Apology: yesterday, I accidentally pre-posted an upcoming entry. If you got an email before I could correct it, I apologize for cluttering up your inbox!
The more we learn about Robert Mercer, the worse he looks.
Open Secrets recently published a description of messages that a Mercer organization sent through Facebook and Google to influence the November 2016 elections, and they are despicable–not just because they helped elect Donald Trump, but because they fed the tribalism that is tearing at the American fabric.
As the final weeks of the 2016 elections ticked down, voters in swing states like Nevada and North Carolina began seeing eerie promotional travel ads as they scrolled through their Facebook feeds or clicked through Google sites.
In one, a woman with a French accent cheerfully welcomes visitors to the “Islamic State of France,” where “under Sharia law, you can enjoy everything the Islamic State of France has to offer, as long as you follow the rules.”
The video has a Man in the High Tower feel. Iconic French tourist sites are both familiar and transformed — the Eiffel Tower is capped with a star and crescent and the spires of the Notre Dame are replaced with the domed qubbaof a mosque.
The Mona Lisa is shown looking, the ad says, “as a woman should,” covered in a burka.
If it wasn’t already clear that the ad was meant to stoke viewers’ fears of imminent Muslim conquest, the video is interspersed with violent imagery. Three missiles are seen flying through the sky as the video opens. Blindfolded men are shown kneeling with guns pointed at their heads, and children are shown training with weapons “to defend the caliphate.”
This was only one of three supposed travel ads. Just a few days before the election, another “travel promo” showed Syrian refugees ruling America. The ad changed the iconic Hollywood sign to read “Allahu Akbar.” The Statue of Liberty was pictured wearing a burka and holding a star and crescent, and Ground Zero in New York was portrayed as place where “Islamic victories” were celebrated.
Most voters never saw the ads, nor were they intended to. The organization that produced them is a far-right “social welfare” non-profit called Secure America Now. It used information obtained from Facebook and Google to carefully target these messages, sending them only to the voters in swing states who were most likely to be receptive to them.
And new tax documents obtained by OpenSecrets show that the money fueling the group came mostly from just three donors, including the secretive multimillionaire donor Robert Mercer….
Mercer has become a household name not only for his political spending in recent years or his peculiar interests — such as part-timing as a New Mexico police officer or funding stockpiles of urine in the Oregon mountains — but also for bankrolling the alt-right and the data firm Cambridge Analytica, both of which helped Trump clutch victory in 2016.
As OpenSecrets reported last month, SAN received another $2 million from the 45Committee, another pro-Trump dark money group, which is itself partly funded by other dark money groups.
These ads “were viewed millions of times on Facebook and Google,” according to Bloomberg. Reports also assert that Facebook used Secure America Now to test new technology, “sending out 12 different versions of the video to see which was the most popular.”
The ads were written to minimize the likelihood that the IRS would rule them campaign expenditures. They made no mention of a candidate. (Of course, Trump’s anti-Muslim bias and his constant insistence that Muslims entering the country posed a danger is a less than subtle clue to the intent of the ad campaign.) Trump had called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and had referred to Syrian refugees as possibly “one of the great Trojan horses.”
Evidently, for people like Mercer, and companies like Facebook and Google (what happened to “Don’t be evil”?), playing on the fears and exploiting the bigotries of susceptible voters is just another campaign tactic. And if you can do that on the “down low,” so much the better.