Mimetic warfare is typically reserved for overseas actors, or in McAuliffe’s case to split and divide his opposition in a last ditch attempt to rescue a failing campaign.
By Shaun Kenney
I have an old campaign war story to share.
Once upon a time, a candidate in an unspecified state did something phenomenally stupid. So we had a story written on that phenomenally stupid thing. No big deal — bad stories get used in the press all the time.
What we then did was geolocate the campaign headquarters, the candidate’s home, and place of work and dump about $10 into each zip code for impressions on a very narrow gauge where we knew the interests would coincide. The result would be the impression that someone had dumped thousands of dollars in ads when in truth, we weren’t interested in CTR at all. We just wanted these guys to panic.
It totally worked.
Later we discovered that the campaign ended up dropping a solid $30,000 fending off what they thought was a well-orchestrated hit piece. Of course, it was well orchestrated. It just wasn’t expensive to do.
Welcome to the world of information warfare.
Believe it or not, this is a more common phenomenon than folks realize. We do this to governments all the time (since the 1950s) with press stories and journals. We do it to governments in theaters of war for the past 15 years with the advent of Facebook and Twitter.
Overthrowing the Egyptian government in 2011? Entirely Twitter. Much of what you think you know about COVID-19? Might be fueled by the Chinese and Russian government. The Australian government is presently struggling with this phenomenon as China continues to attempt to destabilize a parliamentary democracy on the world’s rim as a warning to the rest of us.
McAuliffe Plays The Game of Mimetic Warfare — On The Second Amendment
It is probably not worth rehashing that Glenn Youngkin is Rambo when it comes to the Second Amendment, despite having campaigned as 100% pro-life and 100% pro-2A. More like the guy bringing the ammo crate for the rest of us to do the hard work to make it easier for others to be pro-2A and pro-life — I digress.
Whether we want to chalk Youngkin’s shift up to pure positioning or whether this really is who Youngkin is might be immaterial.
The question for the rest of us is that we know precisely who Terry McAuliffe is and what he is about — which is why being soft on both of these issues is damn near perplexing to the rest of us. Don’t think for a moment that McAuliffe isn’t on the side of firearm confiscation, defunding the police, and abortion-by-mail.
I don’t think it is any secret that the Democrats have stolen a now-16 year march on technology in Virginia. Republicans don’t invest in it because consultants haven’t figured out how to make money on the deal is all. Democrats don’t care — a rising tide lifts every boat and they all see past the horizon.1
Not only are their lists superior and engineered to pull moderates, they have a better information ecosystem, they have better means of dissemination, and they have a legacy media to echo and validate the machinery. We used to call it blogswarming back in the day; today it is simply swarm networks that are used by woke activists on Twitter — and can indeed move billions if aimed properly.
Yes, Virginia — it can even move votes.
So what does Terry McAuliffe do? You have admire the anti-democratic effort that this requires, because in effect the man has set up a fake 2A organization in order to drive a wedge between Youngkin and the rural base.
They are even bragging about it.
The Dirty Play: Fake It Until You Make It
More from Lachlan Markey over at Axios Media:
The intrigue: While clearly designed to hit Youngkin from the right, all indications point to Democrats behind the PAC.
- Accountability Virginia’s online donation page is hosted by the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue. Its bank account is at Amalgamated Bank, a labor union-owned financial institution popular with Democratic political groups.
- The PAC was incorporated in Virginia by compliance consultants at the MBA Consulting Group, which works uniformly with Democrats.
- Its ads on Snapchat were purchased by Gambit Strategies, a firm founded this year by the Biden presidential campaign’s digital director and the former head of Democratic super PAC Priorities USA.
- “Fake information is prevalent on the internet,” Gambit’s website warns. “Research shows time and time again that the best way to combat false negative information is to provide people positive information about a candidate, cause, etc.”
- Neither Gambit nor MBA Consulting responded to requests for comment.
Gets better when you check out how they are doing it.
Now is there anything about this that is illegal? Of course not. These are the rules of the game. Dirty pool? Probably — and let’s face it, the angle wouldn’t be available if the campaign consultants surrounding Youngkin didn’t put him in this spot.
So here we have a condition where the Democrats know they are hemorrhaging a point in the polls every two weeks or so, with the demographics of Virginia putting McAuliffe at a comfortable 53-47 spot. Toss in Princess Blanding of the Liberation Party, and that number moves to 51-47-2.
If McAuliffe can stay in Youngkin’s backfield over the next five weeks? That’s how McAuliffe intends to win, by putting Youngkin on point on three questions:
The answers ought to be (1) Terry loves China, Trump knew how to stand up to China and so do I (2) if the Democrats can defund the police, the Republicans ought to have the courage to defund Planned Parenthood, and (3) if you wouldn’t tolerate the restrictions to our 1A rights, don’t tolerate the restrictions on your 2A rights.
