America will never heal from Trump

July 11, 2018 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 207

I’d ask you to begin by reading Hector Acosta’s account of applying for citizenship after the 2016 Election. Full disclosure, Hector is a personal friend and co-organizer of the writer’s group I run. The short version is that Hector, a Mexican immigrant, lived in the US for 20 years as a resident alien. After Trump’s election, suddenly worried that he might not be welcome, he applied for citizenship and spent 15 months sweating when he saw police, lying awake at night, and wondering whether his next appointment would end in deportation.

Hector’s story ends happily, in that he did finally attain citizenship. But the consequences of that experience will stay with him for a long time, maybe forever. One day he was an American, who never doubted his place in his adopted home country. The next he was an immigrant, different and unwelcome, and even as a citizen that feeling will always linger.

And that is the truth of Trump: As focused as many of us are on opposing him, on stopping his racist, fascist-light policies, and even possibly removing him from office, America will never fully recover from Trump. We will always wear the scars of his election.

As of this writing, thousands of immigrant children remain separated from their families, kidnapped and held for ransom so Trump could demand his wall. Yes, a court has ordered the reunification of those families, which may feel like victory to some–but those children, some as young as infants, will suffer very literal psychological damage that will affect their entire lives.

Experts in child development say the experience of being torn from their families and held in cages may cause permanent psychological and even physical change to the brain development of these children. Something as simple as being denied human contact during vital developmental stages can lead to depression, isolation, and diminished health later in life. Even if we return every child to their family, even if we pay settlements for our crimes, those children are permanently and irrevocably harmed.

So, of course, is our nation. The US will always be the nation that put children in cages on the border. Nothing can undo that. Add it to the long list of shameful, hypocritical betrayals of the values we claim to hold dear.

These scars will never heal

The election of Donald Trump revealed the ugly side of America: Just how many Americans are racist, nationalist zealots who would fall in line behind a dictator if he promised to protect white supremacy. It’s very true that many Americans already knew this, and many of us (especially white Americans) are better for seeing it laid out in all its ugliness.

For other people, however, ignorance was bliss. Young Black and brown children are entitled to their innocence. Adult immigrants deserve to feel like full Americans, even if they know deep down there are people here who hate them. No one deserves the daily stress and trauma of being told you aren’t equal, being made to feel like an outsider.

There’s little doubt that the racists among us have been emboldened by Trump’s rise. We see new evidence almost daily: A white Manhattanite shouting because he heard Spanish in the salad line, a white man assaulting a woman who proudly wore the flag of her US territory, a seemingly endless parade of white people calling the police because Black people are having fun. We’ve seen the marchers chanting racist and antisemitic slogans in Charlottesville and elsewhere, and the constant presence of symbols of hate in our daily lives.

That genie will never return to its bottle. Long after Trump is gone from office, these racists will still feel empowered. And even if their rhetoric is muted, American immigrants, people of color, Jews, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups, will always retain the memory and the trauma of this era. They will always feel unwelcome, they will always feel other. Those scars may fade, but they cannot be erased.

So what can we do?

This is all pretty bleak, I know. It’s a bleak time, and I don’t believe in papering over the truth with “positivity.” And part of Trumpism is to overwhelm decent Americans with an onslaught of attacks, putting us into a sort of emergency room triage. Our most immediate priorities, of course, are to protect vulnerable people from immediate harm by opposing and undoing the worst policies: Get children out of cages. Reunite families. Stop deportations. Protect the rights of women.

To the subtler, less tangible consequences, I don’t know if there is a solution. I suspect the best we can do is act locally–do what we can to help people in our own communities feel like they belong.

In 2015, in my own neighborhood in Queens, a convenience store teller from Bangladesh was assaulted by a stranger who told him “I kill Muslims.” After the story made the news, community members held rallies, and posted signs, and made a point to shop in his store, many telling him outright that yes, he was welcome. Not every action needs to be this dramatic, and I certainly hope people aren’t attacked first, but there are small things you can do to help people feel that the racists are the outliers, and their neighbors appreciate them.

You can learn a little Spanish–something as simple as hearing “gracias” from white Americans sends a signal to Spanish-speakers that their language is not seen as other. You can make a point to greet Muslim Americans, who are often met with suspicion by white people–although I’d be cautious you aren’t intruding in someone’s day just to make yourself feel good. Oh, and for god’s sake, you can stop calling the police when you see Black people (or anyone else with brown skin) just having a good time and not harming anyone.

