Russian Information Warfare and 9/11 Conspiracism: When Fake News Meets False Prophecy

Russian Information Warfare and 9/11 Conspiracism: When Fake News Meets False Prophecy

Michael Bennett Hotchkiss
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 31
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8304-2.ch010
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Following the September 11, 2001 (9/11) attacks, several “prophecies” circulated on the internet claiming the 16th century French seer Nostradamus predicted the crisis, leading to “Nostradamus” being the top search on Google and other search engines in 2001. Considering Nostradamus prophecies as popular eschatology, a dimension of political conspiracism, it is observed that while the hoaxes have never been attributed to a specific actor(s), the provenance of the prophecies which circulated on 9/11 are connected to a legacy of Russian Cold War-era propaganda. Additionally, several other conspiracy theories which circulated following 9/11 can be connected to Russia and its military proxy Syria. Considering conspiracy theories as a “populist theory of power,” leveraged by Russia in order to diminish American global dominance, a case is made that Russia is likely responsible for the Nostradamus hoax of 9/11 and similar “active measures” in Poland in 2010, Ukraine in 2014, and Hungary in 2015.
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On September 11, 2001 (9/11), a series of viral emails, text messages, and internet forum discussions drove interest in the term ‘Nostradamus’ to the top of results on major search engines. These communications were notable because they were not authentic prophecies written by the actual Nostradamus – Michel De Nostredame (1503–1566); yet they caused many people to wonder if he had foretold the terror attacks.

While attribution has never been ascribed for the 2001 hoax, there seems to be ample evidence today to suggest that Russia is most likely responsible.

This article will introduce how other conspiracy theories which emerged from 9/11 have been traced to Russian security and information warfare strategy. It will then examine Nostradamus prophecies within the context of popular eschatology, which is a domain of conspiracy theory (or conspiracism) primarily focused on apocalypticism, and often associated with millennial (or fin de siècle) expectations.

Using this background, the 9/11 Nostradamus social phenomenon is considered in light of the prophecies’ content which links them to Eastern European mysticism and the so-called “active measures” of the Soviet Union. Large spikes in Nostradamus interest have been observed during known periods of Russian geopolitical activity, such as in Poland in 2010, Ukraine in 2014, and Hungary in 2015.

Russia is observed to have a disproportionately high focus on Nostradamus on its domestic top-level internet domain (TLD) *.ru; and its state media organs often portray Nostradamus and similar ‘prophets’ with credulity, rather than the skepticism typically associated with Western media.

Similarly, the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings are also evaluated within this theoretical framework of altered Nostradamus prophecy and found consistent with classical Tsarist and Russian Orthodox apocalyptic mythology, such as that of ‘Third Rome’. The ‘Syrian chemical weapons false flag’ narrative of 2012 to present is also closely linked to the 9/11 conspiracy theory networks traceable to Russia.

In the end, it is considered likely that Russia leveraged Nostradamus prophecies for nationalist and revanchist political purposes; specifically, to support arguments for a war on terror in a way that suits its evolving information security and military objectives and competition with America and the West.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Nostradamus: The Latinized name of Michel De Nostredame, A 16 th century “seer” who has come to be associated with war-time disinformation and propaganda in the several hundred years since his death.

False Flag: The conspiratorial belief that government organizations orchestrate chaos or terrorism against their own citizens in order to achieve political ends.

Conspiracism: The application of conspiracy theory to the interpretation of political and historical events which can be used as a basis for power reallocation in populist politics; or the intentional deployment of such conspiracies for the purposes of social engineering a public.

Anti-Fascism: A common theme in World War II-era, Soviet-era, and current Russian propaganda which was rumored to be created by Josef Stalin and formed the ideological recruitment basis for many CPUSA front organizations.

Popular Eschatology: A closely related, overlapping concept with conspiracism which explains world events in terms of apocalyptic religious narratives.

Active Measures: Commonly used term to refer to the political warfare activities of the Soviet Union and Russian Federation which often rely on a combination of propaganda, political pressure, and sometimes covert military activity to achieve national objectives.

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