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OK tweeps & twerps: It's been some time, but today we resume #IanLivetweetsHisResearch with David Neiwert's Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump.
(For any concerned parties, since finishing my livetweet of The Reactionary Mind I have read Fascism Today by Shane Burley and Healing from Hate by Michael Kimmel, and am currently a few chapters into Terror, Love, and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein. I just didn't livetweet em.)
I'm going with Alt-America as the next livetweet because it's kinda big and daunting and I need your support to get me through it. Also it's the first proper history of the Alt-Right I've tackled and seems useful to share.
CW: the very first sentence is about a racist shooting Black people, so just... be ready or mute this thread.
Book opens with a coincidence: Dylann Roof murdered nine Black people in a church the day after Trump announced his candidacy. Roof was largely unaware of Trump as a person, but as portents of what was to come, it's pretty synchronous.
Also that feels like 10 years ago.
The reality was, white nationalists never went anywhere, they just hadn't attempted much public effort since the militia movements of the 90's, which similarly blew up its PR by committing a bunch of domestic terrorism.
Neiwert's opening pages are about the shock much of America felt when overt white supremacy suddenly burst into public consciousness. How people had assumed these ideas were over and done with. (Cue John Mulaney: "And now there's Nazis again!")
But they'd been getting quietly, steadily radicalized by a faucet of racist nonsense from Fox News while the liberal media more or less pretended they didn't exist.
So 9/11 happened, when led the underground white nationalists into a bunch of New World Order conspiracy theorizing, while mainstream conservatism took on an openly anti-Muslim tone and denigrated liberals for any criticism of the War on Terror.
Neiwert argues the forming of the Tea Party in response to the election of the first Black President as the moment where the mainstream Right and the underground white nationalists formed an alliance.
Neiwert takes some time to define Right Wing Populism, the stoking of which was the Tea Party's bread n butter.
(nice to have my video on conservatism's love of hierarchies validated)
The Tea Party became a gateway into mainstream discourse for the wackier conspiracy theories of the Patriots and ancillary Far Right groups.
Neiwert describes Patriots as living in an "alternate universe" where the Constitution says the government can't own land or have law enforcement. This intersects with conspiracy theories like Birthirism, the New World Order, and the environmentalist shadow government.
Right Wing populists tend to think the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship, and usually champion "captains of industry" like Henry Ford.
Trump openly characterized himself as such a person to the Tea Party in 2011.
The reason Trump's success was so shocking was that he had been, well before announcing his candidacy, pitching himself to a large bloc of voters whom the conservative media machine had already made cozy with, but mainstream media had utterly ignored.
As a personal note, I feel like this bewilderment is part of why so much media just goes into denial. This abiding assumption that he can't actually be saying what he's saying, he can't actually be succeeding because of it, these voters can't possibly matter this much.
They just keep treating the situation like it's operating under normal rules because they cannot admit that they were so wrong, and that things actually are this dire.
In the lead up to the Trump campaign, Ann Coulter was making the rounds supporting her anti-immigration book Adios America, where her usual nativist claptrap got more overtly vicious and racist.
In it, she suggested the wall that Trump eventually made central to his campaign.
Another early fan was Kyle Rogers, webmaster of the Council of Conservative Citizens, who started selling Trump 2016 shirts the day Trump announced his candidacy.
The CCC is the site that spreads those false statistics about Black on white crime that radicalized Dylann Roof.
Between the similar shooting in a Black church committed by Jim David Adkisson in 2008 - then in response to Obama's candidacy - there were 3 times as many acts of domestic terror as compared with the previous 8 years.
Most were right-wing extremists.
Despite this, mainstream discussion of terrorism continued to portray it as a Muslim threat.
Neiwert shares the statistics of how domestic terrorism has always been predominantly white and right-wing, but I don't think my audience needs much convincing of that.
When a Black man faces worse consequences at a traffic stop than Dylann Roof does for shooting up a Black church, white nationalists get the message that shootings are viable.
For a lot of racists, Adkisson was that message.
Something Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians drove home for me is that, when people see the authorities tolerating one more type of violence than another, that type of violence increases.
Anyway, here's a neat stat: Not only did right-wing extremists make up over 50% of domestic terror during the Obama Presidency, but around 1/3 of them involved fatalities.
Only 8% of Islamist domestic terror involve any deaths.
Despite all this, in 2011, after Republicans took Congress, the chairperson overseeing hearings on domestic terror flatly said they would not investigate anything but Islamist terrorism.
An attempted bombing of an MLK parade by a white supremacist had happened the day before.
The SPLC reports a dramatic rise in hate groups through the first half of the Obama Presidency, and then a sudden, sharp decline.
In 2013, there were 1360 active militia movements. In 2015, there were 874.
Radicals were leaving organizations and taking their extremism online.
"the advent of social media and other more dispersed means of sharing information had created a shift in how extremists shared their ideologies and how they recruited, too."
Hey, kids, what's something that happened between 2013 and 2015?
Mark Potok of the SPLC notes the social consequences of being affiliated with racist groups, as well as the lack of a charismatic leader to rally around. So, instead, extremists found each other online, where they could better control how much others knew about them.
It's a pretty far cry from the radicalization I read about in Healing from Hate, where Neo-Nazism is so geared around in-person community, partying, dancing to hatecore, getting in fights, getting drunk and high together.
Internet extremism is racism-as-lifestyle that you can still walk away from, go live your day to day life with your preexisting community, who may not even know how much time you spend on /pol/.
Basically everyone was a nomad, finding other extremists easily but belonging to no formalized group.
Dylann Roof was radicalized online, by the CCC and Daily Stormer.
After Dylann Roof's shooting, the flags at the North Carolina statehouse flew at half-mast, except the Confederate flag, which was only legally allowed to be lowered after approval from the state legislature.
The flag had been moved there in the 60s to protest desegregation.
Given Roof's proud display of the Confederate flag in his social media presence, this eventually led to a nationwide discussion of the flag's propriety.
North Carolina eventually took the flag down permanently, as did many other states. Wal-Mart and several other sellers stopped providing them. NASCAR announced they wouldn't allow flags on their cars anymore.
So, of fucking course, white people pushed back.
They showed up at NASCAR waving Confederate flags. The Klan held a rally in Columbia to demand the flag be put back up; the rally doubled as a (largely successful) recruitment operation. The League of the South and the Sons of the Confederate Veterans held a rally in Alabama.
The president of the League of the South claimed the Confederate flag represented Southerners AS A DISTINCT ETHNICITY FROM THE REST OF THE COUNTRY, fucking WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?
Over 70 pro-Confederate protests were held throughout the South in the ensuing weeks. It was all framed as criticizing liberals for using a tragedy to push their "politically correct" hatred of Southerners.
I repeat there were fucking Klansmen there.
By the end of the year, there were over 350 pro-Confederate rallies nationwide. Also many cases were these pro-Confederate protestors - who, again, just cared about "heritage" - threatened and terrorized Black families.
Neiwert closes the chapter with another shooting, by John Russell Houser, a bipolar man who shot several people at a showing of Trainwreck in 2015.
Before his motivations were known, Megyn Kelly wondered if he might be connected to ISIS.
When they found his journals, they were full of antifeminist, racist, and homophobic ravings, as well as praise for Dylann Roof, whom he praised for the "wake up call."
He called Roof "good but green," and said, had Roof reached "political maturity he would have seen the word is not n-----, but liberal."
(I'm attending a wedding later but I guess this is my idea of prep.)
The longer you live in Alt-America, the further from normal America your beliefs become, and the easier it is to convince you of new myths, like that Hillary Clinton is conspiring to rig the election.
Here, Neiwert introduces the metaphor behind the book's title: the Far Right don't live in America, they live in Alternative America.
In Alt-America, Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, climate change is a hoax, and whites are oppressed.
Neiwert lists a number of Far Right beliefs and then explains how flagrantly untrue they are, while stressing that explaining their falsity to folks in Alt-America has no effect, a point I'm grateful he's establishing early.
(I do tire of people asking me "but how do we change an Alt-Righter's mind?" Do I look like a wizard to you?)
These conspiratorial beliefs reach DEEP into the mainstream. Alex Jones has historically been the the main hub, but Fox News repeats a lot of the same stuff.
(Neiwert does not, at this juncture mention that "globalists" is code for "Jews" but maybe that's coming later.)
While these various conspiracy theories often contradict each other (which, in my experience, doesn't prevent some Alt-Righters from believing several), the consistent theme is that The Enemy is pulling the strings, be it the New World Order or the "globalists."
