The Battles Within the White House are Even Crazier Than You Think

A conspiracy theory that belongs on InfoWars is at the heart of a National Security Council power struggle.


By now, anyone who has been paying attention has figured out that the Trump White House is a pretty odd workplace. From Trump himself tweeting against allies like Jeff Sessions and Mitch McConnell, to Steve Bannon’s pseudo-news organization (Breitbart) attacking then-Chief-of-Staff Reince Preibus and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, to Bannon in turn being accused by the then-communications-director of “trying to suck [his] own cock“, it’s been clear that something beyond ordinary office politics is going on here.

But the memo that got Rich Higgins fired from the National Security Council staff opens up cans of crazy that go far beyond anything that’s gotten public attention so far, and illuminates how deep the conflicts within the administration go. The seven-page document explains a decades-long and largely successful plot by “cultural Marxists” to destroy America “both as an ideal and as a national and political identity”. It claims that cultural Marxist narratives are now embedded in the Deep State, the establishments of both political parties, academia, the mainstream media, and international banks — and are even promoted by Islamists, because (in some unfathomable way) the same “nihilism” that cultural Marxists are using to destroy monotheistic Christianity also prepares the ground for monotheistic Islam.

Higgins attributes the current struggles of the Trump administration to a campaign by cultural Marxists, who see Trump as a threat to their domination. They have unleashed “political warfare memes based on cultural Marxist narratives” that are “designed to first undermine, then delegitimize and ultimately remove the President”. The memo concludes:

The recent turn of events give rise to the observation that the defense of President Trump is the defense of America. In the same way President Lincoln was surrounded by political opposition both inside and outside of his wire, in both overt and covert forms, so too is President Trump. Had Lincoln failed, so too would have the Republic.

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, how did Rich Higgins ever get into the NSC to begin with? Who fired him? And is anybody taking him seriously? (Apparently yes. Somehow the memo found it’s way to Donald Trump Jr., who passed it on to the President. Trump reportedly “gushed” over it, and was upset to discover that the author had been fired.) And what the heck is “cultural Marxism” anyway?

The Flynn connection. Higgins was appointed to the NSC by Michael Flynn during his brief tenure as National Security Adviser.

Flynn is a source of crazy all his own, and is at the center of one of the deep mysteries of the Russia scandal. During the transition period between the election and the inauguration, Flynn seems to have been running his own Russia policy in competition with the Obama administration, which was still in power. During the time he was Candidate Trump’s main national-security adviser, he had been — and maybe still was after he officially joined the administration — an undeclared foreign agent of the Turkish government. (He was still carrying out his duties for the Turks as late as November 8, otherwise known as Election Day.) The extent of his connections to the Putin government is still unknown.

On January 26, acting Attorney General (and Obama holdover) Sally Yates began warning the new administration that Flynn had been lying to them about his contacts with Russian officials, and that he might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Nothing was done with this information — and Flynn continued to participate in national-security meetings at the highest level — until The Washington Post published it February 9. Flynn resigned February 13.

You have to wonder: If not for leaks to The Post (which Trump denounced as “criminal”), would Flynn still be National Security Adviser? And why did Trump — a man not known for maintaining inconvenient loyalties — stand by Flynn, to the point of improperly urging then-FBI-Director James Comey to “let this go” because Flynn is “a good guy”?

McMaster. After several people turned down a job ordinarily considered a career-crowning prize, H. R. McMaster replaced Flynn as National Security Adviser. However, his early attempts to clean house of Flynn’s appointments were stymied by Flynn allies Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. (Kushner and Flynn, you might remember, had a strange meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, during which they requested a “back channel” to Moscow that American intelligence couldn’t tap. Even Kislyak found that odd.) Recently, though, McMaster seems to have gained the upper hand; Higgins is not the only Flynnite to have been sent packing.

But McMaster, in turn, is now the target of a backlash. Politico reports that “The conservative news site Breitbart has waged a nonstop campaign against national security adviser H.R. McMaster.” A little over a week ago, “two former senior NSC officials” told The Daily Caller that “Everything the President wants to do, McMaster opposes.

Trump wants to get us out of Afghanistan — McMaster wants to go in. Trump wants to get us out of Syria — McMaster wants to go in. Trump wants to deal with the China issue — McMaster doesn’t. Trump wants to deal with the Islam issue — McMaster doesn’t. You know, across the board, we want to get rid of the Iran deal — McMaster doesn’t. It is incredible to watch it happening right in front of your face. Absolutely stunning.

In typical conspiratorial fashion, McMaster isn’t presented as his own man with his own beliefs, but rather as “a sycophant” of somebody else: retired General David Petraeus. Alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich has started a McMaster Leaks site to publish negative information about McMaster. (Josh Marshall provides background on Cernovich.) He illustrates one article with a cartoon depicting McMaster and Petraeus as dancing puppets of arch-nemesis billionaire George Soros, who in turn is a puppet of the Saudis.

Most disturbing of all, Salon reports:

attacks on McMaster from right-wing media figures coincide with a coordinated troll campaign, according to a newly launched website that tracks Russian propaganda. Using hashtags like #FireMcMaster and #deepstate, accounts linked to Russian-backed bot campaigns shared several anti-McMaster stories this week.