I don’t think you should be stopping strangers to tell them they belong here, but a smile and wave go a long way. As to your friends and neighbors, who might be justifiably suspicious of their white friends’ true feelings, it doesn’t hurt to tell them what I told Hector: A person isn’t American because of a document, or religion, or language, or any other quality–a person is American because they live in America. And I don’t care if you’ve been here five generations or five minutes. We’re all equally American.

That’s what Trump is taking away from us, and that’s what we need to defend.

The AMAZING cartoon that serves as a banner image is by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, and used under creative commons license.

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Is America Great Again?

June 19, 2018 Civil Rights, Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 140

I want you to listen to this recording. It’s seven-and-a-half minutes long, but I doubt many people could bear the full length. This recording, made and released by Pro Publica, contains the cries of children, separated from their parents and thrown in cages by U.S. government agents. Again and again they cry for their mothers and fathers, the adults they trust, for comfort. But their mothers and fathers won’t come to comfort them, because the U.S. government has thrown them in other cages. The former head of ICE sayssome of these children will never see their parents again.

Listen to this audio, and answer a question for me:

Is America Great Again?

There is no law, state or federal, that requires undocumented immigrant families to be divided. The President claims there is, but that is a lie. Even his administration officials know it’s a lie — you can watch Attorney General Jeff Sessions, just a few weeks ago, boasting about the tough new policy separating detained parents from their children.

In Texas, federal officials stole an infant from a mother while she was breastfeeding, and then handcuffed her when she protested. Another woman, an ACLU client, reports the government has kept her from her son for eight months. Another family, also in Texas, has not seen their 8-month old baby in 4 months, except via Skype. The child’s father was deported, but the child has now spent half of its life in custody of federal immigration officials.

It is not a crime to seek asylum —in fact, the right to seek asylum is protected under international law, affirmed multiple times in the 20th century by the United Nations, and further protected in the United States by federal law. And yet the Trump administration has established a new policy that prosecutes every person who seeks asylum as a criminal. They say this is not a new policy, but that is a lie.

Is America Great Again?

Numerous members of the Trump Administration have stated that the new policy is intended to deter people from coming to seek asylum in the United States. The President himself denies this, but he also declares that the United States will not become a “migrant camp” or “refugee holding facility,” and describes immigrants as “infesting” our country.

The President blames the Democrats, again lying about existing law, but also says he will not release the children unless he gets funding for his border wall. That’s the one Mexico was going to pay for, according to Trump the candidate. Maybe he meant with the blood of their children? But I digress.

Meanwhile, ICE officials have been kidnapping children from their parents by lying that they were “taking the children away for baths,” which is, you know, the same thing guards at concentration camps told Jewish people to get them into gas chambers. This, while Trump tweets racist fears about how immigration in Europe “changed the culture,” virtually paraphrasing the “14 words” used as a slogan by the neo-Nazi movement.

The rhetoric has become so bad, the policy so ugly, that the Attorney General had to appear on Fox News to try and point out ways current U.S. policy is different from that of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find any.

I ask you: Is America Great Again?

It’s an honest question, not just rhetoric. I genuinely want an answer. Because I want to know if the people who put Trump in the White House — and 55 percent of Republican voters apparently say they support this policy — consider this great. I want to be clear, so we don’t hear in the future about how ICE agents were “just following orders,” or how voters didn’t know who they were electing.

This is, after all, the same Donald Trump who spent $85,000 in 1989 to demand the execution of five innocent children.

Is this great? Children, locked in cages on bare floors beneath lights that never go out, crying for comfort from parents they may never see again? Children,stripped of their belts and shoelaces so they can’t commit suicide, before being locked away like criminals? A U.S. government that receives applications for political asylum not with compassion or respect for human dignity, but with the kinds of human rights abuses that draw condemnation from Amnesty International, the Mormon Church, former First Lady Laura Bush, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner?

Is this what you wanted? Is this who you’d like us to be? Is this the America you envisioned when you cast your ballot?

Is this what you voted for?

Is America Great Again?

