How I Became a Heretic to My Liberal Friends

My wife has become increasingly nervous when political topics arise in conversations with our friends over dinner or drinks. She’s afraid I’ll disrupt a pleasant occasion by expressing views that are anathema to our liberal, Democratic friends.

Like what? you might ask.

Well, there are several, but the most inflammatory one is my denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 Presidential election in a consequential way, much less with the intention of electing Trump.

"What?" you say. Every MSNBC-watching, New York Times WaPo-reading Democrat knows that the Russians hacked the DNC emails and passed them on to WikiLeaks to hurt the Clinton campaign. And how about all those social media posts?

The second I express myself, I am invariably accused of parroting Fox News or even of endorsing Trump. But I despise Trump and have never watched Fox news live for more than a minute or two. (Occasionally, I watch an interview with a left-leaning heretic like myself, who cannot get airtime on the "legacy media.")

How did this happen? How did I come to reject beliefs my liberal friends hold sacred?

Well, to paraphrase an old commercial, I came by my heretical views the old-fashioned way: I earned them. I looked beyond the MSM to independent sources of news and commentary, reading widely and open-mindedly and thinking critically. Some of these sources publish reporting, others opinion; many are left-leaning; most oppose American foreign policy. I weighed them against one another, and the MSM, to assess their reliability.

In short, I investigated American journalism – and found corporate media woefully misleading. I would say I found it unprofessional but, as a friend reminded me, the job of corporate journalism is to maximize profit; doing so is not conducive, to say the least, to challenging the dominant power structure and its ideology.

My current morning routine is this. Over breakfast, I read the hard copy of the New York Times, selectively and skeptically. Then I repair to my study and spend an hour or so surfing online news sources. I consult more than a dozen daily: e.g., The Intercept, Truthout,,, Current Affairs, Jacobin, RealClearInvestigations, CommonDreams, Grayzone, FAIR, Counterpunch, The Nation, and even RT. Among journalist/bloggers I consider trustworthy on Russiagate are Aaron Maté, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Caitlin Johnstone, Moon of Alabama, and Elizabeth Voss.

While still teaching (at Hofstra University), I would pick up a free copy of the New York Times on campus and read it over the course of the day. I would listen to NPR while commuting. I considered myself well informed. I was quite trustful of these sources on most topics. My views did not diverge sharply from those of my liberal friends.

But after my retirement in 2011, I began to look deeper. I’m not sure why; I did not set out to shift my politics to the left. One factor was my interest in Syria, where my father had taught at Aleppo College during the 1930s. In 2009, just before violence broke out there, I followed in his footsteps, traveling to Aleppo with my family. When the protests against the notoriously brutal and repressive Assad began, I was very sympathetic. Like the Western media, I favored the "moderate rebels."

But eventually, by reading alternative media, I came around to the view that there were not enough moderate rebels to bring about a change of regime. (The notion of a viable moderate opposition was the product of a Western PR campaign.) Eventually, I learned that the U.S was arming militant Islamists (as with the Mujahaddin earlier in Afghanistan, helping bring the Taliban to power) and eventually sending in troops in violation of international law. (They are still there.) The result was a terrible civil war. I reluctantly came to believe that the least bad short-term outcome for the Syrian people was for the Assad regime to prevail, with Russia’s help. That is what has happened. Removing Assad would have done to Syria what removing Saddam did to Iraq: worsened the havoc and suffering in the nation and the surrounding region.

But what about Assad’s gassing of his own people, you say, which was investigated by the purportedly neutral OPCW (the UN-sponsored Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Warfare) and widely reported in the Western media? Sorry, but whistleblowers among the actual inspectors eventually came forward to reveal that their firsthand findings had been distorted to fit the desired verdict. (Remember Iraq and its WMD?) But of course, the whistleblowers testimony was largely ignored by the very media that blamed the atrocity on Assad and fawned over Trump’s retaliatory attack. (The next day, Fareed Zakaria declared on CNN that "Donald Trump became president of the United States last night.")

Looked at critically, this narrative made no sense. Why would Assad, who was winning the war, risk antagonizing the world (and his people)? Why would he cross a redline drawn by the US, risking retaliation? He wouldn’t, and he didn’t. Almost certainly, these gas attacks were false flag attacks by the rebels to trigger American attacks against Syria (which they did). I have learned to ask the basic question, Cui bono? (who benefits) when reading the news. The answer is often not the party being blamed by the MSM.

