For the final edition of Ctrl Alt-Right Delete this year, I’ve asked some of my favorite experts and activists to offer something that went well or was a success in 2019. Selfishly I think I needed a reminder of the wins and victories that I know we’ve had this year. It’s been a rough few months both personally and professionally and I needed a boost as much as anyone reading this does.
Thankfully hope is something you can crowdsource! These answers lifted my spirits and I know they will lift yours as well. Enjoy.
For me, one of the more interesting developments of 2019 was the discovery of some concrete recruitment patterns for the American Identity Movement, nee Identity Evropa. In 2018, Nolan Brewer and his then-minor wife, Kiyomi, set a fire at an Indiana synagogue and painted a large Nazi flag on the exterior of a structure on the synagogue grounds. Court records revealed that Kiyomi, a seventeen-year-old girl at the time, had undergone a radicalization journey that included Ben Shapiro, Stormfront, and finally, Identity Evropa. During this time, she, her husband, and at least one other person went on a rampage of damage, vandalism, and theft at houses of worship throughout Indiana. But what was most interesting is the revelation that Nolan and Kiyomi were recruited into Identity Evropa by Sarah “Volkmom” Dye, who runs a small farm with her husband outside Bloomington.
These revelations kicked off a still-ongoing series of protests and discussions centering around what kinds of behavior are acceptable in our communities and spaces. Dye participates weekly in the Bloomington Farmers Market, and the debate continues over whether she should be allowed to continue participating in the market, a debate that acts as a veneer for the broader question of how eager we are as a society to ignore racist and anti-semitic violence and destruction if the people involved are sufficiently civil. Regardless of how the debate ultimately resolves, a community has become more aware of the shape and magnitude of the hate that can no longer hide within it, and I believe that is a positive development.
Of all the things that I’ve seen come to pass in 2019, the one that impacted my life the most directly – and of which I am the most proud – has been the emergence of serious dialogue around digital platforms and our national election integrity. Many years ago, I created the hashtag #YourSlipIsShowing to identify racist troll accounts impersonating Black women on Twitter. I’m proud to say that the hashtag has recently garnered some substantial media attention outside of the platform I created it on. It has helped both expand and contextualize the larger conversations about the future of digital security, as well as necessarily highlighting the abject failure -on the parts of various heads of social media platforms – to keep their users from being exploited and manipulated by a host of bad actors with malevolent intentions.
As 2020 elections loom and the political steadfastness of our suddenly tremulous democratic republic becomes increasingly questionable, these once hypothetical and backburner concerns have become markedly prominent, and urgent. I am proud to say that I belong to a small but mighty group of Black women who saw this coming and started ringing the alarms over 5 years ago. I’m even prouder to say that the efforts of those women have not gone in vain.
2019 was a hard year to find hope. It was easy to find other things — despair, white nationalism in the White House, confusion at the endless outrages perpetrated by a government-run with malice and incompetence, sorrow at the state of things. There was a feeling of holding on by the tips of our fingers, and a feeling, looking into 2020, that things can only get worse from here. This year, I wrote a book about white nationalism, Culture Warlords: White Supremacy, The Internet, and the Battle for America, which will be published in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. I had a long time to look at the menagerie of would-be genocidaires on Telegram and elsewhere, and how they are inspired by, and distinct from, our chaotic electoral politics. I also found that the only source of hope I had is in the work people are doing in community with one another to combat the rise of fascism. I think about the “Las Tesis” dance performed by feminists from Chile to Turkey to New York City. I think about the antifascists making coconut milkshakes for passersby. I think of the ways people are carving out hope for themselves outside the boundaries of this grotesque and militarized state, in our vast and secret hearts where dissent will never die. I think about how we must, as Aleksandar Hemon wrote in 2016, “fight in the streets and in our sentences.” Let the fight go on, and us with it.
The subreddit “r/The_Donald” is a known hotspot for far-right conspiracy theories and white nationalism and helps to spread that material, which it often filters from 4chan, elsewhere online. In June, I reported that multiple users on the subreddit had been issuing calls to violence against law enforcement, even though Reddit’s policies prohibit “content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm.” Soon after, Reddit put the subreddit into quarantine, which means it no longer generates any revenue and does not show up in Reddit searches or recommendations. This month, one of its moderators said in an interview that the quarantine has lowered the subreddit’s mobile traffic and made growth “significantly more difficult.” Last month, Reddit threatened “further consequences” against “r/The_Donald” for the behavior of its users “with regard to the alleged White House whistleblower.” And in September, there was infighting among the subreddit’s moderators about launching a backup site in case the subreddit is banned. That site was eventually launched, but it appears to have a far smaller audience than the subreddit.
Scientists have predicted for decades that climate change will cause devastating global impacts for generations to come. Some theories indicate that humans have little more than a decade to drastically alter societal behavior globally or risk irrevocable damage to our planet and its ecosystems. That’s why today’s teenagers who have advocated for climate change through worldwide, organized strikes and walkouts, provided a crucial moment in 2019. In a world where an informed population must fight to protect the endangered environment, the stakes are high. And these teenagers are up to the task. They are not only inspiring action today but also providing a roadmap for future advocacy. The determined efforts of a group of young organized, and activated leaders defending their future provides important ray of hope in a year darkened by disappointing political news and questionable policy.
