The media has been flooded with reports that alleged Russian trolls tried to influence Black Lives Matter. Historian Gerald Horne and attorney Anoa Changa discuss the use of the black struggle for the Russiagate narrative and its historical context
AARON MATÉ: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Russia-gate began with alleged email hacking and fake news on social media. But, it’s grown to something much bigger. And that’s underscored by the new focus on Russia and Black Lives Matter. DYLAN BYERS, CNN: What it tells us is that the Russians who bought this ads were sophisticated enough to understand that targeting a Black Lives Matter ad to the communities of Baltimore and Ferguson would help sell political discord, which we believe was one of the motives here. The goal here was really about creating chaos, creating a climate of incivility, a climate of political discord and partisanship, effectively to sort of undermined the American Democratic project. Generally, to undermined America’s strength at home. AARON MATÉ: In recent weeks, the media has been flooded with reports like that one, that alleged Russian trolls, tried to influence Black Lives Matter. Headlines speak of Russia deceiving or manipulating or infiltrating black activist groups. But while this may sound new it actually follows an old playbook going back to the Civil Rights era. And Like then, it’s also having consequences today. Last week, a high-level staffer on the campaign of Georgia political hopeful Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, was forced to resign. The infraction by Marcus Farrell, who was Abrams’ Deputy Campaign Manager, was that he had appeared for one interview on the Russian backed network, Sputnik Radio. I’m joined now by two guests. Anoa Changa is an Attorney and a Director of Political Advocacy for Progressive Army. Also, the host of the podcast, The Way With Anoa, and Gerald Horne is an author, historian and professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. Welcome to you both. Professor Horne, I’ll start with you. Your thoughts hearing that clip I just played from CNN talking about this alleged Russian “troll farm” buying an ad geared towards Black Lives Matter and the overall flood of news reports we’ve been seeing in recent weeks on this front? GERALD HORNE: Well first of all with regards to the news reporting, it would be very useful to know if the corporate media is making a distinction between the Russian government’s activities and the activities of Russian Nationals or Russian Citizens … Just as I do not believe that the real news is being paid or controlled by Donald J. Trump. It might be of a mistake, it would be a mistake to suggest that the activities of all Russian nationals and citizens are directed by the Kremlin. Even to say as much, gives us a hint of the kind of throw back to the Cold War that we are now in midst in. I would hope that going forward these kinds of crucial distinctions are made, and in any case it’s quite disappointing given the fact that The United States tends to make a fetish out of freedom of speech. That a political operative could be sacked simply for speaking on Radio Sputnik. I say that with no mock in sincerity since I have appeared on radio sputnik myself not to mention our team more than once. AARON MATÉ: Right, and in terms of the historical analog here. I mean, using Russia and linking it to the Civil Rights Movement is an old trick that was used back in the 60’s right? GERALD HORNE: Oh absolutely. I mean, that was the allegation made about Dr. Martin Luther King. That was the allegation made about his chief operative Jack O’Dell who’s still in the land of the living in self-imposed exile in Canada. In fact, you may recall that U.S. President John F. Kennedy sought to force Dr. King to rid himself of Jack O’Dell supposedly because of Jack’s communist ties, which supposedly then linked him to Moscow directly. The same holds true for Stanley Levison who was a fundraiser and speechwriter for Martin Luther King. The allegation was made that he had ties to the U.S. Communist Party, which supposedly and reputedly linked him directly to Moscow. So once again this is a throw back directly to the battle days of The Cold War. AARON MATÉ: When, the Kennedy’s tried to, when the Kennedy’s did sign off on spying on Dr. King, did they use alleged Russian ties as part of the justification? GERALD HORNE: Of course, because supposedly this raised national security concerns. I would hope that the Congressional Black Caucus our spokespersons in Washington do not fall into this pit of Moscow bashing. I would hope that they would take a step back and tried to look at the grand strategy of U.S. Imperialism as we speak and recognize that U.S. Imperialism, which finds itself falling behind the People’s Republic of China, now feels that in order to go up against China nose to nose, they have to somehow get Moscow in their corner in hence the state of Russia bashing. And I would hope that they are aware of that and do not fall into this trap that’s now being set. AARON MATÉ: Well professor, it appears that they are not aware of that because many black lawmakers, prominent black lawmakers in congress have raised this as a serious issue. Anoa