by J Michael Waller / Center for Security Policy / September 15, 2020
The deployment of military psychological warfare technology to defeat President Trump has taken on added meaning since the Washington Post first reported it last May.
Now, prominent counterinsurgency practitioners from the Global War on Terror are calling on the American military leadership to overthrow the president if the results of the upcoming election are inconclusive or in dispute.
For months the Biden camp has been using militarized rhetoric to suggest that President Trump is bent on electoral fraud and subverting the Constitution to keep himself in power.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to the ultimate extreme by calling the president and his supporters in Congress “domestic enemies” and “enemies of the state.”
At the same time the Biden operation has underplayed the organized violence of Antifa, which does advocate the overthrow of the Constitution. This raises questions about whether the Democrats are using the Antifa/BLM extremists as tactical allies to oust Trump by any means necessary.
Let’s unpack these elements and examine each piece.
Element 1: Deploy counterinsurgency technology against the public
Last spring, a pro-Biden political action committee adapted a counterinsurgency technology designed for waging psychological warfare against ISIS, and deployed it against citizen supporters of President Trump.
“A new Democratic-aligned political action committee advised by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is planning to deploy technology originally developed to counter Islamic State propaganda in service of a domestic political goal,” the Washington Post reported on May 1.
“The group, Defeat Disinfo, will use artificial intelligence and network analysis to map discussion of the president’s claims on social media. It will seek to intervene by identifying the most popular counter-narratives and boosting them through a network of more than 3.4 million influencers across the country — in some cases paying users with large followings to take sides against the president,” the Post said.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) developed the psychological warfare technology for use against terrorists. Former DARPA consultant Curtis Hougland started Defeat Disinfo as a political action committee. He adapted an unclassified, open-source version of the DARPA technology to blame President Trump for the pandemic from China, and accuse him of pushing policies that kill American citizens. “People are dying as a result of his political agenda,” Houghland said on announcing the project.
By blaming Trump and not even mentioning China, Defeat Disinfo’s operations coincide with Beijing’s campaign in the US to deflect criticism away from the Chinese Communist Party and toward the Trump administration.
Defeat Disinfo’s central theme has been to attack what it calls Trump’s “disinformation” about the coronavirus pandemic and to push the Russia collusion conspiracy theory. “Trump’s lies about Joe Biden & Covid-19 threaten our society,” it says on its homepage. “Republicans and Russians weaponize these lies to divide the nation.” The PAC is open about politicizing the pandemic, saying that “while we target Republicans along Trump’s campaign trail with our ‘COVID Safe Communities’ campaign, we will also push for the high turnout we need among Democratic voters.”
DARPA, which pioneered early versions of today’s commercial high-tech, including the Internet and the cell phone, says it has nothing to do with Defeat Disinfo or the political use of the technology, which is now publicly available. It distanced itself from Defeat Disinfo and Houghland, a former DARPA consultant.
As a psychological operations (PSYOP) specialist, I am personally familiar with versions of this technology used by the US Special Operations Command. It was designed not only for PSYOP messaging, but for physically locating individuals in real-time. It performs both functions by tracking individuals’ phones and other mobile devices through voice and text messages, GPS, and through apps like Facebook and Waze and any of the other spyware on one’s phone.
Applied one way, the technology scoops up and aggregates messages to determine who is initiating or responding to certain themes, and uses artificial intelligence as an aid to address or counter enemy messaging.
Applied another way, the commercially available technology can be used for real-time tracking of individuals targeted to be apprehended or killed.
Use and abuse of this psychological warfare technology against the American public isn’t an independent rogue operation. It is part of something much bigger. For months, Biden has been saying that Trump will steal the election and might have to be removed from the Oval Office by military force. They are insights into a 2020 Democrat campaign strategy of total war. The political opponent is now a military enemy.
Element 2: Militarily overthrow President Trump
The second element is a strategy based on military counterinsurgency methods developed in Iraq. Two former lieutenant colonels revealed the strategy in an August 11 open letter to General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The strategy is premised on rejection of the possibility that the American people ever would re-elect President Trump. Under this reasoning, Trump can only win through fraud and force. Therefore, American military leaders must overthrow Trump at a given date and time: January 20, 2021, at 12:01 AM. (That’s actually 12 hours before the end of Trump’s first term.)
This is not a political “scenario” or “discussion.” It’s a real plan.
The former Army officers, John Nagl and Paul Yingling, aren’t warning about someone else’s plan. They’re pushing their own. They told General Milley, “If Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order.”
The pair are far from obscure cranks. Nagl, a West Point graduate, is a prominent military theorist who served in Iraq under General David Petraeus and on the Defense Policy Board advising Trump’s first defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis. A former president of the Center for a New American Security, an Obama holdover think tank, Nagl is a prolific writer and counterinsurgency theoretician with a large mainstream following in the military and counterterrorism field. Yingling, who sees counterinsurgency differently from Nagl, has been a harsh critic of generals who failed to anticipate an insurgency against US forces in Iraq. He once served under the general who became Trump’s second national security adviser, H. R. McMaster.
