Words

The story of Pacifica Radio is a cyclical saga of factional warfare, class and racial struggle, and the power of the self-preservation instinct. “People talk about their tenure at these stations as if they’d just returned from a war zone,” says a long-time producer, who has spent 40 years watching Pacifica’s dysfunction blossom and gradually destroy the network. Pacifica’s public image as a bastion of progressivism — a “voice for the voiceless” — hides from the public the cutthroat rivalries and perpetual infighting that have made the station a notoriously dysfunctional swamp. Long-time broadcasters call it the “end of the line” for radio — its stations rank dead last in their markets in New York, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Houston, and Washington DC — but hope springs eternal, and every so often a visionary programmer revives the seemingly doomed network. The last Golden Age of Pacifica ended almost twenty years ago, however, and it’s doubtful that the network can be saved.

Democracy Now! launched in 1996 on Pacifica as its flagship news show, offering current events, analysis and opinion with a focus on stories ignored or underreported by the mainstream news establishment. It was the network’s only money-making program, annually earning $500,000 in syndication fees from more than 100 stations outside the Pacifica network and $250,000 from archival purchases. Democracy Now was founded by the network’s Program Director, Samori Marksman, and initially featured a rotating crew of hosts from each of the five Pacifica stations, a structure that was only later eclipsed by all-Amy Goodman, all the time. It was a shining example of collaboration, of how an excellent program arises from skilled individuals working together to achieve a goal. Particularly in the midst of the legendarily dysfunctional Pacifica network, which veteran news producer Paul DeRienzo calls “the elephant graveyard of radio,” Democracy Now was a diamond in the rough. Marksman was a well-liked figure at the network, capable of cutting through the petty rivalries and inspiring staff to create quality programming. Back then, according to DeRienzo, people might argue ferociously, but they’d go out for coffee afterwards.

A+ for concept, D- for execution

“Legendarily dysfunctional” is an understatement in the eyes of many who labored in the trenches of Pacifica from the 1970s on. Network management has a lengthy track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, according to veteran programmers. One likened going to work there to “intentionally climbing into a sewer every day with no boots and no hazmat outfit,” describing a “full-on hate campaign” unleashed in response to the brightening fortunes of WBAI, Pacifica’s New York station, during the mid-1970s. Fund drives fueled by a new audience and a shift toward more positive programming began to put the station reliably in the black, allowing them to pay bills and even salaries. But the old guard was apparently threatened by the arrival of new, empowering programming and the growth of an audience that was receptive to this material. As one WBAI lifer told him, “Anyone successful and happy they’re going to hate. These people live in emotional poverty.” The station became ground zero for intense factional warfare — on one side, people whose identities were tied up in the WBAI of the 1960s, who had offices and 24/7 access to the building but often no show or even official broadcasting duties. On the other hand, there were the new voices like the programmer, a best-selling author whose massive audience followed him to the station and who believes his success made him the lightning rod for these individuals’ anger. His producer was reportedly driven away from the office by an escalating terror campaign of misogynistic comments, air tapes cut with razor blades, and finally human feces inserted into her mail. The newcomer’s attempts to find common ground with his alleged tormentors — sharing stories of his working-class beginnings, arriving in New York on a Greyhound bus, or his work with over a dozen activist movements that effected real social change during the 1960s and 1970s — were rebuffed. “This isn’t a good mix,” he was told; “Why don’t you just go back?” The station remained a battleground even as its new direction attracted more positive hosts and intelligent voices than any other time in its history. By the 1990s, Pacifica seemed to be at the top of its broadcast game. At the same time, veteran programmers and management attested to the seething undercurrent of resentment, of racial, class, and ideological hatreds, fomented by WBAI lifers who would rather see the station die than compromise their politics.

Enter Amy

Amy Goodman arrived at WBAI as an entry-level reporter, her way paved by a long-term charitable donation bestowed by her grandfather as a reward for allowing Goodman opportunities above and beyond a typical internship. The money opened doors in the news department, freeing her to pursue whatever stories she liked without being told what to do by senior staff or having restrictions placed on her use of Pacifica resources. While she demonstrated intense dedication to her craft, colleagues say she lacked any of the social niceties required to work in a newsroom (“Amy doesn’t talk, she yells,” goes a recurring complaint), and the “adults in the room” — Marksman and General Manager Valerie van Isler — generally gave her what she wanted in order to keep the peace. What she wanted, former co-workers say, was full control of her immediate environment, access to Marksman’s treasure trove of progressive contacts, and free use of all resources (finances, equipment, even interns) she claimed to require to do her work. If anyone complained or objected, she reportedly threatened to halt her grandfather’s largesse, eventually terrorizing the anemic and understaffed news department into making her News Director of WBAI.

According to DeRienzo, Goodman landed at WBAI only after being kicked out of WNYC, where the behaviors that made her notorious at Pacifica were not tolerated. NPR’s professional standards apparently left no room for Goodman’s histrionics, her high-volume temper tantrums, and her violent reactions to criticism. These behaviors were merely quirky at WBAI, which over the years had become a collection basin for the detritus of New York radio — people who might be talented but who could not handle the stress of producing radio in the big city and who had, in DeRienzo’s words, “snapped.” There was a sizable contingent of “troublesome” personalities who had, for whatever reason, reached the end of the line — a “brotherhood and sisterhood of losers who would make sure that any attempt at change would be nipped in the bud.” Goodman endeared herself to these people, who were looking for a champion, a “celebrity” who could serve as the presentable public face of the radical Left. She had already amassed a hefty support base among college students and enjoyed a close relationship with big Harvard names Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, but she reportedly understood the importance of having the “losers” on her side as well. The word “Machiavellian” inevitably surfaces when discussing Goodman, especially with people who knew her at the beginning of her career.

Some considered Van Isler to be an ineffective General Manager, with lax professional standards and an “anything-goes” attitude in keeping with the station’s reputation as a home for radio rejects. Goodman was one of many WBAI staff to sign a petition to replace her. Her apparent disregard for van Isler not only did not foster animosity from the General Manager, but perversely drove van Isler closer to Goodman, which onlookers have analyzed as van Isler seeking to ingratiate herself with power in order to be spared the axe. A former senior WBAI producer says Goodman took full credit for projects undertaken as collective WBAI efforts and happily sucked up every spare dime at the cash-strapped station. Unlike the station’s own bookkeeper, Sybil Wong, she had the freedom to write checks and sign for at least one bank account, through which she allegedly channeled donations meant for WBAI and Pacifica projects into her own. Van Isler colluded in the charade, reportedly representing to foundations and donors that their money was going to Pacifica and WBAI even as it piled up in the coffers of a parallel organization run by Goodman. An anonymous report disseminated by Pacifica Board member Steve Brown claims the Goodman account’s existence was never revealed to Pacifica — that there is not even an official record of its existence, and that for this reason Wong was not allowed access to the books she was supposed to keep, preventing her from doing her job effectively. Former General Manager Utrice Leid concurs, claiming “absolute criminal activity” by Goodman involving secret accounts and the redirection of funds with Van Isler’s cooperation. DeRienzo recalls fundraisers where large sums of money were raised for Pacifica and disappeared into Goodman’s secret accounts in New York and California, never to be seen again. Concerned about the size of the donations that he claims were vanishing, he consulted with a private investigator, who laughed and explained that a non-profit designation was essentially a “license to steal.” Another long-time producer, who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, actually witnessed garbage bags full of cash from a fundraiser being turned over to Program Director Bernard White, who crammed them under his bed. Brown confirms that a former assistant of White told him she was responsible for taking trash bags full of fundraiser cash back to White’s apartment, where she counted the money and stashed the bags under the bed.

Mutiny Takes Shape

Reportedly not content to run Democracy Now within the confines of Pacifica, Goodman was busily building up a parallel structure within WBAI, assisted by all the station equipment and funding she could lay her hands on, according to Leid. She constructed a powerful support base using Marksman’s connections and threw herself into accumulating power, positioning herself in Leid’s words as the “sole progressive voice” on New York radio. Former station staff say she befriended wealthy liberal donors and fostered a cult of personality alien to the ethos of other WBAI hosts, who preferred to give credit to the network and work within the collective. DeRienzo confirms that Goodman became the Genuine Leftist Celebrity to whom Democratic real estate investors, Hollywood millionaires, and other big-name liberals could point as a recognizable face they were proud to support; a role model for the crowds of college students who attended her speaking engagements on their campuses and a champion for the listeners who loved her and knew or cared nothing about the complaints of her co-workers. Leid calls her a “George Soros capitalist” — a ruthless, by-any-means-necessary, screw-the-consequences pursuer of what’s best for Amy Goodman.

Marksman died in March 1999 and was replaced by White, who had no management background, having worked as a station DJ prior to his promotion to Program Director. With the inexperienced White at the helm, Goodman was free to take the gloves off regarding her “ownership” of Democracy Now. When Steve Yasko, National Program Director, attempted to reform the program along its original lines, with a rotating crew of hosts from each Pacifica station, Goodman reportedly initiated a scorched-earth campaign against him with fake “confidential” memos that created the impression of a targeted harassment campaign against Goodman. The implication was that Pacifica was, cruelly and without cause, trying to take away “her” program. Yasko was depicted as a misogynistic porno merchant with such effectiveness that he not only received threatening calls from listeners who had bought Goodman’s lies, but saw them show up both at WPFW headquarters and at his residence. According to one former producer, Goodman also attempted to bankrupt Pacifica with a passel of frivolous lawsuits alleging “harassment, civil rights violations, a hostile work environment, and other despicable lies.” These she spun as Pacifica suing her, ever the victim, even as she allegedly alienated her AFTRA union lawyers by forcing them into service in her unjust war. DeRienzo says the union essentially quarantined her into a one-person “shop,” aware of her legendary inability to work well with others. When the AFTRA lawyers finally refused to take part in her crusade, she reportedly fell back on a network of wealthy and well-connected lawyer friends — the same lawyers who would later write the contract that handed her ownership of Democracy Now.

i see what you did there

Having pried control of Democracy Now from the admittedly weak grasp of Pacifica management, Goodman proceeded to milk it for all it was worth, producers say. She allegedly demanded that every Pacifica station carry the program during morning and afternoon drive times in addition to the Goodman-hosted evening news hour (and demanded a separate salary from each program!). She was to receive an additional “discretionary” budget for Democracy Now, which while it would come from Pacifica’s coffers would not be controlled by Pacifica or any of its program directors, including Yasko. She got office space in DC and New York, with equipment, including the station’s equipment when needed, and staff to run it. Even when not physically present, she cast a long shadow over the office — “her people” enjoyed priority use of the best equipment, and woe betide any producer who defied her, according to DeRienzo, whom she allegedly screamed at over the phone when he sat down at the “good” tape machine an intern of hers coveted.

Around this time, Van Isler was let go, having been effectively overwhelmed by the stressful station environment, according to one veteran producer. She was not fired outright, but instead offered a higher-paying position in Washington DC. Only after repeatedly declining this post was she dismissed. The Pacifica Campaign, a “listener movement” against the National Board led by Goodman’s Democracy Now co-host, pointed to her dismissal as indisputable evidence of a “purge,” which mushroomed into a “coup,” that signaled the growing influence of shadowy corporate interests intent on selling out Pacifica to the highest bidder for personal gain. The Campaign called for listeners to respond by boycotting pledge drives, boycotting the station, calling management, and picketing station offices. This outpouring of support seems disingenuous given that Goodman and the other Campaign ringleaders at WBAI had actually signed the petition calling for van Isler’s dismissal. When Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash tried to promote News Director Jose Santiago to replace Van Isler, the Campaign blamed him for her departure and allegedly began a targeted harassment campaign that — in combination with a major family health crisis — forced Santiago to turn down the post. While the Campaign claimed to resent Wash’s imposition of her choice of manager upon the station, citing the appointment as a classic example of the National Board’s dictatorial rule, the Pacifica Foundation’s bylaws had already been ignored once when van Isler skipped over Utrice Leid — the WBAI staffing committee’s first choice to replace Marksman as Program Director — and runner-up Laura Flanders to select White, who received zero committee votes. Van Isler, defending the choice of her personal friend over the committee’s preferences, claimed the selection process was “tainted.” Invoking the bylaws after that flagrant breach of procedure was closing the barn doors after the last horse had long since galloped away.

Wash finally convinced Utrice Leid to take the post, on the condition that there would be no firings, no bannings, and no interference from the National Board. In December 2000, Leid joined as interim General Manager, making it clear she did not want the job on a permanent basis but was merely there to help right the ship. The Pacifica Campaign was worried, according to producers then at WBAI, as the professionalism Leid mandated was several notches above Van Isler’s anything-goes attitude. The same day Leid joined, Wash fired White for “using his forum to criticize the board unfairly.” There was an air of impropriety about the proceedings only because van Isler had slighted Leid to promote White, and the Pacifica Campaign exploited this fact to spin White’s firing as an unprofessional and vindictive act.

Leid soon came in for criticism for taking people off the air unilaterally, without recourse to union mediation or open discussion, according to contemporary reports. She backed Wash in firing White without consulting the union, an act which cemented the Pacifica Campaign’s loathing and opposition to her. Leid’s common-sense edict of “don’t defecate on the airwaves” didn’t sit well with the malcontents accustomed to airing their dirty laundry publicly. She removed Ken Nash for personally attacking her on air, silencing him in the middle of his show (not long after removing his co-host, Mimi Rosenberg). Some staff complained that her supporters had free reign to attack those who had been banned or fired, whatever their crimes, while their victims had no recourse or opportunity to address the criticism on air. Leid was also criticized for replacing hostile personalities with friends and cronies. However, she did bring a sense of order and professionalism to WBAI, which sorely needed her discipline, and was praised for keeping the station on air in the aftermath of 9/11 — even while she herself was subject to intensifying personal attacks. Rosenberg and White reportedly drove through her neighborhood, screaming abuse at her as she walked home. Her house was repeatedly broken into, and libelous flyers were distributed throughout her neighborhood. Despite her standing in the community — she founded and ran the City Sun, a popular newspaper written by and for New York’s black community — neighbors began to shun her, believing that where there was smoke, there must be fire.

The “Plot” Thickens

The Pacifica Campaign sought allies not only among listeners but within station staff, claiming the Board was controlled by corporate interests looking to sell the network’s stations. Goodman’s Democracy Now sidekick resigned from the program in January 2001 to run the Campaign¹, which allegedly resorted to smearing individual Board members while promoting rumors about the impending corporate coup. Pacifica’s Board was said to be plotting to sell off WBAI and KPFA’s commercial licenses, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, so that they could share the profits among themselves. Evidence to support these claims was debatable, but the group cobbled together a convincing propaganda campaign out of a few scraps and repeated the threat until listeners began to believe, assisted by the trust that listeners tend to place in their favorite radio personalities. The “losers” Goodman had befriended early on, many of whom had been fired as Leid tried to impose some semblance of professionalism on the station, were promised their shows back and more — anything to get them on board the war effort, according to DeRienzo.

According to a veteran producer, the corporate-takeover rumors stemmed from a yearly meeting of the Pacifica Board during which time they shared their wishlists for network changes in the coming year. The treasurer calculated the cost of the desired changes, which generally ran to millions of dollars, far outside the means of the perpetually-struggling Pacifica. Board members then brainstormed how they might raise that money, and one member — usually a different person every year — would suggest selling off a commercial license to raise funds — either to buy a new station, to invest the proceeds in the other four stations, or as a license-swap exchanging the valuable commercial license for a noncommercial license. Board members could not legally profit at a personal level from such a sale, which at any rate remained in the realm of the hypothetical. It was not a plan of action, and none of the dissident Pacifica Campaign members could provide proof such a plan existed. Still, they strung rumors about the national meeting together with an undated memo from Micheal Palmer discussing the sale of WBAI and KPFA, which they claimed was contemporary but which one producer stated dates from 1966. The email, if indeed it is an email, contains multiple red flags that could cast doubt on its legitimacy — questions concerning how it landed in the inbox of a Pacifica Campaign supporter instead of its intended addressee, for instance² — but it was published in FAIR, CounterPunch, and other outlets to great effect. The “impending corporate takeover of Pacifica” scare was enough of a story to fool the listeners who worshiped Goodman and wanted to believe she was David rather than Goliath in the battle for Pacifica.

The rest of the Pacifica Campaign’s “issues” concerned local stations’ perceived lack of influence on the national level. A coalition of Pacifica listeners was granted legal standing to sue for the “public benefit,” alleging that the Pacifica National Board was acting unilaterally without consulting local station boards or those stations’ listeners. National management, the suit alleged, was centralizing power in preparation for the dreaded sell-off, appointing cooperative personnel to manage the local stations. A second lawsuit was filed by Dan Siegel (who later joined the same National Board he had sued as both Executive Director and General Counsel) on behalf of the local station boards. Goodman herself sued Pacifica for “defamation” after she was reprimanded by the National Board for allegedly using the network’s press credentials to sneak Ralph Nader onto the floor of the 2000 Republican National Convention, where she interviewed him. The defamation suit followed closely on the heels of a Pacifica financial statement showing Democracy Now had made nearly $300,000 for the network; given the Pacifica Campaign’s apparent philosophy of “the ends justify the means” — the campaign leader compared their struggle to that of communist revolutionaries like the Bolsheviks and Sandinistas — some have speculated that Goodman’s suit was an attempt to stake her claim to that cash.³

Goodman eating an invisible sandwich — or Pacifica’s lunch

Because Goodman’s clique was so focused on seizing power, and willing to pursue what many witnesses deemed underhanded smear tactics in order to secure the network for Goodman, they had a natural advantage over their enemies, who were focused on their jobs: creating community-focused, responsible radio programming. Looking back at the conflict, Leid recalls her certainty that Pacifica would be sorely needed in the coming years, with the convergence of “strange political forces” heightening the sense of urgency she and her allies felt. But the voices pleading for civility and a focus on Pacifica’s mission were lost in the maelstrom, while the Goodman faction reportedly weaponized listeners by leveraging the trust they placed in their beloved radio personalities. According to one producer, the Pacifica Campaign had individual talking points drawn up to justify the dismissal of every enemy figure — dozens of managers and board members were smeared and targeted on- and off-air. KPFK news producer Marc Cooper had opposed Yasko’s hire as National Program Manager but was horrified by what he saw as the Pacifica Campaign’s demonization of Yasko as a slimy porn kingpin (for the crime of letting his web registration lapse and the site’s subsequent colonization by an unrelated smut peddler).⁴ Goodman added injury to that insult by filing a gender harassment suit, telling her followers that Yasko, a gay man, couldn’t handle “strong heterosexual feminists” like Goodman.

