American conservatism has long been poisoned by its maliciously partisan media. As Alex Pareene has written, what started as a way to squeeze a few bucks out of trusting retirees with gold scams and quack medicine gradually metastasized into a hermetically sealed propaganda dungeon for virtually the entire Republican Party. Where Republican elites used to cynically whip up their base with lies and feverish hyperbole, now people driven completely loopy by that same propaganda include the president and most of the majority party in Congress.
Unfortunately, the same thing is now starting to happen with liberals.
Left-leaning Americans are frightened and enraged by President Trump. And unscrupulous and unhinged people are discovering that there is a quick buck to be made by whipping liberals into a hysterical froth and/or posing as the last bastion of resistance to the Trump regime.
One stark example of this came from The Daily Beast, which detailed the exploits of The Democratic Coalition, a political organization that bills itself as "the nation's largest grassroots Resistance organization." It turns out that in 2017, the group sent over half of the nearly $500,000 it raised to its employees or their various consulting firms. Scott Dworkin, one prominent senior adviser who has appeared several times on MSNBC (as part of its rapt coverage of all things Russia), collected $130,000 for his Bulldog Finance Group.
In 2016, the group's record was far worse, with over nine-tenths of the money staying in-house. This is quite close to the model of Richard Viguerie — the OG conservative propagandist-cum-scam artist — who would raise money for conservative causes via a mailing list and then skim off 85-90 percent of the proceeds for himself and his organization.
But it's not just The Democratic Coalition. Plenty of other figures have scraped together enormous attention (and sometimes cash) by stoking hysterical Russia paranoia and posing as James Bond-esque secret agents. Louise Mensch secured New York Times op-ed space with this formula, but then crashed when her fantastical assertions became too obviously silly. Writing professor Seth Abramson has gained similarly wide attention but avoided Mensch's fate by carefully qualifying his hyperbolic accusations.
Eric Garland, a "futurist" who gained the limelight on the strength of a Twitter thread about game theory (tellingly, neither the original thread nor anything Garland has ever written bears the slightest reference to actual game theory concepts or mathematics) has somewhat fallen out of favor due to constantly attacking journalists, but has still cobbled together a bit of a paid following on the new Premo Social network, where it seems he is collecting more than $1,600 per month by tweeting occasionally.
I should probably note that I have been the personal subject of one of Garland's deep cover investigations. After assembling a biography — or perhaps I should say "dossier" — bearing eerie similarity to my LinkedIn profile, he added me to a spreadsheet of people who did not attend prep school at Exeter or Choate, where apparently the Russia studies program is extremely rigorous.
At any rate, Garland's monthly haul is nothing compared to John Schindler, who has apparently amassed 1,663 $10-per-month followers on the strength of his reputation as a former NSA official and Naval War College professor (he was fired after it came to light that he had been exchanging lewd pictures with a woman who wasn't his wife) and replacing ordinary English words with scary-sounding Russian ones. Police state, blackmail, and false propaganda don't have quite the cloak-and-dagger frisson of "chekist," "kompromat," and "dezinformatsiya." (It's also worth noting that before his reincarnation as a Trump critic, Schindler was a fire-breathing neoconservative.) Assuming most of those are real paying customers, Schindler is raking in something like $180,000 per year.
Now, it's important to emphasize that this disease is not a tenth as advanced as it is on the American right. These are only a few scattered examples. It's also important to emphasize that, just as during the McCarthyism times, that the fact of people being totally unhinged about Russia does not mean Russia did not interfere with the 2016 election in various ways. On the contrary, it seems beyond any reasonable doubt that they did, and various figures in the Trump campaign did seek out their help.
But it is critical to remain grounded and not give into the cheap dopamine hit of hysterical conspiracy nonsense. In particular, it is unquestionably far more important to patch the yawning American vulnerabilities to electoral meddling than it is to pursue vengeance against Russia. If Putin could do it with a tiny pittance in resources and time, it's a near certainty that some other adversary — and probably several of them — will try the same trick, and none of these goofy snake oil salesmen are going to provide sensible advice about what to do about it.