Chuck Stephens: How propaganda turns truth into “conspiracy theory”

Chuck Stephens of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership, explores the concept of “state capture” and its impact on democracy in South Africa, highlighting three instances that undermined the separation of powers. It draws parallels to the phenomenon of “weaponisation” in the United States, discussing cases involving Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Stephens reveals how allegations, investigations, media distortion, disinformation, and manipulation have affected political landscapes, public opinion, and the credibility of institutions in both countries, ultimately raising concerns about the erosion of democracy.

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By Chuck Stephens

In South Africa, we call it “State Capture”.  This is basically when government corners the market – in politics – by undermining the separation of powers.  It is totally un-democratic.

Three instance come to mind in recent South African history. First, when the “Scorpions” were closed down by the Zuma government.  That was like weaponisation, except instead of weaponising this corruption-busting unit to investigate the opponents, the ANC de-fanged it.  Then they closed it.  Hugh Genister chased this all the way to the Constitutional Court and it was judged to be illegal by the highest court in the land.

Then there was “Inkandla” – the name of Jacob Zuma’s own resident.  A small fortune was paid by the state to fix it up.  The line between the public purse and his private affairs was erased.  He was chased to the courts by opposition parties and eventually told to pay restitution.

Last of all, but not least, I remember that a Zuma sycophant was put in charge of the National prosecuting Authority (NPA).  He was called Shawn the sheep.  Zuma was the shepherd.  He would not prosecute any cases that could lead to misfortune for his patron, the state president.

Scenarios like these are commonly called “banana republics”.

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Americans are too proud to call their problem “state capture”.  So they call it “weaponization” instead.  It basically means that a party or president can directly intervene into cases before the Judiciary.  Thus they have a two-tier system of justice.  The president and his cronies (and family) enjoy protection from these agencies.  While his opponents are harassed by them endlessly – with the intention of removing them from contention in future elections.

Let me walk you through this in chronological order – 2016, 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023.  There is obviously a pattern.  Any open-minded observer can see it.

In 2016, while running for president, Donald Trump’s reputation was tarnished by allegations that he had been colluding with Russia as a private businessman with political ambitions.  A dossier emerged that seemed to be incriminating.

Nevertheless, Trump went on to win the 2016 election but his term of office was complicated by this innuendo.  Two investigators were commissioned to check this out.  The first one was called Mueller and he found no evidence of collusion.  This severely hampered the Republican party in the mid-term elections of 2018.  In this respect, the FBI and the Department of Justice had been “weaponized” against the president.  So the president’s party lost control of Congress.

In the hands of his opponents, Congress got really stroppy.  It impeached Trump twice – in spite of the Mueller inquiry failing to find any collusion with Russia.  No president had ever been impeached twice before.  I really hurt his chances of re-election.  That was a strategy.

The second investigator was John Durham, whose report only come to light in 2023 – after extensive research.  It went further.  It alleges that Trump’s political opposition cooked up the allegations of Russian collusion with the intent to undermine him.  Meanwhile the lower house of Congress has changed hands and right now has a majority from Trump’s party.  It is now setting about to expunge (read: reverse) both impeachments, on the grounds that they were based on disinformation.

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In 2020, Trump ran for a second time, this time against Joe Biden.  During these elections, a laptop was found in a computer repair shop in Delaware that belonged to Hunter Biden, the president’s son.  It had so much incriminating evidence on it that the FBI and the DOJ set about to discredit it.  It has come to light in 2023 that a letter was circulated signed by 51 “experts” saying that the laptop story had all the signs of a Russian disinformation plot.

The mainline media just dropped the story.  We now know from the Twitter Files the depth of media distortion that is caused by government interference.  Especially regarding Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 but also in other respects.  One senior government official (A Blinken) is said to be the author of that letter, and he has been rewarded with the cushy post of Secretary of State.

To suggest in 2020 that Covid originated in a Wuhan lab, you were called a racist.  Yet that now seem to be the most likely origin, and even the FBI says so.

The Covid lockdown caused untold economic chaos.  Inflation has picked up speed.  Wasteful expenditure has sky-rocketed.  The Twitter Files have shown the degree to which the Judiciary and Law Enforcement interfered with the media.  Obviously the two impeachments affected public confidence in Trump, so he lost the election.

Those of us who live in Africa know that elections may not be “rigged”, but they can be manipulated.  People voted without ID or proof of residence.  People voted more than once.  Bundles of ballots were not counted, and so on.  In Arizona, there is still one case in the courts of actual “rigging” but the Twitter Files show that it was more a question of disinformation.  I daresay that if this Congress expunges both impeachments of Trump, it will have significant impact on the court of public opinion.  People are seeing through this “weaponization” or state capture gambit.  It is what it is.

Trump has now become a target of various litigations.  The name of the game is to remove him from running for president next year, in 2024.  For example, the FBI raided his home in Florida looking for classified documents.  He has since been charged with related crimes.  Strangely, the Florida contingent of the FBI was not deployed for this raid – the FBI agents all came from headquarters.  Against all internal norms.

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In 2022, the midterms were fiercely contested.  Trump’s party won the lower house but the upper house was split, pending a by-election in Georgia.  Warnock versus Walker.  The run-off vote was a month after the November mid-terms, in December.  It did not come to light until January 2023 that – two weeks before the mid-terms – it had been discovered that President Biden had left classified documents in more than one place.  But this discovery was kept from the public eye, until after the Georgia run-off election.  More “weaponization”.

In mid-2023, the Congressional investigators have experienced repeated refusals to share documents that have come to light through the testimony of honest whistle-blowers.  These truth-lovers say that the FBI and the DOJ are protecting Biden and targeting Trump.  Welcome to the banana republic of America!

The computer company that sued Fox News for exercising its First Amendment rights to publish its perception of the truth won an out-of-court settlement.  It seems that one facet of the agreement was for Fox News to part ways with journalist Tucker Carlson, who regularly topped the 3 million mark in terms of people watching his show.  This again points to media manipulation and the spread of disinformation.

But Americans are waking up to it, as South Africans have – after watching the Zondo Commission into State Capture unfold.  Tucker Carlson is now doing a podcast on Twitter, which is topping 100 million viewers!  While Fox News is slowly going the way of Bud Light.

In a world of propaganda, the Truth is a conspiracy theory.

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