In other words: The Flynn/Bannon/Putin alliance still seems to be functioning.

Cultural Marxism. Probably I had run across this phrase before I saw it in Higgins’ memo, but if I did it didn’t make any impression. Apparently, though, it is widely discussed by right-wing conspiracy theorists. You can get an in-depth introduction to the concept, at least as it is used on the far right, from this 90-minute video.

The video’s account begins with some actual history: As World War I broke out, Communists around the world hoped that workers would refuse to fight for their own country’s capitalists against the workers of other countries. But that dream went unfulfilled; each belligerent country was able to beat the drums of patriotism and inspire incredible levels of sacrifice from even its most oppressed citizens. Assessing what went wrong, many Communists concluded that physical revolution could only happen after a considerable amount of cultural change.

But from there, the Glenn-Beck-whiteboard mindset takes over: All the cultural changes we’ve seen since the Great Depression — the end of Jim Crow, women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, gay rights, etc. — originate in the 1930s with the prison notebooks of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, and continue through the Frankfurt School of social theorists who started in Germany and then escaped Hitler by coming to America. Who knew that a handful of intellectuals could wield so much influence?

The point of this conspiracy was and is to destroy the family, Christianity, western culture, the middle class, the Constitution, reverence for the Founding Fathers, and ultimately America itself. This continuing cultural Marxist conspiracy — and not anything Trump himself did or didn’t do — is the source of the administration’s difficulties.

The conspiracy-theory sidestep. Think about how believing this theory might change your mindset: Anything that was actually wrong with pre-New-Deal America, or that continues to be wrong with America today, becomes irrelevant. If you believe that an apocalyptic battle is going on between “America as an ideal and as a national and political identity” and a mysterious cabal of “cultural Marxists” who have been plotting against America since the 1930s, then anything that looks like a legitimate criticism of American traditions is just a way for the plotters to score points.

So the civil rights movement wasn’t really about lynching, segregation, or the right to vote; it was a way to divide America against itself and undermine Americans’ confidence in the righteousness of their country. Feminism wasn’t really about giving women the freedom to find their own places in the world, rather than be channeled into a small number of subservient roles; it was about destroying the male and female archetypes that God defined in the Garden of Eden. The sexual revolution wasn’t caused by improved birth control, widespread affluence, or new opportunities for women to be economically independent; it was designed by cultural Marxists to undermine Christianity and the American family. Schools now teach about the Founders’ slaves and the Native Americans who were slaughtered to make way for white settlers, not because those things are true — that’s irrelevant — but to destroy students’ American patriotism.

Similarly, current issues need not be considered on their individual merits — all those details are similarly irrelevant — but for their effects on the apocalyptic battle. Same-sex marriage has nothing to do with gays and lesbians finding a place in society; it’s about destroying marriage and the social structure that depends on it. ObamaCare isn’t about saving lives or preventing medical bankruptcies; it’s about extending dependence on government. The goal of Black Lives Matter isn’t to keep police from killing blacks on slight pretexts, but to tear down law and order. If you do anything but dismiss these issues — and especially if you get drawn into the stories of the so-called “victims”– you’re just letting cultural Marxists distract you from what’s really important.

Trump. Now look again at the Higgins memo. Attacks against Trump are not “politics as usual”,

but rather political warfare at an unprecedented level that is openly engaged in the direct targeting of a seated president through manipulation of the news cycle. It must be recognized on its own terms so that immediate action can be taken. At its core, these campaigns run on multiple lines of effort, serve as the non-violent line of effort of a wider movement, and execute political warfare agendas that reflect cultural Marxist outcomes. The campaigns operate through narratives. Because the hard left is aligned with Islamist organizations at local (ANTI FA working with Muslim Brotherhood doing business as MSA and CAIR), national (ACLU and BLM working with CAIR and MPAC) and international levels (OIC working with OSCE and the UN), recognition must given to the fact that they seamlessly interoperate at the narrative level as well. In candidate Trump, the opposition saw a threat to the “politically correct” enforcement narratives they’ve meticulously laid in over the past few decades. In President Trump, they see a latent threat to continue that effort to ruinous effect and their retaliatory response reflects this fear.

The first thing that should strike anyone engaged in actual anti-Trump action is the sheer unreality of this vision. Probably you are straining to keep Bernie Democrats and Hillary Democrats from turning on each other. The idea that you might “seamlessly interoperate at a narrative level” with the Muslim Brotherhood and the UN is absurd to a point beyond humor. (I am reminded of John Maynard Keynes’ post-Great-Depression comment on the theory of a world-spanning bankers’ conspiracy: “If only there were one.”)

But once you believe that Trump is the key roadblock to the evil plans of the cultural Marxists, and that the narratives against him are “political warfare”, whether those narratives are true or false becomes irrelevant.

Higgins identifies the anti-Trump “meta-narratives” as

  • Trump is illegitimate.
  • Trump is corrupt.
  • Trump is dishonest.

and “supporting narratives” as

  • Russia hacked the election.
  • obstruction of justice
  • hiding collusion
  • Putin puppet.

