by ALEX GUTENTAG
Maine’s top election official removed Trump from the state’s 2024 primary ballot on Thursday, joining the Colorado Supreme Court in disqualifying Trump from running for president. Maine’s Secretary of State Shenna Bellows determined that Trump was ineligible to run under the 14th Amendment due to his alleged role in the January 6 Capitol riot.
“Tonight’s decision relied heavily on the precedents CREW’s clients set first in New Mexico in 2022, then again in Colorado last week,” said Noah Bookbinder, the president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “These decisions make it clear that nobody, including the former president, is above the law.”
But the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the storming of the Capitol was a security failure, not a coup attempt, and that undercover law enforcement informants or officers may have allowed, or even encouraged, it to happen. January 6 prosecutors have failed to prove a clear link between the rioters and Trump or his associates. And the fact that the Department of Justice declined to indict Trump for inciting an insurrection is a tacit recognition that Trump’s words leading up to the riot were legal speech.
Even some Democrats and mainstream news commentators agree the Maine decision has no merit. Said CNN’s senior legal analyst yesterday, about Bellows’ removal of Trump from the ballot, “She based her ruling on a lot of documents, but also YouTube clips, news reports, things that would never pass the bar in normal court. She’s not a lawyer, by the way.”
In trying to keep Trump off the ballot, Democrats and progressive advocacy groups say that they are protecting democracy. It’s true that some of Trump’s rhetoric is alarming to many liberal voters. For example, Trump recently said, after being asked if he would be a dictator if elected in 2024, “No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border, and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.’”
But America’s system of checks and balances survived one term of Trump and would survive another. During Trump’s presidency, the separation of powers, backed by the Constitution and the American people, remained in place. The real threat to democracy today comes from those trying to deny the American people their right to vote for the candidate of their choosing.
CREW has a nakedly partisan agenda and has received funding from George Soros’ Open Society Foundation (OSF). David Brock, founder of Media Matters and Democrat-aligned Super PACs, has served as chairman of CREW’s board of directors. Soros was one of the largest donors to Biden in 2020 and the largest donor to Democrats in the 2022 midterms.
Anti-Trump organizations like CREW claim that they are independent and do not act on behalf of the Biden Administration or government bureaucrats. But CREW’s president, Bookbinder, is currently an active member of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Advisory Council. There is additional overlap between OSF and anti-democratic state operatives. Rosa Brooks, a former Department of Defense (DOD) official, was special counsel to OSF before organizing the Transition Integrity Project (TIP), which plotted ways to undermine the 2020 election results in the event of a Trump victory.
This strongly suggests that OSF’s and CREW’s assault on democracy is part of a larger pattern that has emerged from Public’s reporting, in which government agencies use nonprofits and “public-private partnerships” to launder their censorship and anti-democracy activities through supposedly private entities.
These private groups may appear to be operating independently, but they are part of a coordinated effort backed by Soros, the intelligence community, and a network of long-term government bureaucrats sometimes called the “deep state.” Through this effort, government officials and well-funded NGOs are attacking democracy in the name of saving it.
Over the past year, Public has documented the close ties between non-governmental groups and federal security and intelligence agencies. Our investigations have revealed that these nonprofits and their government associates targeted conservatives, sought to interfere in the 2020 election, and called for censorship of true content about Covid-19. We also discovered that US and UK military contractors made a plan for “cognitive security” and planned offensive influence operations in direct response to Trump’s election in 2016. DOD and DHS employees actively participated in this project, and some censorship operatives appear to have had close ties to the Russiagate hoax.
What’s more, there is significant evidence that the State Department and other agencies collaborated with NGOs to deploy regime change tactics against Trump in 2020. Key figures and organizations in the campaign to delegitimize Trump’s presidency were also connected to the “color revolution” playbook used by the US in foreign countries. The FBI’s treatment of Trump supporters as an enemy population is part of the same pattern of counterpopulist and anti-democratic activity.
Since 2016, security and intelligence agencies have improperly meddled in domestic elections and speech, turning tools designed to combat foreign threats against US citizens. After Trump’s election, for instance, foreign policy groups like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a known CIA front, and the NED-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) increasingly focused on the alleged threat of “disinformation” and collaborated with domestic censorship groups. In 2021, for instance, NDI produced a report with the Stanford Internet Observatory, a partner in the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP). The report, “Combating Information Manipulation: A Playbook for Elections and Beyond,” suggested that foreign elections and domestic elections should be subjected to the same counter-disinformation and counter-messaging strategies.
NED has developed many connections to the Censorship Industrial Complex. The Global Disinformation Index, which blacklists conservative voices, has received funding from the State Department through NED. Anne Applebaum, who has supported censorship and hyped the “Russian disinformation” narrative, sits on NED’s Board of Directors along with Scott Carpenter, Managing Director of Google Jigsaw, which aims to steer online discourse.
The conversion of deep state security agencies and their non-government allies into weapons of domestic censorship and control appears to have occurred in the UK as well. Big Brother Watch (BBW), a UK civil liberties group, recently obtained records which show that multiple arms of the British military monitored UK citizens’ social media accounts to counter alleged mis- and disinformation about Covid-19. This information warfare operation involved the UK’s 77th Brigade and the Royal Air Force. Internal documents reveal that the military considered the “presentational risk” of these activities, which they knew could be considered “spying” or “conducting ‘PSYOPS’ on the UK.”
“The military has been turned inwards — absurdly dangerous,” Silkie Carlo, Director of BBW, wrote.
The ongoing campaign to prevent Trump from running for office, either by removing him from the ballot or by imprisoning him, is a continuation of this multinational counterpopulist campaign. Why is that? Why have government officials and NGOs weaponized foreign policy tools against the domestic population?
