Here's How to Win the Civil Rights Social Justice War

We need to be better prepared, and better ready to deal with the challenges ahead of us.

Alt-right members preparing to enter Charlottesville's Emancipation Park holding Nazi, Confederate Battle flags. (Anthony Crider/Flickr)

Netroots Nation 2018 was a chance to meet a lot of good people, eat a lot of good food—but also to get a lot of work done, following up directly on my last Sunday essay arguing that we are still in the midst of an ongoing Civil Rights Social Justice War with the powers of White Male Nationalist Neo-Christian/Corporate Supremacy that has waxed and waned since nearly 100 years before the pen met paper on the Declaration of Independence.

The push toward greater equality, greater safety and greater rights for the worker, the consumer and the socially marginalized remains a perceived threat to the powers-that-be and their eager army of cyber bullyboy lackeys. And when someone perceives a threat, they attack.

I went to Netroots to learn from some of those on the front line of this war, to hear their stories and most importantly, to see what resources and strategies exist to fight back.

SPONSORED

For the most part, the primary battlefield for the Social Justice War is online. During and after the panel discussion on Fighting Nazis Online I met Krista Bordelon, the creator and executive director of Compassion Louisiana, a progressive advocacy group which focuses on everything from sustainable growth to helping families deal with personal trauma.  But Krista wasn’t at this panel because of her group, she was there because she’s been repeated targeted troll and bullied by Nazis, alt-Right and “Mommy” thugs online which quickly metastasized into in-person harassment and stalking.  I asked her to describe some of her experience and she sent me this:

(Trigger warning: bullying, harassment, threats of violence)

[...]

It first started when I blogged about motherhood 7 years ago. When I said motherhood made me feel like I had super powers I literally received hundreds of hate messages in one hour (and that hadn’t even gone viral and was before blogging was really big). One woman - a mother with small children who was also pregnant at the time - sat outside my house watching me one afternoon, other women got every mom in every mom group they knew to message me and threaten me. People actually called CPS trying to get my children taken away. It was a solid 6 weeks of this. It was so overwhelming and terrifying that I actually had a miscarriage because of the stress on my body. That may be the last pregnancy experience I ever have. Some of these women weren’t even strangers, so I still see them around our little big town. It was devastating. But it isn’t just moms caught up in the “mommy wars” who do this, and to be honest they were “kind” in comparison.

I have lost count of how many times I have been told I should kill myself. How many times I’ve been told that I deserve to be raped. How many lies have been made up about me. How many times my pictures have been altered or memes made with my face on them. How many fake profiles with sexually explicit messaging using my name and face there are. There is even an entire coded language surrounding me because my name and identifying info has been banned legally in certain forums. I’ve sent wives private messages about their husbands threatening to rape me because, as a survivor of domestic violence, I felt it was important to reach out, instead I’ve been told that I would deserve it. Craigslist ads stating all the information anyone would need to stalk or even injure or kill me or to kidnap my children go up all the time. The problem is it doesn’t just stay online.

I get nervous to eat at a restaurant in case someone who hates me is working there and what they might do to my food or what they might put in my drink. I have 3 children with special needs, my youngest has ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) which has made me scared to take him in public in case someone records his tantrums and out of spite for me shares it and puts his behavioral and emotional health at risk (he has already been involuntarily committed once). I’ve been followed so much that there are times I feel absolutely paranoid about it. At one critical point there were drones that would follow me as I walked my dog at night. I had to spend thousands of dollars on security cameras and have files open with the FBI, sheriff, and police department. But there’s nothing they can do.

All this, all of this drama, simply because she once wrote something on her private personal blog.  And Krista’s story is hardly unique: there are hundreds of cases of these radical anti-rights anti-justice people gathering online creating viral hate events targeted at those they feel are the best examples of their enemy. It can be something that might seem innocuous, but it can quickly turn quite frightening when a member of one these hate communities unleashes a swarm of attackers and trolls on a single person who has dared to speak out.

