United States of America — Recently out of the dark recesses of the internet a series of pictures or memes began appearing all across various social media depicting mostly women and children bruised, bleeding and battered under the hashtag banner of “PunchANazi” and also emblazoned with the symbol of anti-fascist, anarcho-communist movement of “antifa.” These mostly stock images that have been heavily edited and enhanced with the grisly after-effects of domestic abuse mainly against women for shock value are intended to make the viewer believe that this is some sort of new violent campaign against Trump supporters and their families by antifa.
The trouble is, it isn’t antifa that are circulating these images. It’s the alt-right.
This latest disinformation campaign, known colloquially as “trolling” nowadays was first exposed by lead researcher and freelance journalist for Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins who found these images in the /pol/, or “Politically Incorrect” section of the online image bulletin board site known as 4Chan.
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) August 24, 2017
Higgins, in an interview with the BBC said he found clear evidence that this campaign was in fact started by various white nationalists and alt-right persona’s using “sockpuppet accounts” or fake online identities used for spreading disinformation and/or deceptive ideals.
Higgins in his interview has this to say, “This was a transparent and quite pathetic attempt, but I wouldn’t be surprised if white nationalist groups try to mount more sophisticated attacks in the future. Many of the accounts tweeting the images were clearly made in the last ten hours and had very few followers.”
That didn’t stop the prominent InfoWars contributor Paul Joesph Watson from re-tweeting several of these images onto his timeline.
— Antifa for Trump (@Antifafortrump) August 23, 2017
So what is 4Chan? 4Chan has been around lurking in the dark parts of the internet since the early 2000’s however it really isn’t the ominous “DarkWeb” that the mainstream media will have you believe. You don’t need to understand encryption and obfuscation via Tor proxies and get to the actual underbelly of the internet to gain access to what is now an online slum of sorts, its right there all you have to do is type it into your favorite browser and viola! (And if you’re still confused as to what 4Chan still is, think John Carpenter’s 1981 classic “Escape from New York” cobbled with the 1974 Charles Bronson vigilante epic “Death Wish.”)
After spending time perusing through these images hosted within the 4Chan /pol/ sub-section I couldn’t help but notice that this obvious disinformation campaign was designed to stir the political pot and had a feeling of some sort of home-grown psychological operation.
SOFREP reached out to a veteran of the U.S. Army Psychological Operations (PYSOP) and SOFREP contributor, Salil Puri for his take on the alt-right’s current smear campaign.
Black Propaganda, or what we now call “false attribution” has a long and storied history, and tends to be particularly effective when it exploits the audience’s confirmation bias. During the Cold War the KGB was very effective in using false attribution and disinformation campaigns, such as their now-infamous [KGB] Operation Infektion campaign.” said Puri.
When asked other than stirring the pot within specific ‘echo chambers’ of the alt-Right and white nationalists, did Puri see this becoming somewhat of a successful smear campaign against antifa, Puri provided this insight, “In this case, given the transparency of these efforts, the effect will most likely be to simply reinforce existing hostility towards antifa, rather than cultivating any real opposition to what is a genuinely objectionable organization. The 4-Chan alt-righters are excellent trolls, and they gain pleasure from evoking reactions, especially when they’re creating a perception of their opposition as being more extreme and offensive than they actually are, a tactic popularized by [Saul] Alinsky.”
When asked if this will hurt the anarcho-communist movement of antifa any further, Puri replied that “these specific approaches are far less likely to create any real damage for antifa’s reputation. Antifa will continue to do that themselves, as they smear themselves by engaging in violence and vandalism.”
We went back to discussing ‘disinformation’ campaigns and the idea that this may hold attributes to a Russian black propaganda operation and asked whether Puri, with several years within the military’s PYSOP program, could see any Russian state actor undertones in this alt-right campaign.
As far as active involvement by Russia in these matters, it’s really difficult to discern. The earliest indicators we saw of these sorts of false attribution products was several years ago, when pro-Second Amendment adherents began creating images falsely-attributed to the Brady Campaign, that made the argument that it was better to be raped than to shoot a rapist. These images managed to fool plenty of other Second Amendment activists, but not many others. Members of the PSYOP regiment started discussing these products, and pondering who the Sources and Authors of these products were. I personally have no indication that any of this is Russian guided or influenced, but it would surprise me if Russia wasn’t in some way shape or form fostering this sort of activity in one way or another.”
Feature images courtesy of: 4Chan