A Field Guide to Rightwingnut Posers
By Cheryl Seal
Note: We published this guide to rightwing propaganda technqiues several months ago, but now, as elections near and resistance to Bush grows, it has become more relevant than ever. Also, the Bush machine has realized that the public is getting savvier and more skeptical of their heavy-handed techniques, so they have introduced more sophisticated provocateurs into their "stable" of lie-pushers (see "New Sighting").
The woods are full of lurking rightwingnuts. By rightwingnut, I mean the sort of deluded soul who worships John Ashcroft as a sort of "preliminary second coming" and who will support the corporate bigwigs to the bitter end, even as said bigwigs are robbing these same loyal supporters of every last dime and shred of security they have left.
----Alas, there is a new class of rightwingnut out there that imagines itself "clever" (unfortunately, when you are talking rightwingnuts, this is a contradiction in terms). Instead of going for the direct approach -- sending obscene notes or threatening those who challenge Bush and his pals with bodily harm -- this type tries to play "subtle saboteur" -- or poser, if you prefer.
----There seems to be about three main strategies used by these folks -- I am sure there are other variations on the theme. In fact I have started a "field guide to posers" and have encouraged our alert readers to add notes and "sightings" to the guide as we go along). Here are the three I have identified:
----1. The institutional poser: This species can usually be found hiding in the bushes of an "institute," (Cato Institute, et al.), "foundation," (Heritage Foundation, et al.) "grass roots group" (ex. "Citizens for Sensible Energy Solutions," "Greening Earth Society," etc.), college-based "think tank" (Baker Institute, Hoover Institute, etc.)., or with a pseudo-scholarly journal (Global Warming Journal, funded by the Coal barons). When you get a good look at this crowd through the binoculars, you soon notice that the bulk of their sponsors and founders are corporations. Or, you discover that the "experts" on foreign affairs are former pharmaceutical execs, while experts on climate science have degrees in business, economics, or biology.
---- 2. The "Man on the Street" Poser: These are the folks who are mobilized to give the impression of "critical mass" behind the rightwingnut movement. They can be found skewing polls (they even have a term for this activity now -- "freeping."), haunting progressive web sites where they put up postings designed to "educate" the misguided progressives, dialing up call-in radio shows, and in general popping up whenever a call for a "man on the street" opinion might give them a foot in the door. (It's kind of scary, actually -- if you go to the Free Republic site, you will find that they offer tips for organizing these efforts to make the few look like many, including how-tos on stacking polls.) Often, when these folks call into talk shows like C-SPAN, they will call in on the Democratic or Independent line and then proceed to either read their manifesto outright, or will pretend to be a "concerned liberal", whilst trashing everything non-rightwing. Some even read from prepared scripts -- you might actually hear the same basic script with a few variations read several times in the course of a 3-hour call in show, if the posers have decided the topic is really threatening to them! After a while, you can spot this species pretty easily. Especially when they stumble repeatedly over the big words in their scripts. Or when, to give themselves added credibility, they claim to be professional types and clearly are not -- like the C-SPAN caller with horrendous grammar ("Them people don't never?") who claimed to be an English professor!
---- 3. The Provocateur Poser: This species of poser is becoming more common as the public becomes more skeptical of the rightwingnuts' direct message. These are furtive, definitely hostile critters, devoted to trying to foment discord and sew doubt among people who hold a non-rightwingnut point of view. There are several subspecies:
----A. "The missionary" provocateur:This type seeks opportunities to convert us infidels. To do this, they will write letters to the editor of a publication or site, claiming to be a "regular reader." They then express "concerns" over some article or letter that has set the rightwingnut buzzers and bells off. The way you can pick these characters out from the sincere readers with real concerns is that they all launch into the same party line, either directly or weaving it in to their interchanges (in the case of a forum). Their aim is to try to discredit information by casting doubt on it in the minds of at least some other readers, and converting them to the "right" point of view. Many Institutional Posers exhibit missionary poser behavior. These are the ones who work at seeding news outlets with letters and press releases that sound authoritative by signing them (for example) "So-and-So, Cato Institute," or "Dr. So-and-so, Ph.D." (of course the Ph.D. might be in elementary education and the topic nuclear reactors!). The pseudo-science babble put forth by some of these folks is amusing to the well-informed, but can sound convincing to people unarmed with the facts.
