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Shadow Campaign

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I apologize in advance, this is going to be a very long article.

This is in relation to the recent times article: "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election". I have taken a PDF archive of it here, as places like the internet archive have been known to edit documents after the fact, or will remove the content if requested/forced. Of course the writers and editors also have a responsibility to correct and update their publications, so the purpose of archiving is to show the version I am reviewing.

I will attempt to lay out out some points structurally and quote the passages I specifically refer to. I will start with some background on Molly Ball, then review the article, then discuss the implications of what has been discussed here.

Author

To be clear from the start, this is not about attacking the author, Molly Ball. I simply believe in this case it helps to understand the context in which this article was written. This is largely from her Wikipedia page - I don't really have the time or motivation to dig into her further than this. Feel free to correct me in the comments.

Molly appears to be well accomplished in her journalism career, winning multiple prizes and working for large media outputs, such as Politco and Time. She has reported on the 2012 US election and gay marriage referendum. Molly has also written the 2020 biography of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (a role I imagine she was heavily vetted for).

I believe it is a fair assumption to suggest that she is both left-wing and has a lot to loose by misrepresentation if caught. Hence I believe this article to be presented here to be the truth as she believes it. Even so, I will be more generous still, and give her the benefit of the doubt that the story is somewhat inflated in order to tell a more compelling plot.

As you read the following snippets, bare in mind that this isn't some fantasy of somebody who has ideas of grandeur - this is genuinely somebody who is well connected within the left-wing sphere.

Review

I'll break this review down into their sections to make it easier for the reader to follow if they so wish.

Introduction

I won't go over much of the setting of the story here, but we first begin with this gleam of information:

A second odd thing happened amid Trump's attempts to reverse the result: corporate America turned on him. Hundreds of major business leaders, many of whom had backed Trump's candidacy and supported his policies, called on him to concede. To the President, something felt amiss. "It was all very, very strange," Trump said on Dec. 2. "Within days after the election, we witnessed an orchestrated effort to anoint the winner, even while many key states were still being counted."

In a way, Trump was right.

This rush to announce a winner, despite the results having not yet been counted, was certainly strange at the time. There were still key battles being done in certain states, and the media simply announced that Biden had once - despite the fact there was still a considerable process to go through before such a conclusion could be met. Here she points out that Trump's feeling that this was a group effort against him, was not wrong.

There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs. Both surprises were the result of an informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans.

So here we have the left-wing and big businesses teaming up and working together against Trump. This is something the right-wing proclaimed throughout the entire election, as prominent right-wing sources were selectively silence on media platforms.

Though much of this activity took place on the left, it was separate from the Biden campaign and crossed ideological lines, with crucial contributions by non-partisan and conservative actors.

Here it's suggested that the shadow campaign was separate from the Biden campaign, and yet, as we read on, we'll see that this is actually not the case. What is true though is that this concerted effort did cross some ideological lines. We'll also see how some groups got screwed over in this alignment.

The scenario the shadow campaigners were desperate to stop was not a Trump victory.

This aligns with their apparent aim that was to 'protect the election' by 'ensuring it would be free and fair, credible and uncorrupted'. Bare this in mind as we read on.

Their work touched every aspect of the election. They got states to change voting systems and laws and helped secure hundreds of millions in public and private funding. They fended off voter-suppression lawsuits, recruited armies of poll workers and got millions of people to vote by mail for the first time. They successfully pressured social media companies to take a harder line against disinformation and used data-driven strategies to fight viral smears. They executed national public-awareness campaigns that helped Americans understand how the vote count would unfold over days or weeks, preventing Trump's conspiracy theories and false claims of victory from getting more traction. After Election Day, they monitored every pressure point to ensure that Trump could not overturn the result.

Well, this is a damning statement. The changes to voting systems and laws at state level was most likely illegal, at least in a few places. This included counting mail votes after voting at polls had stopped, ignoring signature verification on mail-in ballots, allowing "correction" of incorrect ballot entries in key locations with high Democratic turnouts - the list goes on. The state voting laws were very much used against Trump at every possible level that was conceivable.

