A brief history of “Mind Wars”

Media coverage is intensifying daily about the investigations by US Senate committees and special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government. All of which suggests that some of the evidence which the US House Committee on intelligence, FBI and Mueller’s Grand Jury have turned up will be in the public domain, soon. Pending any evidence coming to light that hostile state-actors interfered in Brexit as well, my aim in these articles is to ask: how would they do it, and why would they do it?

– Read part one: The war of all against all
– Read part two: From Russia with non-linearity

In this third part, I continue to look at the ‘how?’ One unusual, and in some ways disturbing, episode in the development of disinformation warfare links US military PSYOP to Sammy Davis Jnr, Ernest Borgnine and Jayne Mansfield, ‘Weird Tales’ author Clark Ashton Smith, film-maker Ray Harryhausen and LA’s goth scene in the Eighties.

Long ago, in the galaxy far away of 1977, years before the US military establishment became familiar with concepts like “reflexive control” and “active measures”, it was tentatively developing its own strategies for warfare conducted by non-military means.

We know about a joint US-Israeli cyberwarfare capacity due to the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, beginning in 2010 when UN inspectors noticed that Iranian centrifuges were breaking repeatedly. However, in the reluctance of American intelligence and military agencies to publicise their disquiet over Russia’s “cyber” capabilities ahead of the 2016 US Presidential election, you can sense a residual wariness about revealing comparable strategies that the US and its allies may have themselves.

The American equivalents of “non-liner warfare” would be added to secret technologies including directed energy weapons, satellite networks linked to anti-missile defences, and a range of military aircraft including the legendary Aurora, rumoured in the Eighties and Nineties to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 6, the X-37B “space bomber”, and the RQ-180 UAV “drone”, believed to be used for penetrating enemy surveillance and to have a range of 1,400 miles and a 130 ft wingspan, making it the largest UAV in the world. Needless to say, Russia would love to acquire these technologies. Keeping the existence of these and other programmes from Trump and his inner circle must be a constant headache for the Pentagon, CIA and other US government agencies.

The US government’s development of “mind control” techniques is mired in a combination of the deliberate spreading of bullshit (the documentary ‘Mirage Men’ reveals the extent of the official programme promoting UFO conspiracy theories in order to cover up real programmes like Aurora); the organically occurring bullshit of conspiracy theories on the internet and talk radio; and US government secrecy covering up crimes, ethically questionable practices, and projects so goofy it’s barely credible that they were ever funded in the first place. Some of this is documented in books like Jon Ronson’s ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’ (also a film), including CIA experiments with LSD and other psychotropic drugs, and projects to create ‘paranormal weapons’ using telekinesis, telepathy, and “remote sensing” (all of which definitely don’t work and are definitely bullshit).

Not all of this is tragically funny, though. We can laugh at CIA-collaborator Louis Jolyon “Jolly” West of the University of Oklahoma who in 1962 used a dart rifle to shoot a 7000-pound bull elephant named Tusko with 297 mg of LSD in one buttock to see if the elephant would become violent (Tusko died soon after, so… not so funny after all). From 1950, CIA’s Project BLUEBIRD (later Project ARTICHOKE) involved researchers using a variety of psychoactive substances – including LSD, heroin, marijuana, cocaine, PCP, mescaline, and ether – to develop “truth serums” and interrogation techniques. Over 7,000 U.S. military personnel were dosed with LSD, without their consent, at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, causing many to develop mental illnesses such as depression, and in some cases leading to their suicides.

Subsequent related projects such as the Phoenix programme in the Vietnam War and MKUltra have spawned a vast literature of conspiracy theories, as well as clear evidence of genuine official cover-ups; an almighty mash-up of verifiable facts and pernicious calumny, second only to the ‘UFO disclosure movement’.

The culture within the US government of non-consensual scientific experiments, and suspicions that people who “know too much” (or won’t cough up funding) are then blackmailed, were inspirations for John Frankenheimer’s bleak 1966 thriller starring Rock Hudson, ‘Seconds’. Whatever it is that’s being covered up, and then endlessly speculated on – usually in a lurid fashion – about these government programmes is a secret that keeps itself.

At the Ackermansion, 1970. Seated are Ray Harryhausen and George Pal.

