Memetic Warfare and Stochaistic Terrorism

America's tradition of unlimited free expression increases the danger of violence.

The arrests of a man who sent pipe bombs to critics of President Trump and another who murdered eleven in a Pittsburgh synagogue has renewed a longstanding debate about the limits of speech in a country that values free expression more than any other. Not only were both actively sharing hateful memes on social media but both were tuned in to a political culture—and, indeed, a President—that routinely villainizes political opponents and deliberately inflames cultural cleavages. While the ultimate responsibility, of course, lays with the perpetrators, do social media companies and political leaders have an obligation to temper the debate to avoid inflaming those particularly susceptible? Or is unfettered speech worth the risk?

BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel argues that “The Conspiratorial Hate We See Online Is Increasingly Appearing In Real Life.”

This week, reporters dredged up the online pasts of two monsters: a Florida man who was arrested for sending pipe bombs to at least a dozen of President Trump’s critics, and a neo-Nazi sympathizer who opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 worshipers on Saturday morning. In both instances, their digital footprints offered all the expected clues — the internet profile of a modern extremist, teeming with all-caps memes; hundreds of breathless, almost frantic tweets, likes, and shares of violent fantasies; and hateful ideologies repeated over and over again, sometimes to an audience of seemingly no one.

Scrolling through these internet histories, what’s remarkable isn’t the roiling hatred — tragically, that’s become almost commonplace online. But what’s truly alarming is how familiar the digital trail left behind by these dark extremists feels. The violent errata left by these domestic terrorists aren’t inaccessible, hundred-page, hand-scrawled manifestos or garages filled with red string and corkboards; instead, they’re Facebook posts and tweets and enthusiastic online trolling, the likes of which many of us come in contact with on a daily basis. And it’s that familiarity — just one turn of the screw more extreme than a normal shitpost — that makes a tour of their digital pasts so upsetting.

Connecting the online footprints to tragedies in the physical world also reveals an undeniable truth: that the dichotomy between an online world and “real life” is (and has always been) a false one. The hatred, trolling, harassment, and conspiracy theorizing of the internet’s underbelly cannot be dismissed as empty, nihilistic performance. It may be a game, but it’s a game with consequences. And it’s spilling into the physical world with greater, more alarming frequency.

Arguably, nothing better demonstrates the permeability of the online/IRL membrane better than the mail bombing suspect’s white van, which was discovered Friday afternoon after the suspect’s arrest. The van’s windows and rear doors were covered in pro-Trump stickers and memes from online message boards — a sort of twisted paint job brought to you by 4chan. Some depicted Donald Trump riding triumphantly on a tank, while others depicted media figures and Democratic politicians with targets over their faces. Had the images been posted to a Twitter feed instead of onto a car window, they would have been the hallmark of an individual said to be “extremely online.”

The van is, according to Kate Starbird, a researcher studying online conspiracies and misinformation at the University of Washington, an interesting metaphor “showing memetic warfare transcending the digital and moving into the physical world.”

“It’s powerful in a way that shows he was clearly radicalized in an online world,” Starbird told BuzzFeed News. “It’s almost copied and pasted from the internet and put into the physical world.” For Starbird, it’s also anecdotal evidence of the effect of radicalizing propaganda and online communities. “It’s not just receiving messages, it’s also actions and participations. You’re part of something in this online world and I think you’re seeing more individuals internalizing that and using it to motivate action in the physical world.”

While Warzel’s quotation of Starbird is the first time I recall seeing the term “memetic warfare,” it has been around at least since then-First Lieutenant  Brian J. Hancock wrote about it for a 2010 issue of the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin. But Hancock, and a handful of others I encountered in some brief research this morning, were literally talking about military and intelligence officers using the techniques of memes and online trolling to combat insurgencies and the likes of ISIL at their own game. Starbird seems to be referencing something seemingly more benign—trolling to frustrate domestic political opponents—having triggering effects.

Retinal neuroscientist Bryan William Jones introduced me to a related concept, “stochastic terrorism,” yesterday via Twitter. He defines it, “The use of mass, public communication, usually against a particular individual or group, which incites or inspires acts of terrorism which are statistically probable but happen seemingly at random.” An essay by Quartz White House correspondent Heather Timmons, “Stochastic terror and the cycle of hate that pushes unstable Americans to violence,” from earlier in the week, digs deeper.

Terrorism is rising in the US, and falling around the world, the Global Terrorism Database shows. That rise is fueled mostly by right-wing and religiously-affiliated groups, as Quartz’s Luiz Romero wrote.


Homegrown violent extremists “clearly represent the most immediate and most ubiquitous threat to us here inside the United States on a daily basis,” Nick Rasmussen, the outgoing head of the US’s National Counterterrorism Center, said last November. “Most terrorists are either born or raised here, or only became radicalized well after they came to the United States,” he said.

In recent years, America has experienced a “dramatic increase in attacks by disaffected people, and people searching for some sense of accomplishment,” Cohen said. They connect with a “cause” whether it is white supremacy or Al Qaeda, and then “use for a motive of committing a violent attack,” spurred on by what they’re seeing on social media and the internet. The people most easily swayed by hateful rhetoric are often “looking for legitimacy and a sense of validation for their violent tendencies,” Cohen said.

The National Institute of Justice, the US DOJ’s research arm, published a report this June synthesizing different research that it had funded in recent years on the US’s homegrown terrorism problem. So called “lone-wolf” terrorists “frequently combined personal grievances (i.e., perceptions that they had been personally wronged) with political grievances (i.e., perceptions that a government entity or other political actor had committed an injustice),” the report found.

In particular, “feeling that one (or one’s group) has been treated unfairly, discriminated against, or targeted by others may lead individuals to seek justice or revenge against those they blame for this situation,” the report notes.

Those grievances feed into a cycle of reinforcement and radicalization that culminates in a violent act, the report finds:

Dylann Roof, the ninth grade dropout who killed nine African Americans in a church in 2015, was radicalized after reading the white supremacist website “Council of Conservative Citizens,” online, he claimed. Nikki Haley, then governor of South Carolina, warned on the one-year anniversary of Roof’s massacre that Trump’s divisive campaign statements could spur similar incidents. James Alex Fields, who killed a woman protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, was a violent teenager who was kicked out of Army basic training, then seemed to find a community in online white supremacist groups.

