Conspiracy 101: What Is The Deep State?

What Is The Deep State And Does It Really Exist?

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This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Conspiracy 101

In a recent opinion piece (I can’t call it an article as it’s not based on fact), former UK Prime Minister and loser to a Lettuce Liz Truss wrote on the Fox News Website[1]I’m a former British prime minister who believes the West is doomed unless conservatives do this:

Because the left doesn’t just fight at the ballot box and seek a mandate for their agenda when it is election time; their agents are only too active in public and private institutions and what we have come to know as the administrative state and the deep state.

I saw this for myself first hand as they sabotaged my efforts in Britain to cut taxes, reduce the size of government and restore democratic accountability.

Some outlets have seen this a Truss going “Full Trump”[2]Independent: Liz Truss endorses Trump by claiming ‘West is doomed’ unless right-wingers save it. And speaking of the former President of the United States. He’s on the campaign trail at the moment and is quite fond on mentioning the deep state in his speeches:

Original Tweet: Aaron Rupar on Twitter

So with at least multiple political figures around the world blaming the “Deep State” for all their issues, let’s take a look at what the “deep state” is and why it’s such a dog whistle right-wingers.

What Is The Deep State?

The mystical “Deep State” is one of those spurious ideas that seems to change meaning depending on the situation and who is mentioning it. More often than not, people who use the phrase do not even define what “Deep State” means to them or the context that they are using it in.

The modern idea of the “deep state” is an Americanism that refers to the machinations of various government agencies (Think civil servants, CIA, NSA, Secret Service[3]Politico: Why Steve Bannon Wants You to Believe in the Deep State etc.) who operate on their own agendas which may be at odds with Government policy[4]The Economist: What Is the “deep state or the person claiming that the “deep state” is out to get them[5]Washington Times: Donald Trump unfazed by ‘deep state’ suspicion.

Trump is quite fond of blaming the “deep state” for various leaks or issue that have come out which damaged him or made his position look week.

For example, at the start of the pandemic, Trump baselessly claimed that a deep state faction at the FDA was slowing down vaccine roll-out[6]AP: AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s baseless claim of ‘deep state’ at FDA:

Trump blaming in FDA as a deep state organisation

Original Tweet: Donald J. Trump

But Trump’s fascination with the “deep state” didn’t start recently, he’s been tweeting about it in earnest since 2018 (although his his first mention of it seems to be from 2017[7]Twitter: Donald J. Trump) he was the President so in theory in charge of all of these “deep state” organisations.

One of Trump's first tweets mentioning the deep state

Original tweet: Donald J. Trump

Even members of Trump’s inner circle can’t escape being lumped in with the “deep state”. Take Allina Habba for example: she was (or still is if you listen to her) Trump’s lawyer and famously said she could “fake being smart”[8]Independent: Trump lawyer Alina Habba’s past comments on faking being smart resurface as she struggles through defence.

This comment came back to bite Habba after her disastrous turn as Trump’s defence lawyer in his defamation case against E. Jean Carroll[9]Business Insider: E. Jean Carroll judge bench-slaps Trump’s attorney 14 times over basic lawyering in a single day of testimony. Because she was viewed so poorly, even in Trump supporting right-wing media, some people began to claim that Habba was installed as Trump’s defence attorney by the “deep state” to ensure he lost[10]RawStory: ‘Incompetent’ Alina Habba dubbed ‘deep state plant to destroy Donald Trump’ in new theory[11]UPROXX: MAGAs Are Somehow Convinced That ‘Incompetent’ Trump Lawyer Alina Habba Must Be A Government Plant To ‘Destroy’ Him.

Tweet stating Alina Happa is part of the deep state

Original Tweet: UltraMagaGirl

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But then again she might also be Taylor Swift so I don’t know what’s going on

Tweet stating Alina Habba might be Taylor Swift

Original Tweet: Debbie Hemenway

So essentially the “deep state” is something that runs counter to your own goals or narrative. It can be a single person, an entire organisation or a combination of the two.

So, the “deep state” is just something magical people use to apportion blame for something to someone else, right?

Well no, not really.

The thing is, the Deep State does exists – in certain countries that is, politicians in America, the United Kingdom and other countries have just co-opted it as an excuse for being terrible at their jobs.

When Did It First Come About?

While the “deep state” seems like a relatively new concept that’s become a modern buzzword thanks to Donald J. Trump, it actually dates back further than you might realise (even though I am sure that Trump would like to take credit for its invention).

In America, the beginnings of “deep state” politics started to take hold during the 1950s thanks to the Red Scare and McCarthyism [12]FT: The CIA, the FBI and the myth of America’s Deep State, this was further exacerbated by the assassination of J.F.K and suspected CIA involvement[13]The Conversation: There’s a conspiracy theory that the CIA invented the term ‘conspiracy theory’ – here’s why, the CIA toppling governments in places such as Venezuela[14]VenezuelaAnalysis: The Nature of CIA Intervention in Venezuela and missions such as the Iran-Contra Affair[15]History: Iran-Contra Affair all carried out with seemingly no knowledge of the sitting President.

