Why the World’s gone Mad
The history of the weaponisation of the Conspiracy Narrative Virus
On 1st May 1776, in what’s now Germany but was then Bavaria, a small group of thinkers founded a group dedicated to the ideals of the enlightenment. They questioned the traditional powers of the theocratic monarchy, promoted a more rational approach to public affairs, and gave themselves the exciting name “The Illuminati”.
The church/state outlawed them pretty quickly. But a few years later, and a few miles to the west, the French People overthrew the aristocracy in their infamous Revolution. And here we need to pause for a moment to recognise what’s going to be a foundational element of all this, which is that in times of turmoil, people tend to take comfort in simple explanations. Chaos is a deeply terrifying concept, and even the most evil of imagined villains is preferable to the rudderless, swirling complexity of existence. So when heads started rolling across the Place de la Concorde, the “Illuminati” became a perfect scape goat.
Two books were written (“Proofs of a Conspiracy” and “Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism”), which basically claimed that all the unrest was because of this sinister society that secretly controlled the world.
Around the same sort of time, and a little to the east, Russia was experiencing tensions of its own. Following the Partitions of Poland, many Jewish people came to settle in the western part of the country. They weren’t given land to work, so often wound up dealing in finance. One guy had a falling out with Jewish tax agents in his community, so (building on a deep tradition of anti-semitism), he started spinning stories of a secret cabal of Rabbis, pulling the strings of the larger Russian state.
In 1902, these ideas were crystallised in a book called the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, which was a fictional transcript of the minutes of a meeting of Jewish elders, laying out their elaborate plans for world domination. (It actually copied large sections of a book called “The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu”, satirising Napoleon’s megalomania).
It was picked up by Automobile tycoon Henry Ford, who was gripped by it, and made it his mission to spread it as far as he could. He printed half a million copies, at least one of which fell into the hands of Adolf Hitler, who used the narratives on his way to the holocaust. That’s Henry getting a Nazi medal in the photo above.
The “Illuminati” story and the “Protocols” story finally came together in 1920, when they made their way into the mind of a young woman called Nesta Webster. She believed she was the reincarnated spirit of a young socialite from the time of the French Revolution. She connected the Bavarian Illuminati with the Protocols’ Cabal, and used that to explain the Russian Revolutions. Since the Soviets were the enemy, and the Soviets were communist, “communism” became the enemy, and thus any progressive action could be construed as a part of their conspiracy. And as crazy as it may sound, this story is at the root of most of the world’s woes. It is the foundational narrative upon which so much of the rest is built. It is the birth of what we now know as the modern “Conspiracy Narrative”. And as we’ll see when we look at the way it has spread and the nature of its impact, it is perhaps best described as a Virus.
To understand the way it has been used, by who, why, and how it’s been so effective, we need to go back a few hundred years, to the wake of the Industrial Revolution, when society was wrestling with the question of how to organise itself.
Life had been transformed by inventions like the steam engine and the cotton gin, coupled with the extraction of explosive energy from fossil fuels. All of a sudden, wealth could be created on a previously unimaginable scale. A few made a fortune, in some cases rivalling or even eclipsing the ancient royal dynasties. Because they could do whatever what they wanted, without regard for any social responsibility. There were no child labour laws, no workplace safety regulations, no minimum wage, overtime or pensions. Just raw, undiluted Darwinian capitalism.
Naturally, society continued to evolve in response. It’s a wild world, but by working together, and helping each other for the good of the tribe, humans have been able to accomplish incredible things. We thrive as a social species. Care for the community is one of our greatest assets. Ultimately, we are strings of DNA, trying to get enough energy to replicate the code before we die. That’s the “Game of Life” we’re playing. Ruthlessly exploiting people and the planet is one strategy. Looking after our neighbours is another.
The only thing that could compete with the oligarchic power of these modern tycoons was Government, with the ability to make laws, and the power to enforce them. This is essentially the root of Progressivism — a check on the liberty of these powerful rich white men to do whatever they wanted. Now they had environmental and labour regulations to contend with. Government could also deliver large scale public infrastructure projects, which could cut into their private profits. Again, this is Progressivism. The Capitalists, naturally, saw all this as a threat.
They could influence the government with their money of course, it’s made of mortals, very few of whom are immune to corruption. Big business lobbying the politicians to keep them in their pocket and legislate in their favour is a big business in itself. But that wasn’t always enough.
In 1933, a small group of extremely wealthy individuals actually tried to literally overthrow the US government and install a fascist military dictatorship, in an incredible scheme now known as The Business Plot. They approached a retired general named Smedley Butler to lead it, who played along until he knew as much as he could, then went to Congress and blew the whistle. No one really got in trouble. Nothing came of it. There’s a literal actual conspiracy there for you.
In the aftermath of WW2, some countries came together to form the United Nations, as a way to hopefully have less wars, and work together on things that affect the whole Earth. Are we a species? Or are we simply seperate nations? If we are a species, should we not try to have a species level form of government? Things happen between nations, how are we to regulate that? Who’s responsibility is it to declare Human Rights, or protect endangered migratory species? The world needs some kind of “International Body”, just like countries need a Federal Government.
And Capitalists resent it in the same way too. To them, bodies like the UN were yet another threat to their hegemonic power. And they would do anything to defeat it.
It is against this backdrop that 70 years ago, we come to a guy called Joe McCarthy. He had a weird temper that didn’t make many friends in Washington. In 1949 he made a fool of himself defending Nazi war criminals charged with massacring American soldiers in France, and was voted the worst person in the US Senate. In 1950, he came out swinging. He held up a piece of paper with 57 names of people in the State Department he said were agents of the enemy — The enemy at the time, was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
It was a complete fabrication. Whether is was brazen dishonesty, political opportunism, or sheer insanity, it poisoned the conversation from that point on. Hearings were held, and a ‘red terror’ gripped the country. A later report said the result was to “confuse and divide the American people … to a degree far beyond the hopes of the Communists themselves”.
