Rules for radicals: Songs in the key of Alinsky
Just a few minutes perusing the Western media will leave one with the impression that the problem in Ukraine is ‘Russian aggression’, that ‘Russian planes’ are flying intimidation missions over Europe while a ‘Russian submarine’ is attacking Sweden, and that ‘KGB thug’ Vladimir Putin is personally to blame for it all.
None of this is true. And none of this is a coincidence.
Nor is this propaganda offensive a recent phenomenon. Long before the February 22 coup in Kiev, the Western press was talking about the (nonexistent) ‘fiasco’ of the Sochi Olympics. Before that, there was the ‘white ribbon’ movement and the demonization of Vladimir Putin's presidential bid in 2012. Indeed, the trail of anti-Russian and anti-Putin ‘news’ coverage goes back to the early 2000s. Meanwhile, Russians have been the favorite villains of American film and TV production – a major source of US cultural influence around the globe – from 1997's ‘The Saint’ to 2014's ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’.
With the audiences thus primed to see ‘Russian aggression’ everywhere, it is easy for the media to report seeing ‘Russian convoys’, but offer no photos to back that up – even in this era of ubiquitous cellphone cameras – or level the monstrous accusation that Russia or the Donetsk defenders shot down the Malaysian passenger jet.
The hysteria of “Putin's killed my son” (actual headline from the Daily Mail, UK) abruptly stopped the moment Russia offered evidence of Kiev's culpability; but just a month or so later, Western media would mention in passing that MH17 was ‘shot down by pro-Russian separatists’, as if it were an established fact rather than malicious fabrication.
Last, but not least, there is ‘flipping the script’: accusing Russia of things the West itself is doing. Thus US officials can say that Russia is ‘on NATO's doorstep’ when it was NATO's eastward expansionism that put this aggressive alliance on the borders of Russia. Or saying that Russia is the ‘aggressor’ that is ‘invading’ Ukraine, when it is the Kiev junta's troops (backed by the US and EU) invading the eastern regions refusing to recognize the coup government.
Shortly before his death in 1971, radical American political activist Saul Alinsky published a book called ‘Rules for Radicals’. Its 10 chapters are dedicated to 12 rules for successful political activism. All 12 apply to some extent to the propaganda war currently being waged against Russia, but five in particular are obviously in play.
Rule 12 (“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it”) explains why the West is going after Vladimir Putin personally. Putin is made out to be a Bond super-villain, personally behind every perceived slight to the West, at the same time a Stalinist and a Tsarist and a reincarnation of Hitler. But there are also personalized tabloid tales about the Russian president – from his purported flings with Olympic gymnasts to rumors of pancreatic cancer. So far this tactic is backfiring in Russia itself, with Putin enjoying near-universal public support. But Western policymakers and propagandists believe that once the Russian economy collapses due to ‘sanctions’ (another bit of wishful thinking), the Russians will blame Putin personally.
This is the same propaganda matrix employed against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and Bashar Assad in Syria. With Russia, however, open military intervention is out of the question. This is where the Serbian precedent comes in: during the September 2000 presidential elections, the US propaganda and ‘democracy development’ agencies targeted President Slobodan Milosevic personally, after a decade-long campaign blaming him for the post-Yugoslav civil wars. Milosevic was overthrown by operatives manipulating the angry mob mobilized by the propaganda, in what would be the first ‘color revolution’. Unfortunately, it was not the last.
Western propagandists are keen on presenting Putin as the new Milosevic: two authors with Russian names made the accusation in a June edition of the New Republic, echoed a month later by the US government propaganda arm RFE-RL. The purpose of this comparison is to eventually persuade the Russians into recreating Belgrade's ‘Yellow October’. While the 2012 attempt with the ‘White Ribbon’ marchers on Bolotnaya Square failed, they are holding out hope for later success.
If it seems like every week brings a new accusation against Russia, that's because this is the point of Rule 8 (“Keep the pressure on. Never let up”): as the opposition answers one of your claims, bring up another, always keeping the initiative. And if these claims seem ridiculous – from the British press identifying a Latvian cargo plane as “a Russian jet” to the Swedish Navy searching for a nonexistent “Russian submarine” for a week – that's because Rule 5 states that “Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.” But there is also an element of mobilizing one's own populace by stoking fear of Russia, pursuant to Rule 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
The thing about Alinsky's guidelines is that this weapon cuts both ways. The mere awareness of the Rules being in play diminishes their effectiveness, since the target knows to avoid the expected reaction. There are some indications that the Kremlin is aware of the problem: from Russia's refusal to take the bait and intervene in Ukraine militarily, to sending the West a message via Putin's visit to Serbia. All in line with Rule 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
As the increasingly unhinged Western propaganda is demonstrating every day, the Russia they've created in their fearful imagination is far more terrifying than anything the Russians themselves can come up with.
Nebojsa Malic for RT
Nebojsa Malic is a foreign policy analyst and blogger, working in Washington, DC. A columnist for Antiwar.com and Strategic Culture Foundation, he occasionally appears on RT.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.