‘The internet is broken,’ says pioneer of social media, Evan Williams

The New York Times reports: Evan Williams is the guy who opened up Pandora’s box. Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.

Mr. Williams — a Twitter founder, a co-creator of Blogger — set everyone free, providing tools to address the world. In the history of communications technology, it was a development with echoes of Gutenberg.

And so here we are in 2017. How’s it going, Mr. Williams?

“I think the internet is broken,” he says. He has believed this for a few years, actually. But things are getting worse. “And it’s a lot more obvious to a lot of people that it’s broken.”

People are using Facebook to showcase suicides, beatings and murder, in real time. Twitter is a hive of trolling and abuse that it seems unable to stop. Fake news, whether created for ideology or profit, runs rampant. Four out of 10 adult internet users said in a Pew survey that they had been harassed online. And that was before the presidential campaign heated up last year.

“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Mr. Williams says. “I was wrong about that.” [Continue reading…]

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A case study in extremism inside the White House

Peter Maass writes: Steve Bannon, who is no stranger to controversy, faced a torrent of reproval when it was revealed not long ago that he had praised a detestable novel envisioning France invaded by an armada of brown-skinned migrants from India. The French novel is called “The Camp of the Saints,” and Bannon recommended it on several occasions when he was executive chairman of Breitbart News, to justify what he perceived as a mortal threat that whites face from immigration.

The book, published in the 1970s, had existed for decades as an obscure cornerstone of the utmost fringes of white racism. The Indian children in the novel were referred to as “little monsters,” and the adults were described as sexual maniacs who filled their ships with “rivers of sperm, streaming over bodies, oozing between breasts, and buttocks, and thighs, and lips, and fingers.” The novel ended with hundreds of thousands of them taking over France and, by extension, the West. When it came out in the United States, Kirkus Reviews noted that “the publishers are presenting ‘The Camp of the Saints’ as a major event, and it probably is, in much the same sense that Mein Kampf was a major event.”

Bannon, now a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, made his glowing comments during radio programs he hosted in 2015 and 2016. But his comments were brief and in passing. The most enthusiastic endorsement of the book from anyone at Breitbart, and certainly the longest endorsement, came from a young reporter who wrote a gushing 4,000-word article that said “all around the world, events seem to be lining up with the predictions of the book.” The article, which neglected to mention that “The Camp of the Saints” is widely regarded as utterly racist, merely described it as controversial, and made conspiratorial parallels between its fictional characters and Pope Francis, Marco Rubio, and even Glenn Beck.

The Breitbart reporter was Julia Hahn, a Bannon protégé who followed him into the White House as a special assistant to President Trump. Bannon and other alt-right figures in the West Wing, including Sebastian Gorka, have received enormous amounts of criticism for espousing ideas that are seen as racist or ridiculous. Gorka is reported to be leaving the White House, and there have been reports that Bannon might be edged out, too. But Hahn has gotten almost no notice for writing what appears to be the longest and most laudatory article about “The Camp of the Saints” that has appeared in the American media in recent years. The few in-depth stories about her getting a job at the White House have mostly focused on her lashing criticism of Paul Ryan, the House speaker whose conservative positions on immigration were far too permissive for Bannon, Hahn, and the rest of Breitbart. [Continue reading…]

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There are no ‘Macron leaks’ in France. Politically motivated hacking is not whistleblowing

Robert Mackey writes: Here’s some news for the alt-right activists in the United States behind a disinformation campaign aimed at getting Marine Le Pen elected president of France by spreading rumors about her opponent, Emmanuel Macron: The French do not much like having their intelligence insulted by Americans.


That theme was repeated again and again in France on Saturday, in response to reports that a trove of hacked documents — nine gigabytes of memos and emails stolen from Macron aides and posted online Friday night, just before a legally imposed blackout on statements from candidates took effect — was first publicized on social networks by pro-Trump propagandists. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. far-right activists promote hacking attack against Macron

The New York Times reports: After months of trying to move the political needle in favor of Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, American far-right activists on Saturday threw their weight behind a hacking attack against her rival, Emmanuel Macron, hoping to cast doubt on an election that is pivotal to France and the wider world.

