Silicon Valley billionaire Reid Hoffman funded the creation of ACRONYM, the group who sabotaged the Iowa caucus results, after bankrolling voter manipulation campaigns, including the notorious online “false flag operation” in Alabama’s 2017 senate race.
by Max Blumenthal edited by O Society Feb 6, 2020
At the time of publication, February 6, the winner of the Iowa’s Democratic Party caucus is still unannounced. Senator Bernie Sanders, the clear winner in virtually every exit poll, is currently ahead in votes. Yet somehow Pete Buttigieg, a favorite of the party establishment unknown to most voters until last year, claims victory.
The force accused of sowing the confusion and disarray surrounding the first Democratic Party contest of the 2020 election season is a dark money nonprofit called Acronym.
FEC filings show the Democratic Party and Buttigieg campaign paid Shadow Inc.
The exceptionally opaque Acronym is itself created with seed money from a Silicon Valley billionaire named Reid Hoffman who financed a series of highly-manipulative social media campaigns.
The billionaire founder of LinkedIn, Hoffman is a top funder of novel Democratic Party social media campaigns accused of manipulating voters through social media. He is assisted by Dmitri Mehlhorn, a corporate consultant who pushed school privatization before joining Hoffman’s political empire.
One of the most consequential beneficiaries of Hoffman’s wealth is Acronym CEO Tara McGowan, a 33-year-old former journalist and Obama for America veteran.
Once touted as “a weapon of a woman whose innovative tactics make her critically important to the Democratic Party,” McGowan’s name is now synonymous with the fiasco in Iowa. She also happens to be married to a senior advisor to Pete Buttieg’s presidential campaign.
Back in December 2018, McGowan personally credited Hoffman and Mehlhorn’s “Investing in US” initiative for the birth of her dark money pressure group, Acronym.
“I’m personally grateful and proud to be included in this group of incredible political founders + startups Reid Hoffman and his team, led by Dmitri Mehlhorn, supported and helped to fund over the past two years,” she declared in December 2018.
At this time, Hoffman was exposed for funding Project Birmingham, a covert disinformation campaign consisting of false flag tactics, which aimed to depress voter turnout and create the perception of Russian interference in the 2017 Alabama senate election.
Hoffman and Mehlhorn also face scrutiny for their alleged operation of a series of deceptive pages, which attempt to manipulate center-right users into voting for Democrats.
Today, Acronym’s McGowan oversees a massive Facebook media operation who employs similarly deceptive techniques to sway voters.
Through youthful, tech-centric operatives like McGowan, Hoffman and Mehlhorn construct a massive new infrastructure, which could supplant the Democratic party’s apparatus.
Vanity Fair reports, “Hoffman and Mehlhorn, after all, are not just building a power base to supplement traditional Democratic organizations, they are, potentially, laying the groundwork to usurp the D.N.C. entirely.”
After fostering friendships with nationally known Silicon Valley oligarchs like right-wing libertarian Trump supporter Peter Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, is now making his name as a top sugardaddy of the Democratic anti-Trump “resistance.”
Following Trump’s election in 2016, Hoffman plowed his money into an array of new Democrat-aligned social media groups through a funding hub he founded called Investing in US.
To run Investing in US on a day-to-day basis, Hoffman tapped Dmitri Mehlhorn, a venture capitalist and political strategist already accustomed to walking the line between the corporate world and Democratic Party.
“There was no risk-capital or growth-capital arm of the resistance, and so this is what we’ve tried to build,” Mehlhorn told Vanity Fair. “Now, in terms of what this implies, it implies we are backing founders, so people who we think have big, potentially game-changing ideas.”
Mehlhorn’s career path tracks closely with neoliberal party favorites like Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker. He studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, launched his career at McKinsey & Company, and became a leading advocate for school privatization as the chief operating officer of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.
According to Mehlhorn’s bio, he sits on the board of American Prison Data Systems, a company who claims to reduce recidivism by giving prisoners tablets to study coding for five hours a day.
In a 2018 Medium post, announcing the “founders” whom Investing in US planned to back, Mehlhorn resorts to distinctly neoconservative talking points to emphasize the mission of his organization.
