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Telegram, Signal, and how the Insurrectionists communicate

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There’s a lot of hand-wringing in national security circles over two new apps, Signal and Telegram. They both utilize so-called end-to-end encryption, which means (explains the New York Times) that “no one but the sender and receiver can read its contents.”

Security professionals (Homeland Security, the F.B.I., Secret Service and so on) see at least one advantage in older social media platforms, like Facebook, Reddit and Twitter: they were public. It wasn’t easy for posters to shield their comments from scrutinizing eyes. When Qanon and the Proud Boys planned their insurrection on social media sites, everybody knew exactly what to expect (which makes the lack of preparedness of law enforcement on Jan. 6 all the more egregious).

The rightwing Trump radicals now know (if they didn’t know before) that Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) and similar sites are not safe places for them to talk. For a while, they flocked to Parler, but that social network has now been effectively neutralized, after being banned by Amazon and Apple from their app stores.

Hence the rise of Signal and Telegram. And that rise has been rapid and phenomenal. In the last week alone, Telegram has become “the second most downloaded app in the United States,” with 540,000 U.S. iPhone owners installing Telegram in the six days following last Wednesday’ Insurrection, reports the Moscow Times. (The sourcing is interesting, as Telegram’s co-founder is a Russian, Pavel Durov.) Amazingly, adds the Moscow Times, “Only Signal, another secure messaging app, saw a bigger surge in the past week.” That surge appears to have been prompted after Elon Musk tweeted on his Twitter account the words “Use Signal,” which subsequently was retweeted by Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey.

What’s going on here? A couple things. The reasons why Musk endorsed Signal are not hard to understand, says the online media site, CNET. Let’s ignore his dislike of Facebook, which is common knowledge. The real reason, says CNET, is because “Signal…has a history of fighting any entity that asks for your data, and adds features to further anonymize you where possible.” Musk is a privacy freak, which is why he banned SpaceX employees from using ZOOM for video conferencing, after it was revealed that ZOOM suffered from numerous security problems.

In this sense, what Elon Musk has in common with the rightwing Insurrectionists is an insatiable desire for absolute, uninvadable online privacy. Which poses questions that are especially important at this moment in history. We all want online privacy. Nobody wants to be hacked, or overheard, or have their data shared with third parties. One problem with existing social media, obviously, is that mega-companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter make money by selling our data to third parties. With that income stream, these companies would cease to exist.

Telegram and Signal, by contrast, do not share data, nor do they sell ads. How, then, do they make money? Here’s what Telegram says on its public blog: “We believe in fast and secure messaging that is also 100% free. Our founder and CEO Pavel Durov, who financed Telegram throughout most of its history, has outlined a strategy to make Telegram sustainable. While Telegram will introduce monetization in 2021 to pay for the infrastructure and developer salaries, making profits will never be an end-goal for us.”

Durov further addressed the issue of a business model on his personal Telegram “channel”: After conceding that, once his personal investment in Telegram ends, Telegram will require “at least a few hundred million dollars per year to keep going,” Durov vows that “We are not going to sell the company.” The needed income, he says, rather vaguely, will be obtained in “a non-intrusive way…Most users will hardly notice any change.” Durov insists he will continue Telegram’s policy of no ads “in private 1-to-1 chats.” But—and it’s a big “but”–Dirov says Telegram will start selling ads on “public one-to-many channels.”

Since it is Telegram’s (and Signal’s) “one-to-many channels” that are the way rightwing Insurrectionists communicate (you can hardly plan a revolution one-to-one), I wonder how long it will be before the people who are fleeing Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. will start fleeing Telegram and Signal. It’s beginning to look like the digital equivalent of a Cold War-style arms race: users flock to new, free, non-commercial sites to communicate. Those new, free sites, which can continue only by making money, will gradually erode the purity that attracted people to them in the first place by becoming commercial, leading those people to seek someplace more amenable. It’s whack-a-mole on the Internet. Besides, isn’t it just a matter of time before federal authorities find ways to bust into Telegram and Signal? They seem eager now to find and break up the Trump thugs–and in a Biden administration, I should think law enforcement will double their efforts.