The efforts were the culmination of a monthslong campaign against Mr. Macron after his candidacy began to gain steam earlier this year, with digital activists in the United States and elsewhere regularly sharing tactics, tips and tricks across the English- and French-speaking parts of the internet.

It is unclear whether the leaked documents, which some experts say may be connected to hackers linked to Russia, will affect the outcome of the election on Sunday between Ms. Le Pen, the far-right candidate from the National Front and Mr. Macron, an independent centrist. But the role of American far-right groups in promoting the breach online highlights their growing resolve to spread extremist messages beyond the United States.

“It’s the anti-globalists trying to go global,” said Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow of the digital forensics research lab at the Atlantic Council, a think tank, who has studied the far right’s recent efforts against Mr. Macron and others in France. “There’s a feeling of trying to export the revolution.” [Continue reading…]

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How Sweden became ‘the most alt-right’ country in Europe

BuzzFeed reports: The white nationalist Richard Spencer is partnering with two Swedish outfits to create a company they hope will become a media giant and keep race at the center of the new right wing.

It is envisioned, one co-creator said, as a “more ideological Breitbart.” Called the AltRight Corporation, it links Spencer with Arktos Media, a publishing house begun in Sweden to print English-language editions of esoteric nationalist books from many countries. The other Swedish partner is Red Ice, a video and podcast platform featuring white nationalists from around the globe.

It was natural for Spencer to turn to Swedes as partners in the new enterprise, given the country’s history as an exporter of white nationalist ideas. But forging formal bonds between nationalists across the Atlantic makes even more sense today, when the politics of Northern Europe is heavily driving the politics of immigration and Islam in the United States.

Sweden has been a key center of white nationalism for decades. In the 1990s, it was a world capital of “white power” heavy metal bands; today, it teems with websites and podcasts promoting a new language of white identity. Nationalists have built this network in a country that immigration opponents worldwide have been closely watching with the belief that it will be the first Western nation to collapse beneath the weight of Muslim immigration. [Continue reading…]

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The extremely reactionary, burn-it-down-radical, newfangled far right

New York magazine reports: When did the right wing get so bizarre? Consider: For a brief and confusing moment earlier this year, milk somehow became a charged symbol of both white supremacy and support for Donald Trump. The details are postmodern, absurdist, and ominous — not unlike the forces that brought them about. In January, the actor Shia LaBeouf mounted an art installation designed to protest the president. The next month, neo-Nazis who organized on the message board 4chan crashed the show, where they started chugging from milk jugs — because northern Europeans digest milk well, or because milk is … white. In other words, an innocent dairy beverage as old as time had been conscripted as a Donald Trump surrogate on the internet. It was yet another message-board in-joke — freighted with political meaning — suddenly in the news.

But weirdness, perhaps, is what happens when a movement grows very quickly and without any strong ideological direction — from a disciplined party, from traditional institutions like churches and chambers of Congress, from anything more organized than the insurrectionist internet.

Here in America, in trying to describe our brand of the reactionary wave currently tsunami-ing the entire developed world, we’ve leaned on the term alt-right, which had been coined by white supremacists. Richard Spencer, the most press-hungry of that group, takes credit for it. For much of last year, the term was often used as shorthand for “racists, but … young?” Which is helpful, as far as it goes, but the full reality is much more complicated. The alt-right — or the new right, if you prefer to sound more like Tom Wolfe than Kurt Cobain, or the radical right, to properly acknowledge its break from mainstream conservatism — is a coalition comprised of movements like neo-reaction, certain strands of libertarianism, tech triumphalism, and even the extreme-populist wing of the Republican Party. All share with Spencer’s white-ethno-nativism the ideals of isolationism, protectionism, and nationalism: a closed nation-state. Along the way, the coalition swept up “men’s rights” advocates and anti-Semites and cruel angry teenagers and conspiracy theorists and a few fiendishly clever far-right websites and harassing hashtags and even a U.S. congressman or two. Not to mention the White House. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s comments on the Civil War resonate among white supremacists

Politico reports: The president’s comments [on Andrew Jackson and the Civil War] on Monday struck some historians as darker than a history goof, with the president seeming to minimize the painful history of slavery in the United States and to talk up Jackson’s role as a strongman leader who proudly owned many slaves.

“It’s the kind of comment that will get applause from neo-Confederate circles in the South,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.