I remember arguing online about whether this was "right", and left-wing voices argued that the Trump campaign had tonnes of time to fix these issues. I found it interesting how they argued from a point of legal correctness instead of a point of moral correctness. As we have seen, the legal system was stacked against Trump, even some Conservatives were moving against him.

The statement about pressuring social media companies to take a harder line against disinformation - that was almost entirely one way. They weren't tackling the misinformation of the left, they purely attacking the right (and continue to do so).

The use of "data-driven strategies" and social media was exactly the complaints the Democrats had about the Republican party back in 2016, along with the usual claims of Russian collusion. The only difference is, this time they actually did it - and they're proud of it!

The President spent months insisting that mail ballots were a Democratic plot and the election would be "rigged."

Not just a few sentences ago, was she explaining how the shadow campaign changed state laws to oppose Trump. They pushed for so many mail-in ballots, that there was zero verification process in some states. How is that not rigging? For the basic checks that were done, record levels of "mistakes" were found in the counts. They couldn't investigate any further, as the signatures were destroyed once the votes were counted, despite zero verification being performed.

[..] finally summoning his army of supporters to the Jan. 6 rally that ended in deadly violence at the Capitol.

I've argued with people online multiple times about this, and the conclusion was that Trump is either this mastermind player 5D chess, or he's completely and utterly brain dead. You can't just switch it up when it suites the narrative. I tend towards Trump being of simpler mind, therefore not planning the actions that happened at the capitol.

Bare in mind, groups like BLM have been involved with theft, destruction and murder for the last 12 months during lockdowns for political motivation. And yet, it's only when the Trump supporters act equally dumb, is the narrative switched to "domestic terrorism". Either both are, or neither are.

"But it's massively important for the country to understand that it didn't happen accidentally. The system didn't work magically. Democracy is not self-executing."

That's just a statement from Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, admitting that they "guided" the democratic process. They are admitting that at least on some level, they interfered with the natural process. Bare in mind, these people have zero oversight and really dislike Trump. I am sure there was no bias in their actions.

That's why the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream - a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it. And they believe the public needs to understand the system's fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures.

I think they are telling this story because the architects believe they will be given some grand award, much praise and a pat on the back for their efforts. I think they genuinely believe they have done the right thing here - which possibly makes this whole situation even more scary.

I think I may have slipped into a fever dream myself, or it could be a new version of hell. Democracy should not be in the hands of a unelected 'well-funded cabal of powerful people', 'working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information'. This sounds like exactly what democracy needs to fight again - money and power shaping the outcome of the election.

I like this analogy of 'fortification' as to what they were doing. In some imaginary scenario, my neighbour and I share a garden fence. In the past the winds would blow it, and in a storm it could fall down and crush our flower beds, but this would happen roughly 50:50. Recently, I have begun 'fortifying' my side of the fence with metal posts. I've not rigged it, but now every time we have a storm, it falls on my neighbour's flowers 100% of the time. My neighbour went to make a complaint at the local government, but I have already teamed up with them to censor his complaints. My neighbour tries to 'fortify' his side of the fence, but I have already put in a planning permission complaint. "It's a completely fair process" I tell him... Do they not seen the problem here?

The Architect

So this section is about Mike Podhorzer. I believe Molly explains his background really quite well:

For nearly a quarter-century, Podhorzer, senior adviser to the president of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest union federation, has marshaled the latest tactics and data to help its favored candidates win elections.

So Mike's role is to help 'favored candidates win elections'. But if you think slightly differently, what he actually does is to ensure certain candidates do not win elections. In that context, his role in this shadow campaign becomes more transparent. Despite the early claim that the shadow campaign is there to ensure a free and fair election, "the architect" is somebody normally employed to act with bias. Off to a good start.

