Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
NBC Nightly News’ White House correspondent Hallie Jackson whitewashed CPAC’s promotion of “alt-right” nationalism by uncritically reporting that CPAC attempted to distance itself from white nationalist Richard Spencer, ignoring CPACs speaking invitations to “alt-right” provocateurs Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos.
In a February 23 report, Jackson described Stephen Bannon as “the power behind the populist brand” promoted by President Trump and argued that CPAC was filled with “talk of economic nationalism” by Bannon and other CPAC speakers. Jackson claimed that CPAC had “no tolerance for a different kind of nationalism … the white nationalism popularized by Richard Spencer, who was kicked out today”:
LESTER HOLT (HOST): Just outside the nation's capitol, members of the Trump administration dominated the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, ahead of the president's appearance tomorrow. On stage today, a rare public appearance by Steve Bannon, the architect of the Trump campaign, who has quietly worked behind the scenes as the president’s chief strategist. Today, however, he spoke out. NBC News White House correspondent Hallie Jackson has details.
HALLIE JACKSON: Today, a Trump team take over at a conservative conference, and stepping out of shadows of the West Wing, one of the president's most trusted advisors in a rare public appearance.
STEPHEN BANNON: I want to thank you for finally inviting me to CPAC. JACKSON: That's controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon, the power behind the populist brand that propelled Donald Trump to victory.
JACKSON: For all the talk of economic nationalism on stage, no tolerance for a different kind of nationalism off it, the white nationalism popularized by Richard Spencer, who was kicked out today. CPAC organizers explicitly denouncing the fringe movement he helps lead.
DAN SCHNEIDER: They are anti-semites, they are racists, they are sexists. They are not an extension of the conservatism.
But CPAC was filled with far right zealots who have promoted “alt-right” ideology. Steve Bannon, the former executive chair for Breitbart.com, had a prominent speech at the conference despite Breitbart’s history of promoting white-nationalists. Bannon even said during his time as executive chair that Breitbart.com had become “the platform for the alt-right” under his leadership.
CPAC also invited former Breitbart.com editor Milo Yiannopoulos as a keynote speaker at the conference, before disinviting Yiannopoulos when videos emerged showing Yiannopoulos justifying the sexual abuse of a minor by an adult. Yiannopoulos himself described Richard Spencer and other white nationalists as “dangerously bright,” and ACU's Matt Schlapp promoted Yiannopoulos’ keynote speech by tweeting “We think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”
The term “alt-right” is toxic. It should be. The loose confederation of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and misogynists have spent the last year spreading fear, hatred, and conspiracy theories.
The problem for conservatives is that the movement is directly connected to the major right-wing news outlet Breitbart.com; its former executive chairman, Stephen Bannon; and Bannon’s new boss, President Donald Trump.
“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘Alt-Right,’” Hillary Clinton said last year after Bannon was hired by the Trump campaign, highlighting the website’s promotion of “race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman [ideas].” “A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party,” she added.
That “fringe element” is now in the White House. But direct association with racists and misogynists isn’t great for the conservative movement’s brand -- or Breitbart’s bottom line. So the organizers of this week’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) are working hard to redefine the term “alt-right” in order to retroactively separate that movement from the White House and the website.
In cable news interviews and speeches from the conference lectern, CPAC’s organizers have condemned the “alt-right” -- even having security very publicly remove from the premises Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who originally coined the term.
But at the same time, they have vouched for Bannon, are hosting seven Breitbart staffers and accepting a sizable donation from the website, and they even claimed that the “alt-right” is really made up of liberals. Bannon’s “alt-right” ties went unmentioned this afternoon when he sat alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus for a fawning “conversation” with Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.
In a speech this morning titled “The Alt Right Ain’t Right at All,” the ACU’s Dan Schneider claimed that the term “alt-right,” which he claimed had previously “been used for a long time, in a very good and normal way,” had been “hijacked” by a “hate-filled, left-wing fascist group” that “stole the term specifically to confuse us.”
