Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #949 Walkin’ the Snake with Breitbart, Part 2

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash drive that can be obtained HERE. The new drive is a 32-gigabyte drive that is current as of the programs and articles posted by early winter of 2017. The new drive (available for a tax-deductible contribution of $65.00 or more.) 

WFMU-FM is podcasting For The Record–You can subscribe to the podcast HERE.

You can subscribe to e-mail alerts from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can subscribe to RSS feed from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can subscribe to the comments made on programs and posts–an excellent source of information in, and of, itself HERE.

This broadcast was recorded in one, 60-minute segment.

Serpent's WalkIntroduction: The title of the program refers to the Nazi tract Serpent’s Walk. The back cover of that book sums up the essence of the tome: ” . . . It assumes that Hitler’s warrior elite – the SS – didn’t give up their struggle for a White world when they lost the Second World War. Instead their survivors went underground and adopted some of the tactics of their enemies: they began building their economic muscle and buying into the opinion-forming media. A century after the war they are ready to challenge the democrats and Jews for the hearts and minds of White Americans, who have begun to have their fill of government-enforced multi-culturalism and ‘equality.’ . . .”

The “opinion-forming media” in 2017 has crystallized into a frighteningly dominant entity, the Breitbartian engine of Steven Bannon, Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica and the latter’s parent company SCL. An article from The Guardian sets forth this terrifying development. (Note that, due to the limitations of time, we were not able to read the entire story in FTR #948.)

Cambridge Analytica, and its parent company SCL, specialize in using AI and Big Data psychometric analysis on hundreds of millions of Americans in order to model individual behavior. SCL develops strategies to use that information, and manipulate search engine results to change public opinion (the Trump campaign was apparently very big into AI and Big Data during the campaign).

Individual social media users receive messages crafted to influence them, generated by the (in effectr) Nazi AI at the core of this media engine, using Big Data to target the individual user!

As the article notes, not only are Cambridge Analytica/SCL are using their propaganda techniques to shape US public opinion in a fascist direction, but they are achieving this by utilizing their propaganda machine to characterize all news outlets to the left of Brietbart as “fake news” that can’t be trusted.

In short, the secretive far-right billionaire (Robert Mercer), joined at the hip with Steve Bannon, is running multiple firms specializing in mass psychometric profiling based on data collected from Facebook and other social media. Mercer/Bannon/Cambridge Analytica/SCL are using Nazified AI and Big Data to develop mass propaganda campaigns to turn the public against everything that isn’t Brietbartian by convincing the public that all non-Brietbartian media outlets are conspiring to lie to the public.

This is the ultimate Serpent’s Walk scenario–a Nazified Artificial Intelligence drawing on Big Data gleaned from the world’s internet and social media operations to shape public opinion, target individual users, shape search engine results and even feedback to Trump while he is giving press conferences!

We note that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, has been deeply involved with “psyops” in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, Cambridge Analytica, their Big Data and AI components, Mercer money and Bannon political savvy are applying that to contemporary society.

At the end of the program we note that Bannon had turned Breitbart toward supporting Narendra Modi’s BJP Party in India.

Program Highlights Include:

  • Cambridge Analytica’s parent corporation SCL, deeply involved with “psyops” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. ” . . . But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in ‘election management strategies’ and ‘messaging and information operations’, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as ‘psyops’ – psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.) . . .”
  • The use of millions of “bots” to manipulate public opinion: ” . . . .’It does seem possible. And it does worry me. There are quite a few pieces of research that show if you repeat something often enough, people start involuntarily to believe it. And that could be leveraged, or weaponised for propaganda. We know there are thousands of automated bots out there that are trying to do just that.’ . . .”
  • The use of Artificial Intelligence: ” . . . There’s nothing accidental about Trump’s behaviour, Andy Wigmore tells me. ‘That press conference. It was absolutely brilliant. I could see exactly what he was doing. There’s feedback going on constantly. That’s what you can do with artificial intelligence. You can measure every reaction to every word. He has a word room, where you fix key words. We did it. So with immigration, there are actually key words within that subject matter which people are concerned about. So when you are going to make a speech, it’s all about how can you use these trending words.’ . . .”
  • The use of bio-psycho-social profiling: ” . . . Bio-psycho-social profiling, I read later, is one offensive in what is called ‘cognitive warfare’. Though there are many others: ‘recoding the mass consciousness to turn patriotism into collaborationism,’ explains a Nato briefing document on countering Russian disinformation written by an SCL employee. ‘Time-sensitive professional use of media to propagate narratives,’ says one US state department white paper. ‘Of particular importance to psyop personnel may be publicly and commercially available data from social media platforms.’ . . .”
  • The use and/or creation of a cognitive casualty: ” . . . . Yet another details the power of a ‘cognitive casualty’ – a ‘moral shock’ that ‘has a disabling effect on empathy and higher processes such as moral reasoning and critical thinking’. Something like immigration, perhaps. Or ‘fake news’. Or as it has now become: ‘FAKE news!!!!’ . . . “
  • All of this adds up to a “cyber Serpent’s Walk.” ” . . . . How do you change the way a nation thinks? You could start by creating a mainstream media to replace the existing one with a site such as Breitbart. [Serpent’s Walk scenario with Breitbart becoming “the opinion forming media”!–D.E.] You could set up other websites that displace mainstream sources of news and information with your own definitions of concepts like “liberal media bias”, like CNSnews.com. And you could give the rump mainstream media, papers like the ‘failing New York Times!’ what it wants: stories. Because the third prong of Mercer and Bannon’s media empire is the Government Accountability Institute. . . .”

1. The Guardian has a long and critical piece on Robert Mercer and the Mercer clan’s role in the rise of Breitbart as the dominant ‘outsider’ conservative media outlet, and how deeply intertwined that endeavor is with the Mercers’ other big investments.

Of particular interest are the firms Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL, where Cambridge Analytica specializes in using AI and Big Data psychometric analysis on hundreds of millions of Americans in order to model individual behavior. SCL develops strategies to use that information, and manipulate search engine results to change public opinion (the Trump campaign was apparently very big into AI and Big Data during the campaign).

As the article notes, not only are Cambridge Analytica/SCL are using their propaganda techniques to shape the US public opinion in a fascist direction, but this formidable phalanx is going about achieving this shift in attitudes by utilizing its propaganda machine to characterize all news outlets to the left of Brietbart as “fake news” that can’t be trusted.

Only far-right media can be trusted. That’s the meme disseminated by this the Mercer/Bannon meme-machine.

