Discover more from The Bulwark
Peter Thiel’s Baby Alligator Problem
Plus: Putin’s false flag attack?
Curious and curiouser. ProPublica: “Clarence Thomas Had a Child in Private School. Harlan Crow Paid the Tuition.”
Embracing sedition. Wapo: “Trump glorifies ‘J6 Prison Choir’ in song.”
The authoritarian endorsement. Bloomberg: “Orban Urges Trump Return from Right-Wing ‘Incubator’ in Hungary.”
Let’s start with the mystery drone strike in Moscow. Our friend Tom Nichols (professor emeritus from the War College and a real-life Russia expert) breaks down the possibilities.
It is conceivable, he writes, that “the Ukrainians or some Ukrainian team in Moscow could have used drones.” But, he says, that’s “unlikely, because it doesn’t make much sense.” A second possibility: “Russian intelligence and military authorities got wind of a plot by some group to strike the Kremlin, and then let it happen as a way to goad Putin into using even more force in Ukraine.” But that, Nichols concludes, “seems like an overly complicated explanation.” A third possibility: The strike “came from Russian dissidents, especially if it was done with some sort of crude, jerry-rigged device. Again, unlikely but not impossible.”
But, Nichols writes, the most likely scenario is also the most disturbing — “that this is a Russian government put-up job from start to finish.”
Nichols lays out the case:
There are several reasons this makes more sense than other explanations.
First, an attack on the Kremlin would give Putin the rationalization he’s been seeking for some kind of dramatic and murderous action that might not make much military sense, but that would destabilize Ukraine and unsettle the world on the eve of a major Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russians, I believe, are dreading this coming operation, and want to change the narrative at home and abroad. I have no idea what Putin has up his sleeve, but even on his better days, he is prone to strategically idiotic moves. He might try to drag Belarus into the war, he could make more nuclear threats, or he could even order redoubled efforts to kill Zelensky.
In any case, faking a drone attack would fit into the long-standing Russian affinity for “false flag” operations. Though conspiracy theorists in the United States often trumpet unfounded claims of false flags, professional intelligence services do conduct such operations, and Moscow has been particularly fond of them all the way back to the Soviet period. The series of apartment bombings in Russia in 1999, for example, that became the pretext for escalation in Chechnya, were almost certainly orchestrated by the secret services (a possibility so disturbing that I and other Russia experts were loath to accept it—but which is now, in my view, undeniable). And in the past year, the Russians warned that the Ukrainians were going to unleash a “dirty bomb,” a ludicrous claim that even led China to give the Kremlin some stink eye for playing around with nuclear threats.
This drone strike looks like the same play, only without nuclear materials. A terrorist attack in the capital would be a pretext for the Russians to warn the world that this time, they’re really going to take the gloves off. Ukrainian officials are worried that this is exactly the Russian plan. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, told the BBC that the incident indicated Russia could be "preparing a large-scale terrorist provocation" in Ukraine. That’s a pretty chilling possibility, considering that the Russian campaign plan at this point already consists of indiscriminate war crimes.
The GOP megadonors with buyer’s remorse
Over at MSNBC daily, I take a look at Peter Thiel’s baby alligator problem.
Peter Thiel is (allegedly) having second thoughts.
The billionaire, right-wing megadonor reportedly has decided that he’s done bankrolling political candidates because Republicans are too focused on fighting cultural battles over abortion and transgender rights.
If true, he’s not alone. Billionaire GOP donor Thomas Peterffy similarly told the Financial Times in April that he had qualms about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ relentless crusade against abortion, drag queens and “woke” books. “I have put myself on hold,” he said. “Myself, and a bunch of friends, are holding our powder dry.” (A few days later, Peterffy wired $1 million to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s political action committee.)…
Other well-heeled GOP donors, including Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin, are also reportedly rethinking their 2024 contribution plans. Andy Sabin, chairman of Sabin Metal Corp., expressed similar reservations, telling Reuters, which also reported Thiel's alleged decision to stop funding Republican campaigns, citing interviews with his associates, that “if it wasn’t for abortion and the book-banning, there would be no question I would support [DeSantis].”
It’s too soon to know whether this marks a widespread shift among billionaire funders, or whether it will even make any difference. Despite the qualms of the donors, Republican candidates continue to race to the right on culture issues, and the GOP donor class has a long history of getting back in line.
But all of this, if true, does raise a nagging question for Thiel and company: “What did you expect?”
For years, these donors funded candidates who rushed to embrace every meme and narrative of the culture war: from transgender bathroom etiquette and pronouns to variously nebulous and nonsensical attacks on “wokeness.” They backed candidates who publicly pledged to outlaw abortion, and supported Trumpists and Trump-like candidates who had played on racial distrust and gender anxieties.
For years, they nursed baby alligators and are now surprised to find out those baby reptiles have grown up — and are on the loose.
And Peter Thiel is apparently shocked, shocked, that those many-toothed monsters may be coming for him.
This would be the same Peter Thiel who bankrolled Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, whose political posts in a CrossFit chat room “lamented the entry of the United States into the First and Second World Wars, approvingly quoted a Nazi war criminal and pushed an isolationism that extended beyond even Mr. Trump’s,” New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman wrote.
The Rise and Fall of the Social Media News Age
The pioneers of the digital media age thought they were building a progressive answer to Drudge and would help get a Democrat elected in ’08. But the architects of the new right-wing populism were also there, watching and learning. Ben Smith discusses his new book, Traffic, with me on Wednesday’s podcast.
And a reminder, later today, the second episode of our new feature, “The Trump Trials” — with a bunch of special guests.
1. What I Saw at the Southern Border
On May 11, the current crisis will become chaos when Title 42, the COVID health emergency measure, expires and the Department of Homeland Security can no longer simply turn back Mexicans and others seeking admission. The administration has already announced it will deploy an additional 1,500 active-duty service members to the 2,500 military personnel assisting the border patrol at the southern border. DHS is quick to assure that “DoD personnel will be performing non-law enforcement duties such as ground based detection and monitoring, data entry, and warehouse support. DoD personnel have never, and will not, perform law enforcement activities or interact with migrants or other individuals in DHS custody,” which is forbidden by the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act.
2. Florida just doubled down on the Stop WOKE Act, and the new bill is just as unconstitutional
The Florida House of Representatives voted today to send Senate Bill 266, approved by the Florida Senate on Friday, to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk.
The legislation doubles down on the Stop WOKE Act, which unconstitutionally bans ideas a majority of Florida lawmakers disfavor from college classrooms, despite the fact that FIRE, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union secured a preliminary injunction from a federal court last November blocking Florida’s public universities from enforcing the law.
FIRE opposed SB 266 (as well as its counterpart, HB 999) on many grounds because it is riddled with constitutional defects. First and foremost, the legislation again intrudes on what can be taught in college classrooms by instructing the Board of Governors to review classes for violations of the Stop WOKE Act and for class content “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, or privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, or economic inequities.”
This provision is flatly unconstitutional.
But I was reliably assured…
Now do voters.