The demographics of Alt-America are curious. The average Alt-American has a higher level of education, and makes more money, than the average regular American.
(Though, I'll point out, that is probably true of any mostly white population, because institutional racism.)
Still, they can rattle off tons of memorized "facts" and their beliefs come from "close readings of arcane documents (legal and otherwise".
They're not unintelligent, they're just extremely gullible, while believing people who believe actual facts is the real sheeple.
Neiwert quotes Sunstein and Vermeule's study into conspiracism, where they point out, "[f]or most of what they believe that they know, human beings lack personal or direct information; they must rely on what other people think."
I have done some freelance work for brand managers and can vouch that "people trust word of mouth more than facts" is a core tenet of marketing in the social media age, hence brands obsessively trying to come off as "authentic."
But relying on other people for your sense of reality does leave you vulnerable to conspiracism.
Neiwert stress that, these days, our means of sifting through information have "become more acutely personalized and haphazard" than they used to be.
Filter bubbles come to mind.
Point being, it is a necessary component of existing that you can rely on the knowledge of others instead of having to learn *absolutely everything on your own*. If it were possible - which it isn't - it would me monstrously inefficient.
Skepticism in the face of "official statements," be they from academics or the mainstream media or the government, are valid and necessary. But the extrapolation that *anything* that comes from "the experts" is untrustworthy is... less so.
The willingness to believe, without question, certain sources of information while feverishly distrusting others tracks along with another common trait of Alt-Americans: authoritarianism.
Some literally call Donald Trump "Glorious Leader."
(My livetweet of Bob Altemeyer's book on authoritarianism is here)
Ha, the next few pages are actually drawn from Altemeyer. I won't rehash them now, you can go read the previous thread!
(Feels weird to see someone call Altemeyer "Robert.")
But authoritarian thinking insists that only the "right" people should hold power. If Trump is Glorious Leader, than Obama and the Clintons must be illegitimate usurpers. Anything they say, one MUST find a reason it is wrong.
The world is complex, but authoritarianism, with it's dichotomies between Good People and Bad People, is dirt simple.
Conspiracy theories make up for the ways simple beliefs cannot explain a complex world.
Another correlated trait of Alt-Americans is - surprise! - projection.
Studies imply that the people most inclined to suspect others of being conspiratorial were, themselves, more likely to conspire against others.
People who fear mounting violence from their opponents are more likely than their opponents to commit violence.
This kinda tracks with my observation about fascism, that it often says "if we don't strike first they're going to kill us all."
Violence framed as defense against an attack that hasn't happened and shows no serious threat of happening.
Alt-Americans fear a totalitarian state where people are put in concentration camps, while also fantasizing about exactly that so long as it's the leftists who get rounded up.
When not explicit (and it is often explicit), this is subtextual in the ways they dehumanize their enemies: immigrants are "rats in a granary," Muslims and feminists are "cancer."
Things that need to be eliminated.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. A number of reformed Alt-Right folks - @Faradayspeaks for instance - talk about going down the Alt-Right rabbit hole and finally coming out, but they never joined an organization. Often they never even registered on a forum.
Other demographic information is hard to come by. When bigotry moves from organizations you can track to just... being on certain parts of the internet, how do you take a census of it?
Someone can read Stormfront every day but never post a comment, and then, eventually, deradicalize themselves, and the Far Right *never even knew they were there.*
How do you get numbers on that?
Neiwert mentions that InfoWars at its peak had over 2 million weekly viewers. So that's one metric.
You can also poll the general population about certain conspiracy beliefs.
37% of voters think global warming is a hoax.
6% think bin Laden is still alive.
38% of Romney voters believed in the New World Order, compared with 35% who didn't.
And so on.
Many of these numbers have gone up since Trump, btw.
Apparently over half the country believes in at least one conspiracy theory, and the most popular is that the FDA is withholding the cure for cancer.
I wonder if this book's gonna get into QAnon, because that's something I haven't even dipped a toe in yet.
The chapter closes with the popularity of ACORN conspiracy theories.
The main thrust of the chapter has been that Alt-America depends on conspiratorial thinking, which Trump not only capitalized on but increased the intensity of nationwide.
This chapter begins with John Trochmann, conspiracy theorist, Christian Identitarian, and founder of Militia of Montana, a sort of mailing list that collects and spreads conspiracist literature to Far Right readers.
He's where Alex Jones gets a lot of his material.
To get some of Trochmann's flavor: he's the originator of "chemtrails," and the claim that the Oklahoma City bombing was a false flag.
Guy's been around a while.
Trochmann was also partially involved - though not present - in the standoff at Ruby Ridge.
While the explicit conspiracism didn't cross into mainstream media, conservative talk radio and - when it launched in '96 - Fox News talked a lot about Waco and Ruby Ridge in their efforts to call Clinton incompetent.
This still served as the opening to the rabbit hole
Waco was less than a year later (i.e. 1993), and both of these violent standoffs became central to conspiracist arguments that the government is out to oppress gun owners and set up the New World Order.
(Ruby Ridge happened before Clinton took office, BTW.)
Prior to Fox News, conservative talk radio was the wide end of the ad funnel, steering clear of the more openly crackpot arguments but still pushing anti-Clinton stories about "mysterious deaths" of people Clinton had known and suchlike.
Rush Limbaugh was the centerpiece.
Though it didn't mention the NWO, it reinforced the Patriot conspiracist worldview.
Throughout the 90's, Patriot groups and gatherings popped up all over the country.
The big names of the Patriot movements, in addition to Trochmann, were Richard Mack, LeRoy Schweitzer, Jack McLamb, and Samuel Sherwood.
Between these guys and Trochmann, you've got *all* the nutter theories:
government controls the weather government is building concentration camps for gun owners the sheriff is the only valid law enforcement you can fill out paperwork to keep the government from collecting money
Where all this Patriot fomentation lead, unsurprisingly, was Timothy McVeigh's bombing in Oklahoma City, on the second anniversary of Waco. He said it was giving the government back what they gave in Waco and Ruby Ridge.
When Clinton's statements *ever so slightly implied* that maybe a network of fear-mongering, conspiracist, conservative pundits MIGHT have had something to do with it, the narrative immediately shifted to "liberals trying to pin this tragedy on normal conservatives."
Despite Trochmann claiming it was a false flag meant to justify the government raiding Patriot movements, McVeigh openly admitting that he was a True Believer Patriot widely discredited Patriot efforts nationwide.
Patriot's "false flag" claim evaporated and shifted to "Clinton is silencing critics."
Never Play Defense, right?
The pundits ran with the same narrative. Ann Coulter wrote a whole book about liberal "slander" in 2002.
This deflected from discussions of Clinton's attempts to investigate Far Right terrorism, which was largely neutered by Republicans in Congress.
Neiwert makes the point that a lot of people who fall into Patriot movements begin with entirely valid dissatisfaction with the US government, but are guided along a path towards irrational and often violent paranoia.
So: Patriots grew in popularity, and mainstream conservative media lightly toyed with some of their rhetoric, until an act of violence tanked their ability to stay public, though the rhetoric continued to spread in low-fly mode.
Oklahoma City was their Charlottesville.
Schweitzer was arrested in 1996 by the FBI, and attempts to arrest some of his followers led to another protracted standoff. This time, in the hopes of not creating another radicalizing event like Waco, the FBI negotiated peacefully for 81 until Scweitzer's men surrendered.
Incidentally, the lesson "if you open fire on Patriots, you create more Patriots" is why the Malheur standoff in Oregon went the way it did.
The scary thing here is how many Patriots were clearly willing to do time for their beliefs.
By '96, Militia activity had dropped ~75%. Patriot figure Bo Gritz' attempt to find Patriot-serial-bomber-in-hiding Eric Rudolph before the Feds did and pay for his legal fund was a farce: his search party found nothing but literal hornets nests, which sent 3 men to the hospital.
They were able to whip up some energy with Y2K doomsaying, bringing in some apocalyptic Evangelicals in the process. Lotta preppers. Alex Jones was a star during his New Year's coverage.
That was more or less the last gasp of the Patriot movements as we used to know them. They were pretty much fully discredited and many of their major figures were retired, in jail, or dead.
But then 9/11 happened.
Let's see if I can get through another chapter before my laptop battery dies and/or I have to get on a bus. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
Jones is Ground Zero for Trutherism. In all his rants about Oklahoma City and other terrorist events being false flags, he would often claim the US was planning another inside job. He was doing so six weeks before 9/11 happened.
