Do you ever wonder how people who once shared your worldview have come to think child mutilation, censorship, and the weaponizing of government institutions are no big deal?

I have been reading Amy Knight’s Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder.

Born in 1946 and educated at the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, Knight is a Soviet and Russian history scholar. Her specialty is the KGB. I was first introduced to her work while doing my master’s in Russian. I have great respect for Knight’s scholarship.


This book, however, has been something of a disappointment thus far because Knight seems to accept the whole Trump-Russia Collusion narrative which conveniently began making headlines on the eve of Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States in January 2017.

While the book was published in September 2017 and therefore prior to the revelation that the Steele Dossier was a complete fabrication, I had nonetheless expected a strong measure of skepticism from someone of her intellect, training, and experience. Indeed, Knight even published a piece in the tabloid The Daily Beast indicating that she not only believed the Dossier to be reliable, but that it led to the assassination of Russian FSB General Oleg Erovinkin. Perhaps not since Hugh Trevor-Roper declared the counterfeit Hitler Diaries to be authentic has a respected academic been so thoroughly duped.

There is a lesson here.

Knight is, by the very nature of her academic field, more than a little acquainted with Marxist tactics. You simply cannot understand Russian history without understanding the role of the secret police and propaganda in distorting reality in the minds of both domestic and foreign populations. So, it is surprising to me that she doesn’t see that those same tactics are being used in the United States to undermine the whole of our social and political fabric. It is an indication of just how powerful a systematic and all-pervasive propaganda can be.

My guess is Knight, as an outsider to Russia and its political machinations, could more easily see and critique the corruption of that country. She was clear-eyed and rightly dubious in her analysis of what the Russians put forward as the truth on any given subject. How, exactly, could she so comprehensively miss what’s happening in her native country?

That it is happening in her native country is probably the reason Knight can’t see it. She is now an indirect target and recipient of American political propaganda via almost every major news source.

Moreover, to have expressed skepticism, even mild skepticism, about the Russia collusion charge would have risked the publication of this book to say nothing of the fact that it would have required an extensive defense. She simply couldn’t have said, “The evidence for Trump’s collusion with Russia appears thin and of questionable reliability” and expect to get away with it. The path of least resistance was to bow to the prevailing paradigm and move on to the chief subject of her book: Putin.

This is a snapshot of how a regime achieves near-complete cooperation in accomplishing its political aims. People at all levels of society self-censor and collaborate, even if only passively.

I doubt many of my readers are familiar with Amy Knight, much less have read her. Knight’s work is typically academic in nature, not Clancy-like thrillers. I only mention her because if someone like Amy Knight, who is something of an expert in these matters, can be seduced by the steady drip of propaganda, anyone can be.

In his classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer, who was a correspondent in Germany during the 1930s and therefore an eyewitness to Nazi tactics, makes this fascinating personal observation about the seductive power of propaganda:

I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it.

 No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but … one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.

This resonates with my experience in modern America and Europe. The Left, with a propaganda machine that Joseph Goebbels would envy, has just the same cynical disregard for the truth as the Nazis. History and facts that are inconvenient are tossed aside or distorted. How do we avoid being taken in by it?

Blaise Pascal wrote: “When everything is moving at once, nothing appears to be moving, as onboard a ship. When everyone is moving towards depravity, no one seems to be moving. But if one man stops, he shows up the others who are rushing on, by acting as a fixed point.”

For Pascal, a Christian convert, the Fixed Point was Jesus Christ. Anyone who regularly engages with the biblical teaching of that faith will likely recognize that Marxism is antithetical to Christianity, and he will know that the sexualization of children is a sure way to invite God’s wrath. (Matt. 18:6)

Whatever your fixed point, you need one. Without it, under the influence of the right socio-political cocktail that makes a given thing both possible and popular, you are capable of any wickedness.

Anyone who has “tried to make contact with a mind which had become warped” by “incessant propaganda” knows that it is almost impossible to cut through the fog of disinformation. But it does happen.

My friend the late Christopher Hitchens famously broke with the Left after 9/11. Like the recent shooting in a Nashville Christian school where media implicitly blamed the victims for this evil “transgender” woman’s outrage, Christopher rejected the Leftist view that America was at fault for the attack.

Democrat feminist icon Naomi Wolf recently broke with Democrats over vaccines. She even wrote a powerful apology to conservatives.

These were their “red pill” moments. They are also anomalies. Most will go along with whatever policies, no matter how nonsensical or evil they may be, simply because breaking with their own tribe requires uncommon courage. I mean, who would have thought five years ago that children would be mutilated by government sanctioned irreversible sex-change surgeries and a whole segment of America would either celebrate it or dismiss it as no big deal?

Beware. The power of propaganda is real.

Larry Alex Taunton is an author, cultural commentator, and freelance columnist contributing to USA TODAYFox NewsFirst ThingsThe AtlanticCNN, and The American Spectator.  In addition to being a frequent radio and television guest, he is also the author of The Grace  Effect and The Gospel Coalition Arts and Culture Book of the Year, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. You can subscribe to his blog at

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