Deep state in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

In the United States the term "deep state" is used in Republican and conservative political messaging to describe a conspiracy theory of influential decision-making bodies believed to be within government who are relatively permanent and whose policies and long-term plans are unaffected by changing administrations. The term is often used in a critical sense vis-à-vis the general electorate to refer to the lack of influence popular democracy has on these institutions and the decisions they make as a shadow government.[1][2]

The term was originally coined in a somewhat pejorative sense to refer to similar relatively invisible state apparatus in Turkey and post-Soviet Russia, where the Turkish military colluded with drug traffickers.[3] With respect to the United States, the concept has been discussed in numerous published works by Marc Ambinder, David W. Brown, Peter Dale Scott, Mike Lofgren, Kevin Shipp, Michael Tomasky and Michael Wolff.

While definitions vary, the term gained popularity among various groups, primarily supporters of Donald Trump and conspiracy theorists, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in opposition to establishment Republican and Democratic candidates. Following Trump's inauguration, the term was widely adopted among partisans alleging that there exists a deep-state conspiracy to delegitimize the presidency and thwart its policy goals.[4]


The term "deep state" was defined in 2014 by Mike Lofgren, a former Republican U.S. congressional aide, as "a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process."[5][6] According to the journalist Robert Worth, "The expression deep state had originated in Turkey in the 1990s, where the military colluded with drug traffickers and hit men to wage a dirty war against Kurdish insurgents".[7]

In The Concealment of the State, Professor Jason Royce Lindsey argues that even without a conspiratorial agenda, the term deep state is useful for understanding aspects of the national security establishment in developed countries, with emphasis on the United States. Lindsey writes that the deep state draws power from the national security and intelligence communities, a realm where secrecy is a source of power.[8] Alfred W. McCoy states that the increase in the power of the U.S. intelligence community since the September 11 attacks "has built a fourth branch of the U.S. government" that is "in many ways autonomous from the executive, and increasingly so."[9]

In the journal Foreign Affairs, UCLA Law professor Jon D. Michaels discusses Trump and the deep state, and argues that the concept's relevance is quite limited in the United States. He states that it is a more useful perspective in the study of developing governments such as Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey, "where shadowy elites in the military and government ministries have been known to countermand or simply defy democratic directives."[10]

According to David Gergen, quoted in Time magazine, the term has been appropriated by Steve Bannon and Breitbart News and other supporters of the Trump Administration in order to delegitimize the critics of the current presidency.[11] The 'deep state' theory has been dismissed by authors for The New York Times[12] and New York Observer.[13] University of Miami Professor Joseph Uscinski says, "The concept has always been very popular among conspiracy theorists, whether they call it a deep state or something else."[14]

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has used the term generally to refer to the influence of civil servants over elected officials: "the deep state is not just the intelligence agencies, it is really a way of referring to the career bureaucracy of government. These are officials who sit in powerful positions, who don't leave when presidents do, who watch presidents come and go...they influence policy, they influence presidents."[15]

In an opinion piece by linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, he said the "deep state" is an "elastic label — depending on the occasion" and its "story conforms to the intricate grammar of those conspiracy narratives." He also contrasted the change in the "twin bogeys of conservative rhetoric", from bureaucratic "meddlesome bunglers" of "big government" to "conniving ideologues" who "orchestrates complex schemes".[16]

U.S. politics[edit]

The term "deep state" has been associated with the "military–industrial complex" by several of the authors on the subject. Potential risks from the military-industrial complex were raised in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 farewell address: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."[17] Mike Lofgren has claimed the military-industrial complex is the private part of the deep state.[18] However, Marc Ambinder has suggested that a myth about the "deep state" is that it functions as one entity; rather, that parts of the "deep state" are "often at odds with one another."[19]

Barack Obama's alleged lack of success of his campaign promises relating to the Afghanistan war and civil liberties has been attributed by Tufts University professor Michael J. Glennon to what he calls the "double government"; the defense and national security network.[20][21] Mike Lofgren felt Obama was pushed into the Afghanistan "surge" in 2009.[22] Another major campaign promise Obama made was the closure of Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp, which he was unable to accomplish. This has been attributed indirectly to the influence of a deep state.[11]

President Donald Trump supporters use the term to refer to allegations that intelligence officers and executive branch officials guide policy through leaking or other internal means.[23][12] According to a July 2017 report by the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, "the Trump administration was being hit by national security leaks 'on a nearly daily basis' and at a far higher rate than its predecessors encountered".[24]

The term has also been used in comments on the "deep state"-like influence allegedly wielded by career military officers such as H. R. McMaster, John Kelly and James Mattis in the Trump administration.

Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, have both made allegations about a deep state which they believe is interfering with the president's agenda.[25][26][27] In 2018, describing the deep state as an "entrenched bureaucracy," Trump accused the United States Department of Justice "of being part of the 'deep state'" in a statement advocating the prosecution of Huma Abedin.[28] Some Trump allies and right-wing media outlets have alleged that former president Barack Obama is coordinating a deep state resistance to Trump.[25][29] While the belief in a deep state is popular among Trump supporters, critics maintain that it has no basis in reality[30], arguing that the sources of the leaks frustrating the Trump administration lack the organizational depth of deep states in other countries, and that use of the term in the U.S. could undermine confidence in vital institutions and be used to justify suppressing dissent.[31][25]

In an article for The New York Review of Books, Michael Tomalsky quoted Newt Gingrich as using the term in the context of the Robert Mueller investigation in July 2018, quoting Gingrich stating: "[Mueller is] … the tip of the deep state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency".[32] Gingrich then added to the statement that: "The brazen redefinition of Mueller's task tells you how arrogant the deep state is and how confident it is it can get away with anything".[32]


