Author Page | Media Matters for America

Talia Lavin

Author ››› Talia Lavin
  • The far-right continues to spread the conspiracy theory that inspired the synagogue shooter

    The notion that Jews are behind a nefarious plot to engineer a migrant invasion is still circulating in right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the month since a far-right gunman massacred 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue, seemingly driven by a conspiracy theory that Jews were orchestrating an invasion of the United States by migrants, this deadly false narrative has continued to spread as a talking point on right-wing platforms.

    The alleged gunman, Robert Bowers, used social media site Gab (a “haven for white nationalists”) to post a derogatory statement about Jewish refugee-resettlement organization HIAS. He accused the organization of bringing “invaders” into the U.S. before unleashing his deadly attack against those worshipping inside the Tree of Life synagogue. And when he was captured, he claimed Jews were “committing genocide” of his people. Since the deadly incident, rhetoric accusing Jews of committing so-called “white genocide” by supporting immigration into the United States seems to continue to proliferate unchecked.

    This week, a Twitter account called @InvasionPlot cropped up and began posting photos and names of Jewish scholars, journalists, student activists, and public officials, among others, and highlighting the individuals’ pro-immigrant and pro-refugee views. The Twitter bio says “this didn’t happen by accident,” and the account garnered thousands of followers before it was suspended.

    Sociologist Philip N. Cohen noted that after he was targeted by the account, his mentions were swamped with neo-Nazis and anti-Semites:

    The Twitter account’s emergence is far from an isolated incident. The false narrative that Jews are orchestrating an invasion of migrants to alter demographics is tightly linked to sensationalized news coverage of a caravan of migrants and asylum-seekers currently situated in Tijuana, Mexico. On the white supremacist message board Stormfront, a user postulated that immigration is a Jewish plot to murder “innocent White Children.”

    Posts on Gab, the forum the alleged synagogue shooter used, continue to assert that the migrant caravan is controlled by Jews and that Jews are orchestrating an “invasion of Europe” by Muslim immigrants.

    But the conspiracy theory has not remained confined to the extremist right, or to the fringes of the internet. On Gab, users have attempted to pin the purported plot behind the caravan on Jewish philanthropist George Soros.

    Similarly, on right-wing media, the same tactic has continued to spread, with President Donald Trump elevating this anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in October. On November 13, Ami Horowitz, a guest on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, speculated that “Soros is part” of the carvan, noting that this whole thing cost millions and millions of dollars.”

    And on November 16, NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton laid out the conspiracy theory in stark terms: “It didn’t take a whole lot ... to find a pretty direct link between George Soros money and the people in the caravan getting fed.”

    Despite clear evidence that this very conspiracy theory already inspired a massacre, the false notion that Jews are orchestrating an “invasion” of the United States doesn’t seem to be disappearing from right-wing media -- and it may inspire violence again.

  • How the Russian concept of "info-noise" can help American outlets cover Trump

    Substantive policy changes can -- and should -- be kept separate from statements that are merely inflammatory

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    “Infoshum” -- or “information noise” -- is a term that has recently gained attention in Russian-language media analysis. Pioneered by TV channel RTVI, the concept applies to meaningless, inflammatory news items and attempts to differentiate them from those with substance. American outlets covering President Donald Trump would serve their audiences better if they learned the difference.

    As independent Russian media analyst Oleg Kashin put it last month in a column for Republic.ru, “Infoshum is not fake news or post-truth” -- rather, it is news that draws on provocative statements, conjectures, or social media controversies to build stories designed for maximum clickability and minimum informativeness. Kashin’s take translates as: “For every piece of news that’s made of clear, intense, high-quality reporting work, ... there’s one for which success is virality for the sake of virality, and what used to be sent out in boring press releases is now mined and sold as a valuable exclusive.” To further illustrate the principle, Kashin used examples of journalists calling up Russian senators in the Duma who are known for making inflammatory comments and extracting “one detail that turns it into real anti-journalism” -- some sensational statement which then becomes a news story in its own right. Writing up provocative tweets by political figures elides even this faint journalistic effort.

    In the Trump era, it’s hard not to see the problem of infoshum as familiar and, these days, fundamental to the way American news outlets operate. Idle, inflammatory musings from the president are quickly spun into headlines. On October 30, Axios’s Jonathan Swan engaged in what Kashin might call “anti-journalism” by inducing Trump to assert, with characteristic truculence, that he planned to end birthright citizenship and then publishing Trump’s resultant vague comments about ending it, packaged uncritically as an “Exclusive.”

    Trump is an infoshum-dispatching machine -- he has a singular ability to signal-jam mainstream news sources by offering a constant stream of bizarre, bellicose statements designed to whet the appetites of click-hungry editors. And even when he hasn’t had Fox News airtime to put forth half-baked provocations, reporters themselves often engender such cycles of controversy with their questions; the president has never met an incendiary query that he didn’t like. Could liberal philanthropist George Soros be funding the migrant caravan? Sure. Banning birthright citizenship? We’re looking into it. As Deadspin editor David Roth put it in a recent piece, “Reporters shout something at Trump about a thing he said or did or his response to someone’s else response to something, and then he shouts that he did it because he felt like it or actually didn’t do it at all,” a ritual that repeats itself over and over again amid press scrums on the White House lawn. “If there is a purpose here,” Roth wrote, “it is the theater of it—the theater of Trump’s strange fey boorishness and the towering and obvious lies he tells.” The headlines generated by fragmented, aggressive statements during Trump’s freewheeling and infrequent press conferences are information-noise too; there is little to add beyond the easily verified fact that the president said something and that it had little substance but much fury. 

    Perhaps the ultimate example of Trumpian infoshum is the issue of the caravan -- a group of migrants headed toward the U.S. border seeking asylum -- which became a singular focus of Trump’s screeds leading up to the midterm elections. Trump’s aggressive anti-immigrant tweets and statements were dutifully picked up and accelerated by his loyalists at Fox News, and subsequently bled over into mainstream outlets where caravan coverage surged, as Media Matters’ Matt Gertz has illustrated. In this way, a partisan talking point thrummed into the national consciousness via an ongoing stream of info-noise issuing from the White House.

    RTVI contends with infoshum by siloing it in a separate section tagged as “noise,” reserved for stories that are thinly sourced and make inflammatory claims -- such as “The US is on the brink of a new civil war” or “Improvements in cell phones provokes the development of cancer.” While it’s tempting to cover presidential statements with gravitas that would preclude this treatment, Trump’s well-established penchant for furthering baseless conspiracy theories, inciting shallow but debasing cultural conflicts, and generally inducing a click-driven news cycle to gravitate in his sullen orbit means that such treatment is well-warranted. Absent material policy changes -- whose substance, consequences, and impacts on different communities should be reported on with appropriate seriousness -- most of Trump’s eruptions should be treated as exactly what they are: Noise.

