Monday, September 4, 2017

WORDS OF WARNING / SIGNS OF HOPE

Charlottesville Goddamn
For one brief, shining moment in the days following the deadly confrontation between the forces of organized hate--long festering in the West but recently emboldened by a number of significant developments in their favor--and the ad hoc counter-coalition that rose up in opposition to them in the streets of the sleepy college town of Charlottesville, Virginia... it seemed as though a critical mass of Americans were waking up to the true magnitude of the crisis gripping the nation, and coming to some understanding of president* Trump's central role in that crisis.

Sadly, that moment has already passed.

Don't get me wrong; it was an important and constructive week and a half for the Good Guys. Before Charlottesville, the image most Americans associated with the Alt Right was a smirking cartoon frog. Now, it's either a mob chanting Nazi slogans during a torch-lit midnight march, or a Dodge Challenger murderously smashing into a crowd of peaceful protesters; an act about which many in the Alt Right community were publicly fantasizing in the weeks leading up to the rally.

Then came Trump's reaction (his third, true reaction), which was so exposing of the malignant hate that possesses and controls him, it prompted many heretofore immovable conservatives to cry "no más!" and publicly disown him. I've even witnessed it myself! A conservative friend of mine, with whom I engage in lively debates on a weekly basis, greeted me on the Thursday after Charlottesville not with "Hello!", but with a sad and disgusted "I'm done with him." I knew better than to tell him I told you so, as neither of us saw this as an appropriate time for gloating. But inside, I felt a surge of relief. If my die-hard conservative friend, as stubborn and contrary an anti-liberal as I've ever known, was having this level of crisis of conscience? The potential implications were staggering.

But then came Boston, where another Unite the Right "Free Speech" gathering led to a couple dozen die-hards and wannabe martyrs momentarily trapped on a gazebo, surrounded by forty-four thousand angry Bostonians who showed up with some free speech of their own to share... and in the Far Right's reaction to that humiliation, those of us who keep an eye out for such things began to see the first stirrings of their comeback strategies on social media.

40 fascists = 1"gazebo" of fascists
These strategies, of course, are the same strategies that have served them well up to now: play up their underdog status, weaponize ubiquitous prejudices--then feed and stoke the aggrievement that comes from being made to feel guilty about those prejudices--and, of course, lie their fucking asses off.  If you'd like to know more, you should definitely read this excellent WiReD article that breaks down--meticulously, with direct quotes and screen grabs aplenty--both the Alt Right's angry panic in the wake of Charlottesville and their attempts to devise strategies on how best to surreptitiously manage the fallout and manipulate the public narrative. It is extremely illuminating.

And then... then came Berkeley, where something similar to what happened in Boston took place, only with a bit more punching, balaclavas, and "Antifa Behaving Badly".

But were they really? Or is it possible you're being tricked into believing in a false dichotomy that, at best, is completely unmoored from reality and, at worst, is the product of a highly coordinated and impressively sophisticated effort at damage control by some of the most evil, technologically advanced, and well-funded motherfuckers that the world has ever suffered?

Because if you ignore the breathless headlines, scare quotes, and context-free still frames from frantically shot videos, and actually watch the footage that allegedly shows the worst of what Antifa were up to in Berkeley... it begins to look a lot less like the Anarcho-Communist Apocalypse heralded by FOX News and Breitbart, and a lot more like spin by the New Fascist International and their partners (and victims) in the national mainstream media.

And yes, I definitely think that the word "victim" applies.

Every day more evidence pops up that points to the media having been traumatized into self-flagellating neurosis by the non-stop assaults they've had to endure recently, from both the commanding heights of the (stolen) White House, as well as from the depths of an increasingly unhinged minority of deplorables, who swear undying hatred for them and unquestioning allegiance to a criminal cabal of usurpers. Sure, they try to put on a brave face about it, but that much abuse can't help but leave a bruise.

How else to explain the fact that, as musician Luke O'Neil astutely points out via Twitter: "There have been more major media think pieces on Antifa violence than acts of Antifa violence"?  All this, while Far Right extremists have killed 372 people in the past ten years, and "Antifa" have killed... none.

