#QAnon and ‘the Church of Trump’: A Grifter Runs Through It

“Pushing the theory on to bigger platforms proved to be the key to Qanon’s spread — and the originators’ financial gain”:

In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board.

Over the next several months, they would create videos, a Reddit community, a business and an entire mythology based off the 4chan posts of “Q,” the pseudonym of a person claiming to be a high-ranking military officer. The theory they espoused would become Qanon, and it would eventually make its way from those message boards to national media stories and the rallies of President Donald Trump.

Now, the people behind that effort are at the center of a fractious debate among conspiracy enthusiasts, some of whom believe the three people who first popularized the Qanon theory are promoting it in order to make a living. Others suggest that these original followers actually wrote Q’s mysterious posts.

While the identity of the original author or authors behind “Q” is still unknown, the history of the conspiracy theory’s spread is well-documented — through YouTube videos, social media posts, Reddit archives, and public records reviewed by NBC News.

NBC News has found that the theory can be traced back to three people who sparked some of the first conversation about Qanon and, in doing so, attracted followers who they then asked to help fund Qanon “research.”…

The hell of it is… #QAnon’s true believers probably wouldn’t find its grift-based foundation disqualifying. Believers are notorious for being able to hand-wave away much worse behavior, and it’s been argued that the hardcore Deplorables of Trump’s base are already using his rallies as a substitute for the communal bonding they can’t find in more ‘mainstream’ churches. Alex Wagner, in the Atlantic:

Last spring, my colleague Peter Beinart looked at the increasing secularization of American society and how it had contributed to the rise of political tribalism:

As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

Non-college-educated whites are the Trump base, now set adrift:

Establishing causation is difficult, but we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful.

You could draw a straight line from a disenfranchised, pessimistic, resentful audience to Trump’s brand of fear-driven, divisive politics, but this would leave out an equally important part of the Trump phenomenon, and something critical to its success: the elation. Go to a Trump rally, speak to Trump supporters, and the devotion is nearly evangelical…

Durkheim’s theory—that a gathering of the tribe can create a certain energy that renders particular people or objects sacred—goes a long way toward explaining Trump’s infallibility among his supporters. But it also brings to the fore something that Trump critics have missed so far when focusing on his (not insignificant) negatives: Trumpism, like many forms of non-secular worship, makes its believers feel good

Organized worship, cultish or not, has been a method of social bonding for as long as humans have come together in groups. And for as far back as we have records, there’s been satires about the failings of the local clerical class — satires that in no way measure the actual religious belief of the worshippers laughing at them. If the Proud Deplorables are really treating Trump as the figurehead of their communal worship, then the self-interested profit-seeking of #QAnon’s “experts” are not necessarily going to wean them off the conspiracy fantasy, any more than the steady parade of Evangelical preachers exposed as grifting frauds / sexual abusers has weaned their base away.

Post-Racial Open Thread: “Well, He Never Called ME That Name… “

The scramble to (once again) cover up the sorry truth that the Oval Office Occupant is a lifelong racist (BUT IF HE DIDN’T USE THE N-WORD IT DOESN’T COUNT!, goes the ritual incantation) is stirring up even the most sluggis bottom feeders…

Because they can’t be sure there isn’t a tape… and that is a depth to which even the professional Repub Defenders would prefer not to sink. Per the Washington Post:

Asked whether there is a tape anywhere of Donald Trump using the n-word, as former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman has claimed, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointedly and repeatedly declined to rule it out. At one point she even said, “I can’t guarantee anything.”

White House spokespeople have occasionally emphasized that denials were coming from the president and not from them personally — apparently not wanting another false denial to damage their own credibility — but on Tuesday it was crystal-clear exactly what was happening. Sanders, like others in President Trump’s orbit, including Kellyanne Conway, wanted no part of ruling out the president having used such a racial slur, just in case there is actually a tape…

Read more

Breaking News: The President Has Revoked DCI (ret) John Brennan’s Security Clearance

The official reason given by the Press Secretary is that the President has decided to revoke DCI (ret) Brennan’s clearance because of his erratic behavior. The Press Secretary also announced that the President is reviewing the clearances of DNI and Gen (ret) Clapper, former FBI Director Comey, DCI and Gen (ret) Hayden, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, APNSA and AMB (ret) Susan Rice, former FBI staff lawyer Lisa Page, former FBI Director of National Security and Supervisory Special Agent in Charge Peter Strzok, and Bruce Ohr who is still serving in a senior executive position at the DOJ.