The ACU is having trouble getting its story straight -- Schlapp claimed during an MSNBC interview this morning that he had never heard of the term before last year -- according to him, it is a “new term.”
But Schlapp did want everyone to know that Bannon is definitely not associated with the “alt-right.” “Today, [Bannon] would repudiate what these people stand for,” he said. “He’s a good man, and he’s a tolerant man.”
“I know Steve Bannon well. He's a good man; he is not a racist,” Schlapp added on CNN. “Yes, the conservative movement and voices in the conservative movement are changing. But I do not believe that he is associated with the ‘alt-right’ at all.”
This is all bullshit. Bannon himself described Breitbart last year as “the platform for the alt-right,” and he led the website in an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, misogynistic, ethno-nationalist direction that appealed to that movement. He hired Milo Yiannopoulos and had no apparent problem with the despicable commentary and activism he wrought -- or the way he championed the “alt-right.”
Notably, when Breitbart produced a list of “20 lies” in Clinton’s speech on the “alt-right,” it made no effort to distance itself from the movement or suggest that she erred in linking it to the website and its former leader.
Bannon was very happy to be associated with the movement when it was boosting Breitbart’s traffic, influence, and revenue. But now things have changed, as companies and ad vendors have pulled their advertising from the site in huge numbers due to its association with racism and misogyny.
And so CPAC is helping the website out, repeatedly condemning the “alt-right” while very deliberately separating it from Bannon and Breitbart.
Right-Wing Media And CIS Are Behind A Major Push For The Wall
Nativist group Center for Immigration Studies and right-wing media outlets touted a deeply flawed and misleading study in order to corroborate top Trump adviser Stephen Miller’s claim that President Donald Trump’s proposal for the construction of a wall along the U.S. southern border would “pay for itself.” Right-wing media's promotion of the flawed study was an attempt to legitimize the Trump administration’s misinformation about undocumented immigrants while also lifting up an anti-immigrant nativist group.
Loading the player reg...
“My biggest fear is that later this week I will be among the legions at CPAC rearranging the furniture,” wrote Andrew Breitbart just days before the first Conservative Political Action Conference of President Barack Obama’s administration. “Instead, the conservative movement needs to think in revolutionary terms.”
Eight years later, Breitbart has passed away, but the revolution he started is at its peak: the media company he founded is everywhere at CPAC, and his successor is in the White House working for Breitbart.com’s chosen candidate.
Former editor Milo Yiannopoulos is no longer on the program, but seven Breitbart editors and reporters will participate in panels and or give speeches at the conference this week. (In an almost certainly related note, Breitbart is a “Partnering Sponsor” of the event, the highest level.)
White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who took over the website following its founder’s death, will appear alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp today for a “conversation” intended to show that the Republican Party establishment and the fringe outsiders who pushed President Donald Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential primaries are united.
And of course, after he pulled out of speaking at last year’s conference following a backlash from conservative critics, Trump himself will loom over the conference, with an address scheduled for Friday morning.
Andrew Breitbart himself dominated CPAC in the early years of the decade. He strode through the conference like a rock star, granting media interviews, greeting cheering supporters, confronting liberal provocateurs, and scouting for new talent. His annual speech-screeds drew large audiences far more interested in hearing his rants against journalists and other elites than they were a sober speech from a Republican politician or think-tanker.
“I'm old, so I remember CPAC before Andrew Breitbart: Quiet,” wrote David Weigel in 2012. “Since 2010, the first CPAC after Breibart's Big Government released James O'Keefe's ACORN video investigations, Breitbart's appearances at the conference have begun with media interviews, continued with assorted people confronting him on video, and ended with his own speeches, full of nostalgia for the stuff that just happened.”
Weeks after his 2012 CPAC appearance, at which he famously freaked out at liberal protestors, Breitbart suddenly passed away. Bannon took the reins, and began turning the website Andrew Breitbart founded into “the platform for the alt-right.”
