Say what you will about presidential candidate Ben Carson, but his performance in Saturday’s Republican debate has moved his party forward. After years of Republicans comparing Barack Obama to Hitler, we now know that the GOP is our only hope against a rival totalitarian dictator: Joseph Stalin.
And, really, it’s only fair. Hitler has been dead for 71 years, while Stalin has only been (intermittently) buried for 62. It’s the Republican brand of progress: giving the younger dead a chance.
For Russia watchers, this is exciting news. When Carson invoked Stalin during his closing speech at the debate, our ears perked up: finally, our historical expertise will have its moment! There is only one problem: Stalin never said the words attributed to him by Carson.
The Truth Is (Way) Out There
Fortunately, it turns out that Carson’s use of this fake quote is far more interesting than any real Stalin quote could have been. The words Stalin never said actually demonstrate how close American fringe discourse is to that of their fellow tinfoil-hat-wearers in the Russian-speaking world. Both Russian and American conspiracy theorists are obsessed with the idea that external and internal enemies are wearing away at the moral fabric of their respective countries.
First, let’s look at Carson’s quote:
It was Joseph Stalin who I guess put it very succinctly. He said, ‘In order to destroy America … you have to undermine three principles: their spiritual life, their patriotism, and their morality. And he said, ‘If you can undermine those things, America will collapse from within.’ Well, we’re within the process of collapsing from within if we continue to accept deceit and dirty tricks and lies. And people who do that are still viable candidates for president of the United States. And we accept it. That’s the problem that’s going on.
These words (which apparently come from a popular meme in the right-wing blogosphere) would warm the hearts of a Russian conspiracy-monger, because all you have to do is change the name of the country in question to come up with a very familiar Russian wingnut sentiment that has moved further and further into the mainstream. As Alexander Fokin points out on Facebook, the Stalin quote sounds as though it were lifted from one of the most popular Russian conspiratorial ideas: the so-called Dulles Plan.
The Dulles Plan is not my personal favorite out of all the myths about how Americans and/or Jews have been plotting Russia’s downfall: the Harvard Project, in which a cabal of Ivy League Jewish homosexuals schemed to bring down the Soviet Union by ruining the population’s gene pool and turning them gay, will always hold a special place in my heart.
But the Dulles Plan has a much broader reach. Like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Dulles Plan started out as fiction only to be transformed into (you should pardon the expression) “fact.” In Anatoly Ivanov’s novel The Eternal Call (1971-1976; 1981), one of the villains delivers a speech that, word for word, ends up attributed to former CIA Director Allen Dulles a decade later:
When the war ends, everything will work itself out. And we will throw everything we’ve got, everything we own: all the gold, all the material strength on turning people into idiots! The human brain, people’s consciousness are all capable of change. After we seed chaos in them, we will imperceptibly switch out their values for false ones and make them believe in these false values! How, you ask? How?
We’ll find like-minded people: our allies and our helpers in Russia itself!
In Russia, the Dulles Plan was a pre-digital Internet meme, from back in the days when memes had to walk twenty miles in the freezing cold before finding a gullible host to infect. As in America, some of these hosts are famous and influential: the Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov, and Russia’s answer to Donald Trump (before Donald Trump was ever a question), the scandalous and entertaining parliamentarian clown named Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Conspiracy theories are notoriously omnivorous. If you follows the lead long enough, then of course you discover that the Jews and the Masons are working for the underground lizard people and their allies, the rectal-probing aliens. But Carson’s brief Stalinist moment is a reminder of something even more important. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, a decidedly un-conspiratorial Russian classic: All conspiracy theories are alike; each theory of complexity and nuance is complex and nuanced in its own way.
Really, the convergence of Ben Carson and Russian lunatics is rather heartwarming: it reminds us of the common humanity (and common insanity) that disregards all national borders.
Conspiracy theorists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your grasp on reality.