The case was thrown out, the furore died down, and the poison was largely contained. The government successfully implemented several large scale public infrastructure projects. The capitalists grew uncomfortable.
In 1958, a retired candy salesman called Robert Welch Jr. got twelve of his rich conservative capitalist friends together, and founded a group called the John Birch Society.
They picked up the spear of anti-communist sentiment left by McCarthy, tipped it with the powerful poison of Nesta Webster’s “Conspiracy Narrative Virus”, and turbo charged it for their American audience. They claimed that any progressive action was the result of a Secret Cabal of Evil Communists. Any regulation on business, or public project, or international cooperation, or even Courts legislating Civil Rights, was all part of their sinister plan for world domination.
They aggressively distributed pamphlets and other propaganda paraphernalia. They held networking dinners, sponsored a Speaker’s Bureau, and published a magazine called American Opinion. Members were told “Join your local P.T.A., get your conservative friends to do likewise, and go to work to take it over.”
It may not seem like it, but those envelopes contained the most sophisticated weapon the world had ever seen. The Conspiracy Narrative Virus. It enters the mind through the eyes or ears, and from there can control people’s thoughts, and hence their actions. And like all effective viruses, it caused its host to spread it. By the 1960’s, the JBS counted over 100,000 members.
To the credit of the American public however, when it came to elections, JBS candidates never really made it past the primaries. But think tanks and lobbying groups, like the World Anti-Communist League and the Council For National Policy began to emerge, providing powerfully influential networks for these ideas to spread, and well and truly infect American politics. Even if they didn’t reference the narrative directly, people like Jack Singlaub, Phyllis Schlafly, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan, Robert LeFevre, Jerry Falwell, Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and many more, were all able to draw upon elements of it to benefit their own anti-progressive political crusades.
The staggeringly tragic irony of course is that internationally, whenever a developing country looked like they were getting too progressive, America would swoop in to crush them by any means necessary, toppling democratically elected leaders with devastating effect.
One of the founding members of the JBS was an oil baron called Fred Koch. He made his fortune mining and refining fossil fuels, including for Hitler and Stalin. His sons, Charles and David, followed him into the family business — selling as much oil and gas and coal as they could, and manipulating the public into thinking that any attempts to regulate that, or otherwise limit their power in any way, were part of an evil communist conspiracy.
In the latter part of the 20th century, people began to notice that the Green House Gasses released by burning fossil fuels had an effect on the climate.
Scientists recommended that governments take action to try and burn less fossil fuels, and hopefully try and spill less of them while we’re at it too. Naturally, people like the Koch Brothers saw all this as a threat to their astronomical profits, which they would do anything to protect.
To begin with, they used their vast resources and extensive networks to just straight-up lobby the politicians to legislate in their favour.
One feature of democracy however (at least in theory), is that when a politician deviates too far from the will of the people, the people will simply vote them out. The challenge therefore, is to control the will of the people. It is they who must be persuaded to not want action on Climate Change, and then they will vote accordingly. And Conspiracy Narrative Virus proved to be the perfect weapon to do just that.
They set up Think Tanks to publish “papers” casting doubt on the Science, pushed it through their network of media platforms, and created the idea that it’s all just a bunch of nonsense that was made up by corrupt commie scientists at the UN as part of their sinister plot to take over the world. It was astonishingly effective, and persists to this day.
Part of the reason it’s so successful is that it is a profoundly compelling story. “An evil plot to take over the world” speaks to us, on a primal level. Our ancestors survived by taking threats seriously, and so to stay alive we’ve evolved an endorphin rush that accompanies our doing so. And as we saw earlier of course, we’ll take a tidy simple explanation like the Illuminati over a towering hyper-object like Climate Change any day. Especially when it take culpability away from ourselves.
Another part of the reason is that they use sophisticated data operations like i360, to target their messaging with stunning precision.
By the 1980s, the world of conspiracies was well established. A whole industry had been created, with a deep body of literature, and a lucrative public speaking circuit. People like Garry Allen, Eustace Mullins, David Icke, Bill Cooper, Mark Dice, Jerome Corsi, Art Bell, and many more, all made careers out of telling these stories, aided of course by governments and corporations that routinely did genuinely dodgy shit.
Eris — the Goddess of discord and confusion — was brought to life, with projects like Operation Mindfuck and the “Illuminatus!” trilogy, showing that there is no satire too strange or silly for people to believe.
The ultimate fruits of all this reality distortion can be seen in the pair of graphics below. On the left, are the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development. And on the right, what they look like through the lens of the Conspiracy Narrative Virus.
Eventually the narrative found its way into the mind of a young boy called Alex Jones, who’s parents hosted some of the JBS networkers for dinner. And thus the Virus found its super-spreader.
It’s a sad point in the story where we have to come to terms with the fact that a lot of this mess is due to what is essentially a dietary supplement sales strategy, but that’s where we are I’m afraid. Jones’ fast and furious rants about the New World Order built an audience of millions, which he used to sell them supplements.
His energy was infectious. And the stories were gripping. The world is changing fast, chaos creates confusion, and as we know, people seek simple explanations, which he aggressively provides. Well, pretends to at least. And a shocking number of people believe a shocking amount of what he says. Naturally, this presents a tremendous opportunity for any political operatives who might want to create a narrative.
And this is where we need to meet our next character, Roger Stone. After reading Barry Goldwater’s seminal work “The Conscience of a Conservative”, he volunteered for his 1964 presidential campaign, at the age of 12. His life then became a series of operations to elect whichever candidate would do the most to preserve the power of Rich White Men to do what they wanted. A guy called Arthur Finkelstein had developed a new style of smearing, which Roger used to attack any of his political opponents, like George Soros.