The photo in the header is from and used with permission under Creative Commons license. Please note it is NOT an image of a migrant child currently detained under U.S. policy; my intent is not to deceive, but to avoid using images without permission of copyright holders or violating the privacy rights of minors.

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It Was Never About Liberty

March 9, 2018 Featured, History, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 272

Americans all know the story of the Boston Tea Party: On December 16, 1773, a mob of patriots known as the Sons of Liberty, disguised in charcoal blackface and Indian dress, boarded a fleet of ships in Boston Harbor and destroyed a shipment of English tea. But what motivated the Sons of Liberty to cast a million (2018) dollars worth of tea into the water? It was the Tea Act, a tax increase that increased the cost of tea in the colonies. Right?

Well, no. It’s true the Tea Act prompted the Boston Tea Party, but not because it raised the price of tea — in fact, the Tea Act reduced the price of tea imported by the East India Trading CompanyThis is a part of the story most Americans don’t know; the Sons of Liberty were less patriots, motivated by English tyranny, than they were merchants, motivated by reduced revenues when British tea became cheaper than the smuggled Dutch tea they sold tax-free.John Hancock, who financed the Sons of Liberty and fomented the Boston Tea Party, was a shipping magnate of enormous wealth, much of it earned by smuggling tea. The Tea Act hit him where it counted — his wallet.

The Boston Tea Party is but one episode in a long American tradition:Justifying acts of profit-seeking by cloaking them in the rhetoric of freedom.In response to some capitalist-fueled injustice (a school shooting, or mass incarceration, or cuts to social services in exchange for military funding) many of us cry “This is not what America is.” In fact, throughout American history, freedom and liberty have taken a back seat to revenue and profit.Americans who truly value liberty must understand it is breaking with our traditions, not honoring them, to put human rights ahead of profit.

In dressing as Indians and applying blackface, the Sons of Liberty evoked two populations denied basic human rights in Colonial America. By 1773, indigenous Americans had been pushed off of land along most of the East Coast, replaced by European colonists. Often this was done via treaty, but treaty negotiations were always backed by threat of violence, and where treaties failed, colonists used force.

The men who wrote grand words about “inalienable rights endowed by the creator” concerned themselves not at all with the rights of the indigenous people who stood between them and profit: When the English government declared, in 1763, that land west of the Alleghenies was closed to colonists and reserved to “the nations or tribes of Indians…for their hunting grounds,” numerous colonial land claims were invalidated, and prime territory for hunting and trapping made off-limits. When the thirteen colonies issued their Declaration of Independence, it included a list of offenses committed by the English kingAmong them: The King’s resistance to opening new territory, and his allegiance with “merciless Indian savages.”

African slaves, meanwhile, might have obtained freedom a century earlier, if the men who claimed to hold Enlightenment ideals had put them ahead of their bank balances. Thomas Jefferson, himself a slave-owner and serial rapist, wanted to include the African slave trade among the list of King George’s offenses, but was forced to remove it so that southern states would sign. When the Constitution was drafted, Jefferson again advocated against slavery, alongside abolitionists like Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, but again the institution was protected in order to secure the support of southern states, whose economies relied upon slavery.

We know, therefore, that Jefferson held slavery as a deplorable violation of the rights of man, at least philosophically. Historians credit him with “small victories” against the institution, like leading Virginia to become the first state to ban the importation of new slavesAnd yet he personally enslaved people, because as a landowner and farmer, burdened with debt and accustomed to a wealthy lifestyle, his finances came before his philosophy. George Washington, similarly, spoke against the institution — but he too retained his slaves, including bringing them to live with him at the President’s residence in Quaker Philadelphia. When he realized Pennsylvania law meant his slaves would be freed after six months, Washington rushed to send them back to Virginia — and when one of those slaves escaped, Washington offered rewardsfor her capture and spent the rest of his life pursuing her.

We’re often taught that George Washington, our benevolent American patriarch, freed his slaves — but he did so only once his own death meant doing so would not harm him financially.

Runaway slave newspaper ad from 1778


So too, if we examine men like Franklin with any scrutiny, we find their morals did not extend to their pocketbooksFranklin, though an ardent abolitionist late in life, owned slaves well into his 60s — even though he began speaking against slavery in his 40s. He allowed the sale of slaves at stores he owned, and advertisements for slaves in his newspapers. Even Alexander Hamilton, the ardent abolitionist and Broadway hero, accepted advertisements in his New York Post promising rewards for the return of escaped slaves — one such is on display at Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan.

