Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Matt Osborne, a left-leaning activist from Florence, AL, tried to boost Doug Jones in Senate race by falsely suggesting Roy Moore wanted a statewide alcohol ban

Matt Osborne
A left-leaning political operative was part of a project to boost Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama's 2017 U.S. Senate election by concocting a social-media campaign that suggested Republican Roy Moore favored a statewide alcohol ban, according to a report yesterday at The New York Times.

The campaign, called "Dry Alabama," is the second Russia-style disinformation effort that might have helped Jones beat Moore in a tight race. It is the first such effort to be tied to an Alabama political operative, meaning the public might now be less inclined to believe Jones' claim that he was unaware of any digital skulduggery on his behalf.

The Dry Alabama story hits close to home because I've known one of its central figures, Florence-based writer and activist Matt Osborne, for close to 10 years. I've never met Osborne in person, but he has been in our home, under trying circumstances. About a week after my arrest in October 2013, Osborne contacted my wife, Carol, and came to our house (with a female companion named Melissa Brewer) and took photos and videos of the area in our basement where a Shelby County deputy named Chris Blevins beat me up and essentially kidnapped me by hauling me to jail for a five-month stay -- all with no mention of a warrant, any criminal charges, or his reason for being on our property, not to mention inside our home.

In October 2017, less than two months before the Jones-Moore election, Osborne contacted me via Facebook messenger and indicated he was connected to the Jones campaign -- and that I should retract a post I had written about the race. I did not retract the post, and it now appears Osborne was less-than-honest with me. Going back to read that communication today -- after reading The Times' report on Dry Alabama -- it's hard to believe Doug Jones did not know what Osborne and Co. were up to with their online schemes. (More about my communications with Matt Osborne, and his visit to our house, in upcoming posts.)

Osborne, who describes himself as a "writer, researcher, moving into the consultant space," acknowledged to The Times that he participated in Dry Alabama:

Matt Osborne, a veteran progressive activist who worked on the project, said he hoped that such deceptive tactics would someday be banned from American politics. But in the meantime, he said, he believes that Republicans are using such trickery and that Democrats cannot unilaterally give it up.

“If you don’t do it, you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back,” said Mr. Osborne, a writer and consultant who lives outside Florence, Ala. “You have a moral imperative to do this — to do whatever it takes.”

Osborne has written for a number of progressive Web sites -- Crooks and Liars, Breitbart Unmasked, Deep State Nation, and his own Osborne Ink, among others. In a dubious example of journalism, which some might label self-serving propaganda, Osborne wrote a piece at Crooks and Liars yesterday on the Dry Alabama effort, claiming his actions were not unlawful. From the article, titled "Swinging a US Senate Race in Alabama, Kremlin-Style Isn't Illegal, But It Should Be,"  which Osborne wrote himself:

. . . the 'Dry Alabama' campaign used real quotes from allies of Moore, who is an outspoken teetotaler supported by anti-alcohol campaigners, to build the impression that a vote for Moore was a vote against beer. We did not have to use any 'fake news' because there was so much real news to work with.

“I don’t think anything this group did crossed any lines,” says Beth Becker, one of the individuals who took part in the Dry Alabama campaign. In fact, we worked very hard to discern the legal lines and stay inside them. . . ."

Yet it is not obvious that any laws were actually broken. Neither Congress nor the Alabama legislature has shown much ability to write effective legislation in the social media era. From my perspective, the real 'crime' here is that political disinformation campaigns are not illegal.

Political disinformation campaigns are not illegal? There does not appear to be universal agreement on that.  Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate the matter and determine if any federal laws were broken. Doug Jones himself has called for an inquiry that goes beyond Congress, straight to the FEC and the U.S. Justice Department.

Where is this story headed? That's hard to say because it seems to be evolving by the day. From The New York Times report:

The discovery of Dry Alabama, the second so-called false flag operation by Democrats in the fiercely contested Alabama race, underscores how dirty tricks on social media are creeping into American politics. The New York Times reported last month on a separate project that used its own bogus conservative Facebook page and sent a horde of Russian-looking Twitter accounts to follow Mr. Moore’s to make it appear as if he enjoyed Russian support.