“Due to a dangerous confluence of circumstances, the once-unthinkable scenario of authoritarian rule in the United States is now a very real possibility,” Nagl and Yingling said in their letter, published in DefenseOne.com.
A Trump dictatorship, they said, is almost inevitable because “Trump faces near certain electoral defeat” and “is vigorously undermining public confidence in our elections.” Trump, they argue, won’t accept defeat because he’s certain to “face criminal prosecution.” He’s “assembling a private army capable of thwarting not only the will of the electorate but also the capacities of ordinary law enforcement,” they said; “When these forces collide on January 20, 2021, the US military will be the only institution capable of upholding our Constitutional order.”
“Mr. Trump is following a playbook of dictators throughout history: he is building a private army answerable only to him,” Nagl and Yingling said. They accused Trump of following the example of Julius Caesar by using “militarized Homeland Security agents against domestic political demonstrations” – Antifa and its allies – and that use of those agents “constitutes the creation of a paramilitary force unaccountable to the public.”
This is the Antifa line. It’s as if Nagl, with his experience of regarding some violent extremists in Iraq as tactical allies to fight rival violent extremists, has brought the war home with him and applied his counterinsurgency worldview to militarize American politics.
Other military professionals commented in DefenseOne that the Nagl-Yingling strategy is “deeply irresponsible” and “wrong on many levels” and “undignified bluster.” Even so, the duo provoked reasoned professional debate with scenarios about whether and how the military should overthrow President Trump. The narrative suddenly went mainstream.
Convinced of the impossibility of a legitimate Trump victory, Nagl and Yingling told Milley, as if as a fact, that the “Democrat-led House of Representatives will certify the Electoral College results, which Mr. Trump will dismiss as fake news.” Then a legal battle will begin in the courts, dragging on for months, “producing reasoned rulings that Trump will alternately appeal and ignore.”
Again: This is not a hypothetical gaming scenario for discussion. It’s a real plan.
The former lieutenant colonels then unveiled the progressives’ coup d’etat: “Then the clock will strike 12:01 AM, January 20, 2021, and Donald Trump will be sitting in the Oval Office. The street protests will inevitably swell outside the White House, and the ranks of Trump’s private army will grow inside its grounds. The speaker of the House [Pelosi] will declare the Trump presidency is at an end, and direct the Secret Service and Federal Marshals to remove Trump from the premises.”
Apparently Nagl and Yingling see Pelosi making herself interim president under the Presidential Succession Act, because she as a legislator would have no authority to direct the Secret Service or Marshals of the executive branch to do anything. “These agents will realize that they are outmanned and outgunned by Trump’s private army,” Nagl and Yingling told Milley, “and the moment of decision will arrive.”
The counterinsurgents-turned-coup-plotters see only “two options” to stop the “Constitutional crisis.” Either “US military forces escort the former president [Trump] from the White House grounds” – echoing a Biden comment from June and hinting that “a brigade of the 82nd Airborne” would do the job – or “the US military remains inert while the Constitution dies.”
The former officers then informed Milley, “your duty is to give unambiguous orders directing US military forces to support the Constitutional transfer of power” – i.e., oust President Trump under Nancy Pelosi’s orders. If Milley is silent, they say, “you will be complicit in a coup d’etat.”
This warped logic means that the if the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t actively overthrow an unofficially re-elected President Trump while the issue is left for the judiciary to decide, he will be guilty of passively overthrowing either an unofficially-elected President Biden (or Harris), or a self-declared interim President Pelosi.
Milley didn’t take the bait. Responding to congressional Democrats who expressed concern about the Nagl-Yingling scenario, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs pledged to keep the military apolitical and leave such a decision to proper civilian authorities.
Element 3: Exploit Antifa/BLM insurgents as tactical allies
The third element of the militarization of American politics is the apparent exploitation of violent extremists as tactical allies to intimidate and terrorize the public in the months and weeks leading up to the election, and possibly beyond Inauguration Day.
Antifa and its confederates are not Democrats. They are anarchist-communists. They are not interested in Joe Biden or elections. Their goal is to overthrow the United States Constitution.
But to the Trojan Horse Biden team, they could be tactical allies in a common short-term fight to oust Trump, make the country ungovernable, or provoke a constitutional crisis.
Counterinsurgency veterans are familiar with making tactical alliances with mortal enemies to pit one violent extremist faction against another for short-term military gain. So it would not be unusual for a cynical, corrupt politician to use Antifa/BLM as a means of terrorizing the country to defeat President Trump and his supporters.