DNI Coats does not appear to have been consulted.

This is all being done outside of the normal clearance review and adjudication process. Here are the actual guidelines for determining a person’s eligibility to hold a clearance (full descriptions at the link):

  1. Allegiance to the United States
  2. Foreign Influence
  3. Foreign Preference
  4. Sexual Behavior
  5. Personal Conduct
  6. Financial Considerations
  7. Alcohol Consumption
  8. Drug Involvement
  9. Psychological Conditions
  10. Criminal Conduct
  11. (mis)Handling Protected Information
  12. Outside Activities
  13. (mis)Use of Information Technology Systems

All of these are then reviewed and considered together under the whole person concept.

Brad Moss, whose law practice specializes in dealing with matters of contested security clearances and national security, wrote an article about this possibility for Lawfare about three weeks ago:

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s announcement that President Trump is reviewing potential mechanisms by which to revoke the security clearances of several former senior government officials has—not surprisingly—set off a cascade of questions over if and how the president can accomplish this. The prospect became even more complicated when Sanders clarified that the president’s specific gripes with these particular former officials—former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, former FBI director James Comey, former CIA director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe—was not tied to instances of security violations or unauthorized dissemination of classified information by those individuals.

Instead, Sanders clarified, Trump is considering steps by which their clearances can be revoked because “they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances,” as well as “ma[de] baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the President.” In 11 years of representing civilian employees, military personnel, political appointees and government contractors in security clearance proceedings, I can say with certainty that these types of “allegations” are nothing like anything I have ever seen in a memorandum outlining bases for denying or revoking a security clearance.

But might those nevertheless be valid bases upon which to revoke someone’s clearance? Can the president pull this off? As a colleague of mine who still works for the government would say, “it depends.”

Much more at the link, including a detailed description of the three potential ways the President may take to do this and what procedural safeguards may be brought into play by DCI Brennan. Right now, this is Moss’s analysis:

It is unclear if today’s actions are even legal. Regardless, by doing this and considering doing this to eight others with clearances, the President has now fully politicized the clearance process. What remains to be seen is whether this stands. If it does, for the time being, eligibility for, awarding of, and maintaining a security clearance in the US will be a matter of political patronage rather than the established criteria that is currently used. This is going to throw the entire process of adjudication, awarding, and maintaining clearances into complete disarray. Especially if it is unclear whether this is a matter of access or eligibility – one can be eligible to access classified material without actually having authorization (the need to know) to access it.

The President, for now, has seriously damaged the system and the process because he is personally aggrieved by DCI (ret) Brennan’s, as well as the others being reviewed, protected by the 1st Amendment statements about him, his decision making, his policies, and his personal behavior and fitness to serve as President. That these men and women, as well as others who do not yet seem to be in jeopardy – including a number of retired senior military leaders (retired Army General Barry McCaffrey being the most senior and well known) – were actually speaking out is unprecedented. These senior leaders would often be expected to comment on very specific and very narrow issues pertaining to national security; specifically to provide analysis to the news media during periods of crisis. That they’ve so publicly stepped up, regardless of their own personal political and ideological views, to speak out against what they know are the excesses of the President and the members of his administration was already both unprecedented and inspiring. That the President is so petty and thin skinned as to respond this way just confirms what these senior leaders have been saying for months. The real question now is not whether these women and men continue to lead by example and speak out, but whether the damage the President has done to the system of awarding, adjudicating, and maintaining clearances has actually broken the system and is allowed to stand.

Edited to Add at 4:45 PM EDT:

The real issue here is not the breach of protocols, processes, and procedures dealing with clearances, as egregious as that breach is. Rather, the real issue here is the 1st Amendment one. This is the President of the United States directing the power of the state to punish a critic – DCI (ret) Brennan –  for engaging in political speech, which is protected from governmental retaliation under the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights. This is as clear a violation of the oath of office as one could ask for.