After quoting Ronald Reagan, he declares, “Trump and his movement, borrowing heavily from other authoritarian criminals such as Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin, promised to hollow out America’s principles in favor of his own personal enrichment.”
Pledging to “inoculate our politics and our economy against corruption, white nationalism, and mass deceit,” Mehlhorn announces major donations to “diverse groups” with names like Woke Vote, PushBlack, and an “anti-Nazi” organization known as Integrity for America.
And there, among the top recipients of support from Investing in US is McGowan’s Acronym, which Mehlhorn describes merely as a “media group.”
As The Grayzone reported, Acronym ballooned since its founding into a massive dark money operation, and even launched a Super PAC dubbed Pacronym, which rakes in money from hedge fund billionaires like Seth Klarman and Donald Sussman.
What Mehlhorn and Hoffman do not disclose to the public, however, is their support for a Democrat-aligned group, which wages a covert online disinformation campaign, such as the one aimed to influence the outcome of the 2017 special senate election in Alabama.
Project Birmingham: From New Knowledge to no knowledge
The 2017 senate election in Alabama was one of the most dramatic races of Donald Trump’s first term in office. Treated by national media as a referendum on Trump in a red state, it pitted a far-right Republican, Roy Moore, against Doug Jones, a moderate Republican who ran as a Democrat. In the end, Jones won an upset victory in a deep red state, thrilling Democrats across the country.
As Dan Cohen writes in a series of reports for The Grayzone, the outcome of the 2017 Alabama race was heavily influenced by an online disinformation operation. The campaign, which was unknown to voters at the time, is called Project Birmingham.
Silicon Valley billionaire Reid Hoffman provided $100,000 to the architects of this black ops campaign. His money pipelined through American Engagement Technologies (AET), a company run by Obama administration veteran and Democrat tech operative Mikey Dickerson.
Through AET, another firm comprised of Obama campaign veterans and national security state operatives called New Knowledge contracted to carry out the secretive voter manipulation project.
In internal documents first covered by the New York Times, Project Birmingham’s architects describe the scheme as an “elaborate false flag operation” aimed to convince voters the Kremlin was supporting Moore through thousands of fake Russian bots.
Project Birmingham went to absurd lengths to drive voters away from Moore. Its architects deployed a phony Facebook page encouraging Alabamians to vote for an obscure write-in Republican candidate, arranged interviews for the candidate in major newspapers, and even sought to arrange SuperPAC funding for his dark horse campaign.
The deeply un-democratic campaign was overseen by a cast of characters remarkably similar to those who bungled the 2020 Iowa caucus count.
Like the staff of Acronym and Shadow Inc., the New Knowledge operatives who carried out Project Birmingham are 30- and 40-something techies who worked in the Obama administration and on various Democratic campaigns. (New Knowledge rebranded as Yonder after the scandal was exposed in national media.)
The devious tactics they waged in Alabama likely influenced the outcome of the election. A leaked “Project Birmingham Debrief”claims New Knowledge’s black operations “moved enough votes to ensure a Doug Jones victory.”
After the scheme was exposed, Hoffman issued a public apology claiming he had no knowledge of the New Knowledge disinformation project. He said nothing about the Investing in US employee who worked directly on Project Birmingham, however.
This is hardly the first time Hoffman and Mehlhorn’s finger prints are discovered on a deceptive voter manipulation campaign.
Aiming to ‘mirror’ the tactics of Russia’s Internet Research Agency
Following the 2018 midterm congressional election, Reid Hoffman and his henchman Dmitri Mehlhorn faced further scrutiny in national media, this time for operating a fake news-style organization called News for Democracy.
This shady outfit managed an array of community Facebook pages initially focusing on sports, Christianity, patriotism, and other topics likely to generate interest from right-wing voters in swing states.
Yet the seemingly locally-branded cultural pages take a decisively political turn as election night approached. After racking up millions of likes, News for Democracy slipped in ads for Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke on a Facebook page targeting evangelical Christians, and attacked a Republican candidate, Senator Marsha Blackburn, on a page focused on local Tennessee sports.