A group of liberal strategists he brought together in the early 2000s led to the creation of the Analyst Institute, a secretive firm that applies scientific methods to political campaigns. He was also involved in the founding of Catalist, the flagship progressive data company.

I'm sure this is nothing to be concerned about.

The Fight Back Table, a coalition of "resistance" organizations, had begun scenario-planning around the potential for a contested election, gathering liberal activists at the local and national level into what they called the Democracy Defense Coalition.

Just a casual drop that Mike has connections to "resistance organizations". Make no mistake, we are talking about the likes of Antifa and BLM here - borderline domestic terrorist groups. Their idea of "scenario-planning" involves burning properties down to the ground.

The Alliance

Moving on, we now discuss the people involved.

Suddenly, the potential for a November meltdown was obvious. In his apartment in the D.C. suburbs, Podhorzer began working from his laptop at his kitchen table, holding back-to-back Zoom meetings for hours a day with his network of contacts across the progressive universe: the labor movement; the institutional left, like Planned Parenthood and Greenpeace; resistance groups like Indivisible and MoveOn; progressive data geeks and strategists, representatives of donors and foundations, state-level grassroots organizers, racial-justice activists and others.

Encase you are wondering, all these groups are connected. Right-wing groups are genuinely decentralized and grassroots, whereas these left-wing groups all communicate, fund one another and meet on a regular basis to discuss strategy. This is probably one of the largest failings of the Conservative/Liberal movement, where they fail to group together like this. That said, it does mean they are free to act independently.

In April, Podhorzer began hosting a weekly 21/2-hour Zoom. It was structured around a series of rapid-fire five-minute presentations on everything from which ads were working to messaging to legal strategy.

Casually admitting here that they used advertising to boost their campaign, despite the complaints made about Trump's campaign in 2016 and the almost blanket prevention of Conservative advertising for 2020.

Protecting the election would require an effort of unprecedented scale. As 2020 progressed, it stretched to Congress, Silicon Valley and the nation's statehouses. It drew energy from the summer's racial-justice protests, many of whose leaders were a key part of the liberal alliance. And eventually it reached across the aisle, into the world of Trump-skeptical Republicans appalled by his attacks on democracy.

Again, just casually admitting that this was an effort all the way from top-level government to Silicon Valley, all the way down to people causing damage and theft in the streets. The scale of this involvement his far beyond anything I had previously imagined possible.

Securing the Vote

This section is mostly about how they went about winning a majority vote.

For the thousands of local, mostly nonpartisan officials who administer elections, the most urgent need was money. They needed protective equipment like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. They needed to pay for postcards letting people know they could vote absentee - or, in some states, to mail ballots to every voter. They needed additional staff and scanners to process ballots.

One complaint people had about the election is the unfair distribution of resources. These statements made here seem non-partisan, but by simply biasing the distribution of resources to locations where Democratic voter turnout is higher, you can boost votes. For example, metropolitan areas are overwhelmingly Democrat, whereas rural areas tend to be Republican. By distributing the majority of resources in metropolitan areas, you can boost the Democrat vote. On top of this, you can also distribute resources more heavily in swing-states to maximize bang-for-buck.

Private philanthropy stepped into the breach. An assortment of foundations contributed tens of millions in election-administration funding. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative chipped in $300 million.

This is really quite interesting. Mark Zuckerberg almost matched funding Congress provided to this anti-Trump shadow campaign. This is the owner of Facebook, the same Facebook the Republicans have been claiming to be biased against them. It seems as though the bias trickles top-down.

Local officials are the most trusted sources of election information, but few can afford a press secretary, so the institute distributed communications tool kits.

"Communications tool kits" actually translates to prepared media to distribute, usually with an exact timeline to distribute it. This shadow group were literally putting words into the mouths of local officials across the US. They probably also didn't have the resources to really scrutinize it either.

The institute's work helped 37 states and D.C. bolster mail voting.

This gives some scale of the shadow campaign's influence in the US election.

The effort had to overcome heightened skepticism in some communities. Many Black voters preferred to exercise their franchise in person or didn't trust the mail.