  • Backlash to professor’s anti-Kavanaugh tweet illustrates the content pipeline from 4chan to Tucker Carlson’s show

    A tweet that angered 4chan users and right-wing Twitter is seemingly all the evidence Carlson needs to air a segment about the threat of “white genocide”

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    C. Christine Fair, an associate professor at the Georgetown School for Foreign Service, found herself in the midst of a right-wing media uproar Monday over a facetious tweet about Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The right-wing outrage over the literal interpretations of her tweet perfectly illustrated how a 4chan targeted harassment campaign traveled through the pipeline to become content for Fox News prime-time programming, where host Tucker Carlson framed the tweet as an example of “white genocide,” a common white supremacist trope.  

    On September 29, Fair responded to a news article about Graham by writing on Twitter, “Look at thus (sic) chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist's arrogated entitlement. All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

    The tweet was noticed by users of notorious anonymous message board 4chan -- a site hospitable to white supremacists and planners of targeted harassment campaigns -- and a user declared an intent to “expose this bitch [Fair] and get her ass fired.” The anonymous poster included a link to Fair’s personal website and blog. The user also doxxed Fair, posting her and her family’s phone numbers found via a web search.

    The 4chan thread time stamp indicates it was posted a little before 10 a.m. on October 1. Shortly after, at 11:31 a.m., Fox News tweeted out a story by FoxNews.com reporter Caleb Parke about Fair’s September 29 tweet.
     

    A few hours later, the hostile backlash to Fair’s tweet had migrated from 4chan to Twitter, where users recommended calling Georgetown’s campus police and reporting Fair for threatening to castrate white men.

     

    Right-wing outlets The Daily Caller and TownHall also jumped on the story (The Daily Caller inexplicably wrote up Fair’s tweet in two different stories, published within 30 minutes of each other). Finally, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson picked up the story on his prime-time show, using the tweet to warn his audience about the white supremacist conspiracy theory of white “genocide.” This is also not the first time Carlson has used a 4chan narrative to fearmonger on his show about the persecution of white people. Carlson often echoes white supremacist talking points on his show, earning accolades online among racists.
     

    In another outrage thread about Fair’s tweet, on the anonymous message board 8chan (which is similar to 4chan, but with laxer standards), a user reacted to Carlson’s segment by suggesting its focus should have been more anti-Semitic. The user said Carlson should focus on three sets of parentheses surrounding Fair’s name on Twitter.

    The three parentheses, or “echo,” are a white supremacist hate symbol used to identify Jewish people and organizations that anti-Semites deem Jewish-controlled. In response, some Jews and allies have reappropriated the symbol.

    This isn’t the first time the outspoken professor has been targeted by right-wing media and far-right trolls.

    On September 20, FoxNews.com reporter Parke wrote an article describing Fair as an “anti-Trump Georgetown professor” and characterizing a tweet she had written as a “profanity-laced Twitter rant.”

    And last year, white supremacists on 4chan responded in outrage when Fair confronted “alt-right” figurehead Richard Spencer and posted her personal phone number and email address on the message board, declaring an intent to “wreck her shit.”

    Fair appeared to be undaunted by the criticism -- and the harassment -- engendered by her controversial tweets. On Monday afternoon, she wrote, “Fox serves only one purpose: mobilize mobs of deplorables to harass people who are woke and sane enough to call the Fuckery the Fuckery.” 

  • How YouTube facilitates right-wing radicalization

    From "gurus" to extremist "influencers," the video site is a potent tool for ideologues

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    For the casual YouTube viewer -- someone who logs on once in a while to access cute kitten videos or recipe demonstrations -- it can be difficult to imagine that the video site is also a teeming cesspit of hate speech and a prime means of its transmission.

    But a new study from think tank Data & Society and the earlier work of ex-YouTube engineer Guillaume Chaslot reveal the technical and social mechanisms underlying an inescapable truth: Thanks to an algorithm that prioritizes engagement -- as measured by the interactions users have with content on the platform -- and “influencer” marketing, YouTube has become a source of right-wing radicalization for young viewers.

    An algorithm that incentivizes extreme content

    YouTube’s recommendation algorithm dictates which videos rise to the top in response to search queries, and, after a video finishes playing, it populates the video player window with thumbnails recommending further content. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, YouTube’s algorithm “recommends more than 200 million different videos in 80 languages each day.” These recommendations take into account what the viewer has already watched, but it’s all in the service of engagement, or, as the Journal’s Jack Nicas put it, “stickiness” -- what keeps the viewer on the site, watching. The longer viewers watch, the more ads they see.

    But this has unintended consequences.

    “They assume if you maximize the watch time, the results are neutral,” Guillaume Chaslot, a former Google engineer and creator of the YouTube algorithm analysis tool Algo Transparency, told Media Matters. “But it’s not neutral ... because it’s better for extremists. Extremists are better for watch time, because more extreme content is more engaging.”

    In a way, it’s common sense -- videos that make inflammatory claims or show explosive images tend to grab viewers’ attention. And attention-grabbing videos -- those that cause viewers to watch more and longer -- rise up in the recommendation algorithm, leading more new viewers to see them in their list of recommended videos.

    As the Journal’s analysis showed, viewers who began by viewing content from mainstream news sources were frequently directed to conspiracy theory-oriented content that expressed politically extreme views. A search for “9/11” quickly led Journal reporters to conspiracy theories alleging the U.S. government carried out the attacks. When I searched the word “vaccine” on YouTube using incognito mode on Google Chrome, three of the top five results were anti-vaccine conspiracy videos, including a video titled “The Irrefutable Argument Against Vaccine Safety,” a series titled “The Truth About Vaccines” with more than 1 million views, and a lecture pushing the debunked pseudo-scientific claim that vaccines are linked to autism.

    Because YouTube’s algorithm is heavily guided by what has already been watched, “once you see extremist content, the algorithm will recommend it to you again,” Chaslot said.

    The result is a tailor-made tool for radicalization. After all, once users have started exploring the “truth” about vaccines -- or 9/11, or Jews -- the site will continue feeding them similar content. The videos that auto-played after “The Truth About Vaccines” were, in order: “My Vaxxed child versus my unvaccinated child”; “Worst Nightmare for Mother of 6 Unvaxxed Children” (description: “The mother of 6 unvaccinated children visits the emergency room with her eldest daughter. Her worst nightmare becomes reality when her child is vaccinated without her consent”); and “Fully Recovered From Autism,” each with more than 160,000 views.

    “By emphasizing solely watch time, the indirect consequence that YouTube doesn’t want to acknowledge is that it’s promoting extremism,” Chaslot said.

    Chaslot emphasized that YouTube’s own hate speech policy in its Community Guidelines was unlikely to meaningfully curb the flourishing of extremist content. The primary issue: The algorithm, which controls recommendations, is utterly separate from the company’s content-moderation operation. The result is a fundamentally self-contradictory model; engagement alone controls the rise of a video or channel, independent from concerns about substance.

    There’s also what Chaslot called “gurus” -- users who post videos that cause viewers to engage for hours at a time. As a result, even if their audiences begin as relatively small, the videos will rise up in the recommendation algorithm. The examples he provided were PragerU, a right-wing propaganda channel whose brief explainer videos have garnered some 1 billion views, and Canadian pop-antifeminist Jordan Peterson’s channel.

