Situation Report: The Unreality of Money

The Tenuous Relationship Between Money and Reality

We’re back after a short holiday break with a special edition that will likely define the tone of this next year—all about money, and how for the last year there has been a concerted effort to break popular conceptions about what money is, how it works, and what constitutes value.

This is a huge topic, and we can’t take it all on right now. But we’ll explore some of what’s going on, what to look for, and explain why it matters. Let’s dive in.

What’s Happening Now

The assault on the ‘reality’ of money has been underway for at least a year. Just days after the January 6th insurrection, Wall Street became unusually captivated with activity in specific stocks that had been shorted by hedge funds like GameStop (GME), AMC, and Blackberry. These so-called “meme stocks” were hyped by participants in Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum on grounds that they were being unfairly targeted by hedge fund vampires with so-called “naked short selling” (selling more shares than were available) and that this was bad and unfair and blah, blah, blah. Elon Musk weighed in, deriding the entire idea of investment (“stonks”).

Importantly, a chorus of unlikely bed fellows chanted loudly in support of this so-called “populist uprising”: Steve Bannon, Ted Cruz, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ro Khanna, Newt Gingrich, Elizabeth Warren and Pat Toomey all jumped into the fray with defenses of the phenomenon. The New York Times opined, “It’s Occupy Wall Street, the sequel. It’s elements of the Tea Party, again. It’s Bernie bros and MAGA-maniacs.” This kind of “crossover episode” is always a red flag.

My hypothesis at the time, one which has been slowly validated over the last year, is that this is all bullshit kayfabe nonsense, and that a good number of the people who waded into this debate did so with the intention of ungluing Americans from their ideas about money and altering perceptions. Elizabeth Warren, of the bunch, may have been pulled into it innocently. The rest, I think, had other reasons for participating.

Patrick Byrne, the hapless insurrectionist former CEO of Overstock.com, had long had a pet obsession with “naked short selling.” Indeed, this was a frequent theme of the gold-obsessed radical libertarian right generally. Here’s Byrne obsessing about it in Barron’s in 2012.

The day after the Times’ breathless “here’s what’s really happening with this crazy situation” please-don’t-think piece, the Washington Post weighed in with its own reality-warping headline: “The GameStop stock situation isn’t about populism. It’s about whether the market is ‘real.’,” with the helpful sub-heading, “Do you think value in the market is merely socially constructed or an efficient, working system that follows certain rules and trends?”

Right. Okay, and who wrote this piece? Mikhail Klimentov, an editor for the Post’s videogame section, Launcher. Now, just who is he, you ask? Klimentov is the son of a Kremlin PR strategist named Dmitri Klimentov, who had helped place the first op-ed by Vladimir Putin into the New York Times in 1999.

LinkedIn profile for Dmitri Klimentov, since edited.

Dmitri owns a PR company called RusInfoService, which he runs with his brother Denis. Denis coordinated Carter Page’s speech at the New Economic School in July 2016. Dmitri and Denis Klimentov were among the very first ‘302’ interviews cited in the Mueller Report. So, yes, I think it’s weird that the son of a Kremlin PR strategist is opining about whether “the market is real” with the imprimatur of the Washington Post.

The assault on the ‘reality’ of money has continued unabated since the initial “meme stock” attack. As NFTs and cryptocurrencies captured the popular imagination last year (and people were seemingly “getting rich” with all manner of absurd crypto-nonsense), other “pod people” began to materialize shilling crypto. Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Koch Industries, and a variety of people connected to Peter Thiel.

In November, when Bitcoin was at its peak at around $69K, Alex Gladstein, the Chief Strategy Officer for the Human Rights Foundation, became a particularly vocal Bitcoin shill, claiming it as a miracle cure for any and all human rights abuses, while also singing its praises as a solution for what ails the United States. I smelled a rat; sure enough, Thiel funds HRF and is linked to Quillette, where Gladstein publishes his impassioned defenses of crypto.

