“This is a moment Avaaz was made for” (or cognitive infiltration for dummies)


“You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.”

— Naomi Wolf 1

The extract above is drawn from an excellent and extremely prescient article written by Naomi Wolf and published by the Guardian in 2007. It is entitled “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.

In 2011, I produced an updated version by taking Wolf’s analytical breakdown of the Bush years, applying her identified sequence of steps to Obama’s term in office. Here is what I wrote under Step #8. Control the press:

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat.

Following which I reminded readers of the Machiavellian role played by Cass Sunstein (married to warmongering former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers), who, in September 2009, had been appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, Sunstein co-authored a paper with Adrian Vermeule, entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” in which they propose methods for dealing with the spread of faulty  information saying “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”:

“Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”

The authors also advocate other methods for muddying the waters such as the recruitment of “independent experts”:

“government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes… too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”

Indeed, they provide no less than five alternative responses that the US government might take to hinder and restrain such unwanted freedom of speech:

We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. 2

As I wrote in September 2011:

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

Click here to read my full post entitled “12 steps to tyranny – the state of America under Obama”.

Please note that everything above is reprinted in full from part 7 of an extended article entitled “spin, lies and propaganda from yesterday, today and tomorrow – 8 ways of looking at fake news” published in April 2017.


“Avaaz’s Elves”

Yesterday I received the latest circular email from Avaaz (see screenshot in addendum), which calls upon its members to become actively engaged as “Citizen elves” in what Sunstein defines as ‘counterspeech’ (in fact usefully serving as “credible private parties” as outlined under item (4) of Sunstein’s list above):

Our movement is mobilising to defend democracy on all fronts:

    • hammering Facebook and others to clean up their sites by shutting down fake news and troll accounts;
    • pushing for governments to defend our democracies by passing laws to protect elections from interference;
    • disrupting disinformation online, setting up teams of citizen ‘Elves’ to take on Putin’s ‘trolls’;
    • battling the far right’s divisive narratives in country after country, as elections approach.

[colour highlight added]

The main justification given by Avaaz in calling for its members to engage in Sunstein-style cognitive infiltration are the same ones first rolled out to disguise the true reasons the Clinton campaign bombed. Those entirely unsubstantiated allegations that “Russia hacked the election” (later rebutted by such experts as William Binney) were afterwards repurposed both to keep Trump on his leash by derailing any attempts to restore US-Russian relations and also to clampdown on alternative media – as everyone who disavowed the sanctioned mainstream narrative was quickly branded a Russian troll. Keep in mind that ‘fake news’ is a meme that has been spread most virulently, not by Trump himself (although he is frequently credited with it), but by his opponents.


“A moment Avaaz was made for”

The email from Avaaz was titled “This is a moment Avaaz was made for”, and in this regard I happen to believe we ought to take them seriously. After all, Avaaz is nothing like the grassroots campaign it takes such pains to promote itself as, but heavily astroturfed since its inception. It was founded for a purpose (and is allied to a consulting firm literally called Purpose Inc) as independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed deeply into the organisation, explains:

Avaaz and GetUp co-founders Jeremy Heimans (CEO) and David Madden are also founders of the New York consulting firm, Purpose Inc.

Avaaz was created in part by MoveOn, a Democratic Party associated Political Action Committee (or PAC), formed in response to the impeachment of President Clinton. Avaaz and MoveOn are funded in part by convicted inside-trader and billionaire hedge fund mogul, George Soros.

Avaaz affiliate James Slezak is also identified as a co-founder and CEO of Purpose at its inception in 2009.

The secret behind the success of both Avaaz and Purpose is their reliance upon and expertise in behavioural change.

While the behavioural change tactics used by Avaaz are on public display, double-breasted, for-profit Purpose, with its non-profit arm, sells their expertise behind the scenes to further the interest of hegemony and capital. Whether it be a glossy campaign to help facilitate yet another illegal “humanitarian intervention” led by aggressive U.S. militarism (an oxymoron if there ever was one), or the creation of a new global “green” economy, Purpose is the consulting firm that the wolves of Wall Street and oligarchs alike depend upon to make it happen. 3

Click here to read the full article on Cory Morningstar’s website Wrong Kind of Green.

