Over the past twenty years, Mike Madrid has battled Democrats, Republicans, Donald Trump and a pesky household of squirrels that assumed residence within the eave of his Midtown Sacramento dwelling.
His newest mission is taking up Vladimir Putin and the substructure of lies and misinformation the Russian chief constructed to help the invasion and tried takeover of Ukraine.
“This can be a struggle of the digital age, of the data age,” Madrid stated through encrypted cellphone, earlier than a gathering within the western Ukrainian metropolis of Lviv with the Zelensky administration. “And the Ukrainians are extremely subtle in the best way they’re creating messaging and constructing infrastructure to struggle again.”
Madrid, a Republican marketing campaign guide, has spent a lot of his political profession tackling powerful causes, together with combating inside his celebration to broaden the GOP’s attraction to working-class and Latino voters, finish the scapegoating of immigrants and stand as much as the bigotry and boorishness of Trump.
(His battle with squirrel invaders, that includes the flummoxed Madrid as a real-life Elmer Fudd, racked up a whole lot of hundreds of views on Twitter and turned his feed into a world clearinghouse for all issues squirrel.)
The purpose throughout a stealthy 10-day go to to Ukraine, Madrid stated, was to assist the nation strengthen its social media presence by making use of a number of the classes he and others discovered within the 2020 marketing campaign as a part of the Trump-tormenting Lincoln Venture.
One was the “want to make use of humor and humiliation in opposition to a tyrant to reduce folks’s worry,” Madrid stated. “It’s higher to make [Putin] a clown than a satan.”
His focus on the Lincoln Venture was reaching out to persuadable voters in key parts of battleground states. TV promoting and viral movies have been essentially the most attention-grabbing (and profitable) facet of the group’s technique. Madrid’s efforts have been surgical strikes aimed toward undermining Trump and serving to Joe Biden by harnessing data to analytics.
He positioned digital commercials, one after one other, after which gauged their impact in actual time, utilizing a collection of metrics — shares, likes, time spent watching — to find out which messages carried out finest. It was a grasp class in on-line engagement.
Quickly after the election, Madrid left the Lincoln Venture. The departure adopted an acrimonious break up with a few of its founders, who confronted allegations involving sexual harassment and monetary self-dealing.
Regardless of that sad ending, Madrid’s connection to the rebel effort led in roundabout trend to Ukraine. A filmmaker and specialist in data warfare, who’s producing a Lincoln Venture documentary, launched Madrid and Ron Steslow, a fellow digital strategist and Lincoln Venture alum, to Ukrainians combating Russia on-line.
Earlier this month the 2 traveled to Ukraine, accompanied by a Russian data specialist — unnamed right here for security causes — to assist wage struggle in opposition to Putin on Fb, Twitter and different social media.
The three met furtively with lecturers and political activists. They huddled with cyberwarriors and senior members of Zelensky’s administration. They shared concepts on focusing on audiences to counteract Putin’s propaganda, methods to penetrate Russia’s closed society to inform the true story of the invasion, and strategies of participating hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy allies world wide.
They got here away impressed with the experience of the resistance and the fortitude and dedication of these in its ranks.
“The Ukrainians know their historical past,” Madrid stated. “They’ll all die earlier than letting Russia take their land. They know what the Russians will do to them. Have a look at Bucha and Irpin,” cities the place Ukrainians say a whole lot of civilians have been massacred. “They know.”
Madrid spoke from a hillside exterior Lviv, overlooking a collection of small plots the place farmers have been placing down seed. It was a quiet break from air-raid sirens, roadside checkpoints and hushed conferences in darkened flats. A patchy cellphone connection pale out and in.
For greater than a decade, he famous, Russia has been waging cyberwar on Ukraine, the USA and different nations. After interfering within the 2016 presidential marketing campaign, to the advantage of Trump, Putin and his troll farms proceed to flood social media with content material aimed toward dividing Individuals over politics, race, pandemic restrictions and different points.
Preventing again would require new alliances throughout political events and nationwide borders, stated Madrid, who began flying dwelling Wednesday.
“All of us agreed,” he stated of his newfound compatriots, “this would be the way forward for cyberwarfare. … Networking to carry down regimes that threaten the rise of authoritarianism. Ukraine has constructed the infrastructure for what that appears like.”
Now, he stated, it’s as much as others world wide to develop and construct on these pro-democracy efforts.