TOC Ready Room 16 December 2022: Censorship, gas lights, and Russia-Iran missile/drone adventure

What’s wrong and right with the world.

A phenomenon has been developing in recent weeks that should raise our level of concern about the nature of public discourse, especially as brokered by the media.

It’s more than what the media, per se, are doing, however.  It has to do with “news” that purports to be coming from government, but is backed by no actual evidence, and is unverifiable in terms of whether it came from government at all, much less could be held accountable in any way.

We’ll have some examples below that clarify what I’m talking about.  To start with, however, a tweet exchange for orientation to the topic:

The goal of censorship is never just to silence speech.  It’s to prevent competition for someone’s preferred speech, which is to be favored, fostered, enshrined, proclaimed and insisted to be valid and true, regardless of evidence.  The latter, which routinely devolves into a series of “Big Lies” as the competition for ideas or empirical reporting is driven out, is the profile of gaslighting.

The two always go together.  The more you censor, the more latitude you have to gaslight.  The purpose of a campaign of political censorship is gaslighting.

What’s been interesting to me, if we can call it merely “interesting,” is the extent to which we’re starting to see communication through the media, purporting to be from government agencies, that offers no proof whatsoever that it’s based on actual evidence or independently verifiable events or observations.

Along with this phenomenon, we’re seeing “lies of omission” by which the media, again purporting to speak for government agencies, present seeming conclusions about certain topics that don’t comport with the basic evidence cited.  The media give us word salads that leave an unmistakable impression, but it’s a misleading impression because there’s no basis for believing or agreeing to it.

In some cases, government is indeed engaged in the same kind of communication.  It’s not just the media pumping up some ambiguous (or even anonymous) statements from government agencies.

But it’s telling in either case, because it typically avoids clear assertions about individually verifiable facts, and instead deals in generalities that might bolster a particular interpretation of such facts – if there were any facts.

Here’s a recent example.  Most readers are aware of the shooting that took out a power station in North Carolina last week.  Tens of thousands of customers were without power for days.  The local sheriff said afterward that the shooter(s) apparently were expert enough to hit the facility just where it would produce the most damaging result.

Almost immediately, a theme emerged from national media that this was about “white supremacists” committing “domestic violent extremism.”  Yet law enforcement has no suspects in the incident.  There is no evidence that would afford a legitimate reason to basically ignore other possibilities (foreign saboteurs being at the top of the list); to focus on “white supremacists”; or – most especially – to speculate about white supremacists to the public, in the complete absence of evidence.

The latter is as irresponsible and uncalled for as it would be to speculate that “domestic Islamic extremists” or “environmental direct action terrorists” had done it.  For all we know it was Russian, Iranian, or Chinese government-backed saboteurs, or their proxies.  And we shouldn’t purport to finger any such perpetrators without evidence.  That includes not speculating at length to leave an impression that they’re the most likely suspects.

Recent in-depth news articles, however, have devoted dozens of paragraphs to citing potential reasons to think the perp(s) is or are white supremacists, even though no actual evidence is ever advanced to that effect. And in this case, certain government officials have recited the same theme – which produces copy that media can quote without doing the speculating themselves.

Here’s an interesting aspect of it, however.  Notice how it’s done in this pairing, from the tweet above.  The original tweet forwards a Newsmax story in which a former DHS official, Chris Krebs, is quoted at length from his appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation on 11 December.

Four things about Chris Krebs.  One, he’s a former official.  He’s not in the job now.  He can say things without being accountable in congressional hearings.

Two, he was the head of the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency (CISA) in DHS during the Trump years, so that can be duly noted about him as if it suggests he isn’t biased against the “right.”

Former CISA chief Chris Krebs warns against “disinformation” and threats to democracy in October 2022, before the midterm election.  CBS/Face the Nation video.

But three, much of DHS was at outs with the Trump administration in 2020.  Officials in the agency (it’s not clear they included Krebs) spent the year 2020 pushing to advance the same “election interference” narrative that Democrats were trying to plant in the intelligence community underneath then-DNI John Ratcliffe, who said it wasn’t a valid narrative and didn’t have the IC’s official stamp on it.  (Ratcliffe has recently come out and made that point again, in connection with the “51 intel officials” statement about “Russian disinformation” from October 2020.)