In short, the secretive far-right billionaire (Robert Mercer), joined at the hip with Steve Bannon, is running multiple firms specializing in mass psychometric profiling based on data collected from Facebook and other social media. Mercer/Bannon/Cambridge Analytica/SCL are using Nazified AI and Big Data to develop mass propaganda campaigns to turn the public against everything that isn’t Brietbartian by convincing the public that all non-Brietbartian media outlets are conspiring to lie to the public.

This is the ultimate Serpent’s Walk scenario–a Nazi Artificial Intelligence drawing on Big Data gleaned from the world’s internet and social media operations to shape public opinion, target individual users, shape search engine results and even feedback to Trump while he is giving press conferences.

And you were worried about the NSA. Worry about THIS!

“Robert Mercer: The Big Data Billionaire Waging War on Mainstream Media” Carole Cadwalladr; The Guardian; 2/26/2017.

With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing US computer scientist is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network

Just over a week ago, Donald Trump gathered members of the world’s press before him and told them they were liars. “The press, honestly, is out of control,” he said. “The public doesn’t believe you any more.” CNN was described as “very fake news… story after story is bad”. The BBC was “another beauty”.That night I did two things. First, I typed “Trump” in the search box of Twitter. My feed was reporting that he was crazy, a lunatic, a raving madman. But that wasn’t how it was playing out elsewhere. The results produced a stream of “Go Donald!!!!”, and “You show ’em!!!” There were star-spangled banner emojis and thumbs-up emojis and clips of Trump laying into the “FAKE news MSM liars!”

Trump had spoken, and his audience had heard him. Then I did what I’ve been doing for two and a half months now. I Googled “mainstream media is…” And there it was. Google’s autocomplete suggestions: “mainstream media is… dead, dying, fake news, fake, finished”. Is it dead, I wonder? Has FAKE news won? Are we now the FAKE news? Is the mainstream media – we, us, I – dying?

I click Google’s first suggested link. It leads to a website called CNSnews.com and an article: “The Mainstream media are dead.” They’re dead, I learn, because they – we, I – “cannot be trusted”. How had it, an obscure site I’d never heard of, dominated Google’s search algorithm on the topic? In the “About us” tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center, which a click later I learn is “America’s media watchdog”, an organisation that claims an “unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture”.

Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding – more than $10m in the past decade – from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. If you follow US politics you may recognise the name. Robert Mercer is the money behind Donald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mercer is the money behind an awful lot of things. He was Trump’s single biggest donor. Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money – $13.5m of it – behind the Trump campaign.

It’s money he’s made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s AI – and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all rightwing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial think tank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist.The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

Prominent rightwing journalist Andrew Breitbart, who founded the site but died in 2012, told Bannon that they had “to take back the culture”. And, arguably, they have, though American culture is only the start of it. In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UK’s forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front “in our current cultural and political war”. France and Germany are next.

But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operations”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.)

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and, so I’d read, the Leave campaign. When Mercer supported Cruz, Cambridge Analytica worked with Cruz. When Robert Mercer started supporting Trump, Cambridge Analytica came too. And where Mercer’s money is, Steve Bannon is usually close by: it was reported that until recently he had a seat on the board.

Last December, I wrote about Cambridge Analytica in a piece about how Google’s search results on certain subjects were being dominated by rightwing and extremist sites. Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, who had mapped the news ecosystem and found millions of links between rightwing sites “strangling” the mainstream media, told me that trackers from sites like Breitbart could also be used by companies like Cambridge Analytica to follow people around the web and then, via Facebook, target them with ads.
[Wow–Google and Facebook dominated by Cambridge Analytica–D.E.]

On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters – its USP is to use this data to understand people’s deepest emotions and then target them accordingly. The system, according to Albright, amounted to a “propaganda machine”.

A few weeks later, the Observer received a letter. Cambridge Analytica was not employed by the Leave campaign, it said. Cambridge Analytica “is a US company based in the US. It hasn’t worked in British politics.”

Which is how, earlier this week, I ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s affable communications director, looking at snapshots of Donald Trump on his phone. It was Wigmore who orchestrated Nigel Farage’s trip to Trump Tower – the PR coup that saw him become the first foreign politician to meet the president elect.

Wigmore scrolls through the snaps on his phone. “That’s the one I took,” he says pointing at the now globally famous photo of Farage and Trump in front of his golden elevator door giving the thumbs-up sign. Wigmore was one of the “bad boys of Brexit” – a term coined by Arron Banks, the Bristol-based businessman who was Leave.EU’s co-founder.

Cambridge Analytica had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people’s Facebook profiles. A video on YouTube shows one of Cambridge Analytica’s and SCL’s employees, Brittany Kaiser, sitting on the panel at Leave.EU’s launch event.

Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.”

It sounds creepy, I say.

“It is creepy! It’s really creepy! It’s why I’m not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school.”

They hadn’t “employed” Cambridge Analytica, he said. No money changed hands. “They were happy to help.”

Why?

Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Robert Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you.’ What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information. Why wouldn’t you?” Behind Trump’s campaign and Cambridge Analytica, he said, were “the same people. It’s the same family.”

There were already a lot of questions swirling around Cambridge Analytica, and Andy Wigmore has opened up a whole lot more. Such as: are you supposed to declare services-in-kind as some sort of donation? The Electoral Commission says yes, if it was more than £7,500. And was it declared? The Electoral Commission says no. Does that mean a foreign billionaire had possibly influenced the referendum without that influence being apparent? It’s certainly a question worth asking.

In the last month or so, articles in first the Swiss and the US press have asked exactly what Cambridge Analytica is doing with US voters’ data. In a statement to the Observer, the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “Any business collecting and using personal data in the UK must do so fairly and lawfully. We will be contacting Cambridge Analytica and asking questions to find out how the company is operating in the UK and whether the law is being followed.”

Cambridge Analytica said last Friday they are in touch with the ICO and are completely compliant with UK and EU data laws. It did not answer other questions the Observer put to it this week about how it built its psychometric model, which owes its origins to original research carried out by scientists at Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre, research based on a personality quiz on Facebook that went viral. More than 6 million people ended up doing it, producing an astonishing treasure trove of data.

These Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. Michal Kosinski, the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says Kosinski.

But there are strict ethical regulations regarding what you can do with this data. Did SCL Group have access to the university’s model or data, I ask Professor Jonathan Rust, the centre’s director? “Certainly not from us,” he says. “We have very strict rules around this.”

A scientist, Aleksandr Kogan, from the centre was contracted to build a model for SCL, and says he collected his own data. Professor Rust says he doesn’t know where Kogan’s data came from. “The evidence was contrary. I reported it.” An independent adjudicator was appointed by the university. “But then Kogan said he’d signed a non-disclosure agreement with SCL and he couldn’t continue [answering questions].”