James Hodgkinson, who shot at a Republican baseball team last summer, had been arrested for punching a woman, and had posted increasingly angry social media messages directed at Trump and Republicans before the shooting.

Back in 2011, an anonymous writer coined the term “stochastic terrorism” to refer to “the use of mass communication to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable,” or, in other words “remote control terror by lone wolf.”

Stochastic means “having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analysed statistically” but are hard to predict precisely. Vitriolic messages disseminated by pundits like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly will have the same effect as Osama bin Laden’s videotaped calls to violence, the writer warned way back in 2011.

Someone, somewhere, would react—it’s just hard to predict who and when.

Trump has often been accused of inciting violence. In August 2016, as a presidential candidate, he suggested that the “Second Amendment people” could do something to stop his opponent Hillary Clinton from picking liberal judges, if she won that year’s election.

The implication was clear: People who rely on the constitutional right to bear arms (presumably gun owners) had a unique means of stopping his Democratic rival. Trump denied that he was calling for Clinton to be shot. Rolling Stone and and others dubbed it a case of stochastic terrorism.

The term was quickly embraced by the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, among others, to describe Trump’s violence-tinged campaign statements. Pell also recalled a potential example of stochastic terror from the 1960s: Dallas newspapers and flyers accused John F. Kennedy Jr. of being a “traitor”and a “communist,” just before he was assassinated there.

The motives of Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, have never been fully understood. But some biographers believe the atmosphere of “hatred, hysteria and fear” in Dallas culminated in his death.

For years, US officials have been saying that homegrown terrorism is surging, particularly on the right. But after Trump took office, the administration cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program—except to address Islamic-inspired terrorism. It was a dangerous mistake, anti-terror activists said at the time.

“We have hundreds of thousands of homegrown sovereign citizens and militia members with ties to white nationalism, training in paramilitary camps across the US and standing armed in front of mosques to intimidate marginalized Americans,” warned Christian Picciolini, a former skinhead who co-founded Life After Hate, to rehabilitate extremists, last year. “The greatest terror threat we face as a nation is already within our borders, yet we refuse to even call it terrorism when it happens.”

While I somehow missed the terminology, the concept isn’t particularly new or hard to grasp. That some number of people may be susceptible to act violently in response to a charged political environment has been understood for decades. I was also reminded yesterday via Twitter of a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in response to the killing of  Jimmie Lee Jackson by a police officer while marching peacefully, “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered him but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer.”

The related question, of the culpability of those who contribute to the larger milieu, is much more controversial. Going back to at least the 1990s, politicians have been quick to seize upon acts of violence perpetrated by crazies from the other side of the aisle as evidence that the leaders of the other side have stoked hate. Back in 1995, President Bill Clinton blamed Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators for Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

President Clinton today denounced “promoters of paranoia” for spreading hate on the public airwaves and promptly found himself in a confrontation with conservative radio talk show hosts, whom he had not named but who interpreted his remarks as attacks on themselves.

After days of measured statements of grief and outrage over the Oklahoma City bombing, Mr. Clinton edged today into a new discussion of the civic and political climate that might have encouraged it. As soon as he finished speaking, senior White House aides became concerned that his remarks would be interpreted as an attack on radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and rushed to insist that the President had only been urging Americans to protect free speech by speaking out against hatred.

“We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other,” Mr. Clinton said in a speech to the American Association of Community Colleges in Minneapolis before flying to Iowa for a conference on rural America. “They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.

“You ought to see,” Mr. Clinton continued, “I’m sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today. Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences, and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility.”

But Mr. Limbaugh said on his radio show today that it would be “irresponsible and vacuous” to suggest that debate heard on the radio contributed to the events in Oklahoma City.

He asserted that liberals intended to use the bombing “for their own gain,” and added, “The insinuations being made are irresponsible and are going to have a chilling effect on legitimate discussion.”

Last January, when a Bernie Sanders supporter shot up a Congressional softball game last summer, Limbaugh and others blamed Democrats.

RUSH: A crazed Bernie Sanders supporter, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, deranged and delusional, no doubt driven to that to some degree, as we’ve been able to ascertain by examining the Facebook pages of groups that he watches, joins, interacts with, as well as the media he consumes. He’s from Belleville, Illinois.

A CNN anchor asked the governor of Virginia today, The Punk, Terry McAuliffe, “How did he get here from Illinois?” I’m not kidding. The anchorette actually said, “How did he get here from Illinois?” What? Why was he here and not in Illinois? CNN is really, really, really, really low-key today ’cause they know, they know. I want to take you back to just yesterday, ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately, I essentially predicted this tragedy yesterday.

RUSH ARCHIVE: They better be very careful because their base donors and their base voters I don’t think can handle many more of these rising expectations and assurances that Trump is gonna be put in jail only to find there’s no evidence he did anything wrong. At some point these people are gonna crack, and they’re not gonna just start cutting heads off of dolls, and they’re not gonna just start using fake knives to stab people at Central Park.

RUSH: And, lo and behold, 24 hours later, less than 24 hours later, the gunman opens fire at a baseball practice involving members of the Republican Party, the annual baseball, softball game between the Democrats and the Republicans. One of the last events of genuine bipartisanship and unity is this charity baseball game, and now that has been blown to smithereens.

Mr. Hodgkinson is clearly — well, he has passed away. He was clearly deranged, and he was enraged and obsessed. Now, whenever something like this happens, let’s remember the movie house shooting in Colorado. The first thing that Brian Ross at ABC News did was try to find out whether or not the shooter was a member of the Tea Party. And, lo and behold, there was a Tea Party member somewhere in Colorado that had a name very close to the name of the shooter. So Brian Ross goes on the air with it at ABC News. “We can’t be sure, but it looks like” da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da.

Gabby Giffords gets shot, what happens? They blame Sarah Palin and then me. And, by the way, I am being blamed for this shooting on C-SPAN today as the source of all of this partisanship, as the source of all of this rancor. It’s me and Roger Ailes who are responsible for it, according to two callers on C-SPAN today. The sad and unfortunate fact is that, as evidenced by the sound bite of me yesterday, I have foreseen this coming.