Cooper pointed out that the “issue” targeted by the Pacifica Campaign was constantly shifting, though he failed to take his critique far enough in an article he wrote on the subject — “first the firing of KPFA Manager Sawaya; then it was the Democrats taking over, or was it the corporatists and the commercializers; then, briefly, it was the FBI; soon after, Pacifica’s supposed plan to move out of California; promptly, it morphed into a ‘strike,’ against PNN: and then recently the dastardly ‘Christmas Coup,’ which lasted only until the issue shifted to the National Association of Homebuilders. As I write, the new flavor of the week is Democracy Now!”⁵ Such a bewildering stew of “causes” was reflective of nothing more than the methodical targeting of individual board members, in the opinion of many former staff, some of whom were victimized themselves (Ken Ford was a member of the NAHB, while others were tenuously linked to the other bêtes noires du jour). As the campaign knocked off Board members, it cemented its control over Pacifica — conquest by attrition.

Yasko was finally terrorized out of his position, his physical and mental health severely compromised by Goodman’s attacks. Almost 20 years later, he refuses to discuss the incident. Leid took his place as National Program Director in Washington DC, where she says her arrival was greeted with apprehension by the local staff. More than half a dozen engineers threatened to leave if Goodman even showed up in the building. Leid recalls that she and the national news team produced two news programs a day rivaling Democracy Now in both quality and listener support, leading Goodman to view her as the next big threat to her dominance, and the Pacifica Campaign’s focus shifted to taking out Leid.

Multiple observers confirmed Goodman’s campaign against Leid was heavily racialized despite Goodman being white and Leid black; Goodman had conspicuously surrounded herself with a cadre of black supporters willing to vouch for her “blackness,” an imperative given that Pacifica and WBAI were already staffed with competent and qualified black professionals who had no allegiance to Goodman. Despite roping in marquee names like Harry Belafonte, reportedly with the help of “community outreach” efforts sponsored by her wealthy donor friends, she was unable to block a successful fundraising drive by Leid, and shifted her focus to expanding her power base within WBAI. Her staff proliferated, colonizing the station offices and preventing others from doing their work, even running anti-Pacifica protest campaigns and producing anti-Pacifica content using station equipment while others were trying to produce their shows, according to producers who found it difficult to work in such an environment even as they tried to avoid taking sides in the mushrooming civil war. Some “Amy-bots,” as WBAI staff took to calling them, reportedly moved in, sleeping in the offices overnight, stealing equipment, selling and using drugs, and generally trashing the place. More than one producer claims they caught these new faces rifling through desk drawers and downloading information off hard drives, occupying offices that were not their own.

Because much of station management consisted of highly-educated black professionals, the allegations of racism that periodically surfaced had a surreal aspect. Steve Brown describes the rivalry as between Leid’s “Caribbean black” faction and White’s “uptown black” faction, while some considered White’s primary function to furnish Goodman with credibility in the black community. Particularly given Pacifica’s history of black radicalism, some of the black station staff saw White as an “uncle Tom” figure and resented Goodman throwing her weight around. The matter came to a head when Leid fired White. On the morning show, which he had co-hosted with Goodman, White was replaced by Clayton Riley, a black man who lost no time in criticizing Goodman’s power-grab on air. Listeners and provocateurs called in to defend her, flinging around racial slurs, and the two hosts were soon at each other’s throats. They were kicked off the air and Goodman was relegated to a side studio. According to DeRienzo, she perceived this move as a demotion and summoned her college followers into the station offices through a side door she left unlocked. Dozens of students swarmed in and were only at the last moment prevented from entering the broadcast studio when security guards barred the door.

Van Isler had never secured the station offices with a lock during her tenure as General Manager, violating FCC rules and allowing disreputable elements — one producer called them “street urchins” — to take advantage of WBAI’s hospitality-by-negligence. Rumors grew that Goodman and White, whose offices served as the hub for the protest activity, were planning a full-on takeover of the station, to be parlayed into a takeover of the entire network. Several producers overheard their minions discussing bringing guns to the station, literally plotting an armed coup, and White had openly discussed “taking over” station offices. Word of the impending takeover finally reached Executive Director Bessie Wash, who flew cross-country to help secure the station — to protect both the employees and the station license, which could have been confiscated by the FCC had Pacifica lost control of the premises.

the headphones come with fingers that plug the listener’s ears & repeat “la la la, i can’t hear you!”

This was the much-maligned “Christmas Coup” — the last-ditch attempt by Pacifica management to save WBAI from Goodman and her followers. Wash merely called in locksmiths to secure the building. Far from “locking out the staff,” they were able to avoid changing the few locks that existed on the premises because staff simply turned over their keys, “colluding” with the “coup plotters” because they did not want to see Goodman’s faction continue abusing the facilities and putting the staff in danger, according to several staff who “survived” the affair. The host broadcasting at the time reported it as if it was a top-secret military operation, and the myth was born, becoming the Pacifica Campaign’s latest cause célèbre. Had Goodman, White, and the rest of their minions succeeded in taking over the station, the FCC could have taken away WBAI’s license, which mandates a station maintain control of its airwaves — hence the need for locks. Far from engineering a coup, her defenders say, Wash was merely restoring order.

Goodman enlisted Village Voice gadfly Nat Hentoff to shore up support for what has been described as her own coup attempt, presenting Leid as a corporate shill and censor-happy fascist and Goodman herself as a champion of truth and justice, having “risked her life to break the story of the slaughtering of independence fighters in East Timor” — a brave act of journalism, to be sure, but even then a decade in the past. Members of the Pacifica Campaign were duly canonized, while National Board members were smeared as agents of Big Business. Ken Ford, the last of the Board to be driven out by the scorched-earth campaign, was introduced as “a manager with the National Association of Home Builders” sandwiched between a professional sports team owner and a commercial real estate broker in an effort to smear by association; in the following paragraph he was called a “high-level player in the corporate world.”⁶ Protesters assembled outside his office, accusing him of squandering the network’s funds and trying to sell off its stations and confusing his coworkers, one of whom called the sideshow “totally irrelevant to the business of the NAHB.”⁷ Protesters thronged parties thrown by affiliates of his employer, handing out leaflets and buttonholing attendees. They posted Ford’s contact information online, so extensively that it’s still there nearly two decades later. They even hounded him on a cruise he took with co-workers, pulling aside the ship in their own boat and holding up massive banners demanding his resignation.⁸ The protests were arranged via dedicated email lists and instructions on how to participate were blasted out to all Pacifica members. Because Goodman, White, and the other ringleaders were popular radio personalities, listeners trusted their version of events and readily turned out to demonstrate against their adversaries, according to Brown, whose own loyalties were influenced by his affinity for Goodman and White’s programs.⁹

Brown was on the front lines of the harassment, being himself responsible for one of the infamous flyers distributed to Leid’s neighbors in an effort to make her a pariah within her community. Though he had never met Leid and knew nothing about her, he believed what Goodman and her cronies said on air and volunteered to participate in the character assassination campaign. Even after meeting Leid at the behest of a long-time friend and station producer, and learning that she was not guilty of any of the crimes his flyer pinned on her (among them that she had bankrupted the City Sun, a newspaper she had actually founded and successfully run for many years and which still exists to this day), he continued to distribute the flyers because she had fired all the people he liked on the air. Brown views his flyer as a small piece of the targeted harassment campaign against Leid by Goodman’s minions, which included multiple break-ins, death threats, and the spreading of malicious rumors among the neighbors in her building, and has in retrospect attempted to justify his participation in the abuse with the rationale that others were doing it too. In the midst of this harassment, Goodman accused Leid of violently assaulting her, spinning the charge out of an incident where Leid restrained Goodman from having what onlookers called a violent temper tantrum. Leid had moved a producer into White’s (empty) office to ease tensions with an on-air host and Goodman, apparently perceiving an incursion on the fired White’s territory, began allegedly shrieking and taking photographs of the producer sitting in White’s office; Leid snatched Goodman’s camera, setting off Goodman’s histrionics (a regular occurrence, according to DeRienzo) and forcing Leid to restrain the flailing Goodman lest she injure herself or others. Goodman finally collapsed, sobbing, and left the building, refusing to return and alleging “hostile workplace violations.”

Wash was subject to the same terror campaign as Yasko, Ford, and Leid. She received bomb threats and death threats credible enough that the FBI advised her to split up her family for their protection. She finally had enough of the Pacifica Campaign’s harassment and announced her departure in November 2001. Leid and several other managers filed out with her in solidarity. Democracy Now was lost, and the combination of lawsuits and loss of revenue from one of the station’s only profitable programs had essentially sucked Pacifica dry, but Leid believes “a hardy band of people across the Pacifica spectrum” ultimately saved the network from Goodman’s clutches. Goodman’s intent, Leid says, was to force Pacifica into bankruptcy in order to swoop in at the last minute to “save” the network with the help of her wealthy donor network. She would have her own personal network of five immensely valuable radio stations, to do with as she (and her well-heeled liberal patrons) wished. Wash, for her part, told the Washington Post she had completed her “five year plan,” leaving the network a better place than she found it, and that even if she was technically fired, her departure was her idea.¹⁰

The vicious harassment campaigns against the National Board and its allies, involving stalking, public harassment, smear campaigns both online and interpersonal, burglaries and break-ins, slander and libel, all occurring systematically, simultaneously, and frequently to the point of physical illness, were the norm for over a year, according to staff on both sides of the conflict. Goodman painted herself as the victim of such harassment on air, riling up her listeners with stories that the evil network was trying to take away “her” program.¹¹ The so-called assault by Leid was only one of many incidents — there were charges of racism, sexism, and the aforementioned “defamation” lawsuit that was her revenge against the Board for criticizing her behavior at the RNC, according to DeRienzo. Listeners, of course, believed Goodman — they had never heard of Utrice Leid, or Steve Yasko, or any of the other villains in Goodman’s radio dramas.

The Spoils of Victory

The Pacifica lawsuits, including Goodman’s, were eventually rolled into a single suit, which was settled in December 2001. The settlement saw the National Board, already depopulated by the scorched-earth Pacifica Campaign, neutered and sidelined. It dissolved the centralization of administrative powers, atomizing the network’s finances such that Pacifica has never really recovered. One hand was legally prohibited from knowing what the other was doing. Pacifica’s newly-“democratized” structure mandated the election of Local Station Boards by listener-members who contributed $25 or volunteered for three hours in a given year. In 2002, the network had approximately one million regular listeners, of which maybe 10% made regular contributions or volunteered. Only 10% of those actually voted in listener elections, making Pacifica listeners perhaps the only “democracy” less enthusiastic about self-government than the United States. The station’s bylaws actually require such a quorum, meaning if enthusiasm slips further, the already dysfunctional institution risks institutional paralysis. Meanwhile, at the time of Goodman’s takeover, only about 300 votes — less than one percent of listeners — were required to place someone on a Local Station Board.¹² It was a simple matter to stack the new Boards with a dysfunctional crew of yes-men and -women and incompetents, according to DeRienzo. The new members included crack-smoking former DC mayor Marion Barry, while Michael Ratner — Goodman’s lawyer, who had just finished suing Pacifica as legal counsel for the Pacifica Campaign — became the legal counsel for the network itself.

According to a former producer, Goodman around this time threatened to quit Democracy Now and stop raising money unless Pacifica gave her private corporation total ownership of the show and its seven-year archive, free of charge. Having interposed herself between the station’s wealthiest donors and Pacifica, Goodman was responsible for up to 25% of the station’s revenue during fund drives. She struck at a vulnerable time, having (with the help of the Pacifica Campaign) purged at least 56 people for their failure to support her power grab and helped bleed the station dry with petty lawsuits, according to producers. With a green new management board and a depleted war chest weakening any opposition the network could have mounted against her, she set her terms before the new Board Chair, Leslie Cagan. The Board accepted a contract dictated almost exclusively by Ratner, who became sole arbiter; she got all her demands plus $500,000 per year to broadcast Democracy Now on Pacifica stations, plus the $750,000 per year which had formerly accrued to Pacifica through syndication and archival sales. She also gained the rights to solicit donations to her private corporation using Pacifica’s mailing list. Cagan had not consulted with a single one of the 21 other Board members and was being supported financially by Ratner at the time, with a $30,000 payoff “to defray living expenses” as icing on the cake. According to one estimate from a former board member, from 2001 to 2011, Goodman managed to hoover up $77.2 million that would otherwise have gone to Pacifica. She reported Democracy Now’s income in 2011 as $6.5 million, its assets as $13 million, and her own salary as just $148,493.¹³

Perhaps uncomfortable with her audience knowing the truth about the violent and underhanded manner in which she wrested control of Democracy Now from Pacifica’s grasp, Goodman has been reticent in discussing the network’s part in her stratospheric rise.¹⁴ Her Wikipedia entry — now that such bathroom-wall-level scribblings are considered gospel truth — barely mentions Pacifica, and the origins of Democracy Now as a collaborative product are entirely obfuscated. Samori Marksman’s name has been erased from his creation, as has the fact that Goodman was originally meant to be one of five program hosts. The work of Goodman’s supporters in spinning the events of 1999–2002 is all over the internet, papering over what one producer has called a “one-sided ass-kicking” with the Goodman-sanctioned version of events. Those who may consider this current narrative one-sided are reminded that at no time during the Pacifica Campaign’s reign of terror — one veteran producer recalled a participant actually saying “we’re the new Robespierre court” — did they give the other side a fair hearing, instead opting to shoot first and ask questions later.

While Goodman was finalizing what many consider her coup d’état at WBAI, other Pacifica stations were subjected to the same line of personal, professional and legal harassment. Allegedly terrorized on a personal and professional level by the Pacifica Campaign, Pacifica trustees left by the dozen; those who wouldn’t leave were fired, and those who couldn’t be fired were sued. The settlement that “democratized” Pacifica placed the network under an interim Board, most of whom had no experience in radio or even business and reportedly gave away contracts to friends and cronies to predictably chaotic results. This dysfunctional, unelected Board persisted long past the legally mandated period.¹⁵ For over two years, these amateurs ran Pacifica into the ground, which some believe was the intended outcome of the Pacifica Campaign’s legal and personal harassment initiatives, which stripped the network of experience and capital. In May 2003, identity politics became official station policy: a resolution dictating that “priority of programming would be given to groups historically and currently under immediate threat of losing life, liberty and limb, particularly black women” was unanimously passed by the unelected Board, which also voted in a massive increase in Spanish-language programming. While giving a “voice to the voiceless” has always been Pacifica’s stock in trade, the network’s staff were already mostly black even before the settlement, and the resolution carried a whiff of virtue-signaling — an effort to burnish their revolutionary cred with listeners who might have been turned off by the civil war. Just a few weeks after a fund drive, there was a mass purging of KPFK’s best and longest-running programs and directors. Long-time listeners were progressively alienated, according to former Board member Nalini Lasiewicz. “Pacifica began to pride itself on who it did not want listening,” said one producer.

With the National Board firmly in the hands of Goodman’s allies, and Democracy Now safely in Goodman’s possession, the network’s new rulers were free to pursue their pet projects, even if they conflicted with the aims of the stations. With no central administrative control, local boards set their own agendas. Those who had not been purged saw WBAI becoming increasingly politicized, with White rehired along with others Leid had fired. One long-time producer watched in disbelief as the Board rejected a highly-qualified job applicant because “she wasn’t Left enough,” instead picking someone with no experience in radio whose politics were closer to their own. While Pacifica is a nonprofit with an obvious political bent, even nonprofits need to maintain a certain level of funding; the dissenting producer explained that management is normally selected based on professional experience and connections, with an eye toward what they can do for the organization. Picking people based on their revolutionary ideals might have looked good, especially to listeners convinced the old board had to go because it was lousy with bourgeois sellouts, but it sealed Pacifica’s fate financially.

In 2004, White had long-running health and politics show host Gary Null removed from WBAI, even though as much as half the station’s audience was primarily Null’s and he was responsible for the lion’s share of Pacifica’s fundraising. White not only cut Null’s broadcast in the middle of an exposé on the Pacifica coup — he took Null’s broadcasting slot and gave it to his personal physician without informing either Null or his audience. Null, who had two days earlier debated White, Cagan and van Isler for nearly an hour on air, was joined by almost 2,000 of his listeners in protest.¹⁶ The station lost 44,000 listeners — 54% of its audience — and hasn’t made a fundraising goal since. Null began broadcasting on WNYE, only agreeing to return to WBAI when he was told that new management was running the station. Management turnovers are a regular occurrence, according to DeRienzo, because there is no real authority: control of WBAI and the other Pacifica stations is “easy to take over but hard to hold onto.”

Aftermath

sure it’s pretty, but can it bankrupt a small country?

In 2005, WBAI signed a prohibitively-expensive 15-year lease renewal on its 50 kW Empire State Building transmitter. The 2005 Board has no memory of seeing or reviewing the lease; DeRienzo posits that even then-Interim Executive Director Ambrose Lane did not read the lease, merely signing it and concealing its existence from the rest of the Board. Lane, a WPFW broadcaster, replaced Dan Coughlin, a Goodman ally, who quit two weeks before the signing. After serving what some believe was his purpose of shepherding through the unaffordable transmitter lease, Lane was replaced by Dan Siegel, who had once sued the network on Goodman’s behalf.¹⁷ When the one-sided Democracy Now contract came up for renewal in 2006, it was once again placed before an inexperienced Board, who were no match for Goodman’s legal sharks. Her lawyers presented the contract as a fait-accompli, convincing the Board to once again sign away their best interests and Pacifica’s only cash cow to the already-wealthy Goodman and her private corporation.