Under normal circumstances, their scepticism is well deserved. Main-in fraud, mail-in mistakes that invalid the vote, bad mail service, etc, causes many votes to not be counted, or to be counted fraudulently. This is exactly why we also don't yet see wide adoption of online voting. The most reliable voting method was, and still is, in-person.

In the end, nearly half the electorate cast ballots by mail in 2020, practically a revolution in how people vote. About a quarter voted early in person. Only a quarter of voters cast their ballots the traditional way: in person on Election Day.

I'm not insensitive to the real risk that in-person voting may have caused, but this campaign for mail-in votes was setup in haste. As a result, proper checking of votes was not done in many states, as they simply lacked the infrastructure.

The Disinformation Defence

This is regarding countering disinformation, specifically that which helps the cause of the Trump campaign.

The solution, she concluded, was to pressure platforms to enforce their rules, both by removing content or accounts that spread disinformation and by more aggressively policing it in the first place. "The platforms have policies against certain types of malign behavior, but they haven't been enforcing them," she says.

And here we get to selective enforcement, the practice where rules are selectively applied in order to favour some position over another. But as we'll get to, the platforms were more than happy to do so, after all, folks like Zuckerberg were funding the shadow campaign.

In November 2019, Mark Zuckerberg invited nine civil rights leaders to dinner at his home, where they warned him about the danger of the election-related falsehoods that were already spreading unchecked.

I wonder how many Republicans, Conservatives, right-wing or even centralists got treated to a dinner at Zuckerberg's home? I guess he is just looking after his investment...

They weren't talking about disinformation in general, they were specifically talking about disinformation on the right. Again, we have this selection enforcement and the CEO of Facebook is financially invested in it.

Oh and bare in mind, this is during a pandemic too.

[..] Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who attended the dinner and also met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and others.

(Gupta has been nominated for Associate Attorney General by President Biden.)

Remember, the shadow campaign is has nothing to do with the Biden campaign.

Spreading the Word

This is a small section discusses how they reached out across various platforms.

The Voting Rights Lab and IntoAction created state-specific memes and graphics, spread by email, text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, urging that every vote be counted. Together, they were viewed more than 1 billion times.

Bare in mind the next time you are enjoying or sharing a meme, that it may be part of a campaign effort.

Protect Democracy's election task force issued reports and held media briefings with high-profile experts across the political spectrum, resulting in widespread coverage of potential election issues and fact-checking of Trump's false claims.

Here they begin to spell it out. When they say "protect democracy", what they actually mean is "prevent democracy allowing Trump to gain office". How on earth can it be an unbiased campaign, if they concentrate only on one of the candidates for fact-checking?

Most analysts had recognized there would be a "blue shift" in key battlegrounds - the surge of votes breaking toward Democrats, driven by tallies of mail-in ballots - but they hadn't comprehended how much better Trump was likely to do on Election Day.

I just think it's interesting to note here how they don't seem to credit the Trump supporters with any sense of agency. Trump got a record turnout, especially impressive as most of his votes came from people who turned up in person. If it hasn't been for mail-in voting, I'm not entirely sure Biden would have won at all.

People Power

This is again a small section which discusses the involvement of people-driven groups, such as BLM and activists.

The racial-justice uprising sparked by George Floyd's killing in May was not primarily a political movement. The organizers who helped lead it wanted to harness its momentum for the election without allowing it to be co-opted by politicians. Many of those organizers were part of Podhorzer's network, from the activists in battleground states who partnered with the Democracy Defense Coalition to organizations with leading roles in the Movement for Black Lives.

There you have it. BLM was a group that started off as bipartisan movement, but was driven towards politics by their organizers (despite it being claimed there are no leaders in the group). Don't let a good cause go to waste I guess.

Activists began preparing to reprise the demonstrations if Trump tried to steal the election. "Americans plan widespread protests if Trump interferes with election," Reuters reported in October, one of many such stories.