    But the guru effect has the power to amplify far more troubling content, and, according to new research, far-right extremists have adapted to a world of recommendation algorithms, influencer marketing, and branding with ease and efficiency.

    The sociopath network

    YouTube isn’t just a sea of mindless entertainment; it’s also a rather ruthless market of individuals selling their skills, ideas, and, above all, themselves as a brand. YouTube’s Partner Program provides financial incentives in the form of shares of advertising revenue to “creators” who have racked up 4,000 hours of audience attention and at least 1,000 subscribers. For those who become authentic micro-celebrities on the platform, the viral-marketing possibilities of becoming a social-media “influencer” allow them to advertise goods and products -- or ideologies.

    Becca Lewis’ groundbreaking new study from Data & Society catalogues the ways that ideological extremists have cannily adapted the same techniques that allow makeup vloggers and self-help commentators to flourish on the video site. The study, titled “Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube,” is an unprecedented deep dive into 81 channels that spread right-wing ideas on the site. Crucially, it also maps the intricate interconnections between channels, breaking down how high-profile YouTube figures use their clout to cross-promote other ideologues in the network. (Media Matters’ own study of YouTube extremists found that extremist content -- including openly anti-Semitic, white supremacist, and anti-LGBTQ content -- was thriving on the platform.)

    Lewis’ study explores and explains how these extremists rack up hundreds of thousands or even millions of views, with the aid of a strong network of interconnected users and the know-how to stand out within a crowded field of competing would-be influencers.

    The study provides a concrete look at the blurring of lines between popular, right-wing YouTube content creators often hosted on conservative media outlets like Fox News like Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Candace Owens, and openly white supremacist content creators with smaller platforms. In many cases, Lewis found that these channels had invited the same guests to speak from other channels in the network, leading to the creation of “radicalization pathways.” Rubin, whose channel has 750,000 subscribers, was cited as an example for hosting the Canadian racist commentator Stefan Molyneux. “Molyneux openly promotes scientific racism, advocates for the men’s rights movement, critiques initiatives devoted to gender equity, and promotes white supremacist conspiracy theories focused on ‘White Genocide,’” Lewis writes. During his appearance on Rubin’s channel, the host failed to meaningfully challenge Molyneux’s ideas -- lending credibility to Molyneux’s more extreme worldview.

    Rubin vehemently denied charges of his association with white supremacy on Twitter, but failed to refute the specifics of Lewis’ findings:

     

    Despite Rubin’s assertion, Lewis’ study does not mention the word “evil.” What the study does make clear, however, are the ways in which web-savvy networks of association and influence have become crucial to the spread of extremist ideologies on the internet. The issue of racist, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ content is not limited to obscure internet fever swamps like 4chan and Gab -- but it is also happening in a public and highly lucrative way on the web’s most popular video platform.

    Conservative provocateur Ben Shapiro, named as an influencer in the network, also sought to discredit the study.

    But Shapiro was only separated by one degree, not six, from Richard Spencer: He has been interviewed by a right-wing YouTuber, Roaming Millenial, who had invited Richard Spencer to share his views on her channel two months earlier.

    “There is an undercurrent to this report that is worth making explicit: in many ways, YouTube is built to incentivize the behavior of these political influencers,” Lewis writes. “The platform, and its parent company, have allowed racist, misogynist, and harassing content to remain online – and in many cases, to generate advertising revenue – as long as it does not explicitly include slurs.”

    Just last week, extremist hate channel Red Ice TV uploaded a screed titled “Forced Diversity Is Not Our Strength,” promoting segregated societies. Hosted by gregarious racist Lana Lotkeff, who has become a micro-celebrity in the world of white supremacists, the video asserts that “minorities and trans people” have had a negative impact on “white creativity.”

    Red Ice TV has more than 200,000 subscribers. At press time, the “Forced Diversity” video had more than 28,000 views. Upon completion of Lotkeff’s anti-diversity rant, YouTube’s auto-play suggested more Red Ice TV content -- this time a video fearmongering about immigrants -- thus continuing the automated cycle of hate.

  • YouTube banned Alex Jones, but it’s letting white supremacist content thrive

    Creators are profiting off hateful content

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ & TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On August 6, YouTube removed the channel belonging to Infowars’ Alex Jones, citing violations of community guidelines.

    "All users agree to comply with our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines when they sign up to use YouTube,” YouTube’s parent company, Google, said in a statement to CNBC. “When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”

    YouTube’s action came as numerous other tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, and Spotify, took action against Jones.

    But for those who monitor the popular video streaming platform, it’s hard not to see YouTube’s move as a selective, belated, and inadequate action to quell the hate speech that currently thrives on the platform.

    In a brief research survey, Media Matters found multiple channels with tens of thousands of subscribers -- and some videos with hundreds of thousands of views -- that seem to clearly violate YouTube’s terms of service about hate speech. These channels expose YouTube’s primarily youthful viewership to some of the vilest propaganda on the Internet, and they make a tidy profit to boot.

    A Pew Research Survey found that YouTube is the most popular social media platform among teens. It showed that 85 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds reported using YouTube, and 32 percent said it’s the platform that they use most often. Meanwhile, in the last three years, Facebook usage among teenagers has fallen significantly. Pew also found YouTube to be most popular among 18- to 24-year-olds; 948 percent of respondents said they use the platform. The impact YouTube has on young people is not to be underestimated.

    YouTubers with significant audiences can profit by creating content that draws advertisements. It’s difficult to say how much any individual creator makes, but Polygon estimates that a very large creator like Jake Paul -- who is in the top 100 channels in terms of number of subscribers -- makes $10 for every 1,000 views. While this rate is significantly lower for channels with smaller followings,channels that livestream their content -- common practice among far-right YouTubers -- can get additional income by using “super chats.” Super chats allow viewers to pay to have their comments featured prominently. On a livestream, there is usually a constant flow of comments appearing along the side of the video, but super chat comments are placed in a bar at the top of the chat and creators can react to or read them on air. The more a user pays, the longer their comment appears at the top.

    Like super chats, donations to content creators can also come in through alternative servers that are not hosted by YouTube, like in the example below.

    YouTubers also rely on Multi-Channel Networks (MCN), which provide a variety of services to YouTube creators, including aiding and increasing their monetization rates, expanding audiences, and, most importantly for extremists, appealing YouTube strikes, which are issued when YouTube reviewers are notified that content is in violation of community guidelines.

    The impunity with which racists operate on the site -- and the profitability of their efforts -- make YouTube a potent ground for young people to be exposed to toxic ideologies. Or, as Zeynep Tufekci, a professor and expert in social networks, put it in a powerful editorial for The New York Times, “Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.”

    Below is a sample of YouTube channels that Media Matters found to have violated YouTube’s terms of service, but that continue to profitably engage viewers by the tens or hundreds of thousands. In particular, these videos appear to violate YouTube’s policy against “content that ‘promotes violence against or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against’ protected classes” -- including LGBTQ individuals, Jewish people, African-Americans, and other racial minorities.