The following year, CPAC celebrated the first anniversary of Breitbart’s passing. Hundreds of CPAC attendees showed up for events intended to remember the right-wing media mogul. A standing-room-only showing of his final documentary was followed by a panel featuring his former colleagues and friends, followed by a cocktail party. In 2014, the paeans continued as CPAC rolled out the Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award (radio host Mark Levin was the first recipient; Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was the second).
But even as CPAC showered love on Andrew Breitbart’s memory, under Bannon’s leadership, the website he founded was suggesting that the conference was too politically correct and overly dominated by the establishment. In 2013 and 2014, Breitbart.com hosted “The Uninvited” sessions during CPAC featuring anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and fringe figures that were not welcome at the conference itself.
Notably, The Uninvited sessions featured Frank Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy -- which the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.”
Andrew Breitbart once hired Gaffney to help run his national security website; he still contributes to Breitbart.com. And Bannon loves Gaffney, calling him “one of the senior thought leaders and men of action in this whole war against Islamic radical jihad.” But Gaffney was persona non grata at CPAC for years because he is a paranoid conspiracy theorist who accused two members of CPAC’s board of being secret supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (he has returned in recent years and is on the 2017 agenda).
The situation was bad enough that after he became chairman of the American Conservative Union, which oversees CPAC, Matt Schlapp invited Breitbart editor Matt Boyle to the ACU’s headquarters for a lengthy interview in February 2015. Schlapp and his staff, in fairly obsequious fashion, pitched Boyle on how that year’s CPAC would be more responsive to Breitbart.com’s concerns.
CPAC had “drifted away from the core values of conservatism” but now, “concerted efforts by the ACU to listen to grassroots concerns about the direction of the landmark conference, the organization is now emerging as stronger, more conservative and more united,” Boyle concluded following the presentation.
In the two years since, the Republican establishment has been routed by the Breitbart-led forces who pushed Trump to the front of the Republican presidential primary field and supported him at every step of the way. Bannon moved seamlessly from head of Breitbart, to head of Trump’s campaign, to Trump’s top White House aide.
In addition to Trump and Bannon, attendees at this year’s CPAC will have the opportunity to see Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow interview a Republican congressman on tax reform. They can watch Breitbart UK chief Raheem Kassam introduce Nigel Farage, his former boss at the right-wing UK Independence Party. Breitbart’s Frances Martel and John Carney will be moderating panels on “China’s Expansion” and “Repealing Obama’s Banking Monstrosity,” while Joel Pollak and Sonnie Johnson are on panels discussing trade policy and how the left hates cops. James Delingpole will be leading “CPAC Conversations” on energy.
Breitbart.com spent years shilling for Trump’s candidacy. Now Trump will swagger through the conference that Andrew Breitbart once owned, while the news site he created is a dominant force at CPAC. An ascendent Breitbart.com and President Trump are truly Andrew Breitbart’s greatest legacy.
Just two days after news broke that Breitbart.com’s senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos would speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the conference’s hosts have rescinded his speaking invitation after a video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.” Over the next few days, Simon & Schuster canceled Yiannopoulos’ book deal, and Yiannopoulos resigned from his position at Breitbart. Though Yiannopoulos claimed he felt regret over his “poor choice of words,” his prior Breitbart headlines clearly display Milo’s long-standing history of attacking and mocking survivors of sexual assault, as well as denying the existence of rape culture. Here are Milo’s worst headlines:
Breitbart.com editor Milo Yiannopoulos announced Tuesday that he has resigned from the right-wing website following the emergence of a video in which Yiannopoulos apparently justified sexual abuse of a minor by an adult.
“I would be wrong to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting, so today I am resigning from Breitbart, effective immediately. This decision is mine alone,” he said in a statement.
Yiannopoulos, who has a long and well-known history of making virulent attacks against women, people of color, Muslims, and the transgender community, and is a key enabler of the “alt-right,” was hired by Breitbart when the site was run by Stephen Bannon, now White House chief strategist.
But it took the circulation of the video for him to finally become too toxic for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which rescinded its invitation for him to speak; Simon & Schuster, which pulled his book deal; and Breitbart, where employees were reportedly threatening to bolt if he was retained.
As Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, suggested, Yiannopoulos’ past comments were simply “controversies and disagreements among conservatives,” while “there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children.”
Yiannopoulos has fans at the very highest levels of the federal government. “Bannon believes in Milo,” the site’s editor-in-chief, Alexander Marlow, reportedly told The Washington Post earlier this month. “He dedicated time and resources – both personally and with his businesses – to expanding Milo’s brand.” Earlier this month, President Donald Trump attacked the University of California, Berkeley and threatened to withdraw federal funds from the university after it canceled an event featuring the Breitbart editor.
Earlier today, Marlow called the comments in the video “very troubling and upsetting” and “not defensible” and said Yiannopoulos would address “his future with Breitbart” during a press conference this afternoon.
Marlow also laid the groundwork for turning Yiannopoulos into a martyr, saying that there are “millions of examples of the left normalizing behavior similar to what Milo describes” and that Yiannopoulos is the victim of a “coordinated hit” by liberals and anti-Trump conservatives. During his press conference, Yiannopoulos likewise said that “this is a cynical media witchhunt from people who don’t care about children. They care about destroying me and my career.” He also promised to announce his own media venture and new college speaking tour dates in the coming months.
As I noted this morning, given that Breitbart is a sewer with no standards, Yiannopoulos leaving would "suggest that the website, amid a major advertiser boycott, has finally found a limit to the bad press it is willing to tolerate from one of its biggest stars. No matter what, Marlow wants to keep Yiannopoulos’ audience from leaving the website. Keeping Yiannopoulos is the best way to do that, but if that’s no longer financially viable, turning him into a martyr is the next best strategy."
Breitbart.com Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow is laying the groundwork to blame editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ critics following the emergence of a video in which Yiannopoulos apparently justified sexual abuse of a minor by an adult. According to Marlow, there are “millions of examples of the left normalizing behavior similar to what Milo describes,” and Yiannopoulos is the victim of a “coordinated hit” by liberals and anti-Trump conservatives.
The Conservative Political Action Conference rescinded Yiannopoulos’ speaking invitation and Simon & Schuster canceled the publication of his book after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.” Yiannopoulos’ long and well-known history of making virulent attacks against women, people of color, Muslims, and the transgender community, and his role as a key enabler of the “alt-right,” were not sufficient to stop him from receiving that invitation and book contract in the first place
In an appearance this morning on the Breitbart News Daily show on SiriusXM, Marlow called the comments in the video “very troubling and upsetting” and “not defensible” and said Yiannopoulos would address “his future with Breitbart” during a press conference this afternoon. “You will get some answers today, just not right this second,” he promised his audience.
Marlow described the video as “a total surprise to people in the Breitbart organization” and repeatedly condemned the comments, but also offered what he termed important “context” for Yiannopoulos’ remarks. This included assuring the Breitbart audience that Yiannopoulos says he himself has not sexually abused minors.
Marlow, whose website supported Donald Trump during the presidential campaign even after audio emerged of him bragging about sexually assaulting women, then attacked liberals for “normalizing behavior similar to what Milo describes”:
We have many examples on the left who have admitted to statutory rape. We have Lena Dunham had in her book talking about touching her sister’s private parts as a child. We have Roman Polanski, I mean, there are millions of examples of the left normalizing behavior similar to what Milo describes. There is no evidence that Milo has actually been a predator, and so I do think that that is also very important context.
He went on to suggest that the real villains are the people who released audio of his employee apparently defending the sexual assault of minors, saying, “It does look like the forces of the left and some of the Republican establishment and of the sort of Never Trump movement, perhaps, seems to be growing evidence that this was all coordinated to wait for a peak moment when Milo was red-hot.” He added, “They sat on the story and they held it for maximum political damage, which is really sort of sickening, that they would keep this from the public if they had it, and instead try to wait until they could do the most damage to his career, and to Breitbart, and by proxy, people like Trump and [Stephen] Bannon.”
