5 Things You Learn Being Attacked By The Alt-Right
A few weeks and a half-dozen insane Donald Trump quotes ago, comedian Leslie Jones was flooded with harassment on Twitter. For those of you who have seen the internet, you know this isn't exactly new. Feminist writer Jessica Valenti left social media entirely when strangers threatened to rape her ... five-year-old daughter. Back in March, Nintendo employee Allison Rapp endured weeks of abuse, eventually getting fired from her job for having the nerve to be harassed. All of those awful things -- and so very, very much more -- are the handiwork of the so-called "alt-right." Here's what we learned about them ...
Hatred Has A New Name And A Spin Campaign
Hey, remember when Donald Trump tweeted that antisemitic image macro about Hillary Clinton? It's OK if you don't. Nothing is lost on the internet, no matter how much you want it to be:
Journalists traced the original image back to 8chan, a message board that specializes in outrageous racism and harassment.
Not linked here, because holy fuck don't go to 8chan.
Trump claims he thought the Star of David was a "Sheriff's star." But a quick glance at the thread in 8chan's /pol/ board, where it originated, unearths a horde of antisemitic and outright fascist artwork.
Yes, that's sexy Knight Hitler on the bottom left there.
8chan and its members are a particularly militant fringe of what's come to be known as the alt-right. This demographic is savvier than its swastika-wearing, cross-burning forbears. They've realized that outright bigotry looks bad, so they put on a semi-legitimate public face. Openly Nazi forums like Stormfront and news sites like the Daily Stormer have given away to websites like Breitbart and Reddit's /thedonald. A lot of the hatred is now thinly veiled behind terrible memes, but the good ol' fashioned stuff is still there too:
Hmmm ... pretty normal. No blatant racism here ...
Ah, there we go.
Looking deeper into alt-right articles reveals a weird dichotomy: rampant homophobia and racism, as well as lionizing the very, very few gay and minority figures who happen to support their cause. It's the "I have a black friend" fallacy taken to the extreme. Some of these people even serve as the "faces" of the movement, and stray from explicit racism in favor of dog whistles. Here's one example, courtesy of We Hunted the Mammoth: After Trump replaced the Star of David on that macro with a circle and insisted he didn't mean to make any kind of antisemitic statement, The Daily Stormer (a site literally named after a Nazi newspaper from the '30s) said this:
*ahem* "The Leader"?
So how is it possible to be a figurehead of a hate movement without your career collapsing in on itself like a dying star?
The Alt-Right "Leaders" Keep Their Hands Clean
One of the folks I talked to while preparing this article was Republican Party strategist Rick Wilson. You might remember him from news stories like this:
To be fair, there have to be some doing it to domestic cartoons too.
Rick was drowned in an ocean of hateful tweets, obviously, but it went beyond that. He earned his own 4chan thread, where users coordinated a harassment campaign which included leaking his family's address. "When they put your address out there, a lot of the shit was irritant type stuff ... having Qurans sent to my house, saying there was a garage sale ... that's prank kind of stuff."
But it went a bit beyond "man-boys will be man-boys" when they started sending Rick pictures of his family covered in semen, or when Rick's daughter found this letter, from "reddit," at her house:
Now, that seems like the sort of thing that came from an angry teenager who spends all his time online. And it probably was. But that's not a harmless demographic; a significant number of mass shooters match that description. "Angry, disaffected shut-ins" are a dangerous group to piss off. Rick says, "we live in a world where ... it's only going to take one actual fucked-up crazy person killing a family somewhere to change the social media landscape a lot."
One prominent figure in the alt-right is Theodore Beale, or Vox Day online. Beale doesn't directly threaten people, but he does regularly advocate for his readers to harass folks for him. Here's how he advised his readers to treat women like Jessica Valenti, a writer for The Guardian whom he happens to dislike:
Does all that apply to that kindergartner they threatened to rape, too?
Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart's technology editor, also avoids directly typing "commit crimes for me against this person." But this article gives a great breakdown of how he gets around that. First, Yiannopoulos writes an article about someone (usually a woman) who did something he disagrees with.
