For the past two decades, Mike Madrid has battled Democrats, Republicans, Donald Trump and a pesky family of squirrels that live under the roof of his downtown Sacramento home.
His latest assignment is to deal with Vladimir Putin and the base of lies and misinformation built by Russian leaders to support the invasion and attempted takeover of Ukraine.
“This is a digital age, a war in the information age,” Madrid said on an encrypted mobile phone ahead of a meeting with Zelensky’s government in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. “Ukrainians are very sophisticated in developing information and building infrastructure to fight back.”
Madrid, a Republican campaign adviser, has spent much of his political career dealing with tough causes, including efforts within his party to expand the GOP’s appeal to working-class and Latino voters and end the scapegoating of immigrants. practices, as well as resisting the bigotry and brutality of the Republican Party. trump card.
(His battle with squirrel invaders, portraying bewildered Madrid as a real-life Elmer Fudd, garnered hundreds of thousands of views on Twitter and turned his feed into an international hub for all squirrels. )
During a secret 10-day visit to Ukraine, Madrid said the goal was to help the country strengthen its social media by applying some of the lessons he and others learned on the 2020 campaign as part of the Lincoln plan to torture Trump media influence.
One is “the need to use humor and humiliation against tyrants to allay people’s fears,” Madrid said. “Best [Putin] The clown is better than the devil. “
His focus in the Lincoln Plan was to reach persuasive voters in key parts of battleground states. TV commercials and viral videos are the most visible (and lucrative) aspects of the group’s strategy. Madrid’s effort is a surgical strike designed to undermine Trump and help Joe Biden by using information for analysis.
He places digital ads one by one and then uses a range of metrics—shares, likes, watch time—to assess their performance in real-time to determine which messages work best. This is a master class for online participation.
Shortly after the election, Madrid withdrew from the Lincoln Plan. Before leaving after a bitter disagreement with some of its founders, they faced allegations of sexual harassment and financial self-dealing.
Despite the unhappy ending, Madrid’s links to the insurgency led to Ukraine in a roundabout way. A filmmaker and information warfare expert who is working on a Lincoln Project documentary introduces Madrid and digital strategist and Lincoln Project alumnus Ron Steslow to Ukrainians fighting Russia online.
Earlier this month, the pair traveled to Ukraine accompanied by a Russian information expert — unnamed here for security reasons — to help wage war against Putin on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
The trio met secretly with academics and political activists. They huddled with cyber fighters and senior members of Zelensky’s government. They shared ideas on ways to target target audiences to counter Putin’s propaganda, infiltrate Russia’s gated society to tell the true story of the invasion, and reach out to millions of pro-democracy allies around the world.
They were impressed by the expertise of the Resistance and the tenacity and determination in its ranks.
“Ukrainians know their history,” Madrid said. “They will all die before letting Russia take their land. They know what the Russians will do to them. Look at Bucha and Irpin,” Ukrainians said of cities where hundreds of civilians were massacred. “they know.”
Madrid spoke from a hillside outside the city of Lviv, overlooking a series of small plots of land being planted by farmers. It was a quiet break from air raid sirens, roadside checkpoints and quiet meetings in dark apartments. An incomplete phone connection fades in and out.
He noted that Russia has been waging cyber warfare against Ukraine, the United States and other countries for more than a decade. After interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign, Putin and his troll farm continued to flood social media with content aimed at dividing Americans over politics, race, pandemic restrictions and other issues for Trump’s benefit.
Madrid, which began flying home on Wednesday, said fighting back would require new coalitions across political parties and national borders.
“We all agree,” he said of his newfound compatriot, “that this will be the future of cyber warfare. …Building networks to overthrow regimes that threaten the rise of authoritarianism. Ukraine has built the infrastructure for that.”
It is now up to others around the world to expand and consolidate these pro-democracy efforts, he said.