Obama Confidant's Spine-Chilling Proposal to 'Cognitively Infiltrate' Conspiracy Theorist Groups
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Sunstein himself -- as part of his 2008 paper -- explicitly advocates that the Government should pay what he calls "credible independent experts" to advocate on the Government's behalf, a policy he says would be more effective because people don't trust the Government itself and would only listen to people they believe are "independent." In so arguing, Sunstein cites the Armstrong Williams scandal not as something that is wrong in itself, but as a potential risk of this tactic ( i.e., that it might leak out), and thus suggests that "government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes," but warns that "too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed." In other words, Sunstein wants the Government to replicate the Armstrong Williams arrangement as a means of more credibly disseminating propaganda -- i.e., pretending that someone is an "independent" expert when they're actually being "prodded" and even paid "behind the scenes" by the Government -- but he wants to be more careful about how the arrangement is described (don't make the control explicit) so that embarrassment can be avoided if it ends up being exposed.
In this 2008 paper, then, Sunstein advocated, in essence, exactly what the Obama administration has been doing all year with Gruber: covertly paying people who can be falsely held up as "independent" analysts in order to more credibly promote the Government line. Most Democrats agreed this was a deceitful and dangerous act when Bush did it, but with Obama and some of his supporters, undisclosed arrangements of this sort seem to be different. Why? Because, as Sunstein puts it: we have "a well-motivated government" doing this so that "social welfare is improved." Thus, just like state secrets, indefinite detention, military commissions and covert, unauthorized wars, what was once deemed so pernicious during the Bush years -- coordinated government/media propaganda -- is instantaneously transformed into something Good.
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What is most odious and revealing about Sunstein's worldview is his condescending, self-loving belief that "false conspiracy theories" are largely the province of fringe, ignorant Internet masses and the Muslim world. That, he claims, is where these conspiracy theories thrive most vibrantly, and he focuses on various 9/11 theories -- both domestically and in Muslim countries -- as his prime example.
It's certainly true that one can easily find irrational conspiracy theories in those venues, but some of the most destructive "false conspiracy theories" have emanated from the very entity Sunstein wants to endow with covert propaganda power: namely, the U.S. Government itself, along with its elite media defenders. Moreover, "crazy conspiracy theorist" has long been the favorite epithet of those same parties to discredit people trying to expose elite wrongdoing and corruption.
Who is it who relentlessly spread "false conspiracy theories" of Saddam-engineered anthrax attacks and Iraq-created mushroom clouds and a Ba'athist/Al-Qaeda alliance -- the most destructive conspiracy theories of the last generation? And who is it who demonized as "conspiracy-mongers" people who warned that the U.S. Government was illegally spying on its citizens, systematically torturing people, attempting to establish permanent bases in the Middle East, or engineering massive bailout plans to transfer extreme wealth to the industries which own the Government? The most chronic and dangerous purveyors of "conspiracy theory" games are the very people Sunstein thinks should be empowered to control our political debates through deceit and government resources: namely, the Government itself and the Enlightened Elite like him.
It is this history of government deceit and wrongdoing that renders Sunstein's desire to use covert propaganda to "undermine" anti-government speech so repugnant. The reason conspiracy theories resonate so much is precisely that people have learned -- rationally -- to distrust government actions and statements. Sunstein's proposed covert propaganda scheme is a perfect illustration of why that is. In other words, people don't trust the Government and "conspiracy theories" are so pervasive is precisely because government is typically filled with people like Cass Sunstein, who think that systematic deceit and government-sponsored manipulation are justified by their own Goodness and Superior Wisdom.