While Hoffman’s right-hand man, Mehlhorn, claims to reject the spread of misinformation, he told the Washington Post through projects like News for Democracy, he aims to “mirror” the tactics of the notorious Russian Internet Research Agency troll farm.
Facebook eventually launched an investigation into the insidious manipulation ploys of Hoffman and Mehlhorn’s News for Democracy. The very tactics to land the two in hot water are remarkably similar to those Tara McGowan, the Acronym founder who disrupted the Iowa caucuses, put on display.
McGowan recently founded Courier Newsroom, a seemingly journalistic initiative that appeared to take on a more overtly partisan role with time.
Like News for Democracy, Courier Newsroom opens local news pages on Facebook with unassuming names like “The Virginia Dogwood” or “Arizona’s Copper Courier.” After seeding the pages with folksy local stories, Courier Newsroom bombards users with pro-Democrat political messaging.
As Bloomberg reports, McGowan uses “her sizable war chest and digital advertising savvy to pay to have her articles placed into the Facebook feeds of swing-state users.” McGowan then used “the feedback to find more people like them.”
One of McGowan’s dubious news pages, the Virginia Dogwood, spent a whopping $275,000 on Facebook ads during the 2018 midterm elections.
“We’ll try it, see if we can make it work, and hopefully become a permanent piece of the new infrastructure,” McGowan tells Bloomberg.
Tara McGowan’s shenanigans in Iowa can be seen in the light of a wider string of manipulations by the Silicon Valley-backed neoliberal network behind her. While Democratic Party elites blame incompetence for the fiasco in Iowa, the history of Acronym and its billionaire backers casts a disturbing shadow over the whole episode.
Behind the app that delayed Iowa’s voting results is a dark money operation funded by anti-Bernie Sanders billionaires. Its top donor Seth Klarman is a Buttigieg backer who has dumped money into pro-settler Israel lobby groups.
At the time of publication, 12 hours after voting in the Democratic Party’s Iowa caucuses ended, the results are not yet announced. The delay in reporting is the result of a failed app developed by a company appropriately named Shadow Inc.
This firm is staffed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaign veterans and created by a Democratic dark money nonprofit backed by hedge-fund billionaires including Seth Klarman. A prolific funder of pro-settler Israel lobby organizations, Klarman also contributes directly to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign.
The delay in the vote reporting denies a victory speech to Senator Bernie Sanders, the presumptive winner of the opening contest in the Democratic presidential primary. Though not one exit poll indicates Buttigieg would win, the South Bend, Indiana mayor confidently proclaimed himself the victor.
The bizarre scenario is made possible by a mysterious voting app whose origins were kept secret by Democratic National Committee officials. For hours, it was unclear who created the failed technology, or how it wound up in the hands of Iowa party officials.
Though a dark money Democratic operation turns out to be the source of the disastrous app, suspicion initially centered on former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and his Russiagate-related elections integrity initiative.
Leveraging Russia hysteria into lucrative election opportunities
While Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price refuses to say who is behind the failed app, he tells NPR he “worked with the national party’s cybersecurity team and Harvard University’s Defending Digital Democracy project…” Price did not offer details on his collaboration with the Harvard group, however.
The New York Times reports this same outfit teamed up with Iowa Democrats to run a “drill of worst-case scenarios” and possible foreign threats, but is also vague on details.
Robby Mook, the former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, is the co-founder of Defending Digital Democracy. His initiative arose out of the national freakout over Russian meddling he and his former boss helped stir when they blamed their loss on Russian interference. Mook’s new outfit pledges to “protect from hackers and propaganda attacks.”
He founded the organization with help from Matt Rhoades, a former campaign manager for Republican Mitt Romney whose public relations company was sued by a Silicon Valley investor after it branded him “an agent of the Russian government” and “a friend of Russian President, Vladimir Putin.” Rhoades’ firm contracted with a business rival to destroy the investor’s reputation.
As outrage grew over the delay in Iowa caucus results, Mook publicly denied any role in designing the notorious app.
Hours later, journalist Lee Fang reports a previously unknown tech outfit called Shadow Inc. contracted with the Iowa Democratic Party to create the failed technology. The firm is comprised of former staffers for Obama and Clinton as well as the tech industry, and was paid for “software rights” by the Buttigieg campaign.
