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At the end of August, American intelligence declassified a report, according to which the Kremlin was trying to create a network of young leaders in the United States who would support Russia or spread pro-Russian messages in their countries. The report also said that the Kremlin’s influence operations were carried out under the guise of mass protests.
But the reality is that Russian narratives in the United States are already being disseminated, in particular, by the notorious host Tucker Carlson, who is harshly criticized in the United States for playing up to Russian propaganda. Carlson’s programmes are reposted on X (formerly Twitter) by Elon Musk. Among the friends of the host are right-wing activists spreading conspiracy theories and waging a “holy war” against “globalist elites.”
The propagandist of ruscism Dmitry Kiselev devoted a big story to Carlson and his statements, in particular, that the United States planned to attack Russia. Margarita Simonyan said that Carlson wanted to interview Putin, which may indicate laying information grounds for this event.
After his resignation from Fox News for spreading lies, Carlson began posting his show on X. His first programme stated that it was Ukraine that blew up the dam of the Kakhovka reservoir. Carlson also interviewed pro-Putin Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Before that, there was an interview with Donald Trump, whom Carlson supported during his presidency and whose voters are often Carlson’s audience. “For the past six years or so, Carlson was the most influential voice in right-wing media… Donald Trump had the raw power on the right. But it was Carlson who set the ideological agenda,” writes The New Yorker.
In March 2022, at the beginning of the invasion, Carlson worked with the Russian narratives about “U.S. bio-laboratories in Ukraine” and “coup d’état in Ukraine in 2014, directed by Nuland” on the Fox News channel — topics thatare reliable markers of Russian propaganda.
According to Forbes, Tucker Carlson used to spread false narratives about Covid-19, the 2020 election, the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the Russo-Ukrainian war. In an interview with Trump in August, he promoted a narrative about the possible murder of the former president by his political opponents — the Democrats. Carlson has recently interviewed a man who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Barack Obama.
Carlson’s shows generate messages with which Russian propaganda actively interacts, presenting them as an American perspective. The published manual for Russian media, dated March 3, 2022, shows that Carlson is a rather important link in Russian propaganda. “It is important to use as many fragments as possible of the shows of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States, NATO, their negative role in fuelling the conflict in Ukraine, bold provocative behaviour on the part of the leadership of Western countries and NATO towards Russia and against President Putin personally”; as we see, the Kremlin is confident that Carlson will not fail.
“Conspiracy theorists around the world – unite!”
Carlson is also known as a friend of the alt-right and a promoter of conspiracy theories. Interestingly, some of these theories are also popular among Russian propagandists. For example, Putin’s propagandist Starikov occasionally mentions “globalist elites” who want to force humanity to switch to eating bugs.
The same idea is repeated by Carlson in his documentary Let Them Eat Bugs from the series of his show Tucker Carlson Originals.“Could there really be a plan to make us all eat bugs?” Carlson asked, in an ominous voice-over, followed by a guest providing a putative answer: “It’s a global agenda that is pushing all of these things,” according to The New Yorker.
Tucker Carlson spread another conspiracy theory through the documentary The End of Men. According to it, men in the United States and in the West in general lose their natural masculine nature and behaviour. This, allegedly, is happening for a reason, because of a conspiracy of elites and a well-thought-out system that suppresses men’s testosterone levels “in order to slow down the birth rate in the “West.” This is done in collusion with chemical and pharmaceutical companies. All in order to destroy potential competitors of the chosen elite. The film promotes the idea that any masculine man can be branded a right-wing extremist.
The film is shot in such a way that the disgusting video footage is mixed with the image of President Biden, represented as a weak person. Under the video series of riots, the mantra that “difficult times give birth to strong people” is repeated, as if pushing for an uprising against the authorities.
“We know that wrapping health misinformation in ideology makes it more likely to spread and be believed—especially among those with the political leaning of Tucker’s audience,” Men’s Health magazine wrote in response to the film’s nonsense. The publication added that compared to scientifically accurate and reliable content, disinformation is easier to spread, it is more emotional, more frightening and appeals to morality.
It would all be funny if it weren’t sad. The technological hero of our time, Elon Musk, is happy about the appearance of Carlson’s talk show on the X platform and explains it with freedom of speech: “Would be great to have shows from all parts of the political spectrum on this platform!” Musk commented and retweeted Carlson’s programme on June 7, which stated that Ukraine had blown up the dam of the Kakhovka HPP. Incidentally, Carlson’s new show on X (Twitter), after he was fired from Fox News, came out the day after the dam was blown up by the Russians and contained their excuse, which is quite similar to an information cover-up operation.
In an April 14, 2023, article in The Washington Post titled, “Russians boasted that just 1% of fake social profiles are caught, leak shows,” the author says that Twitter employees were concerned that Musk’s cuts had harmed the platform’s ability to counter influence operations. Propaganda campaigns and hate speech on the platform have been seen to increase.
Musk himself has reportedly spoken to Putin and appears to be influenced by the Russian narrative that Russia actually wants the peace that can be achieved by giving it the territory of Ukraine.
Musk also stated that he did not see Russian propaganda on X. “Dear Elon Musk, are you sure you don’t see any Russian propaganda on the X profiles of RT, Sputnik, Medvedev, Rogozin and others?” the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security replied in X.
Radical Right International
Carlson has many friends among right-wing politicians in the United States and Europe. Let us remind you that there is numerous evidence that the Kremlin actively uses right-wing radicals, in particular in Europe, for information attacks on the democratic world from the inside.
For example, Eva Vlaardingerbroek, a right-wing activist from the Netherlands, often appeared on his programmes. She was one of the main commentators in Carlson’s film about the “bug-eating conspiracy.” However, her set of beliefs, in addition to conspiracy theories, includes support for Russia, condemnation of armed assistance to Ukraine, and instilling fear of emigrants.