The good news is that this splintering of communications platforms will make it much harder for militant radicals to find a common public square in which to get their acts together. They simply will be unable to plan, plot and organize their activities efficiently, on a mass basis. That may be the first step toward, if not getting rid of them, then at least making them nuisances rather than threats. The technology that helped spawn them, ironically, may help to bring them down.


An evangelical reckoning

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Anyone who reads my blog knows I’m not a fan of evangelicals. Nearly 40 years ago I realized how radical, irrational, hateful and anti-American they are—in their vicious homophobia, in their scientific ignorance, in their white supremacy, in their intolerance of other religions. When Trump came on the scene, with his sociopathic narcissism and obvious contempt for Christianity, there began in this country a much-needed debate: how could evangelicals support a self-professed sexual predator who had been divorced multiple times, who bullied his subordinates, cheated his vendors, and lied pathologically? The question was asked over and over, and yet, even as the evidence piled up of Trump’s amorality, we saw evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr. and James Dobson never waver in their support. As disreputable as evangelicism already was (with all its sexual scandals), it fell even further into the gutter of Trump muck.

After last week’s Incitement of Insurrection by Trump, his family and his surrogates, the debate among evangelicals has had new life breathed into it. This article, from public radio station KQED’s website, is about an interview with a well-known evangelical, who seems finally to have realized what a grave mistake he made in supporting Trump. His name is Ed Stetzer, and he’s head of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College—yes, the same Billy Graham who was the father of the notorious Trump stooge, Franklin Graham.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Stetzer confesses that evangelical support of Trump is the height of hypocrisy. “We just need to be honest…A lot of people sold out their beliefs.” What were those beliefs? Stetzer isn’t talking about Graham’s catechismic beliefs (anti-abortion, anti-gay, Biblical infallibility, the Trinity, etc.). No, he’s talking about Graham’s broader views on human decency and morality. Here are some quotes of Billy Graham, courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

“The world needs moral leadership that respects the rights of all men and women—rights that God designed for our benefit.”

“Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). When we live by the truth, we possess integrity.”

“Many people ask, what is integrity?…I believe integrity can be restored to a society one person at a time. The choice belongs to each of us.”

Billy Graham is no longer alive, but what would he think of what Trump did last Wednesday? Would he call that “moral leadership”? Would he call Trump’s denial of the election result “living by the truth”? Would he claim that Donald J. Trump has “integrity”?

Stetzer, the evangelical, knows that no honest evangelical can possibly support Trump. “How did we get here?” he asks, referring to the solid wall of evangelical support for a low, dishonest president. “How were we so easily fooled by conspiracy theories? Our allegiance is to King Jesus, not to what boasting political leader might come next.”

Stetzer confesses that over the last four years he hasn’t always been comfortable with Trump, but he never came out publicly against him—until now. “The storming of the Capitol, the desecration of our halls of democracy,” he says, “has shocked and stunned a lot of people and how President Trump has engaged in riling up crowds to accomplish these things.” Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021—a date that will live in infamy—was the last straw for Stetzer. He knows that Trump’s claim that the election was rigged is totally bogus, and he’s urging preachers, in their Sunday sermons, to explain to their flocks that Trump is a serial liar, that Joe Biden won, and that Republican politicians who parrot Trump’s lies are themselves lying. “Jesus says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ So Jesus literally identifies himself as the truth, therefore if there ever should be a people who care about the truth it should be people who call themselves followers of Jesus.”

Well, good for Ed Stetzer. I’m glad he finally came around. But where was he three years ago, two years ago, one year ago, six months ago? Trump was the exact same monster then as he is now. We all saw it, most of us Americans who weren’t blind, deaf and dumb. I would argue that Stetzer saw it, too. But he pretended he didn’t. He was so enamored of super-Christian judges like Coney Barrett and Kavanaugh that he was willing to see “King Jesus” crucified a second time, on the Cross of Trump.