Changa, You have looked at this issue closely. Your thoughts on what we’re seeing today when it comes to tying Black Lives Matter and the black struggle in the U.S. to somehow Russian influence? ANOA CHANGA: I just want to like bring it back for a second to the point about Marcus and what happened out here in Georgia. The campaign, to my knowledge from speaking with him did not force him out because of the interviews that he did with [inaudible 00:06:14], by any means necessary, which is aired or on Radio Sputnik. Part of leaving was an attempt to defuse what was clearly a hit on her campaign trying to use his interviews as seeing there’s Russian interference happening here in Georgia. Like the bigger context of what is happening with these allegations with it’s stories that are coming out now about you know black activist or in this case black, you know campaign sapper having an interview that was non-controversial, that was actually on a well thought out, you know, very nuance program. To be leveraged by a media like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is owned by Cox Media, which is thee paper here in you know Atlanta, and so goes A.J.C. and so goes the rest of the news reporting. To throw that out there, you have even people like our mayor’s press secretary tweeting, “Well I’m for one, am against Russian interference in Georgia Politics.” So the actual issue really, was more so with the framing of the actual reporter and whomever decided to dig up you know an interview from a few months ago. To pin it as if there was Russian influence in Stacey Ebert’s campaign when in fact it was nearly another forum. One of the few forums that black activists and black organizers in political is truly to actually have, to have honest dialogues outside of the corporate controlled media about issues that affect us in our politics. So when we think about this whole conversation and just picking back up on what you said. When we have even members of the C.V.C. buying into this divisive issue is nonsense. Right? The fact that issues in matters of immigration are crazy, Are being labeled as divisive, as somehow undermining the democratic process in the society. When the democratic process in the society is undermined by the democratic party or republican party themselves consistently and across the board. We have this serious issue of deflection and lack of accountability that is happening. And now it is happening on the best of movements that are build with the sole purpose of challenging White supremacy and systemic racism and oppression. AARON MATÉ: Yeah, let me read to you a couple of headlines. One from Gizmodo that says Russia deceived black activists into aiding their election interference scheme. Okay that’s Gizmodo. Another one from Think Progress one of the top liberal groups, it says Here’s how Russian operatives manipulated U.S. Civil Rights activists. So the underlying premise here beneath all of this is that somehow black Americans needed Russian meddling to convince them to go out and protest racism. Professor Horne, your thoughts on that? GERALD HORNE: Yeah I know it. You know I want to put this to you, Professor Horne mentioned liberals. You know back when Black Lives Matter was unfolding, was getting going, it became, it was fashionable to say that you support Black Lives Matter. Hillary Clinton certainly adopted it during her campaign. But now all of a sudden, now that it can be tied to Russia. Now all of a sudden you have liberals talking about you know the Russians using Black Lives Matter to be divisive. As if protesting racism is somehow about divisiveness versus just protesting racism. ANOA CHANGA: A little over two months ago we had massive amounts of people in the streets protesting White supremacy. Right, right after Charlottesville we had liberals progressives, leftists, people taking to the streets denouncing White supremacy, demanding an end to systemic racism. I mean this has been a battle cry for all across the summer. We actually have open White’s nationalists, White supremacist marching giving speeches that are contrary to Liberty and Justice for All and yet it is black people demanding equity. That is the problem. We have a serious issue in the respectability politics as well as the need for liberals to be comfortable. Right, because challenging a systemic White supremacy, challenging systemic racism and injustice. It threatens the status quo, it threatens the comfortable existence of white people in America. And people don’t like that, people don’t like to feel uncomfortable. So it’s much easier to undermine the very real work of what is happening to people. We saw the same thing happen with Atifa coverage this summer. Just a little a side, One of my differentiated disaster relief in Puerto Rico recently, because members of her group have identified as being a part of Atifa. When they were in Puerto Rico they were targeted in the middle of the night by police in question about whether or not they were there to overthrow the government. Or whether or not they held up their fists when they were at protest. And they were ultimately like okay, we’re just here doing disaster relief trying to help people. But it’s this media coverage, it’s this false narrative