Mental escalators of violence in US policy and media makers – Part 4C. Who truly stands against authoritarianism? Black-and-white thinking causes US experts to believe falsehood

False Bias #3. The US Is Fighting against Authoritarianism. In his 2019 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee for the Senate Hearing of the National Defense Strategy, Damon Wilson, President of the National Endowment for “Democracy,” states: “Our nation and its closest friends agree that the great challenge of the 21st century will be the competition between the free world and authoritarian corrupt state-led capitalism, chief among them China and Russia.”

It’s not clear why Wilson has the right to take the presumptuous liberty of speaking for all Americans and for the populations of the “closest friends” of the US. I, for one, do not agree with his statement about this “great challenge,” and I’m sure millions of Americans and foreigners in those nations deemed “closest friends” also do not agree. So how can he say “we agree”? Their competitive view of life is like always seeing the sky as falling, rather than merely existing. Many of us are not afraid of Russia, not because we feel rough and tough, but because we see no evidence of aggressive motives in Russia or in its government. We are not skittish and prone to seeing threats where they do not exist.

Nonetheless, speaking for all of us, Wilson and his colleagues not only automatically view US relations with Russia in terms of competition, but, to try to give themselves an edge on this competition, they go further: they give the US government a positive label and Russia a negative label, assuming we and the Senate committee will believe it even without a scrap of evidence or comprehensive evaluation.

And notice, now that those who fear Russia can’t label the competition anymore in the same apocalyptic terms of the “Free World vs. Communism,” they’re calling it the free world vs. “authoritarian corrupt state-led capitalism.”

As mentioned in the previous essay, the Prejudiced Personality described by Gordon Allport has several cognitive habits that skew one’s perception of and reaction to life, and one of these is a tendency towards black-and-white thinking—seeing one side of conflict as all good and the other side as evil.[1] This type of thinking is precisely encapsulated in Wilson’s declaration that the confrontation in Europe is between the forces of the “free world” and “authoritarian corrupt state-led capitalism.” But such an unrealistic, prejudiced, black-and-white portrayal of international conflict should send up a red flag—not to goad us into building more missiles and shipping more weapons to Ukraine in a proxy war against Russia—but to warn us loud and clear that US foreign policymakers are not perceiving the situation accurately. What’s more, they’ll likely react to the situation with unwarranted hostility that will further inflame the conflict.

So let’s look at Wilson’s term, “authoritarian corrupt state-led capitalism,” and analyze its parts. In this essay, we’ll look at the word “authoritarian.” How can Wilson state that the US is a force against authoritarianism, when authoritarianism is often a principal feature of US-supported leaders, such as Egypt’s notoriously brutal President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to whom Biden recently sent $2.5 billion in military aid?[2] As discussed earlier in Parts 3A and 3C with regard to CIA and NED activities abroad, the evidence from the historical record is enormous that brutal authoritarianism is typically the result of these US organizations’ machinations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The infliction itself of coups and invasions against nations is not democratic; it’s an authoritarian manner of forcing one’s will upon others.

Entire books, such as William Blum’s Killing Hope, John Cockcroft’s Latin America, Stephen Kinzer’s The Brothers, and Murray Polner and Thomas E. Wood’s We Who Dared to Say No to War, have been written about the massive amounts of authoritarian US violence and interference inflicted abroad under the false banner of “Freedom and Democracy” and the decades of violent, authoritarian results within those targeted nations. US foreign policymakers are lying through their teeth when they claim they’re fighting against Russia in order to battle against authoritarianism.

In fact, it’s US foreign policymakers’ insistence that others—Americans and foreigners alike—play by their rules that is highly authoritarian. For two centuries, US foreign policy has incessantly adhered to what George Lakoff described as the Strict Father Model, described in the previous essay, Part 4B, in which US policymakers and their colleagues stand callously on top of a hierarchy of power, wealth, and status: they make the rules, and everyone else is expected to follow, with no questions asked.

