How To Fight The Establishment Propaganda Machine And Win

Caitlin Johnstone
14 min readMay 4, 2017


“You shall not pass!”

I am going to keep hammering and hammering on this point until I see that it has taken root in American consciousness: the single best way to take down the oligarchy is by aggressively and relentlessly attacking its propaganda engine. People appreciate my cutesy little analysis pieces on current events and my rude nicknames for corporate Democrats, but if there was one idea I could implore you all to ingest and circulate, this would be it.

It is clearer now than ever before that democracy is functionally nonexistent in America. In an unapologetically strict two-party system, the DNC is openly communicating to the public that it considers itself a private establishment under no obligation to provide the public with a legitimate Democratic primary. On the other side of the aisle the purported nationalist who the people supposedly elected has been acting more and more like the neocon globalists that his grassroots supporters despise. No matter how you vote, the plutocrats and their multinational corporations and banks win, and the American people lose. This is settled beyond dispute for anyone who’s been paying attention. We tried all the political doors, and they’re all bolted shut.

So that’s it, right? Checkmate? Time to give up, tap out and wait until they get us all killed in a nuclear holocaust or climate disaster?

Wrong. The elites who manipulate your government are more vulnerable now than ever before and they know it — the solution just isn’t in politics, it’s in media. What Americans lack in voting power, they make up for in the fact that their ability to network and share information has reached completely unprecedented heights, which means that the old propaganda systems which have been used to lull Americans into accepting the establishment narrative are wielding less and less influence. The internet has the potential to initiate a total shift in public perspective.

Some people get upset at me for not picking a side on the DemEnter vs. DemExit debate within the greater progressive revolution; DemExiters especially keep showing up whenever I mention Nina Turner or Tulsi Gabbard for example, yelling “Don’t you fools get it? The system is rigged! Vote third party!” Uhh, can we talk about the inherently self-contradictory nature of that line of thinking for a second? If you know that the system is rigged against you by your oppressors, then why are you fighting them within the system that they rigged? That’s like agreeing to fight a shark in the water, or a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt on the ground. They’ve got the electoral system all shored up in their favor, and as long as their propaganda engine is functioning, they’ll continue manipulating the way mainstream America thinks and votes no matter what political insurgencies you try to pull off. If by some miracle you do get an even remotely anti-establishment candidate over their wall of manipulations, then they’ll find ways to pressure them into falling into line just like they’ve been doing to Trump with their Russiagate nonsense.

So what can we do? We make them fight our fight. If they’re a shark and we’re a tiger, we make them fight us in the jungle. If they’re a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt and we’re a kickboxer, we make them fight us standing up. Since they’re an old power structure in a rapidly-shifting media landscape that completely lost control of the narrative in 2016 and we are denizens of the internet, we make them fight a media war. The oppression machine cannot operate without its propaganda engine, and we have right now at our fingertips the ability to cripple that engine. Once it’s crippled, they are powerless, and the old mechanisms of manipulation and control will be shrugged off like a heavy coat on a warm day. Here is a simple, winnable eight-point strategy for doing exactly that:

1. Increase public distrust of the mainstream media.

Did you know that in 2009 MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough turned down an easy run for the US Senate because he decided that he could have more influence on public policy as the host of Morning Joe than as one of 100 US senators? Indeed, in 2011 Time named him one of the most influential people on the planet. You live in a country where a TV show host wields more political power than some of its most high-level elected officials, and knows it. His ability to manipulate public opinion and votes in the most powerful nation in the world gives him more power than any mere senator could ever dream of.