Right-wing radicals “respect Putin,” while spreading the narrative of the conspiracy theory that there is a strict censorship of “globalist elites” in the United States and no major media can be trusted. Allegedly, IT giants, in particular, social networks, traditional media are in collusion with the power elites, do not tell the truth and restrict content. In this paradigm, Facebook, Google, and other social networks are declared enemies of “right-wing free speech.”
The alt-right has its own social network, created in 2016 – Gab, which positions itself as a place of true freedom. At the same time, it spreads the right-wing conspiracy theories like those mentioned and “respect for Putin.”
Gab’s founder, Andrew Torba, supports Tucker Carlson, spreads conspiracy theories, in particular about the replacement of white people, and also makes aggressively anti-Semitic attacks. “In November, Torba circulated a statement that Jews were responsible for societal decay” and “psychologically and spiritually castrating citizens,” the anti-Antisemitism organization ADL cited Andrew Torba.
Another American far-right activist, Nick Fuentes, who is active in Gab, stressed his fascination with Torba, saying, “I trust Gab because Gab is run by a faithful Christian. And not some Judeo-Christian either, a Christian.”
We have covered the rhetoric about the Jews. What about Ukrainians? Vice quotes these figures at the time of the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Thus, a few hours before that, Fuentes wrote on Telegram: “I wish Putin was president of America.” The day after the start of the full-scale war: “I am totally rooting for Russia. This is the coolest thing to happen since 1/6.” Subsequently: “UKRAINE WILL BE DESTROYED” and “I never doubted you [Putin], my Czar.”
Torba, who hosted the conference where Fuentes was a guest, added in his support: “What he really means is Ukraine needs to be liberated and cleansed from the degeneracy of the secular western globalist empire.”
In addition to such “alternative” rightists, there are also ordinary conservative Americans who, on religious grounds, can perceive Russia’s false narratives about gays, “Sodom and Gomorrah,” and that Russians act as defenders of traditional values.
A special report, Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem, published by the U.S. State Department in August 2020, mentions a strategy by Russian fascist Alexander Dugin. Its goal is to form a network of pro-Kremlin politicians among European radicals.
E-mails intercepted by hackers, which include a note allegedly written by Dugin, were also mentioned; in the note, the European ultra-right was divided into three broad factions: the Christian right, neo-Nazis, and the new right. Dugin predicted that these entities would become “a significant factor… in Russian-European relations.”
Americans produced content for Russians as well
Even after the RT ban in the U.S., the Russians continued creating products there for an international audience. For example, journalist Ben Swann got USD 6.8 mln. As is typical of a Russia-linked media specialist who worked for RT, he is an active promoter of conspiracy theories. At one time, he was fired from CBS-46, which belonged to WGCL-TV, after trying to promote the so-called Pizzagate — a rumour that Hillary Clinton’s entourage was associated with a secret organization of paedophiles.
For the money that Russian TV-Novosti was to pay, he had to make films on topics such as the war in Ukraine and the “cultural wars” of the United States. This was stated in the registration records, in accordance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act, filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“… Western countries, the United States and NATO countries that are spreading war around the world,” reads the description of one of the programs that media specialist Ben Swann had to make on order of the Russians.
According to the OpenSecrets analysis, officially, during 2017-2022, Russia spent USD 182 mln on lobbying, external influence operations, and propaganda in the United States.
Is the influence of Russian propaganda in the West more serious than it is talked about?
One of the sections of this study recognizes that Russia uses social networks as a weapon. The Internet Research Agency of Prigozhin is mentioned, having influenced the American elections in 2016, playing up to Trump. Another example in the publication El País: “The Russian network used Venezuelan accounts to deepen the Catalan crisis.” The activity of Russian comment bots was also noticed during the yellow vests protests in France.
In 2018, the head of the Estonian foreign intelligence service, Mikk Marran, admitted that there was a network of politicians, journalists, diplomats, and businessmen working in his country as agents of Russian influence. In 2020, the British parliamentary committee stated Russia had interfered in Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum. British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab claimed that Russia tried to interfere in the 2019 parliamentary elections and for this purpose, it distributed intercepted secret documents via the Internet.
The above examples of “active measures” of Putin’s special services indicate that the Kremlin regime is brazenly attacking democratic countries, trying to destroy their societies by fuelling artificial conflicts. Are ordinary people in the United States and Europe aware of the danger emanating from the Kremlin’s purposeful efforts, which has been stirring up the social life and media agenda for decades, including in Western countries? Hardly, because it looks like one of the mentioned conspiracy theories. Most Americans do not realize that Russia may be conducting malicious information influence operations in their country.
In addition to the extreme right, there is a far-left spectrum in the United States, whose representatives also sympathize with Russia, despite its undisguised fascist essence. Their narratives coincide with the Russian ones, but under a different cover: allegedly, it is the United States that foments an imperialist war around the world. Like the far right, they are very active, in particular, in X (Twitter) and stir up the information space. Both left and right are supported by aggressive bot campaigns in comments on social networks and on YouTube.
“Ukrainians are Nazis and anti-Semites” is a false Russian narrative that looks ridiculous in Ukraine, but which Russia actively disseminates among foreigners, in particular in the United States, so it needs an answer from Ukrainians.
Given this, the U.S. elections in November 2024 bring new challenges for Ukraine. Thus, Republican candidates Donald Trump and Vivek Ramaswami voice pro-Russian narratives. In general, the issue of spending on assistance to Ukraine against the background of rhetoric about “economic decline” is politicized and becomes a divisive factor in the United States.