A casual observer would say Twin Falls and Bahrain have little in common. Actually, you might ask, “What’s Bahrain?” It’s a tiny constitutional monarchy and collection of islands in the Persian Gulf. Several years ago the ruling family embarked on a project to diversify the economy. One of the new thrusts was tourism. It required a massive building boom. The people of Bahrain are fabulously wealthy and have most of their needs met and many wants are also satisfied. Most aren’t construction workers but more technical in their abilities.
Building tourist hotels and new islands requires sweat equity. The building frenzy required imported workers. Today you’ll find about half the population of the island chain is comprised of foreign nationals. The ruling family of Bahrain understands tourists are looking for a good time. Violence against construction workers or visitors is a bad marketing tool.
Last week Bahrain’s King penned a guest commentary for the Washington Times. He wrote of the tremendous diversity in his country. Mosques rest near Hindu Temples, churches and synagogues. All are welcome, he maintains, in this budding paradise in the center of the Arab-Islamic World. What he didn’t mention is his government’s human rights ranking. No surprise here, there are many indigenous Bahraini islanders who don’t like the changes. Their objections could certainly lead to violence, street battles and the toppling of the current regime. The Islamist objectors are therefore locked up, and according to several groups monitoring the situation the jails are hotbeds for torture and worse.
In order to create his melting pot the king crushes all opposition. For a historical comparison think of the Yugoslavian leader nicknamed “Tito.” For 35 years following World War II he kept a lid on a cauldron of Balkan diversity. When he died the pressure blew open ancient wounds. Diversity hadn’t made anyone stronger. For two decades the country spun apart and hundreds of thousands died as old resentments again surfaced.
I often cite the liberal canard that says, “Diversity makes us stronger.” Then I follow it with the Pat Buchanan question: “Where’s your evidence?”
Speaking of the indigenous, I spent Indigenous Person’s Day in Salt Lake City. Actually, I was there for a couple of days taking in the views. When I was finished I had roughly 150 photographs and then emailed the album to friends across the United States. A state legislator I know back East commented clean Salt Lake City would never be confused with Philadelphia. Most of my trips to the City of Brotherly Love were to take in baseball games, but I’ve seen enough of the place to call it Filthydelphia!
Why is one place clean and the other a cesspool? Salt Lake City has become much more cosmopolitan over the last quarter century but walking the streets I quickly discovered it’s nowhere near as diverse as other large cities. Liberals will cry foul and scream “bigot” but perhaps homogenous communities have some advantages. Another Eastern state legislator once told me it was why Utah had higher test scores for students. She was very liberal. Maybe she had some data insights we mortals never see.
Which brings me back to Twin Falls and, really, much of the Magic Valley. Nobody would confuse our city with a much larger neighbor in Utah. However, there are a great many similarities in demographics. Religion being one immediately obvious. Language is another. Tastes in music, clothes, food and entertainment are only part of a long list we could create.
While I’ve never seen any statistic proving diversity is strength I’ve read publications reporting immigration is successful when measured in small doses. When it becomes a rushing river it can make the dominant culture wobble and/or collapse. This is fine if you’re among the Antifa crowd, which believes all cultures are equal but with one major exception. The far-left and even many center-left despise our culture. The number of leftists pushing this agenda in Twin Falls is currently tiny. For the moment so are the immigrant numbers. From the few encounters I’ve had with local liberals they believe we need to open the flood gates. Influential media eggs on the left and elected politicians shrink from confrontation. They speak of all those nice people coming here and the work ethic immigrants and refugees bring to the valley. As if previous generations were leaning on their shovels when they turned a desert green!
Do you ever feel the elites are trying to put one over on the rest of us? No one ever wants to examine any side effects when it comes to toppling the old order and installing the new shiny object. A college professor of mine used to say France never fully recovered as a nation following its bloody revolution. After the Reign of Terror the divisions among classes were so great the notion of national unity was gone for good. One leader managed to give the illusion it was revived but only with a heavy-hand. The same as we’ve seen in some island states or the Balkans.
