Opinion: The Lockdown Protests are Shameless Astroturfing, and the establishment Makes #FloridaMorons of Us All

Stuck at home with your HBO account and food delivery apps? Looking for something to be pissed off about? Wonderful! Mainstream media would like to direct your attention to predominantly right-wing groups protesting across the nation for an end to the lockdown, and away from—well, whatever it is the people who cut their checks are up to. Conservatives in power, such as Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, whose family funded the protest against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay at home order, and President Trump, who has brazenly encouraged the demonstrations, are attempting to shift our baleful gaze to local government, the Democrats and the Chinese. Authoritarians, they cry! Communists! Elitists! 

The Democratic elite, through the megaphone of mainstream media outlets they keep in their pocket, would like to convince you it’s the conservatives’ fault. Racists! Philistines! “Why is it that right-wingers always seem to need their screws tightened?” one man wrote in a tweet about the Michigan protests. 

And so it goes. As long as you remain in the stands, watching the reds and blues bat blame back and forth like a tired tennis ball and cheering for your favorite team, you’re right where they want you.

Both parties would like you to believe they are ardent champions of the working man, their efforts hampered only by the self-serving interference of the opposite side—and, crucially, the ordinary people who elected them. They really want us to blame ourselves. 

Didn’t vote for Clinton in 2016? Might want to wash the blood off your hands. Not social distancing? Don’t have a mask? This is your fault, and you must be punished (for the safety of the American people, of course). In Philadelphia, a man was physically pulled off a bus by several police officers for not wearing a mask. A New York woman was arrested for not social distancing and thrown in a cell with two dozen others for 36 hours. These are far from isolated incidents. 

The government primes us to accept them by painting our fellow working people (and the migrants, the Chinese, the Russians, et al., depending on your political leanings) as the enemy they are protecting us from. If we stay divided, frightened, and vengeful, we remain prey to the real enemy—our American aristocracy. They inject a cacophony of myopic, sensationalized political narratives into our media, a different flavor formulated for each demographic, and hope that we’ll consume it. We do so ferociously, like dogs. 

The re-opening protests being pushed in our faces are a perfect example of this. The protests are a sloppy spectacle of astroturfing—the practice of concealing the sponsors of a movement so it appears to have grassroots origin and mass support. In other words, something that seems like a spontaneous expression of the zeitgeist, but is actually a few rich pricks using their immense wealth to change our perception of the political landscape. Americans on both sides of the party line are falling for it. 

If it seems like this movement popped up overnight, that’s because it did: tech-savvy Reddit sleuths discovered that the protest websites (reopen[state abbreviation].com, although in some cases this redirects to a page on a different website, such as minnesotagunrights.org, the domain always registered to the same LLC) can be traced to at least two professional astroturfing firms—or, as they call themselves, “digital advocacy solutions.” The sites for Pennsylvania, Minisota, Iowa, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio—all presidential election swing states—were made by OneClickPolitics and the sites for Maryland, North Carolina and New Jersey were made by UJoin. [Note: at the time this was being written, OCP’s branding was visibly evident on the sites. It’s since been scrubbed off.]  Strategies like this can be incredibly impactful digital astroturfing was employed by AggregateIQ/Cambridge Analytica in the Brexit campaign, for instance. If you’re confused about what exactly these companies do, that makes two of us, but the description on OCP’s website is illuminating.: 

Are you launching a new coalition or association and need more members now? Want 10,000 signatures for your petition from residents of a certain state? Are you battling a legislative issue in a location where you don’t have enough advocates, who are constituents of the legislators you are attempting to influence? Or would you like to impress your boss by reporting a 15 percent growth in membership in less than 90 days? If your answer is yes, keep reading!

OneClick Acquisition is your solution for generating immediate legislative actions from new supporters within mere days. We deliver “on demand, organic supporters” through our proprietary digital ad placement technology.

These companies are selling conservatives the narrative behind the protests the same way corporate liberal media is selling its contemptuous counter-narrative to the left: “digital ad placement technology.” Our consumption and dissemination of the two adversarial political narratives is directly proportional; the more the left signals their opposition, the more the right will adopt the position as a counter-signal. It’s a brilliant business model. The immediate popularity of these narratives is a testament to the power of market research organizations. The two apparently opposite campaigns are a joint success with a singular intended result: to divide and distract us sufficiently that the current system can sidestep the blame for the violence it has caused. 

Who is paying for the astroturfing campaigns remains unknown, but I could hazard some guesses. After all, Republican puppetmasters are making less effort to hide than ever before—FreedomWorks, the think tank behind the Tea Party movement, is “holding weekly virtual town halls with members of Congress, igniting an activist base of thousands of supporters across the nation to back up the effort,” according to an Associated Press article titled “Powerful GOP allies propel Trump effort to reopen economy:” history repeating itself as farce. Besides DeVos, these “powerful allies” include The Heritage Foundation and Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. 

Americans have become so reverent of wealth and power, so blind to class distinctions, that they see billionaire chessmasters as their “allies” protecting their inalienable “right to work”: the right to sacrifice themselves at the altar of capital to provide their families some Eucharistic breadcrumbs. It’s incredible that we’ll believe billionaire-funded political campaigns are in our best interest. The intention of the ruling class, regardless of tie color, is to limit our freedom and maximize our productivity as much as possible. 

Eager to join the chorus excoriating conservatives for their ignorance and naivete, liberals forget to consider the elites they’re prepared to trust—Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, with his ugly track record of someone who’s above the law and knows it. Nancy Pelosi, quite possibly an insurance conglomerate disguised as a person, and the “experts” bearing her seal of approval. I’ll spare us both the Biden spiel; his reputation precedes him. The notion that those backward right-wing protestors might know something they don’t is as unfathomable to liberals as pairing camo print with polarized sunglasses. 

Whether you are out protesting in your truck with an American flag or at home with your gourmet ice cream tweeting angrily about it, the establishment is laughing all the way to the bank. It’s 2020. We have new problems, and they affect all of us: surveillance, authoritarianism, the commodification and weaponization of our data. The government is auctioning off our liberty and privacy to the highest bidder. The American government and big business are two heads of the same hydra, and it won’t be content until it’s penetrated every facet of our lives. The two party system is a joke at our expense. It doesn’t really matter who’s behind the astroturfing, because the only lines that matter right now are class lines.  This isn’t about enlightened Democrats vs. the Trumpian troglodytes, it’s about normal people vs. the rapidly dystopian big-data-big-pharma-privatized-government Orwellian technocracy of the new world order. 

The consequences of the lockdown protests, like the privatization and consolidation of government power, will affect all of us. Uniting under our shared interests is our only hope. Well, that and Bill Gates, of course.

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