Speaking during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, Honoré characterized false claims pushed by Trump and echoed by his GOP allies in Congress that the election was stolen as “propaganda” intended to shape people’s minds by reinforcing what they wanted to hear and allowing them to run with it.
“We’ve been had by a little propaganda and a superb use of information operation, which is an offensive weapon to shape people’s minds. … Just tell them a little BS of what they want to hear, a little sliver of truth, and they act on it,” he said.
“That’s right on the verge of what we saw in the last generation called propaganda. … It is like the guy who keeps lying about having a horse. You keep telling people you have a horse and someone is going to give him a saddle,” he said. “People who wanted to believe that message that the election was stolen, they rode with it and they continue to ride with it,” Honoré added.
The retired general said this is an instrument often used by those in power, and even the US military, to influence operations in other countries. But in hindsight, it is clear that the January 6 insurrection was fueled by a similar tactic and the American public is now “woke” to the level of extremism people are willing to take action on as a result of their belief, Honoré said.
People with military training, veterans and law enforcement are “the big draw” of this type of information operation, Honoré said, noting that there is a tendency to forget that those who serve the country in uniform are “normal people” who can be susceptible to propaganda of this nature despite taking a pledge to protect the US from all threats foreign and domestic.
It remains unclear how the Biden administration plans to specifically combat the spread of conspiracies and false narratives that are likely to incite violence or radicalize Americans — including those with military backgrounds — while also balancing First Amendment rights, but a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told CNN that the issue is a top priority as it relates to the broader effort of addressing domestic extremism.
“Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to the homeland today. In collaboration with our partners across every level of government and in the private sector, DHS is working to combat the spread of conspiracy theories and other false narratives on social media and other online platforms that can radicalize people to violence and fuel domestic violent extremism. DHS is also working with its partners to increase public awareness about and resilience to disinformation,” the spokesperson said.
Last month, US intelligence agencies issued an unclassified summary of a new report that said “narratives of fraud in the recent general election” and “the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol” will “almost certainly” spur domestic extremists to try to engage in additional acts of violence this year.
“Newer sociopolitical developments — such as narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence — will almost certainly spur some (domestic violent extremists) to try to engage in violence this year,” the unclassified summary said.
That warning was included in a comprehensive classified assessment of domestic violent extremism produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, which was ordered by the White House in January.
Honoré’s comments also come as the Pentagon is grappling with how to address extremism within its ranks after the January 6 attack. Lawmakers continue to also weigh recommendations made by Honoré’s task force for improving security around the US Capitol — an issue that has once again been pushed to the forefront after another Capitol Police officer was killed last week.
On Monday, Honoré contradicted comments made by the US Capitol Police union chief over the weekend in which he claimed the department was “struggling to meet existing mission requirements” while calling on Congress to hire hundreds of new police officers to ensure the safety of the Capitol.
Capitol Police Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement Saturday that the Capitol Police is staffed below its authorized level by 233 officers and could face larger staffing shortages as officers retire in the coming years. Papathanasiou noted the shortage is exacerbated by the continued injuries of several officers in the January 6 attack.
“That’s BS. The Capitol Police can meet the mission,” Honoré told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Monday when asked about Papathanasiou’s comments, adding that while he understands the union chief’s “enthusiasm” in pushing to hire additional officers, the claim is an “overstatement.”
“We made the recommendation that they need to get the funding to recruit and hire the 233 officers they are short,” Honoré said. “We made a recommendation to hire another additional 800 officers. Those recommendations are there, it’s up to Congress to take action.”
But in the short term, it is clear the Capitol Police is reeling after losing officers this year. Officer William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force and a member of its “First Responders Unit,” died after Friday’s attack, while the officer who was injured Friday has been released from the hospital, according to a law enforcement source.