[NOTE: This was written a year ago, in the summer of 2018, while working on the News 21 reporting project “Hate in America”. The project produced digital stories, blog posts, and a full-length, awards (three at last count) winning documentary. This specific piece is published for the first time here.]
Phoenix, AZ 2018, by Danny Smitherman
When extreme prejudice shows up online, what does it look like?
According to Data and Society researchers Becca Lewis and Alice Marwick in their study “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online”, extreme prejudice trolls internet users, prefers slogans and in-speak to spontaneous discussion, devotes significant time to discussing conspiracy theories, is hyper partisan, and deliberately throws weight around.
According to Lewis and Marwick, it’s ideology, money, or status and attention that motivate the extremist. The techniques or mechanics of online work of manipulators include active participation (since it’s so easy to get involved online, often anonymously); networking in the form of retweeting, reposting, following, being followed; using various platforms to assemble, discuss, and organize; and memes.
Memes are especially potent, or virulent, and are everywhere on platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and GAB.ai.
Lewis and Marwick write, “While virtually anything can be a meme since it’s a unit of information, in modern internet parlance, a meme is a visual trope that proliferates across internet spaces as it is replicated and altered by anonymous users.”
“Gamergate’s success at mobilizing gamers to push an ideological agenda indicates the fruitfulness of radicalizing interest-based communities,” the two researchers conclude, referring to an occurrence of online harassment.
On top of that influence, memes find “amplification by mainstream media. The mainstream media’s predilection for sensationalism, need for constant novelty, and emphasis on profits over civic responsibility made them vulnerable to strategic manipulation,” they argue.
When paired with automating code, bots, the connections between platforms, and the few billion connected users, memes are incessant and conflicting influences on internet users.
The study also concludes: “the spread of false or misleading information is having real and negative effects on the public consumption of news.”
Pres. Trump’s personal Twitter account now drives the 24-hour-a-day news cycle with his tweets, including retweets from accounts of known, and active, extremists, using phrases in common with white nationalists and supremacists, some of whom he also retweets.
On Twitter he has trolled groups, individuals, companies and nations, uses jargon and code words tied to white nationalism and white supremacy, maintains that Barak Obama is not an American citizen, and exerts and solicits influence.
Just how Marwick and Lewis describe media manipulators, especially extremists.
In his Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, Gary Lachman details Donald Trump’s upbringing in the invigorating atmosphere of Norman Vincent Peale’s New Thought or Power of Positive Thinking.
Trump’s father was a devotee of Norman Vincent Peale, and the family attended Peale’s church in New York for many years. Donald Trump grew up going to this church, and listening to Peale’s sermons. When Trump unveiled his Trump Tower in Manhattan, Peale was there to congratulate him.
Lachman profiles a young boy, and then a young man, powerfully affected by the message that just by thinking it, and never doubting it, you could make something so. If you think it and say it, without doubting, it will come to pass.
Politico reporter Michael Kruse wrote last fall of “The Power of Trump’s Positive Thinking”, and tries to find “the line between optimism and delusion.” He quotes Trump:
“Someone asked me if I thought I was a genius,” he wrote in 2009 in Think Like a Champion. “I decided to say yes. Why not? Try it out. Tell yourself that you are a genius.”
Positive thinking like that, hitched to memes – bits of thought in picture form – and the immediacy and convenience of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, give the perfect combination of circumstances for power and influence in just the way that Donald Trump, and now Pres. Trump, has.
He also said, and believed and thought, he was going to win the presidential election, in contradiction to the opinion of almost every major news outlet, numerous CEOs, organization and foundation Directors, unions, retired government officials and others who argued and predicted that he wouldn’t.
Dr. Edward Dunbar, a clinical psychologist who teaches, practices, and conducts research at UCLA, shared through a ProPublica webinar his work with victims and perpetrators of hate crimes, and the different communities and neighborhoods deeply disturbed by both the hate and the harm.
Of perpetrators, Dunbar’s data show more complicated characteristics of violent prejudice than “the angry white male” stereotype. According to Dunbar, advanced degrees are not uncommon, and many hold good jobs. Some are mentally unstable, and some are not exclusively biased – they are equal opportunity haters.
Beyond noting changing demographics, Dunbar identifies substantial new details of those who express, promote and support prejudice and violence.
For one, the motive is not usually financial. Perpetrators of hate aren’t in it for the money, directly. They harass, threaten, troll, and otherwise hassle their victims because of who those victims are, not what they have.
Acts of hate are very often pre-meditated and organized. The extremists plan their attacks.
Almost always, they target anonymous victims. These are not personal, individual quarrels or disagreements – an extremist almost never knows their victim personally. Most presume their victim isn’t unique or ‘special’, that they aren’t truly individual.
The internet runs on anonymity, by virtue of the mere electrical, remote connection between users.
As a result of the anonymity of many incidents, it isn’t uncommon for the perpetrator to mis-identify the victim’s membership in the hated group. The internet proliferates those mistakes.
There is one feature that is common to each and every perpetrator of prejudice: by definition, each perpetrator aims at every single member of the group represented by the victim.