So with all these CIA shenanigans and suspected Communists everywhere, is there any surprise Americans think that there’s a shadow government? No. Does that mean a shadow government actually exists in America? Also no[16]The Atlantic: There Is No American ‘Deep State’, at least not in the way that they use the term to mean.

But as mentioned earlier, the Deep State does exist in some parts of the world.

Some historians think that the Deep State originated in Turkey, or Türkiye to use the correct spelling, during the fall of the Ottoman Empire[17]War On The Rocks: How the Deep State Came to America: A History where a government within a government was set up when it became apparent the Empire was no longer a viable option.

During World War I, the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany so when the Allies were victorious the Ottoman lands were carved with the British Empire taking control over a large area of the Middle East and Allied troops taking control of Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) in order to maintain peace[18]WorldAtlas: Why Did the Ottoman Empire Fall?.

The Ottoman Empire had been rapidly losing territory before WWI and a group of disgruntled paramilitary members formed a group known as the Young Turks[19]Britannica: The Young Turks and, along with organised criminals, worked to seize power from the remaining Ottoman leaders[20]JSTOR Daily: The Turkish Origins of the “Deep State”. After the formation of Türkiye, some pockets of these groups from the Young Turks splintered off and established yet another clandestine network dedicated to their own “ultra-nationalist, anti-Islamic, anti-liberal, anti-Kurdish and, ultimately, anti-democratic” agenda[21]Atlas Obscura: The Turkish Deep State: What Life Is Like When the Conspiracy Is Real.

This secret group is still in operation today with representatives with the Turkish Government and Mafia style organisations running operations to further their own machinations[22]Reteurs: Turkey deepens probe of suspected “deep state” deaths[23]Aljazeera: Timeline: Turkey’s ‘deep state’[24]Forbes: Turkey’s Regime Is Paralyzed By A Mob Kingpin’s Revelations: The Strategic Implications[25]The Washington Post: OpinionTurkey’s infamous ‘deep state’ is back in the spotlight.

Interestingly, Türkiye’s President Erdogan promised to get rid of the Deep State much like Trump did. And much like Trump, Erdogan seems to be better off with a Deep State (real or not) being in place.

Why Are Right Wing Politicians So Caught Up On Using The Deep State?

The person who blames the “deep state” is seeking to deflect blame over their own faults, inadequacies and misdeeds on to a nameless, faceless and unchallengeable entity so that they do not lose face in front of their followers.

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This straw man argument gives people like Truss and Trump (as just two examples) someone to get their supporters to rally behind without having to deal with a specific person/department and then have provide proof that they’ve been wronged.

Having a nameless “deep state” actor also helps them to avoid any legal repercussions that might come from their statements.

The “deep state” speaks to conspiracy theorists[26]NPR: Opinion: Why The Term ‘Deep State’ Speaks To Conspiracy Theorists because it allows them to blame someone else for their lack of control which, as we’ve seen in our Conspiracy 101: Why Do People Believe In Conspiracies article, is a cornerstone in most conspiracy theory follower’s lives.

A true “Deep State” means that it’s not your fault that you can’t get a job or have a bad living situation, it’s them that’s causing it by pulling the strings and giving all the jobs and money to their friends.

A true “Deep State” means that a bunch of unelected, faceless individuals are running your life for you and there’s nothing you can do about it[27]VOX: The “deep state” is real. But it’s not what Trump thinks it is..

A true “Deep State” means that you need to elect a politician who will speak up for you, who will cull these unelected bureaucrats meaning that not only are you safer but you’ll be better off because you’re no longer having to pay their wages.

A true “Deep State” means it’s not the President or Prime Minister you voted for that’s at fault for not upholding their election pledges, it’s that shadowy cartel of unelected figures and members of big business that are out to get them.

With the above in mind it’s easy to see why politicians love to invoke the “deep state” wherever possible in order to keep their voters fearful that these shady figures will affect their daily lives if they don’t vote for the one (usually Conservative/Republican) politician who can possiby save them from this terrible organisation.

The problem? In most Western countries this doesn’t exists and, thanks to checks, balances and media scrutiny, it would be very hard for a “deep state” to truly get away with anything[28]The New Yorker: How America Escapes Its Conspiracy-Theory Crisis.

What Can We Do About It?

It’s important to maintain a level of scepticism when it comes to politicians and the media but what else can we do to counter the “deep state” rhetoric that’s being spouted more and more widely?

It’s important to call it out when we see it – which can be difficult to do online. Make sure you’re respectful and point people to sources (the ones used in this article are listed below), try not to be confrontational and ask them to prove their point of view – quite often their answer will be “Because [insert politician’s name here] said so” so ask them for other sources.