You can’t continue to enrage people the way the left, and predominantly the media, has been doing. The Democrat Party and the left for years have been feeding this. And particularly since the election of Trump they have virtually assured their supporters that Trump is guilty, guilty of treason. And every congressional hearing is going to provide the proof. Every one. Sessions yesterday, Comey a couple of times, Sally Yates, you name it.

They build up these expectations that Trump is not really the president. He shouldn’t have been. He cheated. He colluded with the Russians. There isn’t any evidence for it, and so every time the left builds up an event where this is going to be established as fact and it blows up in their faces, it creates rising expectations followed immediately by rank disappointment and anger and letdown over the fact that it’s not happening.

Using the theory behind both memetic warfare and stochastic terrorism, there’s something to these claims.

Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and other bombastic conservative commentators’ heated rhetoric against Bill Clinton in particular and the federal government in general certainly helped create an atmosphere in which a McVeigh could be radicalized to the point of violence. The conservative machine played up the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents to a fever pitch and the NRA was likening federal law enforcement agencies to Fascist secret police, calling them “jackbooted thugs” in fundraising appeals.

While there isn’t an equivalently prominent equivalent on the left, Limbaugh isn’t wrong to point to a concerted effort to delegitimatize Donald Trump’s presidency from the moment of his shocking election. We were in fact bombarded by editorials calling for the Electoral College to overturn the result of the election of the grounds that Trump was a horrible person and got nearly three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Before he even taken office there was a Resistance movement marching the streets of our major cities. And a deluge of articles, tweets, speeches, and the like shouting This Isn’t Normal.

Again, I don’t think the two are the same. Going back to Newt Gingrich’s wildly successful campaign to take back the Congress in 1994, Republicans have deployed a strategy to divide the country and portray Democrats as literally un-American, if not enemies of the country. But Democratic leaders have gone out of their way to portray rural Americans as racist, misogynist, homophobic, stupid, bitter, and generally deplorable.

Trump is Gingrich on steroids. Gingrich was at heart an intellectual, legitimately interested in ideas and convincing others to adopt his policies through debate. But he poll-tested buzzwords like “death tax” and “partial-birth abortion”—memes, if you will—for their polarizing effect as wedge issues. Trump is all wedge, all the time. And, naturally, the rhetoric Democrats deploy against him is going to be especially heated.

My longstanding position on the question that started this post remains unchanged. That is, ordinary speakers have no duty to temper their rhetoric because someone, somewhere might take it to extreme conclusion and act violently. We’re only responsible for direct incitement of violence, not the potential actions of the unhinged. At the same time, I advocate for civil discourse. Not only is name-calling and otherwise insulting people who disagree with you argumentatively lazy, it has no hope of persuading. While performative speech and virtue-signaling seems to be especially popular in the age of social media, preaching to the choir is ultimately useless.

Combining those two principles, however, means that those in positions of high leadership have a responsibility to choose their words judiciously. While I don’t hold Trump responsible for violence committed by his supporters, fanning the flames of division is a failure of leadership. And, certainly, portraying the press and political opponents as the enemies of the Republic is outrageous.

A related question is the duties of the ownership of social media platforms. The founders of Twitter and Facebook could not possibly have foreseen what their creations would have become and the skills that went into building them aren’t necessarily the ones necessary for leading what have evolved into global platforms. I’m honestly not sure that they have an especial obligation to police the content that others place on their fora.

Granting the OTB is a side gig and one that has been a money-loser in recent years, not a massive enterprise with thousands of employees, it’s next to impossible to monitor and moderate the discussion forum even at this small a scale. We have done our best to ban the most annoying trolls here, simply because they derail the conversation and make participating unenjoyable. There are a lot of crackpots out there sharing a lot of crackpot memes. The overwhelming number of them are harmless. It’s unreasonable to hold Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or various more fringe platforms responsible for the fact that some tiny number of their users will become radicalized and act dangerously.

FILED UNDER: Crime, First Amendment, Law and the Courts, Terrorism, U.S. Constitution
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    Great post James. In addition to the two concept you mention in this post (which also recently appeared on my radar), there’s another one that I think needs to be considered as well “Political Culture” (another one learned via Twitter). I’ll let Seth Cotler (http://willamette.edu/cla/history/faculty/cotlar/index.html) take over from here:

    From Cotler’s Twitter feed:

    1. As we talk about the #MAGABomber and the meaning of his actions, I think it would help if we kept in mind a concept that historians have been discussing since the late 1980s, POLITICAL CULTURE.

    2. The bomber is responsible for his actions, but to at least some extent, so is the MAGA political culture of which he drank so deeply.

    3. Political culture is a concept that allows us to think about political actors not just as individuals advancing interests, but also as subjects whose worldviews have been shaped by cultural forces that operate often behind their backs. https://open.lib.umn.edu/americangovernment/chapter/6-1-political-culture/

    4. Political culture establishes the boundaries of what is acceptable speech and behavior. As in, until 2016, using openly racist and misogynist language was something that most Republicans shied away from. And then Trump started calling Mexicans rapists, women ugly, etc.

    5. MAGA political culture (anti-PC political culture) has basically normalized and legitimized forms of speech and behavior that had previously been somewhat constrained by the rules of American political culture. Trump broke those rules and changed the culture, for some.

    6. There is definitely a distinction to be made between words and actions, between circulating a hateful meme and actually trying to cause someone physical harm.

    7. But we are kidding ourselves if we don’t recognize that this is not a hard and fast distinction…I mean, even conservatives would admit that the culture established within a family unit shapes the sorts of behaviors their family members might engage in.

    8. Why should a nation be any different? What sorts of permission structures do we establish through our actions and our statements? How do people respond to those permission structures? Culture is, in many ways, a road map…what does MAGA political culture value and encourage?

    9. The challenge we face is that as a nation we rightly value free speech. We want our culture to be as open and unregulated as possible. Yet it’s also clear that toxic political cultures produce toxic political subjects, inclined to engage in toxic behavior.

    10. We’ve counted upon our leadership class to be somewhat responsible in how they use words, in how they speak of their fellow citizens with whom they disagree. Our President has zero interest in such self-constraint, in fact he prides himself on his lack of it.

    11. I don’t have any easy answers as to how we deal with this dilemma…how we navigate out of the poisonous political culture we’ve found ourselves saddled with since 2016. But we should resist reducing this story to being solely about one “Florida man” who did some bad things.