So patriotic Americans need never consider questions like: Are the things Trump says actually true? Are his companies making money from his presidency? Why won’t he release his tax returns? Why did he fire James Comey? Why won’t he criticize Putin? Why did the Russian government’s social-media assets promote so much anti-Clinton fake news just before the election? Why did it take so long to fire Flynn? Why did so many of Trump’s people meet with Russian officials and then either hide it or lie about it? How far back do his business dealings with Russian oligarchs go?

Plausible answers to such questions are not necessary, because just asking them promotes the cultural Marxist narrative. Remember: “The defense of President Trump is the defense of America.” So forget the insignificant details. Which side are you on?

Spy vs. spy. The most important thing to understand about conspiracy theorists is: Whatever they imagine the conspiracy doing against them, they will be tempted to do “in response”. So if they see a battlespace where weaponized narratives compete independent of fact or truth, then that’s where they will fight.

Conspiracy theorists are prone to betray their plans through projection. Whatever they wish they could do — and would do if they had the power — they imagine that their near-omnipotent enemies are already doing.

What’s new? Conspiracy theories have been around for a very long time. (When I was in high school in the 1970s, I humored a friend by reading some of his John Birch Society paperbacks. The ideas were similar.) Such fantasies are a psychological defense against the complexity of the real world, and an opportunity to feel superior to the sheep who remain oblivious to the dark patterns behind events. As Alan Moore put it in 2003:

Conspiracy theorists actually believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12 foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening: Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.

The desire for such comfort is perennial, so no one should be surprised to find conspiracy theories flourishing on the fringes of society.

The existence of an InfoWars web site, then, is not alarming. But when InfoWars-type arguments are happening at the highest levels of the American government, and when they are reaching the President and finding approval there — that is very, very disturbing.

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Comments

  • Jeff  On August 14, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    It would be interesting (in a painful way for me, I’m sure) to see what connections, if any, could be drawn between the promotion of this “Cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory and the common white evangelical narrative of “The left wants to destroy our religious and family values, which are what undergirds capitalism and the greatness of the United States”, which was such a presumptive part of my upbringing and education (K-12 conservative Christian School). In a broad sense, the connections seem obvious, but I wonder what’s the chicken and what’s the egg, and I wonder how this particular historical narrative might have driven mid-century evangelical leaders to make the pivots and alliances they made.

    Unfortunately, coming from a conservative Christian school education, Rich Higgins seems pretty “dog bites man”. (Which is not to say that this isn’t an important, and really good, piece.)

  • Deborah mcKenna  On August 15, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Cans of crazy indeed.

  • AWJ  On August 15, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Your description of the right-wing paranoid mindset is right on the mark. You can see the exact same mindset in the writings of 19th century European reactionaries who blamed the French Revolution on the Illuminati or the Freemasons. Fundamentally I think the mindset boils down to an inability to ascribe agency to subaltern groups: “The peasants/blacks/women aren’t angry because they’re oppressed, they’re angry because sinister forces who seek the downfall of civilization have filled their poor little heads with nonsense ideas”.

    • weeklysift  On August 17, 2017 at 7:27 am

      And if by “civilization” we mean “systems of organized privilege”, then there often are forces organizing to overthrow it. If I’m on the top of the heap, it’s way too easy to confuse my own status with the progress of humankind.

  • Chris Weaver (@crweaver987)  On August 17, 2017 at 10:33 am

    “Cultural Marxism” has – surprise! – Nazi roots. See http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Cultural_Marxism

  • Ed Bradford  On August 18, 2017 at 3:27 am

    Your “conservative lexicon” leaves a lot to be desired. It is mostly built on emotions, not facts. Why not invite a real conservative to engage on your blog?

    • weeklysift  On August 18, 2017 at 5:17 pm

      The Lexicon is here. Like any lexicon, it gives examples of the usages it cites. Those are facts.

    • Larry Benjamin  On August 19, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      This isn’t a debate forum. It’s a blog that promotes a particular viewpoint, based on observation of events in the real world. I notice “Redstate” and other conservative sources don’t give equal time to liberals, either. If you want debate, there are other places for that.

  • commentsbyrowan  On August 18, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Doug, I enjoyed your analysis. Throughout your Sift, I was thinking another topic to discuss is whether there is an objective or historical definition of traitor that the current president meets (’cause there’s a whole lotta folks thinkin’ it).

  • Larry Benjamin  On August 19, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    I appreciate the explanation. I’d heard the term “cultural Marxism” but hadn’t paid much attention to it. After all, the Soviet Union fell 27 years ago; there are people approaching middle age who don’t remember living with it. But this is the explanation when Michael Savage rails against “George Soros” or Rush Limbaugh claims that “antifa,” BLM, “environmentalists,” and other groups are all “the same people.” An all-powerful, invisible, shadowy conspiracy is behind everything bad that happens.

    This is also one reason why arguing with these people is so fruitless. You can give examples, show them statistics, point out how their personal lives have not been affected by these negative forces, but in the end you’re trying to defeat a worldview.

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