Counterintelligence, I was told by a counterintelligence agent, is the activity of using information to shape the nature of conflict. For example, he explained, if US intelligence received information that a Navy ship was targeted for a terrorist attack, counterintelligence operatives might try to broadcast false location information about the ship to undermine and confuse the terrorist’s capacity for harm.
Similarly, a mayor subordinating protest “leaders,” by means unknown, to a platform of divisive rhetoric and timid reform, to undermine a protest’s capacity for cooperation could also be described as counterintelligence. This appears to be what’s happening in Seattle, to some extent, though it’s unclear who’s subordinated and who’s subordinating. For a short history on counterintelligence operations against protest movements in the US, check out this recent Intercept article.
While I don’t have enough information about who’s who among the protest leadership to profile and evaluate the various identities at play, I’ve witnessed on several occasions people of color on bullhorns sowing division by using rhetoric that appeared to have been deliberately designed to stoke internal conflict. Specifically, I’ve seen accusations of wanting integrity from one bullhorn to another and the devaluation of perspective based on demographic. On at least one occasion, these public disputes have physically divided and confused the crowd about the content of the protest. People in the crowd, meanwhile, seemed ready to yield to the directions given to them by the nearest bullhorn simply on the basis of good faith and white guilt, but no one should be so timid when the integrity of the movement is at stake.
The divisive bullhorn herding I’ve witnessed is enabled by a particular brand of “progressive” discourse which has turned against itself to posture inclusion as a pretext for exclusion. For instance, I saw a white person try to intervene on an unnecessary, divisive squabble between competing bullhorns only to be shouted down on the basis of demographic by the leader’s inner circle. The crowd seemed to mostly disapprove of the harshness of the rebuke though it also seemed to accept that it should rightly be a person of color holding the bullhorn, so the bullhorn continued in service to division. To be clear, I’m not against people of color holding or even dominating the bullhorn at a protest site, I’m against bad ideas and divisive, counterproductive rhetoric. And we’d be absolutely right to question the utility of “progressive” discourse insofar as it enables obfuscation and misdirection.
The most counterproductive aspects of progressive discourse are often associated with Black Lives Matter, though it’s unclear if the organization actually endorses those points. I reached out to the official King County BLM chapter for clarity but they did not respond before I made this post. For example, according to a widely shared twitter post on the subject, non-black allies of BLM should:1. Not lead chants2. Act as a physical shield for people of color 3. Not police or tone down black protesters4. Stay on message, don’t discuss other topics at a protest where BLM is activeThese points are obviously problematic if the person of color holding the bullhorn is subordinated to the power structures threatened by the protest.
Furthermore, while twitter users and bullhorn-holders strictly enforce “progressive” discourse to paint protests as an exclusive BLM affair, prominent black intellectuals such as Dr. Cornell West frame the ongoing protest in much broader sense. In a super cut of recent interviews featuring Dr. West, posted to Bernie Sander’s YouTube channel, Dr. West describes the protests as multi-faceted and “multi-racial.” This view, however, of a multi-faceted problem with multi-racial impacts is forcefully rejected by many people in defense of BLM, though, as I’ve mentioned, BLM’s actual endorsement of this narrow narrative is not confirmed and, frankly, seems unlikely.
The way certain “progressive” discourse operates in action is that it obliges all non-black people to allow the proverbial plane to crash into the mountain unless a person of color can be found to correct the plane’s trajectory. The utility of such expectations serve the objectives of counterintelligence operatives more reliably than the BLM movement itself. Because, while there are many people of color doing a wonderful job behind the bullhorn, there are others who are dividing more than unifying.
What the unfolding counterintelligence ploy comes down to, as I see it, is creating a doctrine about how to evaluate the value of ideas, as a means of idea regulation, and reducing the concept of contribution to an act of submission. This “progressive” discourse suggests that an idea’s value depends on the demographic of the speaker. In this way, “progressives” hold reason hostage to confine critical thought to a strict and narrow structure. I’ve yet to encounter a convincing explanation about how this benefits BLM. The opposing view, of course, is that an idea maintains it’s value from one speaker to the next, regardless of demographic.
Because protests movements are subject to counterintelligence interference, and because this appears to be happening in Seattle, protesters should adopt a way of being that acts as a passive defense against such interference. Personally, I think the best defense we could offer would be to grant the right to be right to anyone and everyone until they prove themselves unworthy. This would provide the crowd the ability to reject bad ideas and divisive content without fear of unwarranted retribution, and it strengthens our ability to educate and unify on actionable items of reform, rather than limiting our intrigue to the viability of an identity profile.
If the value of an idea depends on the speaker, all that’s needed to control a movement is leverage over the speaker, which shouldn’t be hard to obtain in an age of mass surveillance. On the other hand, it’s much harder to misdirect a movement organized around a widely distributed set of actionable reforms. So I’d ask you to really consider, who does a rigid “progressive” discourse actually serve?