Not only is arrogant authoritarian hierarchy characteristic of US policy towards other nations, but it’s characteristic of relations amongst Americans within many US government meetings, at least the ones I’ve read about, such as in Bob Woodward’s Bush at War and Henry Waxman’s The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works. It’s also characteristic of the US policymaker and media maker attitude towards US civilians, who are shoveled US propaganda to try to make them submissively believe in the wisdom and integrity of US foreign policymakers. This US authoritarian control over information, the propaganda with which we’re being bombarded, the editorial and op-ed spots being given to establishment figures, and the censoring from mainstream news of alternative viewpoints is, in fact, a form of authoritarianism.

Like Wilson, Derek Mitchell, President of the National Democratic Institute, one of the four core institutes of NED, writes in The Hill: “The Ukraine crisis . . . is about Russia’s disrespect for Ukraine’s independence and dignity, and the threat Ukrainian democracy itself poses to the “authoritarian dream.”[3]

Despite Mitchell’s claim that Putin has an “authoritarian dream” to allegedly expand authoritarianism far and wide, as Putin has emphasized throughout his July 2021 essay and in his attempts to promote non-violent conflict resolution at the Minsk Agreements, Russia does not disrespect Ukraine’s independence and dignity. He has stated this many times throughout his speeches, and his military action initiated in February occurred only after repeated attempts to achieve non-violent conflict resolution to the civil war in Donetsk and Lugansk. If the US truly cared about democracy, it would not have supported the 2014 coup and then shipped billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine to promote a violent response to the declarations of independence to Donetsk and Lugansk. I don’t see how the US government has a right to hold a grudge against people who issue Declarations of Independence.

In fact, the evidence does suggest that it’s US policymakers who disrespect Ukraine’s independence and dignity. Those Americans who want control over Ukraine in order to access massive Black Sea fossil fuel deposits are too consumed with dollar signs to even think about the wishes of the Ukrainian people. Who amongst Ukraine’s population were even asked if they want to delve into the use of American fracked, methane-leaking liquified natural gas? It’s just a deal decided amongst the elite of Ukraine and the US. It’s not decided democratically. Shouldn’t energy policy be evaluated within a nation, democratically? And certainly the Americans involved in the 2014 coup weren’t respecting Ukraine, such as Biden’s Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, who were caught on tape during the protests while President Viktor Yanukovich was still in power, in a phone conversation in which they appeared to be selecting Ukraine’s next leader for the Ukrainians.[4]

Mitchell’s claim of an “authoritarian dream” is irresponsible, false hate-mongering, especially in his influential position. I have seen no words or actions from Russia that suggest Putin has any sort of authoritarian dream. In fact, he seems quite concerned with the US authoritarian reality, the unipolar world we’ll discuss more in a later essay. And Putin’s motive for international relations, unlike what US experts will claim, does not at all appear to be jealousy or rivalry or the desire to make Russia the authoritarian ruler, but the wish to create world relations that democratically adhere to international law.

Certainly, oppression and human rights violations within Russia exist. As mentioned in the earlier essay and video, Shallow Analysis, according to the International Federation of Human Rights, Russia, under Putin’s rule, passed about fifty antidemocratic laws in the years 2012–2018. Policies under Putin have ignored human rights, cracked down on individual political and religious freedoms, forbidden Russians from thinking inappropriately about Russian history, forbidden Russians from questioning the integrity of Russia, forbidden Russians from protesting peacefully, increased censorship, increased state ownership of media, increased surveillance, and increased and centralized the power of the executive at the cost of losing power in other branches of government as well as at other levels of government.[5]

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report on oppressive measures and serious violations of human rights in Russia. Amnesty International’s report on Russia in 2021 includes several items in need of remedy. Under the category “Freedom of Assembly,” for example, Amnesty reports on the prohibition of public assemblies organized by the opposition, the routine arrest and persecution of individuals staging one-person pickets, unprecedented numbers of mass arbitrary arrests in response to rallies supporting opposition leader Aleksei Navalny—an individual to whom we’ll return in a later essay, and impunity for police in the unlawful use of force, including stun guns, against peaceful protestors.

