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Why the Right's 'Astroturfing' Propaganda Is Textbook Psychopathic

Faux grassroots firms are exhibiting all the tell-tale signs.

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So there's your fluency in lying and manipulation. But saying that Bonner & Associates has a knack for dishonesty would be a ridiculous understatement.

It's more appropriate to argue that deceit is central to the company's existence. Lies, being good at lying and not owning up to exposed lies are absolutely fundamental to astroturfing -- the technique's Miracle Gro, if you will.

Predictably (and like psychopaths, who display a bewildering ability to breeze through their own contradictions and falsities), Bonner made absurd attempts to brush aside the event, arguing that the faxes were a "mistake," and that the person who was responsible had been fired.

This was despite the organization's anaconda-length track record of employing nearly identical tactics for nearly identical ends.

Checkmark No. 2 on the ol' psychopathy list.

But the most volatile -- and perhaps most important -- qualifier for psychopathic behavior promoted recently by lobbying organizations is what Hare would call "criminal versatility."

On June 22, Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., had to be escorted by police to his car after being shouted down by health care "protesters" at a town hall in Setauket, NY. Then, in early August, the office of North Carolina Rep. Brad Miller received a threatening phone call because of the politician's health-policy stance.

"The call to the D.C. office was, 'Miller could lose his life over this,' " Miller Communications Director LuAnn Canipe told Talking Points Memo. "Our staffer took it so seriously, he confirmed what the guy was saying. He said, 'Sir is that a threat?' "

Although it has stopped short of taking responsibility for such actions, FreedomWorks, a lobbying firm with its own rich history of astroturfing, has not shied away from provoking criminal behavior.

On Aug. 7, the company's vice president, Max Pappas, said on C-SPAN that FreedomWorks doesn't "have the power to control how many people turn out" at town meetings "or how they behave there. All we really do is facilitate their participation by letting people know when these town halls are and giving them information about the issues that are going to be discussed."

Pappas added, "The passions are so deep about this issue that we can't send out an e-mail that says 'calm down.' "

FreedomWorks can (and does) however send out "Action Kits" that claim President Barack Obama and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., should be "afraid."

And they do urge members to "turn up the heat," even as they pussyfoot around recent violent disruptions. Interestingly, no FreedomWorks document explains clearly what sorts of actions are "hotter" than the current boiling point. People are left to guess. Or to simply act.

This is alas the "versatility" with which FreedomWorks approaches criminality. By indirectly cultivating violence, the organization gets to play political saboteur and promote a corporate agenda at the same time.

Such a narrow focus -- one unobstructed by remorse, compassion or a consideration for other people's well-being -- is psychopathy's apex characteristic. And it syncs up well with one of Hare's definitions for the disorder. Psychopaths, he writes, are "social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please."

Sounds familiar.

I should point out that this is not a fault-free diagnosis. Certain characteristics on the PCL-R (impulsivity, lack of long-term goals) are not applicable to the astroturfing exploits of FreedomWorks and Bonner. The campaigns promoted by these companies are, after all, well-thought out. They aim to promote a very specific set of interests.