Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at the I-X Center Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Russians, Actors, and Seminar Callers for Donald Trump

“Given Putin’s behind the scenes dabblings in the affairs of other countries, Trump is just the sort of man he’d want to prop up to destabilize the West.”

Down the rabbit hole we go this morning. As I encounter more and more the hate mail, viciousness, and white supremacy of Trump supporters, so much of it seems manufactured. I remember a friend of mine pointing out that one of the very first twitter accounts to name “Tayyeep bin Ardogan” as the shooter in San Bernardino was most likely a Russian troll.

Tayyeep bin Ardogan is a rough homophone for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish President. The smear came in relation to San Bernardino and with escalating tensions over the Turkish military shooting down a Russian plane only a few days before the San Bernardino attack.

Get on Twitter and look for Tayyeep bin Ardogan and you will note that while the name sailed over the head of Americans, much of the Middle East got the joke. Also, if you get on Twitter you might note two things. One is that several of the original accounts to toss out the name, claiming it came from police scanners or elsewhere, are no longer active. Another is that some of the other accounts are now all in the tank for Donald Trump.

Yes, it is speculative and tangential. So let’s take two avenues.

First, read this New York Times report about “The Agency”. The organization of professional internet trolls tries to wreck havoc in the United States by spreading rumors, innuendo, and attacks.

On Dec. 13, two months after a handful of Ebola cases in the United States touched off a minor media panic, many of the same Twitter accounts used to spread the Columbian Chemicals hoax began to post about an outbreak of Ebola in Atlanta. The campaign followed the same pattern of fake news reports and videos, this time under the hashtag #EbolaInAtlanta, which briefly trended in Atlanta. Again, the attention to detail was remarkable, suggesting a tremendous amount of effort. A YouTube video showed a team of hazmat-suited medical workers transporting a victim from the airport. Beyoncé’s recent single “7/11” played in the background, an apparent attempt to establish the video’s contemporaneity. A truck in the parking lot sported the logo of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

On the same day as the Ebola hoax, a totally different group of accounts began spreading a rumor that an unarmed black woman had been shot to death by police. They all used the hashtag #shockingmurderinatlanta.

Most of the accounts peddling the ebola fear mongering have shut down, just like those peddling the Tayyeep bin Ardogan smear. But if you dig around you’ll find that not all have. Some are now all in for Donald Trump. I should also note that Vladimir Putin is the one guy with whom Trump has not engaged in insult comedy. Frankly, given Putin’s behind the scenes dabblings in the affairs of other countries, Trump is just the sort of man he’d want to prop up to destabilize the West.

Second, there is the curious story of the paid attendees at Donald Trump’s campaign launch.

The pay was listed as $50 for less than three hours of work. According to the email, Extra Mile was reaching out to potential extras in partnership with Gotham Government Relations and Communications, a New York-Based political consulting group that has worked with Trump in the past. Gotham GR had no comment.

Trump has certainly gained a following nationally, but he needed real support on Day 1. According the various press reports, Trump’s solution was to pay people to attend his campaign launch and cheer him on.

Now there is this fascinating article from the California Sunday Magazine about a company called Crowds on Demand.

Crowds on Demand, he says, serves several clients a week, sometimes a day — most in L.A., San Francisco, and New York but an increasing number in smaller cities like Nashville, Charlotte, and Minneapolis. When people inquire about a potential event, Adam guides them through the possibilities and the approximate costs: $600 for fake paparazzi at a birthday dinner; $3,000 for a flash mob dancing, chanting, and handing out fliers as a PR stunt; $10,000 for a weeklong political demonstration; $25,000 to $50,000 for a prolonged campaign of protests. According to Adam, protests have become the company’s growth sector, and just as with advertising, repeat impressions are key. “When the targets of our actions see that we’re going to be back, day after day, they get really scared,” he says. “We’re in it for the long haul, and the problem’s not going to go away on its own.”

Essentially, it is a rent-a-mob company. Pay them and they’ll have people show up to protest, agitate, support, cheer, engage on social media, etc. Unions already do this. Often union protestors are people brought off the street and given money in exchange for holding picket signs. No doubt some of the protestors at Trump events protesting against Trump were also paid protestors. But what if much of the social agitation online for Trump is manufactured?

On radio, I assure you it is. Last Tuesday night, my radio show saw a wave of callers calling in to complain about what I was saying that very night on radio. The callers assured my call screener they were listening. The calls were coming from area codes all over the nation and they were very angry about what I had just said on the radio that very night about Trump.

I was on vacation. The guest host had been talking about local matters and had not even mentioned Trump. Hello, seminar callers. Likewise, many of the calls to my radio station demanding I be fired or disciplined for insulting Trump have come from people making statements about my radio show that clearly indicate they have not listened to the show or the station.

Similarly, whenever I get a wave of emails attacking me for things about Trump, frequently the same IP address pops up. On Twitter, the waves come from people with rarely used or new Twitter accounts that are suddenly all in for Trump — every tweet an attack against someone or Trump propaganda. More often than not, the accounts have pictures of someone other than the the person tweeting and most do not use real names.

Certainly it could be people with low social connectedness, as Michael Barone has noted, but it sure seems odd to suddenly get a a wave of #whitegenocide tweets from accounts that are just suddenly active and all in to attack people who oppose Trump.

Donald Trump right now has support from about 35% of the smaller of the two American political parties. That is different from 35% of the nation as a whole. His polling is so terrible, Utah, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and other states become in play for Hillary Clinton in ways they would not with a different candidate.

But his supporters are convinced they are actually a majority because they have entered an echo chamber (and a cult) where everyone agrees with them, they are the loudest voices, and they don’t see anyone online who can stand up to the overwhelming presence of Trump support. Everywhere they turn there are more people just like them.

Given that Trump has only the support of a third of the smaller of the two American political parties, that level of support makes no sense unless there is more than meets the eye.

Again, I said I was going down the rabbit hole, but I remain as convinced as I was last August when I first started seeing the wave of Branch Trumpidian attacks that a lot of it is manufactured to convince the press and others that Trump’s support is larger than it actually is.

Since January we have seen he does have a real ceiling and it is about 33% to 35% in the GOP. You’d never know that on social media and through callers to radio shows, etc. But that is exactly the point.

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Erick Erickson

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