At the 1970 convention of Young Republicans, he met a guy called Paul Manafort. They recognised a ruthlessness in each other which would go on to form the basis of a life long partnership. In 1980, they founded a firm called Black Manafort and Stone. Together, they basically invented the “Industrial Lobbying Complex”, which brought unprecedented levels of corruption to Washington. They used a big bag of dirty tricks do whatever it took to get candidates elected, and then shamelessly charged people for access to the politician afterwards.
Their clients included foreign warlords and dictators like Jonas Savimbi, Ferdinand Marcos, Oleg Deripaska, and Viktor Yanukovych, all of whom paid them vast amounts of money to influence the American political landscape in their favour.
One long time client lived closer to home, in New York— a dodgy realestate developer named Donald Trump. In the early ’80s, Trump was in trouble for discriminating against African American tenants in his properties, and facing competition from Native Americans in his Atlantic city casino. Roy Cohn advised him to meet with Manafort and Stone, who in turn advised him in both cases to basically be an arsehole, which was, sadly, effective.
Trump essentially embodied the idea that Rich White Men should be able to do whatever they want. To women, to the environment, to the economy. Society had gradually become marginally kinder and more inclusive over the years. In the face of progressive ideas like Civil Rights, Feminism, and Environmental Responsibility, conservatives were forced to mask their greed and bigotry, which was a concession they deeply resented. Then Trump came along, and showed you could tear the mask right off, to the kind of rapturous applause not seen since Goldwater’s speech at the 1964 RNC. While many considered that kind of rhetoric toxic to civil society, Stone saw an opportunity, and began to explore a potential path to the White House.
Before 2008, it might have been impossible. But during the presidency of a charismatic bi-racial “progressive”, who had the audacity to float the idea of maybe not letting health insurance companies rip people off quite so much, the Kochs and their conservative capitalists got so freaked out that they had to mobilise a response, which became the Tea Party. It created a tectonic shift in the political landscape. The gloves came off, the conspiracy narrative virus was weaponised. Instead of being cloaked in nuance on the sidelines, it came right out to spit in people’s faces, truth be damned.
Still, Trump was a stretch. While a character like that does have a lot going for him in certain circles, getting him over the line in a general election was going to require a Herculean feat of propaganda — the creation of an entirely Alternative Reality. And thus the team began to assemble.
Paul Manafort was Campaign Chairman. Roger Stone was Special Advisor, and he brought his social media strategist Jason Miller. Steve Bannon came on as Campaign President and then CEO, after being brought along by his buddy David Bossie of Citizens United, who became deputy. He also brought The Mercers, Breitbart, Kellyanne Conway, and Cambridge Analytica, fresh from the battlefield of Brexit. Mike Flynn was made National Security Advisor, and potential VP. Brad Parscale and Dan Scavino did digital communications, working closely with Jared Kushner. Peter Thiel and Erik Prince continued to deploy their resources behind the scenes, as did the entire network of the CNP, and their Russian connections. Once they told the Evangelicals and other Establishment Republicans that he would give them their judicial nominees and supreme courts justice, they gave him their support as well. And whether or not he was on the books, Alex Jones’ disinformation cannon was a key part of the propaganda machine.
There is a lot to say about the various sets of skills and experience that each of these people and networks all brought to the campaign, and the interplay of their influence. Let’s start with Michael Flynn. A highly trained former military General and Director of National Intelligence, with a deep understanding of Special Operations and Irregular Warfare.
It’s hard to say exactly where he went wrong and why, but most indications point to around 2013/14. After being nominated the next Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency by Obama in 2012, he attended a Nowruz Gala in 2013, hosted by a guy called Bijan Kian. Shortly afterward, he started getting suspiciously close to Russian contacts, acting weird to his staff and superiors, and getting racist, so he was fired in 2014.
He quickly started his own lobbying company with Kian, called Flynn Intel Group, selling consulting and advisory services to foreign businesses and governments, mostly Turkey and Russia. They would pay him to write articles in The Hill, for example, to influence American opinion towards their favour.
He met the Trump Team in the summer of 2015, and immediately joined the campaign. Helpfully, the week after their election victory, he can’t help but brag about exactly how they accomplished it:
After his gross invasion of the personal space of the woman introducing him, and some maddening meandering, he gets to the point:
“We have an army… as a soldier and as a retired general… we have an army of Digital Soldiers. Because this was an insurgency folks. This was irregular warfare at its finest. We have what we call Citizen Journalists. […] The American people decided to take over the idea of information. And they did it through social media”
And so we enter the next phase of our story. To make sense of this, the first thing we need to acknowledge is that people lie. They have done for a long time, but the internet presents a whole new level of opportunity. Anyone can say anything, and immediately reach millions of people, for next to no cost. Not just with individual posts, but whole websites which look like legitimate news platforms. Armies of bot networks can then amplify the messaging across multiple channels, spreading like wildfire around the world, all while being virtually untraceable.
Obviously, this is a landscape ripe for exploitation. It opens the door to Cognitive Warfare on an unprecedented scale.
“Psychological Operations” have been around for a while (as Lt. Colonel Michael Aquino has explained). They have a certain conspiratorial connotation, but at the end of the day, it’s basically just guerrilla marketing. Every ad campaign is effectively a Psy-Op. The fact is that “physical weapons” are just one relatively arcane and laborious way of controlling people. Manipulating the “hearts and minds” is a far more efficient and effective way to get things done.
In the past, they had to resort to dropping leaflets from helicopters, or blasting messages from a PA on a humvee. Now, of course, they can blast the message across the digital landscape, reaching vast swathes of eyes and ears with the click of a button.
Not only that, but they can mine the mountains of Big Data to get the deepest possible understanding of human psychological needs, and the darkest desires of different demographics.