Kogan disputes this and says SCL satisfied the university’s inquiries. But perhaps more than anyone, Professor Rust understands how the kind of information people freely give up to social media sites could be used.

“The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.”

Mercer invested in Cambridge Analytica, the Washington Post reported, “driven in part by an assessment that the right was lacking sophisticated technology capabilities”. But in many ways, it’s what Cambridge Analytica’s parent company does that raises even more questions.

Emma Briant, a propaganda specialist at the University of Sheffield, wrote about SCL Group in her 2015 book, Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change.Cambridge Analytica has the technological tools to effect behavioural and psychological change, she said, but it’s SCL that strategises it. It has specialised, at the highest level – for Nato, the MoD, the US state department and others – in changing the behaviour of large groups. It models mass populations and then it changes their beliefs.

SCL was founded by someone called Nigel Oakes, who worked for Saatchi & Saatchi on Margaret Thatcher’s image, says Briant, and the company had been “making money out of the propaganda side of the war on terrorism over a long period of time. There are different arms of SCL but it’s all about reach and the ability to shape the discourse. They are trying to amplify particular political narratives. And they are selective in who they go for: they are not doing this for the left.

In the course of the US election, Cambridge Analytica amassed a database, as it claims on its website, of almost the entire US voting population – 220 million people – and the Washington Post reported last week that SCL was increasing staffing at its Washington office and competing for lucrative new contracts with Trump’s administration. “It seems significant that a company involved in engineering a political outcome profits from what follows. Particularly if it’s the manipulation, and then resolution, of fear,” says Briant.

It’s the database, and what may happen to it, that particularly exercises Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a Swiss mathematician and data activist who has been investigating Cambridge Analytica and SCL for more than a year. “How is it going to be used?” he says. “Is it going to be used to try and manipulate people around domestic policies? Or to ferment conflict between different communities? It is potentially very scary. People just don’t understand the power of this data and how it can be used against them.”

There are two things, potentially, going on simultaneously: the manipulation of information on a mass level, and the manipulation of information at a very individual level. Both based on the latest understandings in science about how people work, and enabled by technological platforms built to bring us together.

Are we living in a new era of propaganda, I ask Emma Briant? One we can’t see, and that is working on us in ways we can’t understand? Where we can only react, emotionally, to its messages? “Definitely. The way that surveillance through technology is so pervasive, the collection and use of our data is so much more sophisticated. It’s totally covert. And people don’t realise what is going on.”

Public mood and politics goes through cycles. You don’t have to subscribe to any conspiracy theory, Briant says, to see that a mass change in public sentiment is happening. Or that some of the tools in action are straight out of the military’s or SCL’s playbook.

But then there’s increasing evidence that our public arenas – the social media sites where we post our holiday snaps or make comments about the news – are a new battlefield where international geopolitics is playing out in real time. It’s a new age of propaganda. But whose? This week, Russia announced the formation of a new branch of the military: “information warfare troops”.

Sam Woolley of the Oxford Internet Institute’s computational propaganda institute tells me that one third of all traffic on Twitter before the EU referendum was automated “bots” – accounts that are programmed to look like people, to act like people, and to change the conversation, to make topics trend. And they were all for Leave. Before the US election, they were five-to-one in favour of Trump – many of them Russian. Last week they have been in action in the Stoke byelection – Russian bots, organised by who? – attacking Paul Nuttall.

You can take a trending topic, such as fake news, and then weaponise it, turn it against the media that uncovered it

“Politics is war,” said Steve Bannon last year in the Wall Street Journal. And increasingly this looks to be true.

There’s nothing accidental about Trump’s behaviour, Andy Wigmore tells me. “That press conference. It was absolutely brilliant. I could see exactly what he was doing. There’s feedback going on constantly. That’s what you can do with artificial intelligence. You can measure every reaction to every word. He has a word room, where you fix key words. We did it. So with immigration, there are actually key words within that subject matter which people are concerned about. So when you are going to make a speech, it’s all about how can you use these trending words.”

Wigmore met with Trump’s team right at the start of the Leave campaign. “And they said the holy grail was artificial intelligence.”

Who did?

“Jared Kushner and Jason Miller.

Later, when Trump picked up Mercer and Cambridge Analytica, the game changed again. “It’s all about the emotions. This is the big difference with what we did. They call it bio-psycho-social profiling. It takes your physical, mental and lifestyle attributes and works out how people work, how they react emotionally.”

Bio-psycho-social profiling, I read later, is one offensive in what is called “cognitive warfare”. Though there are many others: “recoding the mass consciousness to turn patriotism into collaborationism,” explains a Nato briefing document on countering Russian disinformation written by an SCL employee. “Time-sensitive professional use of media to propagate narratives,” says one US state department white paper. “Of particular importance to psyop personnel may be publicly and commercially available data from social media platforms.”

Yet another details the power of a “cognitive casualty” – a “moral shock” that “has a disabling effect on empathy and higher processes such as moral reasoning and critical thinking”. Something like immigration, perhaps. Or “fake news”. Or as it has now become: “FAKE news!!!!”

How do you change the way a nation thinks? You could start by creating a mainstream media to replace the existing one with a site such as Breitbart. [Serpent’s Walk scenario with Breitbart becoming “the opinion forming media”!–D.E.] You could set up other websites that displace mainstream sources of news and information with your own definitions of concepts like “liberal media bias”, like CNSnews.com. And you could give the rump mainstream media, papers like the “failing New York Times!” what it wants: stories. Because the third prong of Mercer and Bannon’s media empire is the Government Accountability Institute.

Bannon co-founded it with $2m of Mercer’s money. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, was appointed to the board. Then they invested in expensive, long-term investigative journalism. “The modern economics of the newsroom don’t support big investigative reporting staffs,” Bannon told Forbes magazine. “You wouldn’t get a Watergate, a Pentagon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend seven months on a story. We can. We’re working as a support function.”

Welcome to the future of journalism in the age of platform capitalism. News organisations have to do a better job of creating new financial models. But in the gaps in between, a determined plutocrat and a brilliant media strategist can, and have, found a way to mould journalism to their own ends.

In 2015, Steve Bannon described to Forbes how the GAI operated, employing a data scientist to trawl the dark web (in the article he boasts of having access to $1.3bn worth of supercomputers) to dig up the kind of source material Google can’t find. One result has been a New York Times bestseller, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, written by GAI’s president, Peter Schweizer and later turned into a film produced by Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon.

