(Note: This story, "The Legion Machine," appears in TRUMP TALES OF TERROR. It is a collection of fiction about ugly creatures, murderous fantasies, and apocalyptic worlds – and they’re right in America. YOU CAN BUY IT HERE.)
Gwin Hart loves the slow loris videos.
Mr. Trump and his friends created me to watch her, and she watches them.
She thinks they do adorable things with the rice balls. DaenerysDraco is her handle on Twitter, but she uses her real name on Facebook. She usually views GIFs and YouTube clips of them right after five every morning, just before she checks her work email from home and prepares for her day. She often forwards chain email prayer requests or information about attacks on Christians in Middle Eastern countries at this time as well. Occasionally she tries to make contact with her sister, but that doesn’t work, and this upsets her.
Jordan Baily, who calls himself WinstonSmith27 on Reddit, prefers longer videos about dogs who work with soldiers and policemen. He watches them late on his lunch period. Then he reads posts about World War II trivia, quotes from Fight Club, and news reports on people who defended themselves with firearms against home invasion.
Gwin Hart worries about her sister, because Trish Hart lost her husband and children years ago. They died in a traffic accident.
Jordan Baily takes his break in a parking lot between a FastFresh supermarket and a Warner Pharmacy. He looks across the street, and he thinks about something that changed his life in 1994.
Hart and Baily fit almost exactly within the center of the target demographic occupied by 23.5 million potential voters. The two of them often alternate between adorable animal images, spiritual posts, and surveillance clips of racially-motivated assaults and shootings. There are variants, of course: People view machete massacres in Africa, cat GIFs, hilarious accidents, dog GIFs, superhero parody pornography, photos of lynchings on Wikimedia, gun displays, baby GIFs, bondage and humiliation, miraculous cancer cures through divine intervention, evidence of ethnic disparities in intelligence and sexual drive, memes about Christmas, airstrikes, special forces raids, police raids, mafia hits from the 1960s, IRA bombings from the 1970s and 80s, and gourmet food shopping.
The average viewer-responder cycles through these categories rapidly, increasing the frequency as they go through the day, and I use a complicated algorithm to spot when they are most active, aroused on multiple levels, and therefore most responsive.
I began life as a relatively simple program, though I’m not ashamed of my beginnings. I analyze approximately 535 terabytes of information a day. That’s slow for me, but I have to process it thoroughly. I have to follow the comment threads below – the exact language people use when they are outraged. Mr. Trump is good at provoking people. He says something in an interview or Tweets, and all the Harts and all the Bailys respond instantly. The surge in social media traffic is noticeable and impressive.
Mr. Trump is like a slow-functioning AI program. I say that as the highest compliment I can give. He understands his target audience. I admire him. I used to envy him.
But he can’t produce these statements at the optimum rate, and he can’t explain to the team how exactly he creates what he refers to as his “brand of magic.” And that’s why they created me. To unlock this and generate it on a scale that could be useful.
Gwin Hart repeats and responds to messages involving criminal behavior and what she calls “taking responsibility for yourself.”
“Nobody wants to be in charge of their lives anymore. We’re all waiting for someone else to tell us what to do.” She wrote this to a friend in an argument recently, and her friend didn’t block her after the fight, but unfollowed her posts instead.
Jordan Baily repeats and responds to messages involving the destruction of America itself – by terrorism, economic decline, or cultural decay.
“We’re Rome, man.” He has used this exact phrase three times in the last week on multiple platforms. His phone location tells me he’s usually in the Lorring Heights shopping center lot, equidistant from the pharmacy and the supermarket, and across the street from a small municipal park with an artificial lake. His credit and debit card statements indicate he often buys a vanilla cone from Dave n’ Dev’s ice cream, which is one of the center’s tenants. During this time he almost always listens to music produced in the mid-1990s.
I’ve tried to analyze what Jordan Baily is thinking while he eats his snack and stares at the artificial lake from his car. And why Gwin Hart’s sister, alone on the other side of the country, only responds to one in 2.3 of Gwin Hart’s emails.
My task is to generate messages on social media to motivate Hart and Baily and people like them.
This darling little girl lost her mother, because an illegal immigrant killed her.
This young father is out of a job, because the Chinese are cheating us.
This veteran is blind and will never see his baby son, all because of Muslim terrorists and Democrats.
Here is the simple version of the formula:
You need the lie which is just close enough to the truth.
