The Anti-Bouazizi: Did Russia try to ‘flash mob’ a Trump Victory?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Russian internet trolls linked to an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin went beyond just posting meme-making posters exalting Donald Trump and demeaning Hillary Clinton. They actually promoted “flash mob” spontaneous protests in the real world in 17 cities, according to the scoop of Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, Kevin Poulsen and Spencer Ackerman at the Daily Beast.

A flash mob is a crowd that gathers at a particular time and place in response to a call on the internet. Many are frivolous. Some turn dangerous. Others can set off revolutions.

In December of 2010, a flash mob was called by a California choral society to sing Handel’s messiah at a mall in California. Some 5,000 people showed up, and police had to evacuate them because it was felt that they might turn dangerous.

A similar incident had occurred earlier that fall in Philadelphia.

If flash mobs have been kind of large pranks in the US, in the Middle East they have shaken governments. The crowds that gathered in Tunisia after the police harassed Mohamed Bouazizi, who was selling vegetables in the street, and drove him to suicide, swelled to 200,000 strong in the capital of Tunis. They drove the president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, from power in mid-January, 2011.

The difference here is that Bouazizi’s cause was genuinely taken up by Tunisian youth, as I explain in my book The New Arabs. The Russia effort was a piece of internet fraud, a cyber Potemkin Village.

The Tahrir Square revolution against Hosni Mubarak in Jan-Feb 2011 was only partially a flash mob. Most people came to the square because activists walked neighborhoods or sent text messages. Only a fourth came because they heard about it at social media sites.

The Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013 were to some extent flash mobs. Youth were protesting the plan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to put a mall into a public park. Privatizing public spaces is a way for authoritarian governments to exert control over crowds. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan succeeded in crushing these protests.

The Russian pro-Trump hackers were attempting to replicate the Middle East success of the flash mob without knowing how it had been sited within civil society.

The question is still out as to whether Moscow managed actually to affect the outcome of the election. But it now seems pretty clear they they were trying to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton with danse club.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Aljazeera English: “Ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort investigated in Russia probe”

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9 Responses

  1. It’s a contentious business but the whole process of pre-election campaigning is an exercise in influencing voters. One might counter that by pointing out that most of it is, or should be, local, domestic influence. But is Israeli influence in US elections local? Clearly not, but no one claims it invalidates electoral results. The Presidency of the US is not simply a local matter, the choice directly affects most people on Earth. Is it not understandable that nations would seek to influence, as far as their abilities extend, the outcome of any election anywhere the result of which affects them or their ideology? If one were to invalidate elections upon evidence of external influence there would scarcely be any governments left and democracy would become a completely abstract concept. Perhaps it is. I don’t imagine there’s a UN resolution against seeking to influence another nation’s elections and one can be pretty sure the US would veto it were one ever proposed. et prout vultis ut facient vobis homines…etc. Luke 6:31. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

    • You make an excellent point here Nicholas and I would add to this that Obama quite openly tried to influence the outcome of the referendum vote in England with regards to whether or not we should vote to stay in the European Union. If the Russian government really did try to influence the outcome of the presidential election, then they must be sorely disappointed, because Trump has turned out to be just as big a war monger as Clinton was likely to be.

    • You avoided Juan’s point. It’s clear that Moscow worked behind-the-scenes to promote Trump. This constituted an extraordinary and unparalleled interference with our domestic affairs, using the relatively new tool of social media (as well as more vintage espionage to conduct email hacks to benefit the GOP.

      The result: Putin saddled us with a truculent and incompetent POTUS who’s caricatured notions are going to cause misery for the US – and the wider world.

      This isn’t the time to shelter behind moral relativism. This is the time to mobilize behind moral outrage.

  2. Basically, Trump and his minions were attempting sell favors to various Russian factions like he has done so effectively with assorted far-right American factions.

    When dimwitted Americans allowed Trump to become President, our country and everything associated was rebranded and became a product for Trump to slice and dice for influence and power.

    Trump voters are merely the result of favors with foreign powers. Sold over the counter like white flaky pastry by Russia.

  3. The US has covertly & overtly worked to influence other nations’ elections since our founding . . . so what’s the problem now?

  4. Trump is the culmination of decades of (bad) political decisions by American voters, blaming others will not solve the Problem.

    • Discounting or ignoring facts regarding traitorous behavior at our highest levels of national leadership which weakens and pollutes our entire fabric of elections will not solve the problem, either.

  5. Charlie Donnes, you do have a point there, at some level. But two wrongs don’t make a right.

    If the Russians did get Trump elected they may come to be very unhappy with their decision, especially if he sends some nukes over to N. Korea. it would be a very bad day for all of us in the world. Just as some of the leaders the U.S.A. helped to install turned out to be idiots and not suitable leaders, the Russians may have helped elect and idiot who is an unsuitable leader.

    Sitting just north of the American border it doesn’t make us feel all that great having Trump as president of the U.S.A. Gives you that insecure feeling.

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