(THREAD) In 5 years, I've never accused anyone of being a foreign disinformation agent. That changes today—as scary things are happening I need to talk about and Twitter needs to grapple with involving a dangerous anonymous disinformation feed. I hope you'll read on and retweet.
1/ The anonymous disinformation feed I discuss in this thread is @BlazerLegacy. This account is an increasingly popular—also increasingly unhinged—source of disinformation about the election and critics of the president. It has all the hallmarks of a coordinated foreign campaign.
2/ As anyone who reads my feed knows, I have a book coming out in September (insert wry joke about self-promotion). This will be the first book in the NYT bestselling Proof series that comes out right before an election. Proof of Collusion (2018) came out just after the midterms.
3/ There's been an understandable fear among those who've previously been identified by the White House—as I have, by Sarah Huckabee Sanders—as among the president's chief critics, that as we get closer to election day, attempts to sow confusion online could target Trump critics.
4/ There was particular fear in my case, among readers of this feed and people associated with my research, because everyone knew that the first two Proof books had been NYT bestsellers but that now—for the first time—a Proof book would be dropping just before a general election.
5/ That said, this thread *isn't* going to be just about me. It's about a group of people who have been among the highest-profile critics of Donald Trump on Twitter, particularly those who've authored books about him—as *all* are being targeted by this disinformation account now.
6/ During the period Proof of Collusion (2018) and Proof of Conspiracy (2019) came out, there was an anonymous feed called "Uncle Blazer" (not the famous actor with that handle but someone using the same nickname) run by someone—man or woman we don't know—claiming to be a lawyer.
7/ That feed followed mine—and on occasion made mention of mine—though as I recall we didn't interact more than once or twice. Often, the feed would draft off my content as I worked as hard as anyone on the internet (I think most would agree) to offer criticism of this president.
8/ That feed is now defunct—abandoned by its anonymous author after it had accrued over 100,000 followers on Twitter. The well-known anti-Trump podcast Mueller She Wrote had "Uncle Blazer" on-air at least once before "he" disappeared (it was a "he" during the podcast, at least).
9/ I never paid much attention to that feed when it was extant, besides one exchange I remember in which I disagreed with something this anonymous person said. So I can't now say if they were stealing content from lawyers online or appeared to have any legal knowledge themselves.
10/ At some point, the feed disappeared, which was odd given how large it'd gotten. I remember hearing about the to-do at the time; apparently the anonymous person said they were being criticized too much—perhaps too many questions about identity were being asked—so they ghosted.
11/ If I'm hazy on the history pre-ghosting, it's because the ghosting was where the strange stuff began happening—and again, prior to that I'd only rarely paid any attention to this feed. I don't respect or credit *anyone* claiming to be a lawyer *anonymously*. That's dangerous.
12/ What happened after this 100,000-plus-follower account anonymously claiming to be run by a lawyer but stealing some content/analysis from named, Twitter-verified lawyer accounts disappeared is this anonymous person kept popping up with new accounts and then destroying them.
13/ What these new accounts had in common is they didn't sound like the same person as "Uncle Blazer"—or, sounded like some unhinged progression of the "Uncle Blazer" persona. They spent their time almost exclusively attacking Trump's top critics under the guise of "resistance."
14/ The content of the attacks was nonsensical, and their format harassment—sometimes from different account names. Whenever too much heat would come down on a particular new anonymous feed connected to the old "Uncle Blazer" persona, the new anonymous account would be destroyed.
15/ All coherent legal analysis was gone—seemingly confirming that any prior analysis had been taken from legitimate accounts. The focus now was solely on harassing Trump critics—particularly Trump critics with big followings on Twitter. Criticism of Trumpist accounts was absent.
16/ As many of you reading this likely experienced firsthand, anyone who questioned the identity of any of these Uncle Blazer-themed anonymous accounts was immediately blocked. Anyone who questioned the Trump-critic-criticism coordinated by these accounts was immediately blocked.