Then, after the 2020 election, Krebs proclaimed it to have been the “most secure in history.”  Trump fired him shortly thereafter.

Four is key, however.  Krebs isn’t a law enforcement official.  He won’t be held accountable any time soon for his lack of evidence.  He was in charge of a policy agency that doesn’t have to prove its points in court to some statutory standard.  He can basically say whatever he wants.

And he did.  It’s important to notice how he does it.  Listen with your ears.  First, an emphatic statement that sounds very strong, as if it’s about a very important conclusion: “The attack [in North Carolina] was ‘unquestionably deliberate,’ Krebs said, explaining that the tactics the attackers used and ‘then going in and targeting very specific, critical equipment in that site — there’s no question that it was premeditated, that it was coordinated, it was deliberate.’”

Well, nobody thought it was accidental that hundreds of shots were fired at a power station and had a very specific effect.  There’s less here than meets the eye.  But it sounds vigorous and indignant.

More Krebs:  “Krebs said that these type of attacks ‘are catching on and they’re informing much more radical behaviors both at a national level and as a local level…’”  This sounds grave, certainly.  But what does he mean, “much more radical behaviors”?  More radical than causing a widespread power outage by shooting up a power station?  What examples of that would he be talking about?  When he speaks of “a national level and a local level,” what is he referring to?

I don’t need to hear about the dozens of reports of unexplained fires, explosions, and other damage to industrial facilities across America over the last year or so.  (If you’re not familiar with the pattern, do a search on “fires explosions across the us” and see how many you come up with.  The number of them has reached a remarkable level, and they’re appearing at facilities of all kinds, from chemical factories and fertilizer plants to oil and gas plants and the food processing facilities at the link above.)

I know readers will be anxious to cite them, because most conservatives have heard of them.  But that’s a disjunctive attempt at connection.

We’ve heard of them in spite of the fact that MSM sources like CBS national either don’t follow up on the pattern, don’t discuss them further after a single report, or don’t report them at all.  When Krebs, a CBS contributor, is on Face the Nation, there is no reason to think he’s referring to the unusual series of incidents CBS has given little or no air time to.

Keep that in mind as we listen a bit more.  Newsmax continues:  “[Krebs added] that these actions are carried out by extremists who ‘are online, they are white supremacist groups that are … pulling down and developing playbooks.’”

Yet the reference to “much more radical behaviors” came with no specifics,  So does the reference to playbooks.  And even if Krebs is referring to the odd series of incidents you’re thinking of – which I doubt, since it’s unacknowledged as a pubic topic – we don’t know who did those things.  We don’t even know that anyone “did them.”  For all we know, given the comparative silence of media and government authorities, they were all accidents.

There is zero evidence that white supremacists, as a group, have been engaging in “much more radical behaviors” than shooting up a power station – or even shooting up power stations, for that matter.  There’s actually little or no official evidence that anyone has.  Krebs just asserts out of thin air that white supremacists are out doing radical things, and implies very emphatically, to the point of virtually (though not quite) saying, that the North Carolina attack was committed by white supremacists.

Instead of claiming clearly that white supremacists committed that specific attack, however, he actually says white supremacists are committing an undefined category of attacks he’s talking about.  Thus he leaves an impression – “white supremacists did it” – without saying anything accountable, and he can get away with that because he’s a wonk from a policy agency, which unlike the FBI doesn’t have to reconcile generic claims with the statistics it publishes or the cases it solves.

Krebs goes on to cite the subsequent attacks in the Pacific Northwest, and then says “these type of attacks are ‘a confirmation that QAnon is a global phenomenon that is catching on.’”  That doesn’t even make sense.  Even if there were some reason to connect the attacks with QAnon – and Krebs offers none – North Carolina and the U.S. Pacific Northwest are all within the United States.  The QAnon reference seems gratuitous, or (probably) intended to implicate the American demographic the media depicts as devotes of QAnon.