Wow -- from zero to "witch hunts" in four words.
He doesn't include her name, but he links her Twitter prominently. Within a couple of hours, the harassment train is at full steam, with each such Tweet linking back to Yiannopoulos (his handle was @nero before he was banned from the platform).
This is how Yiannopoulos kicked off the Twitter campaign against Leslie Jones. The harassment only started rolling in after he posted his Ghostbusters review on Twitter, and he stoked the flames by retweeting clearly fabricated inflammatory quotes from Jones:
Jones is far from the first woman to fall victim to this sort of thing, although she's the first one famous enough to force Twitter to do something about it; they banned Yiannopoulos and a number of other asshats in the wake of these events. But even with Yiannopoulos off the site, Jones is not going to be the last woman to suffer this kind of abuse. And yeah ...
They Target Women
There is a distinctly anti-female vibe in the alt-right. Meet our next source, Laila Alawa, who tweeted this back in September of 2014:
Then, two years later, she took on a volunteer position helping Homeland Security deradicalize young Muslim men. Obviously, she could've phrased that tweet better, but it's clear that she meant "for good" in the sense that it changed the world forever. She did not mean "for the better," and no reasonable person could assume so, since "changed for the good" is caveman speak. Semantics aside, Laila's two-year-old tweet still kicked up a storm.
In response came tweets like this:
Messages like this:
And hey, here's Milo Yiannopoulos again!
Apparently, rage on the internet summons this guy like the fucking Bat-Signal.
This stuff has real effects on people's lives: "I had written an article for [a publication] ... on the issue before it got picked up on CNN. They refused to run my article because they were afraid it would bring other [trolls] after me." The words they used were, "'uncomfortable with being potentially liable for taking the story national and causing further damage to me.'"
"But if it's any consolation, we can run a story about all the abuse."
The alt-right's hate mobs distinctly target women, even when they're ostensibly targeting men. Take Rick Wilson. He insulted them quite goddamn directly, and they harassed him for a while ... but Rick is a calloused veteran politico. He makes attack ads for a living and owns a shitload of guns. He wasn't a "soft target" ... so they went after his daughter.
"The thing they do that's the most harmful is consistently involve my children. They've falsely said ... my daughter has a black child ... my son was 18 when this shit started. My daughter is 22, she just graduated college ... they stalked her at her school, they followed her, they put notes on the door where she used to live. My daughter was the captain of the university ... she's been drug tested ... she's a clean-cut kid ... and they've got people calling the University of Tennessee saying 'Eleanor Wilson's involved in prostitution and drug sales and all this other shit.'"
Rick didn't think "having a black child" was a bad thing; he simply wanted to note that it was completely untrue, and if anything, sheds some light on the beliefs of his harassers. Having a child of a different race is bad to them.
It's Hard To Fight Against A Shifting Mass
Stormfront is probably the largest explicitly white nationalist website on the internet. Nearly 100 murders have been tied to it. Anders Breivik, the guy who killed 69 people at a Norwegian summer camp to save his country from "multiculturalism" and "Muslims," was active on Stormfront.
We've gone into detail in the past about their most famous member.
People aren't planning murders on Stormfront; it's just that it provides violent, crazy people with a community that reinforces their worldview. Remember Dylann Roof, from 50 or so shootings ago? He's the guy who killed nine members of a black church in Charleston. Here's what he describes as the seminal moment of his racist puberty:
The Council of Conservative Citizens is a white nationalist organization even larger than Stormfront, but if you stumble upon their website, they look like yet another crudely programmed right-wing news aggregator:
Basically, it's nothing but the eye-rolling parts of your Facebook timeline.
But in addition to hating Hillary Clinton, they also hate stuff like "race-mixing" and "thinking the South were the bad guys in the Civil War." And as the Southern Poverty Law Center pointed out, their headlines about black-on-white crime are actually less sensationalized than Breitbart's ...
But at least Breitbart changed their future headlines about the story ... to start including homophobic overtones.
