Open Democracy’s Polit.ru website translates an article published last May on the Expertiza.ru website about Vladimir Putin’s Internet goon squads. Our readers first learned about this issue a year before that, when we posted out original translation from the Gulag website along similar lines.
Political forums on the internet are relatively new for the Russian public. They’re today’s “universal kitchen”, where public opinion is “cooked up”. Users report that before 1999 such forums were fairly homogenous sociologically. 70-80% of the audience consisted of like-minded people of liberal and democratic convictions, representatives of the Russian middle class and Russian-speaking émigrés.
However, in a mere four years this has all changed. Suddenly, totalitarian opinion makes up 60-80% of all posts on Russian political forums! This dramatic increase does not correspond to the spectrum of public opinion. It diverges significantly from data of internet voting on key problems of modern Russian life.
For example, today 80% of participants on all web forums criticize the USA aggressively and monotonously. But on sites where you can only vote once from one computer, 84% of Russian speaking internet users support the USA…You find the same with attitudes to the Chechen war, support/criticism of the Kremlin policies etc. Wherever voting is protected, wherever it is not possible to vote several times, surveys come to exactly the opposite conclusions from those on sites that are “unprotected” from repeat voting.
On liberal and neutral public political forums of ru.net there has been a dramatic increase in activity among users with very similar views. They’re the backbone of any forum. Their activity is so characteristic and unusual, so methodologically and ideologically similar, that it has begun to attract the attention of regular visitors to forums. They represent people of different professions, they write their posts from different cities and countries, and supposedly belong to different social and age groups. But after watching them for a while you find that they share a range of quite specific features which differentiate them from other participants in such forums.
The conservative and aggressive or totalitarian ideology propagated by these people is not the main feature they have in common. Some even try and appear relatively liberal. But apart from the “statist” ideology that any sane person is sick of (along with the usual xenophobia, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and intolerance of dissent), what distinguishes these people is the harshness of their views, their corporate mentality, shared information pool, behaviour “tics” and very particular approach to polemic. Whatever the forum, their method of manipulating mass consciousness involves the same systematic, deliberate lies, slander and misinformation.
Let’s call them ‘the G team’. Let’s try and list the features which enable us to identify whether a forum participant belongs to this G team.
24-hourpresence on forums.
Some stalwarts of the G team are online all the time, always ready to repel any “attack” by a dissident liberal. Day and night, there is never a moment when you can have a discussion on a forum without these “curators”. Whatever the topic, your discussion will inevitably be interrupted by someone from the “G team”. They are omnipresent on significant forums, day and night, moving from one to another with their homogenised materials and statements.
“Flexibility”of their own ideology, which always coincides with state ideology.
The “G team” invariably purveys an eclectic array of views and values which correspond to the latest directions of state PR, the ideology and policies of the Russian leadership. Any change in state thinking leads to a dramatic change in the views of all members of the “G team”.
If for some other reason the tone of state propaganda suddenly changes towards the USA, for example, or towards Mayor Luzhkov, then without even bothering to change their user name, the same person from the “G team” will dump yesterday’s views and start peddling something he despised yesterday… And vice versa! And his praise today is as overheated as his abuse was yesterday. This behaviour is absolutely inconsistent and lacks any common sense or concern for their own reputation…
Discussions of the Kuril Islands issue is a good example. Before Putin held talks with the Japanese government, the members of the “G team” were saying in unison: “not an inch of native land to the cursed Japanese”. As soon as these closed talks were over, the same authors, without even changing their user names, started to imagine that it might be possible to hand over the islands, at a price, or in exchange for vast Japanese investment. They even started enthusiastically pointing out the many advantages of this course ofaction.
Another example: while the bill on the burial of radioactive waste on the territory of Russia was being discussed in the State Duma, the members ofthe “G team” zealously assured readers of the “undoubted advantage, benefit, profit and safety” of turning Russia into an international nuclear dump. The people who advocated this called themselves “private individuals and patriotic emigres”, but they were clearly all drawing on information from the press service of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy.
Unlimited devotion to the Head of state and his circle.