Siegel was elected interim Executive Director over the objections of several Board members, railroaded through by his allies Margy Wilkinson and Lydia Brazon (plus eight others), according to Brown, who has extensively documented what he considers a pattern of sabotage by Siegel. The so-called Save KPFA faction seized power by canceling regularly scheduled elections with an eye toward profiting from Pacifica’s recurring misfortunes — some of which, Brown says, they were responsible for.¹⁸ Siegel and Wilkinson formed a shadow corporation that Siegel admitted was designed to acquire the licenses and assets of Pacifica stations should the network go bankrupt — a bankruptcy that Siegel and Wilkinson were well-placed to engineer in their positions as legal counsel and national Board member. Because they stood to gain from Pacifica’s demise, which could place licenses worth over $100 million in their hands, they were legally obligated to inform the Board of their mammoth conflict of interest — with Siegel doubly obligated due to his additional position as Pacifica’s attorney. But they never informed the Board, and Siegel was later investigated by the California bar for his failure to do so.

Siegel had allegedly been milking Pacifica as legal counsel for years, submitting bills that were not itemized and making decisions despite the conflicts of interest inherent in serving simultaneously as counsel and Executive Director. His instigating role in one of the lawsuits that decentralized control of Pacifica is merely the first conflict of interest in what Brown and others believe to be an extensive career of such conflicts. What some consider Siegel’s thuggish behavior was not limited to the courtroom — in 2007, he allegedly broke into a Pacifica election supervisor’s home, drunk, and harassed his wife.¹⁹ According to Brown, he also sabotaged Pacifica’s defense against a lawsuit brought by a former employee, forcing the network to pay $400,000 to settle a racial discrimination suit that the network should have won. According to Brown and others, Siegel committed this violation of professional ethics as revenge on Pacifica’s Board for forcing him to resign as counsel for reasons of incompetence.²⁰ Other Board members have meticulously documented Siegel’s misdeeds, which appear to be numerous and always leave Pacifica somewhat poorer. Their conclusion, given his ownership of a corporation designed to receive Pacifica’s licenses in the event of bankruptcy, is that Siegel sought to engineer such a bankruptcy, just as Leid and DeRienzo believe Goodman did.

Indeed, some of Pacifica’s behavior is inexplicable unless viewed from the perspective of intentional self-sabotage. Null threatened to quit WBAI again in July 2013, partially out of frustration with how the station managed to alienate listeners, donors and producers all at one go with its mishandling of pledge premiums. He had asked the artist Peter Max, a personal friend, to donate some original and signed prints for a star-studded auction event to benefit Pacifica. Station managers were informed of the plan, and Max contacted celebrity friends who lived in the vicinity of Pacifica stations to encourage them to attend the auctions. Three days before the planned events, Pacifica staff had yet to even speak with Max by phone, let alone confirm any of the logistical details, and the artist had no choice but to cancel his participation. So Pacifica lost the prints, which Max donated to other groups, depriving the network of potential millions of dollars in lost pledge revenue. During another pledge drive, Null offered a two-week health retreat as a premium that earned the station $60,000 in pledge revenue. The station promised to reimburse him for thousands of dollars of expenses afterward but failed to do so until Null threatened to stop fundraising for Pacifica entirely. He is far from the only show host to lose patience over the network’s mishandling of premiums. If the FCC were ever to enforce its own statutes mandating premiums be delivered within 30 days of a pledge, Pacifica could be on the hook for fines running upwards of $130 million.

In 2017, the Empire State Realty Trust began demanding $1.8 million in back rent plus legal fees for WBAI’s 50kW Empire State Building antenna. With monthly rent running over $50,000 — four times the market rate — and increasing at a rate of 9% per year, the cash-strapped station had few options. When an October 2016 judgment found for the Empire State Realty Trust, throwing out an alleged “verbal agreement” reached with the landlord in 2014 in a closed Board session from which Pacifica’s New York real estate attorney was deliberately excluded,²¹ the court opened the door to the landlord seizing Pacifica assets outside New York to pay the debt. With its ultra-valuable FCC licenses now in jeopardy — the same prizes coveted by the competing factions of the network since time immemorial — Pacifica began seriously considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, negotiations that dragged on as the landlord filed in California to seize the property of KPFA and KPFK.²² As the vultures circled, the Board secured a $2 million loan assembled by Pacifica members in southern California to pay off the ESRT.²³ By April 2018, Pacifica was able to work out a settlement that relieved the network of its financial responsibilities, liberated WBAI from its ruinously expensive transmitter lease, and allowed the station to take advantage of a standing offer to move to 4 Times Square.²⁴ Warring factions had laid down their swords and united to save Pacifica, if only so they could return to battling for control of its assets.

Some defenders of the status quo protest that Pacifica was mismanaged prior to the 2001 “coup” — even though it had $3 million in the bank, the highest listener numbers in the network’s history, and the most qualified, experienced, and diverse staff reliably producing quality programming. They dismiss those cash reserves, reasoning that they don’t matter because the stations never got to use them, but omitting the fact that the money was frittered away defending Pacifica from lawsuits. They claim Pacifica is better off having purged the formidable progressive General Managers, Program Directors, and Board members whose years of experience in non-commercial radio was an invaluable asset to the network — that their replacement by unqualified rabble-rousers wearing their identity politics on their sleeves is somehow incidental to the network’s decline. Pacifica apologists justify their actions with the argument that there was no real democracy before the restructuring, ignoring how the old bylaws mirrored those of almost every successful non-commercial radio station in the country, prioritizing experience and fundraising ability over radical politics and the willingness to get one’s hands dirty. They ignore the toxic culture of petty internecine squabbles that plays out daily on internet message boards and mailing lists, pretending that the cross-factional cooperation that temporarily saved Pacifica from its creditors was not unusual at all — that it represented the network’s new direction, a new Golden Age that’s always just over the next hill. But in the words of one veteran programmer, “all that anyone at Pacifica has ever done for the last 20 years is double down on stupid.” And the network would not be so lucky the next time.

The Future(?) of Pacifica

Pacifica’s flagship station KPFA has veered far from the progressive path in recent years, canceling Bonnie Faulkner’s beloved program Guns & Butter because of a pair of angry letters written in response to her airing of a provocative presentation by military historian Alan Sabrosky. While the vast majority of KPFA’s audience consists of level-headed adults capable of handling viewpoints different from their own with maturity, these two letter-writers’ opinions apparently overshadowed the history of supporting free speech for which Pacifica is revered. The decision was augured nearly two years before, when KPFA Manager Quincy Jones began using the specter of “fake news” as a lever to pry more money out of listeners during fundraising drives.²⁵ Listener Daniel Borgstrom called this fearmongering out for what it was and many other listeners complained, yet the spot was used for several months, feeding on the McCarthyite climate that has settled over American public discourse in the wake of the 2016 election. How ironic that Pacifica was once the only station brave enough to stand up to Senator McCarthy during the original Red Scare.

Some might say that the corporate raid model, used to such devastating effectiveness by predatory investors in the 1980s, is being used as a model by the Goodman/Siegel crew in their alleged plot to seize Pacifica. By taking control of first the local and then the national Boards, creating an atmosphere of chaos both interpersonal and financial in order to deplete the network’s cash reserves, and swooping in at the last minute via a conveniently-incorporated private company to snatch Pacifica up from bankruptcy, the cabal could be merely following the script that made countless private equity firms rich. We do not expect such behavior from the “progressive” left, and the “real” Pacifica has been victimized repeatedly for assuming its enemies are playing by the same honorable rules. But left-gatekeepers like the heavily foundation-funded Amy Goodman, who has never apologized for her support of US regime change operations in Libya and Syria, where she acted as on-air cheerleader for the terrorist White Helmets, are no more progressive than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Such “limousine liberals” are corporate wolves in progressive sheep’s clothing. Whether or not they are being helped by Deep State interests is immaterial at this point, when the damage has been done, but it’s worth noting that the constant internecine struggles at Pacifica come straight from the COINTELPRO playbook.

Pacifica’s decline is not the fault of Amy Goodman — the network has been rife with dysfunction for as long as anyone I spoke to worked there. Indeed, Goodman, apparently taking pity on the network after nearly two decades of holding the massive Democracy Now debt over its head, reportedly forgave the debt in early 2019²⁶ after repeatedly refusing to do so in the past.²⁷ But the “democratization” of Pacifica’s board by her allies played a large part in its downfall, according to those who witnessed it. Andrew Phillips, who preceded Marksman as Program Director at WBAI and later worked as Interim General Manager at KPFA, explained that democratization “sabotaged” Pacifica: “one would think it would have worked, but it created too much democracy, in a way. Everyone was pulling in different directions.” By enshrining institutional gridlock in Pacifica’s bylaws, the hyper-democratic restructuring — former KPFA General Manager Nicole Sawaya called it “so flat that it is concave”²⁸ — impaired the network’s ability to react and adapt to a changing media climate. Out of touch with the evolving needs of its audience, and no longer the sole progressive voice in the media wilderness, Pacifica has been left behind. Phillips thinks Pacifica could perhaps be saved — if unified, competent management were able to eschew democracy and “nationalize” the network, taking the best programming from each station and putting it “all under one umbrella” anchored by a solid morning show. Until then, WBAI is “an albatross around the neck of the rest of the network,” while the individual stations with their shrinking audiences are “vanity projects” with too few standouts to thrive on their own. Pacifica has value as a stepping stone for people like Goodman, whom Phillips introduced to WBAI in 1984 after she audited his class at Hunter College, but Democracy Now’s budget now reportedly exceeds Pacifica’s.

Because of the one-sided contract between Goodman and Pacifica, the impoverished network now owed Goodman several million dollars for broadcasting Democracy Now, “her” show. In December 2017, Manhattan Neighborhood Network, whose CEO is Goodman crony Dan Coughlin, offered to “save” WBAI by relieving Pacifica of financial responsibility for the station through a Public Service Operating Agreement (PSOA). Such a move would effectively place the station fully within Goodman’s control,²⁹ and the plot was not a new one. As far back as July 2012, Coughlin allegedly submitted a secret bid for a lease management agreement for WBAI’s Empire State Building signal that would have completely absorbed the beleaguered station into MNN.³⁰ Mimi Rosenberg, another long-time Goodman ally from the Pacifica Campaign days, has vocally backed the idea that MNN should take over WBAI, and the Coalition to Save WBAI — an activist faction populated by many of the same faces as the old Pacifica Campaign — drew up a petition in favor of the MNN PSOA, calling the proposed partnership “an exciting solution.”³¹ The proposition was deferred when WBAI received its stay of execution in 2018, but that reprieve was only temporary.

Indeed, the entire network may have climbed out of the frying pan, but it remains engulfed in fire. Several Pacifica board members who opposed the financing deal that saved the network from its debts in 2018 floated a plan to take over the New York station, warning the others that “WBAI is out of control” and would surely bring down the entire network unless its entire staff was replaced.³² Unable to garner sufficient support for a takeover under existing management, Siegel’s Save KPFA faction — now rebranded as the Pacifica Restructuring Project, sans Siegel— attempted to overhaul network bylaws to legitimize the planned coup, but failed. Dissenting board members warned WBAI staff what they suspected was about to go down, but the plot went forward anyway under their noses, cloak-and-dagger style. In October 2019, a handful of board members operating under the direction of Pacifica’s interim Executive Director John Vernile (who’d held his post for all of three months) changed the locks at WBAI’s offices, confiscated their equipment, fired everyone at the station save two, and told the landlady to re-rent the space because they weren’t coming back, all without informing half the board what they were up to. The lockout took place in the middle of a vital WBAI fund drive — as usual, the station was in the red — and programming was replaced with reruns of shows from other Pacifica stations. The sheer cost of the coup — severance pay for ten fired employees, the cancellation of the fund drive, even plane tickets and hotel costs for the board members who comprised the impromptu death squad — would have been prohibitive for cash-strapped Pacifica, unless there was big money at the end of the rainbow — leading many to speculate that the end goal of the takeover was, once again, the sale of WBAI’s license.³³ Certainly the idea of “saving” WBAI was flimsy cover. “If they wanted to save the station, they wouldn’t have gone in there and told the landlady that the station was closed and was not going to open again,” Gary Null, still WBAI’s biggest audience draw, pointed out.

There are other explanations for why the Pacifica plotters went after WBAI when they did. Long-time producer Mimi Rosenberg had recorded a promo that included the phrase “We have to stop Trump” — conflating her personal politics with the station’s, an act that could theoretically endanger its 501(c)3 nonprofit status. Station Manager Berthold Reimers suspended Rosenberg for a week, but refused to force her to pre-tape her shows in the future as Vernile demanded. His loyalty to Rosenberg — who’d been broadcasting for decades — over a corporate exec who’d been running Pacifica for two months reportedly triggered a warning from management that his leadership had imperiled WBAI’s license.³⁴ Was Vernile merely using Rosenberg’s on-air Trump Derangement Syndrome as an excuse? Rosenberg certainly thought so, and said as much on air.³⁵ WBAI listener-delegate and temporary chair of the Pacifica board Alex Steinberg suggested the coup was “a ‘cleansing’ operation to remove any dissident voices to the left of the Democratic Party establishment from having any say on the politics and culture of this country,” hinting that there was “big money” behind Vernile³⁶ (and KPFA Station Manager Quinn McCoy, suspected by some of having engineered the hire of Vernile specifically to take out WBAI³⁷).

Regardless of why it happened when it did — almost exactly 20 years after a similar lockout-coup at KPFA — the takeover was total, including even WBAI’s bank accounts, indicating the presence of a traitor in the station’s ranks who gave up the station’s passwords, likely in return for being spared the axe. More importantly, the coup was flagrantly illegal, and a New York judge demanded a reversal of the entire mess. That decision took time to enforce, however, and after five weeks offline, the damage was done. The station’s audience — what little remained of it — was gone. The coup had technically failed; Vernile was put on paid leave, while the vice-chair and secretary of the Pacifica board, both of whom had backed the takeover, were removed.³⁸ But over a month offline had succeeded in killing the station, or at least mortally wounding it: Null gives WBAI six months to live.

no community radio for you

This is how a one-of-a-kind network with a 60-year history in some of the most progressive cities in the US and prime dial space is millions of dollars in the hole, on the brink of bankruptcy, its staff in perpetual turmoil, unaware who even owns the loan that could be called in at any moment to snuff out the network.³⁹ Thwarted once from seizing hold of all of Pacifica, Amy Goodman and the faction that surrounds her never gave up — whatever criticism former colleagues may have of her, none can say she is not shrewd, driven, and fiercely dedicated to her goals. Goodman now has the legitimacy her former colleagues say she has always craved since she was reportedly fired from NPR — indeed, she has long since outgrown Pacifica, emerged from its rapidly-desiccating husk like a COINTELPRO butterfly to become a leading figure in the who’s-who of Corporate Progressivism™. History is written by the victors, and the story of Pacifica has been reported almost exclusively by voices loyal to Goodman and the Pacifica Campaign; all we are trying to do is bring balance to the narrative by telling the stories of those who were so effectively vilified and chased out of the network — to bring a voice to the voiceless, as Pacifica itself might have put it in better days. This is the story of the downfall of a once-formidable broadcast network — a decline that began long before Goodman arrived on the scene and which will continue until the network is either put out of its misery or, by some miracle, saved.

NOTES

This report was compiled primarily from interviews with current and former Pacifica staff. They are either named in the text or wished to remain anonymous out of concern about retaliation. Requests for comment sent to Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez, and Bernard White were ignored. Dan Coughlin agreed to be interviewed, but was not present for most of the events depicted in this report; he denies any “secret contract” or “secret lease renewal” or “secret bid” and insists Goodman was lovely to work with. To anyone who might complain that I “only” attack the Left, I will say that it is because of the sheer incompetence of what passes for the “Left” in the 21st century that the country is where it is today. This appalling culture of appeasement, navel-gazing, and infighting has given us a “Left” that cheers on the CIA and FBI, embraces endless war, and shuts down any discussion of controversial subjects with an authoritarian response that would make any right-wing fascist proud. We expect this from the Right — but the “Left” of 2019 has abandoned the working class to serve the same interests it was convinced were going to steal Pacifica. Congratulations, you’ve become the enemy.

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Failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, thought to have finally retired from politics after an embarrassing electoral loss to a politically-inexperienced reality show personality, is threatening to enter the 2020 race, serving up reheated Cold War fearmongering and an ironclad sense of royal privilege to a Trump-weary populace. A morally and fiscally bankrupt Democratic Party is poised to enable this sick drama with the help of a spineless and compliant media.

How could this possibly happen? Surely Democrats learned their lesson after their decision to take Clinton’s money in order to stay financially solvent in 2016 required them to rig the primaries in her favor, a crime that likely tanked her candidacy when it was revealed by WikiLeaks? Surely the mainstream media realizes that, three years on, the preposterous Russiagate conspiracy theory they cooked up to defend her has ripped the last shreds of journalistic integrity out of the mainstream media establishment?

Just kidding - the Democratic Party and its media handmaidens bargained away their morals long ago. They’re aiding and abetting a Clinton comeback, wheeling her out to give her opinion on everything from the latest steps toward peace in Syria (bad, needs more war) to the 2020 candidates. Last week, she took aim at Tulsi Gabbard, the best hope the party has of getting voters excited enough to show up in 2020, claiming (without a shred of evidence) that the National Guard major and former DNC chair is being groomed by Russia to act as a third-party spoiler, handing the election to Trump. Had such a claim come from anyone else, the DNC would have slapped it down. But they know on which side their bread is buttered. They’d rather lose than defy their queen.

Let’s do the time warp again

This month’s primary debates proved that, if nothing else, the party has refused to move on from 2016. Candidates clamored to distinguish themselves as the biggest Trump-hater and impeachment zealot, with not one appearing to comprehend that next in line behind their favorite punching bag is Mike Pence. The vice president is a man so possessed by religious sexual phobia that he refuses to be alone in a room with a woman. A Christian Zionist, he is even more willing than Trump to send US soldiers to fight Israel’s battles - the better to hasten the Rapture. Only Andrew Yang - a party outsider - dared speak the truth: “When we are talking about Donald Trump, we’re losing.”

