Inside the MAGA-Russia plan to track and control your life

Inside the MAGA-Russia plan to track and control your life
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In a Yahoo News/YouGov poll last year, 62 percent of Republicans said they preferred Vladimir Putin’s leadership to that of President Biden; only 4 percent saw Biden as a stronger leader than Putin.

Just a few weeks ago, rightwing darling Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted:

“Today, I filed six amendments [to the National Defense Authorization Act] to prohibit sending any additional funding, weapons, ammunition, or other resources to Ukraine…”

Donald Trump has famously lavished praise on Putin on multiple occasions, as do Republican podcasters and hate-radio hosts regularly. Conservative podcaster Joe Oltmann, according to The New York Times, said on his show:

“I’ll stand on the side of Russia right now,” adding in a note to the Times, “People support Russia because you did not do the right thing when it came to the fraud and corruption of Biden. I pray for the people in Ukraine but equally pray the people who facilitated the evil communist agenda in the U.S. are held accountable.”

When the NRA was busted by staff of the Senate Finance Committee for funneling Russian money into the 2016 election and facilitating the efforts of Russian spy Maria Butina, the GOP replied that the report’s conclusions were “overblown.” No droids in this car.

It’s hard to find MAGA Republicans who will criticize Putin and the way he’s running Russia. Meanwhile Putin’s good friend and protégé Viktor Orbán — the authoritarian leader of Hungary who has shut down the free press, put his citizens under surveillance, and holds his nation under the control of oligarchs — has become a rock star in the MAGA GOP world, addressing CPAC in Texas, appearing on Fox “News,” and hosting CPAC twice in Budapest.

It’s therefore useful to look at what life would be like in America if a MAGA Republican were to become president and make our nation run like Russia or Hungary.

Two months ago, the Associated Press reported on the life of Yekaterina Maksimova, a Russian journalist who’s been arrested twice for showing up at political or climate change demonstrations.

“It seems like I’m in some kind of a database,” she told the AP.

More often than not when she goes into the Moscow subway she gets detained for hours by the police because Putin’s facial recognition system has flagged her.

Like America, Russia has doorbell, security, and traffic cameras pretty much everywhere and, also like America, most are connected to the internet where the government — with or without users’ permission — can monitor them.

Unlike America, at least so far, Putin’s government uses all that data to actively monitor the everyday actions of its people, both watching known dissenters and looking out for people who may become dissidents.

The Kremlin cracked down after mass anti-Putin protests in 2011 were organized online, shifting their efforts from merely spreading propaganda to openly and explicitly policing online content.

Just last year over 600,000 websites were blocked nationwide and nearly 800 people faced criminal prosecution for things they said — or even “liked” — online and on social media.

Earlier this year the Kremlin and its media regulator, Roskomnadzor, rolled out an AI system to run facial recognition systems at blinding speed while simultaneously looking for forbidden words or phrases on social media, websites, in publications, and in email.

Cellphone providers are required to record and maintain records of all phone calls, making them available to the police when desired, and this year Russia announced it would be following China, Saudi Arabia, and other dictatorships and autocracies in walling off the internet from the rest of the world, creating what Putin called a “sovereign internet.”

Meanwhile, the “culture wars” are rolling along at full speed in Russia.

In 2021, Putin introduced a program designed to cut the number of abortions by half; criminalization of abortion is moving through the Duma and surveillance will no doubt follow as its implemented.

Most recently, Moscow has made spreading “LGBT propaganda” a crime, be it online or even in an overheard discussion at the local tavern. DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law was where Putin began a decade ago, censoring sex education and other content in schools; now it’s an imprisonable crime to speak well of queer people in any way.

In an eerie echo of the absolutely brilliant, must-see movie about the old East Germany, The Lives of Others, Putin — who was a KGB officer in East Germany through most of the Cold War (when Louise and I lived on the west side of the East German border in the 1980s) — is building a similar network of paid and volunteer informers all across Russia. The Telegram headline says it all:

“Vladimir Putin sets up Stalin-esque network of state informers”

Which brings us to the question, what would a MAGA Republican version of Russia look like here?

One clue might be the law Republicans in Idaho passed criminalizing “abortion trafficking.” As KFF Health News reporter Sarah Varney told NPR:

“I'm here at the Idaho-Washington state line. And under the new law here in Idaho, any adult who helps a teenager leave Idaho to terminate a pregnancy will face two to five years in prison. That includes an aunt, a sister, or a brother, or grandmother, and even in cases when the teenage girl has been sexually assaulted.”

