Perception warfare: the ‘above’ and ‘below’ strategy of manufactured outcry and responseBy ,
Newton’s third law of motion holds that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This principle has been weaponized by various subversive movements to change the nature of societies; they seek to create momentum, then redirect it in a way that advances their interests.
As for nation-state threats, Russia’s Internet Research Agency is allegedly involved in disinformation operations meant to create false or controlled perceptions, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is involved in destabilization operations, and many other nations seek to manipulate others in various ways.
When it comes to the Chinese Communist Party, its military has inducted strategies specifically designed to attack perceptions, such as its Three Warfare doctrine of psychological warfare, media warfare, and legal warfare. On the social level, its “50 Cent” troll army attacks dissenters online, its United Front Department seeks to subvert foreign societies, and similar programs are aimed at controlling how people look at things.
Yet these operations are also not limited to nation-states. They are also being employed vigorously by private special interest groups, subversive social movements, and political movements.
The harsh reality is that wars are now being fought on the grounds of psychology, on how people perceive institutions, systems, and leaders. If the “hearts and minds” of a civilization can be conquered, then the nation can be conquered without firing a bullet.
Part of this subversive method works through an “above” strategy on the political level and a “below” strategy on the seemingly grassroots level. It is based on the creation of false-flag or manufactured incidents that can receive broad public attention. A subversive group can then use media framing to tell the population the incident is symbolic or related to a social issue.
The social issue can then be advocated by controlled news outlets, by paid online commentators, or by subversive nonprofits. The noise generated by these groups is used by politicians as part of the game to introduce legislation.
This is a favorite tactic of terrorist organizations for their broader goals. A central group creates propaganda to stir up hatred and to agitate a population. When a terrorist then acts on this propaganda, the central group looks at the backlash and uses it to claim the population is “racist” or “xenophobic,” which then advances its own legitimacy among the group it is trying to subvert.
James Scott, cybersecurity and information warfare expert, explained this principle in an earlier interview with The Epoch Times. He stated that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and its cyber caliphate “are constantly in search of an incident that can fan the flame of the illusion of rampant xenophobia here.”
In addition, he said, “This is what they use when they go to Black Lives Matter and Antifa: to find self-radicalizing wound collectors that they can bring in, mentor, and isolate, but expedite their radicalization to get them to act out kinetically.”
When the groups do act out with physical violence, and after there is a public outcry, Scott said, “they then weaponize that outcry and say, ‘See, told you, rampant xenophobia.’”
“It’s interesting because a lot of this stuff is completely manufactured,” he said.
Part of the issue ties to theories on how ideas and concepts can be introduced into society, and how these concepts can be manipulated as they develop, in order to create intended social notions. This concept uses what are known as memetics—a theory of how ideas are introduced and evolve over time to impact a society’s culture.
When it comes to the intended false framing of planned incidents, agitators can be planted among otherwise grassroots protesters in order to escalate the incident. The idea is that when the protest becomes violent, again according to Newton’s third law, the momentum will generate a reaction. Controlled narratives in news outlets are used to frame the perceptions of this reaction to again advance the social agenda.
During the 2016 elections, Democrat organizers were recorded in a series of undercover videos from Project Veritas admitting that they planted agitators at Trump rallies to incite violence and create negative media attention. This included a video of Scott Foval, former field director of America United for Change, describing the activities, which he called “bird-dogging.” In another video, Bob Creamer, co-founder of Democracy Partners, also explained how they were using the strategy.
“One of the things we do is we stage very authentic grassroots protests right in their faces at their own events. Like, we infiltrate,” Foval says in the video.
“To funnel that kind of operation, you have to start back with people two weeks ahead of time and train them how to ask questions,” he said, adding that he employed “mentally ill people” for this work. “Over the last 20 years, I’ve paid off a few homeless guys to do some crazy stuff.”
After an incident like this is staged, and if the planted agitator can incite violence, newscasters can frame the perception of the incident to claim, for example, that Trump supporters are violent. They can then piggy-back on this perception to frame additional false narratives.
The tactic uses a variety of outlets to amplify its effects. After an event is staged, the imagery it generates is often on TV newscasts, Facebook discussions, viral Twitter hashtags, and prominent posts on Reddit. Even if the incident is later proven false, it leaves an emotional memory, which causes people to react accordingly when they encounter the individual or group that was framed as a symbol of the incident.
Scott described this as a chaos tactic. The idea is that from chaos, order can be created and social structures can be rebuilt in new forms. Groups interested in changing society first aim to destabilize the institutions they want to alter, and this often starts with manipulating public perception.
“You’ve manufactured the incident, you’ve manufactured the outcry, and now you have a piece of legislation that is ready to hit somebody’s civil liberties,” Scott said. “But everybody is begging for it because they think this thing just happened.”
He noted the concept also ties into the tactics of cultural Marxism—the idea of spreading communism through the subversion of culture and concepts.
Behind this tactic is a deeper intent to alter public perception. From the viewpoint of subversion, perception is what determines who you vote for. Perception determines what you buy. Perception determines what you think you need, what you think you don’t need, who you like, and who you don’t like.
All of these perceptions are being manipulated by various groups for different purposes, in an assault both foreign and domestic on our worldviews.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.