17/ Not surprisingly, the Trump critics being attacked by this entity—and it can only be referred to as an "entity," as no one in America knows the identity or location of the author(s) of such feeds—blocked all Uncle Blazer-affiliated accounts. Which led to some telling results.
18/ The "Uncle Blazer" persona continued to have *no* difficulty seeing all tweets published by Trump critics who had blocked "it," suggesting a ring of anonymous accounts (already confirmed by how many accounts this persona had used) designed to harass and surveil Trump critics.
19/ As tellingly—besides the multiple accounts, persistent anonymity, sudden account deletions, online stalking, singular focus on discrediting Trump critics, and lack of apparent legal knowledge—the "Uncle Blazer" entity began clearly refining its tactics, message, and persona.
20/ When Sarah Kendzior—a top Trump critic—came out with her NYT bestseller Hiding in Plain Sight, "Uncle Blazer" began attacking her. When Proof of Corruption was announced, it began attacking me. As Mueller She Wrote transitioned to a 2020-focused format, it began attacking it.
21/ More creepily, the account began to—like QAnon—claim that it had inside knowledge of the U.S. intelligence community. Suddenly it seemed to be intimating it *knew* what the FBI, CIA and other intelligence assets were up to with respect to various Trump-related investigations.
22/ Whereas the original "Uncle Blazer" entity had played the role of a "lawyer" offering "analysis," *this* version of the entity *knew* who was a traitor to the United States from *knowing* what the U.S. intelligence community was up to. And all the traitors were Trump critics.
23/ I don't claim to know things I don't know. I don't know the identity or location of the disinformation agents behind the "Uncle Blazer" entity. But I see no evidence of legal training, a singular obsession with Trump's critics, and I worry about this: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/07/us/politics/erik-prince-project-veritas.html
Erik Prince Recruits Ex-Spies to Help Infiltrate Liberal Groups
Mr. Prince, a contractor close to the Trump administration, contacted veteran spies for operations by Project Veritas, the conservative group known for conducting stings on news organizations and...https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/07/us/politics/erik-prince-project-veritas.html
24/ This entity claims to be part of a "true" Resistance to Trump, though it spends almost all its time attacking Trump's critics. It uses an identifiable "meme" (the long-since-deleted "Uncle Blazer" milieu) without anyone being able to trace if it's connected to that old feed.
25/ Here's where it gets scary.
26/ This feed now claims I'm being investigated by the FBI. It claims I'll shortly be arrested. It claims I'm a direct agent of Putin and the Kremlin. Remember: this is an anonymous feed attacking a wildly public and verifiable person who's accounted one of Trump's chief critics.
27/ I can't believe I have to do this—as I'm just a college professor in New Hampshire with the *longest, most transparent history* one could imagine—but for anyone confused, here's the staggeringly comprehensive story of my life, from my personal website: http://www.sethabramson.net/bio
28/ Most concerning about the "Uncle Blazer" entity is that it is building a following with a *very specific* narrative. When it's not accusing Trump critics of being Kremlin agents—just the gambit we might expect Prince to orchestrate—it has a *bizarre* story it wants to tell.
29/ As many of you know, I recently posted an audio commentary here on Twitter regarding the forthcoming Vol. 5 of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's counterintelligence report. That audio commentary can be heard below: https://twitter.com/SethAbramson/status/1289048981234999298
30/ When not calling Trump's critics Kremlin agents, the "Uncle Blazer" entity is singularly obsessed with convincing critics of this president that "Volume 5" is going to "nab" Trump—unmasking him as a *fully recruited Kremlin agent* and ending his political career immediately.
31/ This is crazy. It's not going to happen; it isn't what Vol. 5 is; it's not how the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence works; it's not what major-media reporting on Vol. 5 tells us; it's not consistent with history—e.g., SSCI said in *2019* it found no hacking conspiracy.
32/ If you look at this "Uncle Blazer" feed—and I'd look fast, as it'll go "poof" just like all the other entities in this ring of accounts as soon as the heat is turned up too high—keep in mind that *all* dissenting commenters get *immediately* blocked by the feed's owner(s).