Regarding the Cambridge Analytica data privacy cataclysm, several positive developments emerged, despite the reality that not much has changed to prevent another similar catastrophe for 2020 (and the UK General Election). But at least there has been a massive awakening to the threats posed by mass data abuse to advance a far-right, authoritarian, digital colonialist political agenda.
The development I’m most encouraged by in 2019 is anxiety, particularly journalists’ anxiety. That might not sound like something to celebrate, so hear me out: I am not happy that journalists (and everyday folks as well, but I work with journalists most closely on this) find themselves overwhelmed by the media landscape and the challenges of reporting on polluted information. But what that anxiety speaks to is a deep, human concern: concern for democracy and concern for public health and concern for all the people whose bodies and spirits are under threat. Change doesn’t happen, and the big questions don’t get asked, when people are unable–or worse, unwilling–to acknowledge the threats.
Journalism isn’t a monolith, of course; some reporters and editors are more attuned to these threats than others. But I have been in this space for ten years, and have never seen so many people willing to situate themselves within the problem, rather than cooly describing it as some over there curiosity. Situating yourself within problems is scary. It requires humility and ego-checking and a willingness to work with those who otherwise might be seen as competitors (other reporters, publications, and even academics). But doing so also means you empower yourself to be part of the solution. My own anxiety throughout 2019 has at times been extreme, and, I have been heartened by all the people who have said in words and shown through actions that we are here, together, to do what we can. And so, 2020, here we come.
After electing hundreds of reproductive health champions in 2018 at all levels of the ballot, we saw an influx of strong bills expanding access to sexual and reproductive health — including abortion — in the states. Faced with electoral losses and growing support for access to abortion, we saw groups that oppose abortion switch to a new tactic: spreading outrageous false claims about the bills that weren’t based in science, medicine, or even reality. These made up claims were even spread by President Trump and Vice President Pence.
Nowhere were these attacks more dangerous than in Virginia, which was going into an election cycle in 2019, and where many lawmakers who introduced and supported legislation to end medically unnecessary restritions on abortion were up for re-election. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Center of American Progress Action Fund partnered together to best understand how the impact of the disinformation campaign on voters and how candidates can effectively respond. Despite the dangerous rhetoric, the research showed that disinformation attacks around abortion later in pregnancy can be effectively countered by calling out the fasle information, giving the facts, then pointing out that the disinformation is motivated by certain politicians to end access to abortion — as we’ve seen starting to happen already with abortion bans in some states. Though anti-abortion groups invested in a misinformation campaign with digital and tv ads and information at the doors, we were able to successfully use the research to neutralize the attacks with evidence-based and tested ads.
As a result, 2019 turned out to be a very successful year for champions of sexual and reproductive health. Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC and partners helped elect pro-sexual and reproductive health majorities in the Virginia House of Delegates and the State Senate, setting the state up to expand and protect abortion access in 2020. Additionally, Planned Parenthood Action Kentucky UCC worked hard to oust former Gov. Matt Bevin (R), who signed a strict abortion ban earlier this year. While we expect a repeat of the same failed playbook of disinformation and deception by foes of sexual and reproductive health in 2020, our 2019 successes demonstrate that when lawmakers and advocates counter the misinformation directly, we are prepared to send even more health care champions to office.
In 2019, the far-right continued a downward drop, bloodied but not yet beaten by the gravity of antifascist action against them. The fight against them has been long and savage, and at the close of the decade, it’s good to reflect on what gives us hope.
And what gives me hope is watching these miserable bastards turn on their brothers, stabbing each other in the back every chance they get.
2019 showed us the implosion of multiple prominent Proud Boys. Alan Swinney planned a failed violent rally for the group in Providence and was promptly disavowed when embarrassing chats leaked. When former Proud Boys Florida Zone 5 leader Chris White was kicked out of the group, he posted to Facebook, “What fucking brotherhood doxxes its own and allows a group like DFW and has members doing Nazi salutes,” before promptly doxxing his former brothers, revealing pictures of Proud Boys members doing Nazi salutes.
Andy Ngo was unceremoniously fired by race science journal Quillette after an infiltrator leaked video of Ngo witnessing Patriot Prayer planning an attack on local bar Cider Riot and not reporting it.
Holocaust denier Augustus Invictus doxxed three of his formerly pseudonymous associates on a YouTube livestream, and Richard Spencer’s righthand man was doxxed by pro-Trump trolls, and revealed to be a hypnotherapist and CUNY professor.
Meanwhile, Milo Yiannopoulos released secretly taped audio of Richard Spencer ranting about the failure of the first Unite the Right, screaming “I am so mad. I am so fucking mad at these people. They don’t do this to fucking me,” his voice cracking as he swears, “We are going to fucking ritualistically humiliate them.”
He never did in 2018 or 2019. And he won’t in 2020, either.
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