Now, if North Carolina finds some white supremacists whose guilt can be proven in court, great.  It could be white supremacists.  There’s no existing pattern that would lead us to suspect white supremacists, but they could certainly be the culprits.

But the CNN report from the tweet thread linked above indicates that law enforcement authorities have no suspects.  There is no basis for speculating about anyone in particular shooting up the power station, because there are no suspects.  There aren’t even clues about them.

WTVD 11 Raleigh-Durham video

A hard fact like “authorities have no suspects” has to be reported as-is, at least while media coverage of government activities remains 51% sane.  Media can’t keep information flowing from the sheriff if they embroider on what his spokespeople say, to make it sound like it means the opposite of the sheriff department’s intent.

So, little acknowledgments like “authorities have no suspects” are sandwiched in way down in the news articles, both preceded and followed by paragraphs of prose about the alleged, but undemonstrated, activity patterns of “white supremacists.”

This is elaborate gaslighting.  It must be exhausting for whoever writes the copy.  Notice that the CNN report talks about potential motives reportedly discussed by anonymous “sources briefed on the investigation,” so there’s no accountability for the claims and it’s all very evocative, but not verifiable in the slightest.

It should concern us that attacks on public infrastructure are being packaged and reported in this manner.  The clear attempt to put the motive before the identification of a perp, and then feature motives that fit a “white supremacist” narrative, creates atmosphere and promotes animosity.  It’s the way an Orwellian “two-minute hate” is triggered.  But it isn’t evidence that would hold up in court.

Without such evidence, prosecutors can’t take it to court and prove anything against anyone.  Notably, all has gone quiet on that front.  Chris Krebs noted, about the attack in 2013 on a PG&E substation near San Jose, California, that no perpetrators had ever been found.  That was in spite of a compound breach and a shooting period of nearly 20 minutes.  The same may well be the case for the attack in Moore County, North Carolina.

Crimes, in our system of justice, are committed by individuals, not demographic groups or online forums.  The undoubted existence of white supremacists doesn’t mean that speculating on how a crime’s motive may match theirs has led to a legally culpable perp or set of perps.  No one likes white supremacists or wants to cut them a break, but sensible people appreciate that we want to keep a legal system we can rely on, if we need it, to not indict us for mob-inciting impressions about crimes, and to clear our names if we’re falsely accused.

Other instances

Two other examples of gaslighting are instructive  They’ll go faster, given the ground we have already covered.

One is a recent spate of reporting about several white supremacists given life sentences for violent assault and murder.  The reporting on their cases goes a very long distance out of its way to imply that the perps were, or could have been, out of prison and roaming the streets of America when they committed their crimes.

But they weren’t.  In the case of both crimes – one an assault in Kentucky, the other an assault in Mississippi – almost everyone involved was a member of the same “Aryan” prison gang, and the attacks were carried out in prison.  (In the Mississippi assault, the victim was not a gang member.)

The crimes were gang sanctions against fellow prisoners.  The perps had not been convicted originally on “white supremacist” crimes; they went to prison for mostly drug-related charges, and joined the gang in prison.

But you won’t figure that out from the media reporting, which is at pains instead to foster a narrative about “white supremacists” posing America’s greatest domestic violent extremist (DVE) threat.  In fact, the analytical record compiled (e.g., in this ADL treatment) shows that the “Aryan” and other white supremacist gang members pose a characteristically non-political crime threat, linked to the drug trade and their internecine sanguinary habits.

Scene of the crime. The Federal penitentiary in Yazoo City, MS.
Wikipedia: Federal Bureau of Prisons –

In the case of Wiliam Glenn Chunn, the convict gang leader who ordered the assault in Mississippi, the fact that he’s in prison and was at the time of his crime was mentioned in almost no reporting that I found.  I had to check court documents to verify it.  The court filings confirmed that he is and has been, throughout the criminal conspiracy and assault case from commission to conviction, an inmate of the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

The victim was also in the same prison, where the attack took place (see the link on the Mississippi crime, above).