Indeed, everything about the 2020 election is signaling a repeat of the last one. The DNC is broke again, ripe for a Clinton rescue that will once again require the rigging of the primary in return for her kindness. Naysayers who once laughed at the idea of yet another Clinton candidacy are reconsidering their scorn, and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon insists she is, in fact, running - merely waiting for the right moment to officially declare her candidacy. Certainly the media blitz of the past few weeks - ostensibly to promote a book co-written with her do-nothing daughter, but in reality a string of opportunities for her to denounce the “illegitimate” president and remind America that the position is rightfully hers - looks like a campaign publicity tour. 

For all that Clinton says she empathizes with current Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, currently being accused of corruption, she has, in these interviews, always brought the conversation back around to 2016, insisting that “the most outrageously false things” were said about her as well (and lamenting that “enough people believed them” to rob her of the presidency). Biden, like Clinton, is still being pushed as the 2020 favorite, despite coming with decades of baggage including flagrant corruption (threatening to withhold $1 billion in IMF loans from Ukraine until it fired the prosecutor probing an energy company that gave his son a no-show job is only the tip of the iceberg). 

Even the New York Times has pointed out the similarities between their two candidacies - both physically deteriorating before voters’ eyes, uninterested in changing the status quo, and embraced by the wealthy donors that keep the party afloat. Biden’s Ukraine problem is as massive and impossible to avoid as Clinton’s email problem. Biden, like Clinton, is positioning himself as not the best candidate, but the only one who can beat Trump - embracing his identity as, he hopes, the lesser of two evils. Both have a long history in politics, dozens of skeletons in the closet (literally, in Clinton’s case), and a string of failed presidential attempts. Both cringingly pander to working-class and minority voters despite a history of racism ("superpredators," the 1994 crime bill, close friendship with segregationists) and classism (NAFTA).

If at first you don’t succeed...

Ever the strategist, Clinton is likely biding her time until the facts come out about Biden’s involvement in Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma during impeachment hearings and sink his candidacy. She’ll then swoop in, volunteering to take his place as the crusty old standard-bearer of the Democratic pack. Biden’s suicidal stubbornness all but ensures he’ll go down in flames (despite his son Hunter’s admitted drug problems and the obvious nepotism and corruption behind his receiving a $60,000/month directorship just months after being kicked out of the Navy Reserves for cocaine use, Biden insists Hunter will join him on the campaign trail). 

Clinton feels the presidency is hers by divine right - that it’s “her turn” to take the reins, like she was promised after Obama snatched it out from under her in 2008. Having paid her dues as First Lady, the long-suffering wife and enabler of serial rapist Bill Clinton occupied a Senate seat just long enough to present herself to the public as a stateswoman in her own right, then made a run at the glass ceiling of the presidency - only to be rejected in favor of a spray-tanned novice without her baggage. Patiently serving as Secretary of State, she oversaw the destruction of Libya, once the jewel of the Middle East under Gaddafi with the highest standard of living on the African continent, turning it into the failed state with open-air slave markets it is today. Thwarted in her efforts to do the same in Syria, she left the White House in 2012.

Clinton transformed the State Department into an extension of the Pentagon via her misleadingly-named “smart power” philosophy. The agency once tasked with solving America’s foreign policy problems diplomatically now merely provides diplomatic cover for regime-change operations like the one she helped engineer in Ukraine in 2014 (while she left the State Department in 2013, the processes she set in motion would culminate in the Maidan revolution that saw actual Nazis take over in Kiev) and the one currently trying to pry Hong Kong from China’s grasp.  

She also monetized the position, selling access to the presidency through the Clinton Foundation. The Clintons vastly enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of the world, having never met a dictator they didn’t like. But while they elevated corruption to an art form, their actions were wholly in keeping with the modus operandi of the Democratic Party. Swaddle oneself in the appearance of helping the less fortunate (Clinton has appeared with countless ‘save the children’ and ‘women’s empowerment’ type groups like Somaly Mam’s AFESIP, which notoriously invented Cambodian child brothel horror stories out of whole cloth) while exploiting them to within an inch of their lives (Haitians still protest outside Clinton events over the Foundation’s decision to give over 90 percent of the $13.3 billion given in response to the 2010 earthquake to foreign contractors and Foundation donors while Haitians starved and died).

The rot goes to the core

Clinton wouldn’t be able to get away with this sort of thing if her party wasn’t fully on board with such moral depravity. The current impeachment circus is merely the latest proof that they do not believe anything they say in public. For the entire party and its stenographers in the media to turn on a dime from accusing Trump of colluding with Russia to accusing him of engaging in quid-pro-quo with Ukraine (an enemy of Russia, if one is paying attention) suggests they don’t believe either scandal is necessarily based on facts, but that, to quote congressman and impeachment fanboy Al Green, “if we don't impeach the president, he will get reelected.” 

After losing its collective mind with the 2016 defeat, the Democratic Party, led by Clinton and outgoing President Obama along with CIA director John Brennan and FBI chief James Comey, cobbled together Russiagate as their revenge. Relying on a network of spooks and paid operatives, they conjured up a half-baked menace from the depths of Americans’ collective Cold War memories, light on facts but heavy on the implications, with just enough salacious material to ensure it would go viral. The intention was to cripple Trump’s presidency - if they couldn’t remove him from office, they could at least ensure he played by their rules rather than follow through on wild promises to end the wars in Syria and Afghanistan and normalize relations with Moscow. The status quo held until the release of special counsel Mueller’s Russiagate report meant the media could no longer claim with a straight face that Trump was scheduled to be executed for treason any second now. But top Democrats were unfazed when it was exposed as a hoax - they’d invented it in the first place.

If not a sense of moral outrage that the president is colluding with a foreign power, what has driven the party leadership and its enablers in the media to pursue Trump to the ends of the earth? Democrats’ choice of impeachment issues is proof they lack any sort of moral center - as fake as Russiagate and Ukrainegate are, there are dozens of issues that could potentially be used to skewer Trump. The sky-high civilian casualty rates and record number of bombs dropped on his watch don’t faze Democrats - after all, Bush and Obama started those wars, and neither were impeached for the atrocities committed under their watch.  

If anything, Democrats are clamoring for more war, shrieking after Trump announced the latest attempt at a troop pullout from Syria that such an action was unthinkable. Weeping and gnashing their teeth over the impending “genocide” of the Kurds, they spun on a dime when Trump announced a five-day ceasefire with Turkey last week, claiming such a deal - which gave Kurdish militias ample time to vanish from the Turkish border area without being attacked - somehow “discredited” American foreign policy. The Democrat-controlled House even voted to condemn the troop pullout - perhaps forgetting they’d never authorized the deployment of troops to Syria in the first place, an easy mistake to make as the US military has been industriously building up a base infrastructure in flagrant violation of Syria’s sovereignty.

The Trump administration’s blatant nepotism - Jared Kushner, a pampered princeling who has never held a real job in his life, was tasked with making peace between Israel and Palestine, despite blatant partiality toward the Netanyahu government (Bibi slept at the Kushners’ home in New Jersey) - didn’t bat a single Democratic eyelash. After all, Hunter Biden got his own lucrative sinecure in Ukraine with as few credentials. The massive deregulation that has seen the deficit skyrocket as corporations and the wealthy pay even less taxes than they did before bothers no one - Democratic donors benefited as much as Republicans, even though billionaires now pay a lower tax rate than the working class. Trump spitting in the face of international law by “declaring” first Jerusalem and then the Golan Heights the property of Israel went down smoothly as can be - no surprise when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself has said that she would back Israel “even if the Capitol crumbles to the ground.” Democrats’ problem has always been finding an “impeachable offense” Trump was committing that they were not also guilty of.

 

The devil’s rejects

Perhaps Democrats’ awareness that they’re morally as well as fiscally bankrupt is what drives them to make the same mistakes they did four years ago. Just as they did with Bernie Sanders, the party is doing its utmost to sideline Tulsi Gabbard at every opportunity, barring her from September’s debate despite her polling higher than several candidates who were included and refusing to speak up for her in the face of Clinton’s baseless smear. Their hypocrisy is transparent, preaching identity politics until a Hindu woman emerges championing antiwar policies. Gabbard is the only one bringing fresh ideas to the table, ideas that have excited many voters sick of the shame they feel knowing their country is the number one killer since World War II. Spike her, and they’re almost guaranteed to lose. 

As if to prove that point, Clinton pounced on the Hawaii congresswoman last week with her “Russian asset” smear - not referring to Gabbard by name, but making it clear she was talking about no one else. Her spokesman Nick Merrill, asked if Clinton was really saying Gabbard - who served in the Iraq war - was an agent, confirmed the smear: “If the nesting doll fits…” In a sane society, Clinton’s disapproval would be a badge of honor (and to her credit, Gabbard appears to be wearing it as such) - but in the mainstream media hothouse, it’s another strike against her - along with the guilt-by-association smears that come with a 4chan fan club and even her looks.

Sanders might be able to muster a win against Trump, but at 78, his health is failing, and his base is wary after he betrayed them in 2016. Despite stolen primaries in New York and California, he sat mutely, throwing his own supporters under the bus during the convention. After a solid year of slamming Clinton for giving secret speeches to Goldman Sachs, voting to bail out the banks in 2008, and backing every war in the past three decades, Sanders turned on his supporters and implored them to vote for her. He remained silent while his supporters demanded a legal reckoning. Some have forgiven him and returned to cheer him on in 2020, but many have not.  

Nevertheless, he is head and shoulders above most Democrats, who are completely for sale to the highest bidder, whether it’s Israel, the arms industry or Big Pharma. They violate the Constitution on a daily basis, whether it’s by voting to make participation in boycotts of Israel illegal (a blatant violation of the First Amendment, as a Texas court recently found; passing a law permitting indefinite detention without trial for American citizens (as Obama did in 2011, backed by a supine Congress, in violation of the Sixth Amendment); or outlawing religious vaccine exemptions (a violation of both the First Amendment and the Geneva Convention).  

In perhaps the most shocking betrayal of the party’s liberal and progressive wing, Democrats have embraced the CIA, the FBI, and the entire intelligence apparatus that has infiltrated and destroyed leftist movements since the 1960s. Once the home of the counterculture, the Party now clings to authority, enthusiastically licking the boots they believe will curb-stomp Trump. Bereft of historical perspective - even the torture revelations of the early 2000s have vanished amid the onslaught of Orange Man Bad - Democrats ironically calling themselves the Resistance wear slogans like “It’s Mueller time!” and “Comey is my homey,” broadcasting their allegiance to men who’ve covered up monumental crimes and even committed a few themselves. It’s no surprise to see the mainstream media taking the side of the intelligence agencies - assets like Anderson Cooper, Ken Dilanian, and Wolf Blitzer have been keeping newsrooms safe for democracy for decades. But never before have ordinary voters leapt to embrace their oppressors quite so openly. The phenomenon can’t even be described as selling out - because selling out implies getting something in return for one’s soul. 

A hive of lesser evils 

Even if Clinton does not run, her influence permeates the party. “I’ve talked to most of them,” she revealed on ABC’s The View earlier this month, slyly hinting that previous contests’ frontrunners a year before the election had failed to secure the nomination. Instead of Sanders and Gabbard, the Democratic National Committee is propping up Biden and grooming as his second Elizabeth Warren, the neoliberal wolf in sheep’s clothing trying to steal Sanders’ thunder by insisting she’s all he represents plus a pair of X chromosomes. Decked out in borrowed rhetoric and forged identity politics credentials, she earnestly presents herself as a leftist, hoping no one remembers she was registered as a Republican until her 40s. 

Lest anyone be fooled by Warren’s “radical” act, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently gushed “I know she’s pragmatic, just wait.” Such an endorsement should be a death knell for her progressive support, especially after the revelation that she has been in constant contact with Clinton. Warren emphasizes in communications with donors that she doesn’t actually intend to upend the status quo, and has flip-flopped repeatedly on accepting big-dollar donors and PACs, only rejecting them once she’d stockpiled a healthy war chest from those very donors. 

Many of Clinton’s 2016 campaign operatives have chosen California Senator Kamala Harris as their standard-bearer, and Harris exhibits many Clintonesque characteristics. Her enthusiasm for locking up black men for minor drug offenses (she bragged about increasing drug dealers’ conviction rate from 56% to 74% in just three years) - and black women for their truant children (she supported a law that imprisoned mothers if their kids skipped school, then lied about it on the campaign trail) - is worthy of the woman who called black kids “superpredators.” Harris has praised Clinton for “putting our country first” and “serving with distinction” while calling for Trump to be banned from Twitter for his “irresponsible” language.

The other candidates are largely distractions aimed at getting the selection process at the 2020 convention to a second ballot. With voters clamoring for reform after the 2016 disaster, the party obliged by doing away with superdelegates on the first round, but for any round beyond that, they’re fair game - and the DNC refuses to leave the selection up to chance, or anything so small-d democratic as a vote. With a handful of votes thrown to Pete Buttigieg - the anti-Gabbard, a gay pro-war vet - and Beto O’Rourke - the face of privilege whose Spandering caused the cringe heard ‘round the world in the first primary debate - the convention will progress to a second round, and the superdelegates will slither out of their holes to crown their king - or queen.

Status quo defenders

As much as those Democratic establishment stalwarts with presidential ambitions - Clinton and the two dozen-odd candidates determined to dislodge Trump in 2020 - want to get rid of the Bad Orange Man, the benchwarmers in Congress have learned to love him. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer can merely rail against Trump instead of actually governing, floating whatever irresponsible fantasy bills they want with the knowledge that they’ll die in the Republican-controlled Senate or - at worst - be vetoed by Trump. House Democrats got the chance to virtue-signal about ending the war in Yemen, helping voters forget Obama had gotten the US involved in the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, knowing Trump would kill the bill to serve their shared Saudi paymasters. And pearl-clutching about kids in cages on the border (cages built, again, by Obama) while calling for open borders attracts the votes of recent immigrants while ensuring they’ll never have to cash the checks they’re writing.

Michael Moore, once a progressive darling, recently appeared on ‘comedian’ Bill Maher’s program to lambaste his fellow ex-progressive about abandoning his own liberal credentials. Maher complained that the “Squad” - progressive congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - were unpopular, that Medicare for All was less desirable than Obamacare, and that a leftward shift would sink the party. Moore whimpered that if the election was held today, Trump would win, just as he had predicted in 2016. But where was Moore in 2016? Pleading on Democracy Now for Sanders supporters to go to the polls for Clinton, even though “she is to the right of Obama.” 

The exchange between the two millionaire entertainers was a disturbing window on the utter alienation of the Democratic Party, insulated by layers of money, from its constituents - and increasingly ex-constituents, as nearly 40 percent of Americans disavow both parties. Maher represents the McCarthyite neoliberal centrism that has taken the mainstream media by storm, in which any flicker of anti-war or pro-working class sentiment is viewed as Russian. And Moore represents the thought-leaders who, despite knowing better, have led the party into its current moral sinkhole, insisting it’s the only pragmatic route. 

 

Moore knows Clinton is - as Gabbard declared - the Queen of Warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long. He just doesn’t care as long as he gets paid. Moore, like Clinton, took money from casting couch predator Harvey Weinstein despite his predation being an ‘open secret’ in the industry. As late as 2015, he called the molesting mogul “one of the best people to work with in this town” in a tweet he quickly deleted after it was dug up in October 2017 following Moore’s belated decision to speak out against Weinstein’s crimes. Even after the New York Times story in which several actresses first went public with their accusations was published, it took Moore weeks to climb aboard the dump-Weinstein bandwagon, likely out of concern it would hurt his film - Fahrenheit 11/9 - about the Trump presidency. The bottom line - not morality, or even being factually correct - is his chief concern.

In that respect, Moore is the Democratic Party writ large. Caught in a vicious cycle of selling out to wealthy donors to keep the lights on, it has sealed itself off to the working class, the minorities whose voice it still claims a monopoly on, and the young people just now awakening to the fact that they’ve been cheated out of a future. There has been barely any pushback against the DNC’s relentless trudge to the right from the mainstream media and the party establishment. Van Jones appeared on CNN calling out Clinton’s red-baiting of Gabbard, pointing out the smear contained “no facts” and that Gabbard had been the party vice-chairman before she was demonized for backing Sanders in 2016, but the rest of the #Resistance remained silent as Clinton insisted that opposition to war was anti-American. Even the few candidates who defended Gabbard from her slurs did not mention Clinton in their rebuttals. No one dares to oppose the party’s owners.

Until someone does, the Democratic Party is dead. And it’s all but turned Trump into the lesser evil.

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The US Army has warned its soldiers away from screenings of “Joker,” citing “disturbing and very specific chatter in the dark web” about a mass shooting planned for a movie theater - seemingly validating the concerns of the media establishment's film critics, who have been shrieking for weeks that the film will inspire real-life gun violence. But if the Pentagon is truly concerned about the cause of mass shootings, it would do well to look in the mirror.

"Joker," the latest Batman spinoff, has been the subject of endless pearl-clutching think-pieces decrying its “glorification” of vigilante violence. Actor Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the titular character, has been forced to defend it from sanctimonious reporters insisting he has a duty not to lead viewers morally astray. “I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong. And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way they may want to,” he told Digital Spy, hitting back against scolds like the Time writer who slammed the film as “aggressive and possibly irresponsible idiocy” and the famously humorless crew at Vox, which dismissed it as “not edgy” while accusing it of “playing with fire” - all in a single review. 

Phoenix reportedly walked out of an interview after a Telegraph writer asked him if the film would “perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results.” Basing one’s creative decisions on the possibility that someone, somewhere, won’t “get it” is an artistic dead end, yet these self-styled cultural commissars want to impose it on Hollywood - without a hint of awareness that while violent films are screened worldwide, they never seem to inspire mass shootings outside US borders.

