Biggest story on Thursday morning:
Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former adviser and an architect of his 2016 general election campaign, was charged on Thursday with defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort called We Build the Wall, which was intended to bolster one of the president’s signature initiatives: erecting a barrier on the Mexican border.
With a wounded Air Force veteran and a Florida venture capitalist, Mr. Bannon conspired to cheat hundreds of thousands of donors by falsely promising that their money had been set aside exclusively toward building a new section of border wall, according to a federal indictment unsealed in Manhattan. Prosecutors said that after siphoning money from the project, Mr. Bannon plowed nearly $1 million into paying off his personal expenses.
As Paul Waldman notes, there's a lot of this kind of thing on the right:
... the scheme that Bannon has just been criminally charged with is indeed a species of penny-ante grift. Yet it’s the sort of grift the American right has been running on its own voters for decades....
Its roots go all the way back to the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign, out of which grew a nationwide grass-roots network of conservative activists and supporters. Innovators such as direct-mail king Richard Viguerie realized that these people — or more specifically, lists of these people and their addresses — could be a powerful tool to collect money, a few dollars at a time....
You could raid that trove to aid conservative causes, but you could also use it to get rich. It wasn’t hard to figure out which buttons to push — the liberals are destroying the country, please send a check to save America! — and the donations would pour in.
... this system was awash in scammers, people who pleaded for donations but never actually used them to aid the causes they claimed.
When they aren’t hawking political products, they’re peddling miracle biblical cancer cures or erectile dysfunction cures or “glyconutrients” and all other manner of snake oil, certain of the gullibility of the conservative masses ready to type in their credit card numbers.
Whatever the cause of the moment is — defeat Barack Obama, support the tea party, help Trump, build the wall, stop antifa — it will become a vehicle for these scams.
But let's not frame this as "conservatism is just a big, fraudulent cash grab." Many people use conservatism to separate people from their money, but scamming on the right isn't always strictly about money.
For years, the NRA has bilked conservatives by making assertions that are every bit as fraudulent as the claims made by Bannon and his associates. We Build the Wall said all the money was going to construct Trump's border barrier; the folks at the NRA said that the money it received was going to prevent gun-averse politicians from seizing the guns of every armed citizen in America. They said this even though no politician actually wants to do that. (Some may want to confiscate all assault weapons, but no one is talking about preventing Americans from buying other kinds of firearms, or keeping the pistols, shotguns, and traditional rifles they already have.) It's now clear that officers of the NRA were making a tidy profit from this deceit -- but it also served to keep voters loyal to the Republican Party. It was, to a large extent, a scam for votes.
Republicans tell their voters a lot of lies to win votes. They say full-fledged Marxism is imminent in America. They say American cities and towns will soon be subject to Sharia law or antifa-driven anarchy. They say Christianity will be outlawed.
And they lie about legitimate threats, insisting that they're nothing to worry about. Climate change is a hoax! Russiagate was a witch hunt! COVID-19 is no worse than an annoying bout of the flu! Anthony Fauci wants to make millions for his Big Pharma buddies from a COVID vaccine! Bill Gates wants to use the vaccine to implant microchips in every American!
And now there's the biggest scam of all -- QAnon.
Many of the people spreading these scams aren't following them up with a direct request for money. But scamming is an ethos on the right. The conservative media uses these scams to sustain readership and ratings. The GOP, which has no broadly popular policy ideas, uses these scams to continue winning votes.
Ultimately, the real scammers are the conservative plutocrats who want voters to continue sending Republicans to office, but who also want Republican officeholders to do nothing on those voters' behalf after they're elected, because Republicans' only task when in office is to cut taxes and regulations on the rich, and to fill all judicial vacancies with judges who'll do the same.
When you see a successful non-monetary scam on the right, that's who ultimate scammers are. They're not directly scamming people for cash. GOP politicians and right-wing media figures are doing the scamming, selling conspiracy theories for Republican votes. The plutocrats are getting the cash.
Published with permission of No More Mr. Nice Blog