Other “money is fake” stories are popping up. This one in Vox also cites the “meme stock” episode, as well as a bunch of other things that might make one question the nature of financial reality, and this oh-so-helpful insight, “Crypto feels like a scam. So does a lot of the economy.” A whataboutist Tu Quoque fallacy, this one feels familiar to anyone who has interacted with propagandists over the last few years. I continue to smell rats.

New crypto and NFT shills keep emerging. Much has been made of Matt Damon’s pathetic and disappointing television spots for ‘crypto.com,’ but this is just the plain vanilla symbol of our slow descent into financial madness.

Nina Turner, the populist “left” firebrand associated with the Bernie Sanders campaign and president of the group “Our Revolution,” last week came out in support of NFTs (“How NFTs can EMPOWER Black and Brown Artists”).

Kanye West, a long-time crypto supporter (“The True Liberation of America Could be Bitcoin”), has been revealed to be a client of Mercury Public Affairs, a right-leaning PR firm. West hid this fact by running his contract work for his failed 2020 presidential bid through a Mercury-controlled shell company, Millennial Strategies. Nina Turner worked with Mercury Public Affairs to form her own Public Relations firm, Amare Public Affairs. Here’s the press release from the Mercury website.

And Melania Trump, the tragic and sad former First Lady, last week launched a series of insane NFT projects, to much public consternation. The impulse is to call all such projects “grifts” (as the Washington Post does here) but I believe this is a grievous mistake.

While, yes, there are people who are doing this stuff to enrich themselves, that betrays the true purpose of the operations, which are 1) to undermine institutions, democracy, and the financial system, 2) to be self-sustaining and/or profitable. The money-grabs are part of this second goal. Ascribing these operations to mere greed downplays the threat they pose to societal stability.

Ohio must be Pro-God, pro-family, pro-bitcoin. Got it. Will try to avoid visiting.

Meanwhile, Steve Bannon and Boris Epshteyn have launched “FJB Coin” (you can guess what that stands for) and Madison Cawthorn has been promoting a similarly-themed product called “LGB Coin.” I continue to smell rats.

Cryptocurrencies and the slide towards war. In Almaty, Kazakhstan this week, the government resigned as buildings burned. Why? If media reports are to be believed (and, well, they’re being routed through Russia, so maybe not) it’s because the price of gas was too damn high in the western regions of the country. And reports indicate that the price of energy was high because cryptocurrency miners, having been shut down in neighboring China, had decamped to Kazakhstan. And they were using so much energy that the price of gas went through the roof. This, in turn, has kept Putin dealing with… whatever this is… in his sphere of influence. We might only hope that other capitals in the region develop similar sentiments in the coming weeks.

If Putin was hoping for a simple standoff with NATO prior to a triumphant march into Ukraine, it looks like his plans have been substantially complicated. While Kazakhstan unrest may not alone disrupt his ability to focus on Ukraine, this may at least slow him down. Inexplicably, the US is making noise about reducing troop counts in Eastern Europe. Let’s hope this is part of some kind of five-dimensional chess match and not the overt weakness it might appear to telegraph.

This piece about Putin’s actual demands of NATO is, I think, one of the best summaries of the situation, even if it’s a painful read.

Most people have no idea where cryptocurrency came from or what it’s really about. This week, I wrote a Twitter thread that went viral (~2 million views so far), discussing the origins of cryptocurrency and its ties to 20th century gold fetishism, anti-Semitism, Eugenics, and race science. Various people have found my take on this illuminating, while others have tried to somehow argue against the airtight logic of the history. The bottom line is that it’s impossible to separate the cryptocurrency projects of today from its libertarian origins, because it will always function more like a country club than a democracy. That is, until the “demos” is brought into the designs. That’s explicitly not a concern of current projects. Until that changes, such projects will always be tied to libertarian and eugenicist philosophy.

