When is a troll not a troll?
The word “troll” originated in Scandinavian folklore as a synonym for a demon. Today the word is more commonly understood to mean someone who maliciously interferes with discussions in open internet communications – such as in discussion groups and forums – through being abusive to others in the group, or by knowingly contributing misleading or distracting information.
It begs the question as to the sort of people who might do this. Who are they and why do they do it? Without doubt some of them are just ill people, or misanthropic computer nerds or bored teenagers with too much time on their hands. This article does not concern that group. They are a nuisance, to be sure; but, for the purpose of this piece, they’re not trolls; they’re just sad people. This piece uses the word troll to mean anyone paid by the state or by private businesses to be secretly malicious for economic or political reasons – using any means at their disposal, and often working outside the law. It includes those who specialise in disrupting internet communications, but is not confined only to them. That makes it a very sizeable group, as I hope to prove; but that’s the point of writing this piece: to encourage people to think about this issue.
The book Undercover: the True Story of Britain’s Secret Police by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis is an interesting expose of the murky world of undercover policing. I say it’s an expose, but I suspect it’s not nearly as revealing as it could be, as the authors themselves acknowledge at the end where they write:
“[T]his book is merely the first draft of the history. We recognise we have only scratched the surface.”1
Everyone knows the police have always used plainclothes officers as a means of investigating crimes using methods that are not available to uniformed officers; but the key word here is “crimes”. The fact that most plainclothes policemen usually investigate real criminals mostly justifies the anonymity of their outward appearance.
However, the story revealed by Undercover describes some of the outrageous actions used by our trusted law enforcers to spy on perfectly legitimate political activists – including stealing the identities of dead children to create fake backgrounds for themselves, establishing long-term intimate personal relationships with activists, and even fathering children with them. These actions would be difficult enough to condone if real hardened criminals were the object of investigation, but the really unacceptable truth that Undercover exposes is that these legitimate agents of the state are behaving this way with perfectly law-abiding people – and not only are they perfectly law-abiding people they’re also invariably very good people, wholly dedicated to trying to make the world a better place. In other words, Undercover shows how our trusted leaders are actively trying to prevent people from trying to make the world a better place.
Towards the end of the book is a brief comment relating to the very public outing of one of the despicable trolls employed by the state for this purpose, known as Mark Kennedy:
“The country was realising that Kennedy was not a lone wolf, but part of a team of undercover police targeting political campaigners.”2
In other words, Kennedy was no one-off “aberration”, but merely part of an organised system of deeply institutionalised cynicism. Evans and Lewis’ book explains that the group Kennedy worked with, known as the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), was a relatively new construct that evolved from an earlier secret police organisation known as the Special Demonstration Squad, which was itself part of the larger police department known as Special Branch.
Students of social history would not be surprised by any of this. The British government is known to have used its spies against political reformers for at least two hundred years, since at least the days of the infamous Oliver the Spy.
In his superb classic The Making of the English Working Class, historian EP Thompson cites countless examples of spies working for the state to infiltrate groups of political reformers to disrupt their activities. Referring to a time when the institutional political oppression of working people in Britain was probably at its most extreme in the entire history of the country – the Industrial Revolution – Thompson describes an era where the fear of government spies and informers was so widespread and normal that political activists had to meet in secret and promise their loyalty to each other and their cause with solemn oaths. At a time when would-be reformers were being executed or transported in sizeable numbers into slavery thousands of miles away from their homes for many years, such acts of caution were obviously justified.
The bigger picture
The political causes that so many good people fought for were never really satisfied throughout the nineteenth century. There were marginal concessions made by reluctant governments, such as changes to the voting franchise, legislation to limit the forced labour of children, abolition of slavery and so on, with each grudging change serving more as a dampener on public outrage than an acknowledgement by government of their social responsibility. Engels’ wonderful book The Condition of the Working Class in England, published halfway through the nineteenth century describes a country where life for the poorest people in society is nothing short of hell-on-earth relieved only by the certain knowledge that it would most likely be short. From the wonderful work of Dickens in the last half of the eighteen hundreds to Tressell’s masterly Ragged Trousered Philanthropists published just before the First World War we see depicted one endless tale of institutionalised state oppression of the weak and vulnerable.