This, Bannon explained, is how you “weaponise” the narrative you want. With hard researched facts. With those, you can launch it straight on to the front page of the New York Times, as the story of Hillary Clinton’s cash did. Like Hillary’s emails it turned the news agenda, and, most crucially, it diverted the attention of the news cycle. Another classic psyops approach. “Strategic drowning” of other messages.

This is a strategic, long-term and really quite brilliant play. In the 1990s, Bannon explained, conservative media couldn’t take Bill Clinton down because “they wound up talking to themselves in an echo chamber”.

As, it turns out, the liberal media is now. We are scattered, separate, squabbling among ourselves and being picked off like targets in a shooting gallery. Increasingly, there’s a sense that we are talking to ourselves. And whether it’s Mercer’s millions or other factors, Jonathan Albright’s map of the news and information ecosystem shows how rightwing sites are dominating sites like YouTube and Google, bound tightly together by millions of links.

Is there a central intelligence to that, I ask Albright? “There has to be. There has to be some type of coordination. You can see from looking at the map, from the architecture of the system, that this is not accidental. It’s clearly being led by money and politics.”

There’s been a lot of talk in the echo chamber about Bannon in the last few months, but it’s Mercer who provided the money to remake parts of the media landscape. And while Bannon understands the media, Mercer understands big data. He understands the structure of the internet. He knows how algorithms work.

Robert Mercer did not respond to a request for comment for this piece. Nick Patterson, a British cryptographer, who worked at Renaissance Technologies in the 80s and is now a computational geneticist at MIT, described to me how he was the one who talent-spotted Mercer. “There was an elite group working at IBM in the 1980s doing speech research, speech recognition, and when I joined Renaissance I judged that the mathematics we were trying to apply to financial markets were very similar.”

He describes Mercer as “very, very conservative. He truly did not like the Clintons. He thought Bill Clinton was a criminal. And his basic politics, I think, was that he’s a rightwing libertarian, he wants the government out of things.”

He suspects that Mercer is bringing the brilliant computational skills he brought to finance to bear on another very different sphere. “We make mathematical models of the financial markets which are probability models, and from those we try and make predictions. What I suspect Cambridge Analytica do is that they build probability models of how people vote. And then they look at what they can do to influence that.”

Finding the edge is what quants do. They build quantitative models that automate the process of buying and selling shares and then they chase tiny gaps in knowledge to create huge wins. Renaissance Technologies was one of the first hedge funds to invest in AI. But what it does with it, how it’s been programmed to do it, is completely unknown. It is, Bloomberg reports, the “blackest box in finance”.

Johan Bollen, associate professor at Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing, tells me how he discovered one possible edge: he’s done research that shows you can predict stock market moves from Twitter. You can measure public sentiment and then model it. “Society is driven by emotions, which it’s always been difficult to measure, collectively. But there are now programmes that can read text and measure it and give us a window into those collective emotions.”

The research caused a huge ripple among two different constituencies. “We had a lot attention from hedge funds. They are looking for signals everywhere and this is a hugely interesting signal. My impression is hedge funds do have these algorithms that are scanning social feeds. The flash crashes we’ve had – sudden huge drops in stock prices – indicates these algorithms are being used at large scale. And they are engaged in something of an arms race.”

The other people interested in Bollen’s work are those who want not only to measure public sentiment, but to change it. Bollen’s research shows how it’s possible. Could you reverse engineer the national, or even the global, mood? Model it, and then change it?

“It does seem possible. And it does worry me. There are quite a few pieces of research that show if you repeat something often enough, people start involuntarily to believe it. And that could be leveraged, or weaponised for propaganda. We know there are thousands of automated bots out there that are trying to do just that.”

The war of the bots is one of the wilder and weirder aspects of the elections of 2016. At the Oxford Internet Institute’s Unit for Computational Propaganda, its director, Phil Howard, and director of research, Sam Woolley, show me all the ways public opinion can be massaged and manipulated. But is there a smoking gun, I ask them, evidence of who is doing this? “There’s not a smoking gun,” says Howard. “There are smoking machine guns. There are multiple pieces of evidence.”

“Look at this,” he says and shows me how, before the US election, hundreds upon hundreds of websites were set up to blast out just a few links, articles that were all pro-Trump. “This is being done by people who understand information structure, who are bulk buying domain names and then using automation to blast out a certain message. To make Trump look like he’s a consensus.”

And that requires money?

“That requires organisation and money. And if you use enough of them, of bots and people, and cleverly link them together, you are what’s legitimate. You are creating truth.”

You can take an existing trending topic, such as fake news, and then weaponise it. You can turn it against the very media that uncovered it. Viewed in a certain light, fake news is a suicide bomb at the heart of our information system. Strapped to the live body of us – the mainstream media.

One of the things that concerns Howard most is the hundreds of thousands of “sleeper” bots they’ve found. Twitter accounts that have tweeted only once or twice and are now sitting quietly waiting for a trigger: some sort of crisis where they will rise up and come together to drown out all other sources of information.

Like zombies?

“Like zombies.” . . .

2. Here’s a reminder that Steve Bannon’s vision of an international network of Breitbart branches pushing a far-right, pro-corporatist ethno-nationalist agenda – in other words, corporatist globalism with an ethno-nationalist patina – isn’t limited to Breitbart’s expansion into Europe. Breitbart India is on the agenda too and has been for a while.

This dynamic also bears examination in the context of Tulsi Gabbard, one of the driving forces behind the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and a networking partner of Bannon, Modi, the BJP and the RSS. (We discussed Gabbard in FTR #’s 941, 942 and 945.)

In FTR #795, we noted that Narendra Modi was politically evolved from the Hindu nationalist/fascist milieu of the RSS. (An “alumnus” of that political environment murdered Gandhi.) In addition, we have seen that Modi’s election was heavily buttressed by Ebay’s Pierre Omidyar, who has underwritten Glenn Greenwald’s recent journalistic ventures and partially bankrolled the 2014 Ukraine coup that brought the heirs of the OUN/B to power.

For an overview of the resonance between the RSS/BJP and Italian and German fascism, check out this post.

“Inside Steve Bannon’s Failed Breitbart India Scheme” by Asawin Suebsaeng; The Daily Beast; 3/02/2017.

Before he was the president’s right-hand man, Steve Bannon was bent on world domination of a different kind.

If Stephen K. Bannon had had his way, there would already be a Breitbart India.

Well before he entered the Trump White House with an eye toward influencing and affecting foreign policy, Bannon was already trying to wield his Breitbart media empire to influence the politics of foreign democracies, in favor of right-wing nationalist upheavals.