An Israel lobby moneyman’s path to Mayor Pete’s wine cave
Shadow Inc. was launched by a major Democratic dark money nonprofit called Acronym, which also gave birth to a $7.7 million Super PAC known as Pacronym.
According to Sludge, Pacronym’s largest donor is Seth Klarman. A billionaire hedge funder, Klarman also happens to be a top donor to Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.
Though he attracted some attention for his role in the campaign, Klarman’s prolific funding of the pro-settler Israel lobby and Islamophobic initiatives has gone almost entirely unmentioned.
Seth Klarman is the founder of the Boston-based Baupost Group hedge fund and a longtime donor to corporate Republican candidates. After Donald Trump called for forgiving Puerto Rico’s debt, Klarman – the owner of $911 million of the island’s bonds – flipped and began funding Trump’s opponents.
The billionaire’s crusade against Trump ultimately led him to Mayor Pete’s wine cave.
By the end of 2019, Klarman donated $5,600 to Buttigieg and pumped money into the campaigns of Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris as well.
The billionaire’s support for centrist candidates appears to be not only about his own financial interests, but also his deep and abiding ideological commitment to Israel and its expansionist project.
As I reported for Mondoweiss, Klarman is a top funder for major Israel lobby outfits, including those who support the expansion of illegal settlements and Islamophobic campaigns.
Klarman is the principal financier of The Israel Project, the recently disbanded Israeli government-linked propaganda organization who lobbied against the Iran nuclear deal and backed the Israeli settlement enterprise.
Klarman heaped hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and the American Jewish Committee. And he funded The David Project, established to suppress Palestine solidarity organizing on college campuses across the US and battled to block the establishment of a Muslim community center in Boston.
Through his support for the Friends of David Inc., Klarman directly involves himself in the Israeli settlement enterprise, assisting the US-based tax-exempt arm of the organization who oversaw a wave of Palestinian expulsions in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
Other pro-Israel groups reaping the benefits of Klarman’s generosity include Birthright Israel, the AIPAC-founded Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neoconservative think tank who helped devise Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of economic warfare on Iran.
Klarman is the owner of the Times of Israel, an Israeli media outlet who once published a call for Palestinian genocide. (The op-ed was ultimately removed following public backlash.)
In recent weeks, Buttigieg sought to distinguish himself from Sanders on the issue of Israel-Palestine. During a testy exchange this January with a self-proclaimed Jewish supporter of Palestinian human rights, the South Bend mayor backtracked on a previous pledge to withhold military aid to Israel if it annexed parts of the West Bank.
Another recipient of Klarman’s funding, Amy Klobuchar, takes a strongly pro-Israel line, vowing to support Trump’s relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Klarman’s interest in Israel apparently led him to support regime change in Syria. In 2017, the pro-Israel billionaire’s foundation donated $100,000 to the Syrian American Medical Society, a US-based non-profit who lobbies aggressively for US intervention in Syria while partnering on the ground with foreign-backed extremists that occupied large swaths of the country.
Back home in the US, Klarman has contributed heavily tofunding the CIA Memorial Foundation. He is listed alongside former CIA Director George Tenet as a top individual contributor to the group.
Klarman’s support for Buttigieg, The Grayzone previously reported, is complimented by a surprisingly long roster of former high-ranking CIA officials, regime-change architects, and global financiers.
Battling Bernie with hedge fund money and sexism claims
Like Klarman, Donald Sussman is a hedge funder who has channeled his fortune into Pacronym. He has given $1 million to the Super PAC and was also top donor to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
His daughter, Democratic operative Emily Tisch Sussman, declared on MSNBC in September “if you still support Sanders over Warren, it’s kind of showing your sexism.”
As Democratic elites like the Sussmans braced for a Bernie Sanders triumph in Iowa, a mysterious piece of technology spun out by a group they supported delayed the vote results, preventing Sanders from delivering a victory speech.
And the politician many of them supported, Pete Buttigieg, exploited the moment to declare himself the winner.
In such a strange scenario, the conspiracy theories write themselves.