The revelations about the first project, run in part by a cyber-security company called New Knowledge, led Facebook to shut down five accounts that it said had violated its rules, and prompted Senator Jones to call for a federal investigation. There is no evidence that Mr. Jones encouraged or knew of either of the deceptive social media projects. His spokeswoman, Heather Fluit, said his legal advisers were preparing to file a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

Consider this section from The Times' report, which raises all kinds of questions:

The first of the Alabama efforts was funded by Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who apologized and said he had been unaware of the project and did not approve of the underhanded methods. The second was funded by two Virginia donors who wanted to defeat Mr. Moore — a former judge accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage girls — according to a participant who would speak about the secret project only on the condition of anonymity and who declined to name the funders.
Doug Jones
The two projects each received $100,000, funneled in both cases through the same organization: Investing in Us, which finances political operations in support of progressive causes. Dmitri Mehlhorn, the group’s managing partner, declined to comment on whether he approved of the tactics he had helped pay for. But after the Times report in December, he acknowledged, in a post on the online forum Medium, a “concern that our tactics might cause us to become like those we are fighting.” He declared that “some tactics are beyond the pale.”

Another organizer of the project, according to two participants, was Evan Coren, a progressive activist who works for the National Archives unit that handles classified documents. He did not respond to requests for comment. Beth Becker, a social media trainer and consultant in Washington who handled Facebook ad spending for the Dry Alabama page and the project’s other Facebook page, called Southern Caller, said in an interview that a nondisclosure agreement prohibited her from saying much about the project.

But, she added, “I don’t think anything this group did crossed any lines.”

Ms. Becker might be whistling past the graveyard with that last comment. In fact, our impression is that left-wing activists do not want to confront perhaps the most important questions hovering over the Alabama disinformation story:

(1) Were crimes committed?

(2) Did Doug Jones know about underhanded efforts to help him win?

I have information that might shine light on one, maybe both, of those questions.

(To be continued)


Anonymous said...

If I had been in a position to advise Matt Osborne, my advice would have been, "Don't talk to the New York Times!"

Anonymous said...

Osborne's "they are cheating, so we have to cheat, too" excuse probably isn't going to play very well in Peoria -- or anywhere else, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

If this kind of election meddling is lawful, why has Robert Mueller been wasting his time?

Anonymous said...

So much for liberals holding the moral high ground.

Anonymous said...

@7:53 --

Osborne didn't just talk to the NY Times, he spilled his guts. Sheesh.

legalschnauzer said...

Strong report from U.S. News & World Report, with key details:

The separate "Dry Alabama" campaign was launched in the final two weeks of the race with the thought that associating Moore with an alcohol ban would hurt his chances with moderate, business-focused Republicans, the Times reported.

The Alabama efforts each received $100,000 through Investing in Us, an organization which backs political operations in support of progressive causes, according to the report.


Anonymous said...

If Mr. Osborne thinks this is legal, maybe he needs to acquaint himself with election-fraud law.

legalschnauzer said...

Good piece from the LA Times:

"Online disinformation isn't just for Russia anymore"


Anonymous said...

Osborne seems to be saying Democrats "have a moral imperative to commit election fraud."

I'd say Mr. Osborne's moral compass needs to be taken to the shop for an adjustment.

Anonymous said...

Message for Matt Osborne:

If I wanted to vote for cheaters, I'd be a Republican.

Anonymous said...

I like Crooks & Liars but they look horrible running that sham article that Osborne wrote.

Gee, I'm sure Osborne wasn't acting in a self-serving way on that.

Anonymous said...

I figured you and Matt Osborne were comrades.

legalschnauzer said...

@9:19 --

We sing pretty much from the same political hymnal. We both have fought the crazed Ali Akbar Blogger Club crowd on the right. I generally have held a favorable impression of Matt over the years, and as I note in the blog, we have communicated several times, although I've never met him in person.