As with Syria, so with Venezuela and Bolivia, with Russia and Ukraine: if you can put aside the dominant narrative promulgated by the MSM, you can find dedicated, dogged investigative journalists who challenge and debunk it. Unfortunately, the debunking necessarily lags well behind the false story. And in our short news cycle, it gets lost. Moreover, skeptical journalism gets published only in small, independent outlets. The MSM generally does not retract its stories. If it does, it does so in a whisper, someplace where the retractions will not get noticed. If you look for them, you can find them, but you have to know to look.

The most authoritative debunkers of the Russiagate/Ukrainegate narrative have been, interestingly, a group that calls itself Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). Its work appears regularly at, which was founded by Robert Parry, who broke the Iran-Contra story. The VIPs are retired intelligence officers who resent the cooking of intelligence for political ends. (Their first post was published on the day that Colin Powell testilied [sic] to the UN Security Council and the MSM stenographers published his lies; since then, they have an excellent track record.) Their retirement frees them to voice their views without permission or repercussions. The VIPs, one of whom, Ray McGovern, briefed Presidents during the Cold War, can hardly be accused of being soft on Russia.

They have shown that the so-called "hack" of the DNC emails was almost certainly a leak. Forensic examination of the megadata by William Binney, former NSA Director, indicates that the data could not have been stolen over the internet; so much information could not have been transferred as quickly as claimed. In any case, recently declassified documents reveal that Shawn Henry, the president of CrowdStrike Services, the company tasked by the DNC with examining the server (which the DNC refused to release to the FBI) admitted under oath that there was no evidence of email having been "exfiltrated," as had been reported in the corporate media and universally believed by liberals.

One irony of this, of course, is that the emails published by WikiLeaks, whose authenticity no one has challenged, were proof of the rigging of the Democratic primary by the DNC: i.e., election meddling. Given the damaging content, it seems far more likely that this was a leak by a disgruntled insider, but the blame of course is put on Russia.

As for the supposedly election-meddling social media activity. It was not directed by the Kremlin; it began before Trump was nominated and continued well past the election. The actual ads were mostly puerile, unsophisticated (and not in fluent English); many favored Clinton; some were not even about politics. It was mostly clickbait. The bottom line is that the financial investment was infinitesimal compared to those of the two candidates. This can’t have had any discernible effect on the outcome, much less a decisive one. (This is leaving aside the glaring hypocrisy of Americans complaining about meddling in our elections, when the US is the world champ in that endeavor.)

But the Russiagate narrative has served, as it was intended, to deflect attention from the failures of the Clinton campaign – and more generally from the Democratic party’s embrace of neoliberalism at home, betraying the working class, and imperialism abroad. Regrettably, too, it masks far more serious obstacles to fair elections: the Electoral College, voter-suppression, gerrymandering, Citizens United, and so on – i.e., the factors presumably in American control.

Its promotion by the MSM has fostered widespread paranoia about Russia. Thanks to the DNC and the MSM, neo-McCarthyism is epidemic among Democrats, who see Russians (I almost said Commies) under every bed.

As the late Stephen F. Cohen insisted (not in MSM, which blackballed him), this is a dangerous delusion; it significantly increases the possibility of a hot (nuclear) war.

Perhaps most alarming, in the MSM Russiagate eclipses the truly existential threat of the climate emergency. The MSM fiddles while the world burns.

Most of my friends are academics, artists or other intellectuals. It makes me sad – and crazy – that these people, who are smart and sophisticated – not "low information" voters – fall for this stuff, which is counterfactual faith-based journalism.

I could go on to list other MSM truths that I regard as "fake news." But there’s little point. It’s not that I expect my friends to believe me rather than the New York Times. What I’d like is for them to be willing to consider alternative interpretations of events and to explore non-corporate media.

Why? Well, consider the view of Noam Chomsky, who (with Edward S. Herman) long ago exposed how the MSM "manufacture" consent; he considers Russiagate a huge gift to Trump, which could hand him the election. Or consider what William Casey, director of the CIA, said when asked by incoming President Ronald Reagan to describe his agency’s mission, "We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public knows is false." Part of the mission of the intelligence agencies has been to infiltrate American media and gaslight the public. But, as I suggested above, this does not prevent honest analysts from reaching their own conclusions.

