By now, it’s common knowledge that anything that goes wrong in the US is actually the work of a vast Russian conspiracy. Step on a Lego? The FSB put it there. Can’t connect to the internet? You’ve been hacked by Russian trolls. Get a parking ticket? Putin was the meter maid.
Among the achievements of these dastardly Russians? Forcing Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) to resign (or, er, promise to resign; he hasn’t stepped down just yet) from the Senate after a bevy of women accused him of sexual misconduct. No, the women who accused Franken aren’t being labeled Russian shills — yet — but the liberals and Democrats who pushed Franken to resign are.
It all started with Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for the George W Bush White House from 2005 to 2007. Painter said that Franken’s resignation was undue without an investigation into the claims against him — this despite Franken admitting to several of them and photographic evidence corroborating at least one account.
Painter has become known for his opposition to US President Donald Trump, including a lawsuit brought against Trump by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) of which Painter is vice chair. But now he’s sporting a new hat: conspiracy theorist.
“This was likely a Roger Stone/FOX set up job,” he tweeted on Monday. “Minnesota voters are entitled to an investigation before a resignation. It’s called due process.” Where Painter got the idea that Fox News or former Trump adviser Roger Stone orchestrated the downfall of a senator isn’t clear. Your guess is probably as good as ours, since Painter failed to offer any evidence.
But Painter’s speculation was amplified by a retweet from “Counterchekist,” an anonymous self-identified Republican and anti-Trump Twitter that describes itself as “Guardian of the Republic. Keeper of American Exceptionalism.”
“Told you. The alt-left combined with Russian bots pushed the Franken ‘scandal’ intensely. Stone & [Russian Intelligence] set him up. Ask yourselves: Why does the Kremlin want Franken out? And why did some in the left petulantly insist on helping them in that endeavor?” Counterchekist wrote in a tweet that has been retweeted 2,200 times.
There’s a lot to unpack here. “Alt-Left” is a term used by some, including US President Donald Trump, to describe groups such as antifa… and pretty much anyone who isn’t a Democrat centrist. One name closely associated with the label is FOX News personality Sean Hannity, who helped to popularize it. Apparently, antifa, Fox News, Roger Stone and Russian intelligence collaborated to bring down Al Franken for… some reason.
But the conspiracy theory, despite being a random selection of buzzwords drawn from a hat and supported by no evidence, has gained traction on the anti-Trump side of Twitter. Eric Garland, a liberal intelligence analyst who has garnered 173,000 Twitter followers by endlessly pushing an increasingly complex (some would say comical) Russiagate narrative, retweeted Counterchekist’s bizarre claim.
To give you a better sense of the sort of things Garland and people like him believe, he recently wrote that the “agents of Russia and the American alt-Right and Fake Resistance” were three different masks for the same movement, referred to Fox News as a “hostile foreign propaganda” service for daring to question the Russiagate narrative. Garland also connected the GamerGate controversy, of all things, to Russian interference, and referred to the entire Republican party as Russian shills — all in the last two days. He’s also said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a Russian agent, and obviously Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, too.
Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald described the Russiagate narrative as a “cultivated pathology.” Referring to the Senate inquiry into Stein over a dinner she attended in Moscow alongside Putin, Greenwald wrote that “it is a clear and constant principle of leading Democrats that literally no evidence is needed to publicly accuse someone of being a Kremlin agent other than: ‘someone who is adverse to the Democratic Party.'”
“In the minds of many Democrats, if you vehemently denounce Trump’s actual policies and ideology but question or express skepticism about their orthodoxies on Trump/Russia collusion, this makes you ‘pro-Trump.’ It’s hard to process, let alone analyze, irrationality that extreme,” Greenwald tweeted earlier in December.