33/ Just so, remember that "Uncle Blazer" is not (and has never been) just one account—it's a *ring* of accounts that purport to be different people. What this means is that at least some of the feed's "commenters" are likely to be the feed's owner(s) posting under fake accounts.
34/ The current "Uncle Blazer"-entity feed was founded within the last 30 days.
It already has well over 20,000 followers. Needless to say, that takes some doing—and a *lot* of foreign bots.
It already has well over 20,000 followers. Needless to say, that takes some doing—and a *lot* of foreign bots.
35/ This new "face" of the entity—as the "servant" accounts are use to stalk Trump critics, make fake comments on the "main" account, and so on—is, as I said, obsessed with this Senate report. For the life of me, I couldn't really figure out why that would be. I'm still not sure.
36/ But we know the feed's focus is an event already assured *not* to harm Trump—as the SSCI already said it agreed with Mueller in 2019; it's a bipartisan report; even Trump lieutenant and QAnon-lover DNI Ratcliffe isn't trying to block its release preelection—and that's a clue.
37/ Which brings me to the unusual photo I used atop this thread—for the first time ever, a Shutterstock "stock" image—and my use of the word "foreign" in my first tweet, despite (of course) not having the ability that Twitter has to trace where this feed's author(s) are located.
38/ In the same way I used a stock image atop this thread, what the person(s) behind the "Uncle Blazer" account have done is create a "stock" member of the "Resistance" (I'll note for the millionth time, *not* a term or concept or movement with which I've ever associated myself).
39/ The "Uncle Blazer" persona is a *cartoon* of Trump (small-r) resistance—what a right-wing troll might think resisting Trump is about. Note the hackneyed themes: Trump's about to be "nabbed"; he's a fully recruited Kremlin "agent"; the feds are heroes swooping in to rescue us.
40/ It's a rehash of what the #Resistance fringe was pushing before the Mueller Report's release. (All of us can agree that the *scope* of that report was smaller than anyone expected, and that media coverage of it deflated what should've been—nevertheless—stunning revelations.)
41/ If you follow the far-right as closely as I do—not just by warring with them, but by reading their media and checking in on their community discussion boards on Reddit and 4chan and elsewhere—you know that they consider the Mueller Report among Trump's greatest *victories*.
42/ The Mueller Report as covered by media—what it actually *said* was stunning—coupled with Mueller's underwhelming congressional testimony, was the culmination of the "muh Russia" meme the right began pushing in 2017: sad "resisters" chasing vain, silly hopes down a rabbithole.
43/ We can't know the full deal surrounding the "Uncle Blazer" entity—but we can see that its activities are consistent with pre-election foreign "troll" operations in 2016, that it targets almost exclusively Trump critics, and that it's setting its readers up for another "fall."
44/ Its conspiracy theories take the shape of QAnon while seeking to appeal to the #Resistance fringe: "Uncle Blazer" *knows* what the US intelligence community is up to; *knows* which Trump critics are traitors; and there's a massive conspiracy in the government to save America.
45/ Indeed, at the core of the "Volume 5" obsession by the "Uncle Blazer" entity is the most astounding contention of all: that Congressional Republicans and Democrats have secretly been working in cahoots with *Trump's own intelligence apparatus* to "nab" Trump as a Kremlin spy.
46/ (For those who don't know, QAnon's core theory is that there's a secret cross-party, cross-branch conspiracy within the government to "nab" Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders as being part of a devil-worshipping cult of cannibalistic pedophiles. No, I'm *not kidding*.)
47/ This is where the word "foreign" comes in. As anyone who reads this feed knows, there are different paths to acting as an "agent" for another party under the law, and different ways that we use the word "agent" *outside* the law. They all apply in the "Uncle Blazer" instance.
48/ In the legal sense, an "agent" is someone who has been explicitly "tasked" by a "principal" to either (a) act across a "general" scope of activities (making them a "general agent"), or (b) in a narrow and "special" range of authorized actions (making them a "special agent").