My impression of Matt started to change when I learned in fall 2017 that he was aligned with the Doug Jones campaign. I know from firsthand experience that Jones is a "bastard coated bastard with bastard filling" -- one of the worst human beings ever to enter my orbit.

I thought it was bad news when I learned of Matt's alignment with Jones, and this most recent news seems to confirm that.

Anonymous said...

In NYT article, Osborne pretty much admits to coming up with the idea for Dry Alabama. Not sure I would admit to that . . .

Mr. Osborne, who said he helped conceive the Dry Alabama project and wrote for the Southern Caller page, said the effort began in conversations with acquaintances from his years at the annual Netroots Nation progressive gatherings. They discussed what tactics might help Mr. Jones’s chances and zeroed in on tensions within the Republican Party over whether drinking should be permitted in Alabama, where the number of dry counties had dwindled.

“Business conservatives favor wet; culture-war conservatives favor dry,” he said. “That gave us an idea.”

Anonymous said...

@10:08 --

That Osborne came up with this scam in discussions at Netroots Nation makes me wonder about Netroots Nation. Is it a gathering for liberals to sit around and see if they can be as sleazy as conservatives?

legalschnauzer said...

@8:02 --

You are right to wonder about Netroots Nation. It grew out of the Daily Kos scene, which is a dysfunctional vat of left-wing garbage. To be sure, there are some intelligent, ethical people who post and comment at DK, quite a few in fact. But there is an underlying batch of frauds who are out to push their narrow agendas and really have no interest in pushing progressive ideals.

That is particularly true of so-called liberal lawyers on the site. For the most part, they are interested in protecting the status quo in the legal field, with no regard for justice issues at all.

I learned a long time ago that anything associated with DK is best avoided.

Anonymous said...

Ha. The fact that Jeff Giesea, the general of the Confederacy of Dunces Meme Brigade, reposted this is hysterical. Did Trump know about Jeffy's paid troll army? Did Trump know about the Russian trolls? And BTW, we thought the righties said that the trollins and fake Trump supporters didn't affect the outcome of the election???

But SERIOUSLY. Any of those paid trolls who spread DISinformation, such as Posobiec, Cernovich, Baked Alaska, Giesea, are some kind of nervy saying a THING about this-- particularly since we have no idea who paid the "Twitter fabulous" but we know who paid for this one.

legalschnauzer said...

Hysterical? You don't sound like you think it's funny. You sound unhinged.

Anonymous said...

I find it very compelling that Osborne and his co-conspirators were only concerned (And I even have my doubts about that) about the "legality" of their acts but never seemed to worry or have any concerns about the "morality" of their acts...so typical of today's progressive liberal deceiving democrats. And their comments about what they did should be unlawful and calling for investigations is just also a part of their prepared tactics in case the cat ever got out of the bag...they all should be arrested on election fraud and deception charges.

e.a.f. said...

I've seen these types of scare tactics used in British Columbia since I was a kid. Nothing new with any of it. However, it does not do anything to promote democracy.

people who engage in this type of activity aren't progressive. People mistake them as such because they may not like homophobic, racist individuals, but in a very small minded state with very "conservative" values, being "progressive" could mean anything. We ought to remember even "progressives" can be crooks. You can be pro choice, anti racist, pro medicare for all, free university education, higher min. wages and still be an unethical shit head. Trust me I know. I've seen a lot of "progressive" politicians in Canada, who were really unethical. You can see it all around the world because for some people the means justifies the end. that is never a good thing as we have seen over the course of time and history.

Anonymous said...

So my question is this...why isn't the state attorney general and the U.S. Justice Dept. investigating this open/shut case of election tampering including fraudulent deceptive tactics that was freely admitted by the rich democratic donors and their paid activists? Isn't this exactly what the dirty dems have Mueller investigating President Trump for going on the last two years now?

e.a.f. said...

A. 1:38 p.m. No one in an elected position is going to investigate this because most politicians "indulge" in these activities in the U.S.A. One wouldn't want to upset the apple cart and have to give up the money, the easy way of winning, etc. American politics is amongst the most vile I've seen in a country which likes to take the position they are "moral leaders and all that stuff".