----B. "Hysterical liberal" provocateur: This sort sends in letters or makes calls to radio talk shows in which they pretend to be an "out of control liberal." The idea being, of course, that anyone hearing or reading this performance will be turned off on all liberals (see, they really are all crazy and dangerous!).. The protestors at the Seattle WTO say they were sabotaged royally by this type of poser and that many (though of course not all) of the window-smashing incidents were actually perpetrated by "hysterical liberal" provocateurs. Some weeks ago, I heard a guy call into C-SPAN (or it may have been NPR's Talk of the Nation) and launch into an obviously contrived routine, pretending to be a paranoid schizophrenic environmentalist wacko who believed the sharks are rising up against the world because of anti-environmentalism. The person I was with at the time happened to have worked at a state mental hospital for several years. He laughed out loud and said "That's the kind of phony act you'd hear from guys trying to get out of the army!" What's even more laughable is that an alarming number of leading rightwingnuts (as in Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) are real, potentially certifiable paranoid schizophrenics!
----C. "Troublemaker" provocateur: This type tries to get people within a group pissed off at each other, or tries to manipulate an editor, forum participant, etc. into a compromising position. The theme here is discredit, divide and conquer, and/or annoy the hell out of progressive folks. In one instance at a forum I know of, a provocateur kept engaging another forum participant in a dialogue, seeking to draw out incriminating comments that could possibly be construed as "unpatriotic." When the unwitting progressive forum participant finally fell into the trap, he was soon paid a visit by the Boys in Black (FBI). In another instance, someone sent a supposed study by an institute in Pennsylvania that purported to prove that Bush's IQ was far less than any other presidents, while Clinton's was highest. I did not bite, because a little preliminary research revealed no such institute, and in any case, the IQ scores seemed a bit contrived (I don't believe Clinton has a 180 any more than I believe Bush is a 98 -- ignorant, yes, genetically stupid, no). But several liberal sites ran the link and were promptly exposed in an ensuing article that was strategically circulated. The worse troublemaker provocateurs are the malicious ones who infiltrate sites where people go to feel safe -- like one pregnancy forum in New England a young mother I know participated in this past year. Once into the site, one troublemaker rightwingnut started posting pictures of aborted babies and threatening messages. I mean, how low can you go -- picking on pregnant women, and not only that, but those who kept their babies. What made them a target? Some of them had expressed a reluctance when questioned by the poser to condemn other women who believed in abortion.
----The bottom line with these posers is that they all use deceit to get their message across. It seems to me that if you truly believed in your position, you would not feel you had to sneak it under a cover or create fronts to appear to be something you are not.
----Sample letter from poser: an example of the institutional poser with a strong dose of troublemaker provocateur thrown in. Although the name was signed, I will not embarrass the writer by including it. Unlike the rightwingnuts, we have some sensitivity for others.
----"I've started reading through your site quite frequently. I appreciate evident effort you put into gathering non-mainstream news, and I'm glad to have a more information about current events."
----This is a missionary poser type hook. The reader is our "friend" and "admirer."
----"I read "Cheryl's Daily Diatribe", and I have to say, it's not misnamed, at least not on some of the points. I am concerned about the substance of some of your causes (but not your editorial contributions, they are certainly substantive). The example that caught my eye is global warming. Almost all of the press on global warming is political or regulatory in nature. Scientific results regarding this issue have not been prominently published in the mainstream press for years, and, on the few occasions where hard science is cited, it is usually misappropriated to suit the author's point-of-view."
----This poser wastes no time starting to spout the gospel according to the coal-industry sponsored "Greening Earth Society!" Of course, she doesn't bother questioning why scientific results (which abound) on global warming have not been published in the mainstream press. Do you get the sneaking feeling that her claim of having read my articles -- which deal often with how and why industry-unfriendly information is suppressed -- is completely made up? She was probably forwarded this article by a fellow wingnut this week and had never clapped eyes on my material before then.
----"From a scientific perspective, "global warming" is, at best, a speculative theory. Current warming trends have numerous possible explanations, some of which have better scientific underpinnings than the generic greenhouse gas explanation. This is one issue where public policy has raced far ahead of research, much less conclusive evidence. Even if global warming was regarded as fact, it is by no means obvious that a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions may have the desired effect."
----This propaganda line is take almost word for word from the stock stuff disseminated by "Greening Earth Society" and other fossil-fuel industry "global warming" sites. I don't think it ever occurs to posers that some of us might be familiar with the source of their corporate spiel -- if so you'd think they would try to be a little more creative and at least paraphrase a little!
"H.L. Mencken guides us, 'For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.'"
----Yep, and the rightwingnuts seem to hit on it every time!
