In a deep dive into the wellspring of support in the U.S. for Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine, one expert on digital platforms suggested that some supporters of Donald Trump have found a new hero in the Russian strongman who mirrors their belief that might makes right.
With some Republicans furious with the former president for praising Putin as he invades the neighboring country, some of the voters they will be counting on in the midterm elections are cheering on the invasion.
According to New York Times reporters Davey Alba and Stuart Thompson, social media commentary on Ukraine is revealing a new front in the culture wars that Trump inflamed during his four years in office and the year after he was voted out.
Noting Trump calling Putin's invasion "pretty smart," the report points out that his comments lit up social media platforms where the former president's most rabid fans congregate.
"Right-wing commentators including Candace Owens, Stew Peters and Joe Oltmann also jumped into the fray online with posts that were favorable to Mr. Putin and that rationalized his actions against Ukraine," the Times is reporting adding that Oltmann boasted "I’ll stand on the side of Russia right now,” on his podcast.
"The online conversations reflect how pro-Russia sentiment has increasingly penetrated Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, right-wing podcasts, messaging apps like Telegram and some conservative media. As Russia attacked Ukraine this week, those views spread, infusing the online discourse over the war with sympathy — and even approval — for the aggressor," the report continued. "The positive Russia comments are an extension of the culture wars and grievance politics that have animated the right in the United States in the past few years. In some of these circles, Mr. Putin carries a strongman appeal, viewed as someone who gets his way and does not let political correctness stop him."
According to Emerson T. Brooking of the Atlantic Council, fans of the ex-president see Putin as the man of action and not just words like Trump.
“Putin embodies the strength that Trump pretended to have,” Brooking explained. "For these individuals, Putin’s actions aren’t a tragedy — they’re a fantasy fulfilled.”
The report goes on to note that Putin has been playing a long game on social media by having the Kremlin sow misinformation on platforms like Facebook and Twitter and is now reaping the rewards as he moves to occupy neighboring countries.
According to the chief executive of Card Strategies, which analyses disinformation, Putin's misinformation endeavors have been a big success -- including with those who trade in conspiracy theories including QAnon adherents.
"Putin has invested heavily in sowing discord” Melissa Ryan explained. "Anyone who studies disinformation or the far right has seen the influence of Putin’s investment take hold.”
"The Russia-Ukraine war is now being viewed by some Americans through the lens of conspiracy theories, misinformation researchers said. Roughly 41 million Americans believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to a survey released on Thursday from the Public Religion Research Institute," The Times report adds. "This week, some QAnon followers said online that Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was simply the next phase in a global war against the sex traffickers."
According to conservative podcaster Oltmann, he has seen nothing that makes him change his mind.
"You really have no idea about Ukraine. People support Russia because you did not do the right thing when it came to the fraud and corruption of Biden," he told the Times. "I pray for the people in Ukraine but equally pray the people who facilitated the evil communist agenda in the U.S. are held accountable.”
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