Mind Your Mind: Dissecting Astroturf

Above is an interesting piece of astroturf a friend of mine received a few days ago via WhatsApp. There are a couple of things about this that immediately make me question whether this is “fake news.”

The first question I always ask when I see something like this is: “Who does this message benefit?” There is no positive message in the piece. It’s a hit piece on Tulsi Gabbard. It’s the kind of thing a Republican might dream up to damage her politically.

It’s also not wrong. The Intercept had a piece around the same time this video was published on YouTube. However, there is a crucial difference in the discussion.

In the video above, they make emotional appeals and try to argue that she is supporting the Indian Nazis. But, they are doing the rhetorical equivalent of saying the Republican party is the party of white supremacist neo-nazis. White supremacist neo-nazis might support the Republican party, but it doesn’t mean it’s a characteristic of a majority party. Same goes for the major political parties of India.

The Intercept article, by way of contrast, frames it more as a question of having a problematic base of support, much as Donald Trump’s support by the “alt-right” was questioned in 2016 and after. It also questions her support of dictators, such as Assad in Syria or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt. The only real problem in supporting dictators is that these are not the dictators the United States usually supports. But, there’s nothing unusual about U.S. support of dictators, just as there’s nothing unusual about U.S. politicians taking campaign money from any source willing to give it to them.

The other strange aspect of the video above is that the person speaking on behalf of the Organization for Minorities of India is pronouncing the names of the Indian states in a way that makes it clear he isn’t from India. Do they not have actual minorities of India available to make this video?

I became curious. So, I used the WHOIS lookup on ICANN’s website. Entering in minoritiesofindia.org and hitting LOOKUP, the following is returned:

“Registrant Contact
Name:
Organization: Geneva Liberty Group
Mailing Address: , California US”

This is a lucky break. WHOIS used to be a reliable method to identify who was behind a website. Often, this is no longer the case. For example, if you do a search for cafebedouin.org in the ICANN WHOIS lookup, you’ll see the following:

“Registrant Contact
Name:
Organization: Knock Knock WHOIS Not There, LLC
Mailing Address: , OR US”

Professional astroturf groups will hide their WHOIS registration behind another entity, just as I have done.

Now, we come to the next question, why is a public advocacy group like we would presume the Organization for Minorities of India have a website registered by an organization called Geneva Liberty Group? Normally, non-profits, if they are real, incorporate so they can accept tax-deductible donations. The Organization for Minorities of India does not appear to be a non-profit organization and doesn’t show up in Guidestar.

Let’s do a web search on what we know: “Geneva Liberty Group” and California. Top result is Cherish California’s Children. Scanning down the page, we see the following:

stevemacias

If we go to Cherish California’s Children leadership page, we can see the handy bio that Steve Macias provides:

“Steve Macias is the Executive Director of Cherish California’s Children and founder of the St. Anselm Leadership Institute. He is a delegate to the California Republican Party State Central Committee and Vice President of the California Republican Assembly. Steve and his Wife, Sarah, live in California’s gold country and are members of Church of the King Sacramento.”

This information is out-of-date, but it provides some useful insight as to what might be motivating Steve Macias. For more detailed information, we might also look at his website: stevemacias.com.

My name is Fr. Steve Macias and I am an Anglican Rite Catholic Priest.

I serve as the priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s Anglican Church and Headmaster of Canterbury Christian School in Los Altos, California.

I deliver sermons, teach Bible studies, administer a school, pastor students, organize conferences, write articles, record podcasts, and pray the daily office.

My wife Sarah and I have five children…

It’s one thing if Fr. Steve Macias wants to share his views as Fr. Steve Macias. It’s very different if he is hiding who is behind organizations with names like Geneva Liberty Group, who in turn are hiding behind the Organization for the Minorities of India. Getting people of color to promote messages that further the interests of the Republican Party and exaggerate the problems of Democratic candidates is classic astroturf.

I didn’t contact Fr. Steve Macias for comment one way or another. For my purposes, it is besides the point. The video above has one narrative. I’m presenting another. There are shades of truth to each. The best scenario, for the makers of astrohurf, is when their propaganda is thought to be legitimate, but it can be useful to get people questioning or responding to outrageous claims to prevent them from staying on their own message.

Raise shields!

The point of this exercise is that you should start with a healthy scepticism of what you read and watch on the Internet. The vast majority of what is online is falsehoods, half-truths and misrepresentations. Be careful of what you let into your minds or pass along to infect the minds of others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s