At this point in our story, onto the stage of an epic shadow theatre of rumour, pseudo-scientific babble, libelous falsehood and deliberately spurious mythology, steps the figure of Eddie Munster-impersonator and retired US army Lt. Colonel Michael Aquino. Often said to be the model for ‘paranormal investigator’ Otho, played by Glenn Shadix in Tim Burton’s 1988 ‘Beetlejuice’, Aquino is a hate figure on the internet akin to a US-version of Jimmy Savile. A few reliable things can be said about him on the basis of statements he’s made himself. His background is in military PSYOP (psychological warfare). In 1975, Aquino split from the Church of Satan, established in 1966 as a deliberate “midnight spookshow” pastiche of a ‘Satanic’ religion, designed to piss off the moral majority and as another kooky passtime for beatniks in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

Poster for Anger’s ‘Lucifer Rising’ (1972) starring Chris Jagger, Marianne Faithfull (who’s also in the image at the top of this article).
Its founder, the late Anton LaVey, a former musician, claimed to have been at various times a roustabout in carnivals and to have worked as a ‘cage boy’ in a circus big cat show (both claims were untrue). What can be said safely of LaVey’s origins is that at one time he played the Wurlitzer at the ‘Lost Weekend’ cocktail lounge, and he partied a lot with Science Fiction writers like George F Haas, Robert Barbour Johnson, Clark Ashton Smith – one of the “big three” writers, along with H P Lovecraft on ‘Weird Tales’ magazine – Fritz Leiber, and Hollywood-bohemians Forrest J Ackerman, and Kenneth Anger (see a pattern here?) In 1975 Aquino formed his own ‘Temple of Set’ following a split within LaVey’s followers, when La Vey tried to get out of financial difficulties by charging for higher initiations in the Church.

In October 1982 Aquino performed his “Stifling Air” rituals at Wewelsberg Castle, Himmler’s Waffen SS HQ in Büren, Westphalia. It’s unclear what Himmler had in mind for Wewelsberg and the “consecration vault” in the base of the castle, where the 1982 ritual was held.

Far from being Satanists, Himmler’s branch of National Socialism – and the Third Reich in general – were more preoccupied with junk ethnography and archaeology than with summoning demons from Hell. Himmler, along with Rudolph Hess, was one of the few senior Nazis interested in the kinds of esotericism linked to runes and ancestor worship which had thrived in Germany in the Twenties, like Ariosophy and the völkisch movement. However, occult groups and freemasonry were progressively banned by the Nazis from 1935 onward. (Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s formative book ‘The Occult Roots of Nazism’ effectively quashes the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ pop historical take on Hitler as being obsessed with black magic and alien spacecraft. In fact, as Goodrick-Clarke argues, Hitler barely read books at all and like most senior Nazis only tolerated ‘black magicians’ and other cranks so long as they perpetuated his narrow-minded idea of German ethnic identity).

Aquino has spoken at length about his aims in carrying out this ritual, explaining it in terms of a kind of personal, archetypal vision quest conducted with his acolytes, including members of Eighties LA goth band ‘Radio Werewolf’. At LA’s Whisky a Go Go, the band’s singer Zeena Shreck (LaVey’s estranged daughter) performed Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ in full ‘Isla, She Wolf of the SS’ costume. This can be taken both as an indication of where the “coven” were coming from – high camp performance art to attract tabloid attention rather than a sincere commitment to the core tenets of National Socialism – and evidence that wearing a frog badge and shaving the sides of your head while doing an ironic Hitler salute flanked by reality TV “star” Tila Tequila doesn’t mean you can claim “firsties” on heil hipster assholism. Art school dropouts were fixated on tasteless “shock” humour and irony long before most 4chan and ‘alt-right’ losers were born.

While it’s safe to say that it’s highly unorthodox for a US army officer to hold any kind of soirée in the castle of one of America’s former enemies, let alone a ‘left-handed’ magical ritual in a castle that belonged to the head of the SS, like LaVey’s hokey bald head and forked devil beard, the Wewelsberg ritual goes with Michael Aquino’s ‘Adams Family’ haircut and his Uncle fester eyebrows: all of these things owe less to the Hermetic secrets of the ancient Egyptians and black magic than they do to old black and white horror movies, and 1960s television.

Similar Satanic panic has turned the British equivalent of ‘The Temple of Set’, ‘The Process Church of The Final Judgment’, into a hardy perennial for conspiracy theorists. Yet as Neil Edwards’s documentary ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ shows, the daft – and, quite frankly, stupid – uses of Nazi insignia and “devil worship” imagery by the nascent ‘Process Church’ cult in swinging Sixties London had more to do with performance art and dotty hippies trying to shock people than it did with ritual human sacrifice. John Waters, Genesis P-Orridge, and George Clinton all have illuminating things to say about ‘The Process Church’ as a counter cultural influence. Aquino, at least as a public thinker and spiritual philosopher, deserves to be seen more as a ‘outsider’ degenerate artist like GG Allin and a counter cultural huckster like Kenneth Anger, than as a mass-murdering criminal, like Himmler.

