The former career prosecutor sees Russians everywhere, but can’t recognize white supremacy.
“The FBI opened a file on Malcolm X in 1950, claiming he was a Red.”
Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris claimed that the furor surrounding San Francisco 49ers star Colin Kaepernick’s protest was artificially generated by Russia. “Remember bend the knee and Colin Kaepernick?” she said on influential New York-based radio show The Breakfast Club, “it actually was not a thing. The Russian bots started taking that over.”
“They test out a couple of things to see what can get the American public going at each other, pointing fingers at each other,” the California senator said. “Guess what gains the most heat? Race.” Harris did not mention whether she believed Russians were responsible for ensuring Kaepernick did not get another job in the NFL again.
Her comments surprised many, as however many Russian Twitter bots may have retweeted the story, their influence surely pales in comparison to that of the mainstream media or the President himself in stoking the fire of the controversy. There are 278 articles on CNN when searching for “Kaepernick protest” since 2016, 364 in the New York Times and nearly 800 on Fox News. Meanwhile, at an Alabama rally, President Trump called for his dismissal. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’” Mr Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.” Thus, that certain Russian bots added their weight to the outrage may technically be correct, it is a matter of emphasis.
A Long History of Connecting Black Activism with Russia
Since Trump’s election there has been a storm of articles in mainstream media, from the likes of CNN, The Daily Beast and Wired, insinuating Russia was behind the rise of Black Lives Matter and a host of other online black activist groups. Progressive media like the Black Agenda Report has come under mounting censorship as the site has been linked to Russia. Individuals have also been under suspicion. Progressive Georgia-based activist Anoa Changa was smeared as a potential Russian hack by the mainstream press for appearing on a Sputnik radio show.
This is hardly a new phenomenon, however. The civil rights movement was constantly slandered as being in the pockets of the Soviet Union. In 1965, for instance, Martin Luther King was challenged on NBC’s Meet the Press about supposed Communist infiltration of the movement. Going further back, the FBI opened a file on Malcolm X in 1950, claiming he was a Red. It is starting to seem like anyone challenging the status quo will be written off as a foreign agent. It is in this context we should read Harris’ comments; that any political or racial tension in the country is unnatural and must be generated by outsiders.
Even mainstream movements like Bernie Sanders’ have been tarred as Putin-backed. The Washington Post, for instance, asked, “When Russia interferes with the 2020 election on behalf of Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders, how will liberals respond?”
Tweets about Tweets
Another example of figures claiming Russia is behind domestic strife occurred during the information wars about vaccines. In 2018 a scientific paper claiming Russian bots amplified fake news and debate about vaccines online caused a storm of media interest. Buried very deep in the paper, however, was that the researchers only found 25 tweets on vaccination from what they questionably describe as “known Russian trolls”– hardly a propaganda blitz. However, the paper generated enormous media interest; ten times as many news outlets reported on the tweets than there were tweets themselves! Furthermore, the Twitter outrage about Russian bots dwarfed the bots themselves, with over 11,000 people linking to the scientific paper alone.
The Value of Blaming Russia
For mainstream, corporate Democrats like Harris, Russia is a useful excuse as to why they lost to the most unpopular presidential candidate in history. If it was largely Putin’s fault, there is no need for self-reflection, to address campaign flaws, and certainly not to cede ground to a left-wing insurgency speared by Bernie Sanders. Instead they can present a rosy picture of America free from strife and not have to tackle so many of the problems they helped create. As Hillary Clinton said, “America is already great”.
The truth is that there are deep racial and class divisions in the US, which is precisely what Kaepernick was attempting to address with his protest. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," the ex-San Francisco quarterback said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
For Harris, a former prosecutor who has spent her career enforcing a racist and unjust criminal code, locking up great numbers of people of color, this worldview is unpalatable, hence the need to brush aside questions of racial justice and deep rooted racism as a manufactured crisis. If people started “pointing fingers” on racial injustice, she would be one of the first in line.
Alan Macleod is a member of the Glasgow University Media Group. His latest book, Bad News From Venezuela: 20 Years of Fake News and Misreporting, was published by Routledge in April.
This article previously appeared in the American Herald Tribune.
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