The huge leaps forward that were made in social welfare during the first half of the twentieth century resulted not from enlightened governments that had finally accepted their duty of care to their own people, but from the rampant successes of Russian communism. Here at last was proof positive that another world was possible. Here at last was a living example to the desperate poor that they did not have to endure lives of misery.
So, to the rich and powerful elites who controlled the western world the communist model was a thing of purest terror: the threat of a good example. From its very earliest days it was marked as something which must be bitterly opposed by the rich and powerful. President Grover Cleveland, for example, said this in his State of the Union address in 1888:
“Communism is a hateful thing and a menace to peace and organised government.”
It was an attitude that remained firmly embedded in all American administrations up to the eventual victory over the Soviet Union a hundred years later – as the vicious McCarthy witch-hunts proved in dramatic style.
It was also an attitude that was enthusiastically embraced by the British government too, and Stephen Dorril, writing in his masterly history of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, noted that from its earliest days MI6 saw Russia as its main enemy, and that even World War Two was viewed as no more than a temporary distraction from its primary raison d’être.
Given the overwhelming evidence that Dorril records showing how the British government relentlessly pursued an anti-communist foreign policy with even more vicious enthusiasm than the US government of that time, it’s inconceivable that its domestic policy was significantly different: any British group with communist values was likely to be targeted for observation or elimination. Although a history of MI5 equal in substance to Dorril’s account of MI6 is still waiting to be written, there are numerous references to the questionable activities of that shadowy organisation – such as in John Pilger’s accounts of the treachery of the Thatcher government against mineworkers in the 1980s and, arguably more ominously, the vetting by MI5 of BBC staff.
Don’t forget that the people these so-called “intelligence” organisations are interfering with are not criminals, they’re mostly good law-abiding people trying to make the world a better place.
Just after WW2 the spying business took off in a big way. Making full use of the still-fresh patriotic fervour that swept through the victorious allied nations, together with a re-born anti-communist rhetoric to bully sceptical politicians into funding massive “intelligence”-gathering projects, what had until that time been quite modestly-sized government departments of eccentric and largely fascist patricians suddenly exploded in size and number. In Britain the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) grew out of all proportion to its already dubious usefulness. In the US, however, the so-called “intelligence” community was just about to explode into unbelievable growth.
By the end of WW2 the US had managed to become the new global empire-in-waiting – without the need for any specialised intelligence organisation whatsoever; which obviously begs the question as to what real added value these monstrosities could possibly serve. I mean, if you can become the new global empire without needing a specialist “intelligence” organisation, what more could you possibly achieve by having one? Nevertheless, the dreaded CIA was born, followed soon afterwards by a rash of government entities whose purpose was supposedly to protect the USA against Cleveland’s “menace to peace and organised government”. Some of these organisations, such as the National Security Agency, would become gigantic structures whose purpose and budget could remain permanently hidden from American taxpayers – and the even more secretive and mysterious National Reconnaissance Office – to name just two.
Then of course there are the quasi-police organisations which supposedly combine law enforcement with “intelligence” gathering. In Britain we have the Special Branch and in the US there’s the FBI. Both of these institutions have been around for many decades. Whilst both may have occasionally been helpful in tracking down real criminals, vast quantities of their resources have also been expended on harassing perfectly law-abiding and generally well-intentioned people just trying to make the world a better place.
Then of course there’s the heavies, the other group of government servants, paid by the taxpayer, who dwell permanently in the shadows and, for much of their working lives, well outside the law also. In Britain, for example, in addition to the Mark Kennedys of the undercover police, we also have the SAS and other military types with specialist skills ranging from spying, sabotage and kidnapping to torture and murder. The US has the relatively new and very ominous terrorist organisation, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which is like the SAS on steroids, and is probably at least a hundred times bigger, and is many times more dangerous.
Amongst the many skills these various “specialists” have is triggering “false flag” events. A false flag event is when A pretends to be B for the singular purpose of getting B into a lot of trouble; or for lulling C, who trusts B but not A, into some lethal trap. The practice is so well-known and ancient that it takes its name from the days of sailing ships when one ship would hoist false flags pretending to be from some other, harmless, country in order to trick another ship to let it get close enough to attack it.
On 21 November 2013 BBC Panorama screened a documentary titled “Britain’s Secret Terror Force.” This featured an all but unknown account of how, over forty years ago, a highly secret group of professional British soldiers was tasked with pretending to be Irish terrorists. These people would drive around the streets of Belfast in plainclothes committing random acts of terror.