Now imagine if nobody trusted Joe Scarborough. Imagine if nobody trusted any of the other talking heads on TV. Imagine if they knew that CNN has been trotting out a seven year-old Syrian girl with an extremely popular fake Twitter account and making her recite scripted lines in order to manufacture consent for another regime change invasion in another strategically crucial location in the fossil fuel battle, for example. The Bana Alabed psy-op is the single most transparent piece of war propaganda that I have ever seen in my life, and we should be talking about it constantly, because they really left themselves exposed with that one. We should all be screaming about that and pointing at all the incriminating evidence all the time, because it is perfect and irrefutable proof that the corporate media is conspiring to drum up public support for a regime change that America’s permanent government has been salivating over for ages. Here is an article I wrote about this psy-op, and here is an excellent video by the Resistance Chicks breaking down the specifics of what a brazen lie CNN is knowingly participating in:

Making a lot of noise about these extremely suspicious behaviors will cause people to view the media they consume with a healthy amount of suspicion, during which time they won’t be ingesting the sleeping pills that these deep state mouthpieces are feeding them, because you only imbue narratives with the power of belief when they’re coming from someone you trust. We need to kill that trust, and we kill it by constantly being on the attack against every sick, weird thing these creeps do.

In order to wrest power from the oligarchs and give it to the American people, mainstream America is going to have to start waking up to the fact that their government is lying to them with the help of the corporate media, and that they do not live in the kind of country that their teachers taught them they live in. This is not an insurmountable goal. Gallup reports that trust in the mass media is already at an all-time low for mainstream America, and that’s only going to get worse as we keep attacking it.

2. Shatter the illusion of normalcy.

This is the ultimate objective behind every single maneuver in the media war against America’s unelected power establishment. In 2013, the United States government formally gave itself the right to use psy-ops (psychological operations, i.e. large-scale manipulations of the way the public sees and thinks about something) on its own citizens. In an influential 1983 paper titled “Military Psychological Operations and US Strategy,” Col. Alfred R. Paddock Jr. wrote that “psychological operations is the one weapons system which has an important role to play in peacetime.” According to an article titled “How US Flooded the World with Psyops” by investigative journalist Robert Parry of Consortium News, “Until the 1980s, psyops were normally regarded as a military technique for undermining the will of an enemy force by spreading lies, confusion and terror… Essentially, the psyops idea was to play on the cultural weaknesses of a target population so they could be more easily manipulated and controlled. But the challenges facing the Reagan administration in the 1980s led to its determination that peacetime psyops were also needed and that the target populations had to include the American public.”

So we know they’re using media psy-ops on the American public, and we know psy-ops need to be done constantly, during both peacetime and wartime, on the election season and off, in order to be effective. America is a corporatist system of government, its mass media is owned by a mere five corporations, and the CIA has been deeply embedded within the mass media for decades. The US government and its plutocrat owners did not make it legal to use psy-ops on American citizens for shits and giggles, they did it because they use psy-ops on American citizens. This is really happening. This is not paranoia. These are facts.

Read this.

Since these psy-ops are running constantly, people get used to them. It slips right in when a manipulative wordsmith like Chris Cuomo mumbles a word salad about it being illegal to read WikiLeaks. They’re used to having their perspectives constantly nudged and adjusted every day by the rapey manipulations of these mental predators.

These predators use their trusted, ubiquitous presence in the lives of the public to convince them that everything else that’s happening is normal, too. It’s perfectly normal for a few extremely wealthy people and their cronies to take all new income for themselves and control your government while you struggle to feed your family. It’s normal for your country to be bombing sovereign nations every single day and have hundreds of military bases all over the world. It’s normal for Americans to pay more in healthcare-related taxes than anyone else on earth but still be the only major country without healthcare as a right. It’s normal that all these politicians seem to do pretty much the same things once elected despite campaigning on very different platforms. It’s normal for elected officials to lie. It’s normal for your government to have the ability to spy on you. This is all normal.

We need to snap mainstream America out of this lullaby of normalcy. We need to be the caring friend who tells them that it’s not normal for their boyfriend to be violent and controlling. We need to keep coming up with new and innovative ways to let everyone know that none of this is normal and it needs to stop. That is always our ultimate goal, because without the spell of normalcy, the whole thing falls apart.