The group's now defunct website had a map listing 400 planned postelection demonstrations, to be activated via text message as soon as Nov. 4. To stop the coup they feared, the left was ready to flood the streets.

So essentially protests (and most likely riots) were pre-planned by the left-wing activists if they didn't get the results they wanted. Bare in mind, they aren't including any right-wing activists in this discussion - it's because they don't serve those people.

Strange Bedfellows

This is just a small section detailing how some usually unlikely temporary allies were made for their messaging.

The summer's racial-justice protests had sent a signal to business owners too: the potential for economy-disrupting civil disorder.

So essentially the business community decided to work with the shadow campaign, which at this point seems to be another Biden campaign by a different name, in fear that their businesses would be destroyed again. This is democracy people!

They further go onto describe how some people from various groups teamed up, including some Christian-based groups that essentially sent the message count every vote" and "support the democratic process".

Showing Up, Standing Down

Here we have an extremely interesting section, detailing the relationship between the shadow campaign and the activist groups responsible for the violence over the summer period.

The conversation that followed was a difficult one, led by the activists charged with the protest strategy. "We wanted to be mindful of when was the right time to call for moving masses of people into the street," Peoples says. As much as they were eager to mount a show of strength, mobilizing immediately could backfire and put people at risk. Protests that devolved into violent clashes would give Trump a pretext to send in federal agents or troops as he had over the summer.

It's interesting to see this written here, showing the masses of people on the streets was pre-planned. I remember the media claiming that it was a spontaneous outlet of joy as Biden had won, but in fact turns out to be another campaign move.

Bare in mind also, there is no mention of working with right-wing groups. They had zero plans to work with any right-wing protesters in the event of a Trump victory. This is because this was an anti-Trump campaign.

So the word went out: stand down. Protect the Results announced that it would "not be activating the entire national mobilization network today, but remains ready to activate if necessary."

By 'activate', they are being quite careful with their wording. Some of these groups were preparing to riot. I also enjoy how all these decentralized-anarchist groups (such as Antifa) in fact actually act as part of a network.

On Twitter, outraged progressives wondered what was going on.

So, a normal day then.

Podhorzer credits the activists for their restraint. "They had spent so much time getting ready to hit the streets on Wednesday. But they did it," he says. "Wednesday through Friday, there was not a single Antifa vs. Proud Boys incident like everyone was expecting. And when that didn't materialize, I don't think the Trump campaign had a backup plan."

Again, confirmation that this group was controlling Antifa, the group responsible for many riots throughout the summer that results in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, and a considerable number of deaths.

I really love how they are credited also for their 'constraint', like it's perfectly normal for people to go out and fight other people because they believe the other group are fascist Nazis. But luckily they exercised real constraint by not opting to go fight with people. Much inspiring.

The Five Steps to Victory

It was around 10 p.m. on election night in Detroit when a flurry of texts lit up the phone of Art Reyes III. A busload of Republican election observers had arrived at the TCF Center, where votes were being tallied.

How dare there be Republican representation for the counting process! This is absolutely outrageous! They cannot be allowed to get away with this!

They were crowding the vote-counting tables, refusing to wear masks, heckling the mostly Black workers.

There are of course rules about keeping some sort of distance and they could even reasonably limit the number of Republican observers allowed. The masks issue should in theory not have been a problem if the distance was reasonably well kept (as it should have been).

For the last point - unless they were being racist, which they are not claiming here, then the fact the workers were black is happen chance. They trying to insinuate that these poll watchers were somehow racist, but they cannot state it so, because it wasn't true.

Image from the article

Image from the article

It's also worth checking out the image in the article, you can see the Republicans are actually absolutely nowhere near the poll workers. They are behind glass, glass covered in paper to stop them seeing in. And quite a few of them in the picture are actually wearing masks. The picture they have supplied calls bullshit on their own narrative.