I try not to blame my friends for being misguided by the MSM. After all, only a few years ago, when I read only what my friends read, I believed as they do. It’s not that I’m smarter, or more (or less) liberal than they; it’s just that I’ve made the effort to peek outside my info silo, the liberal echo chamber.

I try not to be too disputatious in conversations with friends. I don’t want to alienate them. Life is lonely enough during the pandemic without becoming persona non grata, never invited back.

On the other hand, why should I silence myself? Why should I nod sagely as friends spout what I regard as nonsense? Well, there’s no percentage in it. Sadly, conversation alone doesn’t convince or convert. Politics has become polarized and tribalized to a frightening degree; evidence and argument don’t seem to matter. People believe what they want to believe. The light bulb has to want to change. Or at least, to be open to changing. And, to be fair, it takes time and effort to explore alternative media.

But I want my friends to know that while we may all oppose Trump, we are hardly on the same page. In such circumstances, old friends should be able to agree to disagree. But how can my friends and I agree to disagree if they don’t know that we disagree?

So I will continue to speak out. Silence feels like collusion in delusion. And the stakes are high.

G. Thomas Couser is retired from Hofstra University, where he taught English and founded a Disability Studies Program. His books include Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing (Cornell 2004), Signifying Bodies: Disability in Contemporary Life Writing (Michigan 2009), and Memoir: An Introduction (Oxford 2012). His most recent book is Letter to My Father: A Memoir (Hamilton Books, 2017).

73 thoughts on “How I Became a Heretic to My Liberal Friends”

    1. You know what’s really sad? The best I could do with friends and family was to get them to support Democrats over Republicans, this was back when I thought there was actually a real difference and perhaps there was 30 years ago, although I’m no longer convinced of even that and I was quickly proven incorrect by Bill Clinton’s wars.

      Now I can’t get any of those friends and family to snap out of being knee jerk support em no matter what Democrats. It seems to be that it’s simply a step to far for most people to admit that our entire political system is FUBAR and that team politics is a blood sport with no winners, except those in power. The rest of us are in the ring with the gladiators no matter what and they are in the stands watching and cheering us on.

      Most people still want to believe in that American dream and haven’t figured out that politician’s dreams are just a tiny bit different than ours. And above all else, they want to believe that They Themselves are good people and to do that they must convince themselves that they have NOT been supporting evil for decades.

      1. You simply must read Caitlin Johnstone’s latest article on this:
        “ELECTION 2020: The United Politics of America”
        October 22, 2020
        You will love it!

  1. I feel like I have become a heretic to my Conservative friends because I went through a similar metamorphosis as Tom Couser, except I started out on the far right. Whenever I find myself in agreement with the MSM/FOX narrative I know I need to pinch myself and do some digging for opposing information.

    1. Funny, I was a heretic among the guys I served with after coming out against the wars. With the election of Trump I now have several Army buddies that, with the thanks of Trump’s “endless war” lines, have come around to accepting the idea that the wars were harmful to our nation. I believe that for Republicans, which most enlisted men are, the message of how destructive our wars have been had to come from a Republican (not that I’m convinced Trump is a republican). Democrats could use that same line until the cows come home and it would never make a dent with them, they just call the Democrats weak and traitors or pinko commies, etc.

      It’s one of the reasons I very reluctantly support Trump. The cultural shift away from endless war had to come from the “Right”. As long as the Right was pro-war the left could claim the mantle of anti-war by simply playing lip service to the idea. The Democrats also get votes from various minority/identity groups in the same way. They can actually be horrible for these groups and it doesn’t matter because the Republicans are seen as the opposition and Democrats are “allies”. The worse Republicans are towards various groups the less democrats have to actually care for these small groups or to actually get anything done on their behalf.

      1. An excellent explanation of the perfidy that “both sides” present.

        There are so many issues that can be used to divide us (as the LGBTQ issue I spoke of above) that we fail to see where our interests intersect.

  2. Yup… the Russian narrative: Hillary was so perfect. Everybody loved her. She only lost because Putin was able to sway the election with ~100k$ of facebook posts/add’s . Whoever fabricated/wrote those adds is the greatest and most effective conman the World has ever known.