We're talking about 9/11.
In no uncertain terms, Alex Jones owes his career to 9/11.
He claimed 9/11 was committed by the government the same day that the Towers fell. It cost him 70% of his affiliates but cemented his career.
It was the first time he was the *driver* of conspiracism, rather than regurgitating Patriot theories.
Conspiracy theories - especially Trutherism - is often the hard line mainstream conservatism will not cross. They'll use some of the rhetoric, but Fox News would never actually claim there is a New World Order controlling the government.
Hannity and O'Reilly were staunchly anti-Trutherism, and Michael Reagan (son of Ronald) told soldiers in Iraq they should come home and shoot Truthers for treason.
This also gave conservative media an escape hatch: when they rejected Trutherism, they made its symbol the liberal whackjob, rather than admit it was largely driven by one of their own, whose words they'd been softly repackaging for years.
"9/11 was an inside job" unified people who hated the government for conservative *and* progressive reasons. 9/11 being used as a pretense to invade the Middle East helped cement that affiliation.
9/11 Truth is a weird beast, because it was a very Patriot-friendly theory being peddles first and foremost by a Far Right wingnut, but it came into being during the Bush Years, and so was latched onto by a lot of Left screwballs who distrusted the conservative government.
(God, the fact that there are still Democrats ready to sit down and "negotiate" with folks who said - FOR YEARS - that liberals who suspected Iraq didn't have WMDs SHOULD BE SHOT FOR TREASON.)
The Iraq War years were a hotbed of liberal-bashing from the mainstream Right. Many flirted with openly eliminationist rhetoric, with O'Reilly saying liberals were "undermining" the government and could therefore be arrested. Limbaugh had always joked about shooting liberals.
Even in the midst of the War on Terror, Hannity, D'Souza, Savage, and Coulter all wrote books on how liberalism was really to blame for 9/11, and were as bad as the terrorists, if not worse.
Eliminationist rhetoric also started targeting Latinx folks. The Latinx population - documented and undocumented - had more than doubled during the 90's, thanks to a booming US economy and NAFTA ruining the economy for Mexicans (you can thank Bill Clinton for both).
For the record:
Undocumented immigrants commit less crime than citizens, work jobs most citizens refuse to take, are about as healthy as everyone else on average, and have poor access to education.
The wave of immigration led to a rise in anti-immigrant groups. David Duke started spreading "Great Replacement" style arguments.
M ajor talking points - still parroted today - were created and promoted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (and others).
So anyone who tells you they are violent, stealing your jobs, bringing disease, or could easily learn English but refuse, is either lying or repeating someone else's lies.
They've been repeating these lies for two decades.
Throughout the 90's, citizen militias sprang up to "patrol the borders," following in the footsteps of LITERAL KLANSMEN in the 70s. Most were written off as kooks and given little attention until the media found Chris Simcox.
Simcox ran the Tombstone Border Militia and the news liked him because he was telegenic. His dayjob was playing a gunman in one of those historical recreations of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
The whole thing was taken up by conservative media, praised by Fox News but condemned by President W. as vigilantism (which it was). The media circus that came to cover the story outnumbered the "concerned citizens," who didn't break a thousand.
Jim Gilchrist, a retired real estate salesman, brought Simcox in for his Minuteman Project, a stunt intended to bring thousands of "concerned citizens" to Arizona for a month-long armed border-watch.
The event petered out, with only one incident of *actually* finding an illegal immigrant, which was overshadowed by the time they all hopped in their trucks with guns in the middle of the night to defend themselves against "Salvadorian gang" that was actually a false alarm.
Most of the "militia" disbanded before the month was over, as did the media coverage, and Simcox and Gilchrist parted ways hating each other.
I dunno how critical this story is to the overall narrative, but hoo boy did I enjoy reading it.
Oof, but then it gets ugly. A woman named Shawna Forde joined Simcox's movement, but she ran afoul of the group and so joined Gilchrist's group, which now had a bitter rivalry with Simcox. Gilchrist supported her forming her own, third Arizona border watch group.
In the end, Forde and 2 others were arrested after breaking into a Hispanic family's house with the intent to rob them, and murdering the father and one of the children.
Despite being tagged by the eyewitness mother (whom they shot twice), Forde claims the robbery was a false flag set up by the NWO. She's currently on Death Row.
Incidentally, Simcox is now also in jail for child molestation.
I'm noticing the trend of bigoted movements finding a cultural moment to come together, get attention, mainstream their ideas, become conservative media darlings, and then descend into violence and infighting until they slink back into the shadows.
At this point, the border-watching militia movement was pretty well discredited, same as the Patriot movements had been the previous decade.
Yet, every time, the Left establishment fails to retake control of the narrative in the downtime, so the next violent movement is more or less able to pick up where the last one left off.
Anyway. Neiwert mentions a small uptick in border watchers in 2015 before closing the chapter. The next one's about Birthirism.
So I'm trying this thing where I read a chapter of a research book every day, in an attempt to get through my list faster. Not all the books get livetweeted, but today we're back on Alt-America, so let us resume. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
The last chapter was ostensibly about how 9/11 change right wing conspiracism, but the second half took place mostly in the 90's.
This chapter is ostensibly about Obama and birthirism, but begins with Adkisson, the shooter mentioned in chapter 1.
Adkisson was another church shooter, though instead of targeting people of color he targeted "liberals." He killed two and wounded seven with a shotgun at a Unitarian church in Tennessee.
Investigators found Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly books in his home.
His 4-page manifesto said, if he could, he would have killed every Democrat in Congress.
This was in 2008, the year we elected Obama.
Adkisson was seemingly the first of a spike in domestic terrorism. The Patriot and Militia movements had been fading for years, but, between Obama announcing his candidacy and him winning the election, right wing violence and hate crimes doubled.
Hate groups like Stormfront and the Aryan Nations went on record that Obama's candidacy led to the biggest boost in membership they'd seen in years.
Mainstream conservatism race-baited their audience with dog whistles. Fox News always referred to him as "Barack Hussein Obama," Limbaugh and others framed his popularity as white Americans seeking a "Cure for White Guilt."
Obama had to have a Secret Service detail earlier than any candidate in history, and news sites often had to shut down comments on stories about him because they filled up with so much racism. The day before the DNC, 3 men were arrested in an attempted assassination plot.
I don't need to share *all* the stories of how racist people got comfortable being during the campaign, or how much worse it got when he was elected.
Rest assured, there's a lot of it.
The running theme through all of it is eliminationist rhetoric: they didn't just hate Obama, they wanted him (and, often enough, Black, Hispanic, and Jewish people in general) dead.
The SPLC counted over 200 hate crimes around the election and inauguration.
The day after the election, Stormfront got so many new members - over 2000 - that the site crashed.
The degree to which conservative media and the viral internet had changed during the Bush years meant people could believe false things about Obama with more ease than with any President before him.
Never had disinformation been so prevalent.
Email chains would claim Obama was a Muslim, that he was born in Kenya or Indonesia, that he refused to be associated with the American flag and had it removed from his jet.
The campaign hat to create a website just to correct all the lies.
No one's entirely sure where the Birther meme originated, but it rose to popularity in these email chains.
The anti-smear website posted a scan of Obama's birth certificate and pointed out that he could never have gotten a passport without providing it, but it persisted.
Fact-checkers confirmed certificate's existence, as did the state of Hawaii, but, still, conspiracists would say bald-faced untruths like that there was a visible Photoshop watermark on it.
They said this on national television.
Conspiracists flipped out over the scanned certificate being the common, truncated version, not the full certificate with medical details you need to request from the state. How could he get this certificate without already having the more official one? Who cares?!
Enter Alex Jones.
Jones had been riding the wave of 9/11 Truth all through the Bush years, and had increased his audience enormously once he started uploading his radio show to YouTube. By 2009, his channel had over 60 million lifetime views (which was a BIG NUMBER in '09).
Being on YouTube meant his stuff was also easily sharable on Facebook and Twitter.
As you can imagine, Jones jumped on Birtherism.
Paul Joseph Watson - owner of the internet's most punchable face - first brought Birtherism to Jones' website, with a story about finding Obama's *true* birth certificate saying he was born in Kenya.
A hoax, of course.
Birtherism provided an opportunity for the old guard of US conspiracism to mash up with this new wave of anti-Obama wingnuttery.