    Jesse Lee Peterson and “The Fallen State”

    Jean-Francois Gariépy

    America First with Nicholas J. Fuentes

    Mark Collett

    Red Ice TV

    Jesse Lee Peterson and “The Fallen State”

    Jesse Lee Peterson is a far-right radio host and media personality whose radio show The Jesse Lee Peterson Show airs on Newsmax TV and is reposted to his YouTube page, which currently boasts 135,000 followers. On another YouTube channel with over 159,000 followers, Peterson hosts his show The Fallen State, where he interviews activists, celebrities and other public figures.

    Peterson’s YouTube content contains a torrent of anti-Black, anti-gay, and misogynistic hate. In July 2018, he announced it was “white history month,”, saying, “Happy white history month, white folks., Tthis is your country, thank you --, I appreciate it.”

    In a video titled “Most Blacks Are Mentally Retarded!” Peterson said Jim Crow laws were good for Black people because they helped their “mentality” and that “most Blacks today, as I mentioned, most Blacks today -- unlike the days when I was growing up -- are mentally ill, they’re mentally retarded.” He has compared the Ku Klux Klan to Black Lives Matter, describing the latter as “a Black, radical, evil, agitated organization that was founded by a bunch of Black lesbians and Black homosexuals.” In another video, Peterson described transgender people as “messed up,” “abnormal,” “confused” people who’ve “been traumatized.” He said refusing to recognize transgender people might help them “overcome their traumas.”

    On The Jesse Lee Peterson Show, Peterson gave a platform to notorious neo-Nazi Andrew Auernheimer, also known as “weev,” to spew anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic hate with zero pushback. In the video titled “WEEV! White Nationalism, Jews, Homosexuals, and Black people - Daily Stormer,” Aurenheimer identified himself as a white nationalist and called the FBI “a Jewish terror organization.” and He said he doesn’t live in the United States because it’s a country “full of whores and faggots and pornography and wickedness.” He called for America to become a white ethnostate because Black people are “the tools of Jewry” who “betrayed the values of all common decency [and] of morality.” He said, “Righteousness and color are equivalent, because segregation increases trust within a society.”

    Jean-Francois Gariépy

    Jean-Francois Gariépy is a YouTube personality and former Duke University student who relies on his background as a neuroscience researcher to give credence to bogus “race science” theories he pushes on YouTube. The long-standing racist trope holds that “humankind is divided into separate and unequal races.” Gariépy has two channels, “JFG Livestreams,” which has 20,000 followers, and “Jean-Francois Gariépy,” which has 40,000 followers. His show The Public Space, which normally streams daily, features a cesspool of white supremacist guests including former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, Nick Fuentes, Mark Collett, Richard Spencer, Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, and Vox Day.

    Many of Gariépy’s videos are monetized through advertisement placements. Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast identified Gariépy as an advocate for a white ethnostate. She also described a legal battle he had with his ex-wife in which she alleged that he tried to kidnap their child. A separate lawsuit alleges that Gariépy had a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old autistic teenager and attempted to get her pregnant “for U.S. immigration purposes.”

    Gariépy’s The Public Space recently streamed an episode titled “The Truth About German Racial Ideology” with Weronika Kuzniar, a cosplayer and proponent of Third Reich revisionism with multiple books for sale on Amazon who says she works to “De-Weaponize Third Reich History.” During her appearance on Gariépy’s YouTube channel, he described Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf as “pretty solid in terms of understanding basic issues of biology [and] basic issues of race.” Kuzinar responded by citing “a good book” that “denies that there is any anti-Semitism that can be detected in Hitler’s background.”

    In a monetized stream he titled “A Discussion with Ryan Faulk about Race, IQ and Nationalism,” Gariépy and guest Ryan Faulk -- the founder of the white nationalist site The Alternative Hypothesis -- discussed the potential for violence that would be required to establish a white ethnostate in America. Faulk claimed that “from a historical sense,” the United States has always been a white country, and “the only real solution today is a full on partition of the United States” based on racial lines. Faulk conceded that “a violent civil war” might be a result of trying to achieve that goal. Gariépy endorsed the idea that violence is possible despite a “modern society that is very polite” because there is “within humans a capacity for violence that can express itself within a few days if people are in the right condition for violence.” They also discussed what Gariépy characterized as the “very mainstream idea” that “there is an observed phenotypical difference” in IQ levels between racial groups.

    During a stream with “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer, Gariépy called white nationalism “great” and “a romantic vision and one that could be, even in pragmatic terms, a reality. That would be the only option in the future when the white race has lost so much power across western civilization.” Gariépy has also hosted Patrick Casey of the “alt-right” group Identity Evropa in a monetized stream where Casey said that “the best framework for … human civilization overall to be able to exist” is “a degree of separation between ethnic and racial groups.” In another monetized stream, the anti-feminist Lacey Lynn (who has also appeared on neo-Nazi YouTuber Mark Collett’s show, This Week on the Alt-Right) argued that the movement for women’s suffrage was an “anti-male, … communist, anti-family, anti-nation movement” and praised the “privilege that women had being under coverture” laws, which made women legally subordinate to their husbands.

    America First with Nicholas J. Fuentes

    Nick Fuentes, host of America First with Nicholas J Fuentes, is an “alt-right” online personality whose channel has 17,000 followers and streams approximately five days a week. He was previously fired from Right Side Broadcasting, an online pro-President Donald Trump outlet, after he called for the people who run CNN to be “arrested and deported or hanged.” He also was a participant in the Charlottesville, VA, Unite the Right rally last summer. In a YouTube stream titled “Embrace the State feat. Lucian Wintrich,” Fuentes described himself as an “authoritarian.” During the same stream, in a discussion about the film I Feel Pretty starring Amy Schumer, Wintrich called her a “fat, ugly slob” and Fuentes said she “should be a literal punching bag in some cases.”

    During a recent stream titled “The Death of Mollie Tibbets,” Fuentes attacked Hispanic immigrants in the United States, saying, “The problem that we see is it’s the people -- it’s not the culture, it’s not their legal status, it’s not their paperwork; it’s who they are. It’s coursing through their blood, it’s their DNA. They’re different. Race is real. These people are different. They’re not European. It’s not arbitrary that they come from Mexico.” In a different stream, titled “White Identity Gaslighting,” Fuentes applauded the Trump administration for revoking passports from American citizens in Texas. He called this development a “big white pill,” meaning a reason for white supremacists to have hope, and called it one “of the more aggressive approaches to solving the demographic issues.”

    In a stream titled “Who *owns* the Media? Hello,” a reference to a tweet from Elon Musk in which he asked the same question, Fuentes called whistleblower Chelsea Manning a “tranny freak” and said she is “mentally ill.”