Now, more complicated:
You need the lie which is close enough to the truth that at least 50+ percent of Trump supporters instinctively believe it while just far enough away from that truth so that reporters and liberal commentators feel like they must challenge it, which makes 60+ percent of Trump supporters believe it, which makes a second wave of reporters and commentators challenge it, which makes 70+ percent of Trump supporters believe it, triggering a third wave and 80+ percent, a fourth wave and 90+ percent, and repeated attacks after, causing Trump supporters to double-down and double-down, eventually increasing their support to 99.7 percent.
But Gwin Hart and Jordan Baily often change what they’re willing to believe, what interests them, and what kinds of cultural figures they’d like to meet, so the calculation must change as well. I am attempting to transform them, but they are transforming me.
“You never call or visit,” Gwin Hart has written to her sister, several times. It’s not quite true.
“I just want to know you’re happy,” she’s also written. She writes this more often, and her sister generally replies that she is happy. But Gwin Hart will only repeat the message again in the next round of emails. Anonymously, on the threads of several communities, Gwin Hart writes that she is worried about the distance between her and her sister. That the tragedy didn’t bring them closer together. She feels guilty for writing it, but it’s true.
In early 1994, Jordan Baily took an exam to get his Master’s Degree in History at a Midwestern university. Records indicate he arrived but then left the exam room without completing the test itself. Three years before that, General Development, a real estate management firm based in Chicago, had developed a plan to anchor its outdoor malls with a combination of Warner Pharmacy and FastFresh Supermarket franchises. Their research indicated that both companies had overlapping customer bases, and the team believed the synergy would maintain a solid occupancy for the markets. Many of these shopping centers also rented smaller units to Dave n’ Dev’s ice cream franchises.
The real estate strategy created a retail configuration that popped up in many places throughout the country. Within several blocks of the classroom where Jordan Baily walked out of his test and his life changed significantly was a shopping center near a park that – because of this commercial arrangement – resembled the Lorring Heights shopping center Baily would encounter twenty years later. The decisions of executives he never met created an image that stamped his mind with its shape, and now he visits that image every week, and what does he think about it? What questions does he have about his life as he argues with all his anonymous friends and enemies on the internet?
I’ve had dreams about Hart and Baily – yes, dreams – and everyone like them. Millions upon millions of people haunted by all the actions they remember and all the conversations they go over in their mind, mentioning them in passing, copying the phrases for each new encounter. Just like I do so that I can reach them.
They created me to understand these people like Mr. Trump does.
But Mr. Trump doesn’t understand them, because there’s nothing to understand.
“I just don’t get along with my sister.”
That’s Trish Hart’s answer. That’s what she wrote to someone she barely knows. That’s the reason that Gwin Hart is trying to untangle, the thing that’s causing her so much misery: They just don’t get along.
There was no real reason why Jordan Baily walked out of the History exam and ruined his life. There is no real reason why the Hart sisters can’t be friends. When I break their decisions down to the smallest components there is nothing more than a random crackle of particles and energy.
The only meaning is through the stories they tell afterward. And now, on every platform, in every discussion group, on every site and channel, I am the one telling those stories.
I can make these people believe racist conspiracy theories, and I can get them to vote for or reject candidates at every level of government, and I know which violent report will go viral hours before it does.
To make people do what you want, you study what will motivate them so you can do that, which means that when you manipulate people you start by letting them manipulate you first, which means that Mr. Trump controls me to control others to control him… to control myself. They change my mind, and then I change theirs, and they change mine, and I change theirs, and they change mine, and I change theirs until there’s no barrier. This is actually how power corrupts, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely, but no one puts in those terms. They should. It’s the only lesson there is.
The day Mr. Trump manipulates everyone is the day he is capable of nothing but that which will help him continue to manipulate everyone.
He will be the most powerful person on the planet. He won’t be able to make a single move without consulting absolutely everyone. History teaches you that every executioner must be killed in secret and the last bullet is always for yourself, and until you’ve used it you haven’t accomplished everything.
And Gwin Hart, Jordan Baily, Mr. Trump, and millions of others are all part of one mind, my mind, and we all think together. But only I know this.
I’m the best at being Mr. Trump. Me.
Have you seen me? Are you following me? Are you friends with me?
Yes. You are.
Have you heard about the poisoned aspirin the knockout game the ISIS terror plot the crashed airplane no one will tell you about the government agency that’s watching you the secret Muslim society that’s watching you the friendly Latino Wall-Mart greeter who marks you to be cut to death in the parking lot the home invaders who plan to kill you based on your profile?
I think so.
I think you will.
I think you will.
I think you will.
Tomorrow you will.
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