Attack from Within: How Disinformation Is Sabotaging America
An urgent, comprehensive explanation of the ways disinformation is impacting democracy, and practical solutions that can be pursued to strengthen the public, media, and truth-based politics
MSNBC's legal expert breaks down the ways disinformation has become a tool to drive voters to extremes, disempower our legal structures, and consolidate power in the hands of the few.
"One of the most acute observers of our time shares . . . a compelling work about a challenge that—left unexamined and left unchecked—could undermine our democracy." —Eric H. Holder Jr, 82nd Attorney General of the United States
American society is more polarized than ever before. We are strategically being pushed apart by disinformation—the deliberate spreading of lies disguised as truth—and it comes at us from all sides: opportunists on the far right, Russian misinformed social media influencers, among others. It's endangering our democracy and causing havoc in our electoral system, schools, hospitals, workplaces, and in our Capitol. Advances in technology including rapid developments in artificial intelligence threaten to make the problems even worse by amplifying false claims and manufacturing credibility.
In Attack from Within, legal scholar and analyst Barbara McQuade, shows us how to identify the ways disinformation is seeping into all facets of our society and how we can fight against it. The book includes:
- The authoritarian playbook: a brief history of disinformation from Mussolini and Hitler to Bolsonaro and Trump, chronicles the ways in which authoritarians have used disinformation to seize and retain power.
- Disinformation tactics—like demonizing the other, seducing with nostalgia, silencing critics, muzzling the media, condemning the courts; stoking violence—and reasons why they work.
- An explanation of why America is particularly vulnerable to disinformation and how it exploits our First Amendment Freedoms, sparks threats and violence, and destabilizes social structures.
- Real, accessible solutions for countering disinformation and maintaining the rule of law such as making domestic terrorism a federal crime, increasing media literacy in schools, criminalizing doxxing, and much more.
Disinformation is designed to evoke a strong emotional response to push us toward more extreme views, unable to find common ground with others. The false claims that led to the breathtaking attack on our Capitol in 2021 may have been only a dress rehearsal. Attack from Within shows us how to prevent it from happening again, thus preserving our country’s hard-won democracy.
Praise for Attack from Within: How Disinformation Is Sabotaging America
"A concise introduction to the threat to American democracy . . . for those curious about the past and future of political disinformation.” —Publishers Weekly
"A great public servant and one of the most acute observers of our time shares insightful views about the menace of disinformation—its history, its dangers, how it threatens America in particular and how we fix the problem. This is a compelling work about a challenge that—left unexamined and left unchecked—could undermine our democracy."
—Eric H. Holder Jr, 82nd Attorney General of the United States
“A comprehensive guide to the dynamics of disinformation and a necessary call to the ethical commitment to truth that all democracies require."
—Timothy Snyder, author of the New York Times bestseller On Tyranny
“Barbara McQuade brings an experienced and refreshingly sober lens to America's current challenges. Her writing and legal analysis is an antidote to both ignorance and political hysteria—at a time when we all need to be informed and vigilant about the threats posed by would-be authoritarians and their enablers.”
—Ari Melber, MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent; Host, "The Beat with Ari Melber"
"Is our democracy destined for death by disinformation? That is among the urgent questions addressed by Barb McQuade in this timely and engaging book. McQuade, a former national security prosecutor, argues that information warfare is at the center of efforts by far-right operatives, including Republican party elites, to turn Americans against each other and inflame racial and other hatreds, sabotaging our civil society and America's position as a leader of the free world. She also offers solutions to the epidemic of disinformation, from enhanced regulation of social media companies to accountability measures against bots to support for local journalism. It is essential reading and her message that we must make truth in democracy our national purpose could not come at a better moment."
—Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.
"Meticulous, lucid, compelling. Spurred by the 'fierce urgency of now,' McQuade has laid out how we can recognize and then disarm the weapon of disinformation and, in the process, save American democracy."
—Carol Anderson, author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy and the New York Times bestseller White Rage
“Barb McQuade offers a sweeping and panoramic view of the disinformation landscape and how it contributes to the erosion of our shared reality, which is a sine qua non for the rule of law. Like any seasoned prosecutor she marshals the evidence, presents expert testimony, and makes the case for why this threat is one we must address together, as citizens. Her book is a wake-up call for the need to take back power from social media platforms and would-be authoritarians and restore our democratic norms and responsibility to the truth.”
—Asha Rangappa, Assistant Dean and Senior Lecturer, Jackson School of Global Affairs, Yale University, Former FBI Counterintelligence Agent
"Barbara McQuade offers a superb, easy-to-read assessment of the information war being waged in America right now, what the stakes are, and what can be done to turn things around. As someone who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, I understand the dangers of authoritarianism. If you want to understand the risks to democracy and how we can address them, read this important book."
— Martina Navratilova
“Barb McQuade has the rare ability to ask the right questions and then answer them. Her take on disinformation — how and why it's been used — is critical to understanding this point in our nation's history. Attack from Within is essential reading for everyone. “
—Joyce Vance, Distinguished Professor of the Practice of Law, University of Alabama School of Law, and former US Attorney in Alabama
“Barb McQuade traces the history of disinformation from its inception to modern day brilliantly linking past challenges of falsehoods and how they become amplified in the digital age. Barb then goes a step further offering a comprehensive plan for restoring the integrity of information and instilling resiliency in our democracies. A remarkable, well versed study that’s a must read for all citizens.”
—Clint Watts, Former FBI Special Agent, Consultant to FBI National Security Branch
"Whenever Professor McQuade has something to say, I listen—and learn. Attack from Within is a brilliantly vital defense of truth, justice and the rule of law against a multitude of political and technological threats to our precious democracy."
—David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer
“In Attack from Within, Barbara McQuade offers a comprehensive and necessary account of the ways in which disinformation undermines American democracy. Drawing comparisons between authoritarians of the past through Trump, with a series of chilling anecdotes, McQuade crystallizes the seriousness of what happened on January 6th and the ongoing threat to our country. Now more than never, it’s critical to read this profound book.”
—Preet Bharara, Former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
"At a time when it couldn’t be more needed, Barbara McQuade provides readers with a clear, straightforward yet urgent warning about the true threat misinformation poses. As a journalist, I found particularly poignant McQuade’s clear-eyed view of the importance of a free press to a free society, and the way threats and attacks on journalists endanger everyone. This book is required reading for any American who wants to understand the threat misinformation poses, and a roadmap for how to fight against that threat."
—Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Senior Opinion Writer, The Boston Globe
"Barbara McQuade has written a compelling page turner. You’ll learn how authoritarians destroy democracy through mis- and disinformation and the psychological forces inherent in all of us that make us believe them even when we know it’s a con."
—Jill Wine-Banks, author of The Watergate Girl, MSNBC analyst, co-host, #SistersInLaw and iGenPolitics podcasts