They went by the name of the Military Reaction Force (MRF). Panorama revealed that there were about forty men involved and they were active throughout 1972. These terrorists, some of whom were interviewed anonymously for the programme, identified only as “MRF member”, were told at the time that officially they didn’t exist and all knowledge about them would be denied by the government. The men were perfectly open about the fact that they were terrorists, with one saying: “We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group.”
They were very successful. Operating all around the clock throughout most of the year, these forty men carried out random attacks in mainly Republican areas, many of which were against unarmed civilians. Panorama said that about 10,000 shootings occurred in 1972, and that it isn’t possible to say how many of them were by the MRF. A Wikipedia entry under “The Troubles” mentions: “The year 1972 saw the greatest loss of life throughout the whole conflict”.
This type of thing has long been meat and drink to the various dirty tricks specialists within the British government. In Dorril’s book he calls the false flag ploy “a favourite of MI6.”3
Running at the heart of the British government is a well-established principle which allows it to nurture practices which are utterly despicable. The principle even has a recognised name: “plausible deniability”. The principle is so old and widely practised by imperial governments it’s difficult to know when it first became established.
Dorril calls it a “hallmark” of MI6 planning:
“The British Security Coordination [an offshoot of MI6] case illustrates a philosophy that is central to such operations and was a particular hallmark of MI6 planning – plausible deniability. The use of third parties lessens the threat of any operation unravelling to reveal the hand of the sponsoring organisation.”4
Dorril explained earlier that another section of MI6 called “Special Political Action” … “ran MI6 agents ‘operationally’ in tasks that included ‘the organisation of upheavals, organisation of clandestine radio stations, sabotage and espionage activities, publication of newspapers and magazines, the disruption of international conferences or control of them, influencing elections and many others.”5
MI6 is now, of course, mostly a relic of the past. However, it’s still in business and it’s highly unlikely it’s changed its ways. It’s no longer the force it once was and today no doubt serves a new emperor. However, its skills have not gone to waste. According to Dorril, “From MI6 they [the Americans] also learned such devious ‘disruptive tactics as ‘false flag’ recruitment and the creation of fake communist groups and fronts.”6
Jeremy Scahill’s superbly researched book Dirty Wars is a must-read for anyone who wants to know the shocking truth about how today’s world really works. He cites numerous examples showing how well the new world empire has learnt its lessons from the previous one.
The principle of “plausible deniability” as practised by the new empire is described in the shocking account of an attack by the US military on a family of Afghans near Gardez in Paktia province. In this attack seven unarmed civilians were murdered, including two pregnant women. Scahill interviewed survivors (including Mohammed Sabir and Mohammed Tahir) and was told that US soldiers had dug the bullets they used out of the women’s bodies:
“’They were putting knives into their bodies to take out the bullets,’ Sabir told me. I asked him bluntly, ‘You saw the Americans digging the bullets out of the women’s bodies?’ Without hesitation, he said, ‘Yes’. Tahir told me he saw the Americans with knives standing over the bodies. ‘They were taking out the bullets from the bodies to remove the proof of their crime,’ he said.”7
A highly effective tactic used to create plausible deniability is, as Dorril observed, “the use of third parties”. The deep state is adept at putting together small teams of ruthless trolls for short periods of time – such as Kennedy and his friends in the NPOIU, and the terrorist members of the MRF. These teams are never intended to be together for long. They’re meant to serve a short-term purpose before being disbanded so that when their activities begin to be brought to the attention of politicians – as happened with the MRF – the controllers can then quickly and honestly avoid difficult questions by pointing out that the groups referred to no longer exist. They might even be called “mistakes” or “aberrations”, and that now “lessons have been learnt” and everything is back to being hunky dory. And although some specific group may well have ceased to exist it most likely will have simply re-invented itself, acquired some new acronym, and be back in business good as new. It may even comprise some of the same faces as the previous acronym.
When Ed Snowden and Glen Greenwald exposed to the world some of the outrageous truths about the “deep state”, about the fact that the NSA is spying on each and every one of us, it rightly attracted considerable attention; but there are much larger truths to take on board too – such as the fact that there was nothing very new about the Snowden revelations (James Bamford exposed much of the same information more than 30 years earlier in his excellent book Puzzle Palace); and the fact that far from doing something about the Snowden story – such as shutting down the NSA – it was Snowden who got shut down instead.