Having to contend with wave upon wave of demented Far Right avengers fueled by racial animus, class resentment, and deeply sublimated self-loathing would be difficult enough... but in actuality, the situation is far worse. The prevelance of anti-Antifa propaganda currently spreading across the web like a particularly scorching strain of herpes is a function of far more than just some angry, inchoate screeching. It's a coordinated propaganda campaign by the New Fascist International to wrest back control of the narrative. Every weapon in their arsenal has been deployed in the service of this sophisticated disinformation effort.

Which brings us to their aforementioned technological advancement.

If you only click on one link from today's epic screed, let it be to behavioral scientist Caroline O's exploration of How Russian and Alt Right Twitter Accounts Worked Together to Skew the Narrative About Berkeley, which begins:
Social media has an important role in shaping perceptions of current events, as well as influencing mainstream news coverage of those events. Platforms like Twitter provide real-time access to events going on around the world, allowing anyone to get a front-row seat for breaking news. But as much as it has opened up new channels of information, social media has also opened up new avenues for manipulating perceptions of reality. Misinformation and disinformation often spread faster than the truth, and by the time the narrative is corrected, social media has already moved on to the next “big thing.” 
The narrative surrounding last weekend’s protests in Berkeley took shape on social media and was picked up, at least in part, by mainstream news outlets. The result was a skewed presentation of events that was almost entirely devoid of the context in which they took place. Even more troubling: that narrative was influenced by pro-Russian social media networks, including state-sponsored propaganda outlets, botnets, cyborgs, and individual users. 
In the (following) case study ... I describe how the narrative surrounding Berkeley was picked up and shaped by Russian-linked influence networks, which saw a chance to drive a wedge in American society and ran with it.

And guess what? It worked like a charm.

So, as you can see, that hopeful sense of the nation waking up en masse to the gravity of the current crisis--perhaps even teetering at the liminal threshold of a galvanized, collective, mass reaction--that's all over and done with. At least for the time being. The Bad Guys dodged a bullet, and they know it.

But all hope is not lost.

The fact is, the Trumpniks are still outnumbered, and his presidency* grows more unpopular with every passing day. For months now, Trump's job approval rating has been lower than the percentage of Americans who want him impeached. This has, until now, had the troubling effect of driving his ever-shrinking constituency of cultists towards greater extremes of radicalization, kind of like how Gavin McInnes claims mildly conservative young men are turning towards fascism because those mean old liberals call them fascists, so they figure why not just go ahead and be fascists?

Fortunately, phenomena of this nature usually tend to burn out. The Far Right has already painted itself into an ugly and inescapable corner via ideological overreach, and the spread of increasingly ludicrous "Obama did Katrina" style fake news (the real kind) may signal that America is reaching "Peak Trump", beyond which point even his ever-shrinking cult will realize that the vast majority of those with whom they agree, online at least, are either (as Caroline O points out above) bots and cyborgs, or else they're old-school propaganda shill personas being managed by cubicle-dwelling interns for right-wing think tanks, subcontinental VDT wage slaves, or former Eastern Block White Nationalist activists.

Of course, there will be the occasional authentic sub-Gamma "useful idiot" True Believer sprinkled into the mix, as well. If, for some reason, you're interested in trying to figure out who's a bot and who's not, you'll want to bookmark the following links.

First, Lifehacker's How to Recognize Russian Propaganda on Social Media, by Leigh Anderson. It has a number of resources to help show that, no, you're not being paranoid, there really is an "unseen microphone amplifying certain Far Right themes in online conversations".

Next (and this is the one that I personally derive the most satisfaction from) is Make Adverbs Great Again; a super simple app where you can run any Twitter user's handle through an analyzer that determines with a relatively high degree of certainty (on a 0-to-10 scale) whether or not that racist asshole following you around posting off-topic right-wing bullshit that seems precision engineered to get under your skin is, or is not, a BOT. Try it for yourself! I guarantee you'll be surprised at how many fucking bots there are out there, shitting up the works.

Please feel free to post this meme after exposing a BOT on Twitter!
So that's it. My combination Words of Warming Slash Signs of Hope "think piece". It took me way too long to write, by the way. Like almost three days, on and off. I think I'm losing my touch. Maybe I'll try my hand at drawing some comics over the next few days. 

Anyway, I know the above was light on the laffs, but I hope you found it informative and worthwhile.

Cheers!
yer old pal Jerky

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