    Thread starts here: https://twitter.com/SethCotlar/status/1055889231581601792

    I think the shift that has happened with the emergent MAGA political culture and it’s co-opting of the Republican party is critical here (as well as the failure of the Democrats to present a coherent alternative).

    I’m also not sure how any of this changes. Moderate Republican Politicians at the national level will tut tut the excesses of MAGA political culture, but when the time comes, they all still make the rounds on the radio programs and TV shows of people (like Limbaugh) who are still pushing the idea that the Bomber is a false-flag, democrat plant.

    And folks in the conservative media complex — which lays a lot of the foundation for the performance of MAGA political culture — aren’t going to change (either for ideological or profit margin reasons). Which also gets to one of the scariest core tenets of MAGA political culture as articulated by David French:

    The brand of the worst part of the Trumpist right is never, ever, ever backing down in any way — even if “fighting” means being really, really stupid in public.

    https://twitter.com/DavidAFrench/status/1055889695681507333

    Stupidity is weaponized in memetic warfare (something that Tom Nichols has also been thinking a lot about)… and I think we’re still figuring out what the consequences of that are.

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  2. Modulo Myself says:

    The Republican Party took Obama’s policy of deporting 2.5 million undocumented and turned it into nonsense about open borders and Soros-backed caravans. That’s their strategy, that’s their message. Racism and anti-semitism in an irresponsible and idiotic barrage 24/7 from Fox. This guy was just channeling the defective crap he heard. He took it literally but not seriously and seriously but not literally. What did they expect would happen? We’re going to hear a lot about moderation and unity. Fuck that. These people either wanted violence or they’re criminally indifferent to anything past their yokel lives.

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  3. mattbernius says:

    James, wanted to follow up on one more point:

    Combining those two principles, however, means that those in positions of high leadership have a responsibility to choose their words judiciously. While I don’t hold Trump responsible for violence committed by his supporters, fanning the flames of division is a failure of leadership. And, certainly, portraying the press and political opponents as the enemies of the Republic is outrageous.

    A related question is the duties of the ownership of social media platforms. The founders of Twitter and Facebook could not possibly have foreseen what their creations would have become and the skills that went into building them aren’t necessarily the ones necessary for leading what have evolved into global platforms. I’m honestly not sure that they have an especial obligation to police the content that others place on their fora.

    Earlier in the week, I saw Tom Nichols speak as part of the book tour for “The Death of Expertise” and got to have a short discussion with him about it. In the conversation, the topic of “guardrails” came up. His view (and mine too) is that they are necessary for productive conversation and, ultimately, democracy. However, the question is what form of guardrails are acceptable in American Society?

    Tom didn’t have a good answer for that one. He feels that ultimately it’s an issue of personal responsibility (i.e. I’m the only one who can decide not to eat McDonalds everyday).

    However, in a culture that mistakes commercialization (and, in particular, making the audience into the commodity being sold) for democratization, there are a lot of mechanisms in place to short circuit personal responsibility.

    Like Tom, I don’t have a good answer for this. Even if he wanted to, Trump isn’t going to put up guardrails (because that would alienate his base — see the reaction to Charlottesville as an example). Facebook and Twitter aren’t putting effective guardrails in place (because they will hurt their audience numbers… and therefore their bottomline). And most of us (myself included) are really bad a putting guardrails on in the face of an opposition political culture that increasingly feels like an existential threat* to our understanding of what it means to be an American.

    (* – to be clear, sense of the opposite side as an existential threat is increasingly bi-directional. I tend to feel the current incarnation of this started on the right via right wing radio. That said, it’s clearly come to permeate all sides in this political moment.)

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  4. Kathy says:

    While I don’t hold Trump responsible for violence committed by his supporters

    You should hold him responsible. Not only has he directly incited violence on several specific occasions, but, as you note, his “second amendment” comment was also an invitation to commit murder.

    Not to mention he makes up threats from non-violent group, like the migrant caravans. That’s not just fanning the flames of division, that’s inciting red-hot hatred. If it’s not a direct incitement to violent action, it’s right there up next to it.

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Leaders by definition lead. Look at trump and his words. It’s not hard to see where he is leading. One doesn’t have to search very far within the GOP for similar voices.

    Yesterday somebody said there were DEMs calling for violent acts. While I have not heard such a thing I can not dismiss it out of hand. So I asked, “Who?” and I said it had to be an elected DEM or party official (should have added nominated candidate, too, nominated because anybody can run in a primary) not the crazy homeless guy yelling on the corner.

    Nothing.

    Adam Silverman has been talking about this quite a bit over at Balloon Juice. He cut his teeth on this stuff getting his doctorate. Taking Stock After This Week’s Domestic Terrorism Incidents: Where We Are and What Comes Next Always well worth reading.

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  6. @mattbernius:

    The bigger issues for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies is that policing content there is almost impossible.

    Facebook has something close to 2.25 billion users, of those 1.15 billion are considered “active users.” Roughly 1.47 billion people log on to Facebook at least once a day. Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. (Source)

    Twitter has roughly 325 million users around the world and there are roughly 500 million tweets posted per day, and 200 billion posted per year (Source)

    The numbers for Instagram are comparable.

    Obviously, it’s impossible for either company to have human observers review every post, comment, photo upload, or other interaction. This is one reason that both companies rely on algorithms and self-reporting by users to point them toward objectionable content. The problem that both companies have faced is that, sometimes, those methods have been used to shut down accounts by political opponents for reasons that have nothing to do with content that is actually objectionable, questionable and legal.

    I’m not nearly enough of an expert on the technical side of things to know what’s even possible in this area, but policing this much content on a regular basis is not an easy task and I don’t know whether there could even be a better alternative.

  7. dennis says:

    But Democratic leaders have gone out of their way to portray rural Americans as racist, misogynist, homophobic, stupid, bitter, and generally deplorable.

    I don’t think it’s a portrayal as much as a light shining on the dark. I mean, they came out of the woodwork in 2008 against that n-r who dared to enter “their” White House, and grew worse over the ensuing years. Hillary Clinton took a lot of grief over her “basket of deplorables” remark, but she wasn’t lying.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m with @Kathy. Of course Trump should be held responsible. He preaches hatred and paranoia and lies every time he opens his mouth and then we get ‘his’ people rioting in NYC, attacking Nancy Pelosi, involved in dozens if not hundreds of incidents where ‘Trump!” is shouted as a slogan by racist thugs, sending bombs and murdering Jews but it’s not Trump’s fault?