According to a poll of Americans in April 2017, about half (48%) thought there was a "deep state", "meaning military, intelligence and government officials who try to secretly manipulate government." Of those who thought that, more than half (58%) said it was a major problem (net of 28% surveyed).[33][34]

A March 2018 poll found most respondents (63%) were unfamiliar with the term "deep state", but a majority believe that a deep state likely exists in the United States when described as "a group of unelected government and military officials who secretly manipulate or direct national policy". Three-fourths (74%) of the respondents say that they believe this type of group definitely (27%) or probably (47%) exists in the federal government.[35][36][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ambinder, Marc; Grady, D.B. (2013). Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Wiley. ISBN 978-1-118-14668-2. 
  2. ^ Michael J. Glennon (2014). "National Security and Double Government" (PDF). Harvard National Security Journal. 5. 
  3. ^ The State: Past, Present, Future
  4. ^ Taub, Amanda; Fisher, Max (February 16, 2017). "As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a 'Deep State' in America". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ "Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State". February 21, 2014. Retrieved April 22, 2017. 
  6. ^ The State: Past, Present, Future Bob Jessop, page 224, December 2015 John Wiley & Sons
  7. ^ Worth, Robert F. A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS (2016). Published by Pan Macmillan, page 139. [1]
  8. ^ [The Concealment of the State] Jason Royce Lindsey, 2013 pages 35–36
  9. ^ Scahill, Jeremy (July 22, 2017). "Donald Trump and the Coming Fall of the American Empire". The Intercept. Retrieved July 29, 2017. 
  10. ^ Michaels, Jon D. Trump and the "Deep State". Foreign Affairs. September/October 2017.
  11. ^ a b Abramson, Alana (March 8, 2017). "President Trump's Allies Keep Talking About the 'Deep State.' What's That?". Time. 'This is a dark conspiratorial view that is being pushed by [top Trump strategist] Steve Bannon, his allies at Breitbart and some others in the conservative movement that is trying to delegitimize the opposition to Trump in many quarters and pass the blame to others,' said David Gergen. 
  12. ^ a b Taub, Amanda; Fisher, Max (February 16, 2017). "As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a 'Deep State' in America". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ Schindler, John R. (February 22, 2017). "Rebellion Brews in Washington—But American 'Deep State' Is Only a Myth". New York Observer. Retrieved June 13, 2018. 
  14. ^ "How the "deep state" conspiracy theory went mainstream". Newsweek. August 2, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017. 
  15. ^ "Edward Snowden: "Poisoning people who are long out of their service is contemptible"". March 18, 2018. 
  16. ^ Nunberg, Geoff. "Opinion: Why The Term 'Deep State' Speaks To Conspiracy Theorists". Retrieved 2018-08-24. 
  17. ^ "Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation". Retrieved August 9, 2017. 
  18. ^ ""Deep State" Truthout Interview -". February 22, 2016. Retrieved August 9, 2017. 
  19. ^ Ambinder, Marc; Ambinder, Marc (March 10, 2017). "Five myths about the deep state". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved August 9, 2017. 
  20. ^ "Vote all you want. The secret government won't change. - The Boston Globe". October 18, 2014. Retrieved August 22, 2017. 
  21. ^ "Background Briefing with Ian Masters". FD Media. Retrieved August 22, 2017. 
  22. ^ Lofgren, Mike (February 21, 2014). "Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State". Retrieved August 23, 2017. 
  23. ^ Ishaan Tharoor (February 1, 2017). "Is Trump fighting the deep state or creating his own?". The Washington Post. 
  24. ^ Crowley, Michael (September–October 2017). "The Deep State Is Real". Politico Magazine. Retrieved September 5, 2017. 
  25. ^ a b c Julie Hirschfeld Davis (March 6, 2017). "Rumblings of a 'Deep State' Undermining Trump? It Was Once a Foreign Concept". The New York Times. 
  26. ^ Phillip Rucker, Robert Costa, Ashley Parker (March 5, 2017). "Inside Trump's fury: The president rages at leaks, setbacks and accusations". The Washington Post. 
  27. ^ Winter, Jana; Groll, Elias (August 10, 2017). "Here's the Memo That Blew Up the NSC". Foreign Policy. Retrieved August 15, 2017. 
  28. ^ Lucey, Catherine; Superville, Darlene (January 2, 2018). "Trump accuses DOJ of being part of 'deep state'". Associated Press. Retrieved January 2, 2018. 
  29. ^ David Weigel (March 7, 2017). "Trump and Republicans see a 'deep state' foe: Barack Obama". The Washington Post. 
  30. ^ Stanage, Niall (June 5, 2017). "THE MEMO: Is Trump a victim of the 'deep state'?". The Hill. 
  31. ^ David A. Graham (February 20, 2017). "Why it's dangerous to talk about a deep state". The Atlantic. 
  32. ^ a b The New York Review of Books, Michael Tomalsky, August 16, 2018. Page 8.
  33. ^ News, A. B. C. (April 27, 2017). "Nearly half of Americans think there's a 'deep state' in US: Poll". ABC News. Retrieved March 23, 2018. 
  34. ^ "Lies, Damn Lies and the Deep State: Plenty of Americans See Them All" (PDF). Langer Research. 
  35. ^ CNN, David Wright,. "Americans skeptical of government, more politically engaged, poll finds". CNN. Retrieved March 23, 2018. 
  36. ^ "Poll: Majority believe 'deep state' manipulates U.S. policies". POLITICO. Retrieved March 23, 2018. 
  37. ^ "Public Troubled by 'Deep State'". Monmouth University Polling Institute. Retrieved March 23, 2018.