This, says Dunbar, is akin to ethnic cleansing, and is certainly political violence. He cites data showing that the history of lynchings in an area is a strong predictor of the level and degree of victims reporting crimes to local law enforcement, and of law enforcement reporting a crime as bias motivated. The message apparently is loud and clear.
“We are seeing a normalization of extreme forms of bigotry,” Dunbar said, and that with the increased visibility of hate extremism, there has been a shift of perspective about prejudice-motivated criminal behavior from ‘aberrant’ to ‘political’.
Christopher Cantwell is back in Keene, New Hampshire, after landing and staying in Charlottesville, Virginia on house arrest for almost a year waiting for a trial set for tomorrow, August 13. He pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and battery and one count of violation of bond conditions.
He’s still active online, and maintains a well known presence in the violent white nationalist space on the internet.
Cantwell posts and publishes frequently on several platforms, sharing his talking points: a whites-only country, immediate and radical immigration control, criminal punishment of non-heterosexuals, with especially cruel and unusual sorts for transsexuals.
ChristopherCantwell.com and RadicalAgenda.com host the same content, which consists almost entirely of episodes of his podcast Radical Agenda. From GAB Cantwell announces new episodes, directing his followers to the ChristopherCantwell.com site.
GAB is where Cantwell lives online. A recent (7/15/2018) GAB posts include hints of suicide, including these:
He’s also taking recommendations for a bankruptcy lawyer in New Hampshire “who isn’t a Jew.”
When hate moves from the cloud to the streets, what does it look like?
Richard Spencer, President and Creative Director of the National Policy Institute, which is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States and around the world”, according to their website, claims to have degrees from the Universities of Chicago and Virginia, and studied at [Harvard]. He routinely dresses in suit and tie with a vest, sporting a ‘fashy’ haircut imitating Hitler’s.
Spencer made, until recently, a living with conference talks, podcast contributions, and various speaking engagements. His funding and marketing have been significantly disrupted, however, since the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last August at the Unite the Right rally that Spencer’s National Policy Institute co-sponsored, where many were seriously injured, one woman was murdered, and many of the participants carried, and some discharged, loaded weapons.
Since the rally, GoDaddy unplugged Spencer’s website AltRight.com, Twitter suspended two of his accounts, and Facebook did the same. Paypal suspended the account for Spencer’s National Policy Institute. NPI has since linked to a campaign at MakerSupport.com for contributions.
Christopher Cantwell currently sits in his apartment, on house arrest with a gps tracker around his ankle and a [breathalyzer] around his wrist while he waits for his upcoming criminal trial in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he faces charges stemming from 2017’s violence at the Unite the Right rally that he helped to organize and violence that he helped to provoke.
According to a mugshot published in April of this year after Cantwell was arrested for public drunkenness – while still on house arrest awaiting trial for last year’s charges – shows a balding 36 year-old with a stray spray of recalcitrant bangs, extremely thin lips set in a resting frown, and a sculpted beard along his jaw. The mugshot doesn’t show his pale skin or the physique he says he’s getting ripped with regular trips to the gym.
Elliot Kline, usually known as Eli Mosley, coordinated his own crowd in Charlottesville last year as the director of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist association active online and in the light of day, putting up posters and banners on college campuses around the country and consistently documented on the group’s Twitter feed.
Kline is a former Pennsylvania Army National Guardsman, who said he’d deployed to Iraq where he enjoyed killing Iraqis. The New York Times disputed his deployment to Iraq to his face in an interview, and he has yet to offer his military records.
He too faced charges in Charlottesville for leading organized militia in the city, but he’s since settled, and in a recent interview with Kline, The Guardian wrote that Kline “claims to have quit the far right.” Kline himself attests to his private thinking about the cause:
“It’s not going to go away. The same pressures that created the alt-right have got worse. When people hear President Trump call MS-13 ‘animals’, over half the country’s with him and the rest can’t believe anyone would say that. The country is going to keep getting more and more divided.”
Details differ, but it’s clear that the three white men, Richard Spencer, Elliott Kline, and Chris Cantwell, are all extremists, and at least one organization devoted to identifying and monitoring so-called hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center, labels all three of these men just that way.
The picture given by FBI statistics on hate crimes from the years 2000, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 show this:
Roughly 1/2 were white
Roughly 1/4 were black
This contradicts a plank common to many extremist platforms, that African Americans perpetrate the majority of crimes, even while making up only 12% of the American population. It also conflicts with a common claim, almost a slogan, that the country is in danger of being overrun with non-whites.
This ratio matches what overall crime statistics show, regarding the breakdown by race. Until recently.
Since Donald Trump stepped into the White House, FBI numbers for all crime changed significantly with the most recent data updates and publications.
The latest figures show that of every ten assaulters, five were white and four were black.
But for the last almost two decades before that, consistently, of ten assaulters, six where white and three were black
Though only roughly 12% of the U.S. population, African Americans make up almost half the offenders in aggravated assault cases, whereas white Americans, who make up roughly 64% of the U.S. population, make up only half the offenders of aggravated assaults.
This is a profound shift in the statistical person perpetrating crime, and the African American throws an extremely long shadow.
Hate crime, though, according to current FBI numbers, is largely a white problem, which makes the case for digging deeper into the latest statistics for all aggravated assaults.
And the face of extremism and hate shifts again.