Companies like Cambridge Analytica (SCL/Emerdata), Gloo, and Palantir use those vast volumes of information to tailor specific manipulative content, and target it in just the right place. They know exactly what buttons to push, and how to push them. They have deployed that power with devastating effect in countries all around the world for over 10 years, and we have yet to come to terms with that. This is now the way the world works.
The headline from the Cambridge Analytica scandal was the data harvesting from the “This is Your Digital Life” app on facebook, but what seems to have been largely overlooked is the fact that they then use that data to create campaigns specifically to influence elections. They are a Behaviour Change Agency.
One tactic is what’s called “Memetic Warfare”. The concept is simple enough: distill the message into its most basic visual form, and fire it out into the world to do its thing. The term seems to have been coined by a pro-Trump agitator and Peter Thiel associate called Jeff Giesea, who himself seems to have been drawing on the ideas of a notorious troll called Chuck Johnson. He published a paper called “It’s Time to Embrace Memetic Warfare”. In context, it was pitched as a way to fight ISIS. In practice, it would become a key part of the Trump Campaign’s strategy.
Unsurprisingly, there is now an entire commercial industry serving this modern influence space. Psy Group, WikiStrat, and Black Cube, are all companies founded by an ambitious young Israeli Australian named Joel Zamel. They specialise in offering manipulation campaigns for governments and corporations alike, through online perception management, opposition research, honey traps, and even clandestine on-the-ground activities. (You may remember Black Cube as being the company that was enlisted to try and salvage Harvey Weinstein’s reputation.)
Zamel was introduced to Micheal Flynn by Bijan Kian (who we’ve met before and will come to again later.)
According to the Daily Beast: “Zamel wanted Flynn to be a member of the firm’s advisory board. Zamel spoke with him about it on multiple occasions around the time Flynn was forming the Flynn Intel Group. “Flynn took a real shining to Joel.”
Joel also worked with some of Manafort and Stone’s other clients, like Oleg Deripaska, and also signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambridge Analytica.
In April 2016, during the Republican primaries, Trump official Rick Gates asked Psy Group for a proposal. They responded with a quote for $3,125,000 plus media costs, and promised to make it virtually untraceable.
Three months later, Blackwater mercenary Erik Prince famously arranged a meeting in Trump Tower between Zamel, Donald Trump Jr., and George Nader (an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes). Nader then paid Zamel $2 million.
Shortly thereafter, an influence campaign which looks an awful lot like the one described in the pitch deck began to emerge, leading to the Alternative Reality we see today. Things got very strange, very quickly. An alarming number of people became completely consumed with the idea that Trump’s political opponents were engaged in horrific practises, including ritualistic sacrifices and drinking the blood of tortured children harvested in tunnels deep underground.
It’s not an original story. Accusing your enemies of hurting kids is literally one of the oldest tricks in the book. “Blood Libel” is a trope about people murdering babies in the woods going back hundreds of years, which has historically been used to justify persecution of Jewish people.
But while in ancient times they had to settle for word of mouth or the printing press to do its thing, these days we have the internet, with anonymous message-boards like 4Chan. So now let’s settle in for a little bit of internet history.
A surprisingly important factor in this whole saga basically boils down to moderating decisions of various online forums. Something Awful, for example, was one of the first to come on to the scene in 1999, and allowed a whole host of questionable content. But they decided to draw a line at some kinds of anime. This upset an anime-loving kid called Chis Poole (aka Moot), and so he made his own forum called 4Chan, where posts would be even more anonymous, and almost anything would be permitted. (That “almost” will become a critical qualifier later on, when basically the same thing happens again, leading to the creation of 8Chan).
For now though, it’s enough for us to know that 4Chan was, and is, a relatively lawless frontier, where pretty much anything goes. Like many message boards, it provided a community for people who may been otherwise ostracised from mainstream society, and gave them an opportunity to connect with others, and express themselves in a way they never could, for better or worse. Much of what we now know of as Internet Culture — from LOLcats to Rickrolling — originated there. And sadly, the same can be said for a lot of the hardcore racism and misogyny.
The political utility of all this was well known to people like Steve Bannon, and he actively began using it as a recruiting ground for the alt-right movement.
One of their many traditions was known as “LARPing”. The term stands for Live Action Role Playing, which is where people dress up as characters from a film, book, game or series that they like, and go out and enact the story lines.
Online, however, you don’t have to sew a costume and go outside. You just need a keyboard and an internet connection. People could pose as anyone they wanted, from time travellers to government insiders. What these threads created, in essence, was a portal to an alternative reality. You can create whatever narratives you like, and give them a way to enter this world. Which presents the perfect opportunity for political operatives running a propaganda campaign.
And so we come to the 2016 Presidential election. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had managed to secure their nominations in the primaries, and the race was on for the general. Unfortunately for Hillary, her use of a personal email server was under investigation by the FBI. Which the Trump campaign was obviously eager to exploit. But the case was pretty dry.
On the 2nd of July, however, some posts began appearing on 4Chan, claiming to be from an FBI agent with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Clinton case. The news wasn’t telling the whole story, there was actually far more sinister stuff going on —including human trafficking, arms deals, black magic, etc. In keeping with the nomenclature of 4Chan users being called “anons”, they came to be known as FBIanon.
It was exciting stuff. The inside scoop to an international conspiracy, right there on their message board. Giving them content they could use to influence an election. Given the implications of that, it’s worth having a good look at who or what it actually was.
The key point was to “focus on the foundation”. Which exactly what Bannon pushed in the book “Clinton Cash”. He understood the value of tailoring the message to an intended audience. The purpose of book was to break through to the mainstream, so he says he consciously chose to omit the wilder accusations. Which is a weirdly suspicious thing to have to explicitly specify, and raises questions already answered by his explicit specification.