---- When this Field Guide was first posted, last winter, the response was great! It seems quite a few people have had their run ins with posers, but had not been quite sure what they were "experiencing." Once they saw the descriptions in our "field guide," buzzers and bells went off and they said "Aha!"
---- One of our readers, Will M. wrote to alert us to the fact that the field guide had been posted by outraged rightwingnuts at the Free Republic site, and was hotly debated (as in indignantly trashed!). Free Republic, by the way, is the home of the manipulated poll, and is also currently being sued for lifting entire articles and posting them at their site as if they originated there (instead of just linking them).
---- It seems that the posers are lurking at several websites, hoping to make converts to the rightwingnut cause or at least cause trouble for the unsuspecting: among those routinely hit are bartcop.com, teamsters.com, several comment-posting sites, including those at AOL, Nando Times and Yahoo, MYDD, and countless others. I am sure the list will grow as we hear more from readers.
Here are some signtings posted by alert progressives:
The Piggyback Poser :This poser lurks on forum waiting for opportunities to piggyback their agenda-laced messages onto genuine postings by progressives
---- Hi, Cheryl,
---- I have spotted a true poser.
---- If you visit www.djournal.com, click on "community" and then "forums" you will find him going by the name "Conservative Guy." He's quite clever in his manipulations on the forum. Most are under the heading "Current Stories 2002," but he generally spews his garbage whenever he sees an opportunity to twist a liberal (or Democratic) idea.-- Here's a sample:
---- Conservative Guy wrote: "Recent scientific findings show that the polar ice cap has stopped melting. Temps are cooler in Antarctica and scientists are befuddled. They have warned of global warming and have spent tons of money on it and have used it to demand such destructive policies as the Kyoto Treaty. What will they do now? Global Cooling? Level-headed scientists have long contended that the so-called global warming was nothing more than a normal cycle in long-term weather patterns. It looks like they were right."
---- He goes on to further promote his twisted agenda, but for brevity's sake, I won't list any more of his rants in this e-mail. You should visit the site. I think you would get a kick out of it, and perhaps be tempted to refute him.
---- (You can probably tell from my address that I work for the newspaper that maintains this site. We are encouraged not to participate on the forums, or I would argue with him myself..)
---- Just thought you'd like some interesting reading. This man's very presence confirms your "Rightwingnut Poser" theory.
---- Sandi B
The Message Board Troll
While this type of poser is not unique to right wing types, they are figuring out this tactic in increasing numbers
---- I refer to The Message Board Troll .
---- In an effort to divert debate from pertinent topics on progressive message boards, the right-wing Troll will start up a topic that he/she knows to be inflammatory and that will suck in many of the gullible readers of the message board, thus taking away time they could have spent reading and responding to real topics.
---- They do this posing as progressives, of course. A favorite aspect of this tactic lately is to post a thread bashing Al Gore, saying he's not "liberal enough" or that Nader was right in that there was no difference between him and Bush, etc.
---- If you can see the number of posts the instigator has, like you can on Democratic Underground, it is almost always very low. The DU moderators are very aggressive policing their boards, thank God.
---- The Message Board Troll is an age-old tactic, but being put to use by your right-wing posers.
---- Richard W.
---- Junk Yard Dog Posers
---- Just a note to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed your article and recognized several of the species in my regular forays into IRC chat, particularly on the Dalnet #politics channel.
---- There is also a sub-species of control freak that you seem to have skipped over, which makes it his or her duty to gain control over critical IRC channels and use the power to attack and restrain those with opposing viewpoints. Many of these consider themselves "middle of the roaders" which only makes me despair more for America because they oppose suggestions like abolishing the electoral college.
---- I've seen this type micromanage conversations to the point where they kick people for rules that they have found the necessity to invent on the spot. What they rely on most is the fact that most people will not protest these actions, buying into the idea that the ops can do whatever they please.
---- At least one channel has been so thoroughly taken over by a right-wing hate group, I am told (#politics at Efnet) that the mere mention of "Clinton" in a semi-positive light will get you kicked.
---- I've been observing this phenomena on the net for many years. I can't say that the liberals are always helpful in facing up to it and I have long suspected that some are provocateurs rather than genuine allies. When a self-professed liberal goes attacking someone with AIDS or calls depressives "merely lazy," it makes you wonder. I've written my own little pieces about net debate that you might enjoy.
---- Joel G.
---- Thanks Joel, we will name this new species "Junk Yard Dog" 'cause they guard their worthless turf on a short chain with nasty growls.
---- Best, CS.