Until he became President Trump’s chief strategist, Bannon was on a mission to open new Breitbart operations in several European countries. According to multiple reports, he wanted these foreign offices opened for the purpose of backing nationalist, anti-immigrant political parties such as the National Front in France.

Another country Bannon had eyed for setting up shop was India, so his right-wing news and propaganda network could lend its support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, another nationalist, hugely controversial figure whom Bannon has come to admire greatly.

“On November 17 2015, I sat opposite Steve Bannon in [a New York City] office as he asked me if I’d be interested in starting Breitbart India,” Mumbai-based writer Amit Varma wrote in a little-noticed blog post late last year.

“A lady who was one of the funders of [Breitbart], and of certain leaders in the Republican Party, got in touch with [others] to ask if she could meet me. (It’s not fair of me to name her because she’s not really a public figure.),” Varma continued. “She’d been impressed by my speech, and thus this meeting [with her and Bannon].”

Though Varma declined to name the “lady,” two sources, who requested anonymity, with knowledge of the meeting confirmed to The Daily Beast that the woman present in the room with Bannon was in fact Rebekah Mercer, the Republican megadonor with deep ties to Trump and Bannon. Last week, Breitbart confirmed that the Mercer family does in fact co-own Breitbart.

Mercer did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Neither did Bannon.

Varma blogged that he “didn’t know much about Breitbart” or the American alt-right, though he knew right off the bat that launching Breitbart India wasn’t the gig for him. Breitbart was a conservative vehicle, both in the United States and at its offshoots abroad. Varma identifies as a pro-immigration, pro-gay-rights libertarian. Moreover, he says that he advised them that there wasn’t even a point to having a website like Breitbart colonize India.

“It’s incongruent,” he recalled telling Bannon and Mercer. “There is no analog of American conservatism in India. The Indian right is driven by bigotry and nativism, with no deeper guiding philosophy behind it. [Consider the irony of these words.] You will not find any Burkean conservatives here. Don’t come.”

“Well, we think that Modi is India’s Reagan,” Bannon replied, according to Varma.

Varma writes that he “laughed” in Bannon’s face when he said that, and had to tell them that “Modi was no Reagan.”

Subsequently, “the lady” present attempted to convince Varma that she was “actually” a libertarian, as well, before launching into “diatribes” against same-sex marriage and “immigrants in America, and how the cultural fabric of Europe was being torn apart by their immigrants.”

Following Trump’s election-night upset, Varma wrote that he is “still glad that I didn’t explore their offer further. I could have been somewhat richer, maybe even influential, if I’d taken it up—but I sleep well at night now, and that’s what matters.”

In a brief phone conversation, Varma told The Daily Beast that he did not wish to comment further than what he wrote in his original post, but added that he found Bannon to be warm and “very nice to me.”

Modi is a controversial nationalist, right-wing leader. The U.S., along with England and other Western countries, had imposed a visa ban on him after human-rights organizations implicated Modi in a 2002 slaughter of Muslims in his state. The Indian Supreme Court eventually exonerated Modi years later, but by then many witnesses had been tampered with, had died, or had been killed.

During a conference held inside the Vatican in 2014, Bannon praised Modi, a Hindu nationalist, for being at the center of a transnational “revolt.”

“That center-right revolt is really a global revolt,” Bannon said, according to BuzzFeed. “I think you’re going to see it in Latin America, I think you’re going to see it in Asia, I think you’ve already seen it in India. Modi’s great victory was very much based on these Reaganesque principles, so I think this is a global revolt, and we are very fortunate and proud to be the news site that is reporting that throughout the world.”

The intersection of pro-Modi and pro-Trump sentiments within Trump’s inner political circle didn’t stop there. The Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC), which was very supportive of Trump’s presidential campaign and was favorably covered on Breitbart multiple times, has been in close contact with Bannon, via its leader and GOP donor Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar.

In mid-October of last year shortly before the election, Kumar organized an RHC event in New Jersey featuring and celebrating Donald J. Trump. The event also included Kumar, as well as “Bollywood Stars, and major Hindu spiritual leaders,” according to the invitation.

Kumar, chairman of the Republican Hindu Coalition, told The Daily Beast this week, that Bannon worked with him to get the event planned around the Republican presidential nominee’s busy schedule.

“I have had several interfaces with [Steve Bannon] in person, as well as over the phone and over email,” Kumar said.

Kumar said that he first met Bannon in late August 2016, and that he was a “very, very nice guy”—not the the “rude, angry-type person” he had seen portrayed in the news. During his August visit to Trump Tower to plan the Bollywood-tinged, pro-Trump event, Kumar met with Kellyanne Conway and Bannon.

“Generally, we were talking about the reaching-out to Hindu Americans, and [Bannon] was all for it—I do remember him being interested in talking to the powers at be from India,” Kumar recalled. “At the end of the meeting, Kellyanne had to disappear for a moment into a different room, and I had forgotten to ask her some questions… So Steve went with me from room, to room, to room [in Trump Tower] to find her to get my questions answered.”

Kumar said he chatted with Bannon multiple times regarding the importance of a “nationalist economy,” Indian politics, and taking “tough stands against radical Islamic terrorism.”

“[Steve] had a clear philosophy that you could still be in nationalism, and still be a global power,” he continued.

Kumar says he is still in touch with Bannon, and communicated as recently as last month. When asked about the former Breitbart chief’s plans to try to mount a Breitbart India, Kumar said he had not heard about them, but that it “would be great” if Breitbart did do that.

“Steve Bannon is the guy who straightened out the Trump campaign in August,” the Indian-American businessman said. “He almost seemed like a military commander… One of my favorite guys in history is Gen. Patton, and—you know—he could be like Gen. Patton.”

3. Another example of the global nature of the “Alt-Right’s” attempts to rebrand far-right ideologies. Check out the image on the main banner used in a Lithuanian far-right march celebrating the WWII pro-Nazi collaborationist Kazys Skirpa: Pepe the frog. Or, more precisely, Kazy Skirpa as Pepe the frog.

“ . . . The banner also included a quote attributed to the Pepe-like portrait of Skirpa, an envoy of the pro-Nazi movement in Lithuania to Berlin, that read ‘Lithuania will contribute to new and better European order.’ . . . ”

As we can see, the “Alt-Right” Pepe-fication of Europe is well underway, and it’s going to include Europe’s many WWII historical revisionism movements: all of those Nazi collaborators were actually misunderstood freedom fighters. Here’s a fun “Alt-Right” meme about them. But don’t call them Nazis.

“Lithuanian Nationalists Celebrate Holocaust-era Quisling, Pepe the Frog Near Execution Site:” Jewish Telegraph Agency; 2/17/2017.