Stetzer is going to have to live with his decisions, the same way that Insurrrectionists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are going to have to live with theirs. At least, Stetzer can comfort himself in the knowledge that he eventually came along: late repentance isn’t as good as early repentance, but at least it’s repentance. Cruz, Hawley and all the rest of the Congressional Republicans who still mouth the Big Lie have not yet repented. As Ricky Ricardo might say, they have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, both here on Earth and in the Heaven they claim to believe in.


Watching too much T.V. lately?

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I realized today that I’m treating coverage of this Insurrection as just the latest T.V. episode of the Trump Show, which I’ve watched with a certain compulsion for more than four years. It’s like getting hooked on The Sopranos or Homeland (which I did); every episode is better than the last, and all you want is more. What happens next? It’s all so exciting!

It’s embarrassing for me to admit that. Trump isn’t just good T.V. (although he is), he’s the worst thing that’s happened to America in my lifetime. As fascinating as I find the television coverage (and it is), this isn’t just entertainment. Those insane clowns who invaded the Capitol weren’t extras on some Hollywood set, they’re real people caught on camera, with their death stares and pipe bombs. So I have decidedly mixed feelings when I turn the T.V. on first thing in the morning and leave it on until I go to bed.

I know people who would say, “Kill your T.V.” They believe that everything “out there” is a lie. The correct approach to life, in their view, is to shut out the external world (or, at least, the political and commercial parts) and get in touch with your true self. While I have a certain amount of admiration for that philosophy, I fundamentally reject it. The political parts of the external world aren’t going away, whether you’re aware of them or not. Politics and law affect us at every level. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” means, to me, that we citizens should participate in our democracy by voting, by studying the issues, and by understanding who’s on our side and who’s against us. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your private, contemplative side. It does mean that it’s stupid to stick your head in the sand and pretend that the rightwing religious fanatics in the Republican Party are not a danger to you and your loved ones.

I think this is why Karl Marx called religion “the opiate of the people.” He meant that government is the single greatest influence upon every aspect of our lives, our health, our freedom, and our happiness. To me, the people who say “Turn off your T.V.” have eaten the opiate of non-participation in our country. Never has it been more important for Americans to participate, in the way I defined above: voting, studying the issues, and understanding who’s on our side. Every American should know full well that he or she does have enemies. If you’re gay, you have enemies. If you’re a person of color, you have enemies. If you’re Muslim, you have enemies. If you’re an immigrant, you have enemies. If you believe in science, you have enemies. If you’re not a rightwing Christian, you have enemies. It couldn’t be clearer. Donald J. Trump has given the enemies of freedom and democracy legitimacy and standing. That should concern everybody who cares about America.

But, in the end, am I watching too much television? Maybe. But where do you draw the line? These are momentous times. I love History; I study it and believe in it, and right now we’re watching History unfold in an extremely dramatic way. I pity people who don’t care. They think they can live their lives insulated from what’s happening all around them. They will continue to think that, until their own particular enemies come for them. But by then, as Pastor Niemoller reminds us, it will be too late.


It’s All Over, Baby Trump

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So now, the Insurrectionists are planning a Million MAGA March on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. (In some instances, it’s being called the Million Militia March.) For the record, I call it the Million Moron March.

Isn’t that special? All those nice, patriotic Americans who celebrated Trump on Jan. 6 are coming back to Washington. They had such a nice time, they’re doing it again.

Look: We just had an attempted coup d’état that came perilously close to becoming a mass casualty event in the Capitol. The thugs got away with it because the Capitol Police—whose leadership in my opinion was in cahoots with them—allowed them to run amok. Fortunately, the Nation rallied in time to drive the criminals back, and now the F.B.I. is rounding them up. The conventional wisdom is that, while the days preceding Jan. 6 offered tons of warning about what the thugs were planning, “security officials” didn’t catch on.