On 4Chan of course, there were no such constraints. The whole point of the LARP is to be as wild as you can. “Flood the zone with shit”. Get those crazy narratives into this world. Never underestimate people’s credulity. It’s the same story, just with a different style, on a different medium.
But obviously anyone could have read Bannon’s book and cribbed the idea. So we need more information. And when we read the rest of the posts, a dedicated agenda begins to emerge.
And crucially, they urged people to spread the word, with very specific instructions (spread out over hundreds of posts and condensed here):
“The task is this: unleash every meme, image, and horrible story about HRC that you can muster… In order to be effective, you must proselytise… For example: Start a website aggregating the images/facts and then try to get it linked to Drudge. Shove the images down every news anchor/journalists throat. Push out to people who you normally would have nothing to do with… Why don’t you invade their circles? … We should be spreading memes to subs on Reddit.… blitz Twitter, Tumblr, and all social media with memes on the Clinton Foundation tonight, the last night of the DNC… We need TrumpGen with us, and the meme division blasting the Tumblr tags. Bring up the old methods that /b/ used to use during their Tumblr raids… We’re going to war tonight …Repeat something often enough and it becomes the truth. Repeat after me: ‘Hillary is evil and will destroy the planet.’…”
It’s an unusual amount of dedication and professional panache for someone who’s not being paid. Still, it’s possible that a passionate volunteer had the same skills and singular devotion to getting Trump in office as Steve Bannon or Roger Stone. We know that plenty of people on 4Chan hated Hillary, and Trump’s trollish-ness was obviously appealing enough for them to want to make him president. But. In July, FBIanon also says:
“More leaks will come. The time is not right yet. Expect an October Surprise.”
Which sounds a lot more like a confident claim than a lucky guess. It gives us a strong indication that they did in fact have inside knowledge. Not of the FBI case, but of the shady back channel to Wikileaks that Roger Stone boasted about.
Sure enough, on October 7, 2016, (30 minutes after the Access Hollywood tape came out), WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of emails, from the account of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. He’d been hacked by a Russian team called Cozy Bear and/or Guccifer 2.0, who then gave it all to Wikileaks.
It’s important to remember here that Julian Assange had no love for Hillary Clinton, after her State Department had treated him poorly. So he was quite happy to help derail her campaign by dumping the emails. And hey, facts are facts, and the truth shall fear no light. But he also joined in on the job of making them seem sinister, and even casually suggesting that Seth Rich was the source.
Ok, so the emails are out. Never going to be a good day when that happens, but surprisingly enough, there wasn’t anything particularly incriminating in there. The closest they got was an invitation to an event by acclaimed performance artist Maria Abramovic.
But if you change some of the words, and tell people it’s sinister, you can make something out of nothing. And on October 17, FBIanon says:
“When you are reading Podesta’s e-mails, remember that the Clintons deal in weapons, drugs, and people. Some terminology in use is far more nefarious than many of you suspect.”
This is the seed that would go on to spawn the notorious phenomenon of #Pizzagate.
4Chan wasn’t the only entry point for these narratives of course. They were any platform they could — from behemoths like Twitter and Facebook, to far-right blogs like Daily Wire, disinfo agents like Posobiec and Cernovich, Fox personalities like Hannity, and notably, to leftish hippy woo woo platforms like Stillness in the Storm and Collective Evolution.
Out front leading the charge were Roger Stone, Mike Flynn and Erik Prince. 3 guys who spend their time reading 4Chan and falling for their pranks, and definitely not engaging in any dirty tricks like digital influence to help get Trump elected.
Flynn also touted a group called MAGA 3X, organised by Peter Thiel, who approached with literal military style organisation. Below we can see what appear to be drafts of their strategy documents, which give us a chilling insight into their operation:
But the biggest voice by far was Alex Jones. He was literally screaming about it all live on air for hours on end, and the front page of his InfoWars website was wall to wall coverage of every angle of the narrative. As we know, it all came together, and Trump went on to stun the world by winning the seemingly impossible election.
Of course, that’s not the end of the story. At the time of writing that was 6 years ago, and if you think that influence campaigns stopped there, well, they didn’t. Because now, they had the White House. The podium gave them an unprecedented amount of power and control over the narratives.
Once in office, it became abundantly clear that Trump was a terrible president who could not even be bothered pretending to show any interest in the actual job of governing. He bragged to the boy scouts about sex parties on a boat, publicly took Putin’s word over the US intelligence service, and threw paper towels at hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico. Not even his wife liked him. It’s a long, long list.
Maintaining support, let alone reaching new voters, was going to be a challenge. So they fired up the UnReality Generator, and straight up lied. From day one, it was a blistering assault on our shared sense of truth. They started talking about “Alternative Facts” with a straight face.
Meanwhile, pressure began to build in the form of various investigations into corrupt dealings. In particular, the Trump Team’s ties to Russia were coming under scrutiny. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates (the one who asked Psy Group for the proposal during the primaries), were indicted on October 27, 2017, as part of the Mueller investigation into Russian influence. Pushing back on that narrative by any means possible became of the upmost importance.
The next day, another character appears on 4Chan. This time, they claimed to be from Military Intelligence, with highly classified inside information on Trump’s noble efforts to dismantle the deep state cabal. on the deep state cabal that Trump was working to dismantle. It was, quite literally, a portal to a seperate reality, in which the pathetic Trump was transformed into a 5 Dimensional Chess Wizard God Emperor, and they went by the mysterious moniker of “Q”.
There are obvious similarities with FBIanon — it’s someone on 4Chan claiming to have inside information that ultimately favours Trump. But the model was different, and so was the style. They were cryptic, often speaking in code or riddles. Their story was loftier, more grandiose. The stakes were even higher. This wasn’t just an email investigation case. This was the future of humanity itself. And it pointed the narrative outward by asking questions, and leaving it to the readers to dig their own rabbit holes. There was an awful lot of absolute trite too.