Membersof the “G team”, under user names well-known on many forums, invariably express their boundless love for the President. They are prepared to physically “destroy” anyone who expresses the slightest doubt about his merits. The smallest piece of criticism will have them threatening their opponents with the law, flogging, reprisals and murder – not only of them, but of their relatives too. And this is not just a once-off. It happens on all the political web forums.
Sometimes, members of the “G team” are very up-front about the purpose of their visits to forums. For example: Let us support the first President to have tried, over the last 11 years, to change the course of our long-suffering Motherland’s history. May he be judged by his actions, and not by the gossip ofthe scandal-mongering media. Let us make constructive proposals here, so that even if the KGB (ha ha) is present, Putin gets a folder placed on his table where he will find not vulgar chat, but the “voice of the people”, discussing today’s problems and tomorrow’s solutions in a civilised way.
This appeal is interesting for its frankness. It’s a straight exposition of the tasks of the “G team”. The only odd thing is the bit about the hypothetical print-outs “placed on Putin’s table” in the form of proposals, reasoned, but uncritical, so as not to spoil the president’s mood.
Respect and reverence for the Cheka-KGB-FSB.
The “G team” bursting with love and respect for the FSB in all its historical forms, starting with the Cheka. The “G team” calls all the “reincarnations” of the hawks the “neo-nobility”, “law enforcement” and “state-forming patriotic” bodies, whose activities, including the GULAG, should be something to be proud of for Russians!
Anyone taking part in online discussions who does not show sufficient respect for the Cheka-FSB will be declared by the “G team” to be an “enemy of Russia, Russophobe and betrayer of the motherland”. The team constantly stresses the “honesty, heroism and selflessness” of the Chekists, “the devotion of their service to the state and the Motherland”, the”lack of corruption” among the ranks of state security bodies, unlike other state structures.
They are endlessly saying on the forums: “The special services have always existed, and they have always been present in all democratic states of the West”. Or “The FSB is the same kind of special service as the FBI in the USA, Mossad in Israel or MI-6 in Great Britain.”
Any discussion of the activity of the KGB-FSB arouses genuinely strong emotions. For example, the following excerpt is addressed to a reader who expressed insufficient respect for the KGB-FSB (we apologize for the language used, but this is how it was in the original): ” EVERY NIT DREAMS OF BECOMING A LOUSE. EVERY NIT ON THE FORUM DREAMS OF BEING NOTICED BY THE KGB. He yells, writhes and prays: “Notice me, I’m the biggest nit” – but the KGB couldn’t give a shit about you, they have NO INTEREST in nits. If you grow to the size of lice, then maybe you bastards will get noticed.”
The “G team” has recently started distinguishing the FSB from all its previous “reincarnations” and portraying it as an organization that is not the direct descendent of the Cheka-NKVD etc. (as it is portrayed on all its official symbols) but a kind of “Aphrodite born from the waves”, appeared from nowhere.
The phrase that always drives members of the “G team” crazy and forces them to show their true colours is the “lustration of KGB officers”. They just can’t bear the thought of former party bosses and KGB officers being subject to peaceful, legal restrictions. Usually, even after the most measured, innocent mention of “lustration”, the “G team” starts shouting in unison about “bloody repressions of democratic murderers” and “witch hunts”, after which they just lapse into obscene hysteria.
Main “G team” propaganda lines.
Their propaganda on all the Russian language forums is anti-liberal, anti-American,anti-Chechen, anti-Semitic and anti-Western. They back up their slogans and theories with arbitrary interpretations of facts and events, often completely false, forcing their opponent to search for links that refute them… This method is convenient and effective: it distracts attention away from topical discussions that are inconvenient for the authorities. They quote extensively from official and semi-official Russian state propaganda, such as the web publication strana.ru or the revamped newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda (kp.ru). Sometimes they use old ideological tools, like Yakovlev’s book CIA Target – USSR, which is very popular with the “G team”. They also draw strongly on odious texts, suchas Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Mein Kampf. They regularly quote A Short History Course of the All Union CommunistParty of Bolsheviks (published during the lifetime of “Comrade Stalin”), but without mentioning the source.
