The dangers of disinformation in a compelling novel

By Ande Jacobson

Teri Kanefield is many things. She’s a former appellate defense lawyer who helped those who couldn’t afford representation. She’s an educator who taught at the high school and college level. She’s an author who has published informative works of nonfiction as well as compelling novels. And most recently, she’s tirelessly working to educate the public in hopes of helping people understand the political and legal minefield that has been thrust upon us by the rising authoritarian threat. She’s paraphrased Max Weber in numerous blog posts and social media commentary regarding the three types of political authority. Those include:

  1. Traditional authority: Defined by long-held cultural patterns. These vary depending on the culture and can include religious or monarchical rulers.
  2. Charismatic authority: This is the foundation for a strongman or a dictator. This authority stems from one who captures the attention of the population, often through legitimate means, then often abuses that power.
  3. Rational-legal authority: This authority is based on a system of laws which is fundamental to a democracy.

Most recently, Kanefield has given her regular readers a gift. After researching and writing her upcoming book on disinformation, she wanted to do more. Seeing the damage that disinformation has done, and following the extraordinary saga that has taken the U.S. from being a world-leading democracy to the brink of an authoritarian takeover, she’s written a short novel that chronicles the path we’ve seen unfold over the last half century. She’s framed it within a fictional construct surrounding the confessions of a true believer who is faced with the horror that he helped unleash when it comes back to threaten his freedom and his life. To date, Kanefield released the story, entitled Memoirs and True Confessions of a Disinformation Warrior, in three lengthy posts on her blog, initially linked from the end of her 18 March 2023 entry about Trump’s imminent arrest. The pieces of the novel can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

She starts with a disclaimer:

While this is loosely based on true events and well-known people, I freely changed details and telescoped events, and the main plot is entirely invented. This should therefore be read as fiction.

Generally, I used real names for historical figures who are no longer living.

Some of the true events to which she alludes include a few of the more outrageous fictional scandals cooked up by the GOP through the use of disinformation. They have caused serious harm to certain individuals and to the country at large. The disinformation tactics used were perfected by the Russians over a long period of time, and they have been freely applied in the U.S. both by the Russians and by those who’ve studied their methods. As comes out in the story, the advent of the internet, and in particular social media, has intensified the effects of various disinformation campaigns.

The story starts in the 1950s and runs through much of the Trump presidency. Although Trump’s alter ego is painted slightly less flamboyantly and named differently (Arnold Pike), he’s very recognizable as a Real Estate CEO and the president albeit seriously unqualified for either position.

The main protagonist is a true believer, Bob, who became a disinformation warrior. He is arrested at JFK without warning and placed into what appears to be a prison. Bob is a 60ish year old man with a slight build, and he works as a lawyer for a shady organization – Pike’s organization. He’s a staunch conservative and has been since childhood. He first engaged in some less than honest political manipulation to help get his BFF elected class president in high school, though at the time his friend was none the wiser. As he entered college, he was worried about the direction the country was taking, specifically what he saw as the liberalization of society and the dangers that presented, and he was willing to do almost anything to stop where we were going as a nation. Since his arrest, he received death threats and had a coercive meeting with his boss to sign a confession and take the fall for something he didn’t do, so he’s even more on guard.

He wants to talk to a top flight journalist to get his story out. He needs to warn people about what’s happening and how the entire public has been manipulated. While he doesn’t want it known that he was key to that manipulation, he deeply regrets having done it despite the ills that he still thinks liberalism represents. The journalist wants to know his story from the very beginning, starting with his childhood, and it explains a lot. His description of his childhood, his college and law school days, and his entry into Pike’s world show how even a true believer can be further corrupted. He only started to question his actions when his close friends started pulling back from what was happening. He wasn’t the first to recognize they’d gone too far, but once he did, he had to figure out how to get out cleanly. He admits to the journalist that he’s not completely innocent in all of this, only that he didn’t do what he’s been accused of with respect to his incarceration. It slowly becomes clear how he was setup, and what he must do to get out and save not only his own life, but those of his wife, a close law school buddy, and his buddy’s wife. There are a couple of interesting twists in the story and one big reveal that readers likely won’t see coming.

Kanefield weaves many of the scandals we’ve seen through the Trump years seamlessly into the story providing the background for how they happened along with their fallout. The big one, i.e., the insurrection, wasn’t included because the story stops before Trump/Pike leaves office. The story also brings home the real danger of disinformation. Truth is the casualty, or rather the public’s acceptance of the truth. Kanefield’s description in the story of how the Russian disinformation campaign is accomplished is terrifying and very real. It explains how flooding information sources with noise can overwhelm even the most diligent fact finders. It also explains how in the face of such mayhem, people can become disinterested, or worse, radicalized. Both responses are dangerous to keeping a democracy alive.

We are certain to see more stories from the Trump era showing just how off the rails we have gone in large part because of successful disinformation campaigns. The outstanding question is still whether we’ll restore and strengthen our democracy or lose it. In the story, our antihero recognizes that despite his fears, democracy is better than the alternative. The question is whether the American public will work hard enough to keep democracy alive.

Memoirs and True Confessions of a Disinformation Warrior is a quick and compelling read, and like so many of Kanefield’s regular blog and social media posts, helps us understand more about what’s happening.


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