We also need to hold mainstream media to account when they spread misinformation, reply to their tweet or message via their website contact form with sources refuting their claims. I have also found that a quick retweet with a comedic “Fixed this for you” and showing an amended headline can also work quite well.

We should also keep politicians on their toes. While it would be nigh-on impossible to get through to someone like Donald Trump, Liz Truss on the other hand is very different. She’s an elected MP who has to represent her constituents in Parliament and I’m pretty sure if a large number of them contacted her regarding their dislike of the “deep state” rhetoric she would soon change her tune for fear of losing her job.

Even if it’s someone like Trump or someone that’s not your MP you can still contact your representative to make it known that you are not happy with what is being said. This may get them to speak to the person in question, or at the very least realise that this sort of rhetoric won’t go down well so will steer clear of using it themselves.

Don’t share obvious disinformation directly. Sure, it might be fun to dunk on someone and their hot terrible takes but sharing can give the content and account a boost in the algorithm. If you must comment then screenshot the content or download the video and block out the username, profile photo and any identifying information. This means that people won’t be able to hunt down the content and share it themselves or dog-pile on the content creator.

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We should also encourage people to get registered to vote and then go out and use that vote when elections come. So many people think “There’s nothing I can do” but if everyone felt like that we would be stuck with a new form of “deep state” now, wouldn’t we?

Finally, come at any content like this from a place of kindness. We don’t know why someone believes what they do; maybe they have had a bad experience with the government, perhaps they grew up in a very strict household with access to limited media or information – we don’t know. Try to sympathise and be kind in your interactions, they will be expecting you to come at them with hate (after all that’s what they’ve been told we’ll do) so treat them as you would wish to be treated.

And remember the most important point of all is that you remain safe, if they are spewing hate speech or making you uncomfortable then block and move on as it’s not worth the stress to deal with some people.

Do you have any advice for dealing with people who believe in the “deep state”? Let us know in the comments below.

This article is part of a series taking a look at the world of conspiracy theories, modern ideology and rhetoric. If you’d like to know when a new instalment is published, please follow Politically Inclined on Twitter or follow my personal accounts on Threads or BlueSky

If you’d like to support me and writing/research of these topics then please consider Buying me a Coffee – anything you spare helps towards me paying for hosting and buying me the occasional (well deserved I think!) beer.

 

References

References
1 I’m a former British prime minister who believes the West is doomed unless conservatives do this
2 Independent: Liz Truss endorses Trump by claiming ‘West is doomed’ unless right-wingers save it
3 Politico: Why Steve Bannon Wants You to Believe in the Deep State
4 The Economist: What Is the “deep state
5 Washington Times: Donald Trump unfazed by ‘deep state’ suspicion
6 AP: AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s baseless claim of ‘deep state’ at FDA
7 Twitter: Donald J. Trump
8 Independent: Trump lawyer Alina Habba’s past comments on faking being smart resurface as she struggles through defence
9 Business Insider: E. Jean Carroll judge bench-slaps Trump’s attorney 14 times over basic lawyering in a single day of testimony
10 RawStory: ‘Incompetent’ Alina Habba dubbed ‘deep state plant to destroy Donald Trump’ in new theory
11 UPROXX: MAGAs Are Somehow Convinced That ‘Incompetent’ Trump Lawyer Alina Habba Must Be A Government Plant To ‘Destroy’ Him
12 FT: The CIA, the FBI and the myth of America’s Deep State
13 The Conversation: There’s a conspiracy theory that the CIA invented the term ‘conspiracy theory’ – here’s why
14 VenezuelaAnalysis: The Nature of CIA Intervention in Venezuela
15 History: Iran-Contra Affair
16 The Atlantic: There Is No American ‘Deep State’
17 War On The Rocks: How the Deep State Came to America: A History
18 WorldAtlas: Why Did the Ottoman Empire Fall?
19 Britannica: The Young Turks
20 JSTOR Daily: The Turkish Origins of the “Deep State”
21 Atlas Obscura: The Turkish Deep State: What Life Is Like When the Conspiracy Is Real
22 Reteurs: Turkey deepens probe of suspected “deep state” deaths
23 Aljazeera: Timeline: Turkey’s ‘deep state’
24 Forbes: Turkey’s Regime Is Paralyzed By A Mob Kingpin’s Revelations: The Strategic Implications
25 The Washington Post: OpinionTurkey’s infamous ‘deep state’ is back in the spotlight
26 NPR: Opinion: Why The Term ‘Deep State’ Speaks To Conspiracy Theorists
27 VOX: The “deep state” is real. But it’s not what Trump thinks it is.
28 The New Yorker: How America Escapes Its Conspiracy-Theory Crisis

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