During the panel, they talked about this and how organizations such as Color of Change have been trying to work with social media providers such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as going after the online funding sources for hate groups such as Paypal and Visa. However, they’ve had mixed results as blanket bans of hate speech purveyors have also sometimes shut down the pages for those who have been fighting against that speech. Exactly that was described by queer activist, and musician Evan Greer who was a member of the panel. As Evan has stated on Fighting For the Future:

Facebook announced with much fanfare yesterday that the company had scrubbed 32 pages and accounts that they suspected “were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.” But as it turns out, an event sponsored by one of the pages they deleted was for a perfectly legitimate and permitted protest being organized by local activists in Washington, DC. According to the organizers, the event page was deleted because one one of the co-hosts was a page that Facebook suspected of being “inauthentic.”

The event had attracted thousands of interested Internet users, and has now been effectively squashed by Facebook’s purge, just weeks before the protest, giving organizers little time to regain momentum.

“Arbitrary mass censorship is not the solution for the challenges democracy faces in the digital age,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, “Calls for more censorship, whether they come from the left or right, pose a dangerous threat to legitimate freedom of speech and undermine the power of the Internet as a tool for people to organize, educate themselves, and challenge tyranny and corruption. Do we really want an Internet where giant tech companies like Facebook are the arbiters of what is ‘real’ and what is ‘fake’ and can censor whatever they want without oversight or accountability?”

Apparently, online social media companies such as Facebook have found it difficult to recognize what hate speech actually is. They seem to have been trying to balance the safety concerns of targeted minorities on one side with the “free speech” claims of those on the other side as if the two were equal. There has been some success with Milo Yiannopoulos being kicked off Twitter, Steve Bannon being shunned by Breitbart, and with Alex Jones being knocked off Apple, Youtube, Amazon, Spotify, and Facebookat least temporarily.  Even this progress has shown itself to be problematic.

“Apple does not tolerate hate speech,” said Apple. “When users violate . . . our policies against hate speech and harassment . . . we terminate their accounts,” said YouTube. Infowars was “glorifying violence” and “using dehumanizing language” against minorities, said Facebook.

Those rules are important, and they’re under-enforced. But policing hate speech is only part of the problem for these tech platforms. The broader problem is policing truth and its ugly converse: disinformation.

In the case of Infowars, only Twitter, the lone holdout among the tech titans, has uttered the word out loud: “truth,” if only to disclaim any duty for umpiring it. Twitter executives claim that is not their role. Its competitors evidently disagree — the conversation about Infowars has always been focused on how Jones makes it his mission to fill the Internet with falsehoods — but they aren’t ready to say so. Facebook, the most explicit about refusing to be explicit, insisted in its statementannouncing the purge that “while much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news . . . none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this.”

Whether this is even politically intelligent is unclear. Setting a clearer standard on disinformation would invite a torrent of criticism, but now that these companies have removed Infowars, they are due for a reckoning someday. They might as well dislodge themselves from their collective crouch and start running offense.

Still, there is a bigger picture, as was described in the Fighting The Global Right Panel which focused on how the right-wing movement is funded internationally online and the concern trolls who would harass someone like Krista are not just random events. Nativist hate groups in the U.S. have grown with common cause with those in Europe and even in Russia. They share ideology and in some cases tactics, resources and funding.

Another panel I attended which I found vital was From Online Message Boards to Trump’s Tweets: How Fake News and Online Harassment are Threatening Our Democracy

David Neiwert, who is a Northwest representative for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the author of Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the age of Trump, was a speaker on both of those panels and someone who I originally met last year at Netroots Nation in Atlanta at almost exactly time that the “Unite the Right” rally was taking place in Charlottesville where Heather Heyer and two state troopers were killed.

I emailed David and asked him a few questions:

Me: What kind of things would you expect to happen, worse case scenario, if Trump is forced out either by removal or resignation?  Do you think there would be mostly lone-wolf types of attacks against people of color and planned parenthood, or would some more organized Oath Keepers or III Percenters attacks on police take place? Or both?