I need to stress this: this was not just a bunch on nonsense on Twitter. People *literally brought cases to the Supreme Court trying to prevent Obama being inaugurated on the grounds that he wasn't a citizen*.
When none of this prevented the inauguration, big names like Hannity and Limbaugh started leaving it alone. CNN's Lou Dobbs swooped in to fill the void, becoming the new face of mainstream birtherism.
Dobbs repeated many birther conspiracy theories, repeatedly insisting that Obama had "failed to produce" his birth certificate.
Fun fact, CNN's Kitty Pilgrim filled in on Dobbs' show one time and spent the entire segment debunking his theories, LIKE A FUCKING BOSS.
Dobbs always insisted that he believe Obama was a citizen, and was only covering Birtherism (and bringing Birthers on his show) to stress the ways he could make the conspiracy go away by producing the "original" birth certificate.
He eventually lost his job at CNN, in part, because of the Birther shit.
But then, hoo boy, Glenn Beck came on the scene.
I remember once looking at a chart that showed, based on Nielson ratings, what shows Democrats liked vs. Republicans, and how much.
The astonishing thing was that no one in this country loved any show as much as Republicans loved Glenn Beck.
Republicans rated Beck a full 100 points higher than Dems rated their top show (which was either Olbermann or Maddow, I forget which). More than 100 points higher than whatever their second favorite show was as well.
Beck's show started in 2009. Some defining features were Emotion, Conspiracism, and Apocalypticism.
Emotion: Beck's rants regularly ended with him weeping, and he dollied the camera in on his eyes when it happened.
Conspiracism: Beck embraced Far Right paranoia far more than O'Reilly or Hannity.
Apocalypticism: Anything Beck was against was an existential threat to America.
Beck's fearmongering about Hispanics appealed to the Militia folks, and he appealed to the Patriots by repeating the bugbear about FEMA building concentration camps for conservatives, but now pinned it on Obama specifically.
(This, despite Obama's campaign making barely any mention of guns one way or the other. They just threw a thing at him and it stuck because he was liberal and Black.)
One reason to associate Obama with guns was, ahhh... gun sales spikes ENORMOUSLY after we elected the first Black President.
One news service called Obama "Gun Salesman of the Year."
So the NRA learns they can make bank by telling folks the scary Black President is going to take their guns away, and Glenn Beck tells them the world is about to end, and also a bunch of people want Obama dead, so the whole Right runs out and buys a shitload of guns.
That's about it for this chapter.
Damn, there's a lot of money in being a reactionary liar.
In the time since the last chapter of Alt-America, I have completed the other book I was reading! So let's get back to Alt-America. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
If you want examples of the Right co-opting the language of the Left *and* presenting themselves as possessors of ~~secret wisdom~~ look no further than how they behaved after Obama was elected.
It's important to remember that Republicans rallied to immediately de-legitimize Clinton back in '92 as well, though this time the backlash was explicitly racialized.
Republicans have adamantly refused to treat Democrats as valid for 40 years.
Hannity referred to himself as part of the "conservative underground." A conservative group launched a petition calling itself "the resistance" to Obama's Presidency, which Mike Gallagher promoted.
This deliberate, unified goal of undermining the President at every turn led to the founding of the Tea Party just months after Obama was sworn in.
To trace their origins, Neiwert begins with Ron Paul.
He was more popular with the radical Right than any candidate since George Wallace in '68. He was endorsed by militia movements, Stormfront, the Hammerskin Nation, Minutemen, and more.
And the only pundit who would speak to him at first was (da-da-daaaaa) Glenn Beck.
Paul, a Libertarian who opposed the war in Iraq, ran in the 2008 Republican primaries against McCain (et al). He also broke a bunch of fundraising records, but both Republicans and the mainstream media largely ignored him. Fox news even snubbed him for one of the primary debates.
It's almost exactly the same playbook Trump used in 2016: he took money from, and photos with, the proprietor of Stormfront, but, you know, never technically said he AGREED with them, just didn't turn down their support.
The radicals got the message.
His career never entirely recovered, but that technique of having TONS OF READILY AVAILABLE EVIDENCE of being an extremist wingnut and everyone just kind of ignoring it until it's forced under their noses is... painfully common now.
Paul generally played the game of seemingly having a few odd policies but otherwise being a normal politician, such that anyone calling him an extremist seemed ridiculous.
Until journos got ahold of the racist, conspiracist newsletters he used to publish before running.
Republicans more or less knew they weren't going to win the election. Bush was leaving office as a *very* unpopular President. And seeing the success Paul found even without their help gave them some inklings of how the Party could be rebuilt should they lose the White House.
One of Paul's fundraising events was held in Boston on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. It raised $4.3 million and involved a lot of theatrics where they reenacted throwing boxes in the harbor. Played great with the reactionaries.
That became the blueprint.
The Tea Party began in earnest at a Chicago protest on February 27th, 2009. The preamble was a number of smaller rallies in the weeks before, all protesting Obama's stimulus plan (which, btw, was primarily authored by the Bush administration, who authored the previous bailout).
Some of these smaller protests had funding from the Coors family and the Koch brothers. They all blamed Obama for the recession and the bailout.
CNBC analyst Rick Santelli followed suit, announcing a Chicago Tea Party for "capitalists who want to show up to Lake Michigan."
Within days, the announcement went viral and astroturf money came in from FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity. 40 other cities around the country announce sister rallies, also on Feb. 27th.
Then Fox News got involved.
Fox not only ran tons of ads for Tea Party events, Media Matters noted 63 separate instances of their various hosts talking about them as a major event.
Neiwert is a little ambiguous as to whether the organizers had to pay for any of this publicity.
Beck, in particular, made the Tea Party his pet project, and tied it in with his own projects. He took the lead and the whole network followed suit.
This created an unbroken pipeline:
Far Right extremists -> Alex Jones -> Glenn Beck -> Fox News -> mainstream media.
There were no longer lines separating these groups. They all flowed freely into each other.
Protests continued on into March and April, with Fox News anchors each covering their own events, and, CHRIST, the sheer SPEED with which corporate money makes things happen!
Can you imagine getting this much traction this fast for #EarthStrike?
His name was Richard Poplawski. He was a gun nut prepping for the takeover of the New World Order and the Zionist conspiracy.
He killed three police officers and wounded several others.
As seems to always happen when the Right starts organizing, violence soon erupted. A Glenn Beck-loving, Stormfront-reading, Infowars-watching reactionary had an armed standoff with police when his mom tried to kick him out of the house because his dog peed on the carpet.
But when the media covered the event, his white supremacy and conservative media diet were erased, focusing instead on the urinating dog.
Sort of like how the media blamed Columbine on video games and didn't mention the shooters were Neo-Nazis.
Homeland Security, however, took note, and released a memo pointing out that conditions were, in Neiwert's words, "ripe for a resurgance in rightwing extremism."
The excerpt from this memo Neiwert includes is DISTRESSING. Basically everything the Left claims is correlated with rightwing extremist violence, THE GOVERNMENT AGREES WITH US. A division CREATED BY THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION knows about ALL OF IT.
Opposition to gun control, opposition to same-sex and interracial marriage, opposition to abortion, hating free trade, hating Mexico, ALL THESE THINGS are linked to extremist violence and the DHS has known since 2009, based on data gathered in the early 90's.
They also knew that rightwing conspiracists tend to gain traction in recessions, since they're always predicting economic collapses and can pass themselves off as prophetic when one happens.
And people who see these as signs of the End Times start stockpiling weapons.
Upon release of this memo, the conservative media, as you can expect, flipped out. They called it an Obama-led hit job meant to smear the entire Right by lumping "normal" conservatives who like guns and hate abortions in with armed militias.
(Once again, this department was set up by the Bush Administration.)
This is yet another case of people very carefully saying "rightwing extremists" and Republicans screaming "SO YOU'RE BLAMING ALL REPUBLICANS."
Because, even though everyone's very deliberately not saying it, conservatives know they're implicated.
Remember when Anita said "fuck you, harassers" and everyone screamed "ANITA SAYS FUCK ALL GAMERS!!!"
Hmm, this is actually an interesting point.
They pulled a similar switch when the memo pointed out that Far Right groups actively recruit war veterans, who, with their military training, are especially dangerous.
"YOU'RE CALLING OUR TROOPS TERRORISTS?!?!"
This is a way the Far Right provide cover for infiltration. They get even a few hooks into an existing community and, once the Left points out those hooks, they frame this as an attack on the whole community, helping them gain *more* recruits by painting the Left as a threat.