Naturally, none of this means the crimes don’t matter.  But it does mean that these widely reported cases are not instances of white supremacists posing America’s greatest threat of domestic violent extremism.  The white supremacists in question pose a threat of drug-trafficking and assaults on each other, mostly in prison.

Yet the media reporting is clearly framed to mislead.  It creates the impression that convicting “white supremacists” for anything is an example of white supremacists being an emergency-level threat of racially-motivated attacks to all society. Even the Justice Department’s brief on the cited cases obfuscated the salient point that the crimes were committed in prison, against other inmates.

Since there are “DVE” threats from white supremacists, and they have recently involved (non-gang) ideological attackers massacring black Christians and Jews at places of worship and community life, we must hope our law enforcement agencies are paying at least as much attention to indicators of extremism from such perpetrators as they seem to spend on framing a narrative that white supremacists are a vast and growing “extremism” menace to all of society.  The evidence doesn’t actually indicate the latter.

Completely baseless “reporting”

The other instance is a bizarre, non-credible story published on 13 December 2022 about a “21-year-old” intelligence analyst at the Department of Homeland Security who supposedly stumbled in December 2020 onto some online evidence of a 6 January 2021-related plot, and tried desperately to get it reported to other responsible agencies but was thwarted by his superiors at DHS.

We can hope this story sinks without a trace, as its premise is ridiculous and its details don’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny.  I took it apart in this Twitter thread, which you can peruse at your leisure.

The amazing thing is that this was reported at all.  It simply doesn’t hang together.  There’s no way one guy at DHS looking for local fishing-hole tips is the only person who saw or would have reported a bunch of people in a chat thread plotting an attack on the U.S. Capitol.  Such a level of chat activity, inevitably using keywords, was bound to trigger an alert in government intelligence centers.  It’s equally likely that a public tip would cue law enforcement to something so egregious.

In any case, once the 6 January riot had occurred, it’s impossible that such a source of case clues and identities could go unnoticed by the FBI, and unreported by the media until now.

Nor is there any possibility that DHS, even though it doesn’t have a police-power law enforcement mission, would fail to alert the agencies that do (the FBI and the D.C. Metro Police).

The article suggests that DHS may have been inhibited by an Inspector General finding of overzealousness about its role in identifying protesters in Portland in 2020 – which is about the only thing in the article that verifiably happened.  The DHS IG did make such a finding; i.e., that DHS had exceeded its bounds in handling the identity information of Portland protesters that summer.  (Ironically, the IG report was published on 6 January 2021.  For some reason, the Yahoo article didn’t ink to it, but I found it here.)

But in this case, as it’s described, DHS didn’t have to deal in any Americans’ identities at all if it wanted to alert law enforcement to what its analyst had stumbled on.  All it had to do was send a hyperlink, and let law enforcement worry about the identities.

The premise of the article is startlingly vapid and absurd.  There’s no there there.  It’s astonishing that it got published.  Two interesting points add context to that.

One is that DHS doesn’t have a police-power remit.  That means vaguer, less accountable plot lines can be published referencing official actors at DHS.  As with the impressionism of the “white supremacist” speculation in the other two stories recounted here, an article can shovel in a lot of atmospherics and innuendo without making claims we would expect to be verifiable if they came from a government agency full of sworn officers.  Such officers exercise care, at a minimum, to keep their public comments verifiable and admissible – or at least unimpugnable –  in court.  DHS officials don’t necessarily have that constraint, especially if they seem to be whistleblowers (whether or not they’ve been awarded the formal designation).

Liz Cheney reads text messages at 6 Jan. committee hearing, Dec 2021. YouTube, Forbes video

The other point is the one reporter Julie Kelly discovered almost immediately.  A DHS supervisor of the “21-year-old intelligence analyst” was Joe Maher, who was later brought into the investigative team of the House’s 6 January committee, by Rep. Liz Cheney.

Oh. OK.  So Maher’s been working for the committee for months, and yet the DHS tale has never come up until now?

This kind of media “reporting,” which purports to be sourced from government officials and other knowledgeable sources, is increasingly common.  It’s unreliable, impressionistic, tendentious, and in more and more cases based on no verifiable evidence.  It’s imperative for news consumers to cultivate a critical eye (and ear) for these things, and not let an avalanche of words convince them there’s evidence where there isn’t.