He made his way to the arena and sent word to his network. Within 45 minutes, dozens of reinforcements had arrived. As they entered the arena to provide a counterweight to the GOP observers inside, Reyes took down their cell-phone numbers and added them to a massive text chain. Racial-justice activists from Detroit Will Breathe worked alongside suburban women from Fems for Dems and local elected officials. Reyes left at 3 a.m., handing the text chain over to a disability activist.

But they are bipartisan remember, they just happen to only work with Democrat Party groups. It's insane to me how Molly insisted early on in the article that the shadow campaign wasn't biased, and then forgets this line of thinking and then goes onto prove how they actually were biased entirely towards the Democrats.

As they mapped out the steps in the election-certification process, activists settled on a strategy of foregrounding the people's right to decide, demanding their voices be heard and calling attention to the racial implications of disenfranchising Black Detroiters.

Well, if it was only the White Detroiters, then they could happily disenfranchise the voters - but now they mention the Black Detroiters? Well, disenfranchising voters is now way more important! So much for all votes being equal I guess.

Reyes' activists scanned flight schedules and flocked to the airports on both ends of Shirkey's journey to D.C., to underscore that the lawmakers were being scrutinized. After the meeting, the pair announced they'd pressed the President to deliver COVID relief for their constituents and informed him they saw no role in the election process. Then they went for a drink at the Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. A street artist projected their images onto the outside of the building along with the words THE WORLD IS WATCHING.

Not creepy or invasive at all. These are clearly pressure tactics. If they were so confident in their case for bribery, why would they need to do this? I suspect it's because they weren't so confident at all.

How Close We Came

Trump addressed the crowd that afternoon, peddling the lie that lawmakers or Vice President Mike Pence could reject states' electoral votes. He told them to go to the Capitol and "fight like hell." Then he returned to the White House as they sacked the building. As lawmakers fled for their lives and his own supporters were shot and trampled, Trump praised the rioters as "very special."

Only a little context missing here... It's not like he told them to be peaceful go home... This is an extremely misleading characterization of what Trump actually said.

The thing is, if you have just spent months of campaigning effort to remove Trump from Twitter, you can basically just put words into his mouth. You've literally removed his ability to argue.

It was his final attack on democracy, and once again, it failed.

Again, the worst possible interpretation of events.

"There's an impulse for some to say voters decided and democracy won. But it's a mistake to think that this election cycle was a show of strength for democracy. It shows how vulnerable democracy is."

At last, we find ourselves in agreement. I too believe it is scary how the rich and powerful are able to team up and influence democracy.

The members of the alliance to protect the election have gone their separate ways.

Apparently.

And Trump is in Florida, facing his second impeachment, deprived of the Twitter and Facebook accounts he used to push the nation to its breaking point.

Nothing says a free and fair election like having to purge your political opponent after they lost... It's also great to see the evaporation of free speech.

Implications

Well, I don't know about you, but I have certainly learned a lot. 2020 sure was a shit show and 2021 is shaping up to be a contender.

The rumour that you hear among right-wing supporters that there is a "consorted effort acting against them" has really just been confirmed. There is zero doubt that multiple levels of government have conspired with big tech billionaires and violent activists, in a massive plot to win the election.

If nothing else, it seems more important than ever to take several actions:

  1. Remove money from politics. There should be some legal framework to stop people buying influence and votes. To me it seems insane that we have billions of dollars people pumped into these sorts of campaigns - money the people who actually need it won't see.
  2. Social media needs free-speech protections. As social media is used more and more for public discourse, it needs protecting from the likes of Zuckerberg and Dorsey, actively working with certain campaigns to control the narrative. When Conservatives started migrating from Twitter to Parler, the left-wing again worked together to squash the competition. Something needs to happen to keep the political discussion balanced and healthy.
  3. Make politcs classy again. Some of these campaigning techniques were simply awful. The practice of harassing old people in care homes, buying votes, changing laws at last minute to bias the result for one part or another - this needs to stop.

Lastly, however you voted, I hope that going forwards it is possible to fix this process. Somehow I doubt Biden will be the person to do it - but hopefully the next President will have the guts to do it.