Illustration of Lincoln’s execution of 38 Dakota Indian rebels


When American slaves were finally freed in the 1860s, it was famously as a military strategy, not a moral stance. Much has been written about President Lincoln’s views on slavery: In short, he personally loathed the institution, but would have allowed it to continue if it meant peace and prosperity. Less is written about how Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” presided over the continued slaughter of indigenous people and removal from their lands. By 1860, King George’s Allegheny boundary was long forgotten, replaced by the dream of a transcontinental railroad and commerce from sea to shining sea. When Indians stood in the way of that commerce, Mister Lincoln, he of “malice toward none and charity for all,” removed them from their land at threat of death. Where they resisted, he personally ordered them executed.

We are not going to let a few thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress of [the railroads]”

After the Civil War, General Sherman (whose middle name, Tecumseh, honored a Shawnee hero of the Revolution) took a new job protecting railroad construction. The United States government, dedicated in Lincoln’s words to “the proposition that all men are created equal,” had signed a great many treaties with the Indians of the Great Plains. Where those treaties obstructed commercial interests, however, Sherman broke them. The same scorched-earth tactics that made him a Civil War hero now forced Indians onto reservations. “We are not going to let a few thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress of [the railroads],” he wrote in a letter to President Grant. Sherman introduced the mass slaughter of bison to deprive Plains people of the resources they needed, a practice that would become core to the US genocide against Native Americans.

The skulls of slaughtered bison on the frontier, circa 1870s.

Moving into the twentieth century, US policy is so rife with betrayals of the concept of liberty, they are too numerous to list: From the Dole family’s violent conquest of Hawaii, to the US-backed revolution in Panama, to thenumerous instances of American support for dictatorships, whose policies favored our financial interests, over the democratically elected leaders of neighboring countries. Even as you read this, the US is accused of meddling in the recent Honduran election, backing a President favorable to our interests despite apparent election fraud. Wherever American financial interests come into conflict with liberty, freedom, democracy or sovereignty, those financial interests prevail.

It should come as no surprise, then, that today’s America spouts the rhetoric of freedom and liberty while incarcerating children for profit, refusing to regulate or even study the effects of firearms, one of our nation’s leading causes of death, and yet again violating treaties by running oil pipelines through Indian land. And yet so many Americans respond to news of these violations by claiming “This is not what America is.”

It’s not what America should be, but that isn’t the same thing. Those who want to enact change must recognize the patterns of our past. We have to admit that our country has always put profit ahead of liberty. Advancing our philosophy of liberty and equality means breaking our traditions, not upholding them.

All images from Wikimedia, used under Creative Commons license.

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Racism is Driving Modern American Gun Culture

February 23, 2018 Featured, In The News Comments (0) 120

The most memorable conversation I ever had about gun ownership was with a friend, a gun owner and NRA member. Though our political views diverged, we liked and respected one another, and often talked about his enthusiasm for guns. He enjoyed shooting, and brought his kids to the range sometimes so they could learn to use the several models of pistol, shotgun, and military-style rifle he collected. At home, he kept his guns safely locked up, spending money on locks and modern gun safes. He even had a biometric safe that allowed him to keep a pistol right beside his bed, but prevent the kids from getting it.

I asked why he felt the need to keep a pistol beside his bed. “Because,” he said, “someday, some thug is going to come for me and my family, and I need to be ready.”

A variation on the male power fantasy that motivates many gun owners, yes, but the part that struck me was the choice of word, “thug.” I’d seen him use this word before, on Facebook and in conversation. It always meant the same thing: A black man.

I’ve had versions of this conversation with many gun owners over the years, and found it to be a consistent truth: That “responsible gun owner” might keep his weapons safely locked away, taking them out on weekends to shoot clay pigeons or targets the way other hobbyists shoot golf balls, but if you drill down far enough you’ll find his gun ownership is motivated by a deep fear and distrust of other races.