    If you preach hatred – and Trump does – then you are responsible when your followers commit acts of hatred. That’s not even arguable. If I spend weeks convincing you that your neighbor is secretly plotting to kill you, and then you decide to preemptively murder your neighbor, yes I share in the responsibility. Obviously. Duh.

    I think James, you are falling into the dichotomy trap where everything must be either A or B. You want to apply responsibility and believe it can only apply to one party, either A or B, but the responsibility for an act can be the fault of A and B. So, yes, the MAGAbomber and the MAGAPLUSshooter are responsible for their on actions, but so is Trump.

    It is not possible to preach racism without simultaneously preaching anti-semitism. The two are indivisible. 100% of white people who hate blacks also hate Jews. 100% of people who believe Obama was a secret Muslim also believe Jews are subverting the system. When Trump and the Republican Party appeal to racists they are also appealing to anti-semites.

    What we have here is not a failure of leadership, it’s evil. Trump is stoking hatred to gain and keep power. The end result of that is on him as well as on the individuals he inspires and defends.

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  9. mattbernius says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The bigger issues for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies is that policing content there is almost impossible.

    It’s difficult, but not impossible. Folks like Tarleton Gillispie and others have written a bunch on the topic.

    The problem is (1) it’s costly — which gets back to the profit margin side, and (2) it often leads to backlash that leads to a loss of traffic (for example, see Twitter’s dragging of their feet around certain individuals — Alex Jones — and general ideologies that they could easily identify and ban).

    Additionally, the reality is that the underlying assumptions that go into the base algorithms also case a number of the problems. For example, we now know that until 2017, the Facebook algorithms were essentially interpreting “conflict” as “interaction” and structured to maximize interaction. Thus you were more likely to see posts that would cause conflict (and lead to commenting) than you were to see posts you’d simply like.

    That’s just a micro example of why companies are reluctant to put any guardrails in place.

    The problem that both companies have faced is that, sometimes, those methods have been used to shut down accounts by political opponents for reasons that have nothing to do with content that is actually objectionable, questionable and legal.

    And this is 100% true. My reaction to it remains “so what?” Or rather, provided there are transparent remedies in place to deal with this, where is the actual harm?

    Put a different way, we know that our criminal justice system leads to false convictions (either through coerced plea deals or failures in trial or bad jury decisions). But we don’t abandon the guardrails of law because some people are unfairly hurt by the system.

    I realize that social media isn’t the law. But then it seems even more clear that, one private speech platforms (which these remain) a slight inconveniencing of speech (i.e. transparent guardrails with ways to appeal) is preferable to creating a wild west of weaponized memes.

    The problem is that most companies are so afraid of being called “biased” or losing audience (which remember is their key commodity — you are the product in social media) that they abandon effective guardrails.

  10. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    100% of people who believe Obama was a secret Muslim also believe Jews are subverting the system.

    I can’t totally agree with that, since I know right-wing Jews (including some relatives of mine) who believe that Obama is a secret Muslim but who don’t believe “Jews are subverting the system.”

    Still, it is worth noting that the person who first came up with the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim (Andy Martin) also happens to be a hardcore anti-Semite.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Martin

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    But Democratic leaders have gone out of their way to portray rural Americans as racist, misogynist, homophobic, stupid, bitter, and generally deplorable.

    Thank you @dennis: for reminding me I wanted to comment on this.

    James, as one who lives among rural people and interacts with them on a regular basis, I can assure you that a significant number are racist, misogynist, homophobic, and bitter, to varying degrees. Stupid? By and large, no, tho a significant number are fairly ignorant of the world beyond their immediate environs. Deplorable? Many support a deplorable human being in every deplorable thing he does thru the office of the president and every deplorable utterance he makes. I will leave it up to the individual to decide if that makes them deplorable.

    There are also a number who aren’t racist, misogynist, homophobic, and bitter, again to varying degrees (bias infects everyone), which is why most DEMs qualify any such statement with “some people” (or other qualifier).

    But here in the hills and hollers? We are few and far between.

    13
  12. @James:

    I want to pushback on the following a bit:

    We were in fact bombarded by editorials calling for the Electoral College to overturn the result of the election of the grounds that Trump was a horrible person and got nearly three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Before he even taken office there was a Resistance movement marching the streets of our major cities. And a deluge of articles, tweets, speeches, and the like shouting This Isn’t Normal.

    First, I think that one can be a critic of an institutional component of the system and not be contributing to what you are discussing here (indeed, one could argue, as I have, the failure of our institutions is, in my opinion, at least in part why we are where we are). I do agree, however, that some criticisms of the EC were solely because of a lack of happiness with the process. I also agree that attempts to label the Trump presidency as illegitimate were wrong (and I said so at the time).

    Second, while I also agree that talk of resistance and other more extreme attempts to criticize the administration have helped further coarsen a coarse political culture. But, in fairness, Trump wasn’t normal and what has proceeded in the administration has confirmed that on a daily basis.

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  13. I will note, too, that what is especially concerning is the way in which some right-wing media personalities are willing to mainstream this stuff. The number who immediately went to false flag theories about the Sayoc bombings was extremely disturbing. The promotion of Soros paranoia on Fox News, for example, is not healthy, especially given the anti-Semitic overtones of “globalism” is some quarters.

    I have no idea what to do about this, but it is a serious problem.

    14
  14. I was recently in a situation in which I saw a lot of FNC over a multi-day period. It is relentless in its fearmongering on a variety of topics and remarkably blatant in its focus on white grievance.

    13
  15. @Steven L. Taylor:

    calling for the Electoral College to overturn

    I did misread this initially (I read it initially as calls to reform the EC). I do agree that all the talk of “Hamilton electors” and whatnot were silly (and said so at the time, but I am too lazy to go back and find them).

  16. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will note, too, that what is especially concerning is the way in which some right-wing media personalities are willing to mainstream this stuff.

    Agreed it’s concerning. What I really think is worse is that a significant portion of Republican leadership will still appear on those shows. Of course, if they are asked about specific comments the commentators make, they’ll condemn them.