The galling thing about this months-long manufactured controversy about the memo is, while it was happening, rightwing violence *was* erupting. A "sovereign citizen" murdered an abortion provider in May, and a white supremacist shot up a Holocaust museum in June.
The biggest Tea Party event of 2009 was on Tax Day, April 15th. Nate Silver reported over 300,000 protestors in almost 350 cities around the country. Fox News anchors personally hosted several. Glenn Beck hosted one in front of the Alamo.
It's not the most relevant point, but Hannity literally had one of the guys from FreedomWorks - a corporate-funded astroturfing group - praise the movement for being "grassroots." 🤮
The day of the protests, Daniel Knight Hayden of Oklahoma City posted a number of antigovernment death threats on Twitter, and was arrested shortly after. Conservative media never mentioned it.
Beyond protests, Tea Partiers began disrupting town hall meetings and harassing Democrats in Congress. A memo from the Tea Party Patriots website, run by FreedomWorks, showed these efforts were coordinated.
Memo included instructions on how to make your numbers appear larger than they are, how and when to disrupt, and expressly stated the goal was not to have debate but to *prevent* debate, stressing the need to "rattle" whichever Democrat they were harassing this week.
Several meetings and events had to be canceled due to Tea Party disruption.
The contrast between the speed and blunt effectiveness of the Tea Party and the digressive and disorganized Occupy is really startling.
It's one thing fascism has over direct democracy: things move very swiftly when people just take directives instead of trying to make decisions collectively, at least in the short term.
Also being funded by rich people helps.
Like... I don't know if creating an anti-Trump PAC before he'd even taken office is the way to go, but when your opponent is that organized you've got to be responding with *something*. What is the Democratic Party's answer to any of this?
I wanna take a moment to talk about the degree or organization here.
Did you know the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, created specifically to oppose Obama's policies, was founded in August 2008? That's 3 months before Obama was elected.
There are a lot of shitty things Republicans do to gain power that Democrats won't do. Some of them I think we should be willing to consider, some I wouldn't touch with a hazmat suit. But can you just imagine a Democratic Party half as organized as this?
Estimates for this rally were around 70,000 attendees, which Beck inflated as 2 million, lying that it was the largest march on Washington ever. I recall he pulled the same shit the following year with his March to Restore Honor.
Anyway. The next major event for Tea Partiers was Glenn Beck's September 12th March on Washington, which was planned before the Tea Party movement existed but, by the time the date arrived, was indistinguishable from it.
The chapter ends with the story of Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democratic Congresswoman shot in the head by a Far Right conspiracist who listened to tons of Alex Jones and watched 9/11 Truther films.
Shortly beforehand, Sarah Palin had tweeted about Giffords' election with an image of crosshairs and the words, "Don't retreat, instead, RELOAD!"
The connection was, once again, framed by InfoWars as a false flag.
I was trying to read one research chapter a day, but fell off when I got behind on other responsibilities. But we're gonna try our hand at #IanLivetweetsHisResearch again.
We begin chapter 7 of Alt-America by David Neiwert.
This chapter is called The Return of Militias.
It begins with a conservative rally by Celebrating Conservatism, a group the-same-in-practice-but-technically-distinct-from the Tea Party.
You see this kind of legalistic distinction a lot on the Right: this group was named after a line on the Tea Party website and was known to locals as the local Tea Party presence, but had no *official* relationship to them.
...which means the fact that they had a copy of Mein Kampf on a public book table wasn't supposed to reflect on the Tea Party itself.
Same tactic as when G*merG*te planned all its harassment on separate IRC channels with all the same people but no *formal* affiliation.
One of the speakers was Larry Pratt, one of the central figures of the militia movements of the 90's. Celebrating Conservatism had previously hosted militia and Patriot organizers Richard Mack and Jack McLamb.
Celebrating Conservatism was founded in Missoula, Montana, by Mona Docteur mere months after - and in response to - Obama's election. Within a year they were getting attention for being, as compared with other Tea Party-adjacent groups, especially gun-happy.
CC threw a number of pro-gun rallies, to the point where most CC gatherings involved a lot of proud brandishing-of-arms. Larry Pratt's presence at the 2010 rally in question was as the leader of Gun Owners of America.
This rally had representatives from the Oath Keepers and the Fully Informed Jury Association - both Patriot movements - as well as Tea Party politicians running for office and a man who sold registration-free gun kits..
You may recall the Patriot movement petered out in disgrace after Y2K failed to be the End of the World they predicted. SPLC counted 868 Patriot groups nationwide in 1996; it was down to 194 by 2000.
Within a year of Obama's election, it shot up to 512, and to 824 the next year.
By 2011, there were 1360 unique Patriot groups, even higher than the 90's heyday. The SPLC reported that, while they did not consider the Tea Party an extremist group, much of this surge was owed to the rise of the Tea Party, who mainstreamed soft version of their rhetoric.
(Remember what I said about Far Right movements ending in disgrace and violence, the Left failing to retake control of the narrative, and the next Far Right movement picking up where the last left off? Because this is that.)
Some differences between this and the previous round of Patriot fervor:
-the recruits were younger, more paranoid, and more likely to have military backgrounds -there was far more mainstream acceptance thanks to the tacit support of the Tea Party
-the organizing made far greater use of the internet.
The largest hub of Patriot recruitment and communication was MySpace. This meant that Patriot content could be disseminated without the help of the media. Patriot program Come and Take It Radio was hosted on MySpace.
This also meant movements had a more internet-savvy relationship to pop culture; the phrase "come and take it" (or "come and take them") was lifted from the movie 300.
The Right had learned to meme.
Most of these movements paid some lip service to constitutionalism or voting rights, especially in their early days, but comments about their willingness to overthrow Obama's government if their rights were violated quickly came to the fore.
The Gadsden Flag was a symbol recognized by the Far Right that could be easily denied as such by the Tea Party. An early precursor to Pepe.
You may recall that the Gadsden Flag - the "Don't Tread on Me" snake - became an unofficial symbol of the Tea Party movement.
Prior to the 90's, it was little more than a historical relic. It came to prominence first as the unofficial symbol of the Patriots.
(re: "come and take it" coming from 300: yes, I know it's from the actual Battle of Thermopylae, and was already a popular phrase in the South, but Neiwert is arguing its spread across the movement is owed to the phrase being in a recent blockbuster.)
(if you disagree, take it up with him.)
(in my day I've seen the Right appropriate The Dark Knight Rises and the Left appropriate V for Vendetta, so I personally find it pretty plausible.)
The popularity of the Tea Party movement had climaxed with their Tax Day rally in April, 20019. After that, mainstream interest started to wane. The news cycle moved on and Republican politicians voiced mild support but stopped attending events.
As is often the case when a large and mobilized movement loses steam, extremists starting eyeing the movement, looking to pitch themselves as the shot in the arm the Tea Party needed.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement that members of Stormfront were looking to become organizers within Tea Party groups to cultivate an "organized grassroots White mass movement." Some planned to keep their white supremacist bona fides secret.
These warnings went largely ignored, so the next major Tea Party event - 4th of July, 2009 - became a huge recruitment effort for Patriot groups and other extremists peddling explicitly conspiracist, anti-government, and overtly violent rhetoric.
Of note is that Oath Keeper figurehead Charles Dyer made savvy use of YouTube for recruitment leading up to the rallies, a story which, in what appears to be a theme, ends with getting arrested for child molestation. (He, of course, claims he was framed by the government.)
It's distressing how many radicals have worked for Ron Paul.
Neiwert is giving the history of the Oath Keepers, which was founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes. The short version is that Rhodes and his movement are hardcore conspiracists in the same mold as the Patriot movements of the previous decade.
In the same way the GOP was not OFFICIALLY aligned with the Tea Party and the Tea Party was not OFFICIALLY aligned with the Oath Keepers, the Oath Keepers were not OFFICIALLY a militia movement.
It just so happens that a lot of its members started militia movements.
And what's scarier about these militia movements is that they were not the military theater the Minutement were; these involved proper training sessions, and many members were former Marines.
Neiwert: "Alt-America was taking shape. And that shape was heavily armed."
Their flags and stickers started showing up at Patriot events around the country.
Another group that sprang up was the Three Percenters, an out-and-out militia movement aimed at recruiting gun-owning citizens who, in contrast with those that sprang directly from the Oath Keepers, didn't have military training.
And a third group was the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which recruited police officers ans sheriffs under the old (and false) theory that the constitution says the sheriff is the highest law in the land.
