As you’ve probably surmised by now, I don’t care much for conspiracy theories. Almost by definition, they’re dreamed up and promulgated by folks who exhibit signs of being more than a little unhinged – and not in the good kind of way that Heisenberg is unhinged.
In Steve Bannon’s world, conspiracy theories have been afforded some semblance of legitimacy, transforming what, under normal circumstances would be rants confined to the shadowy corners of the Right-wing blogosphere, into stories that are shared hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of times on social media.
Last weekend, we witnessed what I imagine Bannon quietly considers his crowning achievement. Realizing Donald Trump believes that Breitbart is a reliable source of information, Bannon found a Right-wing radio rant and via Breitbart, transformed it into a Presidential Twitter rant. Just like that, nothing became something. Conspiracy theory became America’s new reality via the Breitbart bullsh*t legitimizer machine.
Now you’d think that given all the trouble Trump has had lately with “leaks,” he’d be the first to decry this week’s WikiLeaks bombshell. But when you step back and think about it, the WikiLeaks revelations fit quite nicely with Trump and Bannon’s ‘deep state‘ conspiracy theory.
Which brings me back to what I said at the outset. Namely that I hate conspiracy theories. But I’ve gotta say, it seems like some coincidence that the WikiLeaks news comes just days after Trump accused his predecessor of wiretapping Trump tower, an assertion that seems crazy unless … well, unless you think the US intelligence apparatus is spying on everyone, all the time.
And so, ironically, I’m inclined to think the following conspiracy theory-ish bit from Foreign Policy and Max Boot is interesting. And do note why I say this is ironic: this is a conspiracy theory about what Trump may or may not be up to in an effort to justify his own conspiracy theory.
Via Foreign Policy
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks!” And he had good reason to display affection to this website run by accused rapist Julian Assange. By releasing reams of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, WikiLeaks helped tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
As president, Trump hasn’t come out and said anything laudatory about WikiLeaks following its massive disclosure of CIA secrets on Tuesday – a treasure trove that some experts already believe may be more damaging than Edward Snowden’s revelations. But Trump hasn’t condemned WikiLeaks. The recent entries on his Twitter feed – a pure reflection of his unbridled id – contain vicious attacks on, among other things, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the New York Times, and Barack Obama but not a word about WikiLeaks. Did the president not notice that the intelligence community he commands has just suffered a devastating breach of security? Or did he simply not feel compelled to comment?
Actually there is a third, even more discomfiting, possibility:
Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks’ latest revelations.
On Saturday, recall, Trump was making wild-eyed accusations that Obama had ordered the U.S. intelligence community to wiretap him. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” The White House could not come up with one iota of evidence to support this irresponsible allegation, which was denied by FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. But Trump would not be dissuaded from pursuing this charge, which serves as a convenient distraction from the far more serious accusations of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin while Russia was interfering with the presidential campaign.
Is it just a coincidence that WikiLeaks dumped a massive database pertaining to CIA hacking and wiretapping just three days after Trump made wiretapping a major political issue? Perhaps so. But there is cause for suspicion.
The intelligence community’s finding that Putin helped him win the election spurred Trump to pursue a vendetta against it. For example, he accused the spooks – with no support – of being behind BuzzFeed’s publication of a damning dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer claiming that the Kremlin had compiled compromising materials on him. Trump outrageously tweeted: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” His animus against the intelligence agencies has continued down to his more recent accusations that they allowed themselves to be used by Obama to wiretap him. The consistent (if hardly believable) storyline from Trump is that he has no connections to Russia, and that he is a victim of the nefarious machinations of the American “deep state.”
It is significant, therefore, that one of the major storylines to emerge from the latest WikiLeaks release is that the CIA supposedly has a program to reuse computer codes from foreign hackers, thus disguising CIA fingerprints on a hacking operation. Never mind that there is no evidence that the codes used to break into the DNC were part of this CIA database. Right-wing outlets are nevertheless trumpeting these revelations with headlines such as this one on Breitbart: “WikiLeaks: CIA Uses ‘Stolen’ Malware to ‘Attribute’ Cyberattacks to Nations Like Russia.” Russian-controlled Internet “bots” are also said to be playing up these claims online.
The implication is clear. Trump was a victim of a “false flag” operation wherein CIA hackers broke into the DNC and blamed the Russians. This may be nutty, but it’s eminently believable to an audience conditioned to believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged – favorite tropes of the radio talk-show host Alex Jones, whose work Trump has praised. Other WikiLeaks revelations – for instance, that the CIA can use Samsung smart TVs as listening devices – lend further credence to Trump’s charge that he was secretly wiretapped.
On the other hand, WaPo takes a more guarded approach, simply pointing out that Trump once celebrated WikiLeaks but will now be forced to recognize the potential threat the (likely) Russia-aligned organization poses.
Robby Mook, Clinton’s former campaign manager, said Tuesday that he hopes Trump finally realizes that the hacking that happened during the election is “an anti-American problem,” not a partisan one, and needs to be investigated so it does not become a regular part of the political process.
“The problem at its core is that a country that our own Joint Chiefs of Staff said was our greatest enemy and greatest threat to our security stole information from one of our national political parties and used it against one of the candidates,” Mook said, referring to Russia. “Do I believe that this is going to come back to haunt the Republicans? Absolutely, I do.”
The Republicans maybe. Trump, maybe not.