    But so long as Limbaugh and others remain necessary stops on promotional tours, then mainstream leadership is essentially giving a *nod* to whatever those hosts are saying (even when those leaders are not on the program).

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:

    I know right-wing Jews (including some relatives of mine) who believe that Obama is a secret Muslim

    I referred to white racists. Jews are only intermittently ‘white’ depending on who needs our votes and who needs to hate us.

  18. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The alt-reich doesn’t consider Jews to be white. The most extreme alt-reichers don’t, in fact, consider anyone who isn’t of pure English or German descent to be white. Granted, there aren’t a lot of the latter, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in volume.

  19. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The number who immediately went to false flag theories about the Sayoc bombings was extremely disturbing.

    It’s the Alex Jones-ification of the GOP. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Jones was around for a long time saying this stuff while hardly anyone had ever heard of him. Back in the 1990s he was on the radio claiming the Oklahoma City bombing was a false flag. I recently found out that Jones appeared in the 2001 movie Waking Life, as a guy ranting on a bullhorn. I remember seeing that movie not long after it came out, and of course I had no idea who Jones was. (The director, Richard Linklater, a Texas native who did those recent ads for Beto O’Rourke featuring the old guy making fun of Ted Cruz, is now more than a little embarrassed by his use of Jones in that film. He says he found him amusing at the time.) One of the points made in David Neiwert’s book Alt-America (which I can’t recommend more, and is a primer on the rise in right-wing violence since Obama’s presidency) is that during the Bush years the corporate conservative media kept figures like Jones at arm’s length because they were anti-Bush–in fact Jones has long been a 9/11 truther–and this created some distance between the mainstream right and the far right that ultimately broke down after Obama became president.

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  20. @mattbernius:

    As I said, I am not nearly enough of an expert on the technical issues to speak to whether and how Facebook and Twitter cdeal with the millions of bytes of data that cross their servers on a daily basis. At the same time, though, it’s clear to me that many of the critics of the two social media sites who demand that they “do something” are also not any more technologically adept than I am on this issue. And that goes double for the Members of Congress and Senators who have demanded that Mark Zuckerberg and others come before them and testify in what, in the end, is nothing but a political show trial,

  21. gVOR08 says:

    The quoted Timmons piece says,

    Terrorism is rising in the US, and falling around the world, the Global Terrorism Database shows.

    China, Russia, other authoritarian countries control the internet to some degree. Do the Europeans, Canada, Australia, Japan? If not, what are the relevant differences?
    Obviously they don’t have the laws and culture that insist every whack job has a pretend assault rifle.
    Do they have the Limbaugh sort of radio talkers? Rupert Murdoch polluted Australia and the UK as well as the U. S.
    Do they have a 27% who believe utter nonsense?
    They have parties that get elected on xenophobia and culture wars but not a system that makes such a party one of only two.
    Anybody??

  22. Kylopod says:

    @CSK: I did see an interview with Richard Spencer in which he argued explicitly that Jews were not white.

    On the other hand, most of them are at least a little tolerant of those who aren’t strictly of Anglo or Germanic descent.

  23. MarkedMan says:

    There are many bad actors in this. Trump. The basket of deplorables. The foreign controlled Fox News Network (Ruport Murdoch and his children are Australians, not Americans). But I want to focus on one particular group: the “Reasonable Republicans”. These are the Republicans who are interested in understanding issues, engaging in rational and reasoned (even if sometimes heated) discussions. And day after day, week after week, these same Republicans excused and explained away the racist, anti-semitic, and misogynistic dog whistling of their party leaders. They did this by taking the stance that if there were any possible explanation for what was said or done other than the obvious one, they were morally obligated to accept that explanation. No matter how many times a given leader “accidentally” made comments or took actions that could be “misinterpreted”.

    They are the ones who accept Atwater’s explanation for choosing to launch Ronald Reagan’s campaign in a small Mississippi town famous only for being the home of the Civil Rights martyrs Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.

    They are the ones who accept Ron and Rand Paul’s explanation that they had no idea the Ron Paul Freedom Report newsletter contained racist content. That in the two decades it ran and despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars they earned from it, they never knew that it contained quotes from Ron Paul such as

    “Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer, Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a Congressman. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan approved it! We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day.”

    The Paul’s denied Ron ever said this, and denied ever knowing it (and much, much worse) was ever in the newsletter and had never actually read it or had anything to do with it. And the “Resonable Republicans” said, ‘Well we just have to take them at their word. How can we ever know the truth? Innocent until proven guilty and all that”.

    And when Trump ran the last ad of his campaign, as carefully crafted an anti-semitic screed as ever run in an American Presidential campaign (here’s a good analysis by Josh Marshall from November 2016), the “Reasonable Republicans” could only just bring themselves to allow that it was “unfortunate” that Trump released such a poorly worded ad that could be misinterpreted by his enemies.

    The reasonable people in a Party should be the ones that insist upon decency and ethics and standards. But since the age of Goldwater the “Reasonable Republicans” have instead served as the apologists for the true core of the Republican Party.

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  24. mattbernius says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    At the same time, though, it’s clear to me that many of the critics of the two social media sites who demand that they “do something” are also not any more technologically adept than I am on this issue. And that goes double for the Members of Congress and Senators who have demanded that Mark Zuckerberg and others come before them and testify in what, in the end, is nothing but a political show trial,

    Your right that there are a lot of people speaking about this issue that don’t have the tech background to make a good case.

    However, there are a LOT of people who have been critiquing Facebook and Twitter for years (and proposing solutions) that do have that tech background. And they have (and continue) to be largely ignored by those companies. I can say that because I tangentially run in a number of those circles.

    All too often the big tech companies just throw their hands in the air for various reasons and say “there’s nothing we can do about it” when there are a lot of things they could do.

    You are definitely correct that an entirely different challenge is how — with a few notable exceptions — technologically illiterate our elected officials are. Things were slightly better when the party in power had better experts on staff to assist with policy decisions. But things have been getting worse in that area for a number of years.

    It’s also worth noting that for as bad as elected officials are, the Federal Judiciary is actually a lot worse in this area (in part because of the structure of how decisions at the Federal level are created). Unless a judge is tech literate or hired tech literate clerks, then the chances of getting a decision that really takes into account the technological ramifications of said decisions are often primarily based on which filings the judges find more convincing (*shudder*).