The AI algorithms governing speech on social media don’t have a sense of humor and can’t recognize sarcasm or irony. Now humans - those writing for the establishment press, at least - seem determined to emulate them. Like the internet platforms that censor anything remotely controversial as "hate speech," film critics denouncing “Joker” claim to speak out of concern for those who aren’t in on the "joke." They insist the “angry young men” who might see themselves in Phoenix’s character will take the film the wrong way - essentially claiming that they’re too stupid to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, or too amoral to care. Patronizing in the extreme, this motive indicates the wokesters don’t actually care about the group they’re supposedly trying to protect from artistic predators so much as fear it. Like anti-war commentators on social media, alienated young men are a foreign species to the critics who feel threatened by that which they do not understand.

The common thread running through the negative reviews is the fear that people will be inspired by "Joker" to commit real-life violence. But as Vox unwittingly admits, “you can find much scarier, more shocking stuff by…reading the news.”  Angry young men, too, can and do find inspiration by reading the news. Time magazine sardonically dubbed the Joker “the patron saint of incels," forgetting mainstream society only knows what an “incel" is because Alek Minassian mowed down 10 people with a van in Toronto - no cinematic inspiration required. Indeed, Minassian was inspired by Elliot Rodger, another young mass murderer, who stabbed and shot six people to death in 2014 because he was frustrated that he couldn’t get laid.

The cathartic value of violent art has been recognized since ancient Greece, and the vigilante violence of "Joker" would seem an ideal conduit for the revenge fantasies and other bloodthirsty impulses of society's disaffected to dissipate harmlessly. But just as shutting down the notorious anonymous message board 8chan forces the angry young men (and women) who retreat there to vent their “extremist” fantasies after being censored on social media to find other, less benign outlets for their frustrations, banning or censoring cathartic films forces individuals frustrated with their place in society to find an outlet for that frustration in real life. 

Do the cultural commissars truly believe it is better to be dead than offended?

The notion that filmgoers will go from sympathizing with Phoenix’s character to shooting up their local Wal-Mart is in itself a fantasy, one much more far-fetched than the film, rooted in a popular misunderstanding of mass shootings. These tragedies are blamed on everything from guns to video games, yet few who discuss them are willing to address the militarism that permeates all aspects of American society. Recruiters set up shop near high schools and colleges, while TV and internet ads attempt to seduce the young and impressionable to join up and kill people for Uncle Sam. Popular video games like Call of Duty acclimate players to fighting a war, even as the increasing popularity of drones turns actual war into a (deadly) video game. Heavily-armed “law enforcement” officers pose forbiddingly at airports and train stations, outfitted to look like battle-ready soldiers, while surplus military equipment filters down to the police from a Pentagon so glutted with taxpayer dollars it can’t even use all its weapons despite occupying most of the world's countries.

Even teens who are not belligerently inclined are seduced by the promise the military will pay for their college - an offer many can’t refuse, with college costing more than twice what it did 30 years ago and even the least sophisticated professions now requiring some kind of degree. Promised that just four years of service will get their schooling fully paid for, kids are turning over their bodies and minds to a Pentagon that has no problem sending them into whatever Middle Eastern meat grinder is currently raging, to die not just for their country but also for Israel - which USAF Third Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Richard Clark admitted in a spasm of honesty last year - and for Saudi Arabia. Recruiters don’t tell them that the experience will warp their minds and potentially destroy their future.

More than a third of US mass shooters since 1966 have been vets, even though they only comprised at most 13 percent of the population at any given time. Those who don’t kill others often inflict violence on themselves - they’re 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population, 10 times more likely to abuse opioids, and almost twice as likely to abuse alcohol. And they’re 50 percent more likely than civilians to become homeless. In fact, during some periods of the neverending "war on terror," more troops were dying of suicide than on the battlefield. The military chews up American youths and spits them out much the worse for wear, and even those who never don the uniform are affected by the militarism pervading American society.

Other countries where civilians have access to guns - Switzerland, for example, or Canada - don’t have mass shooting epidemics. Video games are played by kids worldwide. Even anti-depressants are not exclusively American, though the US does consume the lion’s share of those drugs and they do play a significant role in triggering mass shootings, with multiple studies confirming they increase both homicidal and suicidal behavior in patients.  

But only one country spends more money on its military than the next eight countries combined, deeming itself the world’s policeman and occupying over 70 percent of the world's countries - some for decades at a time. War is in the air Americans breathe, and this pathology expresses itself in mass shootings. Wiping violent films off the face of the earth won’t help in eradicating the scourge of gun violence any more than barring citizens from legally owning guns will stop those determined to commit an illegal act - murder - with them.

It's not the violence, it's who's directing the violence that counts.

“Woke” critics taking aim at “Joker” are motivated by the same impulses that saw them attack “The Hunt” - the now-shelved horror-satire in which liberal elites kidnap and hunt red-state “deplorables.” That film skewered the cultural and political divide that has yawned ever wider since the election of 2016 (a gap the film’s dead-on satire could have helped to bridge - the script, released after its release was cancelled, has the audience sympathizing with the conservatives who’d been plucked from Middle America to be hunted down by the painfully rich for nothing more than posting anti-abortion comments or racist tweets). “The Joker” sees the “evil” title character become a folk hero of sorts for a revolution where where “the rich are taken down, the poor get everything they need and deserve” (a happy ending Time felt compelled to mock).

Both films are dangerous for the ruling class - and not dangerous in the same way as a mass shooting, which can reliably be manipulated into a call for more surveillance, more gun control, and more thought control. Art that contradicts the ruling class' divide-and-conquer programming, that pillories the threadbare fallacy of a meritocratic American Dream, and - worst of all - that suggests there's something the average American can do to take back their country is anathema to establishment scribes, from the heights of the New York Times oped page to the bowels of the arts section. 

The woke brigades are curiously silent about violence when films glorifying war hit the screen, choosing instead to focus on the “toxic masculinity” and/or racism depicted therein. Presumably if the troops depicted storming the beaches of Normandy in “Dunkirk” were all non-binary people of color, the violence shown on screen would be fine. Even non-war films that depict “good guys” on killing sprees don’t inspire the backlash “Joker” is getting. Batman, the Joker’s nemesis in the “Dark Knight” films, is another extralegal vigilante, but an absurdly wealthy one, so his killings are acceptable - to both the audience and even onscreen law enforcement. Quentin Tarantino’s films have been getting slammed for racism and misogyny, but the violent revenge fantasies at their core - integral to the stories, unlike racism and misogyny which live in the eye of the beholder - are hardly mentioned at all. 

Nor is it just easily-caricatured liberal “social justice warriors” who have turned out in force to criticize “Joker.” Four family members of victims of 2012's Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, which took place during a screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises," wrote to Warner Bros. to request the studio advocate for gun safety amid screenings of the film. One wonders why they didn’t do the same for the studios behind any of the dozens of films and TV shows the Pentagon has “consulted” on since the shooting - films that unabashedly promote war ("Lone Survivor"), torture ("Zero Dark Thirty"), and intel-agency “wetwork” - otherwise known as murder ("Homeland"). Even 2016’s “Suicide Squad” - which saw a younger, prettier Joker plus half a dozen other stylish villains engaged in the usual kill-crazy rampages and firearms porn - somehow avoided arousing their ire; was it because the bad guys in that film were controlled by the military, the film’s director himself a military veteran, and all the violence thus officially consecrated to God And Country? Or was it that this Joker had a girlfriend? 

Theaters in Los Angeles have banned dressing up for screenings of the film out of concern that - like Aurora gunman James Holmes - some Joker wannabe will shoot the place up in costume. A memo from Oklahoma’s Travis County Sheriff’s Office suggests a “credible potential mass shooting” will occur at an “unknown movie theater” when the film is released on October 4. If it does, we can expect blame to be placed everywhere except where it belongs. Angry young men will keep killing innocent people, abroad and at home, until the country wakes up to the reality that endless war leaves the aggressor nation in ruins.

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One sixth of the adult population of the US takes at least one psychiatric drug daily, a proportion that has risen steadily as a growing share of the emotional spectrum has been pathologized by the psychiatric profession. Anger and resentment are classed as "oppositional defiance disorder" and medicated with antipsychotics, while hate is actively criminalized. And with depression “conquered” by medication - even as both diagnosis rates and suicides are at an all-time high - the mental-health industry has a new target: loneliness. With pharmaceutical and even technological "cures" in the pipeline for this "condition," once considered part of the normal human emotional experience but now framed as a dire health risk on the level of obesity and smoking, our very ability to think for ourselves hangs in the balance. 

Nearly half of Americans polled last year by health insurer Cigna said they lacked meaningful relationships or companionship, while a third of people in industrialized societies report they are lonely; this state of mind appears to significantly shorten one's lifespan. A solutions-based society might examine why so many people feel alienated from their peers despite the constant connectivity of smartphones and internet. A symptom-focused model, however, simply looks to stop them from feeling that way by any means necessary - never mind the cause, and never mind the consequences. 

Loneliness is “worse than obesity,” according to a raft of studies that have emerged linking the emotion to increased risk of premature death - as much as 50 percent, says one meta-analysis by Brigham Young University professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad - and a dramatically lowered quality of life. And like obesity - big business not just for Big Pharma, but for gastric bypass surgeons, weight-loss gurus, and other parasitic professionals who have monetized the American public’s lack of self-control - anything that deadly requires medical intervention. 

THERE’S A PILL FOR THAT

The University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory recently began an eight-week trial of the hormone pregnenolone, rounding up volunteers with “off-the-chart” scores on a psychological loneliness scale. Basing their treatment on animal studies suggesting the chemical can reduce the exaggerated threat reactions that they say characterize loneliness, they hope to normalize the lonely person’s self-centered hyper-vigilance, which drives them to both desire human connection and deal poorly with it. 

Researchers insist the intention is not to cure loneliness with a pill, but the trial sets a precedent for doing just that. Oxytocin, the "love hormone," is also being considered as a potential treatment based on promising animal studies. Enterprising psychiatrists have previously medicalized aspects of loneliness as "social anxiety" and prescribed tranquilizers or antidepressants, but loneliness itself has never been so directly in the pharmaceutical crosshairs.

And if the hormone trials flop, there’s always Prozac. Already, doctors have claimed antidepressants make patients more sociable, and these drugs have for years been used (and abused) for conditions aside from depression - off-label prescribing of the antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin was the basis of the largest pharmaceutical company lawsuit in history. If loneliness is not an emotion but a crisis to be resolved, in which the ends justify the means (however barbaric and harmful they may be), why not bring out the heavy artillery?  

Mental health professionals writing about the loneliness epidemic discuss behavioral interventions, community programs, and counseling, but the introduction of a pharmaceutical solution may prove too tempting for a profession that has learned to love the quick fix a pill provides. Like depression, loneliness has myriad possible causes, some of which are natural and healthy reactions to life circumstances. Other, obviously situational, causes would (before the magic pill, at least) call for clear behavioral solutions. Would a psychiatrist reach for her prescription pad when confronted with a lonely person who only socializes through Facebook, even though social media use has been found to correlate strongly with loneliness and studies have shown that just a week away from the platform can bring “significant” improvements in well-being? In this case, at least, correlation equals causation. A solution to the patient's loneliness seems obvious. But why force him to change his life when a pill will do the trick?

The loneliness plague is a real problem - the number of Americans who say they have no one to talk to has tripled since 1985, and the negative health effects are real. Alienation is epidemic. But medicalizing it will only make the situation worse, just as it has with depression. When the profit motive enters the equation and medicalization gives way to monetization, the incentive to get rid of the problem vanishes, replaced by the incentive to diagnose as many people as possible with the condition in order to “treat” them while the relevant drugs are still under patent. Nor is there any incentive to (or expectation of) cure - unlike most patients diagnosed with a treatable disease, individuals deemed mentally ill tend to remain on medication for years, if not for life. Each newly-diagnosed individual thus represents a sizable wad of cash on the table. 

In a quick-fix society that prefers to treat the symptoms while ignoring the disease, a pill for loneliness will be embraced with all the fervor with which antidepressants were greeted before people began to realize that they cause suicidal and homicidal behavior, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and a host of other problems - and that they don’t actually cure depression. Those drugs are still doled out like candy, even after the scientific explanation for their effect (and that effect itself) have been debunked, because it’s easier to take a pill than to come to terms with one’s reasons for being depressed in the first place, especially if they're reasonable responses to environmental factors. Nearly half of Americans struggle just to cover their basic financial needs every month; expecting the chronically stressed to enjoy the feel of the system's boot on their necks is unrealistic. With a similar array of thorny societal causes as depression, loneliness is just as likely to be pharmaceutically exploited.

A loneliness pill would not address Americans’ emotionally unhealthy digitally-addicted lifestyles, a society-wide sickness and source of significant stress. It would instead allow them to socialize exclusively in an online sphere whose boundaries are set by billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, without experiencing any of the discomfort they would naturally feel at having their gregarious impulses folded, spindled and mutilated to fit an increasingly stringent set of behavioral restrictions. Nor would it confront societal programming that equates solitude with loneliness, with abnormality, and teaches children that if they are not driven to socialize, they are defective. It's no coincidence that fictional dystopias from 1984 to the Handmaid's Tale minimize the amount of "alone time" their citizens are permitted - time alone with one's thoughts is time the state cannot control. But the police state of today is working to change that.

As human contact, including real-life socializing, has become a luxury - so says the New York Times, explaining that humans are expensive, screens and robots are cheap, and expecting the unwashed masses to be able to afford access to living, breathing humans like themselves is simply unrealistic - the "digital pets" millennials had as children have matured to "digital friends," even digital lovers as they themselves have grown up. And these digital companions double as the eyes and ears of a shockingly intrusive surveillance state. 

BRIDGING THE UNCANNY VALLEY

If the “loneliness pill” doesn’t work out, AI is waiting in the wings. Already seen as the future of at-home healthcare for aging populations under the care of cash-strapped governments, friendly, helpful robots could find their way into the homes of the lonely. And everyone gets lonely sometimes! Certainly, the mass deployment of robo-buddies circumvents the surveillance hurdle faced by in-home AI snoops like Amazon’s Alexa, which many Americans find creepy (and not just for its tendency to burst into sinister laughter unprovoked). Frame the intruder as a medical benefit, however, and some of that opposition falls by the wayside. After all, loneliness kills, and no one wants to die.

As lonely humans become accustomed to conversing with their robot pals, their expectation for real human contact will diminish, and their sense of loneliness with it. After all, you can’t miss what you never had. Already, given the stunted level of discourse on social media, many of us have found ourselves tricked into talking to bots, sometimes exchanging several messages before realizing our interlocutor is not human. A study published earlier this month in First Monday found bots' online activity is becoming more human-like - and humans are behaving more like bots. The Voight-Kampff Test used by Philip K Dick’s “blade runners” to determine whether a suspect was human or android can be graded on a curve.

As the bar for “meaningful relationships” is lowered to the point where chatting with an AI can qualify, the loneliness epidemic vanishes - on paper, at least, and in US public health policy, sometimes that’s all that matters.

LONELY OR JUST ALONE? 

The pathologization of loneliness will inevitably elide the difference between being alone and being lonely, as the mental health industry runs out of lonely people to treat with whatever therapeutic weapon wins this particular arms race and is forced to look further afield for patients. “Loners” - those dangerous types who actually enjoy solitude - are stigmatized as unpredictable weirdos who need to be brought into the fold. The man who shot up a Walmart in El Paso earlier this month was an “extreme loner,” according to media reports. Would we be reading about it if he was an “extreme extrovert,” someone so addicted to the company of other humans he couldn't stand to spend a second alone? Extroversion is a characteristic of the psychopathic personality, yet extroverts are not stigmatized for this, or treated as potential serial killers because they feel compelled to socialize - instead, the “introvert killer” trope is reliably trotted out after every tragedy, even though it has been repeatedly debunked.

With no loneliness pill on the market - yet - it is impossible to predict what’s next for the creeping medicalization of the human emotional experience. But the surveillance state is muscling into the “mental health” sphere as never before. The Trump administration has reportedly embraced a new Health Advanced Research Projects Agency, modeled after the Pentagon’s DARPA, that will develop a method for analyzing “neurobehavioral signs” to determine whether someone is “headed toward a violent explosive act.” HARPA’s proposal suggests a “multi-modality solution, along with real-time data analytics” to be garnered from technologies like Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo, and Google Home. And in case you leave your smartphone at home, AI cameras are increasingly being deployed in public places equipped with advanced facial recognition and behavioral analysis capabilities 

Researchers believe they can diagnose depression with nothing more than smartphone usage and GPS data, having tested this hypothesis using an app called iSee to monitor college students - ground zero for the "campus mental health crisis." Combine this diagnosis-at-a-distance with emergency service surveillance technology like Carbyne911 (developed by Israeli intelligence) and 911eye (developed by the West Midlands police department, pioneers of pre-crime technology in the UK) and you get surveillance-enabled AI empowered to call the authorities when they decide you're a threat to yourself or your peers. And Amazon’s Alexa has moved one step closer to the companion-robot model, rolling out a medical feature earlier this year which could conceivably be deployed to “check on” individuals at risk for loneliness. The devices that have been surveilling us for years may thus become empowered to have us committed - for our own good, of course, and the good of society.

In the aftermath of recent mass shootings, Trump declared open season on the “mentally ill,” floating the idea of involuntary confinement and institutionalization, while governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo have proposed mental health databases that would affix an indelible scarlet letter to anyone seeking help with a psychological issue - effectively driving many of the people who actually need help away from the system out of fear of the repercussions for their personal and professional lives. The idea that “extreme loners” might find themselves medicated against their will, as a preemptive measure, is not far-fetched.

And Elon Musk’s Neuralink device proposes bringing the AI directly to your brain, “merging biological intelligence with machine intelligence,” so you never have to feel lonely again - or experience any inconvenient emotions. Musk envisions a future in which customers will have the devices installed in shopping mall kiosks, no more intrusive than an ear-piercing. Social scientists fear it’ll be “suicide for the human mind” - while no one knows for sure where consciousness resides, if it's anywhere near our squishy grey matter, it doesn't stand a chance against cold silicon precision. Even Musk acknowledges that Neuralink is an "if you can't beat them, join them" approach to a future AI takeover.

