The Swiftboating and Smearing of Lt-Col. Alexander Vindman at the Hands of Trump’s Right-Wing Allies

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“It is a crime to poison the minds of the meek and the humble, to stoke the passions of reactionism and intolerance, by appealing to that odious antisemitism” the French novelist, playwright, and journalist Emile Zola, who played a key role in the exoneration of the falsely accused and convicted Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, wrote on January 13, 1898, in an open letter called “J’Accuse.”

Fifteen years ago, during the 2004 presidential race between the incumbent George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, the term Swift-boating entered the political lexicon. A bunch of pro-Bush army veterans calling themselves “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” came up with a tale worthy of Geoffrey Chaucer; John Kerry had lied about and/or inflated his Vietnam War record, and was not the war hero as he was being portrayed. Before the Kerry campaign knew what hit them, they were back on their heels. Some would credibly argue that the success of Swiftboating put the kybosh on the Kerry campaign.

Facing impending impeachment, Trump and his Republican/right-wing allies are going back to their most enduring strategies; the smearing and vilification of their opponents. This time, the target is lieutenant colonel Alexander Semyon Vindman, a decorated army veteran, whose Jewish family fled the Soviet Union when he and his brother were young boys.

Vindman, who serves as the Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council, recently gave damning testimony before a congressional impeachment inquiry committee.

As The Jerusalem Post recently reported, Vindman “was one of the aides listening in on President Donald Trump’s phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.”

Now, just as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth viciously attacked Kerry’s character, Vindman’s motives and character are under attack, from what The Independent called the “dark corners of Trump’s social media following, ” to the White House itself.

An added aspect of the attack is the questioning of Vindman’s loyalty to this country, “lean[ing] in to the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty.” “Suspicions of dual loyalty and treachery have followed the Jews over the centuries along the path of their migration and exile—from North Africa to Spain, from Spain to France and Germany, from Germany to the Russian Empire and beyond,” Maxim Matusevich, Director of the Russian and East European Studies Program at Seton Hall University recently wrote in Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Those of us who hail from the former Soviet Union know all too well what such suspicions often entail.”

The Intercept’s Robert Mackey pointed out that “Julia Ioffe, an American journalist whose family also fled the Soviet Union, observed on Twitter that “Laura Ingraham accusing Alexander Vindman, a Soviet Jewish refugee who became a decorated U.S. Army veteran, of dual loyalty is, well, anti-Semitic”.

Without producing a shred of evidence, Trump called Vindman a “never Trumper” ; John Yoo, author of the infamous opinion that put the stamp of approval on the Bush administration’s pro-torture policy, told Fox News Channel’s Laura Ingraham that Vindman could be guilty of “espionage” (Yoo has since walked back that outrageously incendiary comment); and, “former GOP Rep. Sean Duffy, and now CNN Pro-Trump contributor, told CNN’s John Berman that Vindman seems to be more concerned with Ukraine’s military defense than with America’s foreign policy interests,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

In what can only be termed a strange and awkward column in the Boston Herald, Peter Lucas actually compared Iran-Contra conspiracist Oliver North to Vindman. He praised North for falling “on his sword to protect the president [Reagan] he worked for,” while writing that Vindman, who received a Purple Heart after he was wounded in Iraq, “used his to figuratively stab the president in the back”.

Much of the attack on Vindman first surfaced, as The Independent reported, when “right-wing commentator Jack Posobiec retweeted a lengthy thread by a Florida man, [retired Army officer, Jim Hickman] — a fan of Q-Anon, a fringe conspiracy about the ‘deep state’— claiming to have witnessed Mr Vindman ‘bash America’ in a conversation with Russian officers during a joint military exercise in Germany in 2013.” The unsubstantiated accusation was retweeted by Donald Trump Jr.

Posobiec has made a career out of promoting fake news, including the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that high-ranking Democratic Party operatives were involved in a child sex ring in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria.

In this era of wall-to-wall Trump-initiated toxicity, it is hard to project how far he and his allies – both on the alt-right, and in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate – will go to defame and attempt to destroy Vindman. After all, with little to no evidence, the Swiftboaters did in John Kerry.

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About author Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His Conservative Watch columns document the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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