  25. @mattbernius:

    What I really think is worse is that a significant portion of Republican leadership will still appear on those shows.

    Agreed. There has been a merger of the Conservative Entertainment Complex and elected officials that started in the 1990s. Trump kicked that into overdrive by legitimizing Alex Jones.

  26. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As I said, I am not nearly enough of an expert on the technical issues to speak to whether and how Facebook and Twitter cdeal with the millions of bytes of data that cross their servers on a daily basis.

    Well, Facebook seems to be able to keep away anything with nudity (whether its legal or not)…

    And yes, there are a staggering number of posts each day. But most of them could be rather easily categorized by software, whether it’s text, images, video, or sound. Have real people check the rest (and pay them a lot better, because it can be a horrific job…)

    People should get to report objectionable content, but if it turns out that the reporting is done to harass a user, then actions should be taken against the harasser.

    But as pointed out, conflict is good for business. And having lots of bot users inflates statistics…

  27. @Kylopod: Yes, I remember with Jones was just an overnight AM kook on the margins. Now he is a far more well-accepted kook (as per my previous comment).

    It is very disturbing.

  28. mattbernius says:

    @mattbernius:
    I should also say that I also personally know people inside of some of the larger tech companies (including Facebook) who, both in the past and currently, are pushing for changes to add more responsible guardrails.

    Prior to 2016 these things simply were not considered a priority (or necessarily even seen as a problem). There are efforts to change that, but they continually run up against the concerns about “moving too fast” and/or how they can be implemented without affecting audience size or shareholder value.

  29. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Trump kicked that into overdrive by legitimizing Alex Jones.

    Right…

    The other thing that happened concurrently was the rise of first Glen Beck, then Michael Savage, and finally Jones, led to the “big dogs” (Limbaugh and Hannity) to go further and further into conspiracy territory (for any of a variety of reasons).

    That isn’t to say that pre-Beck Limbaugh didn’t push conspiracies (see: Vince Foster, etc). But it sure seems that post “I’m no longer carrying water” (after the 2006 Republican routing), and with the election of Obama, he just went further and further down that path.

    Again, so long as these continue to be required stops for Republican leadership, the national party continues to endorsing these talkers (and whatever they are spinning).

  30. @mattbernius: I totally agree.

  31. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Nah. Every country has it’s share of idiots and losers. But only in the United States these losers and idiots can buy semiautomatic rifles.

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  32. Lit3Bolt says:

    @dennis:

    I’m with dennis on this one, James. Nothing Republicans have done since 2008 (and it’s all on the internet and lives forever) has exactly shown that they are models of decency and tolerance or are very concerned about human life. They wanted and embraced the far-right crazy and gun-terrorism-absolusionists, and people are dying because of it. That’s on the Republican party and the people who support it.

    And there’s no “Yes, but whatabout…” To paraphrase Gandhi, I’m a great believer in personal responsibility and accountability. I’ve never seen it from any Republican, ever, in my lifetime, and I’m middle aged now.

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  33. Kylopod says:

    Also, while we’re on the subject of Alex Jones, it’s helpful to remember that he isn’t just into conspiracy theories with vaguely anti-Semitic overtones, he’s pretty explicit about it. Here’s what he said in Oct. 2016, for instance:

    “Cause let me tell you, the Emanuels are mafia,” Jones said of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff for President Barack Obama, and his also prominent Jewish brothers, Ari and Ezekiel. “And you know I was thinking, they’re always trying to claim that if I talk about world government and corruption I’m anti-Semitic, there’s mafias of all different stripes and groups, but since you want to talk about it, the Emanuels are Jewish mafia.”

    “But I mean it’s not that Jews are bad, it’s just they are the head of the Jewish mafia in the United States. They run Uber, they run the health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you,” he said.

    And here’s what he had to say about the Charlottesville protests in 2017:

    I mean, quite frankly, I’ve been to these events, a lot of the KKK guys with their hats off look like they’re from the cast of Seinfeld. Literally they’re just Jewish actors. Nothing against Jews in general, but they are leftists Jews that want to create this clash and they go dress up as Nazis. I have footage in Austin — we’re going to find it somewhere here at the office — where it literally looks like cast of Seinfeld or like Howard Stern in a Nazi outfit. They all look like Howard Stern. They almost got like little curly hair down, and they’re just up there heiling Hitler. You can tell they are totally uncomfortable, they are totally scared, and it’s all just meant to create the clash.

    Jones has also claimed his ex-wife is Jewish (I have no idea if that’s true, and I’m skeptical–I think he says it to deflect charges of anti-Semitism), and that his current wife isn’t Jewish but has been a target of anti-Semitism because she’s got a big nose. No, I’m not remotely making this up. He’s also involved in a lawsuit with some former employees who have accused him not just of sexual harassment, but anti-Semitic harassment toward them.

    Trump has appeared on Jones’ program several times, and one time praised him for his “amazing reputation.” He has never, to this day, repudiated any of Jones’ anti-Semitic views, let alone any of the other crazy stuff he has said.

  34. CSK says:

    @Kylopod:

    Well, the alt-reichers would almost have to tolerate those whose DNA is, oh, say, 46% English, 14% German, and the rest Irish and Danish. How many people in the U.S. can claim to be of pure Germanic or English ancestry?

    In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer notes that Hitler considered the Irish to be Aryans. Second class Aryans, to be sure, but Aryans.

  35. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kylopod:

    Jones has also claimed his ex-wife is Jewish (I have no idea if that’s true, and I’m skeptical–I think he says it to deflect charges of anti-Semitism

    She seems to be Jewish, at least her parents are Jewish.

    https://heightline.com/kelly-rebecca-nichols-bio-husband-divorce/

  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Nikki Haley, then governor of South Carolina, warned on the one-year anniversary of Roof’s massacre that Trump’s divisive campaign statements could spur similar incidents.

    And subsequently went on to become a spokesperson and apologist for this same, divisive Trump when he became President.

    And she’s one of the “good, responsible” Republicans.

    We are a nation in which many people simply have no idea of what goodness and morality are and how they should moderate behavior. And too many of those people are in positions of power and stay in those positions because people of similar goals and ethical bounds keep reelecting them.