Implantable AI hands the state the tools to control our thoughts. Indeed, we will no longer be able to tell which thoughts are "ours," and which come from the device implanted in our skull. Transhumanists speak glowingly of "merging with the machines," forgetting (or perhaps deliberately omitting) that the machines have programmers, and those programmers work hand in glove with the military-industrial complex. If they get their way, you’ll never be able to feel lonely again, because Big Brother will take up residence inside your skull. Solitude - like privacy before it - will be a distant memory, assuming you're permitted to remember it at all. And like privacy, children born today may never know what it is like to experience loneliness - nor will they ever have the pleasure of being alone with their thoughts. 

(originally published in much shorter form on RT)

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Infamous pedophile and likely intelligence asset Jeffrey Epstein was reportedly found dead in his jail cell last weekend. An autopsy was done, and after a week of “pending” results, the cause of his death was definitively pronounced suicide, despite telltale signs indicating murder. The week following his death has done little to clear up the matter of what actually occurred in Epstein’s cell on Saturday morning, though law enforcement sources on Monday told the New York Post he had hung himself with a bedsheet from the bunkbed frame in his cell - no mean feat for a six-foot, 200-pound man supposedly being checked on by guards twice an hour, and a physical impossibility owing to the paper-thin sheets, according to a former inmate of that prison. No other official narrative has emerged to challenge this, suggesting August 10, 2019 was just one of those rare days when the laws of physics - like the "guards" tasked with watching Epstein - were sleeping on the job.

What we do know is that he was officially alone in his cell when he died, having been taken off suicide watch at his lawyers' urging less than a week after he was found unconscious with marks on his neck last month. Epstein reportedly claimed someone tried to kill him during that incident, though others speculated he had “choked” himself in order to convince a judge to allow him bail or secure a transfer to a nicer facility. Did “someone” come back to finish the job, merely paying the guards to look the other way? An assassin would have had to spread his money around handsomely - like most areas of Manhattan, the Metropolitan Correctional Center where Epstein was confined is heavily surveilled - but that’s not difficult for the caliber of person who had reasons to want Epstein dead. So who killed him?

The convicted sex offender had blackmail material on dozens if not hundreds of powerful people. Epstein’s homes and aircraft were monitored with cameras and microphones, and his private island was completely wired for video, according to a friend of his alleged procuress, Ghislaine Maxwell. Safes found on his property contained piles of video discs marked young (name of girl) + (name of VIP) - alongside the diamonds, piles of cash and Saudi passport. Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of his victims, says she was “debriefed” after sex sessions with Epstein’s famous friends, supplying him with the intimate details of their encounters in order to potentially weaponize the information. Even New York Times columnist James Stewart reports Epstein boasted to him about the trove of “potentially damaging or embarrassing” information he had on the “supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use” of the rich and famous. Epstein had mountains of dirt on presidents, princes, prime minsters, and lesser politicians. Any one of these (and probably more than one of these) could have taken out a contract on him, concerned that he might give away their little secret. If Epstein was not an intelligence asset, with connections high up in the Israeli and US governments, he would have been disposed of long ago, but it’s possible that one of the reasons he was not “suicided” earlier is because those who did want him dead had clashed with another faction concerned he had a “dead man’s switch” that would release even more incriminating material to the press. 

Comparisons to the JFK assassination are apt. While Epstein was even more loathed by the American public than Kennedy was beloved, he had as many powerful enemies, and those speculating about his murder are already being smeared as irresponsible conspiracy theorists for demanding answers on the year's most unlikely "suicide." When the forces of the media establishment are so quickly marshaled against any attempts at investigating a full-of-holes "official story," even declaring that such malignant conspiracy-mongering "hurts kids" (Epstein's own child-trafficking apparently pales in comparison), it's safe to assume that official story is a pack of lies. So without further ado, let the (responsible, well-sourced) speculation begin. Coincidence theorists need not apply.

SUSPECTS

As soon as Epstein’s death was announced, the hashtag #ClintonBodyCount started trending on Twitter along with #Arkancide and other names for the phenomenon that has seen dozens of Clinton enemies, witnesses, and other liabilities die under mysterious circumstances since the early days of the former president’s political career. As a frequent flyer on the Lolita Express (26 times, according to flight logs, at least five of those without his Secret Service retinue), Bill Clinton had good reason to be concerned about Epstein’s continued existence. Certainly, the couple were an early favorite for Epstein's killer - even Donald Trump retweeted a Clinton Body Count meme.

However, Epstein is currently under investigation for sex trafficking. In court documents unsealed earlier this week from Giuffre’s lawsuit against alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell, Giuffre testifies that Clinton was not involved in the actual trafficking of girls - though there seems to be little doubt he enjoyed the fruits of Epstein’s evil deeds. Epstein even had a hand in the founding of the Clinton Global Initiative, according to his lawyers. That Clinton has been accused of rape by too many women to count and is known for being unable to keep it in his pants is not exactly a secret, in Washington or anywhere else, but he is unlikely to be placed at legal risk by the current Epstein probe. Unless Epstein had dirt on Hillary as well - who is rumored to be plotting a move to insinuate herself back into national politics, most likely through her daughter - the family accomplishes little by icing Epstein except calling more attention to the #ClintonBodyCount. One guerrilla commentator even chalked “XOXO Hillary + Bill” on the sidewalk outside Epstein’s New York home. 

 

The FBI immediately declared a probe into the suspicious circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death. Regardless of whether this makes them dangerous domestic extremists by their own reasoning - since any foul play would have had to be accomplished through conspiring with the guards to sneak into the jail and do away with the pedophile, and the FBI has unilaterally declared ‘conspiracy theorists’ to be dangerous extremists in need of heavy surveillance - the FBI’s interest does not rule out a US intelligence role in his murder. As 9/11 proved, the government’s right hand rarely knows what the left is doing even within a single agency, let alone where rival agencies are concerned. And Attorney General William Barr, the former CIA general counsel who specialized in helping intelligence assets caught with their hands in the cookie jar get off scot-free, has already made it clear he is treating the death as a terrible miscarriage of justice by the prison, one which might even prove financially remunerative for Epstein's relatives (he has a brother).

When former Florida prosecutor Alex Acosta was asked why he OK’d the appalling 2007 non-prosecution agreement with Epstein’s lawyers which saw the wealthy sex fiend spend just 13 months on work-release in a Palm Beach jail after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of soliciting underage prostitutes despite a 53-page federal indictment including 36 alleged victims hanging over his head, Acosta told the Trump transition team he was ordered to leave Epstein alone because “he belonged to intelligence.” That was sufficient reason for the Trump team to give him the green light for appointment as Secretary of Labor. While Epstein provided information to the FBI in 2008, according to their own documentation, individuals involved with the case who spoke to the Palm Beach Post don’t recall any cooperation. 

“The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office was willing to let Epstein walk free. No jail time. Nothing,” Acosta claimed by way of explanation during a press conference last month after he was forced to resign as Labor Secretary for his (mis)handling of the 2007 case. He insisted the sweetheart deal the wealthy pedophile's lawyers crafted was the lesser of two evils - that a slap on the wrist was better than nothing. And Palm Beach police told the Miami Herald they were hounded, harassed, and otherwise pressured in the service of getting Epstein’s case downgraded to a misdemeanor during the original 2007 investigation, with State Attorney Barry Krischer ultimately ignoring their recommendation to prosecute Epstein on high level child sex charges.

In the days preceding Epstein's death, Florida governor Ron DeSantis ordered the state to take over a probe into Epstein’s non-prosecution deal and the terms of his work release, an investigation that would presumably lead to the Palm Beach State Attorney's office, which was conspicuously handed to Fort Pierce State Attorney Bruce Colton. While Krischer is no longer in that position - in a nauseating irony, he trains law enforcement in prosecuting crimes of sexual violence and oversees placement of children in foster care - his apparent collusion with Epstein's attorneys will likely come to light, as well as the forces higher up that dictated the terms of the plea deal. Whatever US "intelligence" shared Epstein with the Mossad could have been motivated to take him out to prevent him from talking. While DeSantis - who has promised to be the most pro-Israel governor in the country - would likely pull the plug on that investigation before it got out of hand, the Justice Department opened its own investigation in February into whether prosecutors committed professional misconduct during the 2007 case. If Trump were to lose the 2020 election, Barr - the man who arguably saved the CIA from much-deserved extinction and an expert memory-holer of inconvenient inquiries - would be powerless to fix any federal probe, replaced by a Democratic appointee.

And what of Trump himself? For every three “ClintonBodyCount” hashtags, there was a “TrumpBodyCount” hashtag (which isn’t a thing, but don’t tell the #Resistance), insisting Trump was up to his neck in trafficked children and had good reason to ice the molest-happy millionaire. This is as doubtful as the Clinton hypothesis. If Epstein is being wielded as a weapon by Netanyahu against Barak, Netanyahu would not kill the golden goose that is Trump, who has obeyed his foreign policy dictates magnificently. And the documents unsealed from Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s lawsuit suggest that Trump did not physically engage with Epstein’s retinue of underage sex slaves. The president’s reported germ phobia is somewhat incompatible with girls who were being passed around from blackmail target to blackmail target like party favors, and he allegedly had Epstein booted from Mar-a-Lago for sexually assaulting a girl, suggesting that despite the chummy pictures of Epstein and Trump that surface on googling “Jeffrey Epstein Bill Clinton” (!), the real estate magnate realized early on that Epstein was a honeypot and kept his distance. Trump was mentored by Roy Cohn, whose own record as a blackmailer is legendary; if he wasn't involved in the Epstein ring himself, he certainly would have recognized its nature early on.

Epstein is extremely well-connected to the Israeli intelligence apparatus, and these are people with both means and motive to remove him from the chessboard. Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak has been photographed entering and exiting Epstein’s East 71st St residence in Manhattan, hiding under a jumble of hats and scarves, and has admitted to visiting the pedophile's private island, though insists he never went to parties or met girls with Epstein despite photographic evidence to the contrary. Barak and Epstein have been friends for over a decade, the Israeli having been introduced to the wealthy sex offender by his fellow former PM Shimon Peres. Barak has thrown his hat into the ring to challenge Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, who has made it clear he considers the PM post to be his by divine right and won’t give it up easily. Speculation has swirled that the reopening of the Epstein case is tied to the battle of the Israeli titans - that Netanyahu is sacrificing a Mossad asset to destroy his rival.  

Barak, then, has plenty of reasons to want Epstein out of the way. Having formed a company with the mysterious financier as a vehicle to invest in Carbyne911, a company founded by high-level veterans of Israeli intelligence that allows a remote operator to surveil a person not only through the target’s own phone but also through all the internet-connected devices around them, Barak has put other dubious financial dealings at risk of coming under the Epstein probe’s microscope. Worse, Carbyne911 - which its opportunistic owners have marketed as the solution to mass shootings - has been exposed as a horrifying surveillance tool. Similar software has already been weaponized by the Chinese government to spy on its citizens, and Carbyne’s advisory board includes former Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, the Patriot Act co-author who reliably surfaces on the boards of every Orwellian initiative from the Atlantic Council to CyberDome to NewsGuard, ready to leverage his unique blend of experience and sociopathy to strip Americans of their privacy and civil liberties. Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder whose company Palantir openly “uses war on terror tools to track American citizens” on behalf of anyone with the funds to pay for their own private intelligence agency, is also an investor in Carbyne911. The idea that a company run by Israeli intelligence, advised and funded by a who’s-who of police-state cheerleaders, that sells a powerful surveillance tool isn’t using it to spy on Americans is too absurd to seriously consider, and such a program is too valuable to be sacrificed merely because Epstein’s stink suffuses it (and it does suffuse it - he and Barak are the company’s largest investors, and most of Barak’s stake was in fact put up by Epstein). 

The electoral face-off between Barak and Netanyahu is scheduled for next month, by which time the frenzy over the Epstein case will have ebbed significantly, especially with no defendant as the focus of click-driving salacious speculation. While Netanyahu has demanded an investigation of his rival, it's not clear that Barak did anything financially illegal in accepting millions of dollars of Epstein's money. Investigators may still pursue other loose ends - that Maxwell has remained unindicted for so long beggars belief, for example, and victims’ lawyers have promised to go after Epstein’s “enablers” - but the sensationalistic coverage from mainstream news will peter out absent a body in the courtroom. Barak can thus get back to the business of attacking Netanyahu, who is currently facing indictment in multiple corruption probes, and potentially wresting Israel from his grasp. He has much to gain from snuffing Epstein and little to lose - unless Epstein’s dead man’s switch would unleash enough compromising material to end his political career for good. Certainly, Barak has a bad track record of associating with sexual predators. His president, Moshe Katsav, spent five years in prison on rape charges, and the vice-consul to Brazil during his tenure, Arie Scher, fled to Israel to avoid prosecution on child pornography charges; he also introduced notorious Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein to Black Cube, the private security firm staffed by ex-Mossad agents that Weinstein retained to harass his victims.

WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN

The only certainty is that Epstein did not “commit suicide” without significant outside help. He had been taken off suicide watch less than a week after the previous month’s “suicide attempt,” contrary to standard procedure, which would require authorization (and documentation thereof). One source told the New York Post the suspicious marks discovered on his neck after he was found unconscious curled up in his cell last month appeared more like evidence he had been choked than evidence that he had attempted to hang himself, but his beefy ex-cop cellmate, an accused quadruple-murderer charged with shooting and then burying four men in his backyard after a coke deal gone wrong, insisted he had not only not harmed his notorious roommate and not heard anything, but that he had saved Epstein's life by discovering him unconscious and alerting a guard. How this happened if they shared a cell is unclear, and Tartaglione’s lawyer has only said they shared the unit - two other sources told NBC they shared the same cell. Epstein spent just six days on suicide watch, receiving daily psychiatric examinations, according to a law enforcement source who spoke to the New York Times. Thanks in part to the strenuous lobbying of his defense attorneys, whom he met with for up to 12 hours a day while under suicide watch, Epstein was soon moved back to his protective housing unit with a new cellmate where he was supposed to be checked every 30 minutes by guards instead - a procedure which was not followed the night of his alleged death - and that cellmate was mysteriously transferred just hours before the “suicide,” according to a source who spoke to Fox News. 

Despite rumors of a “camera malfunction” that surfaced immediately following the announcement of Epstein’s death - traced back to a “social media entrepreneur” specializing in “information warfare” whose clients include American politicians - a corrections union representative has confirmed there were no cameras inside the individual cells in Epstein’s unit, creating perfect conditions for whatever happened the morning of August 10th. A former Brooklyn jail warden has confirmed that for Epstein to “commit suicide,” a cascade of errors would have been necessary - starting with removing him from suicide watch. While the officers staffing MCC are supposedly the cream of the crop, at least one of the officers tasked with watching Epstein was not "a regular guard," according to corrections union head Serene Gregg. Epstein's 'guards,' both working overtime, falsified records of the half-hour checks they had failed to conduct, an anonymous source told the AP - because they were asleep, the New York Times added. Those two at the very least would have to be paid off for any operation to go smoothly, and any investigation interested in finding out - as opposed to covering up - what really happened to Epstein should interview and monitor all of those working on the unit for financial changes, especially the guards who would normally have been working that night but opted not to, allowing the drowsy duo to step in and claim their overtime. Those two have reportedly been placed on administrative leave as of Tuesday, while the presiding warden has been reassigned to Philadelphia. 

Epstein’s suspicious demise has several parallels with the "suicide" of Maxwell’s father, British newspaper baron (and Israeli spy) Robert Maxwell. Despite years of valuable service to the Mossad, Maxwell died after falling off his boat, allegedly committing suicide, as his newspaper empire was collapsing, and after attempting to pressure his Mossad connections to bail him out of the financial hole he’d dug himself into. Two of Maxwell’s biographers claim he was killed, three months after demanding the bailout and threatening to expose certain Mossad operations if he didn’t get it, because he simply became too much trouble; ex-Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky has explained how this was accomplished. The dead man was then feted with a star-studded funeral in Israel, attended by six Israeli intelligence chiefs and complete with eulogies by then-PM Yitzhak Shamir boasting he had “done more for Israel than can today be said,” and future PMs Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres, who also praised his “services” for Israel. Those “services” included peddling an Israeli-backdoored version of the software program Promis to government agencies, a Trojan horse purporting to improve government efficiency which instead funneled information on government activities back to Tel Aviv - a 1980s equivalent of Carbyne911.  

EPSTEIN IS DEAD; LONG LIVE EPSTEIN? 

The possibility exists that Epstein isn’t actually dead. A 4chan post purporting to be from an MCC employee, posted before news of Epstein’s alleged demise was made public, claims the disgraced financier was taken to the jail’s medical unit just hours before his alleged suicide and points to a suspicious van coming and going, undocumented per the prison’s usual procedures, at the same time as his potential route of escape. A later 4chan post claimed the initial report was a joke, but comparisons of “Epstein”’s corpse to images of the living Epstein appear to show completely different ears, a unique and difficult-to-fake body part. Others have questioned why there was a photographer on hand to snap photos of the body leaving the prison in the first place and pointed out the article accompanying the photo referred to a "body believed to be Epstein's." Epstein's brother allegedly identified his body, but if there was a plot, he'd be in on it, ready to milk the jail for millions in a wrongful death suit - a possibility Barr seems to be setting in motion by attacking MCC for "failing to adequately secure" their famous charge. The "celebrity pathologist" who observed the autopsy on behalf of Epstein's lawyers also "helped investigate" the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no smoking gun, but there is an Epstein-sized plausible-deniability gap to slip through. 

 

What would be the purpose of keeping Epstein alive? He’s too high-profile to use as an asset any further, and could be a liability if he becomes resentful for having lost his privileged position as the Mega Group’s #1 Honeypot and being left to rot in jail - a particularly nasty jail, at that ("Guantanamo was nicer," said an inmate who'd stayed in both). But any good blackmailer worth his salt has a dead-man’s switch with reams of sensitive material ready to go in event of death or accident. Could this be why FBI teams waited until he was dead to raid Little St. James, hoping to head off any unauthorized disclosures? If that’s the case, they were too late — computers appeared to have been removed in the weeks preceding Epstein’s apparent death.

