Jacob Wohl, the man in the news lately for “exposing” (falsely) Elizabeth Warren as a BDSM-crazed cougar, has a longer history of equally amusing smear campaigns than most people might realize. Wohl, a far-right activist, commentator, and conspiracy theorist, crafts seemingly constant stories about famous politicians.
In addition to the Warren BDSM allegations, he has accused Robert Muller of raping Carolyne Cass (who denied the allegations and refused Wohl’s $20,000 bribe), accused Kamala Harris’ parents of being immigrants, and seems to be delusional about who he has and has not interacted with. His schemes seem to revolve mostly around sex scandals, rape, and immigrant status. In the case of Rep. Ilhan Omar, they involve both. Wohl and Laura Loomer were actually the people to invent the idea that Omar married her brother to gain US citizenship.
Yes, Jacob Wohl is a real person who works to spread these comically preposterous conspiracies about left-wing politicians. He is not a satirist.
Jacob Wohl and His Criminal Record
It is unclear if anyone is paying Wohl to smear these politicians or if he’s doing it for personal political reasons. What is clear is that his smears rarely ever seem to go anywhere. A part of his title and online persona is a “troll” is an easy escape from responsibility when he’s caught in a lie. It is a dance of “I was only kidding!”. Nobody buys this cop-out, including the FBI. Jacob Wohl and his coworker, lobbyist Jack Burkman, are “likely under investigation” for crimes related to tampering with the Mueller investigation.
Indeed, the FBI has already charged Wohl with a set of various small white-collar crimes. It isn’t exactly relevant to his political career now, though. These crimes have to do with his previous profession in Californian financing. But his record, which involves theft and duplicity, does exemplify his untrustworthy character.
Conspricies Aren’t About What’s True
The phenomenon resembling a PCP-laced acid trip that is Jacob Wohl isn’t simply his criminal record or conspiracies. What Wohl’s actions tell us is less a story of a compulsive liar or political puppet, and more the story of what the general population cares about when it comes to its rulers.
Wohl’s ineffectiveness related to his various unsubstantiated stories is a result of his poor planning, lack of sufficient funds, and lack of would-be accomplices. It is not, however, a result of his lies being unbelievable. The most recent Elizabeth Warren scandal is only so newsworthy because people found it so hideous to believe. The rest, a Muslim woman marrying her brother, a senator and presidential candidate being from Canada (see Ted Cruz), and a high profile political actor being a sexual predator are all exceedingly believable.
His scandals, with the exception of Warren’s involvement, appealed to what the public could believe and what it wants to believe. Clearly, Wohl is targeting his tangential journalism to Republicans over Democrats. So, he must invent stories that Republicans are more likely to consider abhorrent. It is not as effective to dissuade a progressive from voting for Warren instead of Sanders by telling leftists about Warren’s supposed sexual exploits. In general, that person is probably less likely to hold a moral issue with that sort of thing than a conservative.
Wohl, an Artist of Pandering
He must advertise specifically to the moral triggers of Republican voters. This means exploiting things that are not necessarily politically effective, but effective in an emotional capacity. If Warren’s BDSM tendencies were real, they would not impact her ability to govern. They only impact her now-imagined sex life. Similarly, Omar’s marriage to her brother—again, hypothetically existent—would not affect her tenacity as a congresswoman. Kamala Harris’ (negative) immigrant status would also not be a legal or practical hindrance to her political career as a senator.
The reason Wohl’s extension of the birther conspiracy took off so well is that to many people, Omar and Harris do seem unamerican. It is the same reason conspiracy theorists were able to say President Obama was born in Kenya but not that Hillary Clinton, for instance, was born in Russia. The art of being a conspiracy theorist is matching what people already believe, to what they want to believe, to what they can believe. In the eyes of almost all Americans, Islam is a foreign religion. So, to say a Muslim woman who opposes many right-wing talking points gained legal immigrant status through barbarous and unamerican means is not outrageous in the minds of people willing to believe it.
What we gather from all of this is the stark realization of how little the American political system focuses on policy. Despite the lip-service paid to “focusing on policy” bipartisanly, there is no bite to back up this bark. Party politics is about superficial theatrics and the presence or lack of moral panic. Further, the moral panic does not even relate to character traits. What would the nature of Warren’s sexual habits reflect on her morality? Risk-taking? Depravity? It’s unclear and non-definitive. That is precisely what makes moral-panic politics such a problem. It says little about the politician and more about the people making the accusations.