First, let us review an incident from the life of Karl Rove. Wikipedia
's summary works well enough:
In 1986, just before a crucial debate in campaign, Rove claimed that his office had been bugged by Democrats. The police and FBI investigated and discovered that the bug's battery was so small that it needed to be changed every few hours, and the investigation was dropped. Critics, including other Republican operatives, suspected Rove had bugged his own office to garner sympathy votes in the close governor's race.
With that image fresh in our minds, let us return to Weinergate.
Where ya going...? Get back here!
This is important
. And very relevant, as I shall demonstrate.
No, it's not a dead issue. Believe it or not, there are people behind the scenes who are still investigating the Weiner affair.
Actually, it's primarily the right-wingers who won't let the story go -- they've been milking every last drop of juice out of this scandal for over a month now. Odd behavior, that. I mean, we all had fun with the Mark Foley scandal but nearly everyone on the left stopped writing about it when he quit. (Frankly, I'm sorry he left politics.)
That said: In the case of Weinergate, a continued interest is justified, if only because of the gnawing, lingering suspicion that the full tale has yet to be told. The "Betty and Veronica" imposture and the antics of the anti-Weiner bornfreecrew indicate that, in the run-up to May 27, matters ran much deeper than most believe.
It's not just the righties who won't let it go. A handful of people with liberal-ish sympathies are also looking into this -- quietly. I'm not really one of these people, although I do get the occasional crumb of information. Intriguing as those crumbs are, some other writer will (probably) be the first to reveal the details of that investigative trail. Some people who once scoffed at my insistence that Weiner (despite his confession) really was hacked on May 27 are reconsidering their scoffs.
For now, let's talk about the topics of infiltration, sockpuppets
. All of these concepts come under the general heading of "perception management." Or, if you prefer: Manipulation
The topic of infiltration came to the fore during the height of Weiner madness.
You may recall the appearance of that mysterious visitor from Norway whom I call the mighty Seixon. He created an entire website overnight just to debunk this
His real name appears to be George Gooding; Seixon is the nickname he adopted during his earlier forays through prog-land. He remains somewhat mysterious. We know that he's young. He says that he is an American living in Oslo.
His shtick is to pose as a big-D Democrat, a liberal, and even (in his most recent incarnation) as a socialist, or at least as someone who is socialist-tolerant. Yet all of his writings defend controversial Republican talking points.
For example, he published a piece in the National Review
claiming that Valerie Plame/Wilson was the central figure in a CIA conspiracy against George W. Bush. He also published a piece claiming that Iraq really did have weapons of mass destruction. At the time he published, the Bush administration itself had backed down from that assertion.
All of Gooding's twitter associates skew far right: Michelle Malkin, the FOX News crew, and so forth. Nevertheless, he insists that he's a liberal
. And he'll be very insulted if you suggest otherwise.
Seixon once caused quite a stir on the Think Progress site. At some point in 2006, he got into a huge tiff with Jason Leopold, the controversial left-wing reporter who now works for Truthout. The details are a bit hard to reconstruct, because so many relevant pages have been removed from the web. (I caught only a glimpse of that stuff at the time; for the most part, it was outside my field of interest.) It does appear
, however, that Seixon accused Leopold of "sock-puppetry" and email forgery.
He also said that someone left a death threat on his telephone. Seixon fingered Leopold as the culprit.
Do these accusations have any validity? I don't know. I've never communicated with Leopold, and I have had mixed reactions to his work. Think Progress has scrubbed its pages free of all reference to Seixon, apparently because he made it his business to annoy everyone on that site.
As you try to gauge whether Jason Leopold did or did not leave such a stupid threat, you may want to recall the image with which we began:Karl Rove bugged his own office to gain sympathy and blacken his opponent.
Speaking of sock-puppetry: Immediately after Seixon had created an entire website
to debunk me, dozens of comments showed up in my inbox to screech a single message: Neener neener neener! George Gooding has debunked you!
Odd, isn't it, how all those guys just happened
to discover Seixon's outta-nowhere site about three seconds after it was born? It wasn't even listed on Google yet!
In the past, we've discussed persona management software
, which political operators use to create a bandwagon effect on websites. I believe that Axelrod used such software to whip up pro-Obama fanaticism back in 2008. Our previous post on this topic quotes from this Raw Story piece
Revealed: Air Force ordered software to manage army of fake virtual people
As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be "replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent."
Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. "Persona management software" can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual "people" could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.
You could call it a virtual flash mob, or a digital "Brooks Brothers Riot," so to speak: compelling, but not nearly as spontaneous as it appears.
Was persona software used to attack this humble blog during Weinergate? I suspect so.
Think about it: In the aftermath of the various Republican scandals -- the Foley affair or the Guckert business serve as examples -- did lefties flood conservative sites with cries of "BWA-HA-HA!" and similar displays of erudition? Of course not. Nearly everyone on the left would consider such activity a childish waste of time.
No doubt, many of the BWA-HA-HAs sent to this site were sincere examples of hate-mail. Quite a few went unpublished, because I operated on the theory that once you've seen ten or twenty BWA-HA-HAs, you've seen them all.
But some of the messages sent to Cannonfire during that period were obviously machine-generated.
I received perhaps two dozen comments from people unknown to me who nevertheless claimed to be longtime readers. These "fans" demonstrated ignorance of my writings -- for example, the authors seemed to be under the impression that I favored Obama. With cloyingly ersatz displays of concern for my well-being, these newcomers-posing-as-oldcomers all suggested that I "get with the program" and denounce Weiner for fear of losing "credibility" and readership. (As if I ever gave a crap about anything other than speaking my mind.)The wording of these messages was strikingly similar -- yet the authors all had different names and newly-created blogspot identities.
