The false and conspiratorial narratives pushed by some conservative US politicians and media figures about Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine have reinforced and created synergies with the Kremlin’s fabled disinformation machine, according to experts in manipulation of the information.
But even as Russia has embraced and promoted American disinformation, as well as the Kremlin’s much larger stockpile of Ukraine war lies, both brands have been largely debunked by pundits and most of the media, pointing to the setbacks of Moscow in the information war.
Led by Tucker Carlson at Fox News, some right-wing Republicans in Congress, and some conservative activists, a series of comments that disparaged Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and echoed other Russian wartime disinformation were recycled by Moscow, experts say.
A feedback loop between the Kremlin and parts of the American right has been palpable since the start of the war in February, which Moscow falsely described as a “special military operation” aimed at stopping the “genocide” of the Russians in Ukraine and the “denazification” – two blatantly false accusations that have drawn widespread international criticism.
Yet the influential Carlson figure pushed several false narratives to millions of Fox News viewers that were eagerly embraced and recycled by Moscow and parts of the American right. Last month, for example, Carlson touted right-wing conspiracies that attempted to link Joe Biden‘s son, Hunter Biden, to a discredited claim that the United States funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine.
On a separate front, two congressional Republican conservatives, Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene, delighted Moscow last month by condemning Zelenskiy without evidence in conspiratorial terms that drew bipartisan criticism. Cawthorn called Zelenskiy a “thug” and his government “incredibly corrupt”, while Greene also accused Zelenskiy of being “corrupt”.
In addition, former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, last month tried to soften and deflect Putin’s onerous crackdown on independent media in Russia, where journalists and other citizens can now face 15-year prison terms for failing to toe the Kremlin’s Orwellian war line and spreading what Moscow considers “fake” news about its invasion of Ukraine. Gabbard said savagely that “what we see happening here [in America] is not so different from what we see happening in Russia”.
More recently, Russian state television hailed Gabbard as “our friend Tulsi”, when it featured an interview with Carlson with her in which Gabbard accused Biden of “lying” about his true motives in Ukraine after Biden declared in Warsaw that Putin “cannot stay in power”. which the White House quickly clarified was not a call for regime change.
Disinformation scholars say bogus accounts from the US right and the Kremlin during the war have shown new twists that have increased the flow of conspiratorial news, but also drawn more criticism from pundits for being blatantly false .
“We often see a two-way flow of conspiratorial narratives flow from America’s right-wing news ecosystem to the Kremlin and back again, in a way that creates a feedback loop that reinforces and reinforces the messages of both groups,” said Bret Schafer, who leads the Alliance for Securing Democracy’s information manipulation team.
Schafer noted that the feedback loop seems “best evidenced by the recent effort to connect Hunter Biden to a US-led bioweapons program in Ukraine, where you can clearly see the merging of a privileged national narrative in a foreign disinformation campaign that makes it more familiar. , and therefore more plausible, to certain target audiences”.
Schafer added that “influential American pundits and conspiracy theorists first pushed the narrative, then amplified and legitimized it at the highest levels of the Russian government.”
Some members of Congress also see a cross-effect between elements of the American right and Moscow.
“Putin and his oligarchs are well aware of the dark channels of influence in right-wing American politics today, and they tap into them whenever they can – just like right-wing corporations and billionaires do here at home. “, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told the Guardian.
“There is also an obvious affinity for Putin’s strongmen in certain corners of the Republican Party, which starts with Trump. All of this underscores the need for greater transparency to help the American people understand who is influencing their policy and why,” Whitehouse added.
But despite the Kremlin’s track record of creating vast amounts of misleading disinformation and its current efforts to spread new conspiracies, some former US officials say Moscow has largely failed in its attempts to twist the facts as it wages a war. brutal.
“I think they’ve completely failed internationally with their disinformation efforts,” former US ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst told The Guardian. “I think they also failed in Ukraine. Russia has lost the information war.
Herbst pointed to Zelenskiy’s “excellent” messaging skills as an important antidote to the Kremlin’s latest disinformation war, coupled with strong Western media coverage in Ukraine of Russia’s well-documented attacks on civilians, medical facilities and brutal warfare tactics that are being investigated by the international criminal court and others as possible war crimes.
“This is one of the reasons Putin has resorted to draconian measures against the remaining free media spaces,” added Herbst.
Moscow is very unlikely to back down from promoting more false narratives to confuse and rally Russian and American war supporters, as Putin demonstrated in late March with a bizarre ‘cancellation culture’ riff targeting Russian artists to punish the Kremlin for its war against Ukraine and its pressure. Russian cultural personalities to denounce it.
Putin likened those efforts to attacks on author JK Rowling for her views on transgender issues, prompting the author to say that “criticisms of Western cancel culture may not be better done.” by those who are currently massacring civilians for the crime of resistance, or who imprison and poison their critics”.
Schafer said that “criticism of cancel culture, big tech censorship and mainstream media have long been staples of Russian propaganda targeting audiences on the American political right and fringes of the political left. “anti-imperialist””, and pointed out that these themes have “proven to be extremely effective in appealing to American audiences in the past”.
Schafer noted, however, that “there is significant irony in the media and government-funded pundits that have systematically destroyed free speech and press freedom for 140 million Russian citizens speaking out against censorship in West. But that irony is either lost or ignored by external audiences drawn to the message.
More broadly, Herbst pointed out that Putin supporters among some Republican Trump supporters and the “pro-Trump media” have often “pursued themes that indicate ignorance of Ukraine and insufficient understanding of the dangers that aggressive foreign policy of Putin weighs on the vital interests of the United States”.
Judging the impact of the feedback loop between Moscow and parts of the American right is “always exceptionally difficult,” Schafer said. But “if the same stories are repeated by influential political figures and pundits on the most watched news networks in Russia and the United States, those stories reach a significant audience.”
He added: “Since many of these audiences have come to reject and distrust the media and ‘mainstream’ expertise in general, there is no objective fact-checking and reporting that could to change attitudes once some lies are adopted as facts.”