The CSPOA gained a lot of traction in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, where over 200 sheriffs signed a letter stating that, should the Obama administration pass any restriction on gun rights, their counties would disobey the laws.
And, with that, the chapter closes, with Neiwert teasing these different threads will intersect with the Bundy standoff, covered in the next chapter.
Bundy was a Nevadan rancher who grazed cattle on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. He was also a "sovereign citizen" who didn't like following the Bureau's rules, and finally stopped paying his grazing fees in protest.
So, of course, the Bureau revoked his permit, but he kept grazing cattle anyway, claiming he did not recognize the Bureau's authority. This led to a decade-long stalemate.
The courts eventually ruled that Bundy's cattle could be removed by the Bureau, and that he owed over $1 million in unpaid fees and fines. Attempts to collect his cattle were tabled after he wrong a letter saying he would "protect his property and rights and liberty and freedoms"
Infowars picked up the story, and conspiracist radio personality Pete Santilli called for militias to turn out and "protect" Bundy and his family. From there it went the The Drudge Report and The Blaze, framing it as a "standoff" and a defense against tyranny.
But, eventually, land managers did come for the cattle. Bundy put out calls to local militia movements to aid him in "defending his property." When the day came, his son was arrested for refusing to disperse. Bundy declared "Range War."
(please keep in mind this dude was grazing cattle on land he didn't own and refused to pay for the use of for over a decade)
(correction: over two decades)
Protesters started showing up to support Bundy on April 9th, 2014. They had a confrontation with Bureau officers where Bundy's son Ammon was tasered in the shoulder. Footage went viral thanks to Santilli.
Then the militias started arriving.
All told, over a thousand people traveled to Bunkerville, Nevada that week, including leaders from the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, and Alex Jones himself.
That thousand people brought a lot of guns.
The militiamen blocked off a section of I-15. One Three Percenter lay prone on the freeway with a sniper rifle.
It worked. The Bureau released the cattle and left, citing concerns for their safety.
The Clark County sheriff, Doug Gillespie, met with Bundy on April 12, essentially telling him he'd won and the Bureau would back down. The protesters screamed at him, and Bundy told Gillespie he had one hour to give back the cows, disarm, and leave.
Professional gun nut Richard Mack later told Fox that, had the Bureau opened fire, they would have used their wives as human shields so the news would show the government killing women.
Jesus Fucking Christ.
The Patriots called it a victory, as did Infowars; proof that militias worked and that the government was illegitimate.
Alex Jones and Ron Paul both predicted the government would enact more raids to regain control. Jones thought it might spark a revolution.
The Bureau ignored him, of course. But journalists flocked to the site, interviewing dozens of Patriots talking about the tyranny of Obama's America.
This went on for a couple of weeks.
In a move both shocking an predictable, Bundy, having gotten everything he asked for in complete defiance of the law, started making more demands. He demanded the sheriff disarm Park Services on other government lands as well *within an hour*, and to bulldoze the ticket stands.
Then Bundy announced, in front of all those journalists, that Black people ended up on subsidies or in jail because they "never learned to pick cotton," and said they had more freedom as slaves.
That's a thing that happened.
Bundy went on multiple news programs and defended his statements, basically forcing all mainstream conservatives to disavow him. It was the lead story in every news source that had covered the standoff, even Fox News.
But the militias stuck with him, because of course they did.
Rather than admit they agreed with him, the militiamen said there was a conspiracy to defame Bundy. (By... letting him repeatedly restate his position on camera...?)
Hannity tried to condemn Bundy's views while still defending the standoff.
(Hannity's argument, according to Neiwert, more or less ended with "blah blah blah Benghazi Obamacare")
The other militias were furious, threatening to shoot them in the back for desertion. In response, some Oath Keepers insinuated that their critics were FBI plants. Reports came of militiamen pointing their guns at each other.
Much of this is going up as vlogs on YouTube.
The number of attendees plummeted. After about a month, there was only a handful of the original thousand.
So anyway, within weeks of the standoff and mere days after Bundy's racist statements, the Oath Keepers got it in their heads that the DoD was going to issue a drone strike, and they evacuated what they thought to be the "kill zone."
One person who had been at the encampment was Jerad Miller and his wife Amanda. Miller was ousted for being too erratic and trigger-happy, and for being one of the major vectors of the "drone strike" rumor. (In case it wasn't clear, there were never any drones.)
A couple months later, Jerad and Amanda went on a shooting spree in Las Vegas. They claimed it was to start a revolution. Their original plan was to take over a courthouse and begin executing government officials.
Their first victims were two cops in a Cicis Pizza, one of whom they draped in a swastika and a Gadsden Flag.
Dunno if I'll get through this whole chapter, it's a long one and I'm tired from editing all day, but let's give it a shot. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
Though Bundy's racism and the Millers' shooting spree tainted everyone involved as far as the public was concerned, militia movements all over the country saw the standoff as a success.
Patriots had held arms against the government and the government caved.
Over the following year, there were a number of confrontations between government officials - usually the Bureau of Land Management - and armed militiamen. They were minor, but Neiwert paints the militias as eager for another standoff.
Just... drive species to extinction and decimate plantlife for an ambiguous "liberty" that apparently doesn't include having a functioning ecosystem.
I swear, libertarianism is a suicide cult as much as fascism.
It's worth mentioning that the issue here was the government passing restrictions on public lands, usually to protect local animal populations, and Patriots saying "you have no right to tell me I can't do whatever I want with this land I don't own."
One dude sparked a days long not-quite standoff on the claim that the government was going to take his lands without a day in court. It was completely untrue - he had a court date already scheduled - but over a hundred militiamen joined him.
So they served wildly shortened sentences, but, through a lengthy appealed process, were finally instructed, some time after their release, to return to prison and serve the full five.
Patriots thought this was unfair.
The Hammonds were known in Patriot circles for literal decades of disputes with Forest Services and the Bureau of Land Management. They kept letting their cattle graze in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and chasing off federal workers trying to erect fences to keep the cows out.
In case you hadn't guessed, this is all heading to Malheur.
Father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond had been arrested and convicted of arson for setting fires on public lands. The minimum sentence was 5 years, but they spewed some Patriot nonsense about their conviction being unconstitutional, and the judge agreed with them?!?!
Brandon Curtiss (founder of Three Percent of Idaho) and Ammon Bundy (son of Cliven) turned their eyes to Malheur as a possible next standoff. Bundy and Ryan Payne - head of Operation Mutual Aide - went to Oregon to offer the Hammonds help.
Bundy and Payne wanted another standoff, with armed militias refusing federal marshals entry to the Hammond ranch. The Hammonds wanted only a community rally. Bundy and Payne ignored them, moved to Oregon, and started planning an occupation.
Meanwhile, about 300 other militiamen came to town (Burns, OR, btw) to do the community rally the Hammonds had asked for. It was scheduled for January 2nd, 2016.
Reports say not a single local - not even the Hammods' extended family - showed up. Just out-of-state militiamen.
This was, however, a peaceful demonstration, with a bunch of speeches and a march and symbolically throwing pennies at the sheriff's office to call him a sellout.
But then Ammon Bundy stood up and asked the men in attendance to join him in a "harder stance."
These militiamen, ostensibly in town for a nonviolent rally, had spent the last couple weeks threatening government employees, tailing them on their rides home. A lot of them were down for something more than peaceful protest.
So several carloads of Patriots drove out to Malheur.
About two dozen men entered the offices of the Fish and Wildlife Refuge and set up camp, telling reporters they would stay for years.
The occupiers' demands were not only that the Hammonds be released, but that the government turn Malheur itself over to the locals.
(Remember: none of the locals had anything to do with this.)
Bundy and the occupiers publicized a mailing address where supporters could send supplies to help the occupation. They asked for socks, snacks, and energy drinks.
They mostly got glitter, sexy toys, and candy penises. (They didn't have that many supporters.)
Also, the Patriots who had planned the nonviolent demonstration were none too happy about this. Curtiss and his band of Three Percenters refused to be involved. Other organizers said they felt betrayed by Bundy.
Several Patriot movements publicly denounced the occupation, even some that had been central to the previous Bundy standoff. Alex Jones, as ever, claimed it was a false flag, that George Soros had paid people to manipulate Bundy into the occupying Malheur.
(Which, of course, preemptively shames the government any new gun laws it might be considering now that ARMED MILITIAS ARE LITERALLY STEALING PUBLIC LAND. And the only way not to get shamed is to leave the laws as they are. We Go Low, You Go High.)
