Robert Reich: The Peril Facing Western Democracy
Hopefully, Saturday’s hacked leaks purporting to show offshore accounts and tax evasion by France’s independent candidate Emmanuel Macron won’t jeopardize his lead over racist nationalist Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s French election.
But there may be a larger significance to the leaks and their distribution – their apparent connection both to Russian operatives and to the American alt-right. It’s the same network that sought to deliver the U.S. presidential election to Trump.
Like Trump before he was elected, Le Pen has been an outspoken advocate of pivoting France’s foreign policy toward Putin’s Russia. She met with Putin two months ago in Moscow. For years, Le Pen has benefited from Russian financial support and from favorable coverage in state-run Russian media.
We don’t know for sure that Russian hackers have sought to help Le Pen as they did Trump. But it seems likely.
Meanwhile, analysts have determined that the social-media campaign in France following the leak originated in the United States, in a well-known network of alt-right Twitter accounts that had been associated with the Trump campaign.
Ben Nimmo, a research fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said in an interview that the subsequent #MacronLeaks Twitter storm — notably in English, not French — largely began with the account of Jack Posobiec. Prosobiec is a Washington-based correspondent for the alt-right website TheRebel.media. He has written that he served, in 2016, as “Special Projects Director of Citizens for Trump, the largest Trump grassroots organization in the US.”
From there, news of the Macron leaks was retweeted by William Craddick, another alt-right activist known to have spread in December a fake news story about German Chancellor Angela Merkel tolerating Islamic State terrorists to deploy an “E.U. army” to subdue her country’s neighbors. Then the “#MacronLeaks” was retweeted in France by well-known National Front accounts — reaching 47,000 tweets in just three hours.
These alt-right American activists operate through sites like 4chan and Discord – sites previously used to coordinate support for Trump’s presidential campaign.
Hopefully, Macron will win Sunday’s election in France.
But the parallels between what happened in the United States during the presidential election of 2016 and what has occurred in the French election are too close to ignore.
Are Western democracies under attack from Russia and the alt-right in America, in an effort to put racist nationalists in power?
It is critically important that U.S. intelligence agencies, working with Interpol and other international intelligence agencies, answer this question. And whatever the answer, we must better guard our democracies.