David: I would expect both. I also expect there would be death squads of the Latin American mold.

Me: That’s pretty harsh, do you think they would something like the shooting gangs that appeared right after Hurricane Katrina who argued they were simply driving looters away, when in fact they were shooting their own neighbors from just a mile away? David: All I know is that these motherfuckers are still reading 'Turner Diaries' and fantasizing about the 'Day of the Rope.' If there is a burst of violence from these guys, it will be ugly.
If you aren’t familiar with the Turner Diaries—which was the chief inspiration for Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Oklahoma federal building and also inspired the murder of radio personality Alan Berg in the 80’s by a neo-Nazi group calling themselves “The Order” or the so-called “Day of the Rope”—here’s a quick primer.
The term "The Day Of The Rope" comes from the book "The Turner Diaries" by Dr. William Pierce using the pen name Andrew Macdonald. In the book that day is described as a necessary day. The book describes an attitude that can be represented by the statement 'The 14 words by any and all necessary means, and at any and all necessary costs. The 14 Words = "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children." ~ David Lane The Turner Diaries is a 1978 novel by William Luther Pierce (published under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald) and a favorite on the far-right loony bin circuit. It is a fictional account of a guerrilla war waged by a white supremacist cadre organization to overthrow the United States government and set up a neo-Nazi regime. Although on the surface "just" a novel, every plot device in the book appears carefully and coldly calculated to impart the positions of the National Alliance, the neo-Nazi group which William Pierce led, and to serve as a blueprint for a white supremacist revolution in the U.S.

So that’s fairly dark, and I don’t think he’s wrong or being hyperbolic because I had brought up the III Percenters because of incidents like this which was in March.

This week, three men were arrested in connection with the bombing of a Minnesota mosque. While the attack didn’t kill anyone, the reported goal was to “scare” Muslims away from living in the United States.

One of the three suspects, Michael B. Hari, is a former sheriff’s deputy who submitted a proposal to build Trump’s border wall.

JJ MacNab, an expert in the world of far-right extremism, uncoveredthat Hari ran a group called the White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia. The group’s website called Illinois a “failed state” and urged readers to take up “armed resistance” against the government. 

The group’s insertion of “Three Percent” into its name is noteworthy. It indicates a fellowship with a larger movement that’s long been active around the fringes of the white supremacist ecosystem.

Founded in 2008, the Three Percent movement takes its name from the idea that only 3 percent of American colonists took up arms against the British. Members fashion themselves as today’s version of those rebels. On its website, the overarching Three Percent group insists it’s not a militia, nor is its aim to overthrow the government. Instead, the goal is, “to utilize the fail-safes put in place by our founders to reign in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny.”

They have a facebook page which regularly generates pro-Trump memes, they’re against Antifa, against Rachel Maddow and pretty much most of the media.  Lovely.

On top of that, you have the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock who apparently was an alt-Right Sovereign Citizen conspiracy theorist nutbag.

In a handwritten statement, one woman says she sat near Paddock in a diner just a few days before the shooting, while out with her son. She said she heard him and a companion discussing the 25th anniversary of the Ruby Ridge standoff and the Waco siege. (Each of these incidents became touchstones for a rising anti-government militia movement in the 1990s.)

She says she heard him and his companion saying that courtroom flags with golden fringes are not real flags. The belief that gold-fringed flags are those of a foreign jurisdiction, or “admiralty flags”, is characteristic of so-called “sovereign citizens”, who believe, among other things, that the current US government, and its laws, are illegitimate.

[...]

Another man, himself currently in jail, says he met Paddock three weeks before the shooting for an abortive firearms transaction, in the carpark of a Bass Pro Shop. The man was selling schematic diagrams for an auto sear, a device that would convert semi-automatic weapons to full automatic fire. Paddock asked him to make the device for him, and the man refused.

At this point Paddock launched into a rant about “anti-government stuff … Fema camps”. Paddock said that the evacuation of people by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) after Hurricane Katrina was a a “dry run for law enforcement and military to start kickin’ down doors and ... confiscating guns”.