Lithuanian ultranationalists marched near execution sites of Jews with banners celebrating a pro-Nazi collaborationist who called for ethnic cleansing and a symbol popular with members of the U.S. “alt-right” movement.

Approximately 170 people attended Thursday’s annual march in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city that is also known as Kovno, the website Defending History reported.

The main banner featured a picture of the collaborationist Kazys Skirpa modified to resemble Pepe the Frog, a cartoon figure that was used by hate groups in the United States during the 2016 presidential elections, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The banner also included a quote attributed to the Pepe-like portrait of Skirpa, an envoy of the pro-Nazi movement in Lithuania to Berlin, that read “Lithuania will contribute to new and better European order.”

Skirpa, who has a street named for him in Kaunas, “elevated anti-Semitism to a political level” that “could have encouraged a portion of Lithuania’s residents to get involved in the Holocaust,” the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania asserted in 2015. But Skirpa “proposed to solve ‘the Jewish problem’ not by genocide but by the method of expulsion from Lithuania,” the center said.

The procession passed near the Lietovus Garage, where in 1941 locals butchered dozens of Jews. Thousands more were killed in an around Kaunas by local collaborators of the Nazis and by German soldiers in the following months.

“Kaunas is ground zero of the Lithuanian Holocaust,” Dovid Katz, a U.S.-born scholar and the founder of Defending History, told JTA on Friday. He condemned local authorities for allowing the march by “folks who glorify the very Holocaust-collaborators, theoreticians and perpetrators who unleashed the genocide locally.” Katz was one of five people who attended the march to protest and document it.

Lithuania is the only country that officially defines its domination by the former Soviet Union as a form of genocide. The name of the state-funded entity that wrote about Skirpa in 2005 refers both to the Holocaust and the so-called Soviet occupation.

The Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, which until 2011 did not mention the more than 200,000 Lithuanian Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust, was established in 1992 to memorialize Lithuanians killed by the Nazi, but mostly Soviet, states.

 

Discussion

3 comments for “FTR #949 Walkin’ the Snake with Breitbart, Part 2”

  1. Hi Dave, This post is amazing and so timely, I was surprised to see it since this is all I’ve been focused on for the last two weeks. I just finished a short doc about Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 election.

    Please share if you’d like!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nnYwsj5BWk

    best, Kris

    Posted by Kris Kelvin | March 11, 2017, 7:12 pm
  2. Here’s an article about a topic that’s only going to be increasingly topical as the science of artificial intelligence continues to advance while humanity’s political paradigms continue to regress and far-right authoritarianism consolidates its grip in societies across the globe: Microsoft research Kate Crawford gave a speech about her research on the social impact of machine learning and large-scale data system at the SXSW conference. The take home message? That fascists and other authoritarians are going to LOVE artificial intelligence. In particular AI systems that combine with Big Data and promise to do things like watch over a populace and identify potential criminals. Or maybe subtly target individuals to change their opinions. Or create various population databases and registries. Or whatever else they can think of to keep a population under control.

    In other words, by delegating powers to Bid Data-driven AIs those AIs could become fascist’s dream: Incredible power over the lives of others with minimal accountability:

    The Guardian

    Artificial intelligence is ripe for abuse, tech researcher warns: ‘a fascist’s dream’

    Microsoft’s Kate Crawford tells SXSW that society must prepare for authoritarian movements to test the ‘power without accountability’ of AI

    Olivia Solon in Austin, Texas

    Monday 13 March 2017 07.30 EDT

    As artificial intelligence becomes more powerful, people need to make sure it’s not used by authoritarian regimes to centralize power and target certain populations, Microsoft Research’s Kate Crawford warned on Sunday.

    In her SXSW session, titled Dark Days: AI and the Rise of Fascism, Crawford, who studies the social impact of machine learning and large-scale data systems, explained ways that automated systems and their encoded biases can be misused, particularly when they fall into the wrong hands.

    “Just as we are seeing a step function increase in the spread of AI, something else is happening: the rise of ultra-nationalism, rightwing authoritarianism and fascism,” she said.

    All of these movements have shared characteristics, including the desire to centralize power, track populations, demonize outsiders and claim authority and neutrality without being accountable. Machine intelligence can be a powerful part of the power playbook, she said.

    One of the key problems with artificial intelligence is that it is often invisibly coded with human biases. She described a controversial piece of research from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, where authors claimed to have developed a system that could predict criminality based on someone’s facial features. The machine was trained on Chinese government ID photos, analyzing the faces of criminals and non-criminals to identify predictive features. The researchers claimed it was free from bias.

    “We should always be suspicious when machine learning systems are described as free from bias if it’s been trained on human-generated data,” Crawford said. “Our biases are built into that training data.”

    In the Chinese research it turned out that the faces of criminals were more unusual than those of law-abiding citizens. “People who had dissimilar faces were more likely to be seen as untrustworthy by police and judges. That’s encoding bias,” Crawford said. “This would be a terrifying system for an autocrat to get his hand on.”

    Crawford then outlined the “nasty history” of people using facial features to “justify the unjustifiable”. The principles of phrenology, a pseudoscience that developed across Europe and the US in the 19th century, were used as part of the justification of both slavery and the Nazi persecution of Jews.

    With AI this type of discrimination can be masked in a black box of algorithms, as appears to be the case with a company called Faceception, for instance, a firm that promises to profile people’s personalities based on their faces. In its own marketing material, the company suggests that Middle Eastern-looking people with beards are “terrorists”, while white looking women with trendy haircuts are “brand promoters”.

    Another area where AI can be misused is in building registries, which can then be used to target certain population groups. Crawford noted historical cases of registry abuse, including IBM’s role in enabling Nazi Germany to track Jewish, Roma and other ethnic groups with the Hollerith Machine, and the Book of Life used in South Africa during apartheid.

    Donald Trump has floated the idea of creating a Muslim registry. “We already have that. Facebook has become the default Muslim registry of the world,” Crawford said, mentioning research from Cambridge University that showed it is possible to predict people’s religious beliefs based on what they “like” on the social network. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82% of cases, and similar results were achieved for Democrats and Republicans (85%). That study was concluded in 2013, since when AI has made huge leaps.

    Crawford was concerned about the potential use of AI in predictive policing systems, which already gather the kind of data necessary to train an AI system. Such systems are flawed, as shown by a Rand Corporation study of Chicago’s program. The predictive policing did not reduce crime, but did increase harassment of people in “hotspot” areas. Earlier this year the justice department concluded that Chicago’s police had for years regularly used “unlawful force”, and that black and Hispanic neighborhoods were most affected.

