Titushki (or titushky) are paid street thugs sent to act as provocateurs, who provoke clashes or destroy property to tarnish peaceful protests and blame the left for “violence.”
The concept is from Ukraine, where it was first employed by later ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. He hired street hooligans in civilian clothing to perform illegal acts including street beatings, carjackings, kidnappings, and murders. Their purpose was both to intimidate the opposition against his government and create pretexts for arresting pro-democracy protestors.
During the events of Euromaidan in 2013-14, Yanukovich’s Party of Regions paid titushki about $100 per day to blend into peaceful crowds and start picking fights. After violence broke out, mass arrests would disperse the gatherings and round up protestors — and the titushki were again used as either “witnesses or “victims” for the show trials of these ginned up “crimes.”
While we wring our hands in the United States over whether or not such a strategy is even conceivable, the erstwhile President of Russia has been running this playbook out in the open in Ukraine and Eastern Europe for some time. With help from Propagandist-in-Chief Vladislav Surkov, Putin has leveraged the open secrets about the psychology of crowds we learned in the late 19th and early 20th century to stir up emotional antagonisms within the political spectrum — to predictable results.
It’s no accident that fascism is on the march in America. The conditions have been brewing for some time, predominantly since the Conservative movement began breaking away more militantly from democratic principles and towards authoritarian philosophy (elite rule by force: preferably invisible force via economic hegemony for the middle and upper classes, and violent force / the carceral state for The Undesirables) in the late 1970s and 1980s. All Putin had to do was make use of available prevailing conditions and tools — the rise of social media in the 2000s counterintuitively blew a gaping wide security hole in the American persuasion landscape that Cold War Soviet operatives of the 1960s would scarcely have believed.
Today, as in parts of Europe between the world wars, the U.S. has partisan gridlock within The Establishment sector of politics; this exacerbates the impatience with and contempt for the status quo (aka the Liberal world order) that in some sense naturally congeals at the far right and far left margins of the political spectrum as a simple consequence of the Normal Distribution (the Median Voter Theorem captures this tendency quite succinctly). Under such conditions, an influence campaign like the one Russia wielded against the United States during the 2016 election season was tasked merely with tilting the playing field a little further — a task that platforms like Facebook and Twitter were in some sense fundamentally engineered to accomplish, in exchange for ad revenue.
New World Order? Be careful what we wish for
“Both Italian and German fascists had done their best to make democracy work badly. But the deadlock of liberal constitutions was not something the fascists alone had brought about. ‘The collapse of the Liberal state,’ says Roberto Vivarelli, ‘occurred independently of fascism.’ At the time it was tempting to see the malfunction of democratic government after 1918 as a systemic crisis marking the historic terminus of liberalism. Since the revival of constitutional democracy since World War II, it has seemed more plausible to see it as a circumstantial crisis growing out of the strains of World War I, a sudden enlargement of democracy, and the Bolshevik Revolution. However we interpret the deadlock of democratic government, no fascist movement is likely to reach office without it.”
I still see a lot of denialism on this point about the DNC email hacks from the far-left (or the alt-left, depending on your favored terminology), which is a bit devastating to see as it essentially parrots the pro-Russian ideology of the far-right (both the alt-right and the neo-libertarian flavors). Green Party candidate Jill Stein is an especially pernicious promoter of this myth that Vladimir Putin is a poor, innocent, peaceful world leader who is being bullied by NATO (when in fact, Russia has been the aggressor since its annexation of Crimea in 2014).
DNC email hacks forensic evidence
Two separate Russian-affiliated adversaries were behind the attacks, according to a post-mortem by cyber-security firm CrowdStrike when the news of the intrusion first broke in early June, 2016. This has since been confirmed by other independent security firms including Fidelis, Mandiant, SecureWorks, and ThreatConnect as well as corroborated by analysis from Ars Technica and Edward Snowden.
At this point the US intelligence community is confident enough to formally accuse Russia of involvement in the hacks, and are currently investigating other breaches of voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois as well as in Florida — the key battleground state from the 2000 election that handed GWB an unfortunate victory. Elsewhere, there is ample evidence of Putin’s extensive disinformation campaign being waged online (including several experiences I have myself witnessed), which is the continuation of a long through line of wielding propaganda as a tool from the former head of the KGB.
The Russian Mafia State: How the former USSR has become a sclerotic kleptocracy under the rule of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, who vowed revenge on the West after his station in Dresden, East Germany was overrun by angry citizens during the month leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.