This weekend is the one year anniversary of the violent white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. Ctrl Alt-Right Delete will devote the bulk of our content this week to examining the far right and America more broadly post Charlottesville, and what’s changed over the last year.

As this newsletter hits your inbox, white supremacists will be commemorating the one-year anniversary in DC, not far from where I live. Originally the plan in DC was for the white supremacists to have their own private Metro cars from Virginia to the protest. Thankfully DC’s transit union, ATU Local 689, refused to comply with the plan which seems to have killed that notion for good. The anniversary event moved to DC after the city of Charlottesville refused organizers a permit to hold another rally there.

This week’s CARD is dedicated to the memory of Heather Heyer, a counter-protester who was murdered at the event. I’d encourage everyone reading to never forget Heather’s fight against hate or her sacrifice. Learn more about who Heather was here. This profile on Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, and her efforts to continue Heather’s activism is also well worth a read.

-Melissa


Looking back at Charlottesville

By Patrik Hermansson

Exactly one year ago today, I was in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounded by swastika-emblazoned flags and young white men in homemade battle outfits. A few days earlier Joe, senior researcher at HOPE not hate, had asked if I thought it was a good idea to go. We’d seen the discussions about the “Unite the Right” rally online and we knew it would be big. Wellknown activists were promoting it and the sheer amount of discussion was noteworthy in and of itself.

I was also coming to the end of a year long infiltration of British and US groups, a strange year that will soon come out in the form of an hourlong documentary. The premise of this rally, to “unite the right”, fit menacingly well with the purpose of the the infiltration. Which had, in part, been motivated by a worry of a more united British and international far right. A more united movement would, among other things, allow for a pooling of resources that are otherwise spent on competition between groups.  So, we knew that if they manage to do what they claim, it would be significant.

For a little while it did. The rally showed that there was enough unity, motivation and financial resources within the movement to bring a range of groups and sizeable crowd of their adherents out in the open. This is significant but having been there myself, it wasn’t the most striking aspect of the day.

photo of neo-nazis marching in Charlottesville

As I entered the rally area and started talking to participants, their brief moment of unity stopped being my main concern. I started talking to a man from Vanguard America. He was in his early 20s and carried a shield and wore a baseball helmet on his head. Clearly expecting violence. Next to us stood another guy holding a pole with a large swastika-emblazoned banner in black and red.

The man I was talking to had just finished university and told me he never been to a rally before. He had only been active in his local group and online. Now he stood here, with his face in the open, right next to a swastika flag at one of the most media-covered white nationalist rallies in years. Having a whole career in front of him, he should have felt he had something to lose. But he didn’t worry very much about any backlash from friends, family or future employers. Several others I spoke to had similar stories. It told me that at that time, the alt-right was emboldened to the degree that the loose movement’s followers didn’t worry about these things. It represents a frightening shift towards a situation where white nationalist ideas are just another political opinion.

Fortunately, the authorities seemed to be of the same opinion and the rally’s protest permit was retracted a short time thereafter. Most of the participants marched out of the town center. But during the two or three mile walk out of the town to another park, the anger in the crowd was palpable. I didn’t think they could chant worse things than they already had but at this point it became directly murderous. “We will bathe in the blood of n***ers”, the people around me chanted and soon thereafter I had to leave, with tears running from the Mace I had been sprayed with as we left the park.

Still, as I walked with them, it felt like a win. Their opinions had not been unchallenged. The counter-protesters had mobilized far greater numbers than the far right.

arial photo of car driving into crowd in Charlottesville

After the attacker drove his car straight into the anti-racist protest, all of that changed. The attack made waves internationally and the reactions from the alt-right itself clarified what can only be described as a disrespect for life. In podcasts and forums afterwards, key characters of the Alternative Right justified the murder of Heather Heyer and voiced support for the attacker.