Just as dehumanizing a military enemy to make him easier to kill, the key for the entire Biden-Harris battle is to dehumanize Trump and his allies. Not as political opponents to be defeated democratically, but as enemies to be destroyed.
In their letter to Milley, Nagl and Yingling appeared to envision armed clashes between federal agents who refuse to overthrow Trump and the Antifa/BLM mobs – what the sub-colonels call “extralegal violence between Trump’s private army and street protesters.” They even name the precise location: “Black Lives Matter Plaza,” the two-block length of 16th Street on the north side of Lafayette Park across from the White House.
The mayor of Washington DC has kept that area cordoned off and fortified with concrete barriers for months. It is an ideal staging area for many thousands. Union buildings, offices, a historic hotel, and a church there remain boarded up. Perhaps for good reason: “Black Lives Matter Plaza,” Nagl and Yingling write, “becomes Tahrir Square.”
Tahrir Square is a large plaza and traffic intersection in Cairo, the locus of the 2011 Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood-led grassroots revolution, backed by the Obama Administration, to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak and install an Islamist regime.
As the #2 member of the Obama team, Biden supported the policy of aligning the US with the Muslim Brotherhood. So the mention of Tahrir Square to Milley can be interpreted as an indicator, not a metaphor.
Nagl and Yingling then give Milley the Antifa “peaceful protester” line. The general was, they say, culpable for supporting the repulsion of Antifa’s attempts to destroy public historic monuments and buildings between the White House and the so-called Black Lives Matter Plaza. “You were rightly criticized for your prior active complicity in the president’s use of force against peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square,” they said. “Your passive complicity in an extralegal seizure of political power would be far worse.”
A tactical alliance between the Democrats and Antifa/BLM could help explain why Biden, Kamala Harris, Pelosi, and others would not denounce the Antifa rioting in Portland for more than three months, and why they still will not denounce Antifa by name.
As of this writing, Biden passively denounced Antifa once, as far as we know, but it was in response to a question and he still didn’t call out Antifa by name. Instead he blamed Trump.
The silence represents a dangerous and tense truce between once-mainstream politicians like Biden and violent anarcho-communists like Antifa.
That unnatural balance cannot hold. The Biden camp must ultimately come out against Antifa if Trump maintains his new restraint. He has welcomed Democrat mayors and governors to buck the national party apparat and ask for federal help in their own jurisdictions. For now, as the campaign enters its last weeks, the tactical alliance of silence about Antifa/BLM is still intact as the Biden-Harris ticket tries to blame Trump for the rioting and destruction.
From scenario to removal ‘with great dispatch,’ to the military overthrow plan, to exploiting Antifa’s parallel army
Last spring, more than 100 Biden supporters gamed out a scenario in which Trump would seek to keep power illegally. They wondered “how the military would respond.” Participants claimed to want to prevent military intervention.
But as we have seen, it appears that the scenario became a real plan.
Over the summer, Biden and Pelosi suggested that Trump will have to be removed from the White House by force – “with great dispatch,” according to Biden, and in Pelosi’s word, “fumigated” out. Some media outlets, including CNN, gleefully echoed the possibility.
Then came the Nagl-Yingling coup d’etat plan, which seasoned political figures quickly embraced, down to the very catch phrases. Pelosi embraced it to dehumanize the president and his supporters in Congress. Trump and the Republican lawmakers who support him – Pelosi’s own elected colleagues in the House – are now, in Pelosi’s words, “domestic enemies” and “enemies of the state.” In a coordinated script with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Pelosi accused the Department of Homeland Security of being Trump’s “private army” of “stormtroopers” to battle “peaceful protesters.”
The Overthrow Trump line has spread across the entire national Democratic party machine. There is now a rejection of the very idea of “election night results.” Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016, insisted that Biden not accept adverse election results “under any circumstances.” Her comment hinted at an actual mobilization plan to stage a coup if Trump is re-elected in a tight vote.
Meanwhile, a foreign fringe group that ran the Occupy Wall Street campaign has promoted a 50-day operation to “lay siege to the White House.” The mob action was set to begin September 17 and continue through the election. That organized effort initially promised an immediate “spontaneous” post-election entrenchment of the insurgent forces that Nagl envisioned to battle federal officers who refuse to overthrow Trump. Organizers seemed to back off a bit, promising a 50-day jazz festival instead, but Antifa agitators from the Portland riots had already been spotted in DC.
A siege, of course, is a military action. Webster’s defines “siege” as “a military blockade of a city or fortified place to compel it to surrender.” To “lay siege,” according to Webster’s, is “to attack militarily.” In this case, the siege starts before the election.
The combination of using military PSYOP technology against the American people, a military coup d’etat strategy from Iraq counterinsurgency veterans, and what could be Biden’s parallel private army of the mobs have assembled to remove the President of the United States from office.