Ready Room Bonus:  Russia and Iran’s excellent adventure

I won’t do a lot more here than post the Twitter thread I put up on this topic.  Russia is said to be sourcing short-range – and very possibly intermediate-range – missiles from Iran, along with big orders of combat drones, presumably for both reconnaissance and bomb delivery.

I urge readers not to interpret this as Russia having to scrape the bottom of the barrel because the Russian armed forces are in dire straits after all the weapon systems they’ve lost in Ukraine.  That’s shortsighted, though it’s probably part of what’s going on.

The more important part, however, is what it tells us about the trend of warfare, and how Russia sees the potential battlespaces that may open on the western front.  Consider the likelihood that Russia doesn’t foresee fighting a major war with NATO, involving massive campaigns and pitched battles using the capital equipment the Russian armed forces have spent decades acquiring.  Russia isn’t likely to come off well from such a confrontation.

And the Russian problem in Ukraine is being addressed mostly without conventionally doctrinal use of those assets.  Russia is basically laying waste to much of Ukraine through attrition, using as little as her forces can get away with of the most advanced systems and equipment.  Even the initial flanking movement toward Kyiv had no real element of maneuver in it.  Rather, a bunch of armor drove onto the main roads approaching Kyiv and parked there for weeks.  Parking armor instead of using it for tactical maneuver has been a large part of Russia’s problem with losing armor.

Putin’s video address 21 Feb 2022. Sky News video, YouTube

Armor isn’t the most cost-effective method for reducing a population’s resources and will through extended harassment.  For the latter, a lot of cheap missiles and bombs are a better option.

And the advantage of Iran’s products is three-fold.  One, they’re cheap.  Two, they’re the right range for the task, if the task is to keep an immediate neighbor off-balance and reeling from a harassment campaign.  Russia was under the constraint of the 1987 INF Treaty for several decades, having to develop missiles of the relevant range in secret, and basically through modifying higher-end missiles for shorter-range performance.  That’s expensive, and largely overkill.

Reagan and Gorbachev at signing ceremony for the INF Treaty, 8 Dec 1987. YouTube, Reagan Library/Pres archive video

Iran’s missile program, on the other hand, has emphasized throwing missiles at the ranges Russia needs for a relatively calibrated, near-abroad problem. If Russia wants to be able to undermine the mutual commitment of NATO and countries like Finland, the Baltic Republics, and Poland, lots of cheap missiles and drones enable the Russians to “counterattack” in a way that separates the neighbors’ threat level and interests from the rest of NATO.  (Putin’s methods in Ukraine should make it clear that he and his war planners most certainly think that way.)

The third advantage is that the European nations aren’t well equipped today to defend against Iranian missile and drone systems.  Hardly anyone is, other than Israel.  NATO has focused on being able to defend against the potential longest-range missile threat from Iran.  Against the drone threat, there’s not been much focus at all.  Defending NATO territory has been about visions of combat from 20-30 years ago, with current-generation deep strike and maneuver systems.

But shorter-range missiles – and drones – are actually, in some ways, harder to defend against because the defender has significantly less alertment and tracking time. 

Russia would have a lot more short- and intermediate-range missiles if not for the 1987 INF Treaty.  Iran has been developing exactly what Russia needs for a harass-and-intimidate strategy with Eastern Europe.  Moscow arming up with Iranian weapons isn’t just a sign of Russia’s well running dry.  It’s a clue to what Putin is thinking.

Feature image: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Felix Garza Jr. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

4 thoughts on “TOC Ready Room 16 December 2022: Censorship, gas lights, and Russia-Iran missile/drone adventure”

  1. fwiw, North Carolina media – print & watching Spectrum news while in hospital waiting room – never mentioned any suspects in the Moore County electrical shooting – they all followed what LE was saying. Even the ‘drag show protests’ linkage disappeared after the first day. (My speculation was Russia – as a retaliatory infrastructure attack, against Ft. Bragg families.)
    I never tune into to any national news about any topic since J62021.
    UkraineVRussia™ is all AngloPropaganda echoes from Ukraine, now with ‘Beyond Repair Electricity’. Very precise retaliatory (made in Russia) missile strikes since Oct. 10.
    The UKRbots did not get every Twitter source cancelled.

