1 September 2016

The RT Election

The American far-left and hard-right, supported by Moscow’s media, have coalesced on a Kremlin-friendly platform

Last December, at a gala honoring the 10th anniversary of the Russian propaganda channel RT, Russian President Vladimir Putin nestled himself between a pair of visitors at the head table. To the president’s right: A former head of the US’s Defense Intelligence Agency, known best for his hard-right views on Islam, which he would later compare to “cancer.” And to Putin’s left: The soon-to-be Green Party nominee for the White House, whose presidential debate would be carried on, of all things, RT.

The two - Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, an adviser to Republican nominee Donald Trump, and Jill Stein, the presidential nominee from the Green Party - chummed with Putin throughout the evening, later joined at the table by RT (formerly Russia Today) head Margarita Simonyan and then-Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov. Soon, Putin took the dais, running through rote commentary on RT’s accomplishments. When he finished, applause rang. Stein shook his hand. Flynn offered a standing ovation.

Within that gala, leading figures of America’s far-left, in Stein, and hard-right, in Trump’s surrogate, found common cause. The bookends of the American political spectrum had gathered in Moscow, glad-handing with Kremlin officials. The two camps, aligned in post-fact views on American foreign policy, discovered themselves aligned in celebration of the Kremlin’s foremost foreign propaganda vehicle.

Unsurprisingly, the policy prescriptions of Stein and Flynn don’t align on much else. As it pertains to Moscow, though, it’s clear that the distance between the Stein and the Trump campaigns have effectively disappeared.

But where the Trump campaign’s affinity for Kremlin policy has been well-covered, Stein may well be putting forward a more pro-Kremlin set of policies than the Republican candidate. While Trump has displayed a willingness to turn NATO into a purely commercial venture, and has repeatedly praised Putin personally, there’s an argument to be made that Stein has pushed foreign policy proposals - and outright conspiracies - mirroring the Kremlin’s rhetoric to a greater extent than anyone in Trump’s camp.

For a sampling of how Stein’s views mirror those of the Kremlin, glance at her Twitter feed. Not only has Stein, on multiple instances, pushed links to - and her own appearances on - RT, but she has further taken the platform to espousing some of the most blinkered views on Washington-Moscow relations. To wit, in April, Stein asked: “Who exactly is NATO fighting? ...Other than enemies we invent to give the weapons industry a reason to sell more stuff.” A few weeks prior, she derisively referred to Ukraine’s EuroMaidan revolution as “regime change.” Then, for good measure, she took to Twitter in July to note that “if Bill Clinton hadn't had Larry Summers destroy Russia's economy & turn democracy to oligarchy, US-Russia relations would be better.”

But it’s not simply Stein’s Twitter feed that’s allowed her to hew closely to the Kremlin’s talking points. In myriad interviews, Stein has pushed views that could have been lifted from Russian state media - and often are. For instance, in an interview with OnTheIssues, Stein claimed that the US “foment[ed] a coup” in Ukraine, allowing “ultra-nationalists and ex-Nazis [to come] to power.” Stein further insisted that the US “should encourage Ukraine to be neutral,” and that “NATO has pursued a policy of basically encircling Russia,” as if Russia remains the lone post-Soviet state with any agency. She has additionally described Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s “saber-rattling against Russia” as an “existential threat to human survival,” and that Clinton will - not may, but will - “take [the US] into an air war with Russia[.]” She has also gone so far as to describe Wikileaks’ Julian Assange as a “hero.”

For good measure, Stein’s running mate, Ajamu Baraka, has noted - all evidence aside - that he believes the shootdown of MH17 over Ukraine was a false flag attack. (“That’s exactly what happened,” Baraka confirmed.) Baraka also referred to OSCE monitors in Ukraine as “spies.” Such conspiracy-mongering from Stein’s party - which nominated a “9/11 Truther” in 2008 - isn’t unsurprising; in addition to Stein’s views on vaccines and Wi-Fi, Baraka contributed a recent essay to a compilation of writings edited, as Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg found, “by Holocaust denier and 9/11 truther Kevin Barrett.”