    Another worry related to the manipulation of political beliefs or shifting voters, something Facebook and Cambridge Analytica claim they can already do. Crawford was skeptical about giving Cambridge Analytica credit for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but thinks what the firm promises – using thousands of data points on people to work out how to manipulate their views – will be possible “in the next few years”.

    “This is a fascist’s dream,” she said. “Power without accountability.”

    Such black box systems are starting to creep into government. Palantir is building an intelligence system to assist Donald Trump in deporting immigrants.

    “It’s the most powerful engine of mass deportation this country has ever seen,” she said.

    ““This is a fascist’s dream,” she said. “Power without accountability.””

    Yep, and note how much of that fascist dream is already reality:


    Donald Trump has floated the idea of creating a Muslim registry. “We already have that. Facebook has become the default Muslim registry of the world,” Crawford said, mentioning research from Cambridge University that showed it is possible to predict people’s religious beliefs based on what they “like” on the social network. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82% of cases, and similar results were achieved for Democrats and Republicans (85%). That study was concluded in 2013, since when AI has made huge leaps.

    Crawford was concerned about the potential use of AI in predictive policing systems, which already gather the kind of data necessary to train an AI system. Such systems are flawed, as shown by a Rand Corporation study of Chicago’s program. The predictive policing did not reduce crime, but did increase harassment of people in “hotspot” areas. Earlier this year the justice department concluded that Chicago’s police had for years regularly used “unlawful force”, and that black and Hispanic neighborhoods were most affected.

    Another worry related to the manipulation of political beliefs or shifting voters, something Facebook and Cambridge Analytica claim they can already do. Crawford was skeptical about giving Cambridge Analytica credit for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but thinks what the firm promises – using thousands of data points on people to work out how to manipulate their views – will be possible “in the next few years”.

    Such black box systems are starting to creep into government. Palantir is building an intelligence system to assist Donald Trump in deporting immigrants.

    “It’s the most powerful engine of mass deportation this country has ever seen,” she said.

    And you have love this part: “Crawford was skeptical about giving Cambridge Analytica credit for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but thinks what the firm promises – using thousands of data points on people to work out how to manipulate their views – will be possible “in the next few years”.” So if Crawford is correct, the potential power of Cambridge Analytica to psychoanalyze the masses and shape public opinion (for the benefit of Donald Trump) is all hype…for now. But in the next few years it might not be just hype. At least that’s where she sees the technology at this point. Trump isn’t even fully harnessing the power of AI-driven opinion-shaping yet but he just might have that power by the next election.

    In other words, we’re already living in that AI-driven fascist dream but this is just the first phase of that dream so we haven’t really noticed it yet. The full-blown nightmare phase is yet to come. But it’s coming.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 14, 2017, 2:46 pm
  3. Here’s a strange mystery surrounding Breitbart News and the Mercers: So Breitbart wants to be admitted to the big boy political journalism club and become a credentialed member of the Senate Daily Press Gallery, which would put them on par with outlets like The New York Times and USA TODAY in terms of press access in the Capital. But in order to that, Breitbart has to engage in something it clearly has had no interesting in doing to date: transparency in things like who actually owns Breibart. And as the article below notes, Breitbart is loathe to do so. But they are at least willing to acknowledge that the Mercer family are co-owners. But they refuse to say which members of the Mercer family are actual owners. So who knows why Breitbart is so hesitant to say which Mercer is a partial owner but it’s pretty clear they don’t want that specific info divulged. It’s a mystery. A possibly pointless mystery, but a mystery nonetheless:

    USA TODAY

    Steve Bannon’s rise forces Breitbart News out of the shadows, and the basement

    Paul Singer
    Published 10:26 a.m. ET March 23, 2017 | Updated

    WASHINGTON — Breitbart News has stepped out of the fringes of American politics and is now, quite literally, moving out of the basement as well.

    The bare-knuckled conservative news organization has moved its office out of the house where former chief Steve Bannon lived, has begun to reluctantly disclose its ownership, and, in its quest for official recognition, may even go so far as to publicly declare who runs the place.

    Breitbart has for the past several years operated, basically, out of Bannon’s house. Bannon was the executive chairman of Breitbart News and the ideological engine behind the site’s bareknuckled anti-immigration, anti-government ideology. He and the site both operated out of a townhouse on Capitol Hill a couple of blocks behind the Supreme Court. It became known as the “Breitbart Embassy,” site of lavish parties upstairs and the typing of a staff of young reporters downstairs, whom Bannon  referred to as "the Valkyries."

    But then Bannon became Trump’s campaign manager last summer and is now chief strategist in the White House.

    Breitbart is rising with Bannon and is now trying to become a credentialed member of the Senate Daily Press Gallery, joining The New York Times, USA TODAY and other mainstream news outlets. This would given them access to the Capitol that is on par with congressional staff. It would also allow them to participate in White House “pools,” providing coverage of events to the rest of the press corps when space for reporters is limited.

    But membership in that club requires a level of transparency Breitbart News has long shunned. The office location is the first hurdle. Breitbart News has declared the Breitbart Embassy as its office address, but that is not really true.

    Washington, D.C., property records show the building it is owned by Moustafa El-Gindy, a former Egyptian member of Parliament who has occasionally been quoted in Breitbart news stories. El-Gindy is receiving a homestead deduction on the property, a $72,000 tax credit that requires the owner to maintain residence in the building. He could not be located for comment on this story.

    Breitbart CEO Larry Solov told the Senate press gallery that the company has a soon-to-expire lease in the building for corporate housing, offices and entertainment. But zoning rules for the block do not allow commercial leases.

    “That area of Capitol Hill is zoned only for residential uses, with a very narrow set of ‘home occupation’ exceptions allowing a resident (as opposed to a rotating group of occasional visitors) to work as an in-home tailor, music tutor, doctor, or the like, or to run a small bed & breakfast,” said Mark Eckenwiler, longtime chair of the zoning committee for the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the city government unit for that area.

    The uses Solov described to the press gallery “appear to violate the D.C. zoning regulations applicable to that location,” Eckenwiler said. Since the lease is not public, it is impossible to know whether the terms meet the neighborhoods restrictions.

    When Breitbart does get a new office, it will presumably make the address more public than the current address, which appears nowhere on the Breitbart news site. The site also provides no phone number and no way to contact the editors or reporters.

    Beyond the address, Breitbart’s application for press credentials is also shining new light on the company’s management and ownership structure.

    The site offers no “masthead,” the roster of editors and managers that news organizations traditionally publish in print editions or post on their websites. Solov told the Standing Committee of Correspondents last month that he would consider producing a masthead, but it still has not appeared on the site.