    And Putin wants to take over the World because:
    He needs more natural resources like more oil
    Russia is grossly overcrowded and they need more Lebensraum
    He wants our women

      1. I would be very happy to see Obama prosecuted for War Crimes. Just as long as Bush is also. The list is quite long.

        However, as an insightful post on another site suggested, the primary goal of any President is to not be assassinated.

  3. America’s subjects are wholly indoctrinated by the lies of its corporate propaganda orgs, and that includes Democratic liberals, who are just as supportive of America’s war machine as any diabetic militia members. Liberal websites are more concerned with phantom Russian voter interference than with financial corruption, the real problem with American society, because of their allegiance to the war complex.

  4. Nyet, that’s not how it works, they can easily tell if something has been downloaded in snippits or all at once. I’m not even a big time hacker although my code is rather hacknied and even I know that much. LOL Try again.

    And yes Seth Rich’s Murder could have been done by the Russians or the Moonites even!!

    Sadly for you, with zero evidence to suggest this happened it’s simply more moonbat crazy speculation nonsense. Get out your tinfoil hat and crystal ball as proof, that will really show us all who’s boss. LOL

    1. VIPs work was done by retired NSA IT expert William Binny, who has appeared on the Jimmy Dore show. He said the data could not have been downloaded at the speed indicated over the Internet back then. It was impossible, so was done with a direct connection like a thumb drive. If you have read the VIPs work then you know that, yet post here to deceive others.

      1. May I recommend this interview with Bill Binney?

        To be honest, I would like Binney to better explain his analysis of the meta-data. My internet friends who are thoroughly involved in the structure of the internet (ie, it wouldn’t exist without them) assure me that transporting the amount of data Binney claims would not have been a problem. There is one exception, and that is if they had to hack the SMTP mail server, to individually email each of the stolen emails from the DNC to some remote location in Russia. In which case, why in the world wouldn’t there be some suspicion of the high number of emails being sent?

        I really want to believe Binney. I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary A Good American.

      2. Yes, the meta data could be altered. But the number of files over which that would have to happen is just impossible to believe that there wouldn’t be some obvious evidence of tampering.

        FWIW: hack or an inside job, IMHO we’re arguing about BS. Who really cares? Are the emails real or not? Why is Assange being tortured.

    2. As I said above:
      We know for certain that those Clinton/Podesta emails were leaked directly from the DNC. How? Because Julian Assange said so. Julian Assange said, “How many times do I have to say it, the emails were not hacked, but leaked directly from the DNC.” Sorry if that’s not the precise wording, but I heard him say this myself, more than once.

      1. Show me. You are the first person I’ve heard to make that declaration. Binney himself says Guccifier is indirection.

  5. Great post! I’ve gotten into similar arguments with my liberal buddy on the Fire Dept about “Russiagate.” I first got “radicalized” way back in ’91 by closely following the BS of the first Gulf War (I had been an ABN RGR for 8 years & got out soon afterwards after being “stop lost”. My old LRRP unit later got sent over during the 2nd Iraq war). The BS of the ’92 NAFTA argument and the ’02 WMD MSM BS pushed me over the edge. The nail in the coffin (the full loss of my naivete) was my personal interaction with the NYT reporter Thom Shanker who carried water for the Obama admin to get Gen. McChrystal confirmed to head up the Afghan War (if you’re interested in details, see my Feral Firefighter blog for my posts about McChrystal’s role in the bi-partisan Pat Tillman friendly-fire white-wash, torture, and the failure of the Afghan War surge). Too bad the MSM no longer has real reporters like the late Micheal Hastings who were willing to risk their “access” to tell the truth.

  6. Prof. Couser,
    Thanks so much for this…I could have written every word myself, having gone through exactly what you went through to find the best investigative reporters who write from facts. Your sources are my sources; your favorites are my favorites. Many of my friends treat me the same way, but I speak up anyway.
    I will add one thing. We know for certain that those Clinton/Podesta emails were leaked directly from the DNC. How? Because Julian Assange said so. Julian Assange said, “How many times do I have to say it, the emails were not hacked, but leaked directly from the DNC.” Sorry if that’s not the precise wording, but I heard him say this myself, more than once.
    [This is to remind everyone to do everything you can to prevent the US from finishing off Julian Assange, a real journalist/publisher who exposed US war crimes, by extraditing him to a fake “trial,” here in Virginia near Quantico, with a military jury. Yeah, that should be fair.]

