The Nunes Memo, Spirit Cooking and Pizzagate

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The confident pronouncements by pundits and politicians that the Nunes memo is a dud, dead on arrival, neglect to consider the main tactic of the Republican right wing for some time now. It is a conspiracy theory, and conspiracy theories carried Trump to the White House and many Republicans into Congress or state legislatures.

Nunes cherry-picked intelligence reports to arrive at a narrative whereby the Obama FBI bamboozled FISA judges into letting them spy on Carter Page, a Trump campaign official with strong ties to Moscow. The FBI succeeded by carefully concealing from the judges a key fact: that their whole investigation was provoked by the Steele Dossier, opposition research conducted initially at the behest of Republican rivals of Trump and then taken over by the Clinton campaign.

Nunes aims at implicitly tainting the Steele dossier itself (gathered by an ex-MI6 operative with extensive Moscow contacts) and also the whole FBI investigation to which it gave rise, including the efforts of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

One of Nunes’s key charges is that the Justice Department did not tell the FISA judges that the impetus behind the investigation came from documents generated by political forces (i.e. by the Clinton campaign’s quest for oppo research). This charge is untrue, according to what Justice Department sources told the Washington Post.

But these flaws–that the Nunes memo commits many sins of omission and makes false charges–do not in and of itself make it a dud.

It is intended to create a national conspiracy theory. Nunes and Trump know that Rupert Murdoch’s lying Fox Cable News will be happy to become The Nunes Memo Network 24/7. They know that Sinclair radio stations (which have virtually taken over radio news nationally) will play it up big time. They know that NewsMax and Breitbart and other right wing webzines will beat this drum continually. They know that YouTube celebrities with millions of followers such as Alex Jones will spread the word of the perfidy of the FBI, or the “Kenyan FBI” as they likely will call it.

They already have 36% of voters and just need to create doubts in or support for Trump in 15% of voters who are independents, and they keep winning politically.

That Nunes and Trump are aiming for a viral conspiracy theory is the reason for which they rushed to release this Republican memo from the House Intelligence Committee (an oxymoron if there ever was one) while delaying the Democratic minority response. For both documents to come out on the same day would have interfered with messages and created doubts about the cleanness of the narrative. As it is, the Nunes document now has a week in which it reigns supreme and can be established as a canon

Trumpism rides on conspiracy theories. Breitbart and Wikileaks turned Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta into participants in the satanist ritual of “spirit cooking.” The TrumpNazis also alleged that Hillary Clinton is a pedophile and engaged in trafficking children via a pizzeria in Washington, DC.

These conspiracy theories about Clinton were ignored by the journalistic establishment, and rightly so, but it is possible that they played a key role in Trump’s election victory. They served to depress voting for Clinton among less educated working class voters, ordinarily a crucial Democratic Party demographic.

Although the internet is great at shooting down fallacious arguments, its corrective effect can only work if people don’t stovepipe. But they do. Conservatives and liberals don’t read each other any more, creating an echo chamber in which rumor and innuendo fly without check or hindrance. The irony of Trump’s “fake news” meme is that he deploys it to sideline responsible, fact-checking journalism in favor of his conspiracy theories. NBC news is fake news, he says. Alex Jones is the soul of upstanding journalism.

The failure of most analysts to reckon with this new information architecture, which allows conspiracy theories to flourish and become consequential, makes them overconfident about being able to destroy memes through fact-checking. Research shows that people with idees fixes don’t change their minds just because they are presented with factual information that challenges them. In fact, they dig in. Thus, by the time the minority Democratic report comes out, many Republicans will be so wedded to the Nunes narrative that it will be very difficult to dislodge their certainty.


Bonus video:

VICE News: “How The Nunes Memo Is A Danger To Democracy (HBO)”

13 Responses

    • You have to show them that their children, their friends, and their co-workers hate the insane regime they support so much that they’re willing to make genuine sacrifices to wreck its everyday functioning. Which is what Dr. King’s passive noncompliance meant in the context of the Jim Crow South. I am not optimistic that enough Consumer-Americans (our true ethnicity now) are willing to make those peaceful sacrifices to send the message.

  1. When people cannot think, we are indeed in a dark time.

    Yet today, I am holding a little optimism that among the 310 million people of America and the 7.x billion of global human beings, there is enough individualism and individual experience to allow some bit of relatively independent thought enough to preclude us from falling into globally dominant dictatorship — which does unfortunately seem to be currently winning over intelligent democracy — forever.

    • My read of history is that in the medium term, though not the short term, people want their countries to ape the country that seems to be having real success. The kings of 19th century Europe used saber-rattling to impress their restless subjects and stroke their egos, but the latter voted with their feet to get to the USA where the pay was better. Which is no longer true.

      So eventually a rising empire better able to cope with modern technology and provide real material benefits will become manifest, and in the old empires people will demand better practices. Unfortunately, the chances that the rising empire will be a democracy are about zero right now; only that it will be an authoritarianism based on rational calculation of widespread material benefits instead of a strongman state based on sadism and myths. At least that leaves the door open for peaceful improvements.

      • Actually, to my surprise, right now people are voting with their feet to get to Germany, because of its economic success. It is straining Germany’s democratic institutions, though not to the breaking point yet.

  2. Bill Maher said this last night….”The GOP is having a retreat in West Virginia this weekend. Yeah, but the small town in West Virginia is on to them. One of the restaurants has a sign that says…Welcome Banana Republicans!”

  3. Using this one incident to have a go at the FBI suggests serious unease about what the FBI investigation may disclose. Most politicians have climbed a long ladder to their positions and learned to be circumspect about their used linen. Until he reached the White House Trump had no need to bother about that and it’s lying around all over the place. A serious net cast over his activities, particularly his sources of Russian funding, could well come up with a pretty rich catch beside which Russian involvement in the election may look like cat poo in a cow barn.

    • It’s not even an incident. There is no incident.
      I read some Republican mocking the idea that Carter Page, “a guy who hadn’t had a job in years,” could be someone worth watching.
      He worked for the Trump campaign, as that person knew. But anyone who followed Turkey from about 2008-2014 with blinders off has seen this movie.

  4. An article at Red State, link to, points out that Page was not part of the Trump campaign when the warrant was sought. He had left the campaign several weeks before. He was not “a Trump campaign official”, but a former campaign official. The warrant cannot be construed as an attack on the Trump campaign.

    • the only way that a committed 36% of the population can hold sway
      is if a majority of the population is so disenchanted with the choices for President
      that they simply don’t bother to vote.
      I blame the Democrats for choosing to not run an inspiring candidate.

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