Epstein hasn’t actually betrayed his intelligence backers, at least not publicly - though he has been disavowed by everyone from Trump to Clinton to Barak, even to his one-time mentor, Les Wexner, who after setting Epstein up with his Manhattan den of iniquity now claims the disgraced "money manager" for whom he has been the sole client since 1987 ripped him off. Even Alan "I kept my underwear on" Dershowitz has backed away from the radioactive pedophile. Epstein, on the surface, has no friends left. Yet he appears to have had advance knowledge of his own arrest, selling the evidence-laden “Lolita Express” jet just a few weeks before he was apprehended at Teterboro Airport. Why did he conveniently fly home to do the time the public so desperately wanted him to do - a situation that could have been avoided if he wasn't certain of having an escape route? Epstein was said to be in unusually good spirits before he "suicided."

But according to Ostrovsky, Robert Maxwell went to his death believing he'd get what he wanted, as well. And if Epstein was the raging sex addict his victims say - one girl claimed he told her he required three orgasms a day, that it was biological "like eating," while another confirmed that even if she brought him new girls "at breakfast, lunch, and dinner...it was never enough" - keeping him alive, even with a new face in a new country, would be highly risky. Meanwhile, Ghislaine Maxwell has been spotted first in Massachusetts and then in Los Angeles, improbably reading a book about the lives and deaths of CIA operatives. She doesn't seem worried about her "loose end" status making her a target for whoever killed Epstein, or that Epstein's victims will finally have their revenge on her in the courtroom. However, the media are turning against her, and prosecutors have vowed to go after Epstein's "enablers" - in which case, she's number one on the list. Will justice prevail? Has it ever? 

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Americans celebrating Independence Day last week did so amidst levels of domestic discord unprecedented in their lifetimes. With the media establishment openly scoffing not merely at the “founding fathers,” who could stand to be removed from their pedestals once in a while, but at the Declaration of Independence itself and even at the notion of declaring that independence, Americans who never thought of themselves as patriots were nevertheless placed on the defensive. One need not believe in “my country right or wrong” to bristle at the idea that said country shouldn’t exist. But would-be defenders of the American Way are finding themselves increasingly at a loss for words. What does America actually stand for now that the “freedoms” once guaranteed its citizens are rapidly fading into the rearview mirror?

The New York Times led the parade of mainstream outlets sneering at America on its birthday, posting a sarcastic video showing the US’ poor performance against other developed countries on metrics like education and healthcare. But as usual, the Times left out the most important parts — the parts that would implicate it as guilty in the full-on plundering of the American dream. The Fourth Estate — the self-appointed watchdog of the people’s freedoms — was bribed with CIA steaks to lie down while craven opportunists dismantled the country and left a second-rate replica in its place. The Times went one better, actually aiding and abetting the neocon warmongers who lied the US into war — in Iraq, but also in Syria, Libya, and, they hope, Iran. For the Times to complain now that the country, out $6 trillion thanks to the “War on Terror” it enabled and cheered at the top of its lungs, is broke and broken, is hypocritical in the extreme.

Bill of rights, or bill of goods?

Freedom of speech, so important to the national identity it leads the Bill of Rights, has been so vilified in the media that the very notion of “defending free speech” has come to be associated with the extreme Right in establishment reporting. This is no accident, of course — truth is the first casualty of war, and anyone who speaks it has been told in no uncertain terms that they are next on that casualty list. The looming extradition of Julian Assange is a warning to all adversarial journalists and publishers that they are no longer protected by the laws that once enshrined press freedom in the country’s heart, and even those who never set foot in the US can be treated as disposable if they oppose its imperial project. The internet, once a refuge for those silenced by the bought establishment organs, has been quietly scrubbed of those same troublemakers thanks to private corporations doing the government’s dirty work. And the only group more enthusiastic about the police state than the government itself is the clique of Big Tech bandits that receive fat government contracts to enable it.

Private corporations can get away with a lot that governments can’t, even beyond the legal restrictions on the state imposed by the Bill of Rights. Thanks to “free market” orthodoxy, regulation of the private sector is considered borderline criminal, un-American even, allowing companies to do whatever they want — financially, legally and ethically. And Americans have a certain reverence for successful corporations that they have never had for their government. They were livid when they learned their government was spying on their phone calls and emails through the NSA’s StellarWind program, but when it’s Amazon doing the spying through an Alexa “smart” speaker, they not only don’t mind — they’ll pay $100 for the privilege.

Increasingly, corporations are the intelligence services. At least a quarter of American intelligence work is done by private contractors, most of whom work for 5 companies. The CIA has run off Amazon servers since 2014, while the DHS is rolling out an ultra-Orwellian new biometric database that will allow agents to cross-reference facial scans, fingerprints, DNA, and even social relationships(!) — using Amazon servers. Amazon is competing with Microsoft to host the entire Defense Department computing infrastructure in a process riddled with conflicts of interest. Even as the #Resistance flings around the word “fascist” with gusto, they never seem to apply it where it fits — to describe a system in which large corporations work hand in hand with an authoritarian state to suppress dissent and perpetuate the (myth of) national greatness.

Nor is the First Amendment the only one to go AWOL when most needed. The Fourth Amendment, protecting Americans against unreasonable search and seizure, was gutted by the PATRIOT Act under the reasoning that if the terrorists truly hate us for our freedoms, it’s best to just be safe and chuck those freedoms altogether. What the post-9/11 police state started, civil asset forfeiture exacerbated, institutionalizing the practice of confiscating the possessions of individuals merely suspected of committing a crime. While the Supreme Court decided earlier this year that the procedure violated the Constitution’s prohibition against excessive fines, police departments have already found a way around that problem — they simply classify the desired property as “evidence,” allowing them to hold it in the station indefinitely and, after four months, sell it.

The right to a speedy and public trial was destroyed for good under the watchful eye of Obama, whose 2011 National Defense Authorization Act allowed indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial around the world. Someone clearly got a chuckle out of having a president who convinced voters he would close Guantanamo instead take the model global. Meanwhile, overcrowded courts and backlogged public defenders mean the Sixth Amendment is violated as often in practice as in letter, with innocent defendants urged to plead guilty just to get out of jail with a conviction that will follow them the rest of their lives — often not knowing they have any other options, let alone a constitutional right to them. Likewise, protection against excessive fines and bail has been superseded by systematic greed. Predatory courts have learned that offering impoverished defendants alternatives to jail like electronic monitoring can be just as lucrative as civil asset forfeiture, without the bad press — even if the target is eventually found innocent, he still has to pay to have the monitor removed, and if he doesn’t keep up with the payments mandated by the extortionate contract he signed to keep himself out of prison, he ends up there anyway.

Cruel and unusual punishment, meanwhile, has been renamed “enhanced interrogation” and embraced by unreconstructed thugs. Leaked vetting documents from Trump’s cabinet selection process revealed that “opposition to torture” was actually considered a “red flag” among those being considered for administration positions, suggesting the US has learned nothing from the horrors of the Bush years and Abu Ghraib. Or perhaps it has — the US’ “War on Terror” and the torture it enabled have been a terrorist recruiter’s wet dream, quadrupling the number of extremist Salafi Islamic militants since 2001 and ensuring a constant supply of propaganda-ready enemies.

So what’s left?

Americans still have the right to vote and the right to bear arms, but the first is a bad joke and the second we’ve primarily turned against ourselves. Suicides are at an all-time high, part of a phenomenon commentators have termed “deaths of despair” when combined with steep rises in deaths from alcohol and drug abuse, both of which are also at record or near-record highs. The pursuit of happiness has been replaced by the pursuit of oblivion. And given the future spread out before us, it’s not difficult to understand why.

Millennials and Generation Z are confronting an even wider gap than the previous generation between their expectations — the Shining City on a Hill conservatives unironically insist the US is, the example the rest of the world supposedly envies and wants to emulate — and reality. More than ever, Americans coming of age are finding it impossible to square the crippling debt, decaying infrastructure, impossible expenses, and absence of basic services that characterize their own experience with the propaganda they’ve internalized since their first day in school.

Whether they blame themselves for failing to measure up or blame the system that sold them a bill of goods depends on their programming. Americans are taught to think of poverty as punishment for personal shortcomings, a Calvinistic safeguard against socialist sentiment taking root in the working classes, but traps have been set even for those who realize the problem is larger than themselves. Too many fall for simplistic scapegoat-based explanations of the US’ problems: on the Right, immigrants and foreigners are blamed for stealing jobs without so much as a glance for the private equity firms and CEOs who actually shipped those jobs overseas. On the Left, the entire white race is presumed responsible, ensuring a working class that should be united is instead divided along racial lines, reenacting centuries-old oppression.

Even those who have managed to eke out a position of economic comfort are plagued by a nagging awareness that their country is not what it seems, but most are unwilling to peek behind the façade and admit something has gone drastically wrong with the whole American experiment. Instead, they keep their panic in check with the politically amnesiac view that it’s the fault of the current inhabitant of the White House. Orange-Man-Bad and Obama-the-Secret-Muslim are two sides of the same coin: these figureheads, not decades of neoliberal leprosy, are blamed for the country’s misfortunes.

What we once understood as “America” has been packaged off and sold, and not even to the highest bidder — just the best-connected one. In its place has arisen a series of gated communities that require a certain income level for entry. Those who do not meet the restrictions — “You must make this much money to matter” — are relegated to the few dilapidated public services that remain, the leftovers too unappealing to privatize. Flint’s water system, Washington DC’s metro, Stockton’s police force, Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. The middle class that might once have relied on these services has been erased, literally and figuratively — robbed of their assets during the crash of 2008, they have been written off as irredeemable as “middle class” was itself redefined as six-figure incomes. Meanwhile, private companies, unfettered by regulation in Milton Friedman’s free-market wet dream, can do everything the government can’t. The state of Alabama signed a law last month allowing schools and churches to operate private police forces, opening the door to Blackwater (or Xe, or Academi, or whatever bad press has forced it to change its name to now) operating in the US with the full complicity of the government.

The Pentagon is so overrun by contractors like Blackwater doing the jobs the military is no longer capable of doing that it admits it doesn’t know how many of them are lined up at the government trough, but in 2016 three quarters of US forces in Afghanistan were contractors. Which isn’t so strange — the Pentagon doesn’t know (or care) where most of its money goes, because there’s always more where that came from when you’re the world’s reserve currency. America’s once-mighty military-industrial complex — the last heavy industry standing post-NAFTA — has been picked over by predatory monopolies to the point where despite unprecedented levels of military spending, America can no longer compete on the global stage. The F-35 — the most expensive fighter plane ever produced — performs so poorly Washington has to threaten its allies with sanctions to get them to buy it (and presumably stash it in the back of the closet), while Russian and Chinese missile developments have rendered the US’ multibillion dollar aircraft carriers a flotilla of overpriced sitting ducks. Even Big Tech — the last great hope for American capitalism — is quietly migrating to Israel, sucking up subsidies from both US and Israeli governments and laughing all the way to the bank.

All the US can still “make” is deals — Wall Street gets fat on Main Street’s misfortunes. When the mortgage bubble popped in 2008, financiers turned to student debt, packaging and marketing loans as “Student Loan Asset Backed Securities” (SLABS). Over the last decade, as SLABS have become a $200 billion market, the total amount of debt held by American students has more than doubled, surpassing $1.47 trillion. It’s no coincidence that college costs more than twice what it did 20 years ago. Student debt is even more attractive than mortgage debt, because it can’t be forgiven or dismissed through bankruptcy, and its bearers are too young when they sign the papers to fully comprehend that they may never pay it off.

Colleges have turned students into “investments” with exploitative income-sharing agreements in which the student agrees to give a percentage of their future income to the school after graduation in order to guarantee loan payback, a model uncannily similar to indentured servitude (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, developed by Milton Friedman). Debtors’ prisons are back with a vengeance, too — SWAT teams and US Marshals are arresting people over unpaid student loan debts and predatory court fee systems have widened the pool of potential “criminals” the state can count on as a renewable financial resource. Broke municipalities are so excited when private prison corporations like GEO Group come knocking that they willingly sign agreements pledging to keep the facility a certain percentage full, offering their citizens up on a silver platter to appease their new corporate overlords.

What’s the government to do when there’s no “America” left to sell? How do you define yourself when you’ve sold your ideals, your heavy industry, your technological advancements, your land, and even your citizens? The American dream has always somewhat resembled a fairytale, and that has been part of its persistent attraction. People fleeing war-torn countries or economic wastelands believed they would live happily ever after if they just made it to the United States. But there was once something, however flawed, to back up the fantasy. Now, Americans celebrating their country’s independence are hard-pressed to find any traces of it left. No wonder we’re setting off more fireworks than ever — nothing banishes an existential crisis like a big explosion.

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Twitter has declared victory over disinformation, deplatforming thousands of pro-Iranian Twitter accounts this week to coincide with US Secretary of State “Rapture Mike” Pompeo’s evidence-free declaration that Iran had attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. But the mass deletion is merely an effort to distract from the implosion of two anti-Iran troll campaigns dedicated to smearing pro-peace Americans, both tacitly Twitter-approved. And there’s plenty more where those came from. As US media and politicians continues to hyperventilate about Russian bots, who’s the real troll-master?

Pompeo was out front with the blame hours after the attack, absent a shred of proof beyond unspecified “intelligence” and a few other dubious incidents in the Middle East that the US has previously pinned on Iran (also absent a shred of proof). But even mainstream media has initially been reluctant to take his word for it, mostly because the narrative is so improbable - Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe was in Tehran when it happened, promising to make the “utmost effort” to de-escalate tensions, when, as if on cue, one Japanese ship and another carrying Japanese cargo were hit? What are the odds? 

When even CNN acknowledged that the attack “doesn’t appear to benefit any of the protagonists in the region,” and Bloomberg admitted “Iran has little to gain” from blowing up the ships of its esteemed guest, Pompeo clearly understood another route of influence was required. Who better to call in for reinforcements than Twitter, which has demonstrated time and again its willingness to serve the US’ preferred narrative with mass deplatformings? 4,779 accounts believed to be “associated or backed by Iran” were removed - less than an hour after Pompeo's declaration of Iranian guilt - for nothing more than tweeting “global news content, often with an angle that benefited the diplomatic and geostrategic views of the Iranian state.” This was deemed “platform manipulation,” and therefore unacceptable.

One troll down, thousands more to go

Tweeting with an angle that benefits the diplomatic and geostrategic views of the American state, however, is perfectly acceptable - at least, it wasn’t Twitter that brought the “Iran Disinformation Project” crashing to a halt earlier this month. The State Department officially ended its @IranDisinfo influence operation after the social media initiative, ostensibly created to “counter Iranian propaganda,” went rogue, smearing any and all critics of Trump’s hawkish Iran policy as paid operatives of the Iranian government. Human rights activists, students, journalists, academics, even insufficiently-militant American propagandists at RFE/RL, Voice of America and other US-funded outlets were attacked by @IranDisinfo - all on the US taxpayer’s dime. 

Congress only learned of the project in a closed-door hearing on Monday, when the State Department confessed the troll campaign had taken $1.5 million in taxpayers’ money to attack those same taxpayers - all in the name of promoting “freedom of expression and free access to information.” The group contracted to operate Iran Disinfo, E-Collaborative for Civic Education, is run by an Iranian immigrant and claims to focus on strengthening “civil society” and “democracy” back home, though its work is almost exclusively US-focused and its connections with pro-war think tanks like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies have alarmed congressional staffers.

“What rules are in place to prevent state-funded organization from smearing American citizens? If there wasn’t public outcry, would the Administration have suspended funding for Iran Disinfo?” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) tweeted after the mea culpa meeting. While the State Department was long barred from directing government-funded propaganda at its own citizens, that rule was quietly repealed in 2013 with the passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, which gave its narrative-spinners free reign to run influence operations at home. And while the Pentagon is technically forbidden from running psychological operations (“psy-ops”) against American citizens, that rule goes out the window in case of “domestic emergencies” - and the domestic emergency declared by then-President George W. Bush days after the September 11 terror attacks remains in effect, 18 years later.

Trump's favorite anti-Iran troll

Nor was the State Department’s trolling operation the only anti-Iran psy-op to be unmasked in recent weeks. Heshmat Alavi, a virulently anti-Iranian columnist promoted by the Trump administration and published in Forbes, the Hill, and several other outlets, was exposed by the Intercept as a propaganda construct operated by the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a controversial Iranian exile group often called a cult that has only recently lobbied its way off the US’ terror list. The MEK is notorious for buying the endorsement of American political figures, and national security adviser John Bolton, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani are among those who have spoken at its events. 

The fictional Heshmat Alavi’s stories were used to sell Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal to the Washington Post and other more reputable outlets, as well as to promote the MEK as a “main Iranian opposition group” and viable option for post-regime-change leadership of Iran - even though it is very much fringe and hated by the majority of Iranians for fighting on the side of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Indeed, Alavi’s relentless advocacy for the MEK may have scared off a few of the sites that initially published his work - the Diplomat and the Daily Caller both quit publishing him in 2017, citing quality concerns.

None of the editors who’d published Alavi’s work had ever spoken to him or even paid him, and none could provide the Intercept with any evidence that he was not, in fact, “a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK.” Defectors confirmed that Alavi is a small part of a massive US-directed propaganda campaign. 

“We were always active in making false news stories to spread to the foreign press and in Iran,” a Canadian MEK defector told the Intercept, describing a comprehensive online propaganda operation run out of the group’s former base in Iraq that sought to control the narrative about Iran on Facebook and Twitter. Alavi may be gone, his account quietly suspended by Twitter in the wake of the Intercept’s unmasking and his stories pulled from Forbes and the Diplomat, but there are more where he came from. The Intercept delivered Twitter all the evidence they needed to take down the MEK’s trolling network, a swamp of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” in which Alavi was a prominent node, but the social network sat on its hands.