Morningstar also follows the money in another excellent article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”:

Avaaz states that they take “absolutely no money from governments or corporations…. While we received initial seed grants from partner organizations and charitable organizations, almost 90% of the Avaaz budget now comes [from] small online donations.” The 2009 Form 990 for George Soros’ Foundation to Promote Open Society reports (page 87) $300,000 in general support for Avaaz and an additional $300,000 to Avaaz for climate campaigning. […]

In addition to receiving funding from the Open Society Institute, Avaaz has publicly cited the Open Society Institute as their foundation partner. This admission by founder Ricken Patel is found on the www.soros.org website. [As discussed in part I, The Open Society Institute (renamed in 2011 to Open Society Foundations) is a private operating and grantmaking foundation founded by George Soros, who remains the chair. Soros is known best as a multibillionaire currency speculator, and of late, an avid supporter of Occupy Wall Street. Soros is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR is essentially the promotional arm of the ruling elite in the U.S. Most all U.S. policy is initiated and written by the exclusive membership within the CFR.]

Avaaz utilized/utilizes their Open Society Institute relationship to distribute member donations via “Avaaz partners at the Open Society Institute.” 4

Click here to read this thorough examination of Avaaz‘s finances by Cory Morningstar.

In short, Avaaz is tightly allied to the Soros NGO empire – the same George Soros who has candidly admitted to his pivotal role in fomenting the colour revolutions across the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union. The same Soros who proudly says he backed the coup of 2014 in Ukraine. As he told CNN host Fareed Zakaria in May 2014:

“Well, I set up a foundation in Ukraine before Ukraine became independent of Russia. And the foundation has been functioning ever since and played an important part in events now.”

So when Avaaz warns me that “Russia’s President has forged an alliance with the far-right, and deployed an army of hackers and trolls, legions of fake social media accounts, and suitcases full of dirty money to sabotage our public debate and elections”, I hear little more than the hypocrisy of Soros who supported the fascists of the Maidan in Kiev.

And whilst Avaaz are writing to inform me that “The British people are calling out the Brexit scam”, another Soros-funded campaign group, Best for Britain, co-founded by Gina Miller, who took the UK government to court in 2016 over its triggering of the Article 50, are already busy rallying public opinion and encouraging MPs to vote against a Brexit deal.

Avaaz says:

The threat we’re up against is everywhere, but so are we. That threat is political, but we can be too when we need to be. That threat claims to be people-powered, but we’re the REAL people power.

About half of this is the truth and half is baloney, as is usually the case with Avaaz. Based on the evidence outlined above, I’ll leave readers to separate fact from fiction.

For more on Avaaz I strongly encourage readers to follow the links here and here to Cory Morningstar’s excellent investigative work and also to read this earlier extended post.


Addendum: Screenshot of Avaaz email


1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all


2 Conspiracy Theories by Cass Sunstein, Adrian Vermeule, published January 15, 2008. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585

3 From an article entitled “Syria: Avaaz, Purpose & The Art of Selling Hate for Empire” written by Cory Morningstar, published on September 17, 2014.


4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.



Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, internet freedom

2 responses to ““This is a moment Avaaz was made for” (or cognitive infiltration for dummies)

  1. Ariadne Carlsson

    Those who have witnessed the pro-Trump, pro-Brexit troll army in action can be under no illusions that this article is a piece of pure gaslighting from end to end, attempting to cast doubt on what is really going on by blaming the victims. If Soros is really funding Avaaz the A’s far as I can tell he is supporting an international attempt to shutdown liberal democracy and replace it with authoritarian regimes masquerading as democracies. But there are those of us who have seen the campaign in action, and it’s pretty clear which side is seeking to betray democracy by behavioural control, and influence democratic outcomes by manipulating voters. And it ain’t Avaaz.