It’s hard to parse Marlow’s comments. It is possible Yiannopoulos will use his press conference to resign from Breitbart. That would suggest that the website, amid a major advertiser boycott, has finally found a limit to the bad press it is willing to tolerate from one of its biggest stars.
No matter what, Marlow wants to keep Yiannopoulos’ audience from leaving the website. Keeping Yiannopoulos is the best way to do that, but if that’s no longer financially viable, turning him into a martyr is the next best strategy.
Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, said today that he condemns the “alt-right,” a loose affiliation of white nationalists, misogynists, and other deplorables that have gained increasing influence in the conservative movement. But don’t be too quick to congratulate him for his criticism of racists -- Schlapp will lead a Thursday CPAC panel featuring White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning Breitbart.com into “the platform for the alt-right” during his tenure leading the site.
The disconnect suggests leading conservatives want to get credit for separating themselves from the “alt-right,” while still drawing on its enablers for support.
Schlapp made the comments in an interview on MSNBC in which he defended his organization’s initial decision to give Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos a platform at CPAC. Last night, Schlapp withdrew the offer after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.”
Yiannopoulos had a long and well-known history of making virulent attacks against women, people of color, Muslims, and the transgender community, and he is a key enabler of the “alt-right.” None of those factors prevented CPAC from offering him a prominent speaking slot.
For Schlapp, Yiannopoulos’ past comments were simply “controversies and disagreements among conservatives,” while “there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children.” This gives the lie to the conservative argument on free speech -- criticism of commentary is just being “politically correct” until the commentary is offensive to conservatives.
At the end of Schlapp’s interview, Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough asked Schlapp if CPAC had “an official position on the alt-right.” Schlapp came out strong against the movement in response, suggesting that the “alt-right” is racist and while “there are those who flirt with it, who maybe don't fully understand it,” conservatives should want to have “nothing to do with” it. “We won't endorse it and we won't rationalize it,” he concluded.
Schlapp’s opposition to the “alt-right” is so strong that he’ll be sitting down with Bannon at a CPAC panel on Thursday:
Bannon, a revanchist ethno-nationalist who supports a “global revolt” against elites, turned Breitbart into a beloved news source and normalization engine for the “alt-right.” He bragged in July that the website had become “the platform for the alt-right.” Because of that work, white nationalists and neo-Nazis cheered when he was hired by Donald Trump's presidential campaign and praised his appointment to the White House.
While Yiannopoulos will no longer be speaking at CPAC, attendees will have seven other opportunities to hear from Breitbart staffers. Editors and reporters James Delingpole, Joel Pollak, Sonnie Johnson, Raheem Kassam, Alex Marlow, Frances Martel, and John Carney will all give speeches or lead or participate in panel discussions at CPAC, the bastion of the conservative movement that supposedly wants its members to stay away from the “alt-right.”
Breitbart has a big audience and thus is a power in the conservative movement. As Schlapp explained this morning, Yiannopoulos’ history of virulent commentary didn’t matter because “he is a big voice in this movement.” Until he said something that offended the wrong people, that was enough.
Just two days after news broke that Breitbart.com’s serial harasser Milo Yiannopoulos would speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the conference’s hosts have rescinded his speaking invitation after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.” While CPAC is now trying to do damage control, there were any number of reasons not to elevate Yiannopoulos before the video resurfaced. And anyone familiar with Yiannopoulos’ persona -- including the leadership at CPAC -- should have known that continuing to ally themselves with a champion of the so-called “alt-right” would eventually lead to something like this.
Milo Yiannopoulos is a senior editor at Breitbart.com, the “alt-right” website formerly run by Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist (Bannon is still set to speak at CPAC this year). Yiannopoulos has spent years positioning himself as the poster boy for radical “free speech,” traveling on speaking tours and doing publicity stunts that target, hurt, and harass women, people of color, undocumented students, and the transgender community, among other already at-risk groups.