49/ Example: the fringe of the #Resistance (largely defunct now) in 2017 said that Trump was a special agent of Putin—i.e., Putin had explicitly and directly tasked him with achieving certain outcomes. (In 2020, the "Uncle Blazer" entity claims I've also been so tasked by Putin.)
50/ By comparison, when we use "agent" in a non-legal sense out in the regular world—though, confusingly, there's also some overlap here with how it's used in a counterintelligence sense—we include the possibility of someone being an "unwitting" agent of another person or entity.
51/ How does one become an "unwitting" agent of another person or entity, including a "foreign" person or entity? Well, you may have come under the influence of—or been compromised by leverage or promises from—such a person or entity to act unknowingly toward certain outcomes.
52/ In other words, you may know and have spoken to the person who is (in a de facto sense) your principal, but you haven't been tasked with an illicit final outcome—rather, you've been "led down the primose path" to "voluntarily" do things that will lead to a certain result.
53/ Obviously, an unwitting agent can eventually become a witting agent—indeed, the degree of influence, leverage, compromise, and/or affinity can soon become so great that the de facto principal explicitly requests or demands that a more "witting" agent relationship be created.
54/ We must also—with someone like Donald Trump—explore a middle ground between "witting" and "unwitting": though almost certainly not someone who was ever formally, explicitly and directly recruited by the Kremlin to act as a Kremlin agent, Trump knows his actions benefit Putin.
55/ In other words, Trump hasn't "accidentally"—without realizing or appreciating the consequences of his actions—spent four years (arguably seven, since 2013) publicly speaking and acting in a way that redounds to Russia's benefit. But he's not a special agent, legally speaking.
56/ The "Uncle Blazer" entity—whether its owner(s) are foreign or domestic, whether it's part of a Prince scheme or not, whether it's an alt-right troll or not, even if it's one embittered leftist out to destroy the Trump critics s/he feels betrayed by—is aiding foreign purposes.
57/ No one on political Twitter doesn't know the top anti-Trump podcasts. No one on political Twitter doesn't know Trump's top critics. No one who reads political nonfiction doesn't know the NYT bestselling Trump-book authors. The "Uncle Blazer" entity is targeting all of these.
58/ Worse still, this entity has—if it's the same entity—exhibited the potential, in the past, to accrue 100,000+ followers. It has already accrued 20,000+ followers in 4 weeks—less than 100 days before an election. And that makes its disinformation scheme incredibly dangerous.
59/ I'm fighting back here because I've always fought back against trolls and disinformation, though—candidly—it can be scary to do, and you lose followers, and folks see you as "off-topic" when frankly denying the power of trolls, foreign and otherwise, cost America big in 2016.
60/ Whoever's behind it, there's a scheme to systemically discredit Trump critics through an anonymous network of disinformation feeds that will *never* identify themselves, *never* stop blocking dissenters, *never* stop stalking their prey, and *never* stop spreading false info.
61/ I don't care what the hit to me from posting a thread like this is. Writing the Proof series, and running this feed, hasn't been a happy experience from the get-go. I do it because Trump is a danger to the country I love, and I took an oath to uphold the Constitution in 2001.
62/ Adam Schiff said on MSNBC last night that Russia is engaged in active measures online to disrupt the election by sowing division and confusion in American discourse. A preelection disinformation campaign attacking Trump critics and spreading lies about "Vol. 5" does the same.
63/ @BlazerLegacy is *dangerous*. Accusing key Trump critics—and authors—of being under FBI surveillance and facing imminent arrest is dangerous. (For reasons you can imagine that I don't need to delve into.) Telling people there's a deep-state anti-Trump conspiracy is dangerous.
64/ Telling tens of thousands of people that Congress is about to "nab" Trump pre-election—in contradiction of all major-media reporting on the work/operation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—is dangerous, as it could deflate Biden voters right before the election.
65/ And as there is little evidence that Twitter will act to suspend or ban accounts that falsely accuse American citizens working outside government of being under FBI surveillance and subject to immediate arrest, all that can be done is to call these accounts out in this way.