The term “con artist” features the word “artist”. The stage magician working the “magic is real” trick wants you to know that he can get away with making you feel, if not think, that it may – in fact – all be true.

In a wonderful interview that you can watch in its entirety thanks to YouTube, Orson Welles – a stage magician as well as genius film-maker – tells David Frost the story of his meetings with old-school mind readers and “mentalists”, fakes fakirs and sayers of the sooth, who retired as millionaires. They told Welles that the occupational disease for fake mind readers is when they believe in their “powers”. It was called “becoming a ‘shut-eye'”, meaning they weren’t even bothering to cold-read the sucker or “rube” any more.

What Aquino and LaVey had in common with Welles was showmanship. It’s a quality shared with other highly influential charlatans who’ve theorised about controlling public opinion in various ways. Other things that the mind control generals have in common is: more than a passing interest in “magic”, cults, weird conspiracy theories and counter cultural religions; as well as in Science Fiction, like Vladislav Surkov; and in performance art, like Surkov and Roger Stone.

While it may seem bizarre for otherwise credible figures in the US military establishment to be committed occultists, Aquino isn’t a lone weirdo. One of the founders of the Rocket Propulsion Lab was Jack Parsons, a follower of Alistair Crowley. Parson’s estranged friend, L Ron Hubbard – who went onto to found the ‘Church’ of Scientology – may have borrowed aspects of Dianetics “auditing” from military interrogation techniques, when he was stationed as a US Naval Intelligence officer in the South Pacific between 1941 and 1942.

Some Scientology ‘auditing’ procedures bear a striking similarity to the ‘confusion’ techniques in the KUBARK CIA interrogation (torture) manual which was revealed in a 1999 Freedom of Information Act disclosure. “The confusion technique is designed not only to obliterate the familiar but to replace it with the weird” the manual explains. Some Dianetics ‘Training Routines’ use deliberate confusion in ‘auditing’ between ‘left’ and ‘right’, then replacing them with ‘centre’ (which sounds eerily like the term of abuse ‘centrist’ used on social media by self-identified supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s version of ‘Hard’ Brexit’). Hubbard was, above all else, a jackdaw. He took ideas from wherever he could find them – from pulp Science Fiction, self-help psychology, esoteric and occult studies – Hubbard would use anything in order to accumulate more followers and wealth.

Appropriately, in the introduction to his self-published book of his 1977 theoretical paper for the US army on “mind wars”, Aquino includes a link to his ‘Star Wars’ fan fiction.

In 1977, Aquino begins the paper with this startlingly humane yet terrifyingly authoritarian set of statements, which are part ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ and part Chomsky:

‘Essentially you overwhelm your enemy with argument. You seize control of all of the means by which his government and populace process information to make up their minds, and you adjust it so that those minds are made up as you desire. Everyone is happy, no one gets hurt or killed, and nothing is destroyed.

Ordinary warfare, on the other hand, is characterized by its lack of reason. The antagonists just maim or kill each other’s people, and steal or destroy each other’s land, until one side is hurt so badly that it gives up [or both sides are hurt so badly that they agree to stop short of victory]. After such a war there is lasting misery, hate, and suffering.

The only loser in MindWar are the war profiteers: companies and corporations which grow fat on orders for helicopters, tanks, guns, munitions, etc. Consequently what President Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the “military/industrial complex” can be counted upon to resist implementation of MindWar as the governing strategic conflict doctrine.’

While the “MindWar” paper goes on to preempt Surkov’s and Gerasimov’s ideas with almost uncanny precognition (maybe the authors went into the future to plagiarise the Russian psychological warfare doctrines… or maybe that’s what they want you to think they did) it’s easy to dismiss a document by someone who is either at the centre of every black bag, false flag US government PYSOP operation in recent history, or is a relatively well-meaning and harmless philosopher-fraud, depending on who you choose to believe on the internet.

What’s striking about the 1977 paper, however, is how similar to the present-day ideas of the Russian government and military it is. This makes Aquino’s ideas worthy of wider and more serious consideration.

