Buzzfeed’s Milo/Breitbart expose was good reading, if not very surprising. The alt-right are Nazis with new and improved marketing, haven’t you heard? The details were interesting. I read them and moved on.
Then I came across this article by Laura Wagner, who usually writes about sports. She was particularly struck by the fact that “liberal media” people had been feeding tips and story ideas to the Nazis.
After the report was published, evidence of these and other liberal journalists buddying up to Yiannopoulos (his Twitter handle was @Nero before he was banned) and other alt-right ghouls like Mike Cernovich, who spends his days spreading insane conspiracy theories online, and Ann Coulter, famous for being a racist hyper blonde lady and for bombing on Comedy Central, wasn’t hard to find. It had all been out there in the open.
Is there a word for when you feel embarrassed about your naïveté? Because I feel dumb as hell. I assumed that when Nuzzi and her down-the-middle cohorts wrote things like this glowing profile of Mike Cernovich in New York magazine, they went home and immediately took a hot shower to wash off the stink. I didn’t realize they were just writing about their friends.
Maybe these reporters think associating with Pepes makes them look like they know something everyone else doesn’t? That they’re cool enough to get into the club? That this is all just a no-stakes game that ends with a few more Twitter followers? Maybe they feel subversive? Maybe they’re just so caught up in a big media circle jerk that their brains have been jostled out of their ears and they don’t realize or care they’re enabling the work of literal white supremacists? I’m not sure why anyone would want to be best friends with Ann Coulter.
I do know that I feel like a moron for not realizing sooner that opportunistic dopes and morally bankrupt frauds walk among us.
Joseph Bernstein accomplished something I couldn’t have because I’m an angry black man, and for that he should be commended. White Sports Fan Girl would be totally closed to any observations I might make about social reality. White supremacy knows how to take advantage of this.
Consider Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. I’ve written about him twice before.
The first time, it was about something dismissive he wrote about the idea of “white fragility.” The second time, it was about his use of “centrist” (i.e., crypto-right wing) academic Jonathan Haidt to dismiss the reality of “microaggressions.” Basically, his thing is to write earnest articles about how police shouldn’t kill black people, which gives him credibility while advancing right-wing views. He’s a nigger-lover, for white people purposes. The Laura Wagners of the world trust the Conor Friedersdorfs.
That’s why Friedersdorf writes stuff like The ACLU Should Keep Representing Deplorables. He’s the messenger who can do the more difficult propaganda work of getting liberals to help the right in practice. He handles situations like this:
In the ACLU’s long history of First Amendment advocacy, it has repeatedly defended Nazis and racists on the premise that free speech rights are indivisible: that “restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence you.”
Often that approach has been controversial in the moment, but bolstered its long-term reputation for principled advocacy on behalf of folks on all sides of national divisions.
But today, even as everyone less odious than Nazis benefits from case law protecting even the most odious and despicable people in world history, the ACLU’s successful approach is sparking intense criticism and creating deep fissures inside the organization, as The New York Times noted this week, quoting an open letter from about 200 ACLU staff members who argued that “our broader mission—which includes advancing the racial justice guarantees in the Constitution and elsewhere, not just the First Amendment—continues to be undermined by our rigid stance.”
Those dissenting staffers are making a grave error.
It’s important to place this issue side-by-side with the Buzzfeed expose.
Yiannopoulos’s star rose throughout 2016 thanks to a succession of controversial public appearances, social media conflagrations, Breitbart radio spots, television hits, and magazine profiles. Bannon’s guidance, the Mercers’ patronage, and the creative energy of his young staff had come together at exactly the time Donald Trump turned offensive speech into a defining issue in American culture. And for thousands of people, Yiannopoulos, Breitbart’s poster child for offensive speech, became a secret champion.
Aggrieved by the encroachment of so-called cultural Marxism into American public life, and egged on by an endless stream of stories on Fox News about safe spaces and racially charged campus confrontations, a diverse group of Americans took to Yiannopoulos’s inbox to thank him and to confess their fears about the future of the country.
