Since I spend time, for better or worse, swimming in the swill of right wing influencers and Trumpists, I’m often able to see things before they go fully mainstream — or rather before their existence gets picked up in mainstream media. Just over the last few days there’s been a burst of claims that something is not quite right about the Ukaine War, that the whole thing might be made up. Perhaps it’s a potemkin war. Maybe the Ukrainians are just crisis actors, as we sometimes hear claimed about the victims of mass shootings in the United States. The “questions” are characteristically vague and open-ended, designed to sow doubt without stipulating to any clearly disprovable claim.
The particular claim or question is, where are the pictures? Why isn’t there more war reporting as we’ve seen with every other war. How is it world leader after world leader is able to visit Kyiv in relative safety?
Just asking questions, as they say.
Here is just one example posted to Twitter by a right wing podcaster/influencer named Kyle Becker. His bio notes that he started at Fox News and has worked at The Blaze, TimCast, and the Rubin Report. So he started at Fox, found that too mainstream, and then moved on to more and more explicitly white nationalist and fascist news organizations. Now he is the “Becker News CEO.”
Here’s what he posted yesterday on Twitter.
I am sick and tired of the lack of footage of the Ukraine war. I worked in cable news. I am initiated. If it bleeds, it leads. Where is the war footage? Where are the Pulitzer Prize winning photos? This smacks of a scam and the American people are fed up.
Produce the documentary evidence or STFU already. We’re not sending our sons and daughters to die over a corrupt undemocratic country’s politics without documentary evidence. We don’t give a crap about your Russian bogeymen. This is not a matter of US national security. So, put up or shut up.
Of course, in the real world the Russo-Ukraine War is likely one of the most well-documented in world history. Volume doesn’t equate to quality or insight. But quite apart from the nonsense we’re discussing here, there is an avalanche of video, photography and satellite record of this conflict that really has no equal in history. Like so much else, a lot stems from the existence of the smart phone: most of the civilians and the combatants have smart phones which allow them to create high quality records of events in real time. These circulate on social networks and encrypted distribution networks like Telegram. Drones also play a role. They’re all generating video coverage whether they are surveillance drones or simply recording the final moments before they crash or detonate themselves.
It’s a good moment for me to remind you that I’ve created two pretty good curated lists for reliable sources about the war. This Twitter list covers the progress of the war generally while this one focuses specifically on military analysts.
But why is this happening? Why this seemingly sudden new chorus questioning whether the whole conflict is happening at all? Part of what is difficult about answering these questions is that in the far-right media ecosystem it is often difficult to disentangle who is believing the fiction and who is creating it. The best way to understand this world is to recognize that the dividing line is much blurrier than it seems. The Dominion lawsuit trove shows the bright line is often present. But the professional liars have a way of partly convincing themselves and the recipients have been weaned on absorbing lies. You “believe” what is helpful to believe. “Belief” of a certain sort becomes a species of fractured information-age aggression — a post-modern way of owning the libs.
Part of it creates the seedbed of a new crop of conspiracy theories. Just in the last day I’ve seen these. One says that the fake Ukraine War is being used as a ruse to ship all of the U.S.’s heavy weaponry abroad, presumably to denude it of defense against some unnamed adversary. Another ties it to the cottage industry of conspiracy theories about the “Biden Crime” family embezzling money out of aid to Ukraine. Basically one or two degrees of separation from what you hear from the House Republican investigations bosses.
At a more basic level, like so much agitprop and misinformation, this stuff is meant to create confusion: a general distrust and disinclination to believe that anything we hear is accurate, true, real. This is true whether the sources are foreign or domestic, official or DIY. It would be wrong to suppose that any political force, movement or dispensation runs solely on rational deliberation over emotion and impulse. Irrationalism is a part of the human condition and at best a tamed force within ourselves. But in a contest between authoritarianism and civic democracy, confusion and force is the friend of the former and clarity the friend of the latter.