Even in smaller communities such as Twin Falls we’ve observed the efforts to silence dissent when it comes to the introduction of immigrants and refugees. Local governing bodies alter public comment at meetings. They amplify their victimhood when speaking with sympathetic news media. News media then rails against the stodgy opposition. Pretty soon the old majority are denigrated as racists, stupid and filled with hate. Seriously, I think they’d lock us up and take a page from the king of Bahrain and outlaw all dissent. Call it diversity by coercion. It may be just around the next corner.
Send a spy to spread rumors on the other side of the front line. Drop leaflets into enemy territory. Debilitate the enemy using its own people, in their own language—Lord Haw-Haw, Tokyo Rose—over their own radios. The tactics of demoralization are as old as politics—as old as war—and now we know what the second-decade-of-the-21st-century version looks like, too.
Pushed by a congressional investigation, Facebook has finally turned over some 3,000 advertisements and links to pages created and paid for by Russian trolls. Among them was “Secured Borders,” a fake, Kremlin-backed “organization” that appeared to be based in Idaho. It pumped out messages about immigrant “scum” and attracted 133,000 followers before it was shut down. In August 2016, its Russian backers actually promoted a rally in Twin Falls to protest an alleged “upsurge of violence against American citizens.”
At the same time, a different set of Russian operatives sponsored and advertised two black rappers who bashed “racist b——” Hillary Clinton. They also borrowed the identity of a Muslim group that claimed Clinton “created, funded and armed” al- Qaida and the Islamic State. Meanwhile, thousands of computerized bots pushed repetitive pro-Trump messages on Twitter, persuading many actual humans to respond.
All these games are familiar: Russians have used similar tactics for years in Europe, where pro-Russian social-media users on Facebook, Twitter and many other platforms have long sought to amplify support for parties of the far left and the far right. During Germany’s recent elections, official Russian media and networks of Russian bots tweeted and posted messages warning of immigration’s dire threat to Germany and pushing the cause of Alternative for Germany, an anti-immigrant party.
As in the past, the Russian advertisements did not create ethnic strife or political divisions, either in the United States or in Europe. Instead, they used divisive language and emotive messages to exacerbate existing divisions. As in the past, it’s enormously misleading to name “Russia” as the source of the problem. The old KGB had whole departments devoted to the invention of rumors and the creation of fake extremists; the KGB’s institutional descendants simply realized, sooner than most, that social-media campaigns are a cheap way for an impoverished ex-superpower to meddle in other countries’ politics. But in 2016, they were one of many groups—among them the Trump campaign and a whole network of conspiracy-minded and alt-right trolls—who built targeted Facebook groups and bought divisive advertisements aimed at carefully sliced and segmented bits of the population.
The real problem is far broader than Russia: Who will use these methods next—and how? If Russians worked out how to create fake “Black Lives Matter” Twitter accounts, why can’t others? I can imagine multiple groups, many of them proudly American, who might well want to manipulate a range of fake accounts during a riot or disaster to increase anxiety or fear. I can imagine a lot of people who might want to take control of Defense Department accounts, as Russian hackers also tried to do, to send false information during a military conflict. There is no big barrier to entry in this game: It doesn’t cost much, it doesn’t take much time, it isn’t particularly high-tech, and it requires no special equipment. Facebook, Google and Twitter, not Russia, have provided the technology to create fake accounts and false advertisements, as well as the technology to direct them at particular parts of the population. Many other countries and political groups—on the left, the right, you name it—will quickly figure out how to use them.
In part, this malicious world grew so quickly out of ignorance—people didn’t know, simply, how this all worked—but that’s not an excuse any longer. There is no reason existing laws on transparency in political advertising, on truth in advertising or indeed on libel should not apply to social media as well as traditional media. There is a better case than ever against anonymity, at least against anonymity in the public forums of social media and comment sections, as well as for the elimination of social-media bots. Facebook’s own experiments have shown that conversations are more civilized when people use their own names. The right to free speech is something that is granted to humans, not bits of computer code.
There is no chance that the Trump White House will show any leadership on this issue, given that it has been the main beneficiary of these damaging and divisive techniques. But other political leaders—in Congress, in the states—have an obligation to think about it. So do citizens, so do schools—and so do tech companies. The alternative is a dystopia in which election-year dirty tricks become a way of life for everyone.