It would be hard to deny that the Trump era was, more than anything else, marked by the normalization of unabashed public lying. Trump is one of those Goebbels-like narcissists who believes he can create an alternative-- and accepted-- reality by just repeating his version frequently enough to the right audience. And Republican voters-- often uneducated, filled with despair about empty pointless lives and with the kinds of low IQs that make them easy marks for slick, practiced charlatans like Trump-- are the perfect audience.
Other Republican politicians-- or at least the overwhelming majority of them-- liked how easy it is, how unaccountable it is and liked what they saw enough to have gradually began emulating their leader. As Krugman pointed out earlier this week, the GOP has become a party of snake oil salesmen. And, I'm hardly the only one noticing this. Writing for the Milwaukee weekly, Shepherd Express, yesterday, Joel McNally noted that Wisconsin Republicans just can't stop spreading fear about the Afghan refugees. Pivoting quickly from "Biden wasn’t doing enough to help evacuate Afghan allies who assisted the U.S. war effort for 20 years," the GOP has eased right into their more comfortable role as bigots and xenophobes. Ron Johnson and all five of the state's Republican congressmen toured "Fort McCoy, a rural military property spread across 60,000 acres between Tomah and Sparta temporarily housing up to 10,000 refugees. All they saw were soldiers helping to settle families into barracks and playing outside with children, but they found it concerning." Johnson, an inveterate liar to begin with, was soon fear-mongering: "'It only takes one failure to destroy this mission... There is a danger to this country.' Johnson claimed to have unidentified sources who dispute administration assurances Afghan arrivals have been well-vetted. The total lack of any actual evidence is a regular feature of such Republican claims. Two members of the congressional delegation-- Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald-- were among the 147 Republican House members who voted after the violent insurrection on Jan. 6 to throw out millions of legally cast votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania because Trump falsely claimed without any evidence they were fraudulent. Tiffany has been one of the most vociferous opponents to allowing Afghan refugees into the U.S. at all. He put out an early statement: 'Our national security has been deeply degraded in the months since Jan. 20 (when Biden was inaugurated) and allowing the mass entry of foreigners from a known hotbed of terrorism will only make this situation far worse.'"
Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake noted that "even in the midst of the worst stretch of the Biden presidency thus far, the lure of misinformation has proved irresistible to its GOP critics. They’ve trafficked repeatedly in recent days in false, misleading or unproved allegations involving the Taliban hanging someone from an American helicopter, President Biden skipping a ceremony for 13 Americans killed last week, military dogs being left behind, and $80 billion in military equipment being left for use by the Taliban. With the assistance of some high-profile conservatives and even congressional Republicans, these reports have proliferated on social media."
The process really kicked into gear over the weekend when conservatives accused Biden of skipping the ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The problem was that when the allegation was lodged, the plane bearing the service members’ remains had yet to land. And when the ceremony began the next day, Biden was there. But the likes of Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, former Trump administration acting director of national intelligence Ric Grenell, a California GOP congressional candidate and others promoted the claim that Biden had been absent. They have since deleted their tweets.
More recently, Republican members of Congress promoted a video that supposedly showed the Taliban hanging someone from an American helicopter, for all around to see.
“This horrifying image encapsulates Joe Biden’s Afghanistan catastrophe: The Taliban hanging a man from an American Blackhawk helicopter,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said. “Tragic. Unimaginable.” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) promoted the same tweet, alleging it was a hanging. Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO.), Fox News personalities Sean Hannity and Gregg Jarrett, and Grenell all cited the supposed hanging, as CNN’s Daniel Dale notes.
It is unimaginable, in the sense that it doesn’t appear to have actually happened. (Cruz later deleted the tweet, acknowledging it “may be inaccurate.” The others remain up.)
As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported, the claim began with a counterterrorism expert posting the video and saying he didn’t know what was going on. A self-identified comedian soon promoted it as a supposed hanging by the Taliban, with both Cruz and Crenshaw retweeting the claim as if it were fact. It racked up more than 2 million views. The BBC fact-checked it, saying it was an attempt by a man who was very much alive to put a Taliban flag on a building.
Relatedly, some promoting that video (including Cruz in his corrected tweet) have focused more on U.S. military equipment like Black Hawk helicopters falling into the hands of the Taliban-- which is far from ideal. Often, though, the claim is that the withdrawal has left the Taliban with more than $80 billion of U.S. military equipment. Republican members of Congress have been all over this.
But Kessler again provided some crucial context. He wrote Tuesday that the dollar amount is grossly inflated-- it includes the cost of training and sustaining the Afghan military for the past two decades-- and that even the equipment left over in that total is largely unusable by the Taliban.
...Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, added Tuesday that the U.S. military had “demilitarized” many of the vehicles, including 73 aircraft. “They’ll never be able to be operated by anyone,” McKenzie said. “Most of them were non-mission capable to begin with.”
The final claim, which has cropped up with perhaps understandable gusto over the past 24 hours, is the idea that the U.S. military abandoned its service dogs in Afghanistan.
The main sources behind the claim are a photo of dogs in crates at the Kabul airport and a group called American Humane, which cited reports of dogs being left behind in a news release Monday. The New York Post promoted that release while describing the group as the “American Humane Society.”The group is not the same as the more well-known Humane Society of the United States.
The Defense Department on Tuesday denied it left dogs in crates at the airport.
“To correct erroneous reports, the U.S. Military did not leave any dogs in cages at Hamid Karzai International Airport, including the reported military working dogs,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care.”
...[M]any of the claims about the alleged abandonment of dogs have clearly gone beyond the evidence-- as have many of the claims promoted on the right amid the chaotic withdrawal. Even as the GOP has been served up a cudgel to use against Biden, it has for some reason spent its time exaggerating the situation.
We should all be cautious about such things in the fog of war, but many simply aren’t being nearly so careful-- or are deliberately spreading misinformation. And many of them are the same people who are asking you to trust them when it comes to this extremely complicated situation.