Similarly, in 2019, the International Federation for Human Rights reported on the use of brute force by the Russian National Guard and police against peaceful protestors, including minors, who were supporting independent candidates for election in Moscow’s City Council in 2019. Shockingly, the guards and police used rubber batons to beat up dozens of peaceful protestors and arbitrarily detain thousands. The detained protestors were treated terribly within the police vehicles and detention centers. A photograph on the International Federation’s website portrays a young girl in front of guards reading, apparently in vain, the constitutional right of Russian to peacefully assemble.[6]

According to Amnesty’s report, other freedoms that are impinged upon include the freedom of association, such as association with “undesirable organizations” and “foreign agents” and also an increasing number of NGOs categorized as undesirable or foreign, including groups that monitor various activities, such as crimes in the army. These same laws are used by Russian authorities to silence independent media, journalists, and activists. Amnesty reports that “reprisals against human rights defenders were widespread and egregious,” and impunity for crimes committed against human rights defenders and journalists persist.

Most appalling of all, inhumane and degrading treatment in detention and prison, including severe overcrowding, intimidation, and torture are “endemic,” and prosecutions for inflicting such treatment are rare. Certain groups also are ill-treated and persecuted, including Jehovah’s Witnesses who are considered “extremists” and LGBTIQ people, whom are discriminated against. Moreover, little has been done to address the issue of domestic violence against women, even though “66% of women murdered from 2011 to 2019 had been victims of domestic violence.”[7]

While these events are in need of remedy, their causes cannot all or even mostly be automatically attributed to Putin. It would be more useful to engage with him in cooperative dialogue to determine his attitude towards these events, whether he considers them to be acceptable or unacceptable, his reasons for finding any of them acceptable, and what he has proposed as remedies for what he considers unacceptable.

It would also be important to compare these events with the human rights organizations’ reports on other nations, such as US government allies Ukraine, Poland, Egypt, the Philippines, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the US itself. Domestic violence, for example, has been a major problem in Slavic nations, not only Russia, for decades. In the US, political opposition is not directly repressed, but somehow, it’s always the same two parties and the same type of wealthy, pro-war, pro-weapon, pro-fossil fuel person who becomes president. Perhaps political opposition is not directly repressed because more subtle means, such as social connections, corporate financing, and rules pertaining to finances, are used to prevent any other type of candidate from ever attaining power in the US. If this is the case, the lack of repression of political opposition in the US is nothing to crow about.

There also may be some bias in Amnesty’s report, for it considers Russia to be occupying Crimea, when, according to Russia, there was a referendum and the local population voted in favor of separating from Ukraine and becoming a part of Russia. Whether Amnesty International has absolute proof that this is a Russian occupation and not the result of a referendum is not stated. The failure to explain the full story behind Aleksei Navalny, which we’ll do in a later essay, may also indicate a bias in reporting.

While the human rights reports on Russia contain terrible descriptions that are likely true, it’s a joke if we’re expected to believe that US policymakers dislike Putin because he’s authoritarian. US-military-aid recipient Egyptian President al-Sisi is said to be even worse than the US-supported former President Hosni Mubarak “on steroids.” Al-Sisi led the US-promoted coup of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi. As president, al-Sisi has killed hundreds of Egyptians and thrown thousands into jail.[8] Accusations against Putin’s behavior in Russia pale in comparison to al-Sisi’s brutal oppression, but US policymakers consider al-Sisi and other violent tyrants to be allies.

Again, the point isn’t to excuse the horrible treatment of people in nations worldwide but to point out that war and proxy war against Russia are not effective or humane solutions, war is the supreme violator of human rights, and Russian human rights violations are likely only a pretext for US proxy war, since other nations routinely violate human rights without calls for US war against them.