“Somebody has to wake up the American public and get them to arm themselves,” the man says Paddock told him. “Sometimes sacrifices have to be made.”

This guy's exact motives in the shooting have not been determined but that kind of talk is right out of the “Turner Diaries”, so even if what David said may seem far-fetched, it’s not — it may be already happening.  The only difference was that this guy was solo, not part of a group or team like the mosque bombers who could have rented two rooms and created a triangulation kill box on Las Vegas Boulevard, but then again, I rather not give them any ideas.

Surprisingly Alex Jones’ own predictions are not that dramatically different from Neiwert’s, only he argues that when the violence comes it will be a “false flag” operation by the left against itself and the media as noted by Media Matters.

ALEX JONES (HOST): But here’s the big issue: They are coming for you, they are now going to launch their operations, they are going to launch their civil unrest, they are going to launch their calls for civil war, which they’re now doing, they’re going to launch their events. And then they’re going to persecute Infowars, lie about Infowars, build us up as this villain, keep hyping that I’m going to send people to people’s houses to shoot people. I’ve been saying for years, and I never said it, but for years I’ve been saying, “No, don’t go out and self-investigate stuff with firearms,” because they’re going to set you up, they’re going to set somebody else up. But they’re gearing it all up to stage the false flags against MSNBC, CNN, you name it. To stage false flags against universities, to stage false flags against antifa, to make the villains the good guys and they don’t want me on air on big viral platforms so that I can respond when they do it. So they’re strangling us and absolutely banning us 100 percent ahead of staging massive events as we’ve been predicting into the late summer, early fall to create so much civil unrest they can implement the 25th Amendment and stampede enough cowards inside.

Through the Rorschach lens of InfoWars when the violence comes against the media and left wing the cause will be, us, because we’re the bullies, we’re the killers.  Jones and his fans are simply innocent bystanders just like he claims about Sandy Hook being faked and the more recent death threats against Don Lemon and Brian Stelter which were voiced on C-SPAN were really a false flag by some leftist from somewhere.

They get to have their violence and pretend to be victims too, isn’t that special?  

The last thing they can afford to do is take responsibility for their own words and actions, let alone be held accountable.  You can see that with Laura Ingraham now claiming her comment this week were “nothing about race or ethnicity” after her big rant about how America “isn’t America anymore after all of these demographics changes” which exactly match various rants from racists including Jared Taylor, David Duke, and Richard Spencer.  What exactly does she think demographic changes are?  Yet again, another conservative talks smack but will take no responsibility for it.

Another person I met at Netroots was former National Security Council staffer Evan Coren who I asked a few things:

Me: What you thought about the recent bans of pages and videos by Alex Jones and Infowars on Youtube and Facebook. Do you think this shows that the major social media providers may be starting to understand the depth of the problem, or are they simply making a move of convenience  for the moment and they still have a long, long way to go and fully separate the hate speech purveyors from those fighting the hate? 

Evan: I think it is hard to say at this point. It currently sounds like a time out rather than serious enforcement, but we will know better when we see how sustained it is. 

Me: Jones and the others seem to have amassed an online army of trolls and stalkers ready to do battle with the dreaded "Social Justice Warriors", do you think they'll be scared or enraged by the banning of Infowars?  And do you think progressives should be prepared for an online onslaught?

Evan: Yes and yes and many of those “warriors” are Russian intelligence operatives...this is a time tested practice that we ourselves used in Iran in the 50s against Mosaddegh to put the Shah back on the throne, just updated with modern technology. That isn’t to say that Jones hasn’t built up a large domestic following, but that it is amplified by Russian intelligence and was probably initially propagated and grown by Russian intelligence and now they help steer and sustain it.

Me: Mind if I quote you on this? Also, do you think that there is direct synergy between Russian intelligence trolls and their (mostly) unwitting U.S. alt-right counterparts?  Or to put i another way, Russia is directly feeding and supporting our bigoted beasts?