Yet these unexplored questions are opportunities for the Democrats to drive wedges. For not much investment, if you find an ontological wedge rather than groping for an epistemic one — another difference in how Democrats and Republicans do data mining — you can do a lot of damage very quickly.
I’m talking a week.
What Makes This Unethical? These Tactics Are Weapons Of Actual Warfare…
So here’s what bothers me about this in a way I wasn’t terribly exercised about picking on a few overpaid and underperforming consultants ten years ago.
Forget the point about this being a totally dishonest front group. I suppose we would all say the same things if McAuliffe had sent out flyers in the mail highlighting the distance — some might charitably call it nuance — regarding Youngkin’s earlier rhetoric vs. his policy positions.
Most memetic warfare — in order for it to work — is at some rate playing with your emotions rather than your reasoning. In effect, the goal is to trigger your fight or flight response in the amygdala (ah-MIG-da-la) in your brain. Doesn’t have to be true; doesn’t even have to be reasonable. But if I tell you there’s a den of child rapists at the bottom of a pizzeria visited by Clintonistas, some weaker minds might actually take it upon themselves to bring a firearm and liberate the children kept within.
Yes — this actually happened.
Now you can tell this person calmly and reasonably that there’s zero chance this meme is false. Explain the details; show them a map; show them the outlay of the building itself at the county courthouse; talk to other employees.
It doesn’t matter — not because the reasons are unreasonable, but because the target of the meme believes that the emotion was true, ergo the rationale must be true. For those familiar with the term? Ghost hacking.
Richard Dawkins — the popularized atheist thinker and bottom shelf version of Christopher Hitchens — coined the phrase memetics (genes) in his 1976 The Selfish Gene. This is ever so slightly contrasted with mimetics (imitation) — the theory that imitation breeds culture — is from Rene Girard’s 1962 Deceit, Desire and the Novel.
For those who have read Girard, you now instantly see the point.
Which is why McAuliffe’s staff waited until October and until he was slipping in the polls against all odds — the very limit of need — to play this card.
Remember: Feeding The Leviathan Only Ensures You Are Eaten LAST
One of the most enduring things about the Trump presidency — love him or hate him — is that he taught Republicans that it was OK to fight back.
Naturally, most of this dirty pool backs up against wider suspicions about the role of social media in political campaigning and society writ large — things that conservatives from The Daily Caller to the Wall Street Journal have opined about for the last 15 years in the war against tradition.
The Democrats do it because they can; Republicans can’t do it because we never invested in the ecosystem — something Trump discovered too late as they shut him down on Twitter.
Let’s bear this in mind as we head into October.
There are many Republicans who have reservations about the nominee. Those who won will remind the rest of us that if we don’t pull together, McAuliffe wins. Should that happen, the Virginia we know and love will radically change — just as they are promising to do. Perhaps you disagree with the candidate on the right to life and the Second Amendment — but what is at stake is something more core. If we allow Democrats to divide us, it’s not that McAuliffe wins — it’s that we lose something that makes us who we are as Virginians.
Of course, I am talking about Cuccinelli in 2013.
Now the moderates are in the catbird seat. It is going to sound hypocritical to those of us who are conservatives and traditionalists. But remember the advice of the late William F. Buckley Jr. when it comes to instances such as these:
Way back in ’67, William F. Buckley Jr. told interviewer Bill Barry how to pick among candidates in a Republican primary: “I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.”
When the moderates walked, what did it cost us? For conservatives who are struggling with Youngkin’s lack of commitment on the things we believe — and I am one of them, I assure you — remember that McAuliffe will not draw distinctions nor will he reward you for your nuance.
Let’s not become one of them.
Don’t Let Other People’s Bad Behavior Dictate Our Own
Make no mistake. McAuliffe will do exactly what he is promising to do. If what the moderates did to Cuccinelli was wrong in 2013, conservatives have a duty to be better than that — and push Youngkin right over the top.
Yes — Youngkin owes us better answers on life and the 2A.
Yes — his campaign team is using the man as a test bed for Ted Cruz in 2024.
Yes — I am worried that the Governor’s Mansion will be staffed likewise.
Yes — I am worried about the slow handbasket vs. the fast handbasket.
Yes — I get it on Voter ID and campaign integrity.
We won’t have a shot at tackling any of these things unless we give ourselves that shot. With a Republican House of Delegates, a Republican Attorney General, and a Republican presiding over the Virginia Senate.
McAuliffe is a dirty player — but he’s a smart tactician as well. So are his campaign staffers. They have the tools to divide us. Which is why they are going to use unethical tactics to cement a win.
Don’t fall for it.
Otherwise, we all deserve what is coming — should we fail.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.