In addition, the man who impregnated the girl can sue her and her family for up to $20,000 for her having had an abortion, an echo of the $10,000 “bounty on women’s heads” law passed by MAGA Republicans last year in Texas and subsequently approved by six Republicans on the Supreme Court.

How would Idaho police — or vigilantes with connections to police departments — know that a woman had left the state to get an abortion and where she had gone? In addition to informants, the Idaho State Police have the ability to extensively examine and parse Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) data from other states.

And, sure enough, just last week the Sacramento Bee revealed that a Sacramento County Sheriff has been sharing ALPR data with multiple states that have criminalized abortion. Adam Schwartz, staff attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, told the Bee that, to quote the article itself:

“[A] sheriff in Texas, Idaho or any other state with an abortion ban on the books could use that data to track people’s movements around California, knowing where they live, where they work and where they seek reproductive medical care, including abortions.”

When this was revealed by EFF, the Sheriff first tweeted that the EFF was “protecting child molesters, fentanyl traffickers, rapists and murderers.” Later the department said it was putting policies into place to ensure that abortion-seeking behavior wouldn’t be caught up and shared with other states’ police agencies.

But what happens when a MAGA Republican-controlled Congress passes a law, signed by a MAGA Republican president, that requires states to pool ALPR data? Will women and girls be safe anywhere in this country?

In Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Texas legislation has been introduced in the past six months giving MAGA Republican state prosecutors (Attorneys General and staff) the power to override or even remove from office local DAs in Blue cities who refuse to prosecute women seeking abortions or the people helping them.

This is no small matter: more than 80 district attorneys operating in 29 states have signed a pledge to “refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions.”

But abortion wouldn’t be the only area where a MAGA America would be repressive. Trump already used the IRS to punish James Comey and Andrew McCabe with deeply invasive and expensive audits for refusing to go along with his criminal ventures; he also singled out Peter Strozk and Lisa Page for special examination by the IRS and federal law enforcement for blowing the whistle on him.

He’s already said that he’ll appoint special prosecutors to go after his political opponents just like Putin and Orbán routinely do, and if you’re reading these words odds are you could eventually be included in the sweep.

Florida and Texas, both run by MAGA Republicans, have already pioneered arresting Black men and women for voting when not qualified, parading them in front of TV cameras in shackles, and giving them years-long sentences — all in an effort to terrify Black would-be voters.

In Florida it led to a collapse of the Black vote in the 2022 election, helping DeSantis cruise to reelection: overall turnout was 63 percent in 2018’s midterm election, but after DeSantis’ terror campaign turnout dropped to 54% in 2022.

It appears to have worked as well in Texas and other Red states with large Black populations, too, as Republican electoral margins often increased during the same period that polls showed the party becoming less popular statewide.

And don’t even think about being queer and out in MAGA America: already trans people are fleeing states where their basic healthcare has been criminalized by MAGA Republicans. As the Netflix movie Eldorado compellingly tells, fascists almost always begin by going after gay and trans people, then move on to the larger and harder to intimidate cohorts of racial and religious minorities as they consolidate power.

Attending a college or university will get harder, too. DeSantis recently imitated Viktor Orbán in purging Florida universities of faculty who wouldn’t worship at his feet and putting political purity tests into place for both faculty and students; as Michelle Goldberg wrote in The New York Times:

“Florida could start looking a lot like Hungary.”

When MAGA Republicans get national power, no school or institution of higher learning will be safe from seizure, censorship, or shutdown.

And once they capture complete power, we can no longer rely on elections to restore democracy to this country. The GOP abandoned democracy long ago in favor of intimidating voters, making it harder to vote with registration restrictions and hours-long lines in Blue areas, along with extreme partisan and racial gerrymandering.

There’s also the problem of oligarchy that we now share with Russia and Hungary.

Five Republicans on the Supreme Court, in both the Bellotti and Citizens United cases, handed our political system over to corporations, foreign governments, and the morbidly rich when they said that corporations, as “persons,” have “free speech rights under the First Amendment,” and that money isn’t money but instead is “free speech.”

As Jimmy Carter told me seven years ago on my SiriusXM radio program:

“It [Citizens United] violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president.…
“So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

At the bloody hands of this MAGA insanity we risk going down the path followed by most oligarchies in history: becoming a dictatorial single-party-rule state with a complete loss of civil liberties.

If we value freedom and our way of life, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike must repudiate MAGA Republicans in every corner of this land before they seize so much political power — and take full control of the police-state apparatus of oppression — that we can no longer turn back.

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