The mythology and the main ideological values of the G team include:
1. The whitewashing of Stalinism and the rehabilitation of Stalin and his imperial idea of the great Russian people. The cult of Stalin and Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka. Underestimating the number of victims ofthe Leninist-Stalinist repressions;
2. A ban on the discussion of the lustration and crimes of the Cheka-NKVD-KGB.The absolute sanctity of this organization from the day of its founding to the present day;
3. Unremitting Judophobia;
4. Loyalty to the present authorities, the cult of Putin, stories about the economic and social prosperity of Russia under his leadership;
5. Promoting the Chechen war “down to the last Chechen”. Stories of “perfidious Chechnya attacking poor Russia”. Mythological tales of the “hundreds of thousands of Russians” killed by Chechens in the early 1990s, before the start of the first war. Two years ago they gave a figure of 20,000 Russians killed – today that figure is already a million;
6. Xenophobia, racism, justifying the actions of skinheads, and pogroms;
7. Savage hatred of deserters and traitors from the ranks of the KGB;
8. Anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism reminiscent of the time of the cold war in its intensity;
9. Nostalgia for the USSR as a totalitarian empire and a great power feared by the whole world;
10. Restoration of Soviet historical concepts and propaganda clichés, excluding only internationalism;
11. Hatred of the intelligentsia, particularly emigrants, seen by the “G team” as “traitors to the motherland”;
12. Hatred of dissidents and human rights advocates, political prisoners and journalists, from both Soviet times and the present day;
13. Hatred of perestroika, its ideology, its personalities and events. Hatred of the time of Yeltsin and Yeltsin himself;
14. The new element in the “G team” ideological arsenal is that all dissidents (or simply dissenters) are accused of “Russophobia”. This is now the equivalent of “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”, which was the 70th article of the Criminal Code during Brezhnev’s time.
G team ideological enemies
The main enemies of the G team are democrats (“dermocrats” [from the word dermo = shit]), liberal westernizers, Chechens, Europeans, Americans, Jews… Special hatred is reserved for the Russian liberal intelligentsia, former dissidents, independent journalists and the human rights movement. Certain individuals are particularly loathed: Sergei Kovalyov, Yelena Bonner, Andrei Babitsky, A. Politkovskaya, Grigory Pasko, V.Shenderovich, ValeriaNovodvorskaya and others known for their critical attitude to the current regime.
Members of the “G team” always use “the higher interests of the state” to justify restricting freedom of speech or introducing strict censorship, up to and including arrests of dissident intellectuals, human rights advocates and journalists. For them the journalist and ecologist Grigory Pasko is consistently a “spy and traitor to the motherland”. The sadistic murderer Colonel Yury Budanov, on the other hand, is an innocent victim of the war (injuries,nervous breakdown, corrupt generals, liberal journalists, the corrupt justice system etc.), or alternatively “a true patriot”, “a genuine Russian officer”,”a true son of the Fatherland”, and even “the pride and hero of Russia”.
Paradoxically many liberal authors whose articles are discussed on forums are also listed among the enemies of the “G team”. In other words, the members of the “G team”, portraying themselves as honest citizens and private individuals, take part day after day and year after year in forums of publications which they dislike, discussing authors they hate. Stranger even than that, the editorial boards of these publications take no measures against people who insult their authors, while acting decisively against their opponents who support liberal journalists. For example, Viktor Shenderovich wrote a short article about a theatre studio in the paper Moskovskie Novosti. Readers posted their views on the site, but the administration (obviously pressurized by the G team) removed the positive statements, leaving only a comment that the author “had already licked Gusinsky’s ass, and was now having oral sex with Berezovsky”…
Attitude to the USSR
The attitude to the Soviet past among the “G team” is usually positive, although not always. There is a certain divergence of opinion here. Many members of the “G team” have warm memories of the USSR and idealize the Soviet past with all its attributes, from everyday life to the legal (often in the language of the Short History Course of the Communist Party, even if the writer is supposedt o be a very young person who has lived in the West from early childhood). They dream openly of the restoration of the USSR with its former borders, or even better with expanded borders.