and it’s hysteria that creates these instances that give hyper awareness and alertness to people when otherwise they should not be under suspicion for anything that they’re doing, Cuss they’re not doing anything out of the ordinary. We saw this type of hyper-hysterical coverage during the Iraq War, we see it in so many other instances to help inflame tension to justify actions being taken by the government. And right now, we’ve just seen the release of a report claiming that the rise of Black Identity Extremist, which is some type of fabricated pronouncement that FBI has come up with. When in fact we actually do have a very serious increasingly steady rise of White supremacist openly and notoriously doing business in this country and nobody is doing anything about it. AARON MATÉ: Professor Horne, your thoughts on that point? In terms of the, what this whole Russia, Black Lives Matter story might say about the way in which Black Lives Matter is viewed, in terms of its political expediency, not so much it’s legitimacy to liberal leads? GERALD HORNE: Well as I’m sure you know, there is this phony narrative that has arisen, that suggests that one of the reasons that Mr. Trump triumphed in November 2016 was because of this severe counter reaction to so called Black Identity Politics. Meaning a counter-reaction to Black Lives Matter. Meaning that black people should not be protesting in the streets about being executed without due process of law by officers of the state. Obviously this is ridiculous, this is ludicrous and the fact that is now being put forward by some who consider themselves liberal makes it all the more disturbing. I think that what this raises is the opposite of what’s being suggested. What this raises is that we need to increase our global and international ties to counter-veil this rightward shift in the United States of America, which obviously has ensnared and afflicted some of those in the liberal camp because historically we recognize that our international ties have been our saving grace. That is what helped to rescue us from slavery in the 19th century. That’s what helped to rescue us from the practices of Jim Crow in the middle of the 20th century. AARON MATÉ: I’ll end now just by reading you one more headline. My job is easy today cuss there’s so many headlines to pull from here. To get rational active. This is from the Atlantic and it’s called The History of Russian involvement in America’s race wars. ANOA CHANGA: Yeah, even utilizing the language of White supremacy in terms of Race Wars is problematic all throughout that piece. I mean from alleging that you know posters in favor of those on trial during the Scottsboro trial. To, you know the alleged communist alluring of black and white sharecroppers into efforts to unionize workers in the south near the 30’s. I mean it’s a complete misrepresentation and it’s ahistorical to characterize this as somehow Russian interference in an otherwise benevolent but racist american society. I mean lets just be real here in terms of history. The United states of America has not done right by black people and others of color since it’s conception. Well since before it was officially created. Right? People continue to fight and organize, etc., and try to achieve equity imparity the best they know how and that has nothing to do with whether or not Moscow or whomever is saying Oh America is bad. We live it. We understand that experience. And just to note this whole nonsense about Russian interference as if somehow it was Russia the reason why people stayed home and didn’t vote in places like Ohio, Wisconsin as the Professor already noted. We had massive issues with voter oppressionist the first presidential election cycle without the full extent of voter protection under the Voting Rights Act. We also recently had a report come out of Working America that looked at black voters in Ohio and I forget the exact numbers but black voters in Ohio that were surveyed said that they felt that it didn’t matter, which party was in power in terms of their economic liability. When, they’re looking at black working class voters. We talk so much about the white working class. The white working class is allowed to be frustrated by the economy. Why can’t Black working class, why can’t Latino working class or Asian working class? Why can’t everyone else be upset about the economy too? Why can’t it just be that simple? Why do we have to evict narratives to undermine the very real work that people are finding, are doing, are building? Because we threaten the status quo, we threaten people’s safety. Not safety, we threaten people’s security, we threaten their convenience and their comfortableness with the way the society is. They’re happy wearing the Black Lives Matter button. They’re not happy when we demand that they be put in practice. AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Anoa Changa, Attorney Director of Political Advocacy for Progressive Army and host of the podcast, The Way with Anoa. Also, Gerald Horne, author, historian and professor of History in African American Studies at the University of Houston. Thanks to you both. ANOA CHANGA: Thank you! GERALD HORNE: Thank you! AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.