This time, the warning signals for Jan. 20 are abundant. The Pentagon is going to have to turn out regular troops of the Army to protect the Inauguration, and not just a few troops: thousands and thousands of them. And they have to be aided by thousands and thousands of National Guardsmen, thousands of cops from Washington, D.C. and nearby Maryland and Virginia municipalities, and a helluva lot of F.B.I. and D.H.S. muscle. In short, the government will have to assemble the biggest domestic military presence in U.S. history. That will upset the poor little rightwing coup plotters, which is ironic: they’re always droning on and on about law and order and how much they love our men and women in uniform. But when our men and women in uniform are out there protecting the Constitution, suddenly Trump’s maniacs are screaming for their scalps. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Personally, I hope that a ton of white supremacist ammosexuals do gather for their Million Moron March. That way, we’ll have them all in one place, where they’ll be easier to round up, instead of having to hunt them down in every trailer park in the country. It obviously won’t be possible to arrest all of them (although it’s a nice thought…), but we can pick off, say, a few thousand. And we can have mass trials: hell, Trump had mass trials for immigrants from the South, thereby establishing the precedent. How fitting that Trumpers themselves will be tried en masse. Picture, in your imagination, some of those ugly, distorted faces from the Trump Insurrection:

They were so bold and brave when they were surrounded by their ilk. But what will they look like when they’re having their mug shots taken, or when they hear the Judge announce their sentences:

“For the Crime of participating in an Insurrection against the United States of America, this Court sentences you to forty years in a Federal prison.”

I may be a little more vengeful than some, but I suspect that most Democrats, and a good many Independents, share my feeling. I’ve been active in The Resistance since before it was called The Resistance. I’ve written hundreds of posts showing the criminal insanity of Trump and his cult; I’ve been calling for his imprisonment for years. Now, finally, his karma has caught up with him: he’s disgraced, with no political future, his business empire likely to be in tatters. Wherever he decides to live, his neighbors will make life unpleasant. He could easily lose his freedom and find himself in the pokey (that would be my preference). Yes, Trump finally overstepped the boundaries. For years, he drew the line further and further out, making us wonder if he’d step over it, and he always did—and got away with it. No more. He’s not getting away with this. The Era of Trump ends with a Bang.


I’m glad the Insurrection happened!

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In a way, I was glad—very glad—when trump’s white supremacists attempted their little Insurrection on yesterday. Why? Because for four years, some of us have been asking the question “What will it take?” to make people (including the media) understand the dangers of trump and trumpism.

Now, it appears that we know.

They didn’t “get it” when he praised the rightwing neo-nazis in Charlottesville. Nor when he downplayed coronavirus and said it would soon go away. Nor when he encouraged Americans not to wear masks or social distance. Nor when he said if he lost the election it would be because of cheating. Nor when he paid hush money to cover up his adultery with porn stars. Nor when he retweeted a message calling Biden a pedophile, or when he alleged Biden is on drugs. Nor when he scared suburbanites by claiming Corey Booker would soon be leading hoards of homeless Black people into their neighborhoods. Nor with any of his misogynistic slurs. Nor when he refused to commit to a non-violent transition of power. Nor when he insulted Gold Star Parents, disabled people and John McCain. Nor when he attacked the American Intelligence Community. Nor when he insulted everyone he considered his enemies. Nor when he fired James Comey. Nor when he claimed Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, or that Russia did not hack into U.S. computers. Nor when he defended the sexual predator, Roy Moore (birds of a feather…). Nor when he banned transgender people from the military. Nor when he called for Hillary Clinton to be locked up. Nor when he tried to blackmail Georgian president Zelensky in his “perfect” phone call (which got him impeached). Nor when he tried to fire Robert Mueller. Nor when he and his family made millions by abusing the power of his office. Nor when he spent half his term in office playing golf, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Nor when he threatened the Georgia Secretary of State for not calling the election for him. Nor when he pardoned convicted criminals from RussiaGate and probable war criminals from Blackwater. Not when he vetoed the Defense Bill because it didn’t call for an investigation into the 2020 election. Nor when he repeatedly threatened the media and called reporters the enemy of the people. Not when he told 20,000 lies (and counting). Nor when he refused to accept Biden’s victory. Nor when he showed, again and again and again, how unfit he is to hold office.