    The bigger question is who owns the site, a piece of information Solov admitted he was loath to disclose.

    The press gallery rules state that to qualify, a reporter “must not be engaged in any lobbying or paid advocacy, advertising, publicity or promotion work for any individual, political party, corporation, organization, or agency of the U.S. Government, or in prosecuting any claim before Congress or any federal government department, and will not do so while a member of the Daily Press Galleries. Applicants’ publications must be editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government, or that is not principally a general news organization.”

    Solov reluctantly told the Standing Committee in February that Breitbart is partly owned by the Mercer family,, one the largest sources of money behind committees supporting President Trump’s campaign last year. Solov would not say which of the Mercers was an owner. Rebekah Mercer helped persuade Trump to hire Bannon as campaign CEO last summer, and she served on the executive committee of Trump’s transition team after the election.

    Solov also told the committee that Bannon resigned from Breitbart last fall, shortly after the election, but was unable to provide any formal documentation to that effect. He said Bannon simply called him to say he is stepping down. The Standing Committee has asked for more details before its next meeting on Friday.

    And while Solov says Bannon is no longer connected to Breitbart News, his influence clearly still lingers at the Breitbart Embassy.

    Answering the door at the Breitbart Embassy on Monday was Dan Fleuette, who lists himself on LinkedIn as vice president of production of Victory Film Group, Bannon’s political film enterprise. Fleuette shares screenwriting and production credits on several Bannon films, including the 2016 film Clinton Cash. Fleuette has also written for Breitbart News, largely as a sports columnist, but he said he is not on staff now.

    “The bigger question is who owns the site, a piece of information Solov admitted he was loath to disclose.”

    So Breitbart CEO Larry Solov really doesn’t want to reveal that the Mercer clan are investors. And even after that disclosure he still won’t say which Mercer:


    Solov reluctantly told the Standing Committee in February that Breitbart is partly owned by the Mercer family,, one the largest sources of money behind committees supporting President Trump’s campaign last year. Solov would not say which of the Mercers was an owner. Rebekah Mercer helped persuade Trump to hire Bannon as campaign CEO last summer, and she served on the executive committee of Trump’s transition team after the election.

    And this is despite the fact that it’s basically a choice of 1. Robert Mercer. 2. His daughter Rebekah. 3. Both of them. 4. Some other mystery Mercer.

    So unless it’s some other mystery Mercer it’s a pretty pointless mystery. Although there’s still a mystery as to how much of Breitbart the Mercers own. And based on Solov’s testimony to the Standing Committee in February, it wouldn’t be surprising of the Mercers’ share was quite large since Solov told the committee that Breitbart has just three owners: Larry Solov, Susie Breitbart (Andrew Breitbart’s widow), and the Mercers. That, according to Solov’s testimony, is it:

    USA TODAY

    CEO confirms Mercers, top GOP donors, are part owners of Breitbart

    Paul Singer
    Published 4:04 p.m. ET Feb. 24, 2017 | Updated 4:23 p.m. ET Feb. 24, 2017

    Breitbart News Network CEO Larry Solov acknowledged Friday that the Mercer family — top Republican donors and key backers of President Trump’s campaign — are part owners of the controversial news site, but he said they have no editorial role.

    Presidential adviser Steve Bannon has resigned his editorial and financial roles with the site, Solov said, but there is no formal paperwork to that effect.

    The ownership of Breitbart has been a closely guarded secret, and Solov said he was reluctant to disclose it publicly. Breitbart is applying for press credentials through the Senate Daily Press Gallery, and the Standing Committee of Correspondents that serve as the gallery leadership had requested information about the site’s ownership to ensure Breitbart meets the gallery’s requirements for editorial independence.

    The press gallery rules state that to qualify, a reporter “must not be engaged in any lobbying or paid advocacy, advertising, publicity or promotion work for any individual, political party, corporation, organization, or agency of the U.S. Government, or in prosecuting any claim before Congress or any federal government department, and will not do so while a member of the Daily Press Galleries. Applicants’ publications must be editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government, or that is not principally a general news organization.”

    Solov told the committee Friday that the three owners are him, the Mercer family and Andrew Breitbart’s widow, Susie.

    Last August, after Bannon joined the Trump campaign, Breitbart announced that Bannon had taken a temporary leave of absence, but the committee had asked for more details about Bannon’s relationship with the site. Solov said that Bannon called him shortly after the election to resign from the company, and that it is a total severing of ties, but he said there is no written documentation of his resignation, and he could not provide an exact date for the conversation. Solov said he would be willing to write a letter stating that Bannon has left the company.

    Solov told the committee that as a private limited liability corporation, “I want to disclose as little as possible about our financial and ownership structure.” But he also said he understood the gallery’s need to understand who owns Breitbart and who makes editorial decisions. The site has never had a masthead like a traditional news operation, listing top editors and managers, but Solov appeared willing to provide that to the gallery as well.

    Getting credentials in the press gallery is not a requirement for reporters to cover Congress — Breitbart reporters already run the halls of the Capitol with the rest of the press pack — but it provides some prerogatives for reporters covering news events on Capitol Hill and makes it much easier to get around. A Senate press pass also can be a steppingstone to getting a White House press pass.

    “Solov told the committee Friday that the three owners are him, the Mercer family and Andrew Breitbart’s widow, Susie.”

    So while we don’t know exactly how much of Breitbart the Mercers own, we know the ownership is divided between those three entities. And based on how much the Mercers invested and when they made that investment, it’s a pretty safe bet that the Mercers own a lot of Breitbart since they reportedly invested $10 million back in 2011 when the site was struggling:

    Bloomberg Politics

    What Kind of Man Spends Millions to Elect Ted Cruz?

    Robert Mercer is one of the wealthiest, most secretive, influential, and reactionary Republicans in the country.

    by Zachary Mider
    Jan 20, 2016 4:45 AM CST

    Breitbart.com, which devoted at least six stories to the summit, has proven to be one of Mercer’s better political wagers. He invested $10 million in the media outlet when it was struggling in 2011, according to a person with knowledge of the transaction. Since then, its audience has exploded. In December it announced its billionth page view of the year.

    “He invested $10 million in the media outlet when it was struggling in 2011, according to a person with knowledge of the transaction. Since then, its audience has exploded. In December it announced its billionth page view of the year.”

    That sure sounds like the Mercers got to invest at a moment when Breitbart was extra cheap. It also sounds like Robert Mercer is the one doing the investing since the report says “He invested $10 million…”. If so, we may have solved the pointless mystery of precisely which Mercer did the actual investing. Yay?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 23, 2017, 3:05 pm

Post a comment