Maxim Gun circa 1985, photo from Wikimedia

Far from being limited to a few conversations with friends, the racism that informs gun culture is deeply embedded in American history, and in the history of firearms themselves. As early as the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors used a primitive musket, called a harquebus, to intimidate and murder indigenous Americans. In the colonies that would become the United States, European settlers were required by law to own firearms for the specific purpose of fighting off the Indians who had been deposed from their land. Samuel Colt invented his revolver, the weapon that “won the west,” specifically to quell slave rebellions. The Maxim gun, one of the earliest machine guns, was so vital to the European colonization of Africa that it was commemorated in a famous poem: “Whatever happens / We have got / The Maxim Gun / And they have not.”

The common refrain among pro-gun activists that guns “protect liberty” is patently absurd. One common myth holds that the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment was intended to arm Americans against a tyrannical government. Quite to the contrary; the “Well-regulated militia” referenced in the amendment were, very specifically, those able-bodied men required by law to arm themselves and fight for their state governments —most frequently, against Indians.

Another common myth holds that the Nazis disarmed the German populace, leading to the Holocaust. While it’s true the Nazis used Weimar-era lists of gun owners to disarm specific political enemies, the Nazi regime in fact loosened restrictions on firearm ownership — for Germans who were not Jewish.

Such racial disparity in gun ownership is familiar today. The NRA regularly decries the “persecution” of gun owners, and shouts about tyranny at the merest suggestion of gun safety regulation — and yet when Philando Castile was shot to death despite warning police that he was a licensed owner with a permit to carry a weapon, the NRA was strangely silent. When a police officer killed Tamir Rice, a child with a toy gun, in less than two seconds — in an open-carry state — the NRA said nothing. When Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed for holding a handgun in North Carolina, another open-carry state, the NRA said nothing. Why is that? Might it be that these three people were black?

Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, via Wikimedia

The NRA’s racist history is somewhat cloudy. Liberals are fond of pointing out that the NRA was founded mere months after federal law declared the KKK an illegal terrorist organization, however there is little evidence one led directly to the other. NRA defenders, meanwhile, repeat an equally mythological origin story in which Union founders sought to defend freed slaves from the KKK — there is no evidence for this, either. What we do know is that the NRA, historically, supported gun control laws when those laws targeted black Americans, including the 1967 Mulford Act and 1968 Federal Gun Control Act, intended to disarm the Black Panthers and similar activist organizations. And we know that the modern NRA, regardless of its history, produces propaganda videos laden with racist dogwhistles, and that its leader, Wayne Lapierre, delivered a speech at CPAC just this week in which he labeled immigrants, the Chinese, Black Lives Matter, and George Soros as enemies.

The NRA is not a white supremacist organization. They are a lobby group funded by gun manufacturers, and their only goal is to sell more guns. It just happens that the primary consumers of guns today are steeped in white supremacy, racism, and fear of the other. Statistics show that half of all guns in the United States are owned by just three percent of our population. The motives for gun ownership have diminished over 250 years, as our nation has urbanized, the frontier has vanished, and most of us obtain our food from the supermarket instead of the forest.

Sure, there are still rural populations who encounter bears and choose to hunt for food, and weekend hobby shooters — but the greatest driving motive behind American gun sales today, and that to which the NRA and conservative lawmakers pander, is racism.

In 1978, the author William Luther Pierce (writing as Andrew Macdonald) published his apocalyptic novel The Turner Diaries. The novel begins just after the passage of the Cohen Act (please note the name), a federal law that prohibits firearm ownership. The Jewish-controlled government sends “Negroes” [his word] with machetes to confiscate all guns from white households. As the story proceeds, the protagonist Earl Turner and his heavily-armed white militia fight to overthrow the American government; in an epilogue, we learn that all non-white people on the planet Earth were killed, and that “the dream of a white world finally became a certainty.”

It’s unknown how many people have read The Turner Diaries. Today it is widely available for free on the Internet, but we know since publication it’s sold more than 500,000 physical copies. The Anti-Defamation League calls it “One of the most widely read and cited books on the far-right.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls it a “bible of the racist right.” Last year, the Atlantic reported that the book had inspired “dozens of armed robberies, and at least 200 murders.” It’s cited by any number of far-right organizations, and was famously found in the car of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who reportedly had a habit of carrying multiple copies of the book on his person, and selling them to people at a loss — mostly at gun shows, where McVeigh also met the people who helped him carry out his bombing.