3. Shatter the illusion of unanimity.

Everyone knows that the Russians hacked the election; there’s no serious debate about that. Assad gassed his own people in Idlib; all the experts agree. Kim Jong Un is an irrational madman who could deploy a nuke at any moment unless we keep pressuring him; that’s just a fact. Since all mass media is owned by the same few people, the oligarchs can create the illusion of consensus whenever they need to advance an important agenda. The same singular narrative gets picked up and spouted from all outlets in an extremely confident-sounding and authoritative tone, as we saw them do with the “Saddam has WMDs and wants to inflict another 9/11 on America” psy-op we saw with Iraq. This creates the illusion that a completely unsubstantiated claim is an established fact, and at that point anyone suggesting otherwise will be scoffed at and dismissed at best or condemned and demonized at worst.

We fight this by being even more confident and authoritative in our dismissal of these narratives, and by distributing counter-narratives as widely as possible with as many other people as we can get on board. Refuse to be shamed into silence. When people are wrong, tell them so. Don’t just retreat into your echo chamber, speak! Say it like you mean it and say it like you’re right, because you do, and you are.

4. Stay loudly politically active.

I know I just got done saying that there are no political solutions in a nation with no democracy, but that’s precisely the point. The establishment would like nothing better than for us all to give up on politics and slip away into obscurity so we’ll stop making noise and waking up their sleeping victims. I recently had an interaction with a man on my page who claimed to have been a Democratic delegate in multiple presidential elections who said he’d rather lose every election from here to eternity than ever collaborate with the Sanders wing, and that he wants anti-establishment progressives to all slink away from the mainstream political debate into some fringe where we can be comfortably ignored. The more transparent Clintonians like the perpetually cringe-inducing Sally Albright say the same thing, that it would be better if Berniecrats went away unless they abandon their economic justice platform (which the oligarchs can’t stand) to focus exclusively on social justice (which the oligarchs are indifferent to).

That’s what they want, so don’t give it to them. If you’re for DemEnter, loudly push your progressive candidates forward and then make as much noise as possible when the establishment media smears them and the DNC sabotages their campaigns. Same exact thing if you’re pro-DemExit; push your independent and third party candidates into the spotlight with as much noise and fanfare as possible, then scream and point when they are sabotaged by the establishment. If you’re a libertarian, a nationalist and/or paleocon, same thing, and do it with the increasing number of neocon policy switcheroos Trump has been making, too. Mainstream America is still not yet aware that democracy is not happening in America, so the more facts we can amass to show them the better, and the more noise we make about it the more of them we’ll wake up.

5. Hold a grudge.

I’ve been using the phrase “news churn” a lot lately, because it’s so illustrative of the way the mass media works. No matter what weird, creepy things the establishment inflicts upon the American people, the 24/7 babbling, churning news cycle quickly shuffles it out of memory. We must never let that happen. We need to be a solid object against the churning tide of forgetfulness, never forgetting that the DNC actively sabotaged the only progressive in its primary, never forgetting that the deep state completely unmasked itself and its agenda with the Bana Alabed psy-op, never forgetting that they tried to force into the White House a candidate who was promising to set up a no-fly zone in an area where Russian military planes were conducting operations, never forgetting the horrors they inflicted upon Libya, never forgetting that they lied to us about Iraq.

Keep bringing that stuff up. Keep pointing and yelling about it. It’s not fixed, it’s still broken, they’re still doing it, and they’re trying to do more. Never forget, never forgive, because that’s exactly what the shadow government wants. Keep disrupting that.

6. Always be attacking.

Marcelo Garcia, arguably the greatest grappler to have ever lived, teaches his students that they should always be on the attack, that any time their opponent has forced them to play defense, they’re losing the fight. This is an important mindset for the media war, too. We can’t be reactive, waiting for them to tell a lie and then rushing out to defend against it, because then they’re on the front foot and they’re already sweeping the public up in their narrative while we scramble to catch up. We’ve got many years’ worth of establishment lies to point at and scream about, and since we’re so good at holding a grudge we can keep digging them up and pointing at them. Keep attacking the DNC scandal. Keep attacking CNN on the Bana Alabed psy-op. Keep attacking the New York Times for its special role in selling America the lies that led to the Iraq invasion and the Washington Post for constantly reporting on the intelligence community without ever disclosing the fact that its owner has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the CIA.