The anger in this movement cannot be overestimated. Little will satisfy it except for complete compliance. Access in the forms of protest permits, social media and other platforms will not calm down the far right, it will not enable its adherents and organizations to take part in the public discourse in a fair way. We’ve seen this at rallies like “Unite the Right” as well as in countless online hate campaigns against people who oppose them, weather it be journalists, feminists or anti-racist activists. Opposition is consistently met with hate, self-victimization and, in some cases, violence. Because this is not a democratic movement, and it should not be mistaken for one. Richard Spencer who took part in the rally now claims he and others are the victim of “legal warfare” for having been challenged in the courtroom, if anything a symbol of fairness and democracy. They talk about free speech but what they want is free reign and we can never give them that.

They talk about free speech but what they want is free reign and we can never give them that.

 



Deplatformed

By Melissa Ryan

Alex Jones Launches Free Speech RED PILL Campaign — STORMERS JOIN WITH HIM

This week, as tech companies were either dropping Infowars or clumsily explaining their reasons for not doing so, the Daily Stormer, a notorious neo-nazi white supremacist website run by Andrew Anglin, wrote a post to express his solidarity with Alex Jones. I had to laugh when I saw this because Andrew Anglin is one of the few people who would know exactly what Jones is going through — how it feels when the Internet-at-large finally reaches a tipping point and casts you out.

After Charlottesville, tech companies presumably shaken by their role in the violent rally went on a bender of removing neo-nazis and white supremacists from their platforms. Companies from Twitter to Paypal to Airbnb were disturbed to learn organizers had used their products and services to organize the event and took action. (It helped that participants were quickly identified in photos thanks to efforts of activists online). Daily Stormer was hit hard, losing a succession of web and domain hosts, its Discord channel, and social media presence. Daily Stormer and Andrew Anglin can still be found online but mainstream social media platforms are no longer amplifying his content. For the most part he’s relegated to the few platforms that still embrace white supremacists such as Gab.

Of course by the time tech companies got their shit together, the damage had been done. A woman died, several others were injured, and the city of Charlottesville has declared a State of Emergency in advance of the anniversary out of concern that despite being denied a permit, violent protesters would show up anyway. A year later white supremacist groups are thriving and some of their views have become mainstream ideas on the America right. And as Politico notes, President Trump, unable to denounce white supremacists at the time, frequently uses race to shore up support with his base. Pro-Trump media amplify similar messages constantly.

Post-Charlottesville some hate groups are unable to organize online but others can still rely on tech to support their organizing and infrastructure. Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s policies aren’t clear to anyone and their enforcement is inconsistent at best. The most consistent policy seems to be that shame works. If you’re able to create a PR problem for one or more tech companies, you can probably get hateful and harmful content removed. If you lack the social capital to do this, you’re on your own.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s policies aren’t clear to anyone and their enforcement is inconsistent at best. The most consistent policy seems to be that shame works.

Alex Jones is the new Andrew Anglin. His influence over political and cultural conversation will wane, his ability to attract new audiences is severely limited, and his bottom line will take a hit. That’s a good thing. But what about the next Anglin or Jones? More importantly, what about the the vast majority of users who aren’t white supremacists or dangerous far-right conspiracy theorists?

As tech companies scramble to fix what they clearly view as another PR problem, the rest of us are just trying to navigate our online lives. We need to be active on social media without a barrage of online harassment. We need to make sure our kids aren’t exposed to hateful and violent speech online. We need the platforms that make money from our time and attention not to amplify conspiracy theories and hoaxes. Finally, we need tech to draw a moral line, or as Kara Swisher put it in the New York Times, “stand up to the uglies to protect the rest of us.” A year later, we’re still waiting.

We need tech to draw a moral line, or as Kara Swisher put it in the New York Times, “stand up to the uglies to protect the rest of us.” A year later, we’re still waiting.

 


Research/Projects


ICYMI

This week’s ICYMI will feature writing on Charlottesville, some of which is from last year and some of which was written to mark the anniversary.

Additional ICYMI


Coda

If you need some hope this weekend, I have one final link for you: Ex-KKK member denounces hate groups one year after rallying in Charlottesville.

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