He heard from ancient veterans who “binge-watched” his speeches on YouTube; from “a 58 year old asian woman” concerned about her high school daughter’s progressive teachers; from boys asking how to win classroom arguments against feminists; from a former NASA employee who said he had been “laid off by my fat female boss” and was sad that the Jet Propulsion Lab had become “completely cucked”; from a man who had bought his 11-year-old son an AR-15 and named it “Milo”; from an Indiana lesbian who said she “despised liberals” and begged Yiannopoulos to “keep triggering the special snowflakes”; from a doctoral student in philosophy who said he had been threatened with dismissal from his program for sharing his low opinion of Islam; from a Charlotte police officer thanking Yiannopoulos for his “common sense Facebook posts” about the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott (“BLUE LIVES MATTER,” Yiannopoulos responded); from a New Jersey school teacher who feared his students would become “pawns for the left social justice campaign”; from a man who said he had returned from a deployment in “an Islamic country” to discover that his wife was transitioning and wanted a divorce (subject line “Regressivism stole my wife”); from a father terrified his daughter might attend Smith College; from fans who wanted to give him jokes to use about fat people, about gay people, about Muslims, about Hillary Clinton.
The truth is that people don’t, in practice, understand that the media is fake. The media, in practice, is the official guide on how to behave. This is why debates about media representation aren’t “trivial.” There are legions of people like those Milo fans, and they take their cues from what they see on TV. People are deliberately using “free speech” as a way to accomplish their deeper goal of normalizing racism so they can get away with violence.
There’s a population of squeamish people that will definitely tolerate the rise of Nazism, but they need instructions on how to look the other way. Conor Friedersdorf fills that gap, and fills it expertly.
Bygone ACLU defenses of hateful right-wing speakers have never enabled or even preceded a spike in political power for American Nazis or members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Skokie didn’t portend a descent into fascism.
But those principled defenses of speech and the precedents that they set did repeatedly lay critical groundwork that helped opponents of needless warmaking and racism.
ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Lee Rowland noted one example back during the 2016 campaign, amid calls to charge Donald Trump with incitement for violent talk at his rallies. She referenced a case that the ACLU of Ohio had litigated for a bigot years earlier.
“The Brandenburg test is named after Clarence Brandenburg, an avowed racist convicted for holding an Ohio KKK rally in the late 1960s. The Supreme Court overturned his conviction, despite the rally’s talk of ‘revengeance’ against Jews and black people, and held that ‘abstract advocacy of force’ was protected speech that did not amount to incitement,” she explained. “A few years later, in a short opinion relying entirely on Brandenburg, the Court struck down another state conviction—this time of an anti-war protester who a cop overheard yelling, ‘We’ll take the fucking streets later.’ The court again held that advocacy of generic illegal action was not incitement.”
Anti-war protesters weren’t the only disempowered minority to benefit from Brandenburg. “Perhaps the high water mark for incitement law is NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, in which the court upheld civil-rights icon Charles Evers’s right to deliver ‘emotionally charged rhetoric’ at a 1966 rally,” she explained. “Evers was advocating that a crowd of supporters boycott racist, white-owned businesses, and during his passionate speech, he promised that ‘We’ll break the damn neck’ of anyone who broke the boycott. Citing Brandenburg once again, the court held that there was no evidence ‘that Evers authorized, ratified, or directly threatened acts of violence.’”
But for the ACLU’s successful defense of an abhorrent bigot in Brandenburg, one wonders how many more anti-war protesters and civil-rights activists would’ve been imprisoned. Thank goodness anti-racists who found it distasteful did not prevail!
This is quite an impressive sleight-of-hand. Did you catch the trick?
I don’t mean the part in the first two sentences, which are obviously false because we’re now seeing a rise of fascism enabled by those decisions.
The trick is the pretense that the legal system today works the same as it did in the 1960s or 1970s. Rule of law, and general knowledge of civics, have declined. It’s unimaginable that something like the Freedom of Information Act could pass today. Back then, because the public was taught about the rule of law, maintaining its pretense was part of exercising power. It became very clear that this was no longer necessary during the Bush administration.
Consider the legal situation for Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1930s Germany. Early on, they were actually able to defend themselves in court. See Between Resistance and Martyrdom: Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Third Reich.
In its March 26, 1934 decision, the Hessen Special Court in Darmstadt pronounced the IBSA [Jehovah’s Witness] ban to be unconstitutional and legally ineffective. On the one hand, the court based this decision on the fact that the February 28, 1933 Decree of the Reich President repealed only seven specifically mentioned articles of the Reich Constitution. The other articles, including the article guaranteeing freedom of religion, were still in effect. On the other hand, after extensive hearing of evidence, the court granted the IBSA the status of a religious association, thus placing it under the protection of the unrepealed Reich Constitution, article 137. As a result, the twenty-nine defendants, Bible Students from Offenbach, were acquitted.
