Thursday, October 27, 2016

Internet Trolls and a Noose in Mississippi

Writer & Alt Right target David French
If you're unfamiliar with the alarmingly far-right branch of conservatism on the American political spectrum known as the alt-right, then I'd recommend that you spend a few minutes listening to the interview Terry Gross did with National Review writer David French yesterday on Fresh Air.

Who is David French? For starters he's both principled and fairly conservative in his worldview.

He's a married Iraq War vet with three children, Harvard-trained lawyer and conservative writer for one of the more conservative periodicals out there.

That's why it's all the more remarkable to listen to him describe the extent of the virulent backlash of online hate and vicious internet trolling he, his wife and young daughter were subjected to after he emerged as one of the leading conservative thinkers in the "never Trump" camp.

According to his interview yesterday, it really started after he criticized the far-right racist xenophobe nutbag author Ann Coulter; you really should read the National Review article he wrote last week detailing the extent of the alt-right campaign against him.

It's not just shocking and disturbing.

It offers insight into a largely younger-skewing demographic that has oepnly embraced an aggressive white-identity movement with decidedly white supremacist leanings, one that is largely organized around social media and is far right enough to be hostile towards, and totally contemptuous of the Republican establishment in Washington.

Oh and they love Trump.

Trump campaign guru Steve Bannon 
Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon deserves a large measure of credit for building a large online tent-community where those who identify as alt-right could gather and reinforce their extremist views.

As the chairman of Brietbart Media, the Goebbels-like propaganda specialist turned Brietbart News into an online hub for racism, xenophobia and white supremacy.

Is it surprising that Trump tapped Bannon to head up his campaign?

Trumps' son Donald, Jr. (he of the quasi-mafioso 80's-esque Gordon Gekko hair style) is young enough, internet-saavy enough and enamoured enough with the language of the white identity movement to have likely been one of the insiders to suggest that Bannon would be a good pick to run the Republican front-runner's campaign.

You may recall Junior as the brainiac who tried to ape his father's use of Twitter to offend millions of people by trying to illustrate the "danger" of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war by comparing them to a bowl of Skittles.

Arguably one of the main reasons Bannon was hired by Trump was that he brought with him a ready-made online audience of haters aching to attach themselves to a mainstream political candidate who talked their talk and walked their walk.

After all, as Sarah Posner wrote in an August article about Bannon for Mother Jones, before Trump gave them a feeling of legitimacy and belonging, the alt-right was "a once-motley assemblage of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, ethno-nationalistic provocateurs who have coalesced behind Trump and curried the GOP nominee's favor on social media."

Brietbart tech editor & Net Troll Milos Yiannopoulos
And use social media they have, in some truly alarming ways.

With a disturbing combination of anger, group-think and internet trolling, the alt-right has developed something of a "hive-mind", taking to their keyboards, cell phones and electronic pads to swarm en-masse upon unsuspecting victims who displease them.

Remember the unprecedented Twitter attack on SNL's Leslie Jones in the wake of many fanboys displeasure over Sony's all-female Ghostbusters remake this summer?

The outspoken Milos Yiannopolous, one of Bannon's Brietbart lieutenants, was largely responsible for fanning the flames on social media and encouraging the onslaught of flagrantly sexist and racist hate directed against Jones; Yiannopolous was finally booted from Twitter for his obnoxious online campaign - and Jones closed her Twitter account.

What's more troubling than the idea of a bunch of people developing an organic online campaign against an actor because they didn't like a movie, was that swarm mentality taken to a different level with writer David French.

With individuals posting offensive Photoshopped images of his young Ethiopian-born daughter and making threats against an Iraq war veteran's family simply because he criticized Donald Trump.

Miss. NAACP Pres. Derrick Johnson with Stacey
and Hollis Payton, parents of the victim
What's the broader impact of large numbers of often anonymous alt-right followers using technology and the internet to spread the message that virulent hate is okay?

Does it reach a point where it goes beyond the internet and starts to morph into reality?

Actions like the one taken against Jones and French aren't happening in a bubble; what kind of message is that sending to the millions of susceptible young minds who spend so much time on the internet?

Given the terrible and violent legacy of lynching in America, it was troubling to read about charges leveled in a press conference on Monday that a group of four white high school students from Stone High School in Wiggins, Mississippi snuck up behind a 16-year-old African-American boy sitting in a locker room, slipped a noose around his neck and then tightened it.

If that was some kind of sick joke it's certainly not remotely funny, and if it was an actual attack then those responsible need to be held accountable - especially since the incident took place on school grounds.

According to statements from Stacey and Hollis Payton, the parents of the boy, they contacted the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP after officials at Stone High School took no action against any of the four students involved - one of whom is the son of a local former police officer.

Stone High School, Wiggins, Mississippi
In a statement read by Derrick Johnson, the President of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, the same four students were supposedly part of a group of students who recently drove to the high school with Confederate flags draped on their vehicles.

The story has gone national so pressure to conduct a proper investigation will be ratcheted up on local school and county officials.

More details on this incident will likely emerge in the next few days.

As a former Boy Scout who spent time learning how to tie a variety of knots, I can tell you that it's not easy to tie rope into the kind of noose used to hang or lynch someone; where did those four high school kids learn to do that?

Did they learn that skill from parents, relatives or friends? And why would they do it?

Did they pick up that kind of toxic anger online while hanging around the fringes of the alt-right community?

I'm certainly not the only one who wants answers to those questions; and it's not unreasonable to surmise that the openly hostile racial climate fostered by Trump and his alt-right followers online, on TV and in rallies over the past months played some kind of part in making those four kids think that slipping a noose around a 16-year-old black American student's neck was okay.

Or maybe it was just a local-thing, after all Mississippi is the only American state left with a flag that contains the image of the Confederate battle flag on it.

My money is on those four kids having been exposed to the same kinds of intolerance we saw at Trump rallies all throughout the spring and summer - my guess is they're simply wannabe spawn of the Orange-Haired One and his alt-right legions.

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