The Next Battleground
By Melissa Ryan
The blue wave was more of a blue rip current. Democrats won the house, lost ground in the Senate, but also flipped seven state houses with more than 300 Democratic state legislators elected across the country. By now you’ve probably read a ton of election analysis and don’t need me to talk you through the results, but I would like to wish a special goodbye and good riddance to Scott Walker, the soon to be former governor of Wisconsin, and the person who first made me realize that the GOP was on the path towards becoming an anti-democratic entity.
It should be clear by now that Trump isn’t an anomaly but emblematic of a political era. The far right have ascended and they’re not going to give up power without a fight. Moving forward here are the next battlegrounds.
White Supremacy vs. Democracy
Trump and elements of his base will support far-right positions by any means necessary. Even before Trump the GOP has realized they can no longer win in a fair fight. They’ve worked tirelessly to enact voter suppression, attempted to dismantle progressive infrastructure like labor unions and Planned Parenthood, and silenced progressive voices throughtargeted harassment campaigns and boycotts.
In the second edition of CARD I wrote about an attempt by the Republican-controlled North Carolina state legislature to strip away as much power from the incoming Democratic Governor as they can get away with. You’ll be shocked to learn that Republicans in Wisconsin are considering a similar move before incoming Democratic governor Tony Evers takes office. Wisconsin has been a laboratory for anti-democratic legislation since the tea party wave in 2010 so I’m not at all surprised that the same Republicans who gave us Act 10 and hyper partisan redistricting are going for one final smash and grab for power.
I made this point with North Carolina two years ago but it’s worth noting again. One of the precursors of the alt-right is the “neoreactionary” movement AKA the “Dark Enlightenment”. Neoreactionaries believe explicitly that democracy is bad because it disrupts the so-called natural order, that order being where white men control everything. I’m a bit obsessed with these guys because some of their biggest boosters in Silicon Valley have since become prominent figures in the alt-right and in Trump’s orbit. Their beliefs haven’t changed.
The battle lines are drawn. Democrats just elected a record number of women and increased representation with people of color holding elected office as well. Meanwhile,Republican candidates who associated with white supremacist organizations and ideas did quite well. One party aims to give more people a seat at the table and the other will fight with everything they’ve got to keep that from happening.
Winning elections won’t be enough to beat extremism. The Frog Squad are going to continue with the politics of smash and grab, and throwing out the rulebook when it doesn’t work for them. We’re already seeing this with the right spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the recounts underway in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. As we’re thinking about 2020, we also need to think about how to disrupt their systems and centers of power outside of the voting booth. We can’t rely on the norms of democracy to act as a check, especially not when the far right are breaking as many of them as they can.
Toxicity & Radicalization: The Next Digital Battleground
Fake news and misinformation weren’t big factors in the midterms, at least not in the final weeks. NBC News’ Ben Collins has an amusing piece on far-right trolls trying and failing to get misinfo campaigns off the ground. And as Casey Michels wrote in ThinkProgress the efforts of Kremlin trolls were just plain weird. Anecdotally, I can say that I was part of a few efforts ready to address misinformation in real time but for the most part things were quiet and there was really nothing to respond to. There are still some concerns around voter suppression misinfo, particularly in Florida and Georgia but the misinfo army is ready to clap back.
Why was misinformation such a dud? Personally, I think it’s because civil society groups, journalists, and activists did our job well. We’ve founded countless efforts, we have our fact-checking and debunking down to a science, we’ve pressured tech companies relentlessly and they’re finally starting to respond by taking things down with more regularity. If anything, voters were hyper-aware of the need to look out for fake news online. We haven’t stopped the problem of misinformation but two years later there’s infrastructure in place for dealing with it.
When it comes to online toxicity and radicalization we’re still coming up short, however. Progress here has been a lot slower. I think that’s in part because it’s easier to treat toxic hate speech and radicalization as a partisan political issue rather than a societal problem. Misinformation can be viewed as apolitical in a way that hate speech and propaganda, especially given our current political climate, can’t.
The far-right has figured this out too. The misinformation campaigns of 2018 have evolved into an online propaganda operation driven by hate speech and content designed to stoke racial division. You see this everywhere from homegrown far-right activists on Facebook to Trump’s own midterm campaign strategy. Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel wrote about this as an evolution but my thinking is that hate and outrage simply gave the Frogs a better return on investment than outright misinformation and they’ve adjusted accordingly. This makes sense when you consider that every profile of Trump voters ever written illustrates that his voters don’t actually care whether or not he’s lying. There isn’t much point in duping people who don’t mind being lied to.
Online toxicity shouldn’t be a bigger fight than misinformation, especially given how many incidents we’ve seen recently of online radicalization leading to violence, but given how much ground we’ve lost already I think it’s going to be a bigger and messier fight.
As we’re gearing up for 2020 I hope we can view the next election as a benchmark to see how the fight against extremism is going rather than just the ultimate goal. Winning back the White House isn’t a guarantee, especially since we know just how much the extremists are willing to sacrifice in order to hold onto their power. If we want to stop the slow and relentless creep towards fascism we’ve got to get creative and be disruptive.
HOPE not hate report: The International Alt-Right Convenes in the Netherlands
By Charlie Prentice
The Dutch alt-right organization Erkenbrand hosted its annual conference last weekend, with prominent speakers from across the Atlantic, including U.S. white nationalist Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents Publishing and Canadian George Hutcheson, Director of the ‘Pan-European Nationalist’ group, Students for Western Civilization. On the anniversary of Charlottesville, we noted that Erkenbrand had managed to stay afloat following the events, cementing its place as a key gathering for the international alt-right.
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Jonathan Albright is at it again, with a deep dive into Facebook a week before midterms elections. Read his research across three articles:
- America’s Problem Isn’t Tribalism—It’s Racism (The Atlantic)
- Online Sexism and Racism Leads to Real Violence (Medium)
- Homeland Security Fell for YouTube Videos About ‘Antifa Civil War’ (The Daily Beast)
- How mass shooters practice their hate online (Vox)
- Far-Right Internet Groups Listen for Trump’s Approval, and Often Hear It (New York Times)
- Three of the biggest Trump fables died last night (Washington Post)
- LinkedIn Is Now Home To Hyperpartisan Political Content, False Memes, And Troll Battles (Buzzfeed)
- The Infowars-White House pipeline is alive and well (Media Matters)
- What’s disinformation doing “right” — and what can newsrooms learn from it? (Nieman Lab)
- The Alt-Right’s Favorite Social Network Gab’s Plan To Use Blockchain To Make Itself Indestructible (Forbes)
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