  37. dennis says:

    @gVOR08:

    China, Russia, other authoritarian countries control the internet to some degree. Do the Europeans, Canada, Australia, Japan? If not, what are the relevant differences?

    Relatively homogeneous populations.

  38. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I also agree that attempts to label the Trump presidency as illegitimate were wrong (and I said so at the time).

    In a democracy, legitimacy comes from the people. Trump, as a minority and not even plurality President has lacked that from day one. (Our system of government traditionally approximates a democracy enough that people treat it as one, and expect it to be one)

    He could have taken this into account, and led from the center — and he likely would have gained legitimacy. He has chosen not to do so. And it was apparent from the get go that he would not.

    Trump’s win is further tainted by Russian interference. Which further undermines his legitimacy.

    He was, elected, through our system, so he is a legal president, but legal and legitimate are not the same thing.

  39. Gustopher says:

    While there isn’t an equivalently prominent equivalent on the left, Limbaugh isn’t wrong to point to a concerted effort to delegitimatize Donald Trump’s presidency from the moment of his shocking election. We were in fact bombarded by editorials calling for the Electoral College to overturn the result of the election of the grounds that Trump was a horrible person and got nearly three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.

    Are either of those reasons wrong? Is Trump not a horrible person? Did he not get roughly three million fewer votes?

    Again, I would point out that there is a difference between legitimacy and legality. Legally, Trump is President. But, he has never won the majority of the people, so he has no legitimacy.

    Before he even taken office there was a Resistance movement marching the streets of our major cities. And a deluge of articles, tweets, speeches, and the like shouting This Isn’t Normal.

    Amazingly divisive candidate elected without a majority of the vote — yes, that is going to lead to marches. That’s a good thing.

    The shouts of “This Isn’t Normal” we’re hopeful and aspirational. It turns out this is normal. And appalling.

  40. @Gustopher: All well and good, but my bona fides on the general question of concern about the quality of our democracy should not be questionable at this point, I find the assertion of his presidency as being “illegitimate” to be problematic even now.

    We need to focus on the problem with the legitimate process that got him in office and that empowers him and show why they need to be changed.

  41. Gustopher says:

    Combining those two principles, however, means that those in positions of high leadership have a responsibility to choose their words judiciously. While I don’t hold Trump responsible for violence committed by his supporters, fanning the flames of division is a failure of leadership. And, certainly, portraying the press and political opponents as the enemies of the Republic is outrageous.

    If he is using his bully pulpit for fanning the flames of division and hatred, why do you not hold him responsible when people act on it?

    He is not the only person responsible, but he is definitely one of the people responsible.

    Let’s take a simpler example: a Fox News host and falafel enthusiast whose name I am suddenly blanking on (I keep coming up with Eugene O’Neil which is wrong) devotes a large chunk of his show on a regular basis to Tiller The Baby Killer, showing pictures, mentioning where he works, his church, etc. Eventually, some crazy man who watches his show goes and kills Dr. Tiller.

    Is the falafel enthusiast responsible? I think it is really hard to say that he doesn’t at least share responsibility, as the murder of Dr. Tiller was an easily foreseen consequence of a near daily fifteen minutes of hate on a national news network.

    Gah, Bill O’Rielly!

  42. PJ says:

    Trump Just Called a Bomb Recipient a “Crazed & Stumbling Lunatic”

    Just days after Tom Steyer, a prominent Democratic donor from California, received a bomb in the mail, President Donald Trump called him “a crazed & stumbling lunatic” on Twitter.

  43. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We need to focus on the problem with the legitimate process that got him in office and that empowers him and show why they need to be changed.

    Again, I think you mistake legitimate for legal. He was elected through a legal process.

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  44. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Is there another word that you think is appropriate, rather than illegitimate?

    Something else that says elected and ruling without the consent of the governed?

  45. Kylopod says:

    @CSK:

    In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer notes that Hitler considered the Irish to be Aryans. Second class Aryans, to be sure, but Aryans.

    The Nazis were all over the map when it came to defining the boundaries of Aryan-ness, and in many cases it was more political than ideological. They called the Japanese “honorary Aryans.” According to Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, they discovered that an American-German journalist who was a member of the Nazi Party had a Sioux grandparent, and after careful deliberation they decided that the Sioux were Aryans. They made no comments on the status of any other Native American groups.

  46. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    She seems to be Jewish, at least her parents are Jewish.

    Thank you. I haven’t been able to find any information on that question up to now, since she’s just not that famous other than having been married to Alex Jones.

    It doesn’t mean anything, of course. One of the most prominent figures of the alt-right, Michael Peinovich aka Mike Enoch, an open neo-Nazi who started the website The Right Stuff and hosted a podcast called The Daily Shoah, was discovered in early 2017 to be married to a Jewish woman (who has since separated from him).

    One of the most pernicious misconceptions about bigotry is that a person cannot be a bigot if they have any sort of personal relationships with members of the group in question. It’s the old “Some of my best friends are…” dodge, but it’s amazing how many people today cling to this idea. Anyone with more than a superficial knowledge of the history of racism and anti-Semitism knows how false this picture is. Few anti-Semites today are as extreme as the Nazis (you don’t have to be calling for the literal destruction of every Jew on the planet to qualify as anti-Semitic), but even the Nazis weren’t always consistent about these things. Goebbels, for example, was married to a woman who was partly raised by a Jewish stepfather, whom recent evidence suggests may have been her biological father. Hitler himself arranged for the protection of a Jewish man who had been his family’s physician as a kid.

    Many Americans to this day have this completely caricatured understanding of bigotry, where you can’t be called a bigot unless you’re absolutely and consistently opposed to every member of a group, no qualifications. There’s also little recognition of the fact that in modern society, bigots generally try to hide their beliefs due to their taboo nature. The right falls back on the caricature in order to defend themselves against charges of bigotry, but then those considerations go out the window as soon as they decide to lob charges of racism and anti-Semitism against the left (a faction that, of course, includes many Jews and people of color). The impression they give is that they just don’t take charges of bigotry very seriously; to them, it’s just a political weapon to use as a cudgel against one’s opponents.

  47. Gustopher says:

    @Resistance Ron: my heart goes out to you in your time of suffering