    Fuentes frequently hosts white supremacists on his show. This includes Matt Colligan, known online as “Millennial Matt,” who was a participant in the 2017 rally in Charlotteville and once waved a flag featuring a swastika during a Periscope stream with Lucian Wintrich. During a stream titled “THOT WARS,” Colligan denied the Holocaust, calling it “one of the greatest lies in history,” and said his goal was “to become a public Holocaust revisionist.” Other extremists seen on Fuentes’ America First include Identity Evropa’s Patrick Casey; white nationalist Douglass Mackey, A.K.A. “Ricky Vaughn”; conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim carnival barker Laura Loomer; and fellow YouTuber Gariépy.

    Mark Collett

    Mark Collett is a 37-year-old British far-right activist and author of the book The Fall of Western Man, which features chapter titles including “The Role of Feminism --The Destruction of the Family Unit.” An open reactionary with extreme white supremacist views, he was once featured in a documentary called Young, Nazi and Proud. He was also acquitted in Britain on charges of inciting racial hatred after a television interview in which he called asylum seekers “cockroaches.”

    Currently, Collett has a YouTube channel with 42,000 subscribers. Just last month, he featured David Duke in a livestream called This Week on the Alt-Right. Other recent videos include “The Jewish Question Answered in 4 Minutes,” “The Plot to Flood Europe with 200 Million Africans” (for which, as of this writing, YouTube has “disabled certain features” because it was identified “as inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.”) and “The Death of White America.”

    “The Jewish Question Answered in 4 Minutes” includes graphics singling out and identifying journalists as Jews -- which surely violates YouTube’s Community Guidelines. The hate speech policy at YouTube prohibits content “that promotes violence against or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes, such as race or ethnic origin [and] religion.”

    ”In addition, this explicitly anti-Semitic video posits that “Jews have attacked the glue that holds our communities together, with the aim of breaking up Western society” and that Jewish people “seek to strip … power from those of European descent.”

    In another video, “The Holocaust: An Instrument of White Guilt,” Collett engages in a winking, coquettish flirtation with Holocaust denial, a classic abuse of the “just asking questions” format. He continually refers to the Holocaust as the “alleged extermination of 6 million Jews at the hands of the German people during World War II.” Ultimately, Collett bemoans the fact that “the Holocaust is the one historical event that cannot be questioned,” and ascribes this to “Zionist power.” At the video’s conclusion, he seems to suggest that the Holocaust was inspired by righteous forces: “The Holocaust is the most powerful tool in the promotion of a mindset that is foisted upon those of European descent in order to make them feel guilty for pursuing self-determination, to make them feel guilty for loving their own."

    Another video with over 100,000 views blames Jewish people for the pornography industry.

    In addition to explicitly anti-Semitic content, Collett also traffics in conspiracy theories about the cruel regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad (“Assad Didn’t Do It -- Faked Syrian Gas Attack”) and about LGBT individuals, whom he claims are seeking to “normalize paedophilia” through “debased degeneracy.” Although the latter video was flagged as “inappropriate,” it has garnered over 137,000 views.

    Red Ice TV

    Red Ice TV is an explicitly racist channel that boasts an impressive viewership: With 227,000 subscribers, its hosts claim to reach 1 million viewers a month. Most of their videos draw audiences in the tens of thousands.

    The channel was founded by Henrik Palmgren and his wife, Lana Lokteff, far-right white supremacists whose content is consistently racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant.

    The channel has hosted extremist Richard Spencer and featured Holocaust denier Kevin Macdonald discussing the “JQ” (Jewish Question).

    Lokteff has received attention in the media as one of the few female faces of the “alt-right,” while her husband and cohost Palmgren took part in the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, VA, which resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer after a white nationalist drove a car into a crowd.

    In a June video (which as of this writing has been flagged as “inappropriate” but is still accessible after a couple clicks) titled “Why Interracial Relationships are Pushed on White Women,” with over 500,000 views, Lokteff stated, “I do not accept the promotion of interracial relationships, it is very targeted and promoted to white people… You should think your race is the most attractive.” Later in the video, she claimed that “a mulatto baby” was a “trendy” accessory for modern women -- “forget the purse.”

    The channel continually stirs up fear about immigration -- calling immigration advocates “anti-white poison” -- and stoking the racial fears of a white, male audience.

    Many commentators have noted the radicalizing effect viewing increasingly extreme content can have on viewers. YouTube’s ongoing decision to continue to allow channels that are in blatant violation of its terms of service while rewarding their extremist creators through monetary incentives is a dangerous abdication of responsibility on the part of the media giant.

  • Right-wing media exploit the death of an NFL player-turned-soldier to rebuke Colin Kaepernick

    Pat Tillman, however, was a critic of the Iraq War and his family has asked that his death not be politicized

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    When Nike announced Sunday that Colin Kaepernick -- the former San Francisco 49ers player who initiated a peaceful protest for racial justice and against police brutality during the national anthem and ignited a firestorm of controversy -- was the new face of its “Just Do It” ad campaign, conservatives initiated a vicious backlash against the company. Social media lit up with videos of disgruntled customers burning their sneakers and cutting the company’s iconic swoosh logo out of their shorts and socks.

    But another motif quickly began to emerge out of the backlash against Nike.

    The company’s ad features a close-up shot of Kaepernick in black and white, with the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” (Kaepernick’s protest, which spread to other players in the NFL, is widely believed to have led to his exclusion from NFL rosters after the 2016 season; he is suing over alleged collusion between team owners to prevent him from being signed.) Overnight, conservatives began to use the slogan to rebuke Kaepernick -- by comparing him to Pat Tillman, a former NFL player who quit the league to enlist in the U.S. Army after 9/11 and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.  

    Tweets lauding Tillman at Kaepernick’s expense received thousands of likes and were shared by conservative provocateurs including TPUSA’s Charlie Kirk, Fox News’ Stephen Miller, and the conservative YouTuber who goes by keemstar.

    Similar tweets were issued by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Rep.  Doug Collins (R-GA):

     

    Similar memes on Facebook garnered tens of thousands of shares:

    Fox News also participated in the Kaepernick-Tillman comparison, airing commentary on the subject on its live-streaming “Fox News Update” program on Facebook:

    The NFL protests have become a hot-button issue in the midterms, most recently surfacing in dueling videos from the campaigns of Democratic nominee for Texas Senate seat Beto O’Rourke and his opponent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). The comparison between Tillman and Kaepernick fits into a broader conservative pattern of positioning peaceful civilian protest as a rebuke to the sacrifice of soldiers and veterans.

    But it also fundamentally misrepresents Pat Tillman.

    Tillman left professional sports to enlist in the military in 2002. By 2003, after participating in the invasion of Iraq, according to family members and friends, Tillman had become a critic of the war and of President George W. Bush. According to former comrades-in-arms, he described the war in Iraq as “fucking illegal.” He planned to meet with anti-war author Noam Chomsky upon his return in 2004 -- but never made it, gunned down by friendly fire. The fact that Tillman had been killed by others in his platoon was not revealed to his family until five weeks after his funeral. The circumstances of his death -- and an elaborate cover-up involving changing stories, burned body armor, and medical examiner’s reports that conflicted with soldiers’ testimony -- was the subject of lengthy inquiry by Congress.

