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The coming 2020 ratf*ck: cutouts and conduits edition

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This poster also has a bonus: an example of how US propaganda racialized the war against the Japanese Empire but not against Nazi Germany.

If you haven’t heard of “One America News” (OAN) by now, then Trump is doing his best to change that. OAN –which my brain, and I guess this kind of makes sense, autocorrects to “Onan” – is a bit like The Epoch Times. That is, it’s a straight-up disinformation outfit cosplaying as legitimate news. Unlike The Epoch Times, OAN doesn’t seem to exist for the sole purpose of ingratiating a spiritual movement with Trump. It’s also managed to acquire White House credentials, which it uses for… oh, just watch this 18 minute John Oliver segment.

It’s not entirely clear to me whether Trump has warmed to OAN because – unlike FOX – its slavish devotion to his political fortunes knows no limits, because it affirms conspiracies that Trump actually believes, or because he sees it as a basis for a future right-wing media empire.

Whatever the reason for Trump’s affinity, it seems pretty likely that OAN is going to be a major vector for laundering Russian – or at least Russian-affiliated – information operations. As Edward-Isaac Dovere writes in The Atlantic:

In what appears to be a signal of intensifying political warfare ahead of the November election, One America News Network, the Trump-supporting cable channel that has been promoting anti-Biden conspiracies for several months, says it has obtained several hours of secret recordings of then–Vice President Biden’s conversations with Ukrainian officials. If such recordings exist, they’re likely linked to pro-Russian interests in Ukraine and a Russian intelligence operation, two former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine and a former ambassador to Russia told me. The OAN employee who claims to have the tapes would not say what was on them, other than suggesting that they will be revelatory.

In the audio that has been released elsewhere so far, Biden is heard dangling the promise of financial aid to Ukraine if its government ousted a prosecutor who was seen as corrupt—which Biden has previously said publicly was his goal, as part of a push for widespread reforms. Conspiracists have alleged that this was intended to help his son Hunter escape charges of corruption, but an audit by Ukraine’s former top prosecutor released last week found no evidence of illegal activity by Hunter in his capacity as an energy-company board member.

What is most remarkable here is that none of this is particularly surprising. Russian interference in the 2016 election has been closely studied over the past four years, and America’s vulnerabilities have only worsened in that time. As my colleague Franklin Foer wrote recently, “Russia’s interference in 2016 might be remembered as the experimental prelude that foreshadowed the attack of 2020.” That OAN is now a player in such interference suggests an escalation that the Biden campaign has been bracing for.

Anyway, it’s only going to get worse. Maybe the barrage will convince Biden that there’s wisdom in creating something like a truth and reconciliation commission to provide a proper accounting of the Trump era.

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