Confederate flags were a common sight at Trump rallies during the 2016 campaign, and monuments to Confederate leaders are common in Southern states.

Some in Trump’s circle, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, have sought to liken Trump to Jackson, a populist. In March, Trump visited Jackson’s gravesite in Nashville, Tennessee, where he declared himself “a fan.”

“Steve Bannon has made Jackson the epitome of the hardscrabble, American folk hero,” added Brinkley. “And Trump has bought into Steve Bannon’s version of Andrew Jackson.”

On Monday night, the president tweeted: “President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War started, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen!“

Jackson, who was a slaveholder, threatened to use federal military force against South Carolina when the state sought to nullify federal tariffs. He died in 1845, 16 years before the Civil War erupted at Fort Sumter.

“What I saw in that comment was his belief, his attraction to a kind of strongman history,” said David Blight, a Civil War historian at Yale University. “It’s so completely out of any knowledge or context to suggest that somehow Jackson would have headed off the Civil War.”

The broad consensus among historians is that the secession of 11 Southern states, and the resulting war, was driven by slavery and the racial order that slavery represented. The Confederacy’s vice president, Alexander H. Stephens, said himself that the South’s “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

The myth that the Civil War was fought over not slavery, but states’ rights, has become an article of faith for some in the South and those in the white supremacist movement. [Continue reading…]

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité, racisme?

Ursula Lindsey writes: France will head to the polls at the end of April to elect a new president. With the country still shaken by recent terrorist attacks, and the rise of a far-right candidate who has campaigned on fear of Muslims and immigrants, public discourse has been dominated by a concern with Islam and radicalization.

The often acrimonious discussion has widened a rift among many public intellectuals and scholars, including those you might expect to be allies. The argument: whether the more serious threat to liberal values in France is the alleged Islamization of the country or the discrimination that many Muslims there face.

Georges Bensoussan, a historian and chief editor of the Shoah History Review, is a divisive figure in the debate. In October 2015, Bensoussan said during a radio show that “today we are in the presence of another people within the French nation, who are making a certain number of our democratic values regress. … There will be no integration until we rid ourselves of this atavistic anti-Semitism that is kept quiet as a secret. A courageous Algerian sociologist, Smaïn Laacher has said … that it’s shameful to maintain this taboo, which is that in Arab families in France, one suckles anti-Semitism like mother’s milk.”

Laacher, who is French of Algerian origin, teaches at the University of Strasbourg. He has said he was misquoted. Bensoussan’s remarks triggered a lawsuit by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) and other human-rights associations for “incitement to racism.” He was acquitted in March, but the plaintiffs have filed an appeal. [Continue reading…]

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The violent clashes in Berkeley weren’t ‘pro-Trump’ versus ‘anti-Trump’

Natasha Lennard reports: According to reports in mainstream news outlets like CNN, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, Saturday saw pro-Trump demonstrators clash with anti-Trump protesters in Berkeley, California, while more placid “Tax Day” marches took place around the country calling on the president to release his tax returns. The news stories offer largely the same account and framing as that given by the LA Times: “hundreds of pro-Trump demonstrators and counter-protesters clashed Saturday at a ‘Patriots Day’ rally… Both groups threw rocks and sticks at each other and used a large trash bin as a battering ram… Twenty-one people were arrested… Eleven people were injured.”

All of this did happen. But such accounts missed the most crucial aspects of what was at stake in the Berkeley clashes, and thus fail to explain why there were aggressive altercations at all. To frame Saturday’s events as a fight between supporters of the president and his denouncers roundly misses the key tensions undergirding the confrontation: that of anti-fascists versus white nationalists.


This is not to say that each or even the majority, of the hundreds of pro-Trump attendees sympathize with the Venn Diagram of white supremacist, alt-right, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups which intersect with the president’s broader support base. But as firsthand testimonies, numerous images and videos shared on social media can attest, explicitly racist groups and individuals were present in force, some having traveled from out of state to attend. Equally, the masked, black clad anti-fascist protesters did not amass in Berkeley to confront a gathering of people who just happened to vote for Trump. Their presence followed calls to action, which had named the specific far right and neo-Nazi alliances that were planning to attend, and indeed helped organize, the “Patriots Day” rally. The violence from both the far left and far right rested on a fulcrum that, while emphasized in the Trump era, far predates his presidency; anti-fascists have long met white supremacists with force in the streets. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon was doomed

Frank Bruni writes: If you’re any student of politics, you saw Steve Bannon on the cover of Time magazine in early February — “The Great Manipulator,” it called him — and knew to start the countdown then.