I submit that all of these people are trolls. All of the hundreds of thousands of individuals employed by the taxpayer to snoop and spy on us the 99%, for no justifiable reason; as well as the disgusting individuals employed by the state and who supposedly act in our name, such as the MRF, and those who dig bullets out of the bodies of murdered pregnant women in the sacred cause of “plausible deniability”. All these people are trolls. So too are hundreds of thousands of deeply sinister individuals working for the likes of MI6 and the CIA, MI5, Special Branch and the FBI, SAS and JSOC – all specialising in “plausible deniability”, and false flag terrorism.
Tim Weiner’s conclusion to his book Legacy of Ashes, his history of the CIA, is not very different to Dorril’s account of MI6 in the fact that we eventually learn that these truly despicable organisations have done almost nothing that’s really useful. In all the decades they’ve been operating, and for all the hundreds of billions (possibly trillions) of dollars they’ve wasted, and countless lives they’ve taken and untold destruction they’ve caused, they haven’t contributed one single thing of use to us, the 99%.
Trolls for hire
But that’s not all.
At the end of Undercover we learn that Mark Kennedy, the one-time Special Branch officer who spied on and betrayed good people – not to mention his state-sponsored psychological raping of female activists – has now moved on. Far from being suitably ashamed of himself and doing an honest day’s work – such as sweeping the streets – Kennedy went on to try and make more money for himself in the private sector, doing what his years of training and experience conditioned him to do. Kennedy went on to work for a company called Global Open who, according to Evans and Lewis, “was one of many detective agencies making money out of spying on protestors”. We further learn that “Other firms that go by the name Inkerman Group, Vericola and C” International ply a similar trade.”8
So here we have yet another dimension to consider when we think about the word “troll”. Not content with the hundreds of thousands of shameful people employed by the deep state to spy on us and deceive and harm us in countless ways, the 1% also resort to specialist private “consultants” to do their dirty work.
Of course this too should come as no surprise. Many people are familiar with the private organisations of so-called “security” experts – such as the infamous Blackwater (now reinvented as Academi) – which are no better or different to the hired mercenaries that have been in business for centuries. Well, if you’re big enough and mean enough to hire and use firms of professional killers why not hire and use professional spies too?
A world of trolls
So in the final analysis what do we have here?
We have hard verifiable evidence that our own trusted leaders have been using unbelievably despicable organisations to do unbelievably despicable things to mostly good and decent people who only want to make the world a better place for us, the 99%. For many decades, centuries even, from Oliver the Spy to Kennedy the Cop, from MI6 to the CIA, from Special Branch to the FBI, from GCHQ to NSA, from the SAS to JSOC, from Global Open to Academi we have one massive catalogue of trolls; a huge compendium of hundreds of thousands of real-life monsters and demons who see the whole world as their “battlefield”; monsters and demons busily beavering away every hour of every day all around the globe without one single verifiable piece of evidence that they have ever done anything useful for us, the 99%.
So whenever we hear on our so-called news about yet another horrendous act of terror that’s occurred in some part of the world – from poison gas attacks in Middle East cities to the shooting down of passenger jets – we have absolutely no idea what the real story is. We don’t know if the story has been planted by the trolls in MI6 or the CIA (who have long done that sort of thing); and we don’t know if the facts are as they appear to be – if the real villains are the ones suggested, or if it’s a false flag and the real villains are someone else (MI6 for example, or JSOC, or any number of the possible “third parties” – who have long done that sort of thing).
Given also that we know that trolls have infiltrated political activist groups for hundreds of years, as well as student and trade unions and political parties even, it becomes obvious how very difficult it is for the ordinary 99 percenter to make sense of their world. From the trolls who work for the state and provoke political activists to commit criminal acts to the trolls who work for giant corporations such as energy companies, say, and who infiltrate political activist groups with a view to disrupting any efforts by the activists to promote renewable energy… it’s almost impossible for real activists to know who the trolls are amongst their number – as the victims of Mark Kennedy and his friends would quickly verify.
So what can be done by those of us who persevere with our desire to make the world a better place?