He was a key figure in the 2014 “Gamergate” harassment campaign, and was also permanently banned from Twitter for his role in the targeted online attacks on black actress Leslie Jones after she starred in an all-female remake of Ghostbusters. More recently, Yiannopoulos targeted a transgender student during an appearance on his college tour, displaying the student’s name and photo on a giant screen, as the Breitbart livestream of his speech featured a camera with crosshairs scanning across the audience (a “trigger cam”).
This behavior is typical of the Breitbart senior editor -- Yiannopoulos and his misogynist “alt-right” fans encourage each other constantly within smaller online communities, repurposing cartoons, speaking in code to one another, and seeking out new individuals to target outside of their “alt-right” white nationalist base.
CPAC was apparently ready to reward Yiannopoulos’ dangerous behavior with more speaking time at its conference than the sitting vice president was offered. On Saturday, the Hollywood Reporter broke news that Yiannopoulos was reportedly set to deliver the keynote speech at CPAC next weekend; Yiannopoulos said the speech would focus on his "experiences in America battling feminists, Black Lives Matter, the media, professors and the entertainment industry.” Some conservatives were not pleased. Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the group that hosts CPAC, subsequently released a statement clarifying that Yiannopoulos was not the conference’s keynote speaker but would remain one of 75 speakers in total.
Then, on Sunday night, video emerged on Twitter that “appeared to show the far-right agitator defending pedophilia.” The shared videos, in which Yiannopoulos seems to defend sexual relationships between 13-year-old boys and older men or women and joke about sexual abuse, “weren't new, they were repackaged and published on Twitter by a conservative account clearly critical of the CPAC invite.”
The conservative Twitter account behind the original video, “The Reagan Battalion,” has since posted several more videos of Yiannopoulos, including another in which he makes light of sexual assault and a longer, unedited cut as well as the full original video (in response to Yiannopoulos’ original defense that the video was “selectively edited.”) After the videos made the rounds on Twitter, more conservative figures belatedly expressed disappointment and horror at Yiannopoulos’ CPAC role. And now, just two days after the initial reports of his planned speech broke, CPAC has rescinded Yiannopoulos’ invitation due to the “offensive video.”
But Schlapp, and the larger conservative movement that’s increasingly relied on heinous “alt-right” harassment bros to drum up support, knew what they were doing when they invited Yiannopoulos to speak at their annual conference. It is worth reiterating that the Reagan Battalion videos were not new, and neither are any of the other things Milo Yiannopoulos has said and done over the years.
It’s not news that Yiannopoulos thinks the campus sexual assault epidemic is a “fantasy” or that he will say literally anything for attention, no matter how out-of-bounds. It’s not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the “alt-right” white nationalist movement Breitbart has supported that Yiannopoulos repeatedly frames targeted harassment campaigns of transgender individuals, black women, and undocumented students as some disgusting testament to his own conveniently warped understanding of the First Amendment.
While Yiannopoulos is no longer speaking at the event, CPAC did announce another speaker on Monday: someone who was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault and then managed to win a presidential campaign.
President Donald Trump and Sebastian Gorka, Trump's deputy assistant and the former national security editor for Breitbart.com, claimed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “approve[d] the sale of 20 percent of our uranium to Russia” in an attempt to deflect from the administration’s ongoing scandals involving Russia. The claim, which originally came from discredited Clinton Cash author and Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer, has been repeated by right-wing media but, repeatedly debunked by other sources. This is not the first time Trump has cited the debunked claim and Gorka has a history of pushing conspiracy theories.
Loading the player reg...
With Facebook’s recent announcements that it is partnering with fact-checking news organizations in the United States and Germany to fight fake news on its website, conservative media are trying to discredit those organizations by claiming their fact checks -- and fact-checking in general -- are too subjective, suggesting bias due to staffers’ backgrounds or the organizations’ funding sources, launching personal attacks, and making claims of censorship. As Facebook expands its partnerships in France, future fact-checkers in Europe will likely face similar lines of attack.