Evan: For national security someone needs to be direct about it, so sure. All of this is from publicly reported information.

It is also publicly well documented that Russia is trying to feed racial bigotry and that is both because they see the effectiveness and because it fits Russian leaders world views. They have been doing this all over Europe.

This view, that Russians were involved online in the organization of last year’s Unite the Right rally, which had it’s anniversary yesterday and has a repeat event taking place today in Washington DC. has been confirmed by Republican Congress Tom Garrett Jr. (R-VA). who represents the Charlottesville district.

What I didn’t really see on these various panels at Netroots, and I wasn’t alone there, was anything resembling a coherent or cohesive strategy to battle all of these various forces online and offline. Even police have been ineffective as they seem more interested in designating Antifa as terrorists than actually stopping domestic terrorism by white nationalists.

US security officials have classified the left-wing group Antifa as "domestic terrorists", confidential documents have revealed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reportedly been warning about the growing threat of violence between left-wing anarchists and right-wing nationalists since 2016, amid claims Antifa's activity has become more confrontational, according to documents seen by Politico.

A confidential intelligence report by the DHS and the FBI accused the "anarchist extremists" of attacks on police, government and political institutions, along with any other symbols of the "capitalist system" or displays of racism, social injustice or fascism.

It described some of their activities as "domestic terrorist violence".

Yet, as David Neiwert documented last year, most actual domestic terrorism is being generated by white nationalist and right-wing hate groups, not from the left wing or even from Muslims.

Number of Terrorist Incidents
  • From January 2008 to the end of 2016, we identified 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism, meaning incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State. The vast majority of these (76 percent) were foiled plots, meaning no attack took place.
  • During the same period, we found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents: 115. Just over a third of these incidents (35 percent) were foiled plots. The majority were acts of terrorist violence that involved deaths, injuries or damaged property.
  • Right-wing extremist terrorism was more often deadly: Nearly a third of incidents involved fatalities, for a total of 79 deaths, while 13 percent of Islamist cases caused fatalities. (The total deaths associated with Islamist incidents were higher, however, reaching 90, largely due to the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.)
  • Incidents related to left-wing ideologies, including ecoterrorism and animal rights, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents causing seven fatalities – making the shooting attack on Republican members of Congress earlier this month somewhat of an anomaly.
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of Islamist incidents in our database were sting operations, more than four times the rate for far-right (12 percent) or far-left (10.5 percent) incidents.

In the recent days during the violence in Portland, even though the neo-Nazi protestors didn’t have a permit, the police choose to charge the anti-protesters in order to get back to two squad cars they had left behind using flash grenades which severely injured one of the counter-protestors when he was struck in the head by the shell.[Trigger Warning: Violence]

To clear the way, police shot dozens of flash-bang grenades at more than 1,000 people who had gathered to oppose what they say are white supremacists.

According to the Oregon ACLU, “To our knowledge, no other police force in America uses crowd control weapons with the regularity of the Portland Police Bureau.”

Flash-bang grenades are explosives that are potentially lethal, according to the Sandia National Laboratories.

Portland police could be seen using grenade launchers to fire the canisters that tore through the air and exploded above protesters’ heads hundreds of feet away.

According to the Rosehips Medics, a collective that provides first aid during street protests, at least three people were hit by the flash-bang grenades.

A Portland protestor who was nearly killed by cops firing flash-bang grenades to make room for alt-right marchers/Courtesy photo

Two of those hit were sent to the hospital. Raw Story has obtained exclusive photos of some of the injuries. One man was sent to the hospital with a head wound. According to a source in contact with the injured man and his girlfriend, his life was saved only by the helmet he was wearing.

Photos show a heavy-duty bicycle helmet punctured by a flash-bang grenade canister. On the other side of the helmet blood can be seen. Flesh and blood are massed on the man’s head in a different photo as he wears a neck brace and is treated by medical personnel.

