By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Days after violent protests began to sweep US cities the commentators were provided talking points about “Russia was behind it.” It only took a few hours on Saturday, May 30, before the articles and claims began appearing. “The Russians did it.”
What had been a clear case of police brutality rapidly shifted to blaming a foreign power. Even when commentators tried to wrestle with the topic they would argue, as CNN did, that “Analysis: Yes, there is misinformation in Minneapolis. No, it’s not all Russia’s fault.”
“It’s not all Russia’s fault.” That means many in the legacy media were creating a narrative that it was all Russia’s fault, and the question was now to just pull them back from “all.” It’s mostly Russia’s fault. It’s mostly Russia’s fault that a US policeman detained a black man and put his knee on the man’s neck, killing him, in Minneapolis. It couldn’t be America’s fault.
The Russia did it narrative is generally advanced by those who don’t seem to want to wrestle with the fact that it was America that created its own slavery and segregation and racist past. They need the “Russian” plot as a crutch to excuse their own failings.
The Russian narrative can be seen in numerous tweets on May 30:
Leading commentators across US media asserted that the violent protests are part of a Russian operation.
Why do they need a Russian bogeyman behind a very American history of police brutality and riots. How did the Russians suddenly pop up in such an American story? The US history of riots and protests against police brutality goes back decades. Remember Ferguson in 2014. Then there was theBlack Lives Matter movement and clashes across the country in 2015. Long before that there were the LA Riots of 1992 and the numerous riots in the 1960s.
Violent protests and riots are part of American history. Police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men is also something that is uniquely American. Blaming “Russians” is an easy way to get out of having to address systematic police violence. It’s an easy way to pin everything on a conspiracy. This is because most of these commentators don’t want to call for police reform or address the racist elephant in the room. They don’t want to talk about American inequalities and how in the last generation the ability of people to achieve social mobility or even improve their salaries has been eroded. They don’t want to talk about rising health care and education costs that make a decent living out of the grasp of more and more people. That’s not as interesting as asserting that a “hidden hand” is behind the protests and violence.
They want protests to remain peaceful, or they label them “Russians.” If there weren’t police violence then there wouldn’t be protests for “Russians” to exploit, have the commentators thought of that? Russians didn’t make the police gun down so many unarmed black people in the US. There almost isn’t a week that there isn’t an egregious case of someone shot for no reason. Only some of these cases become a cause. Breonna Taylor was gunned down in her own apartment, for instance. A black man out to look at birds in Central Park was accosted with threats by a woman to call the police on him.
The “Russians” didn’t cause America’s long history of racism and the reaction it inevitably provokes. Peaceful protests don’t get noticed. Nothing changes. If something changed then there would have been no knee on George Floyd’s neck. None of the police involved in that abuse seem to have cared. The Russians didn’t cause the police to arrest a CNN crew on live TV, an unprecedented attack on Americans. If anyone thinks the Russians are harming US democracy, how about what Americans are doing to US democracy. It seems Americans are quite good at eroding their own democracy. We don’t need help from outside.
The “Russians did it” crowd might be more serious if they spent as much time condemning police brutality and arbitrary attacks on the press and protesters. If they wondered by the NSA and army is being deployed to deal with protests, and US cities look more like war zones of countries the US invaded, than what many want America to look like. Why do US police shoot paint balls at people on their own porch during curfew while shouting “light em up.” Is that the “Russians” do it?
America will never fix its problems until people start addressing these issues rather than blaming others. So long as “Russia” is blamed for every US failure, it is a way for people to excuse shortcomings. America used to be better than this. It used to have less conspiracies and politicians who took protesters seriously. Only some of that was on display this week in Atlanta. But most authorities hid behind police barricades.
The only conspiracy against America is a very American one. It consists of failed bureaucrats and faceless law enforcement who act with impunity. It is about ingrained racism.
America’s history os segregation is within living memory. When my father was thirty years old it was still illegal in parts of America for a white person to marry a black person. In short, my own marriage was illegal in a vast area of America. This is a time when Joe Biden and many others were young men and women. That is an America that is recent, it’s still here. That’s an America where “miscegenation” laws were real and so was segregation and separate drinking fountains. That was American apartheid.
With such a recent history of this racism how can anyone seriously think that Russians are fueling racial tensions in the US. You don’t need Russians for that. You have Americans for that. Blaming Russians for American racism is like Russia blaming the US for alcoholism and Vodka. American racism and police harming African-Americans is a dark side of US history. Blaming “foreigners” for the failures of America wreaks of the kind of Soviet propaganda about “western imperialist sabateurs” we have heard about. The Russians were also blamed for US anti-Vietnam war protests as a way to discredit the protests. But it was America that failed in Vietnam and Americans that did Mai Lai. Not Russians.
Russia may be a nefarious enemy of the US. But it didn’t cause US social problems. Instead of blaming the “hidden hand,” US media should confront the racism and the police brutality and the social malaise and the increasing wealth inequality and the paternalism, nepotism and almost feudalism that is sweeping the US economy today, eroding social mobility and the middle class.