It’s also wrong to support weapons and war against Putin for reasons of his being “anti-democratic” and “authoritarian” without checking to see whether another US policymaker ally, Ukraine’s government, is guilty of some of the same things, such as passing laws about how Ukraine’s history is to be presented. In his February 21, 2022 speech, Putin himself criticizes the current Ukraine: “There are more and more acts enabling the Ukrainian military and law enforcement agencies to suppress freedom of speech and dissent and to persecute opposition.”[9]

The topic of Russia’s repression of dissent and labeling of organizations as undesirable or foreign must be understood in greater perspective. If an organization is labeled undesirable because it wants to monitor human rights and crime within the military, this seems very unhealthy. But if an organization, such as the US National Endowment for “Democracy,” is labeled undesirable because it’s using its position, not simply to promote human rights but to further the economic, political, or military interests of US policymakers and businessmen or to further the representation of only part of Russia’s population but not the population as a whole, then such a label is understandable. In fact, Russia has labeled NED an undesirable organization.

Keep in mind, the CIA and NED have typically functioned by promoting unrest, protests, and riots. In many ways, the CIA and NED have so tainted efforts at creating so-called “democracy” that foreign leaders’ fears of coups and assassinations could likely be causing these leaders to be more oppressive and more fearful of the expression of political opposition than they would have been had the CIA and NED never existed! Even journalism is tainted by the fact that CIA agents have gone undercover as journalists or used the information acquired by journalists to further their own plans.[10] Journalists everywhere are now more likely to be suspected of being agents and murdered because their profession has been adulterated by the CIA.

As occurred in Ukraine, even peaceful protests are not necessarily trustworthy because they could lead to violence and a coup, especially if right-wing groups are directly or indirectly receiving US arms and training. While a coup may please part of the population, it doesn’t please other parts of the population, and it’s downright scary, I would think, to live or be a leader in a nation that experiences coups. CIA and NED coup-promoting efforts are not only undemocratic, they jack tension up in the target nation sky high. After all, a coup is not only emotionally upsetting and destabilizing, but it could also lead to the bloody hell of civil war. Knowing the history of the CIA and NED, all foreign leaders have to lead knowing that they could be assassinated or toppled at any moment. One can only imagine being a foreign leader in such an environment. Again, I would think it would make leaders more oppressive and prone to rational and irrational anxiety, knowing that the CIA and NED have this history, these abilities, and these inclinations.

With regard to the suppression of independent media in Russia, if independent media is being closed down because the idea of disagreement in society is considered unacceptable, then this is repression of free thinking and truth. But if independent media is being closed down because NED or rival oligarchs have many connections with the independent media and they wish to use these connections, not simply to promote cooperative dialogue, but to manipulate the public with lies or half-truths in order to promote their own selfish, narrow-minded, economic agenda and in order to promote US-supported candidates (such as Aleksei Navalny), then it is more understandable why Putin would move to close down these media outlets. These media may be called “independent” or “free” in that they’re not tied to the government, but they may be tied to an oligarch or to the US government, a circumstance that could hardly be called “independent” or “free.”

We can hardly call the US mainstream media “free” or “independent” when it’s well-documented that mainstream media is tied to the purse strings of corporations that promote fossil fuels, weapons, and war, such as GE. These corporations ensure that only articles that support their own views dominate the media. Mainstream news all across the country in all different mainstream outlets all says almost the same exact thing, with the same wire services and reporters supplying articles from coast to coast. Does anybody find that strange? Doesn’t it amount to the centralized control of information?

Notice you rarely if ever see an article against US wars and US weapon shipments. Mainstream media is really an advertising arm of the US government/corporate alliance. And that’s supposed to be “freedom of thought” and “freedom of the press.” I suppose once Russian media is controlled by energy and weapon corporations, then they’ll be considered by the US to have a “free” press, too, even if the current Russian state-controlled news is actually more comprehensive and truthful.

In the US, mainstream media is essentially under the strict, covert, non-publicized control of a corporate-US government alliance. This proves that who controls the media, whether it is the government, corporations, a corporate-government alliance, oligarchs, or a non-profit organization, does not necessarily guarantee any good or bad outcome or any greater or lesser ability to disseminate the comprehensive truth. It all depends on the individuals and who’s running the show.