So we’re not just up against a small pack of online kooks here. This is an international right-wing movement pushed and supported by foreign governments, including Russia, who intend to implement White supremacy and authoritarianism where ever they can. We can’t rely on private social media institutions to protect us, and we can’t rely on police or the FBI and Homeland Security to protect us as both of them are frankly compromised and confused, thinking that the aggressors are no different from those seeking to protect themselves from their aggression.

Do we have a strategy to fight this?

I’m thinking that we need one, like stat. We need to have a strategy for handling trolls and sock-puppets. Here on Kos, we seemed to have managed that well, but what about on our own private blogs? What about on Twitter or Facebook? Do we have good resources available to help people dealing with cyber-bullying, which is intended to pound someone’s self-esteem until they reach the brink of suicide?  Do we have a path to deal with something like what Krista has dealt with?

It’s strange that this is real life. At its worst, I had to go into hiding for a short period of time. I had to make a plan with the school my children attend. In Louisiana we have a congressman who openly called for the shooting and killing of Muslims. We have an active KKK and David Duke ran for office again last year. Our Attorney General wants to legalize firing squads and gas chambers and hangings in the public square. We have several right-wing terrorist organizations. And they utilize this for their advantage. The cult-like, groupthink mentality leads to mobs of people literally willing to violate, injure, and even kill. Trolling is not some way for bored guys in basements to get LOLZ. It’s acts of psychological, emotional, and political warfare. Not only do they want me killed, they are actively trying to push someone into doing it. And even people who know me, who I have helped in their deepest times of grief and need through my advocacy organization, get caught up in it. That’s how strong and how real this is. THAT is what I want people to understand about trolling and online bullying. I keep hearing people say we need to have the “right to offend”, but I feel we need to draw a hard line as a society and say that we don’t want to accept as normal using media and mob mentalities to ruin the lives of real people with real jobs and real families and real emotions.

I have been stripped of the most basic thing a person has - humanity. I’m not a human in their eyes. I’m not worthy of being treated with common decency and respect and protection. ESPN had a “fuck KB” sign up at the opening LSU game. To hate me is literally a type of entertainment. Even legally, I am told I “asked” for it because I am considered a “public figure”. I’m a public figure because instead of choosing to hide and be silent, I spoke out. Apparently, when speaking out it is a known consequence that people will hate you and that you will be endangered and if I don’t want to deal with that then I should be a “good little girl” and go stay in my corner. If not, then I’m sure they’ll have a celebratory sign of my murder during the next LSU game, and they’ll share it alongside the old article Alex Jones had written about me on Infowars.

I think we need more, I think we need to do better. Just as Krista has dealt with the trauma of others—where did she have to go to deal with her own trauma?

I’ve dealt with cyberbullies. I use to debate Andrew Breitbart on Twitter when he was still alive. I’ve had people come after me online, nothing to the extent that Krista has been forced to handle, but I’ve been there. There are tools for this, handbooks, ways to focus on your own humanity and make your attacker realize that you’re a person just as they’re a person. It’s possible if you have the patience to reach a troll and re-engage their basic human empathy.

Efforts like this have been put together by former neo-Nazis and skinheads such as T.J. Leyden, whose own story was one of the primary inspirations for Ed Norton’s character in American History X,. T.J. had walked away from that world to protect his kids and worked for years with the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He now has his own operation called The Forgiveness Project.

The Forgiveness Project is an award-winning, secular organisation that collects and shares real stories of forgiveness to build understanding, encourage reflection and enable people to reconcile with the pain and move forward from the trauma in their own lives.

Our exhibitionsevents, and programmes use narrative learning techniques to present alternatives to cycles of conflict, violence, crime and injustice.

The stories of forgiveness on our website demonstrate that forgiveness is first and foremost a personal journey: a visceral process with no set rules or time limits. It is not dependent on faith and it is often just “as mysterious as love”.

It’s not easy, but I think it’s something we need to work on just as we contemplate how to deal with those who wish to ultimately implement the “Day of the Rope.”

We need to be better prepared, and better ready to deal with the challenges ahead of us as they are many, and they are very, very serious.

 

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.