    • Well, of course, you are perfectly entitled to hold that opinion which is the beauty of freedom of speech. As an advocate of free speech I certainly do not intend to shut your voice down as Avaaz just did for thousands of others. And as I imagine you’d like to see this article removed from Facebook on the basis that I am “gaslighting” – in fact, judging from my stats it seems Facebook have already taken action against me – this is censorship you applaud, I presume.

      I also note that you have not taken issue with any details of my argument or attempted to discredit any of the referenced sources. Instead you appear to believe that I am part of some vast “troll army” which your side has fallen victim to. As set upon victims you are thus entitled to do everything in your power to fight the enemy. War has been declared against us!

      This is an extract of Avaaz’s latest self-congratulatory email sent on May 30th under the subject heading “We’ve never been more proud of Avaaz”:

      Working from a war room in Brussels our team of 30 uncovered what 30,000 Facebook monitors had missed — a massive web of disinformation networks churning out toxic lies in the heart of Europe. We sent over 700 pages of detailed investigation results to Facebook, showing how these networks operate, coordinate, use fake accounts, and mislead people.

      And we didn’t just find them. We shut them down! In Spain, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, the UK, France, and Germany. Everywhere we looked, we had impact. In total, Facebook took down networks that were racking up 3 BILLION (!!!!) views in a single year!! Enough to reach every single voter in Europe over twenty times!

      By the end, top EU politicians, journalists, and security experts were coming to our war room every single day for information and briefings, and Facebook publicly thanked us. Avaaz is now the epicenter of global efforts to combat disinformation.

      [all emphasis as in original]

      The same email included the following quote:

      “I haven’t seen any of the other fact-checking or disinformation monitoring groups have anything like the impact.” – [anonymous] Facebook Insider

      Now before continuing, let me make clear that I am about as far from a Trump supporter as it is possible to be. I loathe Trump – take the time to read my many articles against him. Or just look at the tag cloud and it becomes pretty obvious where my personal allegiance actually lies.

      I backed Jeremy Corbyn long before he was elected Labour leader and then actively campaigned on the doorstep for Labour during the last general election. So if politics is fought between left and right, then I am firmly on your side. But it isn’t that simple is it?

      Freedom of speech ought to be an issue on which both the liberals and the left can find common ground, however, if you are happy for Avaaz to lend corporate giant Facebook a helping hand in taking down content to the satisfaction of “top EU politicians, journalists and security experts” then presumably you are equally unconcerned by the huge upsurge in political censorship across the internet. And the dangers of political censorship ought to be abundantly clear given our hindsight of the Twentieth Century.

      This brings me to the nub of the issue. It is easy to defend freedom of speech for the voices we support, but that isn’t the reason for defending freedom of speech. The point is to permit people to say things we most detest too. This is the maxim famously ascribed to Voltaire, and it is also the way to best defend our liberal democracies. The likes of Trump, Le Pen and Tommy Robinson will not be defeated by shutting down debate. Instead the liberals and the left are obliged to take the moral high ground and fight our corner from there.

      One final quote from the Avaaz letter:

      And voter turnout was the highest in 25 years!! This is a BIG deal, because the far-right wants to portray the European Union as a project of elites and technocrats, but this election removes all doubt: it’s a People’s Europe now.

      You do not have to be “far-right” to think of “the European Union as a project of elites and technocrats”. Have you ever listened to Jeremy Corbyn’s position on the EU?

      Or Tony Benn’s?

      So while I understand progressives who insist we should “remain and reform” the EU – for instance Varoufakis who once said (here I paraphrase) that talking about democracy in the EU is like talking about oxygen on the moon because there isn’t any – I am utterly bewildered by the new progressives who are so rapturously in love with the EU as it currently operates. When Avaaz say (as above) “it’s a People’s Europe now”, they are simply pitching a dream like advertising executives, and if targeting people’s emotions in this way isn’t “betray[ing] democracy by behavioural control, and influenc[ing] democratic outcomes by manipulating voters” then I’m not sure what is really. Avaaz do it all the time.


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