Dead strategist walking.

He’d crossed the line that a politician’s advisers mustn’t, to a place and prominence where only the most foolish of them tread. Or at best he’d failed to prevent the media from tugging him there.

He was fine so long as he was a whisperer. On the campaign trail and on the Potomac, you can whisper all you want.

He was damned the moment he was cast as a puppeteer. That means there’s a puppet in the equation, and no politician is going to accept that designation, least of all one who stamps his name in gold on anything that stands still long enough to be stamped. Or whose debate performance included the repartee: “No puppet, no puppet. You’re the puppet.”

“I’m my own strategist,” the president told The New York Post early last week, and the message to Bannon couldn’t have been louder and clearer if it included a four-letter word. [Continue reading…]

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Jeff Sessions, unleashed at the border

A New York Times editorial says: Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to the border in Arizona on Tuesday and declared it a hellscape, a “ground zero” of death and violence where Americans must “take our stand” against a tide of evil flooding up from Mexico.

It was familiar Sessions-speak, about drug cartels and “transnational gangs” poisoning and raping and chopping off heads, things he said for years on the Senate floor as the gentleman from Alabama. But with a big difference: Now he controls the machinery of federal law enforcement, and his gonzo-apocalypto vision of immigration suddenly has force and weight behind it, from the officers and prosecutors and judges who answer to him.

When Mr. Sessions got to the part about the “criminal aliens and the coyotes and the document forgers” overthrowing our immigration system, the American flag behind him had clearly heard enough — it leaned back and fell over as if in a stupor. An agent rushed to rescue it, and stood there for the rest of the speech: a human flag stand and metaphor. A guy with a uniform and gun, wrapped in Old Glory, helping to give the Trump administration’s nativist policies a patriotic sheen.

It was in the details of Mr. Sessions’s oratory that his game was exposed. He talked of cities and suburbs as immigrant-afflicted “war zones,” but the crackdown he seeks focuses overwhelmingly on nonviolent offenses, the document fraud and unauthorized entry and other misdeeds that implicate many people who fit no sane definition of brutal criminal or threat to the homeland.

The problem with Mr. Sessions’s turbocharging of the Justice Department’s efforts against what he paints as machete-wielding “depravity” is how grossly it distorts the bigger picture. It reflects his long fixation — shared by his boss, President Trump — on immigration not as an often unruly, essentially salutary force in American history, but as a dire threat. It denies the existence of millions of people who are a force for good, economic mainstays and community assets, less prone to crime than the native-born — workers, parents, children, neighbors and, above all, human beings deserving of dignity and fair treatment under the law. [Continue reading…]

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Alt-right ringleader Mike Cernovich threatens to drop ‘motherlode’ if Steve Bannon is ousted

The Daily Beast reports: A week after President Donald Trump began to publicly distance himself from White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, alt-right ringleader Mike Cernovich threatened to release a “motherlode” of stories that could “destroy marriages” if Bannon is formally let go from the administration.

Cernovich made the claims that he’d release a series of “scoops” if Bannon is officially pushed out of the White House on an eleven-minute, self-recorded Periscope Thursday night.

“If they get rid of Bannon, you know what’s gonna happen? The motherlode. If Bannon is removed, there are gonna be divorces, because I know about the mistresses, the sugar babies, the drugs, the pill popping, the orgies. I know everything,” said Cernovich.

“If they go after Bannon, the mother of all stories is gonna drop, and we’re just gonna destroy marriages, relationships—it’s gonna get personal.”

The Daily Beast reached out to Cernovich, asking who he meant by “they” and if he had documentation for the claims. He was on InfoWars’ radio show and livestream most of Friday afternoon, and did not respond at press time.

