A group of mostly young adults have legitimate concerns about wealth disparities. They see their generation being saddled with mountains of college and medical debt that force them to put off lifetime milestones like getting married, buying a house, and starting a family, and to make matters worse, jobs are scarce due to a recession fueled by a housing market collapse. Meanwhile, big banks rake in huge profits on bad mortgage decisions, and when the market collapses, government comes to the rescue of Wall Street instead of Main Street (i.e. them). Their movement consists of high-visibility protests, some of which are moderately disruptive but not violent. A handful of them have radical economic notions or let fly vociferous rants about destroying capitalism during moments of intense emotion, but most are simply frustrated and hope to draw attention to the plight of people like them.
Moscow sets up millions of automated social media accounts (bots) and seeks out the most extreme Occupy voices – the ones calling for the immediate and total elimination of all large banks and the stock market. Most existing activists consider this too extreme, but their movement isn’t so large that they can afford to alienate allies, nor is its leaders’ authority centralized enough that anyone can tell anyone else that they’re out of the Occupy movement. Even without an outside agitator, it’s hard enough to control the behavior of self-identified activists who engage in a whole host of anti-social behavior unless they cross a line red enough to put them in police custody.
These bot-amplified voices soon drown out moderate voices on social media. Angry about the foreclosure that forced him into bankruptcy and goaded by these provocative messages, an otherwise ordinary activist sends a hyperbolic tweet suggesting that someone create a Kickstarter to fund the erection of a guillotine in several American cities “to send a message to these bankers about where their employers’ income inequality will lead.” The bots retweet the hell out of this message, as do a fair number of activists – most in the same spirit of social media hyperbole, a few with frightening sincerity.
Then Moscow takes things a step further by creating a Kickstarter campaign to place a guillotine in a park in New York City “and possibly many other cities, depending on how much money we raise.” Russian agents create a Facebook group to promote the Kickstarter and buy ads that mico-target people who are currently sympathetic to the Occupy cause. The Kickstarter campaign receives ten million dollars in pledges (most of it from Kremlin trolls, with a handful made by radicalized activists) before Kickstarter shuts down the campaign.
By now, however, millions of people who in no way condone a replay of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror have seen that Kickstarter campaign. Several news channels have featured segments talking about how violent Occupy protesters are, and no matter how much the movement’s leaders disavow these extremists, Occupy Wall Street becomes the “kill all the bankers” movement in the public eye. Think some of those Occupy supporters work at banks? They sure do. Think they continue to support a movement that is actively calling for their extermination? Nope.
Moscow didn’t just show those ads to OWS supporters, after all. They also spent a pretty penny to ensure that anyone on Facebook who works at a bank saw that Facebook group, read those calls for their execution. One of these bankers calls for the arrest of anyone supporting the Occupiers, of treating Occupy Wall Street as a terrorist organization. The bots amplify this message, making sure the Occupy activists see it. An activist opines that the bankers were behind the Kickstarter campaign – a false flag operation meant to ensure that Wall Street remains in control – and the Kremlin grabs that message and makes it the OWS party line. Moscow also encourages bankers to take to the streets at the same times and in the same places as Occupy activists, to form a counter-protest movement.
After several months of this constant provokatsiya, many early supporters of Occupy Wall Street have left the movement. The ones who stick it out are those with the fiercest commitment to the original movement (they’re not going to let their movement be suborned like this without a fight!) and those for whom the “kill all the bankers” reputation is not an obstacle to their support. Someone builds a guillotine and puts it in the back of their pickup to parade it around at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
Things come to a head when a shouting match between Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and Wall Street Has Feelings Too counter-demonstrators turns into a violent clash that ends in some bank teller being hauled into a pickup truck ad guillotined as 12,000 people look on in horror.
Moscow doesn’t care about social justice movements or conservative culture in the United States – neither Black Lives Matter nor Blue Lives Matter, neither gun control activists nor 2nd Amendment hardliners. The purpose of provokatsiya is to divide us, to make us stop talking to each other before we even start. I see a Black Lives Matter ad or news article that presents a sincere and non-violent movement protesting the disproportionate killing of black people by police. A friend of mine in a redder state sees ads and news articles filled with black people throwing bricks, brandishing firearms, and blocking emergency vehicles from reaching people in need of assistance. I post my support of Black Lives Matter. My high school friend demands to know why I’m supporting a terrorist organization like BLM. I call him a racist. And by the end of the week, one of us has unfriended the other. We saw the movement differently because we were literally shown two completely different Black Lives Matters movements – one with a legitimate grievance and a non-violent message that is being persecuted by out-of-control police, the other with a hatred for law and order and a willingness to kill police and innocent people if it helps them achieve their nebulous goals.
This division works in Russia’s favor. It prevents us from mustering a unified resistance to further meddling by outsiders, because neither side trusts the other to work in good faith to apply such remedies. If we can’t trust our own cultural institutions and fellow Americans (citizens or otherwise) – if our police, immigrants, minorities, Hollywood, intelligence community, politicians, and football teams are suddenly the enemies of America instead of the actual enemies of America being the enemies of America, we are in a seriously bad place as far as preserving our republic’s interests at home and abroad. Why, we might elect people who are hellbent on dismantling our country diplomatically, economically, and socially – all for the benefit of a country whose GDP is less than that of New York City.