At the same time there is active discussion of Communist leaders, such as Lenin, Stalin, Beria, Brezhnev, Andropov, and of Soviet totalitarian ideas. Only internationalism is ruled out completely and replaced by “national patriotism”. At the same time the concept of the Motherland is associated exclusively with power, and the Fatherland with the ruling regime. Devotion to leaders and totalitarian organizations like the KGB is interpreted as patriotism, and statements against the regime are considered to be treason and Russophobia. The G team constantly tries to portray the entire Soviet period in a rosy light, using propaganda clichés of the Soviet era. They knowingly underestimate the number of victims of repressions, attribute guilt for all the misdeeds of the Bolsheviks to Jews or enemies abroad, and glorify the imperial nature of the Soviet Union.
Low cultural level and characteristic language.
Despite the seeming diversity of members of the G team, the cultural level of the majority is very low. Most of them have a poor command of their “native” Russian language. They make huge numbers of characteristic stylistic, lexical and grammatical errors, so it is very hard for them to hide behind different user names. At the same time, many of them have an excellent grasp of all ideological clichés from Soviet times to the present day. Comrade Zhdanov’s (now 50-year-old) aphorism “Whose mill is he pouring water on?” sounds very strange on the internet in the third millennium, but the G team use it frequently and seriously, without any hint of parody….
G team members clearly have problems with their sense of humour: lavatory jokes and barrack humour are connected exclusively with defecation,homosexuality, prostitution and pornography. A typical example of G team”humour” addressed to a female opponent would be: “Toska, make your skirt longer, or we’ll see your balls!”
Many G team members use words incorrectly on liberal web forums. This is not done for irony, it merely shows the level of their knowledge of Russian! The constant flow of obscenities, the distorted words and phrases are very different from the language of the majority of internet users and clear evidenceof the G team’s cultural and educational level.
“Foreigners” in the G team.
Many members of the G team say on forums that they live abroad permanently or frequently visit: the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic etc. For the G team this is always an excuse to talk about the “horrors of life in the West and the advantages of Putin’s Russia”. On some sites the computer’s IP address makes possible the identification of the internet providers. Strangely enough, it is these “foreigners” who are the most aggressive and consistent members of the G team, zealous supporters of the USSR, the KGB and Putin. They like to report on the poverty and oppression in “their” countries, the violations of human rights and the contrasting magnificent realities in Putin’s Russia. They always avoid mentioning the positive sides of western life and frequently lie. For example, there were rather amusing disputes about the price of goods and services in a city where a”foreigner”! ; from the G team and a “liberal” both lived. One gets the impression that these people not only live in different cities, but on different planets.
Individual work with opponents
As soon as a dissident liberal, clearly an “ideological enemy”, appears on the forum,he is immediately taken up for “active processing” by the entire G team. The opponent is usually insulted without provocation, or faced with a killer argument which an ordinary person might well find difficult to refute. The liberal either replies rudely, causes a scandal and is branded as rude by the entire G team, or he starts to offer counter-arguments to their obviously ridiculous point of view. His opponents ignore this, ridiculing him and coming up with other similar arguments. One member of the G team writes, for instance, about the ideological inaccuracy and mistakes of the new user, a second writes obscenities about the dissident, a third accuses the liberal of insanity, a fourth threatens to beat him up or kill him etc. The fifth complains to the administration of the site about any outbursts the persecuted user may have made, completely ignoring the fact that ! these are only caused by collective persecution. It would seem that the G team’s aim is to drive away the new liberal immediately, robbing him of any desire to take part in this forum. If the liberal is stubborn and does not leave, then a whole arsenal of methods is used against him: collective complaints by the entire G team to the site administration, or even putting pressure on the administration behind the scenes, with the goal of blocking the dissident’s access to the forum. At this point the stubborn liberal’s computer may experience mass virus attacks.
Accusing opponents of working for the “enemies of Russia”
When opponents of the team criticize Putin on the forums, condemn the suppression of freedom of speech and democracy in Russia, call for an end to the war in Chechnya, or show disloyalty to the state security bodies, the G team immediately starts to accuse them of working for money for: Boris Berezovsky, the CIA, Mossad, Saudi Arabia, the Zionists, the Masons, Movladi Udugov etc.
