Stuck in a ‘deep state’ thriller

Talk of con­spir­a­cies, long the stuff of ac­tion films, casts a shadow across our cul­ture.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Jef­frey Fleish­man

We are in a deep state time of con­spir­a­cies and in­vis­i­ble hands. Or so it seems.

Pres­i­dent Trump tweets about vast plots against him. Fox News sees con­niv­ing spies and Wash­ing­ton bureaucrats hatch­ing covert schemes to bring down Amer­ica. Or­wellian podcasts muse on the end of days and “Why Big Brother is smil­ing.” And Steven Sea­gal, the mar­tial arts ac­tor and Rus­sian apol­o­gist, has writ­ten his own deep state novel, with a fore­word by Trump’s fa­vorite sher­iff, Joe Ar­paio.

The deep state is a po­tent, if shad­owy, nar­ra­tive in our bit­ter cul­tural wars. It is likened to a dark force, un­know­able and un­seen, ma­nip­u­lat­ing our na­tional fate. It brims with the omi­nous aura of a “Twi­light Zone” episode, an in­tri­cate labyrinth un­fold­ing be­yond our grasp. Its most com­mon def­i­ni­tion is a cadre of mil­i­tary, in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials work­ing as a par­al­lel power in­side the gov­ern­ment to con­trol pol­icy.

There are other mean­ings too, de­pend­ing on one’s sus­pi­cions and po­lit­i­cal lean­ings. In his novel, “A Del­i­cate Truth,” John le Carre casts the deep state as an ever-mul­ti­ply­ing le­gion of “non-gov­ern­men­tal in­sid­ers from bank­ing, in­dus­try and com­merce.” Sea­gal’s book, “The Way of the Shadow Wolves: The Deep State and the Hi­jack­ing of Amer­ica,” co-au­thored with Tom Mor­ris­sey, a for­mer U.S. mar­shal, sug­gests the threat of wars and im­per­iled economies em­anate from a net­work that en­com­passes “one of the world’s largest churches and one of its most pow­er­ful fam­i­lies.”

It gets more sin­is­ter. The open­ing sen­tence in Jeremy Stone’s “The Deep State: The Novel” be­gins as such: “Deep in the dark of night, deep in a waste­land be­yond the pry­ing eyes of civ­i­liza­tion, hid­den deep in the vast re­cesses of clan­des­tine wilder­nesses, lies ‘The Deep State.’ ” Yikes.

Not to be out­done, Lt. Col. Robert Magin­nis has pub­lished “The Deeper State: In­side the War on Trump by Cor­rupt Elites, Se­cret So­ci­eties, and the Builders of an Im­mi­nent Final Em­pire.” The cover is a swarm of black clouds and light­ning en­gulf­ing the na­tion’s Capi­tol. Mean­while, in the Mid­dle East, Bri­tish spook Max Eas­ton (Mark Strong) is nav­i­gat­ing ex­plo­sions, double-crossers and kaf­fiyehs in Epix’s new series “Deep State.”

A Mon­mouth Univer­sity

poll of 803 adults this year found that 80% think the U.S. gov­ern­ment is spy­ing on them, and about 47% be­lieve a deep state “prob­a­bly ex­ists.” It’s yet an­other in­di­ca­tion that since Trump’s elec­tion, and the White House’s en­su­ing scan­dals, no­tions of the deep state have crept from the echo cham­bers of left- and right-wing fringes to­ward the main­stream.

Most Amer­i­cans, how­ever, still have a hazy idea of a con­cept that is more preva­lent in coun­tries like Egypt and Pakistan, where gen­er­als and in­tel­li­gence men pull levers be­hind the scenes. Satirists have their own no­tions. “The Late Show” host Stephen Col­bert said the deep state is “what you achieve af­ter do­ing three bong hits and watch­ing ‘Planet Earth.’ ”

“The deep state is like po­lio,” said Sa­man­tha Bee in a mono­logue last year in her show, “Full Frontal.” “It ex­ists, just not in Amer­ica right now.” She added: “Turkey and Egypt have shad­owy gov­ern­ment as­sas­sins. Amer­ica’s sin­is­ter junta is an in­sub­or­di­nate park ranger tweet­ing that cli­mate change is real.”

