This Just in 304

Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Weekend December10/11/2016

A few Sundays ago, my wife Whitney and I had lunch with a New York visitor with whom we’ve been friends for more than thirty years. We had chosen the restaurant at random, simply because it was close to Washington’s noted book store, Politics and Prose, where our friend, the author Kati Marton was to speak about her new book, “True Believer- Stalin’s last American Spy.”

In a series of highly successful non- fiction books, Marton has specialized in shedding important new light on twentieth century events and its famous or less known people. In this case, as the book jacket presciently declares, this is “the story of an idealist young American captured by a poisonous belief and manipulated by demagogues, True Believer is a book for our troubled time.”

It turns out that the modest restaurant we had eaten at a few Sunday’s ago was the Comet Ping Pong - now infamous as the subject of a wild series of fake news stories on Facebook and Twitter, identifying it as the center of a child sex slave ring, run by Hillary Clinton. Having believed those stories, last Sunday 29 year old Edgar Maddison Welch drove six hours from his home in North Carolina to Washington D.C., carrying an assault rifle, a shot gun and a handgun, with which he essentially took over the pizzeria. For 45 minutes, Welch conducted this own search of the place, terrifying staff and customers, at one point shooting off a lock on an inside door.

 Meantime, several of the nearby shops and the book store went into lockdown and the area was surrounded by the police, Once he was satisfied there was no evidence of sex slaves, Welch put down his guns, put up his hands and surrendered. According to Court papers he told the police that he had come to rescue the children but was now convinced none was being held there.

On its face, this is a scary story, and it could well have ended tragically as things often do when disturbed people are running around with assault rifles. But there is more to the story which makes it even more troubling.

Evidently the fake news story that the pizzeria was the center of a child trafficking ring involving Hillary Clinton had appeared on the Internet before the election. Major newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times ran stories totally debunking the allegations. But according to a report this week in the Times, “On YouTube, a step by step takedown of the Times article was viewed nearly 250,000 times and was passed around on Twitter and Facebook. A surge of new false articles amplified the original pieces, now linking the child abuse ring- known as Pizzagate – to a global pedophilia ring reaching Britain.”

I confess, while I have been aware of the growing problem of fake news, until recently I didn’t appreciate its vast scope. It now has the power to virtually drown out all other voices- especially of those legitimate journalists who are trying to function in a world of actual facts. But one of the details that has emerged this past week which must be viewed with the greatest alarm is that two of the people involved in using social media to spread the most vicious and totally unsubstantiated lies about Hillary Clinton were President elect Donald Trump’s designated National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael T, Flynn, and his 32 yr old son Michael G. Flynn, said to be his chief of staff.

A few days before the election, General Flynn posted a false news story, which he touted as Must Read! that claimed the police and prosecutors in New York had found evidence linking Mrs. Clinton and much of her senior campaign staff to pedophilia, money laundering, and perjury. As Flynn knew, there was zero evidence to back this up, although similar allegations appeared in the thousands of WikiLeaks, which according to all American Intelligence agencies, were based upon material obtained from the Russian government’s hacking of Democratic Party files. Some of that material was believed authentic, but over time, items appeared which seem to have been doctored by Russian propagandists.

Even after the arrest of Mr.Welch for his shooting up of the Washington pizzereria, Michael Flynn the son was tweeting that until Pizzagate was proven false, it remains a story.

On Tuesday Vice-President elect Mike Pence denied on MSNBC”s Morning Joe that Flynn’s son had any role in the Trump presidential transition. Later in the day the Trump people put out the word that young Mr. Flynn’s transition connections had been severed. Yet the real problem is not the son- it is the father.

In any “normal” political world, General Flynn’s enthusiastic advocacy of outrageous false news would have disqualified him from the crucial job as National Security adviser. But the new political world in which the president-elect himself started his presidential run as the leading source of the fake news that President Barack Obama had been born in Kenya and therefore was not legally America’s president, is anything but normal.

As I wrote in the wee hours immediately after Donald Trump was elected, the desire to manipulate the truth, is one of the

distinguishing features of a totalitarian regime. I mentioned we had seen this in history in Hitler’s Third Reich, and in fiction in George Orwell’s novel “1984.”  It is worth a reminder what kind of dystopian world Orwell was writing about. ”The Ministry of Peace, concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. The contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. “

I do not think it is an exaggeration to warn that any regime which declares that facts and truth have become outmoded, and what only matters is what the people "believe" – as Trump spokesmen have publicly suggested in days since the election – is moving into very dangerous territory. And we must constantly bear this in mind as we cast our judgments on current events. 

I welcome your comments. To post your thoughts, click the word "comments" below.

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