Members of the team portray things in such a way that any critic of the FSB or Russian policy in Chechnya is an enemy of the state, a “Russophobe”, and the only reason he takes part in political discussions is to receive money from enemies. Another way of discrediting an opponent is the monotonous angry invectives by the G team addressed to “emigrant betrayers of the motherland, who lecture true Russian patriots from abroad for dirty money”. According tothis “logic”, the whole of mankind is possessed with such a fierce (and most importantly platonic!) love for the Cheka-FSB and the Putin regime that people can only suppress these feelings for huge sums of money. Logic is actually rarely encountered in the G team texts. The constant accusations that their opponents are being paid says more about the members of the G team themselvesand their motives for going online among a cultured public that is alien to them and on liberal forums that they find! disgusting.
Frequent change of pseudonyms (user names)
Members of the G team tend to change their pseudonyms (user names) frequently. The same “authors” write on the forum under numerous pseudonyms, imitating dialogue with themselves, expressing support of themselves and showing that their opinion is shared by a large amount of people. When the author changes his user name, he calls himself a different person, sometimes even of the opposite sex, despite the identical vocabulary, phraseology, level of command of Russian, ideological position and arguments. From the low level of culture and tendency to use clichés, it is not difficult to tell that several “team user names” belong to the same author.
Information noise and faking user names
On forums with weak moderation or no moderation at all, the G team uses the method of destroying topical political discussions that are uncomfortable for the authorities by posting huge amounts of meaningless texts on other subjects, known as a”flood”. These texts are frequently of a pornographic or anti-Semitic nature,and repeated dozens or hundreds of times in a row. Sometimes the G team writes insulting and obscene texts, using the name of an opponent with a liberal reputation, under his user name and address. On the Lenta.ru forum, this practice is called “cloning”, and fake texts are called “clones”. It should be noted that this method is almost never used against the G team itself, i.e. the liberal opponents do not stoop to using fake names and addresses.
The political spectrum of the G team – the fine comb principle Regular members of the G team on any popular web forum are supporters of a party or movement that is distributed across the entire Russian political spectrum, except the liberal part. On each forum there will always be an anti-Semitic nationalist, a communist, a representative of United Russia, and several users who say they voted for Yavlinsky, but became disappointed in him because of his insufficient loyalty to Putin. Others will always include someone on the extreme left, who condemns the West, the USA and capitalism, but never criticizes Putin and his regime (completely illogical for an ordinary “lefty”).The views of the members of the G team supposedly diverge on unimportant tactical issues, but they are all unanimous on key and base issues – absolute loyalty to Putin and the FSB, the “prosperity” of Russia under his rule and the other tenets of their ideology listed abo! ve.
One could call the political positioning of the G team the fine comb principle. Any person, of any political persuasion,who happens to wander in to the forum will fall between the teeth of this comb i.e. the members of the team. Each team member with views that are close to the new user’s will declare that their outlook is fairly similar, but will inevitably correct him on the unshakeable values of the G team.
Anyone who criticizes Putin, the FSB or the Chechen war risks receiving unpleasant reprimands from the G team, from both the “right” and “left”, from a user who is a “simple fascist close to the criminal classes” to a user who is a “refined patriot and former Yabloko supporter”… A communist, a moderate liberal who believes in a strong state, a supporter of Yavlinsky, a person with a “difficult past” who has reviewed his beliefs, a modest and sensible mother from Florida (always loyal to the Russian authorities, for some reason), a simple man of the people with a criminal background, an anti-Semite, an intellectual, a “former dissident from Siberia” who now dreams of hanging human rights advocates from the nearest lamp post -these are the types the G team uses on web forums. But they always respect Putin and the FSB and unquestioningly support all the authorities’ “active measures”. On the remaining i! ssues, the members of the G team have minimal divergences of opinion, which provide the basis for an imitation of a “discussion” among themselves. If an opponent continues to assert his convictions, then the G team will collectively apply more elaborate methods of influence.