Well lookee here, now. We got ourselves a no-shit Batman villain. He is a billionaire computer genius who sees the world as a clockwork of hyperdetailed algorithms, and is often described as “reclusive” and “secretive” by the press. He describes himself politically as “Libertarian,” but his actions suggest he is just another person who doesn’t know what the word “libertarian” actually means.
A list of his beliefs and activities include:
• He believes the Clintons ran drugs out of Mena Airport in Arkansas and had opponents murdered;
• He peddles undistilled hate for immigrants and Muslims on a variety of hard-right propaganda sites;
• He donates millions of dollars to fringe candidates like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, and is in fact a significant part of the reason Trump became president;
• He believes the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were ultimately a health benefit to the Japanese people;
• He denies the existence of racist white people while denouncing the 1964 Civil Rights Act;
• He actively disrupts the discussion of climate change with deliberate disinformation churned out by think tanks he finances;
…and, of course, he holds to the Randian notion that human worth can only be measured in terms of dollar value. This villain, like all effective villains, hides in plain sight, sending his many minions to do his bidding and spend his money with the ultimate goal of recoding the algorithms of politics and power to suit his own ends. What those ends are specifically, no one has said. Perhaps he himself does not know. That does not stop him.
At night, he dresses up as an ocelot and stalks the shadows of the night. Using stealth blimp technology, he becomes a hole in the sky as he travels from city to city dropping copies of Atlas Shrugged on playgrounds and truck stops. His comprehensive understanding of nanotechnology allows him to heal grievous wounds and forestall aging; some liken him to The Wolverine, ageless and unstoppable. He can also see through time.
OK, that last part is all made up, but the rest of it is black-letter fact. His name is Robert Mercer, he is a 71-year-old tech billionaire who made his bones with IBM as a coding whiz, and he is living testament to the incalculable damage done to the country by the Citizens United decision. Now that it is legal to buy elections using billions in dark money, Mercer doesn’t just have his thumb on the scale; he has parked his limousine on it.
While other GOP megadonors mostly stayed out of the 2016 presidential election, Mercer and his daughter Rebekah dove right in, unleashing Steve Bannon and the crew at Cambridge Analytica by arming them with the Mercer’s bottomless financial resources. Under Bannon’s direct supervision, Cambridge Analytica scraped the personal data of millions of Facebook users to create highly sophisticated voter profiles that would be targeted by political ads and other means of persuasion. Campaign themes were road tested, among them “deep state” and “drain the swamp.”
These were no simple voter profiles, mind you — your own grocery store profiles you, but not like this. A vast amount of specific personal information was mined by Cambridge Analytica from catastrophically under-regulated Facebook databases, all in service to the Trump campaign. This information was transformed into a weapon meant to actively exploit people’s deepest fears and personal biases via targeted messages. This is where Breitbart and the other elements of Mercer’s hard-right media empire came into play, as they were successfully able to use that data to fine-tune their campaign propaganda.
It gets deeper. Way, way deeper, as NPR reports:
On Monday, Channel 4 broadcast the hidden-camera exclusive that appeared to catch [Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander] Nix acknowledging that the firm works secretly in political campaigns around the world by using front companies and subcontractors. Nix attempts to sell the company’s potential services, such as the deployment of “honey traps” to target opponents — including secretly filming politicians taking bribes or in the company of prostitutes.
“We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance,” Nix says on hidden camera. “We’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.” He is heard saying that one strategy for compromising opponents is to “send some girls around to the candidate’s house,” adding that he prefers to use Ukrainian girls. They “are very beautiful, I find that works very well,” he says.
Two other individuals also appear in the hidden-camera footage: the company’s chief data officer — Tayler, who has been tapped as interim CEO — and Mark Turnbull, the managing director of CA Political Global. Nix advises the undercover reporter that “I’m just giving you examples of what can be done, what has been done.”
“Was there a Russia connection?” stands as the permanent question of the hour nowadays, but the answer regarding Cambridge Analytica remains unclear. “No definitive evidence has emerged that connects Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign to Russia’s efforts to influence our election,” reports Sean Illing of Vox. “But if the ongoing investigations conclude that the Trump campaign did help Russia target voters, expect to hear more about Cambridge Analytica. It’s entirely possible that such collusion could have occurred and the work of Cambridge Analytica had nothing to do with it; however, that would be strange, since targeting voters is precisely what the company was hired to do.”
What we have here is the illicit plundering of oceans of personal data that were then used to create highly specified voter databases specifically intended to disrupt the nation’s political discourse going into the 2016 election. Setting traps for political opponents using sex and bribes is bragged about on captured footage (which might explain the ongoing timidity of Congress). The Mercers and their hatchetman Bannon do not seek to use this data just to win. They literally want to burn the entire political system — the social safety net, civil rights protections, everything — down to the stumps. Trump won, and the stumps are beginning to show. For them, this is about changing the culture, about changing the very nature of the nation itself, by any means necessary.
As for a Russia connection, Occam’s Razor is informative. There is no evidence of Cambridge Analytica and Russia working together yet, but since they were both doing the same thing to assist the same candidate at the same time, the simplest explanation may indeed be the correct one.
Facebook is getting clobbered and losing billions over this growing scandal, Cambridge Analytica is on the run, and the reporting on this will be coming fast and furious for many days to come. The real story, however, is Robert Mercer, the right-wing recluse genius who dreams of an algorithm that will change the world.
When Citizens United shattered the barriers between campaign funding and brazen bribery, billionaires like Mercer discovered they could blast a hole in the fabric of political reality by writing checks with enough zeroes to the left of the decimal. Mercer is not alone, but he is the money behind Trump’s astonishing ascendancy, and his influence only promises to grow. When you’re a billionaire committed to devising expensive new gutterball tactics and the Supreme Court is on your side, the sky’s the limit.
Batman would have a word for such a villain and his plans.