Five employees of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, USA were shot and killed on Thursday afternoon after a man entered the newsroom offices and opened fire with a shotgun. The victims were Rob Hiaasen, 59, Wendi Winters, 65, Rebecca Smith, 34, Gerald Fischman, 61, and John McNamara, 56.
Police have arrested a suspect, Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, from Laurel, Maryland. According to the Anne Arundel County Deputy Police Chief, William Krampf, Ramos was “prepared to come in today” as this was “a targeted attack” on the outlet. Police stated that Ramos had also brought smoke grenades with him.
While police have not yet confirmed the motive for the attack, there has been speculation about a longstanding grudge held by Ramos towards the Gazette. Ramos filed for defamation against the paper in 2012 after one of its columnists wrote an article in 2011 about a criminal harassment case which had been brought against him.
The BBC has reported that Ramos has since been charged with murder and has a bail hearing soon. Yesterday the New York City Police Department deployed counterterrorism teams to media organisations in and around New York City as a precaution.
While the motive remains unknown, comments from the broad Alternative Right before and after the killings reveal something about the anti-media sentiment stoked by the loose movement.
The massacre came just a day after Milo Yiannopoulos, a high-profile figure in the ‘alt-light’ (less racially motivated) wing of the Alternative Right, responded to press inquiries by the New York Observer and by The Daily Beast with the statement that he couldn’t “wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight”.
Amy Russo, from Mediaite, also reported on Tuesday that Yiannopoulos had responded to a query from her regarding the Observer and Daily Beast comments, saying:
“If journalists keep lying, deceiving and manipulating the public, then they will reap the same hatred they are sowing against Trump and his voters. Truthfully I take no pleasure in the prospect: I’d rather beat you in a debate hall than a wrestling ring. But you did this to yourselves, and you deserve what’s coming.”
In a social media post following accusations that his words had encouraged the massacre, Yiannopoulos stated that his comments were made as “a troll” and that he was “amazed they were pretending to take my joke as a ‘threat’”.
Pandering to pre-existing hatred and distrust in society, including distrust of the media, is Yiannopoulos’ entire business model. As he describes in in his 2017 book, Dangerous:
“In an age where nobody trusts the media, taking them on makes you popular”. (Within the same chapter – called ‘Why the Media Hates Me’ – Yiannopoulos tells “lying journalists” that haven’t “felt his wrath yet” that “‘I have a very particular set of skills’ waiting for you. You’ll see soon enough”.)
Yiannopoulos argued on an Instagram statement – accompanied by a picture of himself posing with a shotgun – that: “The only people whipping up hysteria about killing reporters” were the journalists who reported on his statements.
According to Yiannopoulos, “the responsibility for that lies squarely and wholly” with these journalists and the “verified liberals” who “pretended they thought I was serious”. Indeed, following the reports of his statements he reposted his messages with the journalists on Instagram to “mock them” and to “make it clear that I wasn’t being serious”.
Yiannopoulos is being disingenuous here, as he must be aware of the effect that such statements can have. As we note in our campaign to get Instagram to remove Yiannopoulos’ account from the platform, irrespective of how he intended the comments or this gunman’s motivation, the reality is that online threats toward journalists from prominent accounts make newsrooms across the nation less safe.
Yiannopoulos and the Alternative Right stoke up hatred and distrust towards mainstream journalists (and other groups, including Muslims). This hatred and distrust has snowballed in an environment that, especially in the US, is increasingly hostile towards journalists.
Attacks on the press frequently act as a nexus for contingents of President Trump’s base and the Alternative Right. This is certainly true for the likes of Yiannopoulos, who wrote in his book that “Trump and I have many of the same supporters”.
Most of these supporters do not share the racist, antisemitic, and misogynistic attitudes of the alt-right, and alt-light figures such as Yiannopoulos are also less ideologically extreme than the white nationalist alt-right. However, it is precisely the alt-light’s closer proximity to the mainstream which makes them more dangerous, helping to drip feed hate and distrust to a base of supporters whose own president has already legitimised the vilifying of journalists who criticise him and his administration.
Prior to the shooting, Yiannopoulos’ comments were celebrated by Andrew Anglin of the alt-right nazi website Daily Stormer, which sits at the most extreme end of the alt-right and has previously been hostile towards Yiannopoulos. In a blog post on Wednesday, Anglin wrote “It’s about time MILO managed to successfully rebrand. Killing journalists is an awesome position to promote”, going on to state that “anyone calling for journalists to be killed is good”.
Anglin pondered whether Yiannopoulos had drawn inspiration from Sam Hyde, a “comedian” associated with the alt-right, who in June 2017, after donating money to the Daily Stormer, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times during a phone interview as saying: “Don’t worry so much about the money. Worry about if people start deciding to kill reporters. That’s a quote.” This quote was subsequently turned into a meme and spread on the Daily Stormer.
Following the shootings, the Daily Stormer forums, as well as the /pol/ boards on both 4chan and 8chan (which were vital in the formation of the alt-right) were flooded with posts blaming the killings on Jews but also celebrating the murder of journalists.
Above: comments posted on 4chan and 8chan
Bradley Griffin (AKA Hunter Wallace) of the alt-right Occidental Dissent website offered a chilling statement:
“Millions will hear this news and smile while others will not approve, but will understand the motives of Jarrod Ramos. No one celebrates school shootings while lots of people will rejoice when journalists are shot because they have watched them ruin the lives of people like Andrew Dodson. This shooting in Annapolis is a new milestone in the hatred of the press that might inspire copycats.
If you are a journalist, today was a reminder of the need to show grace and common decency to the people you cover in your stories.”
Comments from the broad Alternative Right in the run up to, and following, the horrific murder of employees at the Capital Gazette in Maryland yesterday, have served to highlight the anti-journalist hostility that the loose movement has helped stoke. Irrespective of the killers’ motives, Yiannopoulos and the Alternative Right has irresponsibly helped to foster a casualised hostility towards journalists.
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