‘MindWar must reach out to friends, enemies, and neutrals alike across the globe – neither through primitive “battlefield” leaflets and loudspeakers of PSYOP nor through the weak, imprecise, and narrow effort of psychotronics [Aquino’s footnote: ‘a term applied to concepts such as ESP and “remote viewing” by some government agencies in the 1970s-80s, possibly to make them sound more “scientific”‘] but through the media possessed by the United States which have the capabilities to reach virtually all people on the face of the Earth.

[… ] Like the sword Excalibur, we have but to reach out and seize this tool; and it can transform the world for us if we have the courage and the integrity to enhance civilization with it. If we do not accept Excalibur, then we relinquish our ability to inspire foreign cultures with our morality. If they then desire moralities unsatisfactory to us, we have no choice but to fight them on a more brutish level.’

Stirring stuff. While it may sound unhinged, it’s no less pseudo-mystical and rabid than many of the utterances of the gay-hating Orthodox theologians and frothing-at-the-mouth Russian ultra-nationalists who inspire Vladmir Putin’s worldview. Though light on the details of the “how” (the author is very keen on the idea that human physiology is a manifestation of, and is influenced by, electromagnetic fields, which is total crap) the Aquino paper includes observations that are remarkably prescient of the Stone/Surkhov approach, of shaping or creating future mass-thinking through the power of performance art, persuasion and spectacle.

‘[MindWar’s] power lies in its ability to focus recipients’ attention on the truth of the future as well as that of the present. MindWar thus involves the stated promise of the truth that the United States has resolved to make real if it is not already so.’

This overturns the prevailing – and now knackered – PR theories that presided over the last three decades; many of which were articulated, if not formulated by, Sarah Brown, Gordon Brown’s wife: that PR is influencing “key opinion formers”, and that “perception is reality”. “MindWar” is a glimpse of the world of Trump, Brexit and the Ryanair school of media management.

Both conventional US politics and corporate PR are obsessed with “optics”: “how will this look?” Trump doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks about him. If he wants to ramble on live TV about an imaginary moral equivalence between Nazis and the peaceful protesters a Nazi rammed his car into, killing Heather Heyer, then Trump will ramble.

To Trump the reality TV star, to Bannon and his fellow travelers like Sebastian Gorka – and Stephen Miller, still in the Whitehouse – President Trump’s celebrity exists to create the future that they want, not the one which they know is real or ethically sound.

What Aquino’s ideas have in common with Surkov’s and Bannon’s is that they haven’t adopted the Sarah Brown “perception is reality” PR mantra. Reality is reality; the reality they believe in, the reality they want you to believe in. In this sense they’ve “become a shut-eye”, the term that according to Orson Welles, vaudeville mind readers used to describe members of their fraternity who believed in their own “powers”.

The latter day masters of the dark arts of mind control are only able to imagine that they have magic powers because of the descent of what passes for public discourse in the 21st Century into irrationality, and atomised affinity groups of conformation bias.

This is the modern equivalent of what happened in Europe and North America in the early Thirties. But whereas the prevailing trends of popular authoritarianism in the Thirties were centred on paramilitary marches and racism – with some conspiracy theories on the side – the 2017 far Right, who buy their flaming torches at Walmart, are more heavily focused on ‘Illuminatus’ fantasies about George Soros, ‘globalism’ and “false flags” than they are on the manifest destiny of the white race.

We were never going to see the resurrection of Jurassic Nazis, wings, talons and all – with their marching bands, polished boots, little medieval LARPing daggers, and scary silver skulls on their caps – any more than the world was ever likely to witness Nigel Farage leaping out from behind a velvet curtain in SS uniform, crying “haha, I fooled you all! Yes, of course we’re the bad guys!”

What we have instead is Islamaphobic bird flu. Sometimes it evolves into antisemitism, transphobia – rants about women in computer gaming, or Black Lives Matters protestors, or cultural Marxism – but as each wave of pandemic hate mutates and spreads around the world, it invariably defaults to an illogical mistrust and hatred of Muslims.

The unremitting mutation and dispersal of bullshit also depends on the fixation of alienated nerds not only with shock humour, irony, “hot takes” and “winning” on the internet, but with a weird dynamic which it’s quite hard to define but which closely resembles the part of the global population in the English-speaking world connected through the internet forming a giant brain; but a giant brain that’s addicted to its own capacity for rage. The world soul is getting high on its own dopamine and bellicosity.

In the fourth and final article in this series I’ll look at the RAND corporations’ research in the 1980s into “NetWar”, the theories behind “hybrid warfare”, and the “why” of the war of all against all… why are state actors including Russia engaging in this new kind of networked disinformation war?

  • Read part four: Earth vs Miscalculated Outrage