While CIA and NED behavior are likely external contributors to an atmosphere of tension and oppression within Russia, another contributor is the fallout from the 1991 dissolution of Communism and the USSR, fallout that includes a rise in violence, organized crime, poverty, and poor health and new confusion over values with regard to money, self-centeredness, social-centeredness, individualism, and social responsibility.[11] As M. K. Bhadrakumar writes in Russia Beyond, the “over-centralizing process of the past decade or so” stems “from the compulsion to construct a viable state out of the Soviet rubble and to stem the meltdown of state structures and the economy under Yeltsin.” Economic and social chaos can contribute to a reaction of authoritarianism. Moreover, “the society is coping with the power of money,”[12] with the lure of money, with the desire to flaunt money, with the desire to keep what one has gained and protect one’s hard-won power, in an atmosphere where nothing is stable anymore. This economic and social collapse of values could very well lead to a reaction of authoritarianism, in a struggle to prevent further collapse.

Of course, authoritarianism could also be promoted internally by attitudes within Russian culture or subcultures. Consider some of the Mental Escalators of Violence we discussed in the previous essay, Part 4B. To what extent does the Strict Model of human relations described by George Lakoff hold sway in Russia? Is there an attitude that criminals are getting what they deserve in prison, when they’re subjected to intimidation or even brutality? Is there a tradition of compassion for circumstances that cause a person to commit a crime? Are those who guard and brutalize prisoners themselves subject to terrible treatment? What is their story? What led them to become prison guards? Is there an attitude that those who protest peacefully against government are bad people, simply for not submissively obeying authority? Is there an attitude against those who use drugs that they’re morally depraved, rather than suffering from poor mental health, itself possibly resulting from a need for reforms in human relations and institutions that are cold, unfriendly, and alienating?

How much of an effort is made to really get into another’s shoes and try to see life from their perspective? Is the attitude towards political opposition a sincere fear of CIA or NED actions? Or is it a desire to play the game of rivalry rough and tough? To what extent is Russian culture suffering from past wars, terror, and oppression, including the World Wars, oppression under Stalin, and the horrors of the war in Afghanistan, where Russian prisoners of war were skinned alive?[13] Do these past horrors create tension in society?

I don’t know the answers to these questions; I’m just posing them as possible cultural contributors to authoritarianism. (Note that several questions should also be asked regarding the cultural origins of hard and soft forms of authoritarianism and extreme forms of centralized power within the US, such as the power somehow seized by the US President to inflict a nuclear attack, and the power to collect several types of taxes and then use that tax money for nuclear weapons manufacture. The Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves.)

Given the role of the CIA, NED, the fallout from the 1991 collapse, and possible internal cultural traits, why are we expected to believe that most of these human rights problems would simply go away if Putin were not in power because it’s all his fault? It seems to me Putin was handed a very difficult platter. It’s even possible he’s handling the situation better than many would. Who’s to say? Who’s walked in his shoes? Yes, he was in the KGB, but, as CIA analysts would likely agree, being a member of an intelligence agency doesn’t necessarily mean that one has an authoritarian personality. Are there features of his personality that are uniquely authoritarian, more so than the average Russian policymaker? If so, these can be discussed in dialogue, as can similar features in US and other world leaders, but again, they are in no way justification for a coup or for US meddling in Russia’s internal political affairs, both of which are extremely harmful to a nation’s present and future psychological sense of social and physical security.

The point of giving a wider perspective to these criticisms of Russia isn’t to excuse human rights violations in Russia, or Ukraine, or the US, or anywhere. The point is twofold. First, any authoritarianism within Russia is no valid reason for NATO to expand, for the US and NED to promote a coup in Russia, or for US weapon shipments to Ukraine to be used in a proxy war against Russia. All of these behaviors, in fact, will only place even greater tension upon Russia which would likely increase internal tension and authoritarianism.

Rather than worrying about how foreign leaders are handling their own nations, especially a leader so relatively mild compared to some of the US allies out there, US policymakers would be wise to tend to their own brand of largely soft authoritarianism within the US, including mainstream media control and propaganda, the never-explained-but-never-ending domination of government by certain wealthy social and business circles who always seek war, weapon shipments, and fossil fuels, and the outrageously unjust fact that we have two justice systems within this nation, one for the elite, for war criminals in the highest offices of the nation, and for white-collar criminals, and one for everyone else. It’s an undemocratic system created by our rulers, where punishment does not depend upon the harm committed by the criminal, but rather the status of the criminal.

