Former Republican Congressman Denver Riggleman of Virginia, who now works at the Network Contagion Research Institute, appeared on CNN New Day on Friday to discuss the steps needed to undo the damage that misinformation and conspiracy theories are inflicting upon democracy in the United States.
“You told me that everything we just laid out there, particularly the false flag FBI stuff, is akin to September 11th trutherism, just as dangerous you say but also – and this is what scares me – you think effective,” host John Berman said.
Riggleman confirmed what Berman suspected:
It is, very effective. You know, and I deployed to 911. I left about ten days John right after 9/11 happened. I remember coming back in about 2003, 2004 when I was in NSA and we saw a lot of the 9/11 trutherism type of theories come out and when I saw the FBI thing from Tucker Carlson and now I’m starting to see DHS is starting to be mentioned with the FBI and some of these conspiracy theories, it’s the exact same playbook, and that’s to make up that it’s a false flag, that there’s some kind of internal thing going on in the government. It’s actors that came in from the outside and implanted people on the inside. So obviously this isn’t real and this is to go after the American people or specific groups and in this case they’re going after MAGA. So I did a Facebook search this morning, and what it says is, you know, ‘January 6th, FBI goes after MAGA.’ It says, ‘people say ‘legitimate questions. We have to find out.’ Right? And when you see these types of things on Facebook and you do these searches, this should scare the hell out of people. I think it will be used for 2022 and for fundraising also.
Cohost Brianna Keillar said that “it’s not just the FBI, right? You say that now this idea of a conspiracy theory about who was behind this, that it actually goes beyond the FBI?” she asked.
It does, and that’s why I was sort of shocked this morning. I thought, I’ll do some searches on social media. And it said, ‘FBI is in cahoots with DHS. And I think what you’re going to see is now this is going to be an entire law enforcement false flag instead of the Antifa false flag that we saw. And John and Brianna, you saw at the beginning where they were talking about the questions in the March hearing. We knew three to four days afterwards that there were seven or eight white nationalist groups that were involved. This wasn’t Antifa, this wasn’t the FBI, this isn’t DHS, this isn’t BLM, this was far right activists, this was groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, right, and those are the types of individuals there and Qanon believers. That’s who sieged the Capitol.
Berman then asked Riggleman what sort of benefit “spreading this crap” has for conservative activists, politicians, and right-wing propaganda networks like Fox News and Newsmax.
For starters, they win nominations, Riggleman said:
You win your primary, and, you know, when you look at polling or you look at fundraising, you look at this type of hyperbolic language, it’s very effective in raising money. And you look across the spectrum across the first quarter, you see Marjorie Taylor Greene raising $3.2 million, you see a Matt Gaetz raising $1.8 million, this is very effective with the base, and I was talking with Brianna even before we went on air. It’s even people in my district. I was looking at Republican committees, and they’re automatically saying there are legitimate questions here, we have to answer these questions. Was the FBI involved? And these are the same committees that Republicans have to answer to. So if the base is believing this and you think that’s how you win an election? The truth doesn’t matter, and that’s why I’ve been screaming about, is that facts have to matter as a representative for the American people.
Keilar then asked, “when you look at this – and it’s really a system of disinformation that is enabling this – but what is the biggest culprit? Is it, you know, right-wing media that is perpetuating this? Is it lawmakers – many of whom, and you know this for sure, they’re your former colleagues – they know that they’re lying. Is it social media? You know, what is the biggest culprit here?”
Riggleman said that “it’s certainly a combination. When you have coordinated, inauthentic activity, a lot of it as a bubble-up from the bottom now.”
We saw data during the Trump presidency where, for instance, the Obamagate thing, remember that? The ‘subpoena Obama?’ They actually started it from an online troll from Reddit. My guess is Revolver, ya know when they reported that the FBI on 1/6 infiltrated this based on some ridiculous definitions, right, and by God, who wants to go by real definitions, right? When they saw that, they said, hey, this could be a story. So you probably had a bubble-up from the sort of the dark corners of the internet up to the Revolver, which is a ridiculous rag, all the way up to Tucker Carlson with his millions of viewers who pushed this. It’s an ecosystem and that ecosystem is about follow the money. It’s about power and it’s about winning elections. And again at that point, if politics has gone into where you have a fantasy-based way of doing business, we’re in trouble. Because now you have a party that’s not based on reality or facts when you’re having policy discussions, and instead, they’re going to be running on 1/6, Antifa, false flags, or any other ridiculous conspiracy theory that you have out there.
Berman asked Riggleman what can be done about all of this.
The former Congressman said that we have to fight fire with fire, essentially:
Well listen, I fought disinformation and terrorism for years, right? Two decades. This is very difficult, because once it becomes a battle between good and evil, it becomes messianic, almost apocalyptic, right? You have to fight. You have to fight for your country. That is very difficult to break. But I think when you’re looking at all the strategies that you’re seeing across the government and even in private/public partnerships, I think we have to have some kind of center for disinformation defense. We have to do something where we have private/public partnerships or groups from the outside that look at disinformation, identify those people pushing this misinformation. If they’re allowed to use their First Amendment to do this ridiculousness we can use our First Amendment to fight this.
We need to use facts as a cudgel right now. It’s very difficult, I think you have to do it with compassion cause when you get angry, people push back with even more good against evil type of righteous stuff. But at this point, if we don’t have some kind sort of overall hold of government, and private/public partnerships that are look at this data, we’re going to have a lot more trouble in the future, and it worries me about the 2022 election.
Keilar added that Riggleman’s “research is alarming, that this is a chemical change. You bake a cake, you can’t unbake a cake, so we’ll see.”
Riggleman chuckled as he agreed.
“Brianna, you’re right. This is baked in, and it’s going to be a real challenge to get it out,” he said.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.