A slew of online trolls attacked Rosa Brooks for an article she wrote in Foreign Policy discussing possible consequences of Donald Trump’s historically abnormal presidency.
Before we get to the harassment, it is worth first briefly considering the important point she was making. Brooks, a professor at Georgetown Law who also has served as a senior adviser to the State Department, used the January 30 article to consider various ways Trump’s presidency could end. After discussing the 2020 election, impeachment, and the 25th Amendment, Brooks briefly considered the possibility of a coup in the event that Trump gives an order that is not just imprudent but actually illegal and wildly destructive:
What would top U.S. military leaders do if given an order that struck them as not merely ill-advised, but dangerously unhinged? An order that wasn’t along the lines of “Prepare a plan to invade Iraq if Congress authorizes it based on questionable intelligence,” but “Prepare to invade Mexico tomorrow!” or “Start rounding up Muslim Americans and sending them to Guantánamo!” or “I’m going to teach China a lesson — with nukes!”
It’s impossible to say, of course. The prospect of American military leaders responding to a presidential order with open defiance is frightening — but so, too, is the prospect of military obedience to an insane order. After all, military officers swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not the president. For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president: “No, sir. We’re not doing that,” to thunderous applause from the New York Times editorial board.
These illegal-order scenarios Brooks mentions have been discussed in regard to Trump in the past year. Brooks chose these over-the-top examples because they involve patently unconstitutional, and thus illegal, orders. This topic is of interest to her: Brooks herself wrote a piece in The Washington Post a year ago discussing whether the military would follow illegal orders issued by a then-potential President Trump.
Military leaders, pundits, and everyday Americans have not just a responsibility to ponder the possibility of Trump giving such an order, but a duty. Famously litigated at Nuremberg, the issue of how to handle illegal orders from leaders has also been an issue in the United States, going back to the first Adams administration; a Vietnam case reaffirmed that members of the military follow illegal orders on their own accord. Duke political science professor Peter Feaver explained this reality during the campaign in regard to Trump’s promises to bring back torture and also “take out” the families of terrorists:
Both of these proposed policies are clear violations of the law. Civilian deaths that occur as collateral damage incidental to strikes aimed at legitimate targets are always avoided but sometimes an unfortunate part of lawful warfare; Trump is talking about deliberately targeting the family members as a matter of policy. I do not know of a single law expert who would say this is legal.
Given that it would be illegal orders, General Hayden is absolutely correct: not only would the senior military leaders refuse to follow those orders, they would be legally and professionally bound to refuse those orders. Democratic civil-military relations theory further requires that they refuse these orders. Refusing these orders would not be a coup. It would be reinforcing the rule of law and healthy civil-military relations.
Put more bluntly: Trump has promised to give illegal orders. Every member of the military is supposed to refuse to follow illegal orders. Trump has begun his presidency by doing the very things his apologists during the campaign assured us that he would not do.
Which finally brings us back to Rosa Brooks and her thoughts about what the military should do should it be presented with illegal orders.
When first released, Brooks’ column got the kind of reaction you would expect, with many praising it as an interesting read and a few criticizing it. It was also briefly mentioned near the end of a Breitbart column defending Trump adviser Stephen Bannon on January 31. But perhaps correctly assuming that its audience does not read past the headlines, on February 2, Breitbart wrote up Brooks’ column again, using the headline “Ex-Obama Officials Suggests ‘Military Coup’ Against Trump.” This time, the post spread quickly among right-wing fringe propaganda outlets and fake news purveyors: Infowars, Gateway Pundit, Pamela Geller, 8chan, Angry Patriot, Mad World News, Eagle Rising, Conservative 101, America’s Freedom Fighters, Natural News, Epoch Times, UFP News, ENH Live, The Washington Feed, Conservative Tribune, Mario Murillo Ministries (whose piece was shared by Trump ally Wayne Allyn Root), Infowars (again), Ammoland Shooting Sports News, Personal Liberty, PJ Media, Before It’s News, and The Political Insider. The story also spread to right-wing outlets like The Blaze and The Washington Times, which attacked her column but did not even bother to hyperlink to it. Neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer also joined in, saying that “the increasing insolence of American Jewry in their brazen calls to kill, overthrow and illegally undermine the election of President Trump must be crushed.” The story was also picked up by Russian state outlets RT and Sputnik.