Persona management software in action? Methinks so.
Now step back a bit and ponder this tableau. Why would someone use persona management software
to drive opinion in a scandal of this sort?
During the height of the controversy, I ran into a fellow named Lee Stranahan, who bears some interesting similarities to the mighty Seixon. Here we have yet another fellow who claims to be a liberal, even though all of his contacts go to RightWingWorld.
(Incidentally: In his other life, Lee is a photographer of erotica. I like his work.)
Stranahan also teaches a class in how to make money from blogging. I've been at this game since 2004; near as I can tell, the only way to make pay-the-rent money via blogging is to sell out
Stranahan, it turns out, works for Breitbart.
But he's a liberal
And he's still going on and on about Weiner. In fact, he promises us an exciting episode of Weinergate Radio
Stranahan claims that one of Weiner's jilted cyber-lovers
created the Nikki Reid (a.k.a. "Betty") family of false personas. Of course, this theory hardly explains why "Nikki" tried to trick Tommy Christopher of Mediaite into publishing actionable material about Andrew Breitbart. The ruse involved fake driver's licenses and telephone impersonations. We're talking about a fairly elaborate operation.
Logic tells us that only someone sympathetic to Breitbart would do such a thing to Christopher.
Once again, let us return to our key image: Karl Rove bugging his own office.
And as you ponder that vision, consider this:
As we've seen in previous episodes -- and as the New York Times confirmed -- Weiner was targeted by a group of enemies who called themselves the bornfreecrew. One known member of this crew was a perpetually pissed off porn hustler and "cyber detective" named Mike Stack.
And now Mike Stack (much like the mighty Seixon before him) claims that he has received a death threat
. (Click to enlarge.)
Naturally, the righties feel that this "death threat" constitutes yet another example of liberal perfidy:
I see the “Left Wing” is up to it’s usual antics.
Hopefully, law enforcement will track down these “reality-based community” folks and make the appropriate charges.
Some of the comments are so wacky, they achieve orbit:
Sarah, thanks for noting that Mike got involved with this because of his essential goodness, and his wish to help people.
Prayers for all…
IOW, the Left has a tendency to engage in mob-like behavior, collectivist thinking etc. That’s what this whole episode reminds me of – group cyber thuggery. I think you said last night on Lee’s show that you didn’t think there was anything especially “liberal” (Lee should have said “progressive” I think) about the sockpuppet drama. But I think it is very much something Progressives/Leftists would do, and not something Conservatives would do.
This is all pure, barking madness. You'd have to be a kid
to take that "death threat" at face value. As for "group cyber thuggery" -- need I mention Free Republic?
Most liberals do not even know what the term "sockpuppet" means. That's why I linked to a Wikipedia definition. On conservative sites, the term is so commonly used as to make such a link unnecessary.
Mind you, I've seen lefties at their worst. During 2008, I was on the receiving end of a few death threats myself. When Daily Kos published a threat against Hillary Clinton, I contacted the Secret Service, whose annoyed reaction dissuaded me from ever again contacting the authorities about -- well, anything.
But in this case, I don't buy for a second that any leftist would care about Mike Stack enough to send him a death threat, one month after Weinergate broke open. Those few who can even recall the guy's name
are going to great lengths to stay as quiet as a 3 a.m. fog.
Remember, Mike Stack claims to possess formidable hacking abilities.
Remember, in the past he has bragged about adopting false (usually female) personas in order to get what he wants.
Remember, too, the image with which we began: Karl Rove bugging his own office
Most genuine liberals don't give a shit about Anthony Weiner anymore. They're done with him. Hell, even I was not exactly what you would call a Weiner fan. (His Israel ueber alles
stance pissed me off.)
But in the rightist imagination, liberals are zealous hero-worshippers. The conservatives are trying to create an illusory picture: They want you to think that zombified Weiner-worshippers will stop at nothing to avenge their fallen hero.
In real life, lefties love to take shots at their own leadership. They treat their supposed "heroes" the way Diocletian's archers treated Saint Sebastian.
For example: Even though most conservatives seem to be under the impression that all progs adore Nancy Pelosi, actual progs can't stand
that woman. Lefties have spewed more venom at her than conservatives ever have or ever will.
Throughout much of the Clinton presidency, The Nation
and Z Magazine
attacked the Big Dog viciously. Conservative rags like American Spectator
could hardly match the anti-Clinton vitriol which informed the writings of (say) Christopher Hitchens and Alexander Cockburn.
Absolutely no-one on the right comprehends the left's penchant for forming circular firing squads. In my forty (!!) years of following politics, the only time I've ever seen lefties form a truly fanatical cult of personality was during the 2008 Obama campaign -- and that cult started to erode about six months into his presidency. (Thank god.)
In short: The lefties populating the right-wing imagination bear no resemblance to real-life examples of the breed.
Guys like Mike Stack rarely interact with actual liberals. They learn about the species by listening to Limbaugh and reading Coulter while gulping down corn-based pseudo-Pilsners and falling ever deeper into paroxysms of rage-gasm. Then -- if they are computer-savvy -- they will hop onto certain hacker bulletin boards, download some tools, and chuckle in mad self-satisfaction as they revel in their overestimated cyber-might.
So what do we have here? The full picture isn't clear, but here are the puzzle pieces gathered so far: People claiming to be "liberals" whose ties all go to the right. Sockpuppets. Persona management. And yes, hacking
And now you know why Weinergate continues to be relevant.
Weiner was just the opening act. Expect to see similar operations in the future.