If the late, great Donald Westlake had written spy thrillers instead of crime capers, they’d read a lot like the opening weeks of the Trump administration. Flynn’s not the first, and he’ll surely be far from the last, to learn that Trump’s insistence upon personal loyalty is a one-way street.
Partisan activists who pose as “citizen journalists” have no stake in getting it right. They are not beholden to editors or to upholding any publication’s reputation. With minimal name recognition and a clearly political agenda, these operatives do have an incentive to get media and public attention by any means.
Just last summer, Alex Jones provoked a panic in rural Texas with fevered allegations that the real purpose of U.S. Army maneuvers there was to install secret armies of ISIS fighters in underground tunnels. He’s also persuaded thousands that the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Connecticut was a “false flag” hoax aimed at confiscating their guns. Anybody believing that shouldn’t be allowed to walk off-leash in a city park, much less to buy an AR-15.
Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, follows Twitter accounts with profiles promoting white supremacy, anti-Muslim conspiracies, unsubstantiated claims about President Obama’s birthplace, and conspiracies involving Comet Ping Pong, a fake news story about a child sex ring operating from a Washington, D.C. pizzeria.
It seems we are in the throes of another of those periods when the “paranoid style in American politics,” as the historian Richard Hofstadter put it in a groundbreaking essay, is ascendant. No nefarious act, no multilayered conspiracy, is too bizarre, too complex or too ridiculous for some to believe.
Donald Trump has surrounded himself with people who have helped propagate fake new including two of his sons, his former campaign manager, his pick for national security adviser, and the adviser’s son, who was involved in the transition until recently.
“It’s now clear that so-called ‘fake news’ can have real-world consequences. This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk. Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities,” Clinton said.