On November 12, the Washington Post published an op-ed by neo-conservative James Kirchick titled, “How will Democrats cope if Putin starts playing dirty tricks for Bernie Sanders (again)?”
The article tries to perpetuate the claim that Russia will help Bernie Sanders in the 2020 election against Donald Trump, but doesn’t directly engage this thesis at all. Instead, Kirchick relies on innuendo to push a claim that contradicts itself: The hacked WikiLeaks emails were released for the general election, providing Trump’s campaign with political ammunition against Clinton; there’s no evidence Sanders’ candidacy was aided, either directly or inadvertently by Russia.
One of Sanders’ campaign strategists who also worked for Barack Obama, Vitali Shkliarov, has even helped the campaigns of anti-Putin candidates in Russia. But Kirchik’s neo-McCarthyist tactic is meant to reduce Sanders’s popularity by aligning him with Russia.
Kirchick has developed a record for this tactic toward the left. In an August 2016 op-ed, he labeled The Nation‘s Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald and other journalists as “Putin’s Pawns” and “Trump-Loving,” in a reductionist article trying to portray journalists on the left as pro-Trump and pro-Russia using childish smears devoid of evidence against anyone who didn’t uncritically and loyally support Hillary Clinton.
Even a journalist from Super Hack David Brock’s Shareblue Media, which recently claimed Greenwald was funded by Putin, apologized for the accusation, but Kirchick has continued to double down on these baseless attacks, joining the ranks of conspiracy theorists like Louise Mensch. “When Russia interferes in the 2020 presidential election on behalf of Democratic nominee Senator Bernie Sanders, how will liberals respond?” he wrote.
Kirchik substantiates his speculation about Sanders by rattling off evidence of overall Russian election interference, despite many of his citations — like Russian election interference in France and Germany — having been debunked or yet to be proven. In September 2017, USA Today reported that Germany’s election was experiencing more interference from the U.S. Right than any other foreign source. The head of France’s cyber security agency told the Associated Press in June 2017 that they found no evidence Russia hacked Macron’s campaign, despite previous claims to the contrary.
The entire accusation about Sanders and Russia is based on the speculation that Putin and the Kremlin has the power to intervene on the Vermont senator’s behalf. The only “evidence” to back this is that supporting him divides Americans, yet this could be said about supporting any politician. It just so happens that in this case, Sanders is a political opponent of many of the grifters promoting the RussiaGate investigation, including Kirchick.
The only case against Bernie Sanders tied to Russian election interference stems from a Russian-funded Facebook ad of a “Buff Bernie” cartoon from a coloring book. Total expenditures on the ad: less than $2.
Another story seeking to tie Sanders to Russian election interference was published by Huffington Post earlier this year, claiming that Russian bots tried to flood pro-Bernie Facebook groups with fake news. No evidence was cited in that article to prove any of the fake news sources were pushed by Russia. Two of the sources I spoke with used in the article tried to have their quotes removed because they were taken out of context, and one of them attested that pro-Clinton trolls inundated a few Sanders groups to undermine their influence.
The most likely scenario, hardly isolated to Sanders supporters, were that a couple of fake news outlets targeted popular Bernie groups to generate views. Based on an account from one of the people from Facebook that Huffington Post interviewed, some of the fake news sites were tracked to Macedonia, Albania, Panama, the U.S. and Eastern Europe, or were untraceable.
The reporters concluded that it must be Russian trolls without evidence. It makes sense for fake news outlets to host their websites overseas because many of them are created to generate quick and easy ad revenue. In December 2016, NBC News published an article about a partying teenager in Macedonia who makes thousands of dollars from fake news websites.
This obvious profit motive—the most simple explanation—was ignored to create a narrative that would generate its own sensational views, and later wound up as a segment on Rachel Maddow’s joke of a MSNBC show.
Kirchick isn’t the only neocon to recently repeat this claim about Sanders. Former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, a retired CIA official and “Never Trump” Republican who has built a social media following from his anti-Trump rhetoric, tweeted on November 14 that Sanders was “supported by the Kremlin.”
In lieu of evidence, McMullin, Kirchik and other neocons are depending on the hysteria surrounding Russia to fuel McCarthyist accusations toward political opponents, rather than have to engage them on policy.