However silly it may seem, it spawned a movement that has redefined politics, fractured democracy, and broken countless families in the process. People report that it’s as if their loved ones have been literally mind fucked.
So again, it’s worth considering who or what it actually is. Because whoever it was, they doing it ironically. They genuinely supported Trump and his agenda, and were trying to build that support, and reach new demographics, and it worked. It is, by definition, propaganda. An attempt to influence public perception of a political figure. Campaigns and advertisers have been doing it since the dawn of time.
So again, let’s have a good look. Identifying the source of an anonymous post on the internet is not easy, but nor is it necessarily impossible. There are over 5,000 posts, and when taken together they tell us a lot. We can start with who it serves to protect, which includes Micheal Flynn and his agenda:
Why would a troll, or anyone, go to the trouble of carrying water for Michael Flynn? He was an Obama appointee who openly sold out America’s interest to foreign powers, and got fired by Trump for lying to the Administration. Furthermore, why would Flynn put so much stock into something which he knew was a LARP he didn’t control, the rug of which could be pulled out at any moment? He is literally a world expert in psychological warfare. And it all sounds awfully similar to his stated strategy of weaponising “Digital Soldiers”:
He’s not alone of course, and we are far from finished identifying the rest of the team. There are plenty more drops, which give us a lot more information. Since we’re here we may as well get a good taste:
So, we know that Q is a New Age Fascist, probably a boomer, with delusions of grandeur, who enjoys messing with people’s minds, understands psychological operations, likes LARPing as a super spy, and posting internet puzzles on 4Chan.
Well that gives us something to work with, so let’s put our thinking hats on and see if we can figure anything out. There are two components to analyse: The content/narrative, and the medium/mechanics of the delivery.
First let’s look at the narrative. It’s sometimes been compared to a Tom Clancy Novel. Which is notable, because one of Tom Clancy’s writing parters was a guy called Steve Pieczenik.
He has experience in Military Intelligence, specialising in Psychological Operations for the State Department throughout the 70s. As often happens to people in this position, he became deeply committed to the conservative cause (preserving that power of rich white men to do what they want), concerned by progressive policies which threatened that, and appears to have fallen into a deep conspiratorial hole. He’s been a prolific guest on Alex Jones’ Infowars over the years, masterfully using the platform to blend fantasy and reality, in a way that created the realm from which Q would ultimately emerge.
In October 2015, he began talking about Trump :
Thanks to you Alex, and thanks to your listeners, they are falling apart […] the globalists did get control, but now there is a war to expose them, and they are losing […] Geopolitically, what does this do to the criminal cabals on the inside? This is one of the most phenomenal revolutions America has ever seen,[…] Trump had been monitoring the MSM for some time.. when we put his name up for the next presidency, he took it […] we are so tired of the people who committed the crime of 9/11, that once Trump gets in, many of them will be arrested […] I know a lot about his character […] we have to look at this as very positive movement. The backlash is huge. They never expected us to come in and be able to pronounce the truth […] America is not going quietly into totalitarianism without a fight […] We want them to show how stupid they are.”
This is clearly the foundational narrative of Qanon. A lot of the drops include that exact language. So we’ve got 3 options.
- Q came up with this narrative independently,
- Q was an Alex Jones fan who watched that episode and committed it to memory, becoming a “product” of the operation, or
- Steve Pieczenik, who has openly bragged about running psychological operations, was part of the creative team behind Q.
With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to another of the primary Q promoters, Robert David Steele. Like Steve, he worked in the intelligence services (or claims to have at least), and became deeply conspiratorial. Then he got on the Trump Train, and made it his mission to get him elected and keep him there, largely by using Blood Libel more explicitly and enthusiastically than anyone else. He is perhaps the person most responsible for the “Adrenochrome” myth, spreading it through a made up court called the “International Tribunal for Natural Justice (ITNJ)” . When “Save the Children” took off, if you followed the sources for people’s posts, that is where almost all of them would ultimately lead.
He died of COVID in 2021. But before then, he spent most of his time on zoom calls with other Q promoters like Sean Stone, Sacha Stone, Ken O’Keefe, Mark Steel, and Martin Geddes. He is as close to the centre of this network as it is possible to get. And who does he credit with kicking it off? Putin, Trump, Flynn, and our good friend Steve Pieczenik:
“Aided by enormous restraint on the part of Vladimir Putin, the soft coup in the USA has collapsed […] Trump earns most of the credit, bringing to the matter his deep business experience and common sense, he understood that the narrative against Russia was fabricated […] With that Foundation, he was able to listen to Michael Flynn, who’s deep experience in the nether world of black special operations and clandestine and covert action operations informs him in a manner few can claim.
William Binney, the senior executive who created the NSA capability that has been used against US politicians […]was the first to reveal the leaks were coming from insiders. Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst and founder of the “Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity”, has been a respected voice challenging the false assertions by the CIA against Russia. Finally Steve Pieczenik… A former deputy assistant Secretary of State, who was […] the first to announce the countercoup against Hillary Clinton was being undertaken by insiders. I have done what I could and I am proud to stand in support of Donald Trump…”
When people like Jerome Corsi tell the story about the Q team being military intelligence insiders who chose Trump to lead their revolution, this group certainly matches that description. Or at least, that’s where the inspiration for the narrative comes from. It builds on well established conspiracy tropes, yes, but adds those very specific details which give it the signature we’re looking for.
Now we need to have a look at the vehicle of what Q actually is — the afore mentioned medium, or “mechanics” of the delivery.
And what we find when we look under the hood, is essentially an elaborate Game. A lot of its success seems to boil down to the fact that “puzzles” are fun.