Belief in the coming race war is widespread in white supremacist circles. At this point, even people who have never heard of The Turner Diaries know the future scenario it depicts. It is the specific scenario envisioned by white supremacists when they talk about the government “coming for your guns.” It’s the scenario referenced when conservatives like Charlie Kirk speculate about the government becoming “too powerful against us.

And yes, it’s what my gun-enthusiast friend was likely imagining when he described that “thug” one day coming for him and his family. As in so much of what’s wrong with American culture, you don’t usually have to dig very far to find that racism is the true motive behind our gun culture.

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Google’s Diversity War: The Alt-Right are not just White Supremacists.

January 26, 2018 Civil Rights, Featured, In The News Comments (0) 651

The “lifehacker” philosophy of the alt-right movement is what makes them distinct, and the reason they are so dangerous.

This morning, Wired published an excellent piece by Nitasha Tiku about the white supremacist guerrilla war going on at Google. You should read it, not only because it’s good and interesting, but because it’s important in understanding the modern white supremacist movement known as the alt-right.

When the alt-right first came to national attention during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, many (including me) argued that the media should avoid the term, and stick with more traditional — and accurate — terms like “Nazi’ and “White Nationalist.” There is, however, a specific trait that sets the alt-right apart from other hate groups: Their philosophy of life as a game or program, that can be hacked or “beaten” if one learns the rules.

The white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, did not wear white sheets or Confederate uniforms. They wore polo shirts and khaki pants, a uniform of respectability. This modern trend of the “dapper” white supremacist comes from leaders like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer, who rose to prominence online. It’s a hack, a specific attempt to deceive the public by manipulating their perception. This is from The Cut, in 2016:

“We have to look good,” Spencer told Salon…explaining that middle-class whites are less likely to join a movement that appears “crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid,” and that stereotypes of “redneck, tattooed, illiterate, no-teeth” are an impediment to achieving his goals.

Klansmen in white sheets are evil, everyone knows that. Skinheads in studded leather will scare people. But put on a polo and a neatly-creased pair of khakis, and maybe the media will debate your Confederate flag and the true meaning of your antisemitic chant, instead of ignoring you. Congratulations, you just beat the game.

A movement born online

The alt-right has roots firmly in the Internet and online culture. Though it first came to mass attention in 2016, it festered for years prior on 4chan and various subreddits. Alt-right leaders expanded their influence through platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Amazon, often gaming algorithms to gain exposure. But the views and tactics of the alt-right go back even further, to the pre-web days of Usenet message boards. Even the name takes a cue from Usenet: “alt” was the prefix for ‘alternative’ boards, where no one was moderating and users could find (among many more benign topics) nude photos of celebrities, recipes for explosives, and child pornography. A common belief in the early days of the Internet was that “alt” stood for “Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists.

It’s no surprise that a movement born on the Internet would attract “brogrammers” and similarly tech-oriented members. The alt-right grew as a conglomeration of online communities of disaffected young men. What’s important to recognize is that their programmer tactics extends to the real world — and as the real world becomes more interconnected and reliant on the Internet, their tactics sometimes work.

So-called “lifehacks” are common and generally harmless. Here, for example, is a bot that understands Comcast’s internal policies and employs machine learning to get you a lower price on your cable bill. But the alt-right’s approach can be traced to one of the earliest and most nefarious lifehacks: so-called “seduction techniques,” first developed on the Usenet board and later published by reporter Neil Strauss in his book, “The Game.”

Hacking goes IRL: The Seduction Community

Disciples of the seduction community, self-designated “pickup artists,” bring a hacker’s mindset to dating and conversation. By employing the right sequence of interactions — “negging,” or complimenting a woman in a way that’s actually a put-down, feigning disinterest, and initiating physical contact in the right way at the right time, a pickup artist believes he can unlock a sexual encounter as if it were the secret boss level of a video game.

Usenet’s seduction board was founded in 1994, but its teachings are alive and well on 4chan and Reddit, where so-called incels (short for “involuntarily celibate,” men who aren’t having the sex they want) were banned in November for preaching violence against women. More than one prominent alt-right leader came directly from the seduction world: Daryush Valizadeh, alias “Roosh V,” has written extensively on seduction and published more than a dozen of his own guides. Mike Cernovich, promoter of the false Pizzagate scandal and the idea that “date rape does not exist,” is the author and self-publisher of Gorilla Mindset: How to Control Your Thoughts and Emotions and Live Life on Your Terms, a guidebook for men who want to “improve [their] health and fitness, earn more money, and have stronger relationships….[and] live a life others don’t even dare dream of.”