--- Indignant Reader Poser
I clicked on your article off of Bush watch. Thank you for writing that. I have been
noticing these people for years now. Since nobody else ever said anything I had begun to think I was turning into a nut myself.
---- No matter what the magazine there is always a letter threatening cancellation because some one mentioned climate changes or global warming and it always sounds like a form letter. I also remember in an issue of George Magazine, that right wing T head Tony Blankley, Newt's old chief of staff, bragging about starting riots at peaceful demonstrations back in the '60s.
---- Keep up the good work.
---- Thanks again.br>
---- Linda H.
---- More comments Re: Rightwingnut Field Guide
---- I can't tell you how much I love your article!!!! I've been trying to make this point for a very long time, but usually became so upset thinking about these ploys that I became speechless. Not only am I printing it, but would like to post it to several boards, with your permission. Thank you thank you thank you and please keep it up.
NEW SIGHTINGS: Like Bacteria, rightwingnut posers evolve rapidly once readers start becoming resistant to their tactics. So, in recent weeks, we have seen some new species emerge.
The Trojan Horse: This was first sighted officially by the editors at the alternative journal, Black Commentator. The Trojan horse is a rightwing candidate disquised as a Democrat,. Green, Reform Party, or Libertarian candidate. To get elected, they appear to be whatever party they see an opening in. Or, a rightwing extremist will pose (as did Bush) as a "moderate Republican" just long enough to improve their chances at being elected. John Erlich, running for governor of Maryland, is a classic example of the latter. He claims to be a moderate, but has what black political activist Julian Henson describes as a Nazi-ish voting record. To increase his chances of snookering the public, Erlich is paying the state GOP party chairman Michael Steele, a black Trojan Horse, $3,000 per month "consulting fee" to act as his running mate.
Out west, the GOP was caught trying to "hire" Greens to run as spoiler candidates, Nader style in elections - that tactic having failed, they have decided to simply fabricate their own candidates. The so-called "Blue Dog Democrats" are a classic example of the kind of damage these bogus "democrats" can do. So, before you buy what a candidate is selling, do a thorough background check! Voting records don't lie. Neither does the revelation that a would-be "progressive" candidate was recently a pr master for Exxon or Halliburton!
Another potential Trojan Horse type to watch out for is Republicans running on what appears to be an anti-war, anti-Bush policy platform. I'd have one thing to say to these candidates: "Can we get that in writing?"
The Domain Demons: Although it is an accepted tactic of both Democrats and Republicans to buy up domain names for immediate or future use, or to prevent them from becoming lampoon sites (Bushwatch, for example), the GOP has taken this a step further into the realm of unethical. George Harris and Chuck Muth, rightwing Repugs in Nevada were caught buying up domain names of opposition candidates with the intention of disseminating damaging information.
The corporate rightwing has figured out that the progressive alternative media has some pretty darn bright people working for it - and working for free, something very difficult for the corporate mind to fathom. It is now trying to fight "fire with fire" by unleashing more sophisticated propagandists onto these sites. They appear to target a specific progressive writer who has been marked out as threatening and will then mimic that writer's style, even their key phrasing, and piggyback their posts, commentary-like rants, and "letter to the editor" onto sites where the "dangerous" writer's material appears. The provocateur will appear to be similar...yet into their stuff they will inject the Bush party line in what they imagine to be disguised form. A recent example was a rant that apparently got posted to a Green and a Libertarian site shortly after another writer posted an alert about infiltration techniques being used by the rightwing. The "piggybacked" rant appeared also to be warning of infiltration techniques, but injected the material with warnings against "the environmental agenda," "forcing sex education on children," and to beware of town meetings (!) (the writer called community organizing aimed at achieving consensus on issues was somehow ominious...a subversive form of "decentralization" that, incredibly, they likened to communism!!!. But the rant was filled with sophisticated intellectual material (references to psychological models, etc.) and, to add to the intentional smokescreen, also appeared to expose rightwing tactics. These folks will be harder to spot than the classic posers we are now familiar with, so keep your binoculars handy!!! Always look for the embedded message - it will always be there and will contradict the overall text.. If someone is posing as "progressive," they won't be injecting comments protesting local activism or sex education. Nor will they refer to an "environmental agenda." If they are for real, their message should be consistent throughout. Also, spot the pattern of posting - the provocateur's comments will usually follow the comments of a popular for real commentary but will rarely, if ever, directly mention the "for real" commentary (another way to avoid tipping the readers off).
Got some sightings of your own? Send them to Cherylseal@hotmail.com