Over the last 30 years, story telling has taken on a new dimension — interactivity. Plots that involve the reader, sending them on a treasure hunt, or asking them to solve riddles to advance the narrative. They bridge a gap between the fantasy world and the real world, to create a Game in an Alternative Reality. So they are known as Alternative Reality Games, or ARGs.
The upshot is that they can be incredibly engaging. So much so that to be done responsibly, they must be carefully managed with “guardrails”, so that participants know where the game ends and reality begins. Otherwise they can be swept away, even if they go into it knowing it’s a “game”. And if they don’t know it’s a game, and actually think it’s literally a plan to save the world instead, then it can obviously become a phenomenally powerful tool of propaganda.
And when we look at the “baking” that goes into decoding the “crumbs” of the Q drops, that’s exactly what we see:
Ok, so what can this tell us about where it’s come from. Well for starters, “Gamification” as a strategy is explicitly articulated in a pitch deck from Wikistrat, one of Joel Zamel’s digital influence companies:
Sounds like Qanon. But even for them, this is a little specialised. Creating a puzzle LARP on 4Chan requires a fairly niche skill set. And for that, we now come to a character called Thomas Schoenberger.
He was mostly a composer, who tried to make his music more interesting by involving puzzles. He had a thing for prime numbers, for example, and would work them into his compositions as a way to generate more publicity.
The best puzzle going around was called Cicada 3301. It was a mysterious and fairly revolutionary phenomenon, which started with a post on 4Chan, and went on to create a sensation in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
By 2016, it seemed to have gone quiet, so Thomas and some associates (including Hollywood composer Michael Levine), basically tried to take it over, and trademark the name.
There was a fairly strong community of solvers from previous iterations. And even if Thomas’ version didn’t match up to the magic of the original, there were plenty of people still willing to work on something so cool. And at least four of those people have all pointed the finger at Thomas as being one of the people behind the creation of Qanon. So, let’s have a look to see if that’s plausible.
Court documents reveal that in 2011, someone from the Pentagon asked him to play a concert in Afghanistan, and he somehow ended up in Turkey trying to recruit former special ops officers. To ‘fight ISIS’, you see.
“I was attempting to start a business. I went into Turkey, and I was attempting to pull together former military people who have been involved in special ops who would then train Kurdish forces in an effort to exterminate and eliminate ISIS. Because I was concerned that ISIS was metastasizing and would end up going into Europe to do soft terrorism and then coming into America to do soft terrorism. I met with Kurdish resistance fighters in Turkey (in 2014). […]
I had contacts in Naval intelligence, and I was hoping that I could put together people with military backgrounds who could train the Kurds and that our company would act as a third — as a broker putting together money, talent and fighters. […]
I was charged with putting together a program that was going to be the basis for clandestine activities near the border of Iran…. Myself and another individual were going to go meet with the Governor of the province of a place near the border of Iran with an idea of doing a concert… I was involved in operations that had to do with national security… The person is no longer at The Pentagon. The person’s name is Bijan, B-i-j-a-n, Kian, K-i-a-n.”
Bijan Kian, you remember, is Micheal Flynn’s business parter. He was the one who hosted the Nowruz Gala in 2013, which Flynn attended as the newly nominated Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, around the beginning of his bizarre downward spiral.
Thomas is also very close with a guy called Nasser Kazeminy, who’s company, NJK holdings, paid Michael Flynn $140,000. And he’s an investor in a company called Amadeus holdings (he has a thing for Mozart), with a woman called Rhonda Donahoe, who has 7 other companies with Kazeminy.
Ok, so we’re in the right ballpark at least. But we’re still a fair way out. As we move closer to the present, however, we learn that he actually started an influence company of his own, called “ShadowBox”.
Their promotional material describes themselves as:
“An elite online reputation management firm … We address smear assaults head-on by custom-creating shadow ‘bot’ campaigns as a counter strategy … use targeted chaos to confuse your opponents… your army … use cyber-guerrilla tactics…. Where your enemies have lied to paint you as the bad guy, we sow the seeds of doubt and present the counter-narrative that they are, in fact, the villains, and you have been unjustly accused… We do this through sophisticated use of internet technology, meme creation, PR, and cyber-guerrilla tactics that stop the bleeding and begin to sway public opinion and the media in your favor.”
Sort of like an off-brand version of Black Cube or Psy Group. Their first client was a guy called Ed Butowsky, the deep-pocketed GOP donor and friend of Erik Prince, who famously pushed the Seth Rich theory, as well as of course #Pizzagate.
One of his partners in Shadowbox was a guy called Trevor Fitzgibbon. Trevor used to have a relatively successful political PR firm, then he got accused of a sexual harassment scandal in 2015, which seems to have set him down the path of radicalisation.
In 2016, he created #Unity4J, ostensibly as a way to build support for Julian Assange and his cause. This appears to have been a significant “cross-pollinating” event, bringing people from opposite sides of the political spectrum together under the guise of government transparency and accountability, and introducing progressives to the world of conservative conspiracies. People like Bill Binney, Jack Posobiec, Ray McGovern, Jimmy Dore, Cassandra Fairbanks, Cynthia McKinney, Kim Dotcom, and Breitbart’s Lee Stranahan, were sharing a stage with people like the Australian Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlum.
These days, Trevor’s business appears to mostly consist of representing conspiracy theorists, including our good friend Robert David Steele:
It’s hard to know how long all these people have been working together. What we do know is that by 2017 (in the months leading up to the launch of Q), Thomas, Trevor, and RDS, were all in regular email correspondence, along with Tanya Cromwell, and her husband, SLAPP happy attorney Steven Biss, who represents Flynn’s “best friend in DC”, Devin Nunes. Yes, he’s the one suing cow-based parody accounts. He also represented Mike Flynn’s brother, Jack Flynn, Trevor, RDS, Svetlana Lokhova, Kash Patel, Tim Holmseth, and Dan Bongino.