  7. The much hyped Mueller Indictment ZOMG this proves Trump is Putin’s puppet ZOMG said in paragraph 95 that the Internet Research Agency was a commercial operation.

    In other words, the Muller indictment itself admits that the IRA was a clickbait trollfarm. Kind of rich that the folks running a country that has SuperPACs, Superdelegates and Citizens United think that a clickbait troll farm is the threat to our democracy.

  8. I don’t know the author of this article, but my journey has been very similar. My sister was an investigative reporter who rejected the MSM narratives long ago and persuaded me to do more crititical thinking vs turning on the TV and getting your opinion assigned to you. Researching the Syrian confilct starting around 2014, I found disturbing information was being suppressed by the MSM. But I always keep my opinions to my self mostly to avoid total banishment and needless arguments with brainwashed people on one side or the other. Reading the comments here makes me realize I am not alone and wonder what the future will hold for a viable third, 4th or 5th political party where something better comes out of this. Some type of hybrid populist movement perhaps?

  9. The path towards entlightenment is usually when a topic that one knows deeply is discovered to be a cornucopia of lies and misinformation.

    In your case it was the Syrian question.

    Once one has the ‘Realization’ in one’s area of expertise, it is a simple path to seeing the lies in other areas. The pattern is unmistakeable after a few years. It becomes obvious to you when our regime lies. In fact, after a while, the lies are so transparent that you wonder how anyone believes them.

    Its frustrating because, the lies are so cleverly constructed and marketed that otherwise well meaning intellectuals are completely suckered into believing the most preposterous lies.

    At those dinner parties, one needs to have a simple and easy answer to the lies. Otherwise, one comes off as a kook. That my dear friend is the challenge.

    How does one help others make their own ‘Realization’ ?

  10. May I, once again, recommend Peter B. Collins. His daily podcasts include all of the review of the MSM and independent media and then he provides links to back up his story. He also has independent interviews of many of the “anti-MSM” (independent) journalists.

    Pepe Escobar is one of my favorite because if it weren’t for Peter, I would never have heard of him.

    In addition to the list the author provided: Max Blumenthal, (Peter’s interview with Max on the [failed] them of Gibbs’ documentary “Planet of the Humans” was incredible. I finally understood the point that Gibbs failed to make.) Greg Palast (Peter interviewed him on the fraud being committed during this election cycle), Bill Binney of VIPS (although Binney fails to convince me because he’s so arrogant, his point is probably true, it wasn’t a ‘russian hack’ it was an ‘inside job’), Brad Friedman (again Peter’s interview is just scary as hell), Kevin Gozstola (Peter interviewed him on the farce that is the Assange trial)

    I can go on and on.

    Oh, yeah! I would never have heard of the documentary Selling Lies:

    if it weren’t for Peter.

    With as far-fetched as the idea is, it is much more believable than the stupid “Russia, Russia, Russia” chant of the DNC

  11. Kindly provide a shred of evidence for any if these claims you make, and why the evidence you cite is itself credible beyond suspicion of being, say, a CIA fraud.

    See, you have a story you want to be true, but the preponderance of the credible evidence is that people in the FBI and CIA broke the law and established norms in an effort to frame Trump.

    You can claim that’s not true and pretend the evidence doesn’t exist for seditious conspiracy, but you are left with the of explaining why you making any claims based on credible evidence.

    I’ll wait.

  12. No one mentioned Rich in the article, and he is not the only person who could have done it, obviously. And NO actual evidence linking the GRU to the alleged hack has ever been produced, much less any that shows how the Russkies supposedly gave the data to wiki. As Snowden pointed out almost immediately, IF the Russians hacked the DNC server, the NSA would absolutely have known. That agency’s silence speaks volumes. But go ahead and pretend you know more about it than Snowden.

  13. I would like to congratulate the author of this article on speaking out and articulating his struggle to interpret current world events in the midst of a torrent of misinformation. Coincidentally I was living in Aleppo, Syria, in 2009 and I fully endorse what he writes about that unfortunate country. What is most revealing and disturbing are the comments the article has provoked. They illustrate how polarized the United States has become, where the majority only reads or listens to material that confirms their prejudices. Alternative narratives are automatically rejected. This doesn’t bode well for our future.

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