MEMBERS ONLY: Meet My Former Friend, The Russian Propagandist and Fake News Reporter

by Bob Cesca

Back in 2009, I was invited to be the co-host of a podcast on a platform known as BlogTalkRadio. It still exists today, and it’s still predicated on the concept of using your telephone to host a show. No fancy equipment or engineering know-how required. All you need is a phone and, POOF! You’re a podcaster. Unfortunately, most of the shows sounded like clandestinely wiretapped phone calls, but it works, and it shook the cobwebs off my broadcasting skills before starting my actual podcast in early 2010.

The guy who asked me to co-host the show is named Lee Stranahan. At the time, Lee was a progressive activist whose viral videos about the 2008 campaign landed him on CNN and other cable newsers, as well as an invitation from The Huffington Post to contribute blog articles. The latter is how I met Lee and, not knowing his full story or where he’d end up, I invited him to participate in my own blog at bobcesca.com while we hosted “Agree to Disagree with Bob and Lee” on BlogTalkRadio.

The show went fairly well for a while, including a show in August of 2009 in which the guest was a guy named Chez Pazienza — the first time I spoke with Chez was on that show. But by the end of the year, everything went to hell as Lee joined the ranks of FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher who wanted to “kill” the healthcare bill that went on to become Obamacare. On our show, Lee began spouting conspiracy theories about why the legislation wasn’t single-payer — everything from Obama’s alleged disdain for the left to his so-called “poor negotiating skills” to theories such as David Axelrod having ties to Big Insurance. The show disintegrated into me yelling at Lee for an hour a week, which might’ve been fun for one or two episodes… but every episode? Yikes.

Cutting to the chase, Lee and I parted ways. I went on to continue writing for Huffington while hosting the early version of the podcast I’m currently still running, while Lee went a completely different direction. A few months after we ended the show, Lee interviewed an emerging voice on the far-right named Andrew Breitbart. At the time, Breitbart was known mostly for his work at The Huffington Post and as well as for being Matt Drudge’s protege. 

In addition to all that, Breitbart had recently launched Breitbart.com and Lee became enamored with the new wingnut on the scene, eventually “converting to conservatism” while joining the staff of creepy cave-dwellers at the fledgling news/propaganda site. 

Fast forward to the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Lee with Andrew Breitbart.
Lee with Andrew Breitbart.

According to an epic new article in The New York Times Magazine, Lee Stranahan became a key player in the Breitbart effort to circulate fake news in support of Donald Trump’s candidacy. Specifically, Breitbart’s Steve Bannon dispatched Lee to Twin Falls, Idaho after rumors wormed their way through social media about alleged Syrian refugees converging on the small town, horking American jobs and, yes, raping children at knife-point. 

While in Twin Falls, Lee theorized that Sharia law was on its way to the small town, while also sensationalizing what became widely known as a “child rape” case. Two things about this right off the bat. There are exactly zero Syrian refugees who were re-located to Twin Falls. And the rape in question appears to have been three young children between the ages of six and ten in their apartment building laundry room. The details are sketchy, which is how the next layer of the story was allowed to occur.

Due in part to the propaganda efforts at Breitbart, the incident with the kids in the laundry room was quickly inflated to, yes, ISIS raping Americans in Idaho. The Times article has more details about what actually may have happened, but suffice to say, it definitely wasn’t ISIS or any other terrorists, for that matter.

Then it gets really crazy. A couple weeks ago, I wrote a Banter M piece about Russian trolls using Facebook to organize pro-Trump rallies. One of those rallies was promoted by a reputed Russian agitprop page on Facebook called “SecuredBorders.” The group was targeting the yogurt company Chobani, headquartered in Twin Falls. 

I wrote at the time:

Just a little over a year ago, according to an exclusive from The Daily Beast, an event was scheduled for Twin Falls to protest against both Chobani and the apparent influx of refugees and immigrants into the United States (even though illegal immigration was a net-negative that year, meaning more people left the country than entered). The protest rally, dubbed “Citizens before refugees,” was promoted on Facebook in part by a group known as SecuredBorders, which claims to have been the brainchild of the event.   

Boasting 133,000 followers, which is quite respectable, SecuredBorders was shut down by Facebook last month after it was discovered to have been a front for a Russian propaganda effort to stir up discord in American politics and to support both Donald Trump (and secondarily Bernie Sanders) for the purpose of damaging Hillary Clinton. In other words, this Twin Falls event and possibly countless others were injected into the social media bloodstream of the 2016 election by Russian intelligence under the management of the Kremlin.

National security expert Malcolm Nance on Wednesday morning’s Stephanie Miller Show called it “marionetting.”

The story dovetails with a previous report issued quietly by Facebook, we learned that Russian trolls had purchased $100,000 in negative advertising against Hillary Clinton during the election cycle, possibly reaching upwards of 70 million users. This, of course, is only the beginning. Mother Jones‘ A.J. Vicens wrote this week that Facebook is hiding additional evidence of Russian propaganda, and David Corn told Rachel Maddow that this is just the tip of a huge iceberg — a metaphor I’ve been repeating since July, 2016. 

There’s no definitive linkage between Breitbart and SecuredBorders… that we know of. For now. But it’s more than a little suspicious that after Lee’s lengthy stay in Twin Falls, he ended up parting ways with Breitbart. Lee explained in the article that the site was mismanaged after Bannon joined the Trump White House. Where he ended up is an even bigger deal than Breitbart.

Turns out, Lee landed another talk show gig — I believe it’s his first since we hosted the BlogTalkRadio show in 2009. Only this time, Lee ended up on terrestrial FM radio doing a drive-time show called “Fault Lines” for a media agency called Sputnik. Yes, Sputnik: one of three major Russian propaganda fronts, including Russia Today (RT) and TASS. In fact, two weeks ago we learned that Sputnik is under investigation by the FBI for pushing Russian propaganda inside the United States. Here’s Lee using his special brand of shallow, twisted logic to debunk the Sputnik allegations:

Lee told the Times he took the Sputnik job because it’d be controversial. Ah yes, a hint as to why he might’ve taken the Breitbart job, too. It’d stir some shit. Again. Oh, and by the way, Lee’s radio co-host is a Garland Nixon, a former liberal Fox News regular. And, yes, I’ve appeared on Garland’s old radio show in Baltimore several times until the Summer of 2016 when he started antagonizing me about the Russia attack. Guess which side he’s on.

Jesus. 

What is it with me and these weirdos?

Not for nothing but there’s something that’s been bothering me since Lee switched sides. I keep wondering whether my caustic and confrontational attitude with him during some of those healthcare arguments made him decide that there might be more juice in opposing people like me. Put another way, did I perhaps drive him to becoming a conservative? Maybe, maybe not. If so, I certainly don’t feel bad about it. If not, there are two other explanations. 1) Lee grew up as an objectivist disciple of Ayn Rand, even attending Rand’s funeral, allegedly, therefore perhaps he was simply reconnecting with this roots, or 2) Lee is an opportunist and might’ve converted because he had a chance to attach his wagon to a rising star, Andrew Breitbart. It’s quite possible that Lee perceptively saw dollar signs floating around Breitbart’s head and wanted in on the action.

As we roll-on toward the 2018 midterms, we can expect guys like Lee to continue stirring the shit and injecting fake news into the discourse, with perhaps greater fury and efficacy than we witnessed last year. They’re good at it now, and we need to be prepared. All of us. We never know for sure when even our so-called friends might pull a Lee Stranahan.

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