After the SPLC's criticism, they changed their title to something less screamingly insane, but you see what's scary here. The Council of Conservative Citizens and Stormfront measure their regular readers in the tens of thousands, and they are clearly racist websites. Breitbart reaches millions and looks like a normal news site.
They may inspire thousands of psychopaths to ruin people's lives, but there's almost nothing you can do about it. People have the right to write incendiary crap as long as they don't explicitly call for violence. Implying it is fine and dandy. Once Laila's tweet about 9/11 showed up on The Daily Caller -- again, two years after it was made -- Breitbart picked up the story ... and in came the death threats.
"I mean, I went to the police. I really didn't want to go ... I thought it would die down. And in my head, I was like ... I'm a young Muslim-American woman ... I am visibly Muslim and just so happen to be affiliated with the DHS. I was advised by the DHS ... they said don't respond to tweets, and don't talk to the media ..."
Eventually, Laila called the police. And it didn't do much good: "there's this look on her face like, 'What the hell?' She didn't understand what online harassment meant ... I was showing her the death threats and ... she just kind of waved it off. One of the tweets ... said 'Your death will change the world for good.' She was like, 'Well everyone's going to die eventually ...'"
It's hard to get justice when the prevailing opinion on online death threats is "Eh, whatevs."
There is a way websites like Twitter could help, even when the police's hands are tied. Twitter knows who most of those trolls are, and if they don't, it's a simple matter of requiring that info on the signup forms. Sure, Twitter banned Milo Yiannopoulos -- not having to deal with that guy directly is always a good thing, no matter the context -- but Leslie Jones barely got it done, and she's a high-profile celebrity. Not everybody gets that kind of treatment. In one case, the victim of a Twitter harassment campaign contacted the company to complain. One of the harassing tweets even contained a photo that had been stolen from her hacked Dropbox account, so we're talking about an actual crime here. Twitter told her to file a DMCA complaint ... and then mailed the full complaint, which included her home address, to the man harassing her.
They're A Minority, But The Majority Is Afraid To Speak Out Against Them
It would be irresponsible to write an article about "the new hate" without at least mentioning the impact that Donald Trump's campaign has had on their cause. Here's the SPLC:
"Donald Trump's statements this morning are just the latest in a string of incidents where he has used his massive media presence, especially his Twitter account with over 6 million followers, to elevate extremist ideas and individuals. Despite being called out by journalists and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, these incidents continue."
For his part, Rick Wilson says: "... probably 50 percent are just assholes on 4chan ... but half of them genuinely believe we're in some sort of white power moment in our history, and race is the single defining characteristic of being an American ... Trump is the white father figure who's going to turn the country into something they want."
Which, based on what we can find, is either a country led by the mafia or an in-the-flesh second Hitler.
And what they mostly want is for their enemies -- of whom there are so, so many -- out of social media and away from the public sphere. And their strategy usually works. Said Laila: "... this kind of mass harassment has happened to other women I know, and it's effectively silenced them."
Even supporting victims makes you a target: "... on the really bad days, every time I would retweet a supporter, 10-15 trolls would harass them, and they'd be forced to private their account ... report and block those trolls that are sending harassment ..."
Rick is worried about the effect mobs like this can have on free speech. A dyed-in-the-wool conservative, he's afraid the alt-right could stop new voices from rising up in politics. Is it worth speaking out at all, if you know it's instantly going to net you constant harassment, threats, or worse?
At what point is your job worth risking your children's safety?
The vast majority of people from all walks of life think these folks are terrible. The fact that two of our sources for this article were a Republican political strategist and a female Muslim journalist should highlight that. But as Laila pointed out, knowing the masses are behind you doesn't help if they don't do anything: "In an instance of mass harassment and bullying, it's not really consoling to know that there's a silent majority [supporting you]. Because it's silent ... I really think that silence and apathy is more destructive than the hate comments I received."
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For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Horrifying Realities Of Dealing With Sandy Hook 'Truthers' and I Was A Professional 9/11 Truther (And I Gave It Up).
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