Deep state fears gnaw at the anxiety and para­noia of the day. We are in a post­truth, al­ter­na­tive-fact na­tion driven by so­cial me­dia and di­vi­sive politics. Al­le­ga­tions of fake news have be­come a dan­ger­ous mo­tif, keep­ing us un­sure and off bal­ance, which is where con­spir­a­cies, real and imag­ined, thrive. Our un­ease is of­ten tied to larger agen­das, from Face­book’s shar­ing of per­sonal data to Ed­ward Snow­den’s leaks of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion de­tail­ing how the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency runs sur­veil­lance on Amer­i­cans. They move like chimeras, fleet­ing, gone un­til an­other rev­e­la­tion arises.

Vil­lain­ous plots have long fas­ci­nated the na­tion’s imag­i­na­tion. Reams of books and es­says have ex­plored al­leged con­spir­a­cies be­hind the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Kennedy, the stag­ing of the 1969 moon land­ing, the mil­i­tary’s coverup of UFOs, and a num­ber of re­vi­sion­ist-minded doc­u­men­taries af­ter 9/11, in­clud­ing a YouTube sen­sa­tion that pur­ported the at­tack was an “in­side job” by the gov­ern­ment, which brought down the Twin Tow­ers in a con­trolled de­mo­li­tion and re­moved bil­lions of dol­lars worth of gold.

Trump’s pres­i­dency is the ideal can­vas for out­landish sce­nar­ios. It reads as a mys­tery-thriller-comic book mash-up, with more sub­plots and skulk­ing char­ac­ters than a Shake­speare tragedy. The in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the White House, in­clud­ing Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence with the 2016 elec­tion, have given us spies, dossiers, bank ac­counts, Paul Manafort, al­leged FBI schemes, ho­tel meet­ings and a “se­duc­tress” ar­rested in Thai­land who claims to have “miss­ing puz­zle pieces” on Trump’s con­nec­tions with Moscow. The pres­i­dent and his sup­port­ers say these are the con­jur­ing of Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion holdovers out to un­der­mine him.

“What’s un­fold­ing about the deep state is so dra­matic, so shock­ing, but at the same time so very pre­dictable, given ev­ery­thing we have now been un­cov­er­ing for over 18 months,” said Fox News talk show host Sean Han­nity, whose hy­per­bole sounds as if fired from a can­non. “We are now see­ing the cracks in the deep state, in the dam, it’s about to burst.”

It’s as if Trump is Julius Cae­sar, en­e­mies all around. That’s the gist of “The Plot to De­stroy Trump” by Theodore Mal­loch with a fore­word by Roger Stone, a Trump ad­vi­sor and long­time po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive. The pres­i­dent’s crit­ics, in­clud­ing fired FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, say Trump is spin­ning fic­tions and sum­mon­ing imag­i­nary bo­gey­men. “I hear this term ‘deep state’ all the time,” Comey said re­cently on CNN. “There’s no deep state.”

But its specter is en­dur­ing. It is “the big story of our time,” writes Mike Lof­gren, a for­mer con­gres­sional staff mem­ber, in his book, “The Deep State.” “It is the red thread that runs through the war on ter­ror­ism and the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of for­eign pol­icy, the fi­nan­cial­iza­tion and dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion of the Amer­i­can econ­omy, the rise of a plu­to­cratic so­cial struc­ture that has given us the most un­equal so­ci­ety in al­most a cen­tury, and the po­lit­i­cal dys­func­tion that has par­a­lyzed day-to-day gov­er­nance.”

It makes one feel like a char­ac­ter in a thriller: Ja­son Bourne try­ing to peel back the cur­tains to see the demons ar­rayed against him; Wash­ing­ton Post re­porters Bob Wood­ward and Carl Bern­stein wad­ing through the Water­gate scan­dal in “All the Pres­i­dent’s Men”; in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst Joe Turner in “Three Days of the Con­dor” run­ning from the CIA af­ter his col­leagues have been mur­dered; Ed­ward Snow­den in “Snow­den” ask­ing an­other in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst who the U.S. is spy­ing on. The an­swer: “The whole king­dom, Snow White.”

Sife Elamine Fox Net­works Group

MARK STRONG stars in the new Epix series “Deep State” as a for­mer spy pulled back into ser­vice amid trou­bles in the Mid­dle East.

Jim Alt­gens As­so­ci­ated Press

CON­SPIR­A­CIES have abounded over the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

Paul Zim­mer­man Getty Im­ages

FOX NEWS’ Sean Han­nity con­tin­ues to sound the alarm on a deep state and its var­i­ous par­tic­i­pants.

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