Not one of those things turned Republicans against him. Nor was the media of much use. For years, they pretended that in order to be “fair and unbiased” and present “both sides,” they had to treat trump’s lies and the Truth as equivalent. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that the New York Times even started calling trump a liar, and it wasn’t until some months ago that MSNBC started using the word “lie” instead of “mischaracterization.” So day after day, night after night as this nightmare rolled on and it became apparent that trump was planning something dreadful post-election, some of us kept asking the question: “What will it take?”

On Wednesday, we found out. An armed Insurrection, inspired and incited by Trump.

Now, a few Republicans are crying crocodile tears. Mitch McConnell. Chris Christie. John Kelly. Bill Barr. George W. Bush. Liz Cheney. Stephanie Grisham. Sens. Tom Cotton, Richard Burr, Roy Blunt. John Thune, Pat Toomey and Kelly Loeffler. Well, here’s my message to them: TOO FUCKING LITTLE, TOO FUCKING LATE. You collaborated with trump, aided and abetted his criminal regime for years. You saw the violence, and you kept silent and said and did NOTHING because it was in your interests. And now, suddenly, you’ve seen the light?

Well, the optimistic way of looking at this is, Better late than never. Somebody said, years ago, that everything Trump touches, he destroys. Now, these enablers are realizing that they, too, were played for fools. But that’s why I say that Wednesday’s Trump Insurrection made me very glad. Now they see. Now they all know what some of us have been warning them about for many years. I don’t know what the Republicans in Congress will do, in the 12 days trump has left in office: the 25th amendment, impeachment, censure. Probably they’ll do exactly what they’ve done all along: nothing. But their reputations are trashed, the Republican Party may be on its last legs, and as for Cruz and Hawley, the new Democratic Senate (thank you, Lord!) had better have the cojones to expel them.

* * *

Trump’s speech to the proud boys, immediately prior to the Jan. 6 Insurrection: Of course he started by trashing the Republican Party. Of course he played the victim. Of course he repeated his outrage about Pence—“All he has to do” is to trash the Constitution and declare trump the winner. Of course he felt sorry for himself. Of course he told his millionth lie: “Biden lost the election in a landslide.” Of course he pretended to love America. Of course he postured, Mussolini-like, with jutting chin and puffed-up chest. Of course he hated on the press. Of course he promised not the rename the Washington Monument. Of course he predicted “really bad things” from the Biden administration. Of course he praised Giuliani—“New Yorkers want you back!”, just after “America’s Mayor” called for “trial by combat.” Of course he pretended to care about American democracy when he has done his best to destroy it. Of course he called the pandemic a “fraud.” Of course he delegitimized Biden and said Democrats have gotten away with “election fraud” when there was none. Of course he revealed his resentment against “weak Republicans” who haven’t supported his coup e’etat, which he knew was just moments away from being launched. Of course he pandered to his cult followers: “You’re not the people who tore down our country,” even as they prepared to do just that. Of course he urged his proud boys “to fight,” in a reprise of “stand by.” Of course he called mail-in ballots “a scam.” Of course the election was “a theft.” Of course he repeated his lie about “fake ballots” in the middle of the night. Of course he again insulted Romney. Of course he resorted to his usual hyperbole: “In the history of this country no election was ever less fair.” He couldn’t help repeating one of his ugliest slurs: “The media is the enemy of the people.”

And then, instead of marching down the avenue with his proud boys, he motored back to the West Wing, where fried chicken and donuts were waiting, and he watched the thugs inspired by his egging-on assault the Capitol. Now Donald J. Trump is a pariah. And if nothing else, this outrage should cause Joe Biden to change his mind about making nice with Republicans. No more talk of kumbaya, of reconciliation. For Hawley and Cruz, for Gohmert and McCarthy, for Giuliani and Bannon and all their ilk, it’s time for Justice and Retribution.


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