    In addition, Tillman’s family has directly asked the public not to politicize Pat’s death.

    When President Donald Trump shared a tweet directed against the protesting NFL players that featured Tillman’s name and face, Tillman’s widow, Marie, released a statement to CNN asking that her husband’s service not be “politicized in a way that divides us.”

    Defying the wishes of Tillman’s widow to score points against a Nike ad campaign seems, however, to not be beneath the dignity of right-wing commentators.

  • With Trump’s South Africa tweet, Tucker Carlson has turned a white nationalist narrative into White House policy

    White nationalists reacted in elation as the white-grievance narrative they’ve been pushing grabbed the president’s attention. This is how it happened.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Inspired by Tucker Carlson’s coverage on Fox News, President Donald Trump has taken interest in the narrative of white oppression in South Africa that white supremacists have spent months using misleading statistics to build.

    During the August 22 edition of his show, Carlson devoted a segment to fearmongering about land reform in South Africa, presenting the South African issue -- in which the government is attempting to address the Apartheid-influenced concentration of land ownership by whites -- as the “definition of racism.”

    Trump continued his live-tweeting Fox News by promoting the segment on Carlson’s show and adding that he had directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to look into the issue:

    While Carlson presented his segment as an “exclusive investigation,” he was merely lifting a narrative that has been brewing in this country -- in the far-right corners of the internet -- for the better part of 2018. Pioneered by the Apartheid-minimizing organization AfriForum -- which has successfully leveraged its relationships with the international far-right to put its agenda on the map -- what’s presented as a crusade against land reform that the organization claims is linked to violence against white farmers has been embraced by white supremacists abroad and at home as evidence of white genocide.

    Carlson had already given a platform to AfriForum back in May, during a visit its leaders Kallie Kriel and Ernst Roets made to the U.S. During the trip, they also met with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the U.S. Agency for International Development, and conservative and libertarian think tanks. While hosting Roets, Carlson lectured, "This is not what Nelson Mandela wanted." As reported by Michael Bueckert at the time, AfriForum’s tour of America was “met with outrage and mockery” back in South Africa, with government authorities, academics, and journalists issuing condemnations of what they saw as an effort to “mobilise the international community against their own country.” The outrage in their country wasn’t baseless, as experts have pointed out that while some white South African farmers have been killed, AfriForum and its supporters base their narrative of white targeting on problematic statistical methodology and mischaracterizations of the current state of crime and violence in South Africa.

    Carlson wasn’t the only right-wing figure elevating the issue on August 22. Earlier in the day, Alex Jones, who sees in Tucker Carlson an ally in his fight against the globalists, devoted one of his unhinged tirades on his conspiracy theory outlet Infowars to what he framed as whites being “wiped out” in South Africa while claiming that Black South Africans think “the more barbarous the better.”

    Both Carlson and Jones’ comments are evidence that the narrative, which had been brewing for months, had reached boiling point. Days before, Drudge Report tweeted about the issue, while bigoted radio host Michael Savage lobbied for signatures in support of white South African farmers (Savage is now accusing Carlson of pushing his talking points without giving credit). The day before, Newsbusters -- the Media Research Center project that has promoted white nationalist propaganda in the past -- bemoaned the lack of American media coverage of South African land ownership issues.

    As early as January, in a now-archived thread, users of 8chan (an anonymous message board known for its popularity among “alt-right” supporters and connections to harassment campaigns and hoaxes) had portrayed events in South Africa as a “race war” while using racist slurs against Black South Africans.

    Lauren Southern, a prominent far-right troll who gained prominence on YouTube, seized on the narrative by going to South Africa in January to shoot a documentary aimed at raising the voices of those advancing the idea of white oppression connected to land ownership reforms. Following Southern, notoriously bigoted Rebel Media commentator Katie Hopkins announced her own project to expose the supposed “ethnic cleansing of white farmers.” As reported by Media Matters in March, both of their projects did more to amplify the interests of white supremacists in advancing a narrative of victimhood than actually show any plight of white South Africans. Southern’s documentary revealed her ties to white nationalist-affiliated Afrikaner activists like Simon Roche. Roche leads Suidlanders, a group that aims to protect the South African white minority against what it claims is an inevitable race war. He has links to American white supremacist Jared Taylor, whose conference he’s attended in the past, and has benefited from Southern encouraging donations to his group.

    As the site Angry White Men accurately described in February, Southern’s project was “agitprop dressed up as a documentary.” But it successfully inserted South Africa as a convenient talking point for far-right figures attempting to find a case study for their argument that white people are under siege, with no regard for historical context. By February 28, the #whitegenocide hashtag had been trending for two days on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate tracker, a tool that maps out trending topics among far-right Twitter users. Prominent far-right trolls, like former Gateway Pundit White House reporter Lucian Wintrich also helped popularize the narrative.

    By March, prominent American white nationalist figures, including Occidental Dissent’s Brad Griffin, The Right Stuff’s Mike Peinovich, American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor, and League of the South’s Michael Hill, were using their platforms to promote Suidlanders’ cause and crusade for white South Africans. On social media, extremists were resorting to hoaxes in their efforts to illustrate the South African narrative in the most gruesome light. In a now-deleted tweet, Proud Boy Kyle Chapman posted a horrifying picture claiming it depicted a child brutalized for being white in South Africa. The picture turned out to be a 4chan hoax unconnected to South African politics, but it got attention on Twitter.

    Reports on the rising interest in South African land politics and violence were met with criticism from far-right media figures, who unfairly accused researchers covering the issue of supporting brutal murders.

    After Tucker Carlson hosted AfriForum in May, bigoted Proud Boys founder and violence instigator Gavin McInnes devoted an episode of his CRTV show Get Off My Lawn to the supposed plight of white people in South Africa. He hosted Willem Petzer, a white South African who makes appearances on far-right media to frame anecdotal incidents of violence as oppression of whites. McInnes opened the show with a monologue in which he characterized former South African President Nelson Mandela as “a terrorist" and claimed that current South African land politics are not related to "Blacks trying to get their land back -- they never had that land" but instead are "ethnic cleansing" efforts against whites.

    It came as no surprise then that Carlson -- who has used his platform to champion white nationalist causes, has notably abstained from criticizing white supremacists, has neo-Nazis fawning all over him, and is referred to lovingly as “our guy” by some extremists on 4chan -- would seize upon the narrative and present it without appropriate context. What’s more worrisome is that the president of the United States, who oversees the most powerful foreign policy operation in the world, would prefer to get policy advice from Fox News.

    Actual experts on the issue debunked the narrative pushed by Carlson and Trump. The former U.S. ambassador to South Africa was among the many who condemned the racist undercurrents and factual inaccuracies of Trump’s statement:

    As Laura Seay -- a political scientist researching governance in central Africa -- explained, the claim of “white genocide” comes from “exaggerate[d] isolated stories.”