And then, of course, there’s RT. The propaganda channel’s trials and travails have been tabulated elsewhere, and don’t necessarily need rehashing here. But where RT’s catering to the American hard-right have been well-cataloged, the relationship between the outlet - and Kremlin-funded efforts, more broadly - and the US’s far-left contingents has seen less attention, either journalistically or academically. Nor has the channel’s personnel and rhetorical overlap between other Russian propaganda outlets - such as Sputnik - and fringe American sites like The Free Thought Project and Counter Current News seen the requisite focus. For instance, The District Sentinel, an outlet that is “[r]eporting on Washington for the left,” has begun cross-posting material with Sputnik.

However, the most prominent bridge between Kremlin propaganda and the American far-left is, now, Stein. In addition to her myriad appearances on RT – in which she has complained about “American corporate media” – as well as her numerous attempts to push RT content on her own social media accounts, the outlet recently hosted the Green Party’s 2016 debate. That is to say, rather than finding an online outlet, or attempting to craft an in-house debate, the Green Party agreed to air its debates on the Kremlin’s foremost propaganda channel. Stein, naturally, hailed the move, tabbing it as a “step towards real democracy.”

Then, last December, Stein found herself in Moscow, crossing paths with Flynn at the behest of RT. At a panel organized under the channel’s auspices - a panel Stein continues to plug on her own website - Stein called for a rapprochement between Russia and the US. Soon thereafter, standing along Red Square, Stein described the panel as “inspiring,” finding mutual support for the “need to rein in US exceptionalism” and common critique of a “US policy of domination.” In a later interview, Stein - who lobbed the claim that “Clinton has been very busy provoking Russia” - added that Putin was “shocked to find that he agreed with us[.]” She also quoted Putin as saying, as if he were a political naif, “When I was listening to your comments, politicians from other countries, you know what I caught myself thinking about? I agree with them, on many issues.”

To be sure, no financial link has emerged between Stein’s campaign and the Kremlin. Stein’s camp did not respond to questions about whether or not she was paid, as Flynn was, to attend the RT gala. Still, while there’s little likelihood she’ll land more than a few percentage points in the upcoming election, Stein has swiftly become the leading candidate for this campaign’s primary “useful idiot.” Despite its pejorative origins - and seeming misattribution to Lenin - the phrase serves as a handy catchall for any actor furthering, out of rote ignorance, an exogenous goal. In this case, Stein has furthered - presumably unwillingly - a series of proposals and rhetorical devices that are lifted directly from the current Kremlin’s policy playbook, ranging from extra-territorial goals to conspiratorial questioning of basic fact. Stein has shown a continued willingness to abase both herself and her party, pushing time and again to align herself with a Kremlin propaganda outlet, allowing RT to effectively act as a vehicle for pushing the Green Party’s messaging - and vice versa. And RT, and the Kremlin, have been only too willing to oblige. (There’s a reason, after all, Stein has opted not to utilize Iran’s Press TV or North Korea’s Uriminzokkiri services.)

Of course, Stein’s placement as the campaign’s leading, Kremlin-friendly “useful idiot” is not without its challengers. In addition to his standing ovation for Putin, Vox noted that Flynn has been a “frequent guest on [RT],” and taken to other Kremlin-funded outlets to praise Putin’s policy in Syria. Aping Glenn Greenwald’s views on the channel, Flynn further equated American media outlets like CNN and MSNBC with RT. All the while, Flynn has remained close to Trump - such that the latter has now reportedly asked Flynn to begin attending classified intelligence briefings.

Flynn, however, at least remains somewhat clear-eyed as to Russia’s foreign policy goals, however sympathetic he may remain. Stein, on the other hand, has displayed a remarkable willingness to avoid doing any due diligence, any research whatsoever, as to RT’s relationship with the Kremlin, or the Kremlin’s broader policies, either domestic or foreign. Not only has she effectively subsumed the Green Party into RT’s fold, tainting the party’s reputation for years to come, but she has somehow managed to outpace Trump in spouting inane, Kremlin-friendly rhetoric.

Stein won’t win the November presidential election. However, buoyed by her party’s blatant affiliations with RT, she may yet peel off a percentage of erstwhile Clinton voters. Moreover, she has allowed Kremlin-funded propaganda to seep that much further into American political discourse - and offered RT a platform it couldn’t otherwise attain. It is a feat few could have envisioned but a year ago. It is also an accomplishment of which Stein, who has displayed so little awareness prior, is almost certainly oblivious. 

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