by Michael Shellenberger and Leighton Woodhouse
Last week, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused pro-Palestinian protesters who demonstrated outside her San Francisco home of being Russian stooges. She even urged the FBI to investigate them.
Obviously, the FBI can’t legally investigate an allegation for which there is zero evidence. And to be clear, Pelosi offered zero evidence.
Is it possible that Russian interests have funded pro-Palestine activists? Sure, just like it’s possible that Russian interests have funded Nancy Pelosi. But there’s no evidence. And it’s a dangerous abuse of power for a politician to call for the FBI to investigate her critics based on nothing but wild accusations.
What was Pelosi thinking? You might say she just lost her cool. But it’s noticeable that the Democrats made Russia the new bogeyman starting in 2016, during the election campaign of Donald Trump.
Democrats made various accusations of Trump’s collusion with Russia. All turned out to be false and misleading. They suggested a bank in Russia had wired money to the Trump campaign. They claimed Trump’s campaign was working with the Russians on the release of embarrassing emails.
But two Justice Department investigations, one by Robert Mueller and the other by John Durham, concluded that there was no illegal collusion. Durham believed the FBI should never have begun an investigation of Trump and Russia in the first place.
After this, Democrats used Russia constantly to dismiss issues they didn’t want to deal with. After the New York Post published its mid-October 2020 article about Hunter Biden’s laptop, which revealed a massive influence-peddling scheme involving the whole family, dozens of former CIA and intelligence officials said it had “all the markings of a Russian information operation, which then-presidential candidate Joe Biden referred to in a debate with Trump in 2020.
Attacking one’s opponents as being backed by Putin and aligned with Russia dates back even to earlier in 2015 and 2016. Back then, opponents of the Brexit referendum in the UK claimed that supporters of Brexit were pro-Putin.
Today, the accusation is everywhere. Government-funded think tanks in North America and Europe accuse critics of the West’s support for Ukraine in its war against Russia of being Russian agents. And a few days ago, Correctiv, an influential “anti-disinformation” website in Germany, which both the German government and George Soros’s foundation finance, falsely suggested that protesting German farmers are pro-Putin or supported by Putin.
There is a good psychological reason for Democrats to focus on Russia.
The strength of Trump’s appeal was as an “America First” nationalist and a populist. Claiming he was actually a foreign agent was a way of attacking his strength, which is a political campaign tactic famously promoted by Karl Rove. The accusation brands Trump’s anti-establishment movement as un-American, just as left-leaning activists, artists, and intellectuals in the twentieth century once were.
All humans have a deep “in-group” versus “out-group” bias. That’s why tribalism, whether around sports, politics, or some other identity, is so powerful. By defining your opponents as foreigners, you gain a major advantage over them.
Of course, accusing one’s opponents of being sympathizers and puppets of a foreign power has long been a part of the American tradition. It’s a dirty accusation, but people are free to use their legally protected free speech rights.
It’s quite something else to attempt to once again weaponize the FBI to investigate and persecute one’s political enemies without any basis for doing so, as Pelosi did. Both Republicans and Democrats alike should condemn such an abuse of power, particularly given the long and growing list of FBI scandals, including hiding evidence about the lab leak of Covid, the bureau’s mysterious role in the January 6 riot, and helping to initiate the Russia collusion hoax in the first place.
When the right engaged in that kind of slander, we called it McCarthyism. It’s no different when Democrats do so.