From The War on Terror To The Revolt Of The Elites
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush Administration launched the global War on Terror. This campaign, in which the UK was a major partner, became a search for threats, and, in some cases, inadvertently created them. Endless wars allowed a small cadre of ideologues to chip away at democratic ideals and Constitutional protections through abuses like the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and the NSA’s warrantless domestic surveillance.
This extralegal approach, along with the human and financial costs of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, generated enormous backlash. In 2016, military veterans of the War on Terror strongly supported Donald Trump, favoring his opposition to “forever wars” and viewing Hillary Clinton as a representative of the bipartisan security apparatus that had failed them. Veterans ultimately voted for Trump by a 2 to 1 margin, and swing-state veterans played a significant role in securing Trump’s victory.
Trump’s election, and the populist anti-globalist anger he channeled, presented a major problem for government bureaucrats and their liberal NGO allies. Voters had rejected the technocratic approach of anointed experts in government and had no appetite for further endless wars. The War on Terror complex and the deep state bureaucracy, facing an existential crisis, opted to turn military-grade tools and techniques against their internal enemies.
Operatives within the War on Terror went on to lead censorship and domestic influence initiatives. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, for instance, played a major role in the Obama Administration’s secretive drone war, and later created the Foreign Malign Influence Center to combat alleged election “disinformation.” General Michael Hayden, former NSA and CIA director under Bush and Obama, initiated the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance program and is now on NewsGuard’s Board of Advisors. And as stated above, CREW’s president currently sits on the Advisory Council of DHS, an agency specifically created to combat terrorist threats after 9/11.
Information warfare played a significant role in the War on Terror. In 2004, the LA Times reported that there was a dispute within the Pentagon over the improper use of domestic psychological operations. “Several top officials see a danger of blurring what are supposed to be well-defined lines between the stated mission of military public affairs – disseminating truthful, accurate information to the media and the American public – and psychological and information operations, the use of often-misleading information and propaganda to influence the outcome of a campaign or battle,” LA Times reporter Mark Mazzetti wrote.
“The movement of information has gone from the public affairs world to the psychological operations world,” a senior defense official told the LA Times. “What’s at stake is the credibility of people in uniform.”
This blurred line between public relations and psychological operations would come to characterize future government and military messaging, along with blurred lines between foreign and domestic information spheres.
This is apparent in the intelligence community’s ongoing approach to “disinformation.” Dean Jackson, who has worked for the Atlantic Council, NED, the Carnegie Endowment, and the January 6th Committee, recently explained this approach in a Brookings Institute-affiliated podcast. The Foundation for Freedom Online reported that, on the podcast, Jackson recounted how “open source intelligence analysts” went to work for social media companies and nonprofits in 2017 and pushed for policy changes. These policy changes dismantled many long-standing distinctions between foreign and domestic speech.
“It is too simple to say that the 2016 election and the Russian influence operations around that election were something Russia did to the United States,” Jackson said. “Most of the narratives that Russia used were pre-existing narratives in US politics.… The foreign and the domestic are two sides of the same coin.”
This perspective was shared by the influential Cyber Threat Intelligence League (CTIL) disinformation leader, Sara-Jayne Terp, who, a whistleblower has alleged, admitted to using tactics of foreign influence operations on Western populations. Terp, CTIL Files showed, claimed to have been involved in the Arab Spring, and a whistleblower told Public that Terp once expressed surprise at needing to use the techniques developed for her foreign influence work against US and UK citizens.
Public originally reported that Terp was a former British Defense researcher. But her work for the UK military actually appears to be ongoing. A newly surfaced document from September 2023 lists Terp as still working for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), an agency of the UK’s Ministry of Defense.
Diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks revealed that NED and other “democracy-building” US groups had played a role in fomenting Arab Spring protests. Given NED’s covert CIA ties and Terp’s long-term role in the British military, it is possible and perhaps probable that Terp and other military or intelligence contractors had a hand in these operations.
After Brexit and the 2016 election, Terp and many others appear to have converted tactics from the War on Terror into a multinational counterpopulist crusade, aided by ideologically aligned non-governmental organizations like OSF and CREW. In this process a betrayal of fundamental democratic values occurred not once, but twice: first, with the illegal and extrajudicial abuses of the War on Terror itself, and then when the bureaucracy established to fight foreign terrorism turned against its own domestic opponents.
Soros and OSF have been an instrumental international arm of this endeavor. OSF took its name from Karl Popper’s vision of an “open society,” a philosophy of liberal democracy, rationality, and individual rights. Yet at almost every opportunity OSF has betrayed this vision by supporting totalitarian and anti-democratic initiatives.
Historian and social critic Christopher Lasch predicted the liberal turn against democracy in his 1994 book The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. Liberal elites, Lasch argued, had developed disdain for those who rejected their technocratic solutions and moral initiatives. “When confronted with resistance to these initiatives, they betray the venomous hatred that lies not far beneath the smiling face of upper-middle-class benevolence,” wrote Lasch. “Opposition makes humanitarians forget the liberal virtues they claim to uphold. They become petulant, self-righteous, intolerant.”
Over several decades, an educated class of professionals has gained greater and greater influence due to its technical expertise and managerial capabilities. The managerial elite now controls vast networks of government bureaucracy, acting as an unelected governing body or “deep state.” After Trump’s election, the managerial elite in civil society rigidly aligned with their partners in government to wage a war against populism.
Due to “elite overproduction,” a phenomenon described by Russian-American complexity scientist Peter Turchin, this managerial elite is insecure and hypercompetitive. When too many elites are produced to fill a fixed number of power positions, societies face instability and often fall into crisis, which is what appears to be happening now.