Friends funding fiends

Add to this toxic US-approved stew the Israeli astroturf operation Act.IL, which in 2018 took $1.1 million from Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs to troll Americans critical of Israeli policies, including its hostility toward Iran. Initially founded to combat the Iran nuclear deal, the Ministry’s mission has pivoted to combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, for which it receives significant US funding (Israeli Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi admitted in 2012 that American taxpayers contribute more to the country’s defense budget than Israeli taxpayers). Act.IL boasts it has gotten Americans fired from their jobs, and the app encourages users to accuse American students and journalists who support BDS of antisemitism, mass-report their posts, and otherwise engage in what would be called “coordinated inauthentic behavior” if any other country did it. 

Act.IL is by no means the only Israeli trolling campaign aimed at American eyeballs, either. Psy-Group, the Israeli private intelligence company that infamously pitched a social media influence operation to the Trump campaign, ran a multi-pronged online smear operation to influence a local election in California in 2017 and has pitched dozens more. The Israel on Campus Coalition attacks pro-Palestinian student activists and professors through coordinated social media campaigns, while The Israel Project operates a network of Facebook groups whose admitted purpose is to smuggle pro-Israeli propaganda into users’ newsfeeds by concealing it among bland inspirational messages.

Such clear-cut deception by state-sponsored actors is a blatant violation of Facebook's policies as they've been applied to other users, but the site claims the Israeli groups are kosher. Yet of the pro-Iran accounts deleted by Twitter, one “set” included 248 accounts “engaged with discussions related to Israel specifically” - these were shut down for nothing more than their country of origin, even as inauthentic accounts run by Israel were given carte-blanche to spew propaganda. Twitter and Facebook don’t mind being weaponized in the propaganda wars, as long as they’re working for the “right” side. 

As 21st century wars are fought more and more in the informational sphere, the brightly-colored propaganda posters of the previous century have been replaced with relatively sophisticated social media influence operations. What Pompeo can’t accomplish by lying to the American public, the State Department will attempt to achieve through the slow and steady drip of disinformation.

US politicians, meanwhile, remain so fixated on the “Russian trolls stole the election!” narrative they’ve been flogging for the last three years that the Senate last week unanimously passed a bill to restrict entry to any foreign national convicted of “election meddling,” a toothless piece of legislative virtue-signaling that reveals their utter disconnection from reality. It’s more than a little ironic that they’d embrace and even pay for foreign meddling as long as they believe the trolls are working for them.

As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” Or a troll. 

[originally published in abbreviated form at RT]
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The neoliberal establishment is wringing its hands in the wake of European elections that proved a resounding victory for populist parties across the continent, casting around for someone to blame but utterly incapable of realizing their own interference has doomed them. Doubling down on the censorship, they are determined to provoke the catastrophe they need to make free speech history. 

The NGO-industrial complex was operating at maximum capacity in the weeks leading up to the election, shutting down hundreds of Facebook pages deemed “fake” or “hate speech” in the hope of controlling the messages reaching voters before they made the terrible mistake of voting for a candidate who represents their interests.

Led by Avaaz, which claims to be a “global citizens’ movement monitoring election freedom and disinformation,” this well-heeled fifth column whipped the press into paranoid frenzies with reports like “Fakewatch,” which breathlessly documented 500 “suspicious” pages and groups it claims are “spreading massive disinformation.” The groups have little in common other than their alleged “link[s] to right-wing and anti-EU organizations,” a capital offense for the promoters of “democracy,” which can only be permitted where it doesn’t stray from the center-left path of most #Resistance.

“Far-right and anti-EU groups are weaponizing social media at scale to spread false and hateful content,” the study warns, gloating that after sharing its findings with Facebook, the platform shut down an “unprecedented” number of pages on the eve of the election (77 out of the 500, according to VentureBeat, which has credulously signal-boosted every utterance of Avaaz as if it is divine truth from the Oracle of Delphi). Avaaz's reports frame the problem as an affliction of the right wing only, even though disinformation is second nature to political operatives at both ends of the spectrum (and, more importantly, in the sanctified center). 

The Computational Propaganda Project, an Oxford-based research group, made no secret of its elitist leanings, declaiming, “On Facebook, while many more users interact with mainstream content overall, individual junk news stories can still hugely outperform even the best, most important, professionally produced stories,” as if users have no choice but to consume “professionally-produced” Oxford-approved material or wallow in junk content. And Facebook’s own statistics bear out the hypothesis that coordinated inauthentic behavior has surged - the site removed almost 3.4 billion “fake” accounts from October 2018 to March 2019, more than the number of actual users.

But Facebook is not simply targeting fake accounts for takedown. Last Sunday, as Europeans prepared to head out to the polls, Facebook froze the largest group used by the Yellow Vests to organize protests and share information, silencing its 350,000+ members at a critical moment in French politics. More than one group member, reduced to commenting on existing posts, pointed out that President Emmanuel Macron met with Facebook chief executive android Mark Zuckerberg three weeks earlier to discuss a first-of-its-kind collaboration in which French government officials are being given access to material censored from users’ newsfeeds, essentially permitting them direct control of what the French are allowed to see on social media. Facebook, then, is providing France with the same techno-fascist services it provides the US government: Facebook will take on the burden of actually censoring dissent, thus skirting any pesky free-speech laws that might otherwise trip up a government that attempted to do the same. 

Avaaz focused on the Yellow Vests in its coverage of the French elections, complaining RT France was getting huge quantities of views compared to native French media - perhaps because native French media have been doing Macron’s bidding and attempting to minimize the protests. By framing RT as a perpetrator of “information warfare,” the NGO was making a deliberate effort to have it deplatformed under one of Macron’s controversial police-state laws passed in 2018, by which any outlet spreading so-called “false information” can be gagged for three months leading up to an election. Yet Macron’s own interior minister, Christophe Castaner, lied on Twitter when he claimed the Yellow Vests had attacked the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, and RT was the first outlet to publish the truth about the incident. Who is the disinfo agent?  

When the election results came in, Avaaz and its political allies in the neoliberal center could only gape in disbelief. Surely they had wiped La Liga and the Front National (now National Rally) from social media, salting the earth in their wake? How had they won? And what happened in Germany, where Angela Merkel’s CDU performed worse than ever in European election history? Merkel could blame YouTube - 70 influential video stars put out a call to their followers to shun her coalition - but the creators also called for shunning the far-right AfD, so the platform couldn’t be demonized as a tool of the ever-present Nazi Threat. That didn’t stop her party from trying, of course - CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer complained about online “propaganda” and promised to “tackle this discussion quite aggressively.” 

The populist parties won in large part because of the establishment’s unseemly embrace of fascist tactics, from the UK’s totalitarian information warfare disguised as “protecting citizens” or France’s visceral police violence, maiming protesters as if for sport. Europeans voted out of disgust with an establishment so insecure in its control of the narrative that it has sought to annihilate all signs of dissent, dismissing euroskepticism as Russian astroturfing and xenophobia and plugging its ears to the legitimate grievances of its subjects. The National Rally may have beat Macron’s jackbooted thugs, who in the past two months have hauled half a dozen journalists in for questioning by intelligence agencies for publishing stories that embarrassed the regime, but nearly half of French voters refused to vote for anyone at all, according to an Ipsos poll, and Germany’s Greens mopped the floor with Merkel’s coalition among young voters.

The triumph of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in the UK is the product of a populace wrestling with cognitive dissonance, forced to realize that the "constitutional monarchy" they believed they lived in isn't so constitutional after all, having jettisoned its democratic mask to cling to the EU under the guise of good old British pragmatism. Even passionate Remainers are happy to see Theresa Maybe go, though it remains to be seen whether her successor will be any more inclined to honor the result of 2016’s referendum. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s embarrassing attempt to shame Farage over a handful of appearances on the Alex Jones show - the paper claimed any reference to “globalists” and “new world order” were dog-whistles for the dreaded “antisemitic conspiracy theories” - proves the establishment media will never regain narrative primacy as long as alternatives exist. Jones, for all his flaws (and they are legion), has a massive audience; the Guardian, despite being propped up by the UK government’s Operation Mockingbird-esque “Integrity Initiative” (and the award for most ironic name ever goes to…), does not. 

With the vast American election-fraud apparatus scrambling to prepare itself for 2020, now enabled by Pentagon-funded, Unit-8200-approved Microsoft “election security” software from the makers of the wrongthink-babysitter browser plugin NewsGuard, the US ruling class seems to be poised to make the same mistake as its global peers. Facebook, working hand in hand with the Atlantic Council, has banned and shadowbanned legions of anti-neoliberal activists over the past year, selectively applying (and inventing) new rules in an effort to keep popular content-creators jumping through hoops instead of influencing the discourse. Facebook has been allowed its place of privilege because as a “private corporation” it is legally permitted to violate users’ free speech rights in ways the US government cannot. But if Facebook can’t deliver a victory for the “right guys” this time around, it will be punished. Indeed, a massive anti-trust probe appears to be in the offing, 14 years of Zuckerberg apologies notwithstanding.

 

The site learned back when it tried to roll out a “disputed” tag for “wrongthink” stories that people were actually more likely to click on those stories; it learned the lesson again when its hugely expensive Facebook Watch news show featuring Anderson Cooper flopped last year. Zuckerberg is on the record begging for government regulation; will Facebook and Twitter use the outcome of this round of elections as a springboard for further crackdowns? 

YouTube already has - thousands of creators found their channels demonetized and riddled with takedown notices this week in what has been dubbed the #VoxAdpocalypse after a pathologically whiny Vox blogger became the face of the mass deplatforming, but the censorship appears to be more of a response to Macron’s Orwellian “Christchurch call” to censor “extremism” - that ill-defined conveniently-variable catch-all whose borders are perpetually expanding to engulf all inconvenient speech - aided and abetted by the ADL than Google taking pity on a thin-skinned professional victim. 

A sinister coalition of MEPs, "civil society" groups, and the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity - a who's who of war criminals, psychopaths, and oligarchs that includes Michael Chertoff, John "death squad" Negroponte, Victor Pinchuk, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen - has already demanded "parliamentary inquiries into the impact of the use and abuse of technology platforms on democracy and elections." It's no coincidence that several of these "election integrity" enthusiasts sit on the board of NewsGuard, which is currently trying to weasel into the EU's internet regulatory framework by playing up the "disinformation" threat. 

The blue-check intelligentsia has been trying for years to convince the hoi polloi that “conspiratorial” thinking is somehow detrimental to democracy. Former Obama labor secretary Robert Reich told Buzzfeed exactly that - “If we become a conspiracy society, we all carry around a degree of paranoia and that’s not healthy for democracy.” But this divorces cause from effect, as if “conspiracy theorists” have formulated their theories out of whole cloth - as if there isn’t evidence for these theories piled knee-deep, as if once-trusted institutions haven’t proven themselves time and again to be as trustworthy as tabloid tales of Elvis risen from the grave. If paranoia is unhealthy for democracy, how is a media incentivized to lie, misdirect and obfuscate any better? 

The populist wave has been conflated with an uptick in “hate” in an attempt to delegitimize and demonize it. Outside of groups like the ADL, whose statistics are easily debunked, there is no credible evidence bigotry is on the rise, but as an actual Nazi once said, tell a big enough lie often enough, and it might as well be real. Beginning around 2012, the establishment media began relentlessly flogging the “white privilege” narrative in an effort to fan the flames of interracial conflict. Political science doctoral student Zach Goldberg performed an analysis of several terms using the LexisNexis database and found evidence of heavy narrative manipulation - “whiteness” was mentioned in four times as many news articles in 2017 as in 2012, “white privilege” was mentioned ten times as often in 2017 as in 2012, and “racism” was mentioned ten times as often in the New York Times alone in 2017 as in 2012. Yet even as the media has seemingly talked of nothing else, actual prejudice - by whites against non-whites, at least - has declined since 2008, according to a University of Pennsylvania study published last month, and the FBI's own statistics show hate crimes against most minority groups are on the decline. Because few European governments separate "hate crimes" from "normal" crime statistics, information on bigotry in Europe often comes solely from NGOs and "civil society" groups that rely for their funding on the perception that Hate is on the march. Populists are capable of prejudice like anyone else, but it is their defining characteristic - a "prejudice" against oligarchy - that motivates the smears churned out by the media.

 

Protest votes like Trump and Brexit are cries for help from a disenfranchised populace. The European elections boasted the highest turnout in decades, and the ruling class ignores the results at its peril. When the election ritual no longer satisfies a population's need to feel it is exerting its free will on society, we get public hexings of political figures, people reasoning black magic is more likely to solve their problems than voting. This is the same desperation that leads people like Arnav Gupta to set themselves on fire in front of the White House. Europeans have demonstrated unequivocally that they are sick of unaccountable dictatorship from Brussels, where EC President Jean-Claude Juncker, never one for sympathy with the little guy, sneers at the "populist, nationalists, stupid nationalists" who are "in love with their own countries." They are sick of being displaced from their homes by a seemingly endless tide of migrants, just as those migrants themselves are displaced from their homes by a seemingly endless tide of American wars. Both groups are victimized by the IMF's neoliberal austerity policies, epitomized by Juncker, who has done more than perhaps any one person to help Europe's corporate "citizens" dodge taxes while nickel-and-diming the humans.

Instead of addressing these legitimate grievances, those in power on both sides of the Atlantic tighten the screws on online discourse - out of sight, out of mind. YouTube declares conspiracy theorizing a form of hate speech and plays whack-a-mole with a documentary confirming everyone’s long-standing suspicions that “save-the-migrants” NGOs are cashing in on the desperate human tide. Big Tech promises to work even more closely with Big Brother to crack down on dissident speech, tarring its victims as Nazis while hoping no one will point out such collusion is one of the defining characteristics of fascism. 

These measures are guaranteed to further radicalize the discontent. Deleting social media accounts does not delete the people behind them, and France has already proven that starving a protest movement of media attention only makes it angrier. The ruling class may welcome their rage, aiming to use the inevitable outbreak of violence to choke off the last avenues of free expression, but once the guillotines come out, it isn't the masses' heads that will be rolling in the streets.

 (also published at Ghion Journal, where my work will also be appearing going forward...)

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US media and government have united to demonize "anti-vax" parents, demanding censorship, fines and even jail for questioning scientific progress. If they wanted to end the "crisis," they could - but that would defeat the purpose, which is to keep the people divided, fearing and hating a malignant "enemy within" that threatens their beloved children.

When anti-vax activist Del Bigtree donned a yellow star in a melodramatic show of solidarity with Hasidic Jewish parents being pressured into vaccinating their children under a short-lived emergency law in upstate New York's Rockland County, many cringed. Sure, public opinion was against anti-vaxxers, but they weren't being rounded up and sent away to camps, or fenced into ghettos as Jews were in Nazi Germany.

Then the Washington Post took Bigtree's idea and ran with it in a bizarre, overwrought editorial that slammed anti-vax parents as "pro-plague" and called for them to be arrested, fined, and isolated, placed on registries like sex offenders (their comparison, not mine), and…fenced into ghettos ("force isolation on pockets of populations that might have been exposed to the outbreak").  

This isn't how you defuse a controversy. No amount of catastrophizing - whether it's the World Health Organization declaring anti-vaxxers a threat on the level of ebola and HIV, or New York mayor Bill deBlasio sending "disease detectives" to Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods to hunt down unvaccinated kids, or Facebook removing photos of vaccine package inserts posted by parents concerned by the laundry list of side effects - will convince a vaccine skeptic to embrace inoculation. Indeed, these measures guarantee anti-vaxxers will become further entrenched in their beliefs. If vaccines are truly safe and effective, the argument goes, why are the authorities suppressing anything that questions them?

It's clear from the institutional response to the measles "crisis" that the powers that be are not interested in changing anyone's mind. It should be a simple matter for doctors to take scared parents aside, listen to their worries, and address them one by one - perhaps even offer to meet them halfway by developing an individualized health program that takes their child's needs into consideration.

Certainly, pretending there's no risk to vaccination when the government's own vaccine court has paid out $4 billion to the parents of vaccine-damaged children over the past 30 years is disingenuous, and only serves to convince skeptics that a cover-up exists. Many "anti-vaxxers" are parents of autistic kids who believe their children were damaged by vaccination; most have done a significant quantity of research on the subject. Treating them like gullible fools is guaranteed to alienate them further.

Nor is the US government's response to a measles "epidemic" that has infected 880 people since January in a country of 327 million people designed to put anyone at ease. With a vocal segment of the population already alarmed over unprecedented assaults on First Amendment freedoms of speech and of the press, several states have put forward bills to end religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination laws, thus inflaming another vocal segment of the population, this one concerned for the First Amendment freedom of religion. Headlines like the New York Times editorial earlier this month, titled "Infecting people isn't a religious right," deftly add insult to injury. If the government's goal was to create civic unrest, to encourage division in a country already more divided than ever, they couldn't have done a better job.

And this may indeed be the goal. "Wedge issues" - controversies which divide and inflame a population, despite often having little or no bearing on their day-to-day lives - are a time-honored means of manipulating popular sentiment. Divide and conquer as a political principle dates back to the Roman Empire. As the American Empire crumbles, with poverty and homelessness at record levels (despite the government's attempts to redefine poverty and hide unemployment) while companies like Amazon and Google break the trillion-dollar mark, even capitalism's biggest cheerleaders are concerned about the unwashed masses rising up and breaking things.

It's no coincidence that the vaccine debate is being amplified at the same time Americans are duking it out over abortion, another popular wedge issue. Threaten people's children, even other people's hypothetical children, and a strong emotional response is guaranteed. So why, if the end goal is universal vaccination, is the government threatening the parents of unvaccinated children with taking those children away

If health authorities are serious about converting the anti-vaxxers, they will have to stop thinking in terms of war. This means engaging in civil dialogue, instead of refusing to debate the other side, and listening to parents' concerns - even treating those concerns as if they come from their own minds and not nefarious Russian influence campaigns - instead of censoring all criticism. It means conducting more safety studies, studies not funded by pharmaceutical companies or other institutions with a vested interest in the products being tested, and publicly admitting that even the Centers for Disease Control acknowledges certain pre-existing conditions can interact with vaccines to produce devastating developmental disabilities. It certainly does not mean treating anti-vaxxers like plague-loving brainwashed zombies.

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