Cernovich is divorced, incidentally (which he blames on “feminist indoctrination”) and was once charged with rape. But since we’re on the topic of books, it’s a good time to talk about Theodore Beale.

It’s notable that Theodore Beale appears in Tiku’s Wired piece. A former WorldNetDaily contributor and alt-right thought-leader writing under the alias “Vox Day,” Beale plays various roles in Google’s racist guerilla force. Perhaps most importantly, he is the author of a “manual for fighting advocates of social justice,” which Beale believes James Damore is using. An excerpt:

Whatever you do, do not agree to any gag orders or sign any confidentiality agreements that will handicap your ability to use the documentation you have acquired to prevent them from spinning a Narrative about what happened.

Beale’s manual is a chapter from his self-published 2015 book, “SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police,” which sold thousands of copies on Amazon and includes a foreword from Yiannopoulos. And here we have to dive…a little bit deep.

2015: Theodore Beale hacks the Hugos

Beale, an author of self-published science fiction and a well-known troll in the SciFi community, is also the self-appointed nemesis of best-selling author John Scalzi. Scalzi is a prominent voice for progressive thought and inclusion, particularly through his blog, Whatever. From 2007 to 2013, Scalzi served three terms as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), a prominent membership organization for authors in those genres). When Scalzi’s last term ended, Beale attempted to run for president. He lost, drawing only 10% of the vote, and shortly thereafter was expelled entirely from SFWA after calling fellow member (and African-American) N.K. Jemisin an “ignorant half-savage.”

Are you with me so far?

The Hugo Awards, one of science fiction’s most prestigious awards (if not the most prestigious) are presented annually by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) at Worldcon. Nominations and winners are determined by a vote of WSFS members. In 2013, conservative-leaning authors Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen (who, not incidentally, has a background in computer programming) engineered a scheme to rig the Hugo Award nomination and voting process. Claiming the awards were biased in favor of progressive authors and diversity, they arranged a block-voting scheme that would advantage conservative and libertarian authors. Voters who joined this block called themselves the “Sad Puppies.” The scheme repeated in 2014 and 2015, though it generated no awards and only a scant few nominations. Enter Theodore Beale.

In 2015, Beale engineered his own Hugo voting scheme, which he called the “Rabid Puppies.” Unlike the Sad Puppies, the Rabid Puppies were wildly successful, owing in large part to Beale’s sizable audience and bylaws that allow any person to join WSFS and vote, as long as they pay a fee. Nominations went to 51 of 60 Sad Puppy books, and 58 of 67 Rabid Puppy books. The ensuing response at WSFS is best summarized as “bedlam,” with nominees refusing their nominations and presenters withdrawing from the ceremony. Authors as prominent as George R. R. Martin condemned the Puppies for ruining the Hugos, and within two years the rules for voting were changed.

Beale, for his part, referred to the Rabid Puppies effort as “a giant Fuck You — one massive gesture of contempt.” None of the Puppy nominees won an actual award, except one: the Marvel Studios film Guardians of the Galaxy.

The complicated saga of the Hugo Awards and their “Puppy” schemes perfectly illustrates the defining attribute of the alt-right. Unlike past generations of white supremacists, they are not content to declare their position and recruit those who agree. Like the Rabid Puppies, the Pickup Artists, and the polo-shirt clad Charlottesville marchers, the alt-right approaches the real world like a piece of software, learning the rules so they can hack them.

Beale built his popularity by espousing white supremacy, but he’s made money using his large following to game Amazon’s algorithm, which gives preferential position to top-selling books. When “SJWs Always Lie” debuted in 2015 (in the midst of the Rabid Puppies uproar), it became the center of a Kindle self-publishing war. A pseudonymous author countered with a parody, “John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular: How SJWs Always Lie About Our Comparative Popularity Levels,” to which alt-right authors responded with parodies of their own. Within days, a half-dozen parodies, parodies-of-parodies, and parodies-of-parodies-of-parodies were sitting on Amazon’s various genre best-seller lists. Breitbart, where plenty of Beale’s friends and fans still write, gleefully reported that he had “turned Amazon’s Kindle Store into a Battlefield.