Eventually, at some hopefully not too distant time in the future, there will be significant constitutional reform such that political decision-making is removed from the hands of the 1% and placed where it belongs, in the hands of we the 99%, properly informed. Only significant constitutional reform can finally close down these monstrous organisations once and for all and put right the problem of trolls… together with the many other problems caused by the 1%. But at this moment in time there’s not enough of the 99% who understand that. At this moment in time the severely brainwashed 99 percenters far outnumber those of us who have seen the light. Therefore, as a first vital step towards constitutional reform, education is the most effective thing we can do.
At one level it obviously helps to try and out the trolls, to expose these hideous monsters for what they are; but we should not become too obsessed with that: the task is just too gigantic. Although it’s almost impossible to identify a really effective troll, I think there are certain indicators which would help to spot the Mark Kennedys of this world, or at least reduce the risk of them doing too much damage. Although these people are very accomplished at creating “legends” for themselves – false background histories that withstand a superficial level of scrutiny – real roots are not quite so easy to manufacture: those deep, well-established and easily verifiable roots in communities which most of us have and which prove beyond reasonable doubt we are who and what we say we are. Real roots are tricky to fake. So although the absence of real verifiable roots doesn’t by itself indicate a troll, it could do; whilst conversely, hard evidence of verifiable roots is a fair indicator that someone might not be a troll.
But like I say, we should not become too obsessed with troll-spotting. There lies madness.
The French Revolution, for example, was forever blighted by The Terror – which was how the French tried to deal with the trolls of their day. Given the extreme suffering of the French people under the tyranny of the French monarchy prior to 1789 it’s perfectly understandable that a sizeable number of ordinary citizens reacted as they did. However, the bloody retribution they later exacted, from mostly innocent people, permanently soiled the otherwise exemplary lessons of the first year or so of the revolution. In other words, although it would be understandable to punish the worst of the trolls for their many obscene crimes, a large measure of controlled restraint would be more appropriate and effective. We don’t need these people to be killed, or even locked up for the rest of their lives; we just need them to stop doing what they’re doing. South Africa’s so-called Truth and Reconciliation committees were far better examples of how to manage the demise of a psychopathic state than the French revolutionary tribunals were. After all, there’s no punishment suitable for the worst of the trolls, and scant possibility of social redemption either.
For example, one of the “MRF members” interviewed in the Panorama documentary was asked if, forty years on, he had any regrets about his terrorist career. He answered immediately that he had none at all, that he would do it all again tomorrow if asked. Apart from providing some revenge for the families of the victims of such “MRF members”, it isn’t possible to effectively punish these people. It would be more useful to persuade them to provide witness testimonies in the way the South Africans did.
The best we could hope for these people would be that they might see the light, that they might see how they were tricked to serve as stooges for the 1%, like every other troll in existence, to attack people who have right on their side. We should try to turn the trolls, to persuade them to become whistle-blowers and to grovel at the feet of the 99% and beg forgiveness for their grievous errors of judgement; to try to persuade the trolls to become real heroes of the people, such as Assange, Manning, or Snowden. This is the only possible worthwhile thing these people could do.
For the rest of us, the 99%, the most important thing we can all do quite easily is education – to learn about these vile people who move like sinister shadows in our everyday lives, to know for a fact these people exist and that they’re working every minute of every day to undermine, disrupt, and destroy the efforts of good people who are only trying to make the world a better place. The best we can do is learn as much as possible about the horrific things that trolls do, supposedly in our name, so that we’re better able to notice their dirty tricks, and their dirty wars. These trolls are not Scandinavian fairy stories or conspiracies dreamt up by raving fantasists; they’re very real, unbelievably evil, entirely normal, and have been around for hundreds of years.
One day, when those of us who want to make the world a better place eventually succeed, trolls will just become another deeply unpleasant thing of the past – like the vast bulk of human history. One day, when MI6’s Southbank HQ and NSA’s vast and sprawling complex have been levelled into dust and their occupants have finally become real spooks we can start to lower our guard; but until that happy day arrives we just need to be careful out there.
- Undercover by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, p. 335. [↩]
- Undercover p. 317. [↩]
- MI6 – Fifty Years of Special Operations by Stephen Dorril, p. 281. [↩]
- MI6 – Fifty Years of Special Operations, p. 612. [↩]
- MI6 – Fifty Years of Special Operations, p. 510. [↩]
- MI6 – Fifty Years of Special Operations, p. 711. [↩]
- Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill, p. 336. [↩]
- Undercover, p. 295. [↩]