When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, my strongly conservative extended family often stayed up late discussing and worrying about the Soviet threat. I’ll never forget a classmate who’d come home with me after school one day bursting into tears after my Aunt Ginny walked in and announced that the Russians were coming. Don’t worry, I told my friend, she says that all the time.
So no, I’m still not over the up-is-down sight of Republicans who shrug off the fact that under the leadership of a former KGB agent, Russia is here already, and is sticking around.
Our Department of Homeland Security recently announced that voting systems in 21 states appear to have been targeted by Russian hackers.
And one of the few Republicans who is not acting like this is perfectly normal is Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, and whose state was one of the few Republican strongholds on the list of 21 states. “We watched even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, and their internet folks, start hash-tagging out ‘take a knee’ and also hash-tagging out ‘Boycott NFL,’” Lankford said last week.
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An aide to the senator said he had decided to start talking about what he knows, and pointed out a Twitter account that supposedly represents “Boston Antifa” but oops, still has the tag marking its owner’s geolocation as Vladivostok, Russia.
“More gender inclusivity with NFL fans and gluten free options at stadiums” the phony tweet read. (You hoaxers are having way too much fun with this, at our expense.) “We’re liking the new NFL #NewNFL #TakeAKnee #TakeTheKnee.”
Can we please listen to Lankford and stop denying that our Russian adversaries are doing this on a regular basis, to as the senator says, “push divisiveness in the country. We’ve continued to be able to see that. We will see that again in our election time.’’ Especially if we do nothing to upgrade and safeguard our voting systems.
We continue to learn more about ongoing Russian social media campaigns, with Facebook belatedly, grudgingly acknowledging ads intended to defeat Hillary Clinton and Twitter half-heartedly investigating hundreds of phony Russian accounts involved in the same effort.
Why aren’t we united against these incursions?
In part, sure, because President Donald Trump continues to refer to “the Russia hoax.”
But just for a second, could we leave him out of it, and put aside whatever we think about whether his campaign colluded with Russian operatives?
Whether it did or did not will come out, too. But when it does, will whether we believe it depend on whether we voted for him?
The scariest part of this disinformation campaign is how perfectly it dovetails with the growing number of Americans who believe anything of their adversaries, while regarding as “fake news” any report that isn’t what they want to hear.
Recently, a young reporter for a small Missouri newspaper told me that after he covered a speech by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill — a straight-down-the-middle, here’s where she was and here’s what she said news story — five readers called his editor to complain about the “fake news.”
Which explains how real news about Russian meddling is routinely written off.
My staunchly anti-communist dad always said the Russians would attack us from the inside, without ever firing a shot. And on that point, he’s been proven right.
Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Kansas City Star's editorial board.