Beale’s most recent gambit, again centering on his obsession with Scalzi, was to debut a pseudonymous self-published book, The Corroding Empire, on Amazon the day before Tor released Scalzi’s novel, The Collapsing Empire. The two books have almost identical covers, right down to the font in which Beale’s chosen pseudonym — Johan Kalsi — is printed. When a person searches Amazon for Scalzi’s book, guess what the algorithm presents right beside it?

Image: Tor Books/Castalia House via Gizmodo

A “Dirty War” against guerrilla hackers

I am genuinely sorry to fill your head with the saga of Theodore Beale, but again, it’s important to understand how the alt-right operates. When a senior engineer at Google describes the actions of white supremacist employees as “a denial-of-service attack on human resources,” that is not a mistake and hardly a metaphor. The alt-right’s guerrilla tactics are a specific carry-over from its members’ approach to programming and video games: Learn the rules, and you learn how to hack them.

When James Damore’s internal memo leaked and became a nationwide scandal, he and many media outlets portrayed himself as a naive savant just asking innocent questions. This was by design. A white supremacist openly calling women and people of color inferior can be neatly discarded by the mainstream. A naive programmer, asking honest questions about what science says, is not so easily dismissed — and he might just have a shot atwinning a discrimination lawsuit.

It’s not far from Damore’s act to the tactics employed by Yiannopoulos — generate controversy, stir up the hate of the “Social Justice Warriors,” and you are rewarded with (a) publicity in the mainstream media, and (b) the adulation of your alt-right sympathizers. When Yiannopoulos books controversial speaking gigs, like his notorious appearance at Berkeley last September, the gig itself takes a back-seat to the controversy. By stirring up protests (and dozens, if not hundreds, of think-pieces about so-called “attacks on free speech,”) Yiannopoulos builds his brand. It doesn’t matter if he even gets to take the stage — in fact it’s often better if it doesn’t. We know this for sure because we’ve heard it from the man who developed Yiannopoulos’s strategies — although he originally developed them for someone else: Tucker Max, the author and provocateur who first rose to fame from the Seduction Community.

In December, Ashley Feinberg at the Huffington Post exposed the styleguide used by Andrew Anglin, founder and editor of the white-supremacist web site Daily Stormer (piieces of that styleguide had previously been leaked by — guess who — Theodore Beale). While any casual visitor would likely recognize the Daily Stormer immediately as racist and antisemitic (prominent use of the “Happy Merchant” meme is a big clue), in Anglin’s rules we still see an intentional and deliberate effort to manipulate readers and platform algorithms:

“By simply commenting on existing news items…we can never be accused of fake news — or delisted by Facebook as such.”

The guidebook urges writers to block-quote from mainstream news outlets, “to co-opt the perceived authority…and not look like one of those sites we are all familiar with where you are never certain if what they are saying has been confirmed.”

The Daily Stormer even encourages doxxing and harassment, if it leads to pageviews:

“If you’re writing about some enemy Jew/feminist/etc., link their social media accounts. Twitter especially. We’ve gotten press attention before when I didn’t even call for someone to be trolled but just linked them and people went and did it.” [Emphasis mine]

In today’s Wired piece, Tiku quotes Google site reliability engineer and diversity advocate Liz Fong Jones on the moment she realized some of her fellow employees, who had been discussing the potential negative impact of diversity initiatives, weren’t acting in good faith. It came when excerpts from her private conversations were leaked to, and published by, Theodore Beale.

The resulting deluge of threatening comments, messages, and DMs, woke Fong Jones up to an ugly reality: “We didn’t realize that there was a dirty war going on, and weren’t aware of the tactics being used against us.”

It’s a lesson we all must learn, sooner rather than later. The alt-right isn’t participating in a good faith discussion about the accepted premises of progressivism and diversity. They aren’t marching in polo shirts and khakis because they are clean-cut and honest members of polite society. They are hackers, seeking to use written and unwritten rules we all observe— social mores, etiquette, and electronic algorithms that shape our daily experiences — to spread their views, make money, and eventually engineer a white ethnostate.

This is what sets the alt-right apart from other white supremacist movements, and what makes them far more dangerous than what came before.

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