    Africa analyst Lauren P. Blanchard cited a Guardian report showing that research points to a current 20-year low in “murders of farmers in South Africa:”

    Michael Bueckert, who’s written extensively about the topic, also added context to Carlson’s segment and Trump’s tweet:

    Along with celebrating the role Carlson was playing in carrying white supremacist narratives all the way up to the White House, White supremacist Mike Peinovich called the moment “very big”:

    Infowars’ go-to white nationalist, Nick Fuentes, praised Trump’s acknowledgement:

    The “alt-right” group Identity Evropa framed the issue as “a warning to people of European heritage all around the world:”

    Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt showcased the reactions of other white nationalists celebrating Trump:

    Madeline Peltz provided research for this piece.

  • Fox & Friends sanitizes anti-government extremists

    The Three Percenters is an armed anti-government militia; Fox & Friends called its members “pro-gun demonstrators”

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In Fox & Friends’ ongoing quest to smear anti-fascists protesters as a collection of violent extremists, a Monday morning segment of the show glossed over the history and activities of the group anti-fascists had turned out to protest against. Over the weekend in Seattle, WA, heavily armed members of far-right groups Patriot Prayer and the anti-government militia group Three Percenters protested, along with several men wearing the insignia of the violence-prone, men-only organization Proud Boys. Rally-goers were protesting a gun-control initiative that, if passed, would raise the age for buying semi-automatic rifles to 21.

    As the show aired clips of counter-protestors shouting “Nazis go home,” Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade described the Three Percenters, Patriot Prayer, and Proud Boys as “pro-gun demonstrators.” “Where is the outrage from Democrats?” he asked, seemingly indignant at the idea that these far-right groups could be cast as extremists. The Three Percenters and the Proud Boys had strong presences at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which culminated in deadly violence.

    The Three Percenters is named after the historically inaccurate claim that only 3 percent of American colonists fought against the British government during the American revolution. It is a loosely organized group that insists it is not a militia but aligns with the goals and practices of the American militia movement. Over the past few years, the group's members have developed a reputation for providing heavily armed security to white supremacist groups. The Three Percenters have also engaged in their own political activities in alignment with right-wing and extremist groups. A Three Percenters rally in 2015 protested refugee resettlement in Idaho, decrying “radical Islam”; some group members also showed up at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff with the aim of serving as a "buffer" between the anti-government Bundy clan and law enforcement. In 2017, a man claiming to hold the Three Percenters ideology was arrested for a bomb plot explicitly meant to emulate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. While a popular Facebook page for the Three Percenters features dozens of explicitly anti-immigrant memes, the group has also organized offline armed operations to go after immigrants near the U.S. border.

    So when Kilmeade asks, smirking, if they are “Nazis or pro-gun demonstrators” -- there may be more to the question than what the sanitizing frame of Fox News allows.

  • In drawing equivalencies between white supremacists and antifa, media outlets obscure ideologies -- and impacts

    White supremacists commit murders in pursuit of genocidal policies. Antifa throws punches. They're not the same, and media outlets should make that clear.

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    Last weekend marked the sequel to 2017’s violent right-wing rally in Charlottesville, VA, that left one counterprotester dead and many injured. Unite the Right 2, as the anniversary event was dubbed, was poorly attended by a small coterie of white supremacists. The media focused a significant amount of their coverage of the event on a sensationalized version of the threat posed by the  loose, decentralized group of anti-fascist activists collectively known as “antifa.”

    “Antifa clashes with police and journalists in Charlottesville and DC,” Vox declared. The Washington Post told its readers that “antifa protesters” had “harassed the press.” The headline of a piece in that paper’s opinion section asserted that “black-clad antifa again [gave] peaceful protesters a bad name.”

    CNN personalities also weighed in with their disapproval on social media:

    It’s easy to understand why the “black bloc” -- anti-fascist protesters who wear black masks when confronting racist groups -- attracts alarmist headlines, as images of masked ranks are both exotic and easy to otherize. And right-wing media have seized on this trend. As Media Matters’ Grace Bennett noted, Fox & Friends’ coverage of Unite the Right 2 entirely obscured the white supremacist intent of the event, instead sowing fear about an “antifa mob,” while The Daily Caller decried “violent antifa protests.” But according to experts on extremism and those who cover fascist and anti-fascist groups’ clashes on the ground, media fearmongering about antifa protesters obscures both the ideology and the real impacts of anti-fascist groups’ opponents -- the violent racists.

    A look at Washington Post and Vox coverage of antifa at Unite the Right 2 indicated that the most serious reported incident of antifa protesters confronting the press they described was when activists cut a local news reporter’s microphone cord, after expressing a desire not to be recorded.

    “Reporters covering protests should also come aware that most black bloc activists do not want to be photographed, for fear of being doxxed by the far right, or identified by law enforcement,” Kelly Weill, a Daily Beast reporter who covers the far-right and its opponents and was present at the rally, told Media Matters. “[Journalists] should take into account the implications a photograph might have for its subject, and why that subject might object. When anti-fascists come into conflict with journalists, it’s in reaction to being filmed. They aren’t hunting the media, unlike their opponents who regularly dox and threaten journalists in attempt to silence them.”

    Weill said the activists’ fear of being targeted by law enforcement is legitimate. She pointed, as an example, to a case in which the government charged hundreds who participated in a protest rally at Donald Trump’s inauguration with felony and misdemeanor charges after some of them were caught on camera at the protest.

    “I've found people can usually tell whether you're making a good faith effort to listen to them, and they respond accordingly,” Weill said. She said she thought the relations between the journalists and antifa protesters “were fairly smooth” when factoring in “the nature of the event -- more than 1,000 journalists, protesters, and police [were] at an emotionally charged white supremacist rally where police occasionally shoved media and protesters together in densely packed kettles.”

    Even though last year’s Charlottesville rally was violent -- it ended with a white supremacist driving a car into a crowd and killing counterprotester Heather Heyer -- fearmongering headlines about antifa led to a narrative of false equivalency. And that narrative quickly reached the upper echelons of the conservative movement, most notably the president, who felt empowered to place the “blame on both sides.”

    Despite near-universal shock at the president’s equivocation, media outlets have failed to correct their role in pushing that narrative, continuing to sensationalize the threat posed by antifa and thus downplay the inherent violence of white supremacist activity.

    “Antifa is a subject that’s worthy of exploration. It’s not a subject that’s worthy of exaggeration or hyper-sensationalism,” Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism, told Media Matters. “There have been a number of serious incidents where they really assaulted people over the years. … But white supremacists have committed hundreds of murders over the last 10 years -- aggravated assaults, kidnappings, and terrorist attacks. There’s no comparison.”

    Both Weill and Pitcavage pointed out that media outlets have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of antifa -- a decentralized group which, as its name suggests, primarily emerges to oppose organized fascism when it arises, as opposed to operating proactively.

