspiracy theory. It reads like a riposte to another book, by Malcolm Nance, The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election. I suppose the only weak spot in the subtitle is the word “tried”. Surely they did more than “try”? But the remarkable thing is that both these books are published by the same publisher in New York, Skyhorse, which is one of the biggest independent publishers in America. One which claims to aim to “fight against injustices, conspiracies, or abuses of power”, according to its website. It has even published the transcript of the Oliver Stone documentary, The Putin Interviews.
Allow me to summarise The Plot to Hack America: Putin done it. Conversely, The Plot to Scapegoat Russia is: oh no he didn’t. When I spoke to the sceptical Kovalik about the current scandal on the phone, he said “we have a phrase in the US – nothingburger”. Everything is being hyped up out of all proportion. “It’s the Democrats blaming Russia for losing the election”. America, he points out, does this kind of thing all the time – interfering in the elections of other nations. But, hold on, isn’t that a coup you’re talking about? “Some people are suggesting we attack Russia – which seems insane to me. Even if you assume the worst, that doesn’t justify it.” In his book he writes that he voted Green and scorned both Clinton and Trump but adds that “the one redeeming attribute I did see in Trump … was that he wanted, for whatever reason, to make peace with Russia, which I sincerely believe is a worthy friend and ally.”Trump calls white supremacists 'repugnant' and racism 'evil' after days of criticism
Stone would agree. Quite rightly he decided that, rather than listen to all the bullshit and propaganda, he needed to go right to the source, to Putin himself, and have a word direct (even if mediated through interpreters). And lo, what does he come up with: so far, what looks suspiciously like more bullshit and propaganda, delivered in a Russian accent, direct from Putin himself.
Maybe Putin tells some version of the truth about his own upbringing (maybe), but when he says that, for example, Russia is “supporting the statehood of Ukraine” and other ex-Soviet Union satellites, you want to laugh. For no reason I can fathom Stone just sits there and keeps a straight face. He completely buys into a conspiracy theory when it is happening in the US (in his movie JFK Kevin Costner convincingly proves that everyone other than Oswald done it and probably the Warren Commission was in on it too). But when it comes to Russia, which actually is a totalitarian state (depleted, true, in the way that uranium is depleted) intent on reviving its imperial glories, Stone is polite and respectful.Merkel commands hefty poll lead as she kicks off re-election campaign
In the blurb he wrote for the Kovalik book, Stone says “fake news is thriving in Washington DC”. Not only does that sound exactly like a Trumpism, it tends to suggest that Moscow, in contrast, is innocent of any fakery. It could be that The Putin Interviews turn out to be Oliver Stone’s most naive and embarrassing work to date. Particularly if Trump Jr is finally brought to book, with Sr not far behind. If the film has a soundtrack, it should be the sound of a man being played.
It is beyond satire for President Trump to go about saying “We need to work with Russia” when with every day that goes by it becomes more and more obvious that he already was working with Russia well before he ever became President. There are good diplomatic relations, and then there is treason. Malcolm Nance, who wrote The Plot to Hack America – which was published just before the US election – is not only a self-professed spy (or “career intelligence officer”) but also serves on the board of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. He was the first writer to put the story about Putin the Spymaster manipulating America out there and now sounds fully vindicated. “Everything that is coming out now, I wrote it in the book. I hope the guy that wrote the book about ‘scapegoating Russia’ is going to publish a second edition in which he retracts everything he wrote.” Nance says that his book is “rock-solid intelligence analysis”. It’s a conspiracy, but with no theorising. The “Kremlin Crew” created a plot and now it’s unravelling. “It’s Rosenberg meets Watergate meets Benedict Arnold,” he said in a pithy summary. Nance also quotes Lenin: “A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.”
More than ever the Trump set-up seems more like a “regime” than a functioning democracy. Or maybe the Mafia is the closest equivalent, with all these relatives helping out with the family business. I think the Borgias were a bit like that. Beyond that you have to reach for Tacitus and his history of decadent and self-serving Roman emperors. I think we owe the word “nepotism” to Italy but it has become thoroughly Americanised. I was almost forgetting Mrs Thatcher and her dear son Mark, who always had a nose for the next arms deal, and his commission. You have to hand it to Trump though, the spirit of egalitarianism runs through the White House: you have the First Lady and the First Daughter, then there is the First Son-in-law, and then First Son, and so on. I expect we will soon have the First Cousin and the First Aunt confessing involvement in some shady deal. They all come First at the White House. Everyone else comes Last.Taliban letter to Trump urges US to leave Afghanistan
Kovalik is right, there really is a kind of hysteria on the loose in America, reminiscent of the old Cold War “reds under the bed” mentality. But, at the same time, as someone wisely said, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they are not after you. Or at least hacking you and scamming you and destroying your democracy.
Maybe, when you stop to think about it, conspiracies are not that rare. Most of them we know nothing about because they are very good conspiracies that manage to keep everything secret and nailed down and possibly eliminate any weak links. These are in fact the best conspiracies – about which no book will ever be written. There are vast and inhuman conspiracies out there for sure. Not necessarily alien-engineered. I think you could reasonably argue that every single religion we’ve every come up with – and cult – is a species of conspiracy.How US-North Korea tensions play into Kim Jong-un's hands
But even in a more down-to-earth secular way, every now and then you can find a thread and you just keep pulling on it until the whole damn story comes out. Watergate (starring Nixon and a cast of if not thousands certainly dozens, “all the King’s Men”) was one such conspiracy and it brought down a President. Russiagate could be another. Karl Marx said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. But, as he – being himself one of the great conspirators of all time – might have added, whether tragic or farcical, it’s all conspiracy.