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‘March For Truth’: The Perils Of Claiming Trump Is Under Russia’s Influence—Without Proof

There exists widespread concern among activists and concerned citizens on the left that President Donald Trump is a tyrannical figure, who is under the influence of a foreign power. They contend Russian President Vladimir Putin is working Trump like a puppet, and thousands were out for a “March For Truth” this past weekend demanding an independent commission.

But there is currently little to no proof underpinning these claims about Trump and his administration.

More significantly, baseless accusations of influence by a foreign power carry the potential to push Trump to consolidate his power even more rapidly. It also distracts from movement building for social, economic, environmental, and racial justice that is much more crucial to the daily lives of citizens.

The “March For Truth” on June 3 was supported by Common Cause, DailyKos, Indivisible, MoveOn, Public Citizen, Rock The Vote, Women’s March, and the Working Families Party.

A number of Democratic representatives in Congress, including Reps. Al Green, Robin Kelly, Donald McEachin, Jerry Nadler, Jamie Raskin, Brad Sherman, Mike Quigley, and Nydia Velasquez, spoke at rallies in major cities throughout the country.

Demonstrators in Washington, D.C., carried signs that said, “Impeach Comrade Trumpsky,” or “United States of Russia?” with a hammer and sickle emblem over a U.S. map colored red. Another D.C. sign said, “T is for Treason,” with a picture of the Cookie Monster waving a Russia flag. Multiple signs carried tinges of homophobia, such as a poster with a cartoon of Putin and Trump kissing under the words, “Our Moscow Mule!”

In Seattle, someone carried a sign that read, “Nobody Vote For Putin.” A person in New York City had a sign that said, “Hammer and Pickle,” with Trump’s face emblazoned in red. Yet another in Denver had a very well-designed print of Putin in a strongman jacket with medals as he held baby Trump in the air. Baby Trump waved a flag with the logo for his presidential campaign.

Raskin was interviewed after his speech in D.C. by journalist Max Blumenthal for The Real News. The progressive congressman conceded there are currently no facts to support the most troubling claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

“All we have is clues, you know, so we know that [Carter] Page, and [Paul] Manafort, and [Roger] Stone were on the Russian payroll,” Raskin said. “We know there were all of these meetings between the son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Kislyak, and all these Russian agents. I don’t know whether there was a money making operation. I don’t know whether they were actually colluding to distort the news and to frame the campaign, but that’s why we need an independent commission.”

Blumenthal pinned Raskin down for spreading misinformation. Raskin said Russia attempted to hack the Emmanuel Macron campaign. Blumenthal told Raskin that The Washington Post reported the French Cyber Intelligence Agency said this did not happen. Instead of admitting he spread false information at the rally, Raskin grew defensive and asked Blumenthal, “Do you support an independent commission?”

Furthermore, Raskin exaggerated the role of Stone at Russia Today, saying he hosted a show when that is not true. He declared, “Donald Trump is the hoax, perpetrated on the Americans by the Russians.” Raskin’s press person then tried to diminish the statement and suggested all Raskin meant to say was “there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

Velazquez made similar statements in New York and said Russia “wanted to get Donald Trump elected because they know his vision of America is beneficial to Vladimir Putin.” Trump wanted to diminish America’s strength here and abroad, according to Velazquez, and that is exactly what Putin wants, “an America ruled by smallness, characterized by intolerance, and paralyzed by its own fears.”

Quigley, a congressman from a north side district of Chicago, declared, “This is more sinister than Watergate. This involves cooperation with the bad guys to attack the democratic process.” And added, “This investigation I’ve been working on, it’s the most important thing I’ve ever done or will ever do.”

To be clear, a heavily cited intelligence report on alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election contained no concrete proof from any U.S. intelligence agency that Putin ordered hacking. It indicated “Russian actors” had not targeted or compromised systems that are involved in “vote tallying.”

The worst U.S. intelligence agencies were able to confirm was that the Russian government may have attempted to influence the outcome of the election by pushing propaganda onto the internet for mass consumption.

A propaganda operation is conflated as hacking or interfering in the election. Such exaggerations are why a YouGov/The Economist poll in December found 52 percent of Democrats thought it was “true” that  “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President.”

Democrats currently favor the “Donald Trump colluded with Russia” line as a means of winning support for midterm elections in 2018.

Last week, Clinton claimed she did not win Wisconsin because Wisconsin voters had searched for emails that the Russians dumped through WikiLeaks. However, she did not personally travel to Wisconsin to campaign and treated it as a “safe” state she could not possibly lose.

Clinton called for an independent investigation to get to the bottom of Russian interference, blaming a foreign power for her loss when there is no evidence whatsoever to support her claims.

Regardless of the absence of proof, the Democratic establishment remains ambivalent about offering an alternative vision that could compete against Trump’s vision. Democrats could push for a living wage, single-payer healthcare, closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations, an infrastructure plan that would provide jobs to Americans, a free college tuition program, and address the lack of clean water in communities.

Instead, the Democrats push a narrative that gives the party the ability to avoid offering anything meaningful to voters.

“No one in Ohio is asking about Russia,” former Ohio state senator Nina Turner declared on CNN. She added, “If you want to know about the people of Ohio, they want to know about jobs. They want to know about their children.”

Turner added, “The president should be concerned about this, all Americans should be concerned about this,” but noted that if one goes to Flint, [Michigan], “They wouldn’t ask you about Russia and Jared Kushner. They want to know how they are gonna get some clean water and why some 8,000 people are about to lose their homes.”

“We are preoccupied with this. It’s not that this is not important, but every day Americans are being left behind because it’s Russia, Russia, Russia. Do we need all 535 members of Congress to deal with Russia? Can some of them deal with some domestic issues?”

Activist Linda Sarsour, who is with the Women’s March, echoed this sentiment at the D.C. rally, saying it was important to not be distracted by this particular effort for an independent commission. Attacks on healthcare, climate change denial, the Muslim ban, U.S. warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, and police violence against black lives each demand continued protests from the public.

It is not like there were not any attacks from Russian military intelligence. The Intercept recently reported on top secret documents showing an alleged attack on a U.S. software supplier days before the election. Yet, what is the context?

Were attacks occurring in retaliation for offensive cyber warfare against the Russian government from operatives within the U.S. government? How should citizens understand these counterintelligence operations from Russia?

There are valid concerns about Trump and a possible crisis of democracy, as raised by Rep. Jerrold Nadler at the New York rally. Trump seemingly has no respect for the Constitution or separation of powers. Trump lies about climate change, the conduct of elections, and voter suppression. Trump engages in acts that appear to an outside observer to obstruct official investigations.

But grafting on fears of Putin influence without proof does not bring the public closer to the truth. In fact, it may only serve to further isolate Trump and force even more startling acts on the part of his administration.

Maya Schenwar, editor-in-chief of Truthout and author of "Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better."
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."