When Does Repeating Propaganda Cross the Line to Treason?
There are outsized influence of right-wing Americans flirting with treason in alliance with Putin.
By Dr. Steve Hochstadt
Professor of History
We are at war with Russia. Economic war certainly, political war at the highest level, military assistance but no actual fighting for us. Yet.
The fighting is being done by our ally Ukraine, to whom every administration has given economic and military aid since the last time Russia invaded Ukraine to carve off Crimea in 2014. Like modern wars, the Russian attack on Ukraine is televised. Everybody knows what is happening, except perhaps the few remaining Russians who still believe the lies their governments have been telling them their whole lives.
Until two weeks ago, Russia was merely our global adversary. Shooting changes everything. For our military and all the militaries in NATO, for our government forced to respond to invasion of our ally, for populations and governments around the world, Russia is now the enemy.
That is global news, but a few people here at home openly support the other side. On the wide and colorful right fringe of our national tapestry, the news is hard to swallow. Their years of public admiration for the Russian strongman and his government, led by our own fawning circus strongman, now suddenly look naive at best, and certainly stupid.
But stupid can also be dangerous. If “loose lips sink ships,” then shouting public voices can aid the enemy. For years, RT America, set up in the US by Margarita Simonyan under Putin’s control in 2005, has been proselytizing for him. Simonyan served on Putin’s reelection team in 2018, after informally helping to elect Trump in 2016. The obvious Russian media project to interfere in our elections forced even the Trump administration to make RT register as an “agent of a foreign government”. Now Simonyan on RT explains that Ukrainians greeted Russian troops with homemade pies, and the line of tanks is “a standard parade rehearsal”.
RT repeats Putin’s claim that Russia is attempting the “denazification of Ukraine”.
According to a social scientific study by Mona Elswah and Philip N. Howard, “RT is the most richly funded, well-staffed, formal organization in the world producing, disseminating, and marketing news in the service of the Kremlin. RT is used as an instrument of state defense policy to meddle in the politics of other states. The channel has been established in the shadows of the Soviet media system and its organizational behavior is characterized by Soviet-style controls.” The EU personally sanctioned Simonyan two weeks ago, along with many Russian people and entities, calling her “a central figure of the Government propaganda”.
War is always an opponent of freedom of information and opinion. RT is a paid arm of the enemy trying to derail the current American war effort. It may reach millions of Americans with enemy propaganda disguised as news. Can they masquerade under the banner of freedom of the press?
I care more about the outsized influence of right-wing Americans flirting with treason in alliance with RT. RT’s current BFF is Tucker Carlson. When the bombing of cities was still in the future, Carlson constantly promoted his preference for the Russian leader over our own President and VP, who are “a senile man and an imbecile”.
“I think we should probably take the side of Russia, if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”
The idea of Ukraine possesses enormous negative significance for conservatives who have never seen it: they tried and failed to make Hunter Biden’s questionable activities in Ukraine a bigger moral and political issue than Donald Trump’s. So Carlson explained his understanding of world politics at the beginning of February:
“Texas is a state that’s had well over 1 million foreign nationals pour into it illegally over the last year. Right over the border. That is a far bigger invasion than anything Vladimir Putin is planning in Ukraine.”
Worry about desperate impoverished families who would love to live in America, carrying their belongings on their backs, not Putin. The policy of the Biden administration, as in everything else, is “lunacy”. Hours before Russia’s invasion, he tweeted:
“Ukraine isn’t a democracy. It’s a State Department client state.”
Russian state television has been delighting Russian officials and the official media by broadcasting translated Carlson clips. Russian senator Alexey Pushkov claimed the West is “provoking war”, and cited his source:
“This isn’t just my opinion. Prominent Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson says that the mainstream media is getting us ready for war, demanding war.”
Russian media rebroadcast Carlson’s friendly portrayal of Putin himself:
“Has Putin ever called me a racist? Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity?”
So RT loves Tucker. Simonyan raved about one of his video clips shown on Russian airwaves:
“You showed the clip of wonderful Tucker Carlson, who, by the way, is dreaming of interviewing Vladimir Putin, simply dreaming about it! He is the most popular host in the United States, who understands everything the way it should be understood.”
The extreme right committing treason for the Russians is a double historical irony. Right after World War II, American conservatives, led by Joe McCarthy and Robert Welch, propagated the nonsensical story that the whole political establishment to their left, including President Eisenhower, was in league with the Russians, then called Soviets. Richard Nixon pioneered the winning use of “pink” in California politics. American conservatism has proclaimed its unique loyalty to America for my whole lifetime. A weaponized patriotism was directed at everyone with the flimsiest links to Russia or whom the right didn’t like. Now the far right is in bed with the enemy and it is Russia.
Some are scrambling to get out. Others are hiding under the covers. On February 25, Carlson retreated: “Vladimir Putin started this war. He is to blame for what we’re seeing tonight in Ukraine.” That only lasted a day, as Carlson said “the invasion of Ukraine is a humiliating defeat for Joe Biden.” The biggest shots can’t bear to recant.
After the US declared war on Germany in 1917, the Trading with the Enemy Act gave a newly created Office of Alien Property Custodian the power to confiscate the property of people whose actions could threaten the war effort. The president has the authority to restrict trade with “hostile” nations or with their allies. Those provisions are now solely applied to Cuba, where actual fighting has only taken place when the US invaded in 1961, another irony.
Have FOX News and its even less scrupulous epigones on the right, like Breitbart and Infowars, who have been spreading and amplifying RT’s message, all committed treason? Should their property be confiscated?
I wonder why any American would follow stupid, traitorous people who have been making a fortune sleeping with the enemy? Maybe this finally is the wake-up call.
Originally published by History News Network, 03.13.2022, reprinted with permission for educational, non-commercial purposes.