We are well off the looking glass and through the map.

Open thread!

Corporate Citizens, Not Sociopaths

Matt Yglesias has a long post at Vox about a bill Elizabeth Warren is introducing in the US Senate today: the Accountable Capitalism Act. We talked about it briefly in the morning thread, but it deserves its own post, IMO.

Basically, the bill seeks to overturn large corporations’ ($1B+) exclusive focus on generating shareholder value and make them accountable to other stakeholders, including workers and the communities in which they operate. From the Vox article:

Warren wants to eliminate the huge financial incentives that entice CEOs to flush cash out to shareholders rather than reinvest in businesses. She wants to curb corporations’ political activities. And for the biggest corporations, she’s proposing a dramatic step that would ensure workers and not just shareholders get a voice on big strategic decisions.

Warren hopes this will spur a return to greater corporate responsibility, and bring back some other aspects of the more egalitarian era of American capitalism post-World War II — more business investment, more meaningful career ladders for workers, more financial stability, and higher pay…

The conceit tying together Warren’s ideas is that if corporations are going to have the legal rights of persons, they should be expected to act like decent citizens who uphold their fair share of the social contract and not act like sociopaths whose sole obligation is profitability — as is currently conventional in American business thinking.

The article has a lot more details about the plan and the history behind it. Warren published an op-ed in the WSJ about the bill yesterday, but it’s behind their paywall.

Now, there are potted zinnias that are more conversant in economics than I am, but this sounds like a damn good idea to me. It has no chance of passing in the circle of hell that is the Trump administration and GOP-controlled US Congress, but maybe it has potential as an idea Democrats could get behind in the midterms and 2020.

What do y’all think?

Wednesday Morning Open Thread: What Has Trump Got Against Dogs?

It would be ridiculous to suggest that this adorable puppy would be a good POTUS. On the other hand, the guy currently squatting in the Oval Office certainly isn’t fit to be there, and he’s not even soothing to look at!

In President Trump’s singular lexicon, there is no more vicious put-down than likening an adversary to a dog…

… Trump, an avowed germaphobe, has long had an aversion to dogs.

“Donald was not a dog fan,” his first wife, Ivana, writes in her memoir, “Raising Trump.” “When I told him I was bringing Chappy with me to New York, he said, ‘No.’ ”

But Ivana persisted, bringing her poodle with her when the couple moved in together.

“It’s me and Chappy or no one,” she recalls telling her husband

Chappy, it turned out, did not much care for Trump, either. Ivana writes that when Trump approached her closet, her poodle would bark at him territorially.

Trump is the first modern president not to have a dog — or any pet — in the White House…

…[P]residential historian Douglas Brinkley suggested that Trump has no pets “because he has no sense of giving and warmth and caring to any other animal but himself. Having no pet is another manifestation of his narcissism.”…

I personally suspect Trump hates dogs because (a) he suspects they’re on to him; and (b) he’s angry that the average dog gets positive attention — even from total strangers! — which Donald very badly wants to believe should be directed at him, Donald Trump. Pretty ladies would let Chappy the poodle jump in their laps, they’d pet his hair, but when Trump tried the same kind of physically affectionate greeting, well…

Late Night Open Thread: Well, That Explains Tuesday…

… but this was Monday:

Nerdy Open Thread

Several somebodies here recommended Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief to me recently. I just finished it, and–thanks! Just what I needed. I especially liked the artful lack of exposition, which always stands out in a genre known for the opposite.

But it got me thinking about doing another book recommendation thread. I think this Saturday seems good. There was a suggestion to focus on a narrow genre, and was wondering if anybody had thoughts. Thoughts?

The Quantum Thief also got me thinking about Cowboy Bebop, probably due to the preponderance of artful Martian capers. I kept hearing this song in my head.

Thanks for reading. You may now have a picture of Samwise, who likes to sit on rectangles.

Open thread!

p.s. Anybody pick up Battle for Azeroth?