    1. Thanks, D4x – I figured you’d have insight. I’ve looked and could never find any local reporting about suspects. Only the statement that they hadn’t come up with any, the latest of which I think was from the sheriff (maybe 5 days after the attack? Can’t recall). Anyway, local reporting tends to be better than national. Local stations can’t afford to be ridiculously wrong in order to flog a narrative.

      In the absence of evidence I’m holding fire, but I tend to favor a foreign attacker as well. In the larger context of all the attacks on US industry and infrastructure, I think it could be Russia; could also be commissioned by China. In either case, actual perps could be 3rd parties “hired” for the job.

      Hope you are well and your treatment is going as it should. The holidays aren’t a fun time for that, I know. Perhaps you’re getting some friendly birds to watch.

      1. Forgot to add what you did, absolutely “actual perps could be 3rd parties “hired” for the job.” (Attack was Dec. 3) I had no opinion about all the other infrastructure attacks, though food processing WAS a puzzle.

        I only read the local city newspaper in waiting room, because it ONLY uses AP “news”. But, that day, Dec. 6, especially after the Spectrum cable news report, I did check online for other NC news sites. UKDM was still on the “drag show” theory, but, no one in NC. For a purple state where all the major cities are D, there is still enormous respect for LEOs. In 2020, LEOs shut down most-progressive Asheville’s CHAZ before the tents went up. The city here is pale-blue, surrounded by deep-red counties. Officer and his car was guarding the entrance to major supermarket the day the BLM protests tried to start. The 2020 day T45 came to rally here, local news gave it glorious coverage with lots of positive photos, noting the BLM-counter-protest fizzled out for lack of people.
        Did you know only North and South Carolina ratified the 2nd Amendment on the same date as the other 9? MA, GA, and CT not convinced for 138 years???

        Thank you – yes, the chemo is killing it, but, my veins are struggling. Only two more, to #16, to go. My doctor says she has never gone past 18, and I must switch to a tabletRx, but also, remission does NOT mean cure. Very puzzling & distressing.
        Will I survive to vote in 2024? At least learn SCOTUS decision on Moore v Harper?
        If you want the best reads on NC, here is the Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal, reporting as it is meant to be: Dec. 7
        Nov. 14, on NC’s 2022 real red wave:
        btw, are you sensing EO 13848 might re-emerge? Just a thought, no need to reply.

        As for my birds? Storm Ian took down the tree, far NE corner in the back, where my Cardinals were nesting! Mr. Cardinal was at my glass back door expressing his complete distress at losing his lovely Mrs. A few hours later, MrC dove into the fallen crown. Have never seen him again. They were my favorites.
        Lately, a murder of Crows keeps invading my back yard! I tap my window to send them away. No other songbirds a-twittering except some Chickadees in the woods across the street.

        Have been too tired/weak to do much inside or out. More reading. Currently on Polk11 by Robert W Merry. After losing re-election to TN Gov in 1841 & 1843, Polk is about to see his bid for VP to VanBuren8’s third try turn into the POTUS nomination. Political cartoon: Polk & Co. Going up the Salt River (to certain defeat): labelled: Ensured accurate by Jonas Buitlier of the Clerk’s Office of the District Court in the South District, New York.
        Fascinating that a 1844 political cartoon needed “Ensured accurate” claim.
        1844 was a very fractious election. Both Jackson7’s Democrats, and Clay’s Whigs, had geographic fractures.

        Thanks for your platform, to chat.

  2. Until proven otherwise, I consider QAnon to be FBI disinformation. The only time I met any white supremacists was at the local redneck bar in Rhinebeck, NY. A couple of KKK recruiters, this was about 1989. And they were having no luck.

    At this point, what is Putin’s goal regarding Ukraine? Even using cheaper drones and missiles gets expensive for a temper tantrum.

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