According to a press report, the accused Jehovah’s Witnesses determinedly denied in court any relationship between the Bible Student teachings and the Jewish religion or Communist ideologies. “What distinguishes them from the Jews is the fact that they believe in the life and death of Christ. And the fact that they reject principally the use of violence distinguishes them from the Communists.”
…The decision of the Darmstadt Special Court provoked the most serious opposition on the part of the NS judges. Professor Ernst Rudolf Huber, an exponent of the “Kieler Schule” and its most radically advocated “new legal thinking,” was one of the promoters of NS jurisprudence. Huber spoke of “errors in law” and “unsustainable results.” Since the basic principles of the Weimar period had been replaced with the principles of a NS view of state, such as “national-oriented thinking,” the “Fuhrer principle,” and “political totality,” it was imperative “to break completely free from the image of a written formal constitution.”
The minute anarchists or black people start getting acquitted, someone will get to work removing those legal grounds. By March 1935, the Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t have those legal protections, anymore. They were officially subversive.
The central piece of bullshit in Friedersdorf’s article:
The ACLU has been subject to criticism for representing the organizers of the alt-right gathering in Charlottesville where a counter-protester was killed by a white supremacist. That murder was abhorrent, and a great tragedy for the loved ones of the deceased; and the ACLU is under no principled obligation to represent anyone if they believe that their real intention is to perpetrate violence; but the ACLU had no reason to anticipate that one of the alt-right protesters would run a woman down with his car.
He also maintains that Charlottesville was a disaster for the alt-right, while emphasizing the importance of holding our noses and supporting them.
When the Nazis really get going, stare decisis isn’t going to save anybody. Friedersdorf is saying “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.”, pretending everything is normal.
It’s not a matter of gentlemanly disagreement about the limits of the social contract. It’s a matter of those motherfuckers seriously trying to kill people and helping with their public relations or not.
Just imagine the mental compartmentalization necessary to work at The Atlantic and write as if the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump is going to enforce civil rights laws that are inconvenient to them. Friedersdorf’s article did nothing to make me feel safer for philosophizing about radical black anarchist Luddite revolution on the internet. When they come for me, writing about history will be “support for terrorism” as far as the law is concerned. Even though I’m not saying I’m going to break anyone’s neck and I just write what I think on my blog.
It’s fucked up having to write things like that and they’re real.
Can we talk about the state of free speech for black people?
One Thursday morning in May, Tommy J Curry walked through the offices of the philosophy department at Texas A&M University with a police officer at his side and violence on his mind. The threats had started a few days earlier. “Since you said white people need to be killed I’m in fear of my life,” one person had written via email. “The next time I see you on campus I might just have to pre-emptively defend myself you dumb fat nigger. You are done.” Curry didn’t know if that person was lurking on the university grounds. But Texas is a gun-friendly state, and Texas A&M is a gun-friendly campus, and he took the threat seriously.
Curry supports the right to bear arms. It was part of how he ended up in this situation. In 2012 he had appeared on a satellite radio show and delivered a five-minute talk on how uneasy white people are with the idea of black people talking about owning guns and using them to combat racist forces. When a recording of the talk resurfaced in May, people thought the tenured professor was telling black people to kill white people. This idea swept through conservative media and into the fever swamps of Reddit forums and racist message boards. The threats followed.
Anonymous bigots weren’t the only ones making Curry feel unwanted. Michael K Young, the president of Texas A&M, had called the professor’s comments “disturbing” and contrary to the values of the university. Curry was taken aback. His remarks on the radio were not a regrettable slip of the tongue. They were part of why the university had hired him.
It’s notable to me that Curry’s dad taught him about self-defense, his mom was a social worker, and he was good at debate. I’m not familiar with his work, but I think this is a fair model of how people respond to what I’m saying. Why do you think I’m not posting with my IRL name?
It’s fair to say that there’s a lot of overlap between the people who’d send death threats to a black professor and people who’d attend the KKK rallies Friedersdorf defends. They show up to the rallies with guns because they’re obviously intending an intimidating show of force. Is that legitimate free speech? Is it a legitimate use of public space?