Meanwhile Ammon Bundy starts getting outright demagogic, saying the took over the refuge because God led him to do it.
And yet, as the occupation drags on for weeks, it starts to look, to other Patriots, kind of... legit.
Also, weird fact: apparently the occupiers came and went as they pleased? Like, they'd leave to go to restaurants, or visit their homes and watch football. They were on a rotating schedule.
It's unclear how the fuck they didn't get arrested.
Ah. Apparently government officials were "hesitant to act." Though one guy did get arrested for stealing a government truck from the refuge and driving it into town.
Oh, they also trashed the refuge. They dug a trench in an excavation site full of Native America artifacts and used it as a latrine.
So on January 26th, two cars left the refuge for the nearby city of John Day, where Bundy, Payne, and a few other occupiers had planned a gathering to recruit more people.
They were ambushed by police on the road.
Bundy's car pulled over and surrendered peacefully, but the second car, driven by LaVoy Finicum, tried to escape. They drove around the police roadblock and got chased for a mile until they encountered another roadblock and went off-road.
Finicum exited the car and refused to surrender, yelling "you're going to have to shoot me." Police opened fire on him when he reached for his gun. He died within 10 minutes. Everyone else surrendered.
And, look... I understand the hesitance to just raid the refuge, because they don't want things to escalate to more violence and there's a big-ass number of angry white men with guns in this country just looking for an excuse to start more standoffs...
...but I am still just fucking BOILING with anger about how daintily those angry white men are handled in a country where police keep shooting every Black man who looks like he's ever even seen a gun.
Finicum was immediately turned into a martyr by the Patriots. A Nevada legislator who'd participated in the Bundy standoff tweeted that he was murdered. "Reaching for his gun" was immediately converted to "had his hands up."
Anyway, even after video was released showing Finicum reaching for his gun, the story that he was executed while peaceably surrendering persisted. Paul Joseph Watson peddled this story on Infowars for almost a year.
Things fell apart in the refuge almost immediately after Finicum was shot and Bundy arrested. Everyone in the cars, and a few people associated with the occupation, were arrested on felony conspiracy charges.
Many at the refuge immediately went home.
The dozen or so who stayed insisted they would never leave.
The next day, after negotiations, 8 left. 3 were arrested, 5 walked free.
The remaining 4 lasted until February 9th.
Cliven Bundy was arrested the next day.
They built a makeshift memorial to Finicum, which locals (who, again, never wanted any of this) tore down. So they built it back up again and placed guards around it to keep it up.
They had themselves a martyr and they were keeping him.
A week and a half prior, a rally was held in Burns by the Patriots. They continued to insist that Finicum was murdered, and co-opted the Ferguson chant "Hands Up Don't Shoot," because that's how low these fuckers are.
Next chapter of Alt-America. We're talking about how the collision of all this conspiracism with the social internet forged the Alt-Right as we know it. Which means, of course: we're talking about GamerGate. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch h
Chapter begins with Brianna Wu.
Neiwert has a tendency to start chapters in medias res and then backup to the beginning, so we'll see where he goes, but if this is another telling of the GG story that leaves out Zoe Quinn (like Fascism Today did) I'm gonna lose patience.
Heads up: you and I (if you follow my work) know rather a lot about GG already, I'll share anything that leaps out at me, but I'm not gonna synopsize stuff I already know.
Also this chapter's 2x as long as the last one so I'll probably pause halfway and resume later.
Does get me thinking about how hard it is to put internet culture into a linear order. I had an advantage in talking about GamerGate because I knew some of the people it was happening to, and even then there are gaps in my knowledge.
I know tons of information about Milo Yiannopoulos but I couldn't lay out a timeline of what he did when, and on which site, and which other things were happening at the same time. It's just this mass of unstructured information.
So much happens across multiple sites, on forums that are hard to search, in blogs and posts that eventually get deleted. It doesn't help that search algorithms prioritize popularity over substance. If you're coming in cold, it's nigh impossible to put things in chronology.
I've read some stuff about cognition where the reflex to put things in beginning-middle-end order makes information easier to retain and process. It is literally harder to understand information you can't make linear.
Movements like GG keep everyone perpetually confused.
Anyway, none of that's from the chapter, just something it made me think about. Tangent over.
I also just realized I'm on opposite the debates, so follow me if you want some REAL politics, not that fake shit.
Hm. Neiwert mentions some research into the antisocial behaviors behind internet trolling, which was found to be a mix of Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, and sadism. (Not sure psychopathy is the correct term anymore.)
Study is online here:
Heh, he also draws on Bob Altemeyer's work on social dominance, which we've already covered!
Alright, here's some meat: Neiwert traces the boom in "academic racists" - the Richard Spencer model of racists wearing suits and presenting as highly-educated - to the early 90's (though obviously David Duke was doing it as far back as the 70's).
And Kevin MacDonald, a former psychology professor, who wrote three books trying to "prove" Jewish culture had optimized to give Jewish people unfair advantages, and therefore anti-Semitism was a rational and necessary response.
(that argument involved some major misrepresentation of statistics, and directly inspired Dylann Roof's shooting)
He says three of the most prominent academic racists were:
Jared Taylor, Yale-educated founder of the New Century Foundation, which publishes white nationalism magazine American Renaissance. He's largely responsible for the "Black folks are predisposed to criminality" meme.
Peter Brimelow, former Forbes writer, writer of Alien Nation - a book about keeping America majority white - and founder of the website VDare, currently a hotbed for white nationalists that publishes a lot of Great Replacement-style articles.
MacDonald was one of the earliest spreaders of the "Cultural Marxism" meme, back before it started hiding its blatant anti-Semitism.
The term "Cultural Marxism" - in its current incarnation, anyway - entered American conservatism in 1998 in a speech by William Lind called "The Origins of Political Correctness."
Cultural Marxism, though commonly used as a synonym for "the SJWs," is a conspiracy theory arguing that the academic criticism of the (predominantly Jewish) Frankfurt School was part of a plot to undermine western culture with secretly Marxist ideals.
Feminism, multiculturalism, and political correctness are the usual go-tos; basically, anything progressive is a secret Jewish plot to destroy the West. It's been easy enough, in recent years, to lump queer and trans rights into that as well.
At this point Neiwert seems to be free-associating. Other suit-and-tie racists include Pat Buchanan and the aforementioned David Duke. From there he segues to the formation of Stormfront by an associate of Duke - Don Black - in 1995.
Fun fact: in 2002, Stormfront had 5,000 members.
In 2015 it had 300,000.
The theme of all of this is rebranding. Neiwert notes a sect of the KKK rebranding as the Knights Party and the White Citizens Council renaming itself the Council of Conservative Citizens, both in the 80s.
These efforts made the groups more palatable to the mainstream. The SPLC reports 38 elected officials had attended CCC meetings, despite their website saying things like "mixing races is rebelliousness against God."
Finally, there's the Vanguard News Network, which was a rebrand of the neo-Nazi group National Alliance.
What's all this leading up to?
Well, during the post-9/11 Bush years, there was a break between these white nationalist groups and mainstream conservatism. The racists didn't think Republicans were racist enough.
Thanks to the growing ubiquity of the internet, this bubbling pool of white anger easily found common ground with conspiracist groups. By the end of the Bush Presidency, you had white nationalists spouting Truther conspiracies and militiamen talking about Cultural Marxism.
Neiwert points to two things as leading to the final fusion of all these disparate Far Right groups:
The founding of 4chan in 2003, and the election of the first Black President in 2008.
See, the thing about 4chan - and sites like it - is that they allow the kinds of speech that is blocked on most other sites. Since there aren't many places like that on the internet, most everyone who would get banned elsewhere end up in the same place.
So conspiracists, militiamen, neo-Nazis, Tea Partiers, nativists, homophobes, transphobes... they're all being funneled to the same handful of sites that let them say whatever they want.
And all these bigots are in the same place when a Black man is elected President.
Now all these different schools of thought are bleeding into each other on 4chan, and members of each group are being recruited into others, and the manosphere is getting in on it as well.
All this is brewing for years, and pretty soon it's August 2014.
Now, I'm about halfway through the chapter, and it's 10:30 where I am, so I'm gonna call it for the night. We'll pick this back up soon. Cheers.
"Cultural Marxists" and "snowflakes" and being sold out by mainstream conservatism; all this stuff got thrown in a melting pot together. Antifeminism quickly combined with every bigotry under the sun, but Neiwert stresses anti-Semitism as the most popular.