The second point is that “democracy-promoters” such as NED need to understand that if one is merely promoting one’s own side of an argument, an economic rivalry, or a war, this is not a sincerely democratic effort to encourage cooperative dialogue and a higher awareness of truth, both fundamental to successful democracy. Therefore, any attempts to encourage democracy, human rights, and an independent media within Russia (and hopefully someday, within the US) should be accompanied, not by pledges of allegiance of loyalty or antagonism to Putin, but by sincere efforts on the part of Russians, foreign individuals, and foreign NGOs, such as NED, to promote peaceful cooperative dialogue and understanding and to absolutely refrain from advocating hatred, half-truths, lies, coups, assassinations, violence, and war within Russia.

It is the process of peaceful, cooperative dialogue that is critical to the successful formation of democracy, not the placement in power of this or that leader, certainly not US policymakers’ control over Russia’s internal politics, and certainly not US investors’ access to Russia’s wealth. Notice that cooperative dialogue requires the abandonment of black-and-white thinking. If we can achieve that in the verbal arena, perhaps we can expand that type of thinking to the physical arena.

Kristin Christman has been independently researching US foreign policy and peace since 9/11. Her channel focuses on US-Russian relations at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuNEw9-10lk-CwU-5vAElcg. Kristin graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College with a BA in Russian, and she holds Master’s degrees in Slavic languages from Brown University and public administration from SUNY Albany. She has been a guest with former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter and UNAC coordinator Joe Lombardo on Cynthia Pooler’s program, Issues that Matter, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDlaLNJih7U. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice recently published her article on suicide, culture, and peace in their special edition on suicide, Vol. 33 No. 4.  kristinchristman956@gmail.com

[1] Gordon Allport, The Nature of Prejudice, (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1979), 400.

[2] Mena Rights, “Biden Administration’s Decision to Reprogram Military Aid to Egypt Is Necessary but Insufficient,” Middle East and North Africa Rights Group, Feb. 2, 2022, https://menarights.org.

Steven A. Cook, “Sisi Isn’t Mubarak. He’s Much Worse,” Foreign Policy, Dec. 19, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com.

[3] Derek Mitchell, “Why Democracy Matters in the Ukraine Crisis,” The Hill, Feb. 8, 2022, https://thehill.com.

[4] Democracy Now, Interview with Steve Cohen, “A New Cold War? Ukraine Violence Escalates, Leaked Tape Suggests US Was Plotting Coup,” Feb. 20, 2014, http://www.democracynow.org.

[5] International Federation for Human Rights, “Russia 2012-2018: 50 Anti-Democracy Laws Entered into Force within Last Presidential Mandate,” Mar. 11, 2018, https://www.fidh.org.

[6] International Federation for Human Rights, “Russia: Pro-Democracy Protestors Undeterred by Repression,” Sept. 5, 2019, https://www.fidh.org. This paragraph was added since the youtube video of this essay was created.

[7] Amnesty International, “Russian Federation 2021,” https://www.amnesty.org.

[8] Mena Rights, “Biden Administration’s Decision.”

Emad Mekay, “Exclusive: US Bankrolled Anti-Morsi Activists,” July 10, 2013, www.aljazeera.com.

[9] Vladimir Putin, “Address to the People of Russia on the Donbas Problem and the Situation in Ukraine,” American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank, Feb. 21, 2022, https://www.americanrhetoric.com.

[10] Martin A. Lee and Norman Solomon, Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media, (New York: Carol, 1990), 115.

[11] Sarah Chayes, Corruption in America, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020), 269-74.

[12] M. K. Bhadrakum, “The Strange Case of Alexei Navalny,” Russia Beyond, https://www.rbth.com.

[13] Lee and Solomon, Unreliable Sources, 328.


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