Russian Trolls, Gas Pipelines, and Double Standards

Finally, an outlet of the mainstream media has caught on to an issue pushed for months by conservative blogs and websites: the fact that the Russians are working to thwart the construction of natural gas pipelines in the United States. The D.C bureau of the McClatchy newspaper chain published last week an article highlighting the effort of Russian Internet trolls to halt the $3 billion Sabal Trail pipeline supplying gas to central Florida.

A crew from Russia Today, the state-backed television network, descended upon downtown Miami in late 2016, McClatchy says, to provide global news coverage of a rally for the purpose of “[turning] the public against the nearly completed pipeline.” The article continued:

What the demonstrators didn’t know was that so-called Russian internet trolls had been busy for two weeks encouraging people to turn out for the protests with posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They used phony, American-sounding identities — names such as Steven Cook and Amalie Baldwin. …

At least eight Russian accounts, most tied to the troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, sent at least 16 social media messages excoriating the Sabal Trail pipeline or retweeting messages from one of its most prominent opponents, a frequent guest on RT. The tweets were sent to a total of more than 40,000 followers as well as anyone else who saw them via hashtags.

The social media propaganda was part of a broad Kremlin campaign to disrupt the booming American energy industry, which seemingly overnight has emerged as a threat to Russia’s global dominance, U.S. authorities say.

The national news media has given extensive coverage to the role of Russian troll factories in aggravating social tensions and spoiling the 2016 presidential election, highlighting any link that might support the theory of “collusion” between the Putin regime and the Trump campaign. But until the McClatchy piece appeared, not a single mainstream media outlet had explored the incontrovertible evidence that the same trolls were seeking to thwart the fracking of natural gas and construction of natural gas pipelines – not just Sabal Trail but the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s also worth noting that none of the big MSM media outlets has yet to follow McClatchy’s lead in writing about the story.

Foes of fracking and pipelines have plenty of reasons to oppose the natural gas boom, so it’s not as if the Russkies are convincing them to stake out positions they wouldn’t take anyway. Indeed, the Kremlin’s digital warriors contribute nothing new to the debate; they just amplify arguments already in circulation. But there is no denying that the interests of environmentalists and Russians align: Both are trying to shut down expansion of the natural gas industry.

Environmentalists are worried about global warming. The Russians want to suppress the ability of U.S. oil and gas producers to compete in world markets. In a vivid sign of the geopolitical implications, last November, the Polish national oil and gas company signed a five-year agreement to import liquefied natural gas from the United States, loosening Moscow’s leverage over the eastern European nation.

The MSM has been equally uninterested in the documented flow of money from Russian energy interests through the Bermuda-based Klein Fund to the California-based the Sea Change Foundation, which in turn funnels millions of dollars into environmental causes — one of which has been the left-wing, Charlottesville-based group Virginia Organizing, which opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline. The Russian money was co-mingled with contributions from various millionaires and billionaires at Sea Change, so it is impossible to say that “the Russians” were funding Virginia environmental groups. Still the finding that Russians were subsidizing the anti-carbon movement was a stunning revelation.

(I know of no evidence either to suggest that Russian Internet trolls have been feeding opposition to the ACP and MVP, although I doubt anyone has looked into the matter.)

The object of my ire here is not the environmental movement, which would oppose fracking and the pipelines with or without Russian interference. It’s the double standard of the mainstream media. If anyone in the Trump campaign so much as sneezed near a Russian, he prompted rounds of speculation about collusion, accusations that Trump is in Putin’s pocket, and wailing that American democracy is under assault. But when Russians try to manipulate U.S. energy policy? Silence. When Trump pursues a drill-baby-drill energy policy that shifts the geopolitical balance of power against Russia, thus demolishing the narrative of Trump doing Putin’s bidding? Nothing to see here, keep on moving.

The reality of Russian meddling says nothing about what kind of long-term energy future is best for Virginia. The fact that Putin would like to shut down the American gas industry is not in itself a reason that Virginians should support natural gas.

We need to find an energy mix between gas, solar, wind, nuclear and coal that best balances the goals of cost, reliability, and sustainability for us regardless of what the Russians or Trumpists want. But the blanket of silence, with the sole exception of this one McClatchy article, provides more proof, as if any more were needed, that the MSM operates in an echo chamber that drowns out any news that doesn’t fit its narrative.

Trump, according to Washington Post fact checkers, has lied more than 3,000 times since taking office. I believe it. The man clearly has a malleable, post-modern concept of “the truth.” But the MSM lies by omission every single day. Someone ought to check on that.