Politics

Trolls and Grifters: Jon Cooper and Ian Millhiser Edition

Capitalizing on outrage is a bipartisan affair.
by Jim Swift
January 18, 2019
Creative Commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/
Troll doll. (Image from Flickr, @ Ann Althouse.)

How much of the internet is actually B.S.? Could such a number even be quantified? Max Read at the New Yorker had an interesting item in December about fakery on the internet. The distilled version? The people, companies, and content might be fake… but the money and fame are real. Which brings us to our latest installment on grifters, misinformation pushers, whataboutists, and trolls. In this column, we are shining a light on people who shouldn’t be taken seriously (but definitely literally). When or if some sense of normalcy is restored, these folks shouldn’t be able to go back to now and suggest their opinions and ideas were just youthful indiscretions. “Weren’t we all a little crazy during the Trump years?”

No.

Here we take a look at some folks to our left!

Meet Jon Cooper, who runs an outfit called the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest grassroots Resistance coalition.” The group is an arm of Keep America Great PAC, which has raised (by most recent records) a little more than $1 million since 2016.

Is it a grift? Depends on your perspective: Is this group really making a difference or adding to the noise? Does the noise make a difference?

Cooper, at the very least, is an absolute troll who revels in sharing what could charitably be construed as misinformation, or, uncharitably, the rants of a left-wing version of Alex Jones.

Consider the following things Cooper has had to say about Senator Lindsey Graham, who has had a long strange conversion to Trumpism.

On January 13, Cooper tweets:

Just a day earlier, Cooper wondered aloud:

It took one day for Cooper to go from thinking Lindsey Graham was an FBI mole to a subject of Russian blackmail. (Normally, to get that kind of whiplash you have to read The Federalist.)

Cooper, who is himself gay, tried to walk back the unsourced tweet about Graham’s personal life by saying: “I couldn’t care less about Lindsey Graham’s sex life (gay, straight or otherwise). However, Graham is the Senate Judiciary Chair and there’s a strong likelihood that he’s being blackmailed by the Russians. If so, that needs to be revealed.”

Except for that one time in September of 2018, when he wrote: “The real question is: What exactly is Lindsey Graham doing while on his knees?”

Ok then.

Up next is one of the thirstiest far left personalities on Twitter, Ian Millhiser. He is the “justice editor” at ThinkProgress. If there were a central casting for rake-in-the-face social media trolls, Millhiser would cast the die.

Millhiser can be counted on to dial up every viral controversy or outrage to 11. The funny thing about that, though, is how often he ends up trying to dial it back. Let’s review a few examples.

Remember when Trump administration officials were being harassed in restaurants? Love or hate the Trump administration, that’s a bad look, but here’s Ian, in a now-deleted tweet:

Tell me again why we shouldn’t confront Republicans where they eat, where they sleep, and where they work until they stop being complicit in the destruction of our democracy. https://t.co/YEft6pmc7o

Millhiser was responding to a video of Jeff Flake being confronted in a Senate office building elevator by an activist after announcing his intention to vote for Brett Kavanaugh.

A few days after President Trump was inaugurated, Millhiser wrote: “I have not been arrested by anyone in Donald Trump’s government. This tweet will repeat tomorrow if it remains true.” If the tweet was meant as a joke, it didn’t go over well with some of his compatriots on the left. He deleted the tweet, and did not repeat it.

In another now-deleted reveal of smugness, Millhiser attacked President Trump’s selection of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for the ambassadorship to China: “I’m sure the governor of a small, rural, landlocked state full of white people will totally know a whole lot about China, and stuff.”

Millhiser’s job is to know about politics, so you’d think he would know that Branstad knows China’s President, Xi Jinping probably better than any other American in politics. (He’s known Xi since the 1980s, when the two met as part of an agricultural delegation visit.) Or maybe he’d heard of Max Baucus? The long-tenured Montana senator whose trade experience gleaned from his time as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee qualified him for President Obama to pick him for the same position, despite representing a “small, rural, landlocked state full of white people.”

If you’re getting the sense that Ian Millhiser has a tendency to fire off stupid, offensive, or uninformed things on Twitter, well…

Let’s say you see a somewhat confusing picture of President Trump, a woman, Vice President Pence, and Senator Marco Rubio in the Oval Office. If you’re a normal person, you just move on with your life. If you’re Ian Millhiser and your job is to own people on Twitter, you post one tweet asking whether that person is Marco Rubio’s wife, and then another to insult her outfit:

“Is that Marco Rubio’s wife and why is she dressed like a pirate?”

Only minutes later, to follow up with: “I’ve been informed that the woman in the puffy shirt is the wife of a political prisoner.” Whoops. (Both tweets were subsequently deleted.)

Millhiser’s impulsiveness on Twitter reflects his impulsive politics. On election day last year, he seriously suggested: “There won’t be free and fair elections in the United States until the Senate is abolished.”

Lots of people say stupid things on Twitter. It’s almost the entire point of the platform, but perhaps Millhiser should have an on-deck circle for his thoughts before hitting send.

Because while he has an impressive resume, that doesn’t come across when you encounter his bad faith assumptions and burn-it-all-down style of politics on social media. That is, until it’s probably deleted. Because it very well might be.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.