...well, "GamerGate chapter" has proven inaccurate, because Neiwert burned through the whole thing in a few paragraphs. His main point is that it brought together all these disparate groups and gave them a shared language of cross-pollinated bigotries.
Where GamerGaters went after GG died down was the Alt-Right, which means it's time to back up and talk about Richard Spencer.
The bullet points on Spencer are:
He was part of the Duke Conservative Union in grad school before dropping out.
He worked briefly at The American Conservative but got fired for being too radical.
From there he was executive editor at Far Right magazine Taki's for 2 years.
While there, he was mentored by paleoconservative Paul Gottfried, and drifted further right, eventually distancing himself from Gottfried for being Jewish.
He left Taki's to found The Alternative Right in 2010, with funding from VDare. He'd coined the term the previous year.
Though young, he adopted the "academic racism" aesthetic of Brimelow, et al, from the last chapter.
He took over white nationalist think tank The National Policy Institute in 2011, left The Alternative Right and founded "scientific racism" webzine Radix Journal.
That's the short version of Spencer.
(The fact that all these white nationalists start out feeling Republicans are simpatico with them and ultimately leave because they feel white nationalism is the more authentic conservatism tells you what you need to know about conservatism.)
(Like... white nationalists never think "maybe the socialists will be my friends.")
Spencer's chief goal is to turn the US into a white ethnostate, what he's referred to as "sort of white Zionism."
"Alt-Right" came to mean an alternative to mainstream conservatism, which they felt did not embrace this vision.
And that's where Breitbart comes in.
Two of the formative Spencer allies were Brad Griffin, writer of the blog Occidental Dissent, and Matthew Heimbach, founder of the Traditionalist Workers Party.
The term "alt-right" was used to soften the image of white nationalism while also recruiting mainstream conservatives.
Breitbart's muckraking got the government to cut ACORN's funding after Fox News picked up the story and repeated the faleshoods.
They also got Shirley Sherrod fired from the NAACP when they edited her speech about reconciliation to look like she was promoting anti-white racism.
Breitbart made a name for itself when it published heavily edited footage of ACORN officials seemingly giving a pimp advice on how to traffic underaged girls. The officials were cleared of wrongdoing and the footage was proven intentionally misleading, but the damage was done.
When founder Andrew Breitbart died in 2012, the board appointed Steve Bannon to replace him as executive chairman. Bannon was a former Goldman Sachs investment banker who at that time made far right documentaries for the Tea Party and Sarah Palin.
Under Bannon's leadership, Breitbart became more explicitly racist, defending the murders of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin and claiming the "crime wave" (read: protests) in Ferguson was "part of the Left's plan." This fit in well with the site's already anti-Muslim stance.
Milo Yiannapoulos became the technology editor after making a name for himself writing about GamerGate. He co-wrote the piece "An Establishment Conservative's Guide to the Alt-Right," cementing the relationship between the Alt-Right and Breitbart.
(we now know that "co-wrote" probably means "slapped his name on after an unpaid intern did most of the work")
That piece acknowledged the white nationalists in the Alt-Right, but wrote them off as a meaningless contingent that held no real influence and could therefore be ignored.
Which, of course, sent up a flag saying "we won't kick 1488ers out."
Andrew Anglin - founder of neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer - embraced the Alt-Right completely, declaring his site "the world's most visited alt-right website" in 2016.
(Anglin was, by his own admission, radicalized on 4chan.)
(And Dylann Roof was radicalized on The Daily Stormer.)
Between 4chan and The Daily Stormer, these methods quickly spread across the Alt-Right at large. Neiwert calls trolling their "reigning ethos."
Oddly, his targets included Breitbart and Alex Jones, the first for being soft on Israel and the second for marrying a Jewish woman.
Having come up on 4chan, Anglin was an experienced internet troll and harasser, which he expanded with the "Stormer Troll Army," followers who would carry out harassment campaigns after Anglin named targets in posts on the site.
It becomes this chain of people falling under the same banner while rejecting each other. Breitbart is for people too radical for Fox News, The Daily Stormer is for people too radical for Breitbart, but they both claim the title of "Alt-Right."
Anglin rejected Breitbart's guide to the Alt-Right, writing his own post insisting that white nationalism has always been core to the movement, putting back in the history of Spencer, Heimbach, Taylor, Griffin, and Brimelow that Breitbart elided.
The Political Cesspool, a neo-Confederate and white nationalist podcast sponsored by the Council of Conservative Citizens.
RickyVaugh, a nativist, Islamophobic, and antifeminist Twitter personality.
Roosh V, pick up artist and rape advocate.
The Alt-Right web extended to a number of other places as well:
The Right Stuff, home of The Daily Shoah and creators of the (((echo))) parentheses.
Danger and Play, Mike Cernovich's manosphere site.
RamZPaul, a white nationalist YouTuber.
And, finally, Andrew "weev" Aurenheimer, black hat hacker who went full Nazi in jail and was working for the Daily Stormer at the time.
You can imagine all these people and groups started clashing right away. Anglin especially savaged Yiannapoulos for his queerness and (ostensible) Jewishness.
He said Milo was an opportunist who had joined the movement only months before and propelled himself to the front of it by whitewashing its history.
...which was, frankly, true.
But there were a lot more of these clashes, largely between the people who would admit the movement was white nationalist and those who wouldn't. This was seemingly the divide between Alt-Right and "Alt-Lite," a term the Alt-Right used derisively.
The solution to all these fissures?
Anglin: "A movement which meets all of the SPLC's definitions of Neo-Nazi White Supremacism using a cartoon frog to represent itself takes on a subversive power to bypass historical stereotypes of such movements, and thus present the ideas themselves in a fun way..."
Anglin thinks Milo is a phony, so Milo uses Nazi terminology in his email passwords and sings to seig heiling Alt-Righters.
Conservatives left of Milo think he's a joke, his peers think he's clever, those to the right think he's serious.
Pepe and anime memes and all the rest of their 4chan shitpost habits allow a huge spectrum of deniability.
(hmm, did I do a video about this? that seems unlikely. oh, no, wait, here it is!)
Irony lets you appeal to a dozen different, mutually-exclusive ideologies in the same half-joking tone, allowing people to decide for themselves how serious you are depending on how much they agree with you.
There's a theory of "identity demarginalization" from a 1998 study by Katelyn McKenna and John Bargh. They say that the people most drawn to online communities, and most valuing of peer approval, and those with "concealable and culturally devalued identities."
From here we transition into talking about how radicalization works on the internet. There has been some research on the subject, though must of it is focused on Islamic extremism and not white nationalism.
Still, much of it applies.
Basically, if you have an identity that is disparaged, you may seek community. This goes for things like obesity and stuttering, but your desire for peer approval spikes if it's something you can hide.
Neiwert doesn't explain why the ability to conceal your difference matters. I'd guess it's because your isolation is more internal? People treat you like a "normal" person but you don't feel like one, and you can't easily clock people who are like you.
So finding communities built for those people, with the degree of safety the internet provides, is optimal.
That's my best guess.
Like... you're disclosing private parts of yourself to people who can't easily fuck with your day-to-day life.
Bargh and McKenna found that people who participated in these communities deeply valued the group identity and intensified the behaviors that brought them there.
Neiwert mentions another study from 2012 by Neal Caren, Kay Jowers, and Sarah Gaby, which I mention primarily so I'll remember to look it up later.
They called this "demarginalization."
J.M. Berger notes 4 stages of online recruitment:
1. First contact. 2. Creation of a "micro-community" that creates an echo chamber. 3. A shift to private communication. 4. Determining which type of action a recruit should perform.
A lot of former Alt-Right folks never get past Step 2.
You can be pretty damn radical at only Step 2.
Hmm, looks like Abi Wilkinson has done some writing on this.
I note this here again so I can look it up later.
The value of irony in this is that the same material can function at any stage of recruitment. Pepe can be a fun goof at Step 1 and a statement of deep commitment at Step 4.
And, of course, all this deep, shibboleth-loaded in-jokery is most appealing to teenagers.
The Daily Stormer used Pokemon Go to hand out white nationalist leaflets at local gyms. They want the teens.
And racism, even in meme form, change what's considered publicly acceptable. Whether you think Pepe is an actual white nationalist icon, or a joke white nationalist icon, it's still saying that things like the Holocaust are OK to joke about. Overton Window drifts either way.
Neiwert ends the chapter by pointing out that all this was happening without a leader to center around... until Donald Trump.
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