Alt-right leaders have spent the week pushing a #KeepBannon hashtag on Twitter, less than a week after a #FireKushner hashtag prominently amplified by Cernovich became the No. 1 trend in the United States on Twitter. [Continue reading…]

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Behind #SyriaHoax and the Russian propaganda onslaught

ABC News reports: As Syrian president Bashar al-Assad called videos of last week’s chemical attack a “fabrication,” a piece of propaganda promoted by a Russian cyber operation and bearing the hashtag #SyriaHoax has gained traction in the United States, analysts tell ABC News.

Following the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians on Tuesday, Al-Masdar News, a pro-Assad website based in Beirut, published claims that “something is not adding up in [the] Idlib chemical weapons attack.” Its author cited “holes” in the accounts provided by the “Al-Qaeda affiliated” White Helmets leading to the conclusion that “this is another false chemical attack allegation made against the government.”

That hoax story was promoted by a network of Russian social media accounts and ultimately picked up by popular alt-right personalities in the United States, including Mike Cernovich, one of the leading voices in the debunked ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory. Cernovich popularized its new hashtag — #SyriaHoax — and sent it soaring through cyberspace. According to Trends24, within hours of the retaliatory missile strike President Donald Trump launched on Thursday night, #SyriaHoax was the No. 1 trending Twitter topic in the United States.

J.M. Berger of The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague, who studies propaganda and social media analytical techniques, said #SyriaHoax is “a clear example of a Russian influence campaign” designed to undermine the credibility of the U.S. government.

“The point of an influence campaign is to get people involved who wouldn’t otherwise be involved,” Berger said. “A lot of people in the alt-right would not necessarily characterize themselves as being pro-Russian, but they’re receiving influence from this campaign.” [Continue reading…]

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Undocumented in Trump’s America

 

 

 

 

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Inside Steve Bannon’s struggle: From ‘shadow president’ to Trump’s marked man

The Washington Post reports: When Stephen K. Bannon reported for work Wednesday, he did not act like a man who had just been publicly humiliated by his boss.

The White House chief strategist cycled in and out of the Oval Office for meetings with President Trump and took a seat in the front row of the East Room for the afternoon visit of NATO’s secretary general, flanked by some of the very advisers with whom he has been feuding.

But for Bannon, the day’s routine obscured the reality that he is a marked man — diminished by weeks of battles with the bloc of centrists led by Trump’s daughter and son-in-law and cut down by the president himself, who belittled Bannon in an interview with the New York Post.

The president’s comments were described by White House officials as a dressing-down and warning shot, though one Bannon friend, reflecting on them Wednesday, likened Bannon to a terminally ill family member who had been moved into hospice care. [Continue reading…]

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Trump undercuts top adviser Steve Bannon, whose job may be in danger

The New York Times reports: Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s grenade-lobbing pugilist of a chief strategist, has a fitting nickname for his West Wing office: “The war room.”

But more and more, war is being waged on Mr. Bannon himself. And it is unclear how much longer he can survive in his job.

His isolation inside the White House, after weeks of bitter battle with other senior aides aligned with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, appeared to grow even starker this week after Mr. Trump undercut Mr. Bannon in an interview and downplayed his role as the Trump campaign’s chief executive.

“I didn’t know Steve,” Mr. Trump told the New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin in an interview on Tuesday, explaining that Mr. Bannon was a latecomer to his presidential campaign. “I am my own strategist,” the president added, a pointed reference to what aides described as his growing irritation that Mr. Bannon is receiving credit for being the mastermind behind Mr. Trump’s victory.

The remarks were at least, in part, not true — Mr. Trump has known Mr. Bannon for some time, and has appeared on the radio show he used to host. But it was an unusually public rejection by a chief executive who generally keeps such criticism behind closed doors.

One person with firsthand knowledge of internal White House dynamics, who asked not to be identified given how tense the situation had become, insisted that no immediate changes were likely. But by openly criticizing Mr. Bannon, Mr. Trump has created a situation that makes it hard for the swaggering chief strategist to remain in place without appearing deeply undermined.

Allies of Mr. Trump say that he has become more impatient with the infighting — and the overwhelming attention it is receiving in the media. In a lengthy conversation with Mr. Bannon this week, the president repeated his admonition that the chief strategist and his adversaries needed to “knock off” their back-and-forth sniping.

Mr. Trump insisted as much in the Post interview, saying, “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.” His comments in private, say people who have spoken with him, have been more pointed. [Continue reading…]

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