Alright, we still need to connect this crew to Q though. Which can be tricky, because one of Q’s hallmarks was only making vague, sweeping, predictions, like “No Name will be back in the headlines”. Then a month later when John McCain dies, followers can retroactively claim “See! Q told us!”. The believers think that the drops are deliberately cryptic to maintain plausible deniability and stop the Deep State from getting to them, and the Q Watchers can confidently claim that Q is just a charlatan. It’s a tidy little arrangement which worked perfectly well over almost all of the 5,000 drops.
But in drop 3110, they appear to overplay their hand. They call out Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, invite him to play a game, and say the STRIKE will be FAST. The very next day, our mate Steven Biss, on behalf of Flynn’s mate Devin Nunes, files a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter.
It’s a little vague, but not vague enough. They slipped up. It’s like when Dennis Hopper calls Sandra Bullock a “Wildcat” in Speed. It reveals that whoever wrote that drop knew about the law suit. Which tells us they were in communication with Biss / Nunes, or the people in that circle. Which is completely consistent with everything else we know.
Thomas also knows (or claims to know) Erik Prince. In the email on the left below, we see discussion of a company the Prince family are invested in called “Neuro Core”, which uses “entraining brainwave” technology, to do things like implant subliminal messages in video. Which might sound like ridiculously dystopian sci-fi, but you’ll have to take that up with them I’m afraid. And on the right, we see some discussion of using another type of virtual reality puzzle technology that uses the natural entropy of the internet to create “immersive experiences”.
This all becomes particularly chilling when we look at the mind-fucking videos that proliferated around the Quniverse, and even featured at Trump rallies. Combined with the cult-like recruitment strategies we also see in action, it amounts to a formidable manipulation force.
Now we come to one of Thomas’s other partners in Shadowbox, a guy called Manuel Chavez III, AKA Defango, who has loudly and repeatedly tried to take credit for having the creative inspiration for “Q”.
He says he found a book by late 20th century Italian anarchist collective Luther Blissett, about an anonymous radical fighting a secret revolution. He may also have taken some inspiration from the much loved Star Trek character, and other LARPing threads on 4Chan at the time.
He’s a notorious shit-talker, but even when taken with a shovel full of salt, the broad strokes seem to mostly check out. There are plenty of emails between them all discussing the “Q” project, and how best to manage it in varying degrees of deniability:
Anything can be faked of course, so those emails don’t constitute proof in and of themselves. But they are completely consistent with everything else that we see, and the simplest explanation is that they are genuine. If they’re not, then we need to answer the question of who faked them and why. In the mean time, let’s press on.
A key part of Qanon is not just the drops themselves, but the way they are covered, by the alternative media and the world of conspiracy websites, like “Victurus Libertas”. And here we have Thomas writing an email to his friends who run that site, pitching an article where he claims to speak for Q:
And again, here he is trying to get RDS onto Nathan Stolpman’s show “Lift the Veil”.
We also know that some of the key people responsible for taking Q to that wider audience were the Watkins, and a woman called Tracy Beanz. And surprise surprise, in 2017, Thomas was in chats with a woman called Courtney Tubbs (who worked for Jim Watkins’ website The Goldwater), and Tracy Beans. And guess what Tracy was talking about right before she turned on to Qanon? Cicada 3301.
And look, to go back to our list from before and cap it all off, he’s a boomer, with fascist sympathies, delusions of grandeur, a history of messing with people’s minds (and ripping them off), and passionate opinions about psy-op pioneers like Micheal Aquino. Of course he is intimately familiar with running puzzle operations on 4Chan, and he even likes to “LARP as a super spy” embroiled in a feud with the CIA:
To be clear, I’m not saying it was all his idea. Nor do I even really care exactly who did what, because that’s not the point. The point is that this was not an aimless idle prank by an anonymous shit-poster, it was a deliberate operation, from a team of political propagandists who had the motive and the means and the motive to mind-fuck enough people into MAGA world, and still have it. It is part of psychological wart which has been waged for decades. That’s not to call it all a perfectly controlled conspiracy, either. That’s not how the virus works. Roger Stone didn’t have to be in contact with Nester Webster. Not a “conspiracy”. It is a decentralised group of dickheads doing whatever they can. Sometimes they are in concert, sometimes they are in conflict. making it up as go along, one day at a time, throwing shit against the wall, reacting to events, building, adapting, winning here, losing there,
people do cooperate, and basically everything is the result of a confluence of factors. Every film that gets made, every product that gets sold, is the result of a vast conspiracy. To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. This story could have been a lot longer.
They didn’t have to expect this to work either, let alone succeed the way it has. A character on an anonymous message board is disposable and untraceable. They could roll the dice as many times as they liked, and if they blew it by going too far, so what? Try another one. They carry virtually no financial or political cost. Like a machine gun with bullshit bullets, they can spray fire across the internet to see what sticks.
We’re still missing one piece though, and that is how it has managed to make such inroads into the New Age / Spiritual / Wellness world. How do people reconcile those kinds of inclinations with someone like Trump? The truth is that the new age scene has always had a certain susceptibility to fascistic thought.
We’re inclined in the West to think that we beat Fascism in the 40s. Fought a war about it and everything. But as well as fighting the Nazis in Germany, most Allied countries had to fight their own Fascist parties at home. That was a lot closer than you might think, particularly in America, and the truth is it never really went away. We still see it today, not just in swastikaed white supremecists marching in the streets, but people like Savitri Devi and Barbra Marx Hubbard, who believed that “humanity was on the threshold of a quantum leap if newly emergent scientific, social, and spiritual capacities were integrated”, but one fourth of the planet is standing in the way, so they will have to be eliminated.
And right there, giving an adoring interview to a lovely lady who wants to wipe out a quarter of the world’s population, is a woman called Lisa Clapier.