Always be attacking; put them on the defense. Keep advancing causes that make them uncomfortable and ideas they have to defend against. Force them into situations where they need to do things like come up with ridiculous explanations for why Assad would gas his own people at the worst possible time when he stood nothing to gain from it and everything to lose. Make them look stupid. The more stupid they look, the more openings they’ll create for further attacks, and the less belief mainstream America will invest in their narratives. Don’t wait on them; attack now. Attack now and show no mercy. Keep shoving that sword through until it comes out the other end.

7. Find the others.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve made some connections with other people who’ve punched through the matrix and seen through the wall of lies they’ve been offered since birth. This is good; when everyone who’s been drinking the kool-aid is telling you you’re insane, it’s important to be insulated by a group who’ll tell you “Nah, you’re not crazy — I see it too.” Everything in our evolutionary primate heritage tells us our survival depends upon our ability to fit in with the rest of the tribe, so the pressure to just dissociate from our misgivings in order to conform can be soul-crushing. If you don’t have a support system like this yet I strongly recommend finding one, because it’s so hard to keep your head above water without it.

But how many of these others have you found who see what you’re seeing but don’t share your ideological background? This is the next step. In order to kill the propaganda machine, we’re going to have to start collaborating with everyone who wants to see it dead. The anti-establishment lefties don’t have the numbers to do this on their own, nor do the anarchists, nor do any of the factions on the anti-establishment right, and you may be certain that as soon as we get the propaganda beast up against the ropes it will immediately start doubling down on its tried-and-true tactic of divide and conquer. It will do everything it can to try and wedge us apart and turn us against each other, so we’ll stop fighting the real enemy.

This is kind of an advanced move, but the more comfortable we can get with fighting the mass media’s narratives side-by-side with all the other ideological factions which oppose it — the commies, the Berners, the Greens, the anarchists, the libertarians, the civic and economic nationalists, the truth-tellers of all shapes and sizes— the more effective we’ll be. Anti-establishment media will be able to go a lot more viral, we won’t get distracted fighting each other, we won’t be creating in isolation, we’ll all be plugged in to a much larger hive mind picking out weaknesses in the enemy and coming up with creative new attacks on the establishment narrative. If we can get the anti-establishment movement’s numbers big enough, it will breach into the mainstream over and over and over again, punching holes in the official narrative every time.

This is totally doable.

8. Have fun.

Lastly, have fun with this. This revolution is actually fun! We have the opportunity to be basically wizards, fighting the word-spells these bastards are casting on the sleeping mainstream and screaming “You shall not pass!” And we get to bring our creativity and passion to it, make memes, write blogs, make videos, share ideas, and have it actually mean something and be building toward something real and tangible. This is a revolution where you won’t wind up on the wrong end of some redcoat’s bayonet, but instead get to do fun stuff you already enjoy!

I say this because looking straight at the evil of these fuckers can be deeply draining if you get sucked up into negative thought patterns, and we could lose a good media soldier when you could just be having fun and playing with us instead. I see so very much to be optimistic about here, and this war is so very, very winnable if we just bring our creativity and enthusiasm to it.

Don’t let anyone tell you that this cannot be done. I don’t respect pessimism here anymore; there’s no valid reason to be pessimistic in a completely unprecedented situation. There are currently more than 3.7 billion active internet users on planet Earth right now, and counting. 3.7 billion human brains able to network and share the very best ideas and information that humanity has ever produced with each other with greater and greater efficacy. 3.7 billion human brains collaborating and conspiring together. Nothing even remotely like this has ever happened before in human history. You don’t get to be pessimistic in a situation like this. Anything could happen. We can definitely do this. Have fun.

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