Brooks described what happened once these posts started:
Within a few hours, the alt-right internet was on fire. The trickle of critical email messages turned into a gush, then a geyser, and the polite emails of the first few days were quickly displaced by obscenity-laced screeds, many in all capital letters. My Twitter feed filled up with trolls.
By mid-afternoon, I was getting death threats. “I AM GOING TO CUT YOUR HEAD OFF………BITCH!” screamed one email. Other correspondents threatened to hang me, shoot me, deport me, imprison me, and/or get me fired (this last one seemed a bit anti-climactic). The dean of Georgetown Law, where I teach, got nasty emails about me. The Georgetown University president’s office received a voicemail from someone threatening to shoot me. New America, the think tank where I am a fellow, got a similar influx of nasty calls and messages. “You’re a fucking cunt! Piece of shit whore!” read a typical missive.
My correspondents were united on the matter of my crimes (treason, sedition, inciting insurrection, etc.). The only issue that appeared to confound and divide them was the vexing question of just what kind of undesirable I was. Several decided, based presumably on my first name, that I was Latina and proposed that I be forcibly sent to the other side of the soon-to-be-built Trump border wall. Others, presumably conflating me with African-American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, asserted that I would never have gotten hired if it weren’t for race-based affirmative action. The anti-Semitic rants flowed in, too: A website called the Daily Stormer noted darkly that I am “the daughter of the infamous communist Barbara Ehrenreich and the Jew John Ehrenreich,” and I got an anonymous phone call from someone who informed me, in a chillingly pleasant tone, that he supported a military coup “to kill all the Jews.”
My experience is not unusual. Anyone who attracts the attention of the alt-right is in for a rough ride.
As Brooks notes, this type of harassment by the “alt-right” is all too familiar. As I wrote in December:
Harassment is a deeply entrenched aspect of the “alt-right” community. It came to prominence with Gamergate, and then there was a wretched, bigoted campaign against black actress Leslie Jones. “Alt-right” figure Milo Yiannopoulos has now taken his harassment tactics with him on a college tour. Another example is the recent smear campaign against satirist Vic Berger by “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich. Cernovich is no stranger to such tactics, having bragged previously about his ability to game Google to get other outlets to pick up on his smears, spreading the lies to more false headlines and more viewers. Comedian and producer Tim Heidecker has also spoken out about abuse he has received, including death-threats, as a result of "alt-right" criticism.
Since then, we’ve seen harassment campaigns launched against a journalist who tied a white supremacist to white supremacy, a college professor who sarcastically tweeted about “white genocide”, undocumented immigrants who use social media, and progressive author Lindy West.
Now that Trump and former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon are in the Oval Office, the “alt-right” sees its chance to break through to mainstream America. The movement’s adherents are huge fans of new Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson. Rape-promoting white nationalist Mike Cernovich was given a show on Right-Side Broadcasting Network, which has simulcast on Trump’s own Facebook page. Breitbart is starting to hire people from mainstream outlets.
And yet, Breitbart is still situating itself at the center of these sorts of unconscionable attacks. Will it get away with that? If it does, it’s easy to see how: Since he was first appointed to lead Trump’s presidential campaign, mainstream figures have repeatedly shied away from tying Bannon to Breitbart’s enabling of white supremacy. Mike Allen, a former Politico reporter who recently founded a new media venture called Axios, lavished praise on Breitbart during an appearance on the latter’s radio show. As Breitbart now tries to move into continental Europe, these problems are more salient than ever.
If Trump does give an illegal order to deport all Muslim-Americans, reinstate torture, invade Mexico, or even start a nuclear holocaust, the survival of humanity may come down to where the individuals in charge of executing it get their news.
Image by Sarah Wasko