Turning Point Action had a controversial internet troll farm in Phoenix, Arizona that is designed to send out disinformation. Even while this action has been kicked off Facebook and Twitter Charlie Kirk has defended this as activism. What Kirk’s organization is actually doing is called psychological information warfare. Its similar to what foreign governments and militaries are doing in campaigns. What is of concern is that due to the Falkirk Center at Liberty Charlie Kirk has influence. To this disturbing story in the Washington Post Liberty University has remained silent about Charlie Kirks’ actions. This blog would like to ask Liberty a question. Is it the Gospel to engage in psychological operations like the Chinese military as part of the culture war? Is that what the Christian faith is about? Is that what Jesus preached in the Sermon of the Mount?
“A meme (rhymes with dream) is a unit of information (a catchphrase, a concept, a tune, q notion of fashion, philosophy er politics) that leaps from brain to brain. memes compete with one another for Replication, and are passed down through a population much the same way genes pass through a species. potent memes can change minds, alter behavior, catalyze collective mindshifts and transform cultures. Which is why meme warfare has become the geopolitical battle of our information age. Whoever has the memes has the power.”
Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy.
Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart
I will not endure.
Psalm 1010:5 ESV
The other day there was a story in the Washington Post that has links to Liberty University due to Charlie Kirks’s ties to the school. It was shocking and this blog needed to write about it and ask some questions in light of the ongoing Liberty University issues.
Charlie Kirk’s Troll Farm in Phoenix, Arizona
On September 15, 2020 the Washington Post had the following article in the newspaper, “Pro-Trump youth group enlists teens in secretive campaign likened to a ‘troll farm,’ prompting rebuke by Facebook and Twitter.” Charlie Kirk runs Turning Point USA, which is a controversial conservative organization. The arm of it which engages in action is called Turning Point Action. Turning Point Action had a secretive troll farm in Phoenix, Arizona that employed and paid minors to spread disinformation on social media platforms of Facebook and Twitter. It is an operation that stunned a number of people and led to Facebook and Twitter to ban the accounts that were purporting the action. It was an operation that mimicked what the Internet Research Agency did from St. Petersburg, Russia in 2016. The disinformation intentionally spread dealt with how COVID-19 is a hoax and how there is no pandemic. Or the messaging downplayed COVID and said its harmless. It also spread false information about voting and engaged in the culture war by spreading false information about Democrats.
The operation had a lot of employees and and according to the Washington Post a number of teenagers as well. Here is how the newspaper described the situation.
The campaign draws on the spam-like behavior of bots and trolls, with the same or similar language posted repeatedly across social media. But it is carried out, at least in part, by humans paid to use their own accounts, though nowhere disclosing their relationship with Turning Point Action or the digital firm brought in to oversee the day-to-day activity. One user included a link to Turning Point USA’s website in his Twitter profile until The Washington Post began asking questions about the activity.
In response to questions from The Post, Twitter on Tuesday suspended at least 20 accounts involved in the activity for “platform manipulation and spam.” Facebook also removed a number of accounts as part of what the company said is an ongoing investigation.
The effort generated thousands of posts this summer on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, according to an examination by The Post and an assessment by an independent specialist in data science. Nearly 4,500 tweets containing identical content that were identified in the analysis probably represent a fraction of the overall output.
The months-long effort by the tax-exempt nonprofit is among the most ambitious domestic influence campaigns uncovered this election cycle, said experts tracking the evolution of deceptive online tactics.
Charlie Kirk who has ties to Liberty University defended the behavior and said that this is activism. Turning Point defended the behavior. If you would like to read more about this you can do so in the following articles.
- The Verge, “Conservative group used a bunch of teens to evade Twitter and Facebook moderation.”
- Yahoo News, “Facebook and Twitter suspend teen accounts tied to Turning Point’s domestic right-wing ‘troll farm’“
- Vanity Fair, “A PRO-TRUMP GROUP USED A BUNCH OF TEENS TO TRICK TWITTER AND FACEBOOK.”
- Business Insider, “A pro-Trump youth activist group paid teenagers to push conservative talking points on social media, including misleading claims and disinformation.”
- London Daily Mail, “Conservative youth group paid teenagers to flood social media with thousands of pro-Trump posts in online campaign compared to Russian troll farms.”
What is Psychological Information Warfare?
What Charlie Kirk’s organization is doing is something that may not be familiar with many people here in the United States. Information warfare is usually a tactic used by foreign militaries in the cyber age to sway influence and achieve foreign policy aims. The question needs to be asked, what is information warfare? According to the Congressional Research Service psychological operations are defined as the following. Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) has been defined in DOD doctrine as “planned political, economic, military, and ideological activities directed towards foreign countries, organizations, and individuals in order to create emotions, attitudes, understanding, beliefs, and behavior favorable to the achievement of United States and military objectives.”