    “I think most media fundamentally misunderstands anti-fascism, in part because the right presents ‘antifa’ as a unified gang or a kind of catch-all bogeyman that describes everyone from anarchists to moderate liberal Sen. Tim Kaine,” Weill said. “A significant chunk of center-left media has adopted this incorrect characterization, either out of lack of fact-checking or this pundit-style drive to present all conflicts as a clash of two equally valid ideologies. Some research would clarify that ‘antifa,’ as it's commonly understood (as a gang or a central organized group) isn't a real thing.” Weill also pointed out that not all anti-fascists endorse engaging in physical brawls with far-right groups; others focus on online activities and rhetorically countering fascism within their towns and cities.

    “White supremacist violence tends to be both worse and more extensive in general,” Pitcavage noted. According to ADL statistics, white supremacist actions are on the rise in the U.S. Incidents of distribution of white supremacist propaganda -- whether in the form of flyers, overpass banners, or posters -- increased sharply between 2017 and 2018. The ADL also identified 18 murders linked to white supremacy in 2017 alone.

    Portland, Oregon has been a particular locus of physical clashes between right-wing protesters and anti-fascist counterprotesters; last weekend, far-right groups Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer demonstrated in the city, sparking clashes between themselves, antifa, and the police. The tense standoff resulted in police turning on counterprotesters, dangerously wounding one anti-fascist activist, which prompted an outcry from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over use of excessive force by police. The incident, which happened precisely a week before Unite the Right 2, underscored both the legitimate wariness anti-fascists have toward law enforcement and the fundamentally reactive nature of anti-fascist activism. While the Proud Boys arrived in Portland from all over the U.S., with many bused in from Vancouver, WA, the anti-fascists were nearly all local activists, chanting slogans like “Keep Nazis out of Portland.”

    There are many who might sympathize with the protestors’ urge to keep avowed racist groups out of their hometown -- and it’s arguably the potential for newsworthy clashes that draws far-right activists to liberal enclaves in the first place. But media framing often places antifa and white supremacists on equal footing in terms of the danger they pose -- a false equivalence that fundamentally misrepresents the goals and tactics of white supremacists.

    “White supremacists, no matter how they cloak their views, call for genocidal policies, and have committed a rash of attacks and murders. Anti-fascists want them out of their communities,” Weill said. “It's telling that fascists persistently hold rallies in communities where they are not wanted, but that anti-fascists only mobilize in direct opposition to fascist policies. ... The two camps are not comparable, and equivocating them erases all the violence fascists promote and the structural power they hold.”

    Weill pointed out that media outlets often not only equivocate, but also erase the motivations behind anti-fascist activism. Prior to Unite the Right 2, NPR aired a widely criticized interview with white supremacist Jason Kessler, the organizer of both Unite the Right rallies. In contrast, NPR did not conduct any interview with a self-identified member of any anti-fascist movement, as Vox did last year.

    “We're frequently treated to humanizing profiles on neo-Nazis (whose ideologies are widely known before the interviewer starts recording), but few on anti-fascists (whose views are often misunderstood),” Weill noted in an email.

    As white supremacist violence -- and antifa’s mobilization in opposition -- continues to roil the country, media outlets should be meticulous about not drawing false equivalencies between the two sides, whose goals, impacts, and tactics are vastly different. They should also attempt to ascertain the goals of anti-fascist protest and clarify them for audiences. Otherwise, media outlets mislead their readers in service of sensationalized images that obscure necessary truths about white supremacist violence.

  • Seeking revenge for Alex Jones, far-right trolls unleash harassment on verified Twitter users

    A harassment campaign organized on far-right sites targeted journalists and activists with malicious abuse

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    On Wednesday, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey reiterated the importance of journalists’ presence on the platform when he tweeted, “We can’t be a useful service without the integrity journalists bring.” Some journalists, many of whom have faced relentless harassment on the platform, met Dorsey’s proclamation with jaded skepticism, and for good reason. Following President Donald Trump’s frequent attacks against the press, journalists have become a target for online harassment by the far-right favorites, egged on by prominent figures like Fox’s Sean Hannity, whom Dorsey gave a rare interview to this week. And when the consequences of the anti-press sentiment on the right have turned deadly, far-right message boards users have reacted in celebration.

    In fact, at the time Dorsey was underscoring the vital role of the press on Twitter, a coordinated harassment campaign -- seemingly originating from the anonymous message board 4chan and the white supremacist-friendly  Twitter alternative Gab.ai -- was targeting users, including dozens of journalists, who have been verified by Twitter.

    The campaign, organized under the hashtag #VerifiedHate, can be traced back to multiple internet spats that have unfolded in recent days. The first was a determined, bad-faith campaign to force The New York Times to fire newly hired editorial board member Sarah Jeong who had written a number of tweets appearing to denigrate white people. The manufactured outrage over Jeong was dominated by right-wing figures and championed by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, who insisted on taking her flippant tweets as deadly earnest “reverse racism.” However, the campaign culminated in frustration as the Times retained Jeong, despite issuing a somewhat equivocal statement. The second episode was Alex Jones getting banned from several tech platforms including Apple, YouTube, Facebook, Stitcher, and MailChimp, which was viewed by right-wing media as evidence of double standards and anti-conservative bias among tech companies.

    Faced with the combination of their failure to get a woman of color fired and their ire at tech companies, anonymous social-media users started a campaign to harass verified Twitter users who have in the past sent tweets containing jokes about white people.

    The campaign -- targeting particularly those of Jewish descent -- can be traced back to Gab, which harbors infamous white supremacist trolls like Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin. Four days ago, a Gab user posted a collage of verified Twitter users who the person claimed were showing their “white hatred”:

    The #VerifiedHate hashtag was also promoted by Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba, a defender of white supremacist rhetoric who has appeared on Infowars to attack tech platforms:

    The idea spread to 4chan, where users called the push to harass journalists and activists “Twittercaust” or the “Night of the Blue Checkmarks,” saying it was an effort “to prove … once and for all that the Journalists, media personalities and celebrities are all a part of a massive anti white (sic) conspiracy!!!”

    The trolls also revealed it was a coordinated action, with some 4chan members claiming they were using multiple accounts to push the hashtag:
     

     

    4chan users posted examples of their coordinated Twitter harassment on the message board, demonstrating ways in which individual tweets could circumvent the platform’s hateful conduct policy that prohibits the usage of slurs:

    The trolls particularly singled out individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who had referenced their own whiteness and Jewishness on Twitter:

    One locus of the #VerifiedHate campaign was BuzzFeed journalist Joe Bernstein, who received significant volumes of harassment, including one user who sent him an image of a gun:

    On Twitter, the account @meme_america began to promote lists of users  whom trolls could harass in the #VerifiedHate campaign and focused on specific journalists like VICE’s Justin Ling, who was subjected to vile comments:

    Multiple 4chan users expressed affinity for Alex Jones, and one claimed that, though Twitter hasn't banned Jones yet, the platform has removed other conservative voices and “probably will remove more”:

     


     

    #VerifiedHate is an example of an open campaign cooked up by right-wing trolls to harass and intimidate verified Twitter users, specifically journalists. If Dorsey really needs journalists to maintain the integrity of his platform, perhaps he should work to suppress campaigns that subject them to threats, intimidation, and harassment and make the social media platform safer to use for everyone.