Trump, Putin and the alt-right – the GMO connection

As Donald Trump’s candidacy further collapses amidst new revelations of his sexual predator behaviour over the years, it seems as if the only remaining backers of his campaign are Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin and the US white supremacist alt-right. (Even Fox News is not so sure anymore.)

This strikes me as interesting, because these peculiar bedfellows have more in common than just a hatred of Hilary Clinton and the ‘facade’ of liberal democracy. Putin and the alt-right also promote conspiracy theories about GMOs.

I don’t mean to suggest that opposition to GMOs is a particularly important part of their shared ideology. But it does reveal some interesting things about the nature of that ideology: it is authoritarian, motivated by anti-western conspiracy theories, and largely belongs on the far right of the political spectrum.

I have suggested before that anti-GMO obsessiveness is primarily motivated by what social scientists call ‘conspiracist ideation‘. To be fully on board you need to believe that hundreds, maybe thousands, of scientists are complicit in a conspiracy to fake food and crop safety data at the behest of the Big M. (If you’re in the Hague, ask the various nutters at the current Monsanto kangaroo court about this and watch them squirm.) Therefore there is “no consensus” that ‘GMO’ techniques are safe.

The alt-right is also extremely sceptical about climate change, which Trump himself has suggested in a tweet is a plot by China to take over world markets. This figures: to deny global warming, you need to believe similarly that thousands of scientists are faking temperature and modelling data, perhaps at the behest of the UN and governments, rather than companies. Therefore there is “no consensus” that the world is warming, and humans are to blame.

Today the Washington Post reveals that America’s leading alt-right conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, has offered to pay anyone $1000 who can get TV airtime by crashing Hilary Clinton’s rally wearing a T-shirt saying Bill is a rapist. If you actually shout ‘Bill Clinton is a rapist’ on live TV Alex Jones will pay you $5000. According to Alex Jones, climate change is “a myth promoted by politicians to scare the public into accepting a vast expansion of government”.

There is no longer much doubt remaining that Putin’s Russian hackers are behind the latest Wikileaks email revelations, which Trump’s campaign believes is his last chance to turn the narrative around against Hillary by branding her as dishonest and self-interested. In the last presidential debate Trump denied that Putin is behind the hacks, but US intelligence agencies are clear about the evidence trail. Whether there is explicit collusion is not clear, but Wikileaks’ latest Russian hacks hit the media within hours of Trump’s disgusting 2005 sex tape.

It is clear why Putin backs Trump: he knows that a President Trump is guaranteed to undermine US democracy at home and America’s standing in the world, thereby – in Putin’s mind – diminishing the danger of democratic ‘regime change’ back at home in Moscow. Putin’s various propaganda media outfits never miss a chance to attack the West or liberal democracy in general, and promote any cause they can find that reduces public trust in democratic institutions.

The anti-GMO cause fits squarely into this box. I don’t suppose Putin himself has any understanding of or interest in the science. Instead, GMOs are another stick to beat America with and the West in general, just as is his alleged sponsorship of anti-fracking groups and far-right political parties in Europe. To a certain extent, today’s global ‘post-truth politics’ zeitgeist is Putin’s doing.

Rabid anti-GMO laws have been passed by Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament (which rather pathetically sent Putin hundreds of roses for his birthday the other day), including one that threatens that GMO importers or cultivators will be “punished as terrorists“. These have been held up as models by anti-GMO activists elsewhere, and cited as an example of a sensible government regulation. The reality is that they are a highly authoritarian propaganda measure.

Back in the US, Alex Jones and his alt-right Infowars channel is entirely on board, for largely the same reasons. GMOs are “humanity’s death sentence“, Jones claims. Various of his rants are available on YouTube if you care to search. Jones links GMOs with cancer and autism, and these memes can be surprisingly effective: in Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh, Nigeria and many other places I’ve come across overt anti-GMO health scare conspiracy theories that either began on or have been amplified by Infowars.

I don’t know what degree of collusion, if any, there is between the alt-right, Russia and the more ‘mainstream’ anti-GMO scene. But this alliance of interests should surely give pause to people who believe they should oppose genetic engineering for socially progressive reasons, such as members of Green parties and environmental groups. Their opinions may well be held honestly, but they risk being manipulated and exploited by some very unsavoury interests indeed.

© Mark Lynas
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