Information warfare is not new and history is full of examples. One of the more fascinating ones I studied in history dealt with how Otto Von Bismarck altered a diplomatic cable and incited the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and 1871. The French ambassador engaged King Wilhelm I in a spa about foreign policy concerns. After the discussions he sent a description of the conversation to Otto Von Bismarck who believed that if war should come it should happen sooner and not later. He changed the context of the telegram and released it. It provoked France in time to take military action. There is another act of information warfare that German intelligence did which affected world history. In World War I Germany which was bogged down in a two front war sent Vladimir Lenin into Russia hoping that he would accelerate the decline of the Russian monarchy. Lenin as history knows helped trigger the second Russian revolution and helped usher in communism. Information warfare has been used in many conflicts from World War II to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Information warfare is designed to play and move people’s emotions. Its an intentional combative tactic. Many foreign armies from the PLA in China to the North Korean and so many others have units designed to engage in information warfare. For this blog and I will get into it below, but its troubling that such techniques would be employed here in the United States. But worse that they would be tied to someone that works with Liberty University.
Falkirk Center at Liberty University
This blog has had a couple of posts about the Falkirk Center. Matt Boedy has written a couple of articles about the Falkirk Center and one of its personalities. You can read those in, “Guest Post: Matt Boedy on FalKirk – The Christian Nationalism Think Tank at Liberty University” and “Guest Post: Matt Boedy Responds to Liberty University’s Ryan Helfenbein on the 2020 Election and the Evangelical Christian Test.” The Falkirk Center was stood up in November of 2019. It takes its name from Jerry Falwell and Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA. Its goal is to engage in the culture wars and promote Christian nationalism. The Liberty Champion wrote about it when it opened. Here is how it was described.
On Nov. 30, 2019, Liberty University announced its partnership with political activist Charlie Kirk with the creation of the Falkirk Center, a modern think tank set to renew and defend God-given freedoms and Christian principles throughout American politics and culture.
Although the center is not a traditional think tank according to Executive Director Ryan Helfenbein, the Falkirk Center strives to be a cultural influencing tool that exists for college students to actively engage in and have their voice heard.
“This is not your dad’s or granddad’s think tank,” Helfenbein said. “We’re trying to have massive cultural influence, and Gospel driven and Christ-centered cultural influence that also speaks to issues that culminate in public policy.”
As the Falkirk center looks to take on current social issues with the Bible as its compass, the center also looking to engage a younger generation of people who are passionate about standing for their Christian principles and reforming what the center believes is a leftist, progressive leaning culture.
“The youth are fundamentally influencing where our culture is going and that is a good thing, but all things need a rudder,” Helfenbein said. “We need a true north and that true north is not older people stepping in, that true north is Jesus Christ.”
Helfenbein said the vision behind this partnership is having Liberty University President Jerry Falwell who represents an older generation coming together with Kirk and a younger generation for the sake of the Gospel in
the public sphere.
You can read the rest of that newspaper article in, “WHAT IS THE FALKIRK CENTER? LIBERTY UNIVERSITY JOINS CHARLIE KIRK TO CREATE A NEW KIND OF THINK TANK TO PROMOTE FAITH AND LIBERTY ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES.”
Is it the Gospel to Engage in Information Warfare? Why is Liberty University Silent About Charlie Kirk’s Behavior?
Before writing this post I did some brief research and to date I have not seen any communications by Liberty that have either condemned or raised questions about Charlie Kirk’s behavior with his organization in Phoenix, Arizona. This blog would like to ask the question….is the Christian Gospel include disinformation warfare campaigns that have the same intended consequences as done by a foreign military? This blog has noticed that Liberty’s COVID-19 infection rate has up-ticked. Is Liberty in denial about the pandemic? It must not care if Charlie Kirk’s organization intentional tries to mislead people that the COVID-19 is a hoax. This blog should also wants to point out that it knows people who have been affected by COVID-19 and yes, they have died from it. My family lost a family friend for several decades to COVID a couple of weeks back. This is not something you mess around with, but you take it seriously. After all if I can say we don’t call cystic fibrosis, ALS, cancer, Zika or brain tumors a hoax…why call COVID-19 a hoax?
The Falkirk Center needs to be closed. It has no place at Liberty University. It goes against the Christian Gospel in many ways. Liberty’s ties to Charlie Kirk are toxic. Can you imagine other schools developing a similar organization or “partnership?” Can you imagine BIOLA, Trinity International University, Wheaton or others having a similar organization like Falkirk? I personally can not. Liberty needs to cancel the Falkirk Center and they need to sever ties with Charlie Kirk. In this situation silence of the troll farm by Liberty means acceptance and approval for Kirk’s actions. This isn’t about politics this is about slander and lying. Which is what took place in Phoenix. Turning Pointy Action had no right to engage in information warfare and to take action that the PLA or the Internet Research Agency would engage in. Its beyond disturbing. Its sickening. It should leave many people who have connections to Liberty and trouble them that a prominent and deeply controversial figure is engaging in such shady behavior. This blog is asking for Liberty to denounce and rebuke Kirk’s behavior in this situation with Turning Point Action.