CONCLUSION1/ A Shutterstock image of a Russian troll is all we'll ever have of those seeking to disrupt the 2020 election via disinformation. They're faceless, anonymous feeds—and rings of accounts—offering "stock" #Resistance narratives that could be run by anyone from anywhere.
CONCLUSION2/ My biography is as public as a biography can be. I've laid bare everything I've ever done. I've had trolls comb through my old cases, harass my employer, try (very badly) to figure out what metamodernism is, and in every instance... they discovered how boring I am.
CONCLUSION3/ To spice up their trolling, they made up false claims. I even had a lawyer—a lawyer!—claim I'd never worked a felony case. (I've worked hundreds, including homicides.) I had people I've never met claiming to know me. Upshot: it's gotten very, *very* strange at times.
CONCLUSION4/ But now—*now*, 13 weeks before an election, as I'm about to publish the most damning book on Trump published this year—I and other Trump critics (including MSNBC analysts and other NYT bestselling authors) are facing a coordinated disinformation attack that is scary.
CONCLUSION5/ I won't be intimidated. I won't be silent. I'm exactly who I say and have proudly laid bare for 5 years now my entire life. I stand by all I've written and will write. And if Twitter won't stop libel involving the FBI and imminent arrests, I'll use my voice to do it.
BIOGRAPHY/ In case you missed it—the thread ended up winding more than expected—my biography is below. I'm sorry that disinformation agents who can't argue with my work or the work of other Trump critics are coming after us through disinformation, instead. http://www.sethabramson.net/bio
SCREENSHOTS/ Here are some of the dozens of false attacks on NYT bestselling author, MSNBC analyst, and superlative Trump critic Sarah Kendzior by the "Uncle Blazer" entity ("zap!" signifies that the entity is blocking a commenter on its feed):
SCREENSHOTS2/ The "Uncle Blazer" entity is oddly obsessed with my forthcoming book Proof of Corruption. Here are a few of the entity's dozens of tweets about me being a disinformation agent and working for Putin:
SCREENSHOTS3/ More in a similar vein, this time featuring references to the FBI as well (this is just a selection, there are dozens and dozens of such tweets on the feed of the "Uncle Blazer" entity):
PS/ Years from now, many whose lives were normal and boring pre-Trump—including me—will emerge to write books, columns, and posts about how strange their lives got as soon as they became public Trump critics. My point: it's not the people—it Trump's milieu, seizing on the people.
PS2/ I think it all looks quite odd from the outside looking in. But I know enough Trump critics in real life—normal folks, like me, who didn't think this would be their life from 2016 to 2020—to know that Trumpworld consumes normalcy not just among its adherents but its critics.
UPDATE/ A SparkToro analysis of the "Uncle Blazer" entity reveals it accrued 22,694 followers in its first 4 weeks—while following *no one*. Per SparkToro, there are some "follower" red flags. For instance, 90% of followers have "URL issues"—no URL or a non-resolving profile URL.
UPDATE2/ To put this in perspective, the "Uncle Blazer" entity's follower-accrual pace in its *first 4 weeks*—while following *no one*—would see it accruing an astounding *350,000 followers per year* while following 0.
That's how successful this disinformation scheme aims to be.
That's how successful this disinformation scheme aims to be.
UPDATE3/ Keep in mind follower accrual is slowest when a feed first appears—as the "Uncle Blazer" entity did 4 weeks ago. So if you've had a Twitter account for (say) 6 years, the "Uncle Blazer" entity would—at its *initial* accrual rate—accrue 2.1 million followers in that time.
UPDATE4/ Per a SparkToro analysis, nearly 40% of a random sample of 2,000 "Uncle Blazer"-entity followers had "spam-correlated keywords" in their profiles. And *66%* of the followers of this disinformation entity exhibited—per SparkToro—"a suspiciously small number of followers."
UPDATE5/ Most astounding is how hermetically sealed the "Uncle Blazer"-entity discourse community is: according to a SparkToro analysis of 2,000 random followers of this entity, *96%* of "followers" were listed "on an unusually small number of lists" run by normal Twitter users.