And if you thought things couldn’t get any stupider or more toxic in the crypto space, think again. Vice reports on a new crypto startup that will allow people to bet on the outcomes of live, ongoing lawsuits using crypto coins. If ever there was a thing that should be preëmptively crushed, it’s this. How is anyone supposed to expect justice if crypto bros are betting on the outcome of their cases? Kill this with fire.

What May Happen Next

I believe that Steve Bannon is among those leading a concerted influence campaign to dissociate people from the idea of money. This was an important component in the adoption of fascism in Weimar Germany, and Bannon has repeatedly said that he borrows heavily from the 1930’s fascist playbook.

As my friend Steve Hassan has documented, a key part of cult indoctrination is to “unfreeze” the target’s perception of reality, introduce alterations, and then “re-freeze” it again. This is being attempted at scale, and aided —wittingly or unwittingly — by a range of people from across the political spectrum. The goal is to create a popular sense that money is completely unreal, and then replace it entirely.

Many people will disagree with me in this assessment, however I’ve spent a massive amount of time immersed in these networks and their goals. For a very quick primer on why I harbor this hypothesis, I recommend reading (or listening to) these two books about Peter Thiel, who also seems to be deeply embedded in this effort. Conspiracy (2018) and The Contrarian (2020). You’ll immediately see why what I’m saying is credible. Expect more and more endorsements of crypto and NFT projects from Democrats, like we saw from Nikki Fried this week.

And I recommend you check out the new site, Netaverse, to understand the connections between Thiel and the Justice Democrats network, which includes Ocasio-Cortez and Khanna, who puzzlingly turned up in the meme stonk peanut gallery almost a year ago.

My opinion, which you can take or leave: everything we are experiencing now with respect to cryptocurrency is theater designed to advance the fascist geopolitical agenda and is the product of multiple interacting influence and intelligence operations. This accompanies a run-up to possible conflict in Ukraine and Taiwan, and other operations against the United States. These operations running in parallel offer the best opportunity for maximum impact, both psychologically and economically.

This piece by Hamilton Nolan (The Ticking Bomb of Crypto Fascism) captures a shard of the zeitgeist:

Here is what will happen when hundreds of thousands of younger investors
are smashed by the crypto crash: They will be radicalized. This will not be
experienced as simply a decline in prices, because crypto represents much
more than a simple investment to its most fervent adherents -it represents
a way out of the American trap. It represents the existence of opportunity, the
possibility of economic mobility, the validation of the idea that you, a regular,
hard working person without connections, can go from the bottom to the top,
thanks to nothing but your own savvy choices. When that myth is shattered,
disillusionment with the American system will follow. Unfortunately, given
the realities of the moment, these newly disillusioned and radicalized and
angry and broke people are far more likely to turn to fascism than
to socialism.

The turn to crypto was itself libertarian and fascist. When these investors with dashed hopes become disillusioned, it is not the already-rejected “American” system they will resent, but rather they will be inclined to radicalization even beyond the fascism which they have already embraced.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the January 6th attack on our democracy. I wrote an op-ed to mark the occasion. Please read and share it, if you agree.

Thanks to my colleagues and friends Steve Hassan, Monique Camarra, Wes Clark, Jr. and Jack Bryan who endorsed this important message. The influence of the oil and gas industry must be curbed, and we must properly regulate cryptocurrencies. Our democracy, and democracies worldwide, are at stake.

We’re interested in the major historical trends that shape current events. Tips? Ideas? Drop us a line via email or Twitter DM. Please note: this analysis is historical and political in nature; it is not intended as financial advice and should not be taken as such. If you enjoy my work, please consider making a donation to World Central Kitchen, to support their work feeding people in times of need.

For an even deeper dive, check out my series, The Big History Behind January 6th and my audio series Oil, Gold, Crypto, and Fascism: How We Got Here and How to Fix It.

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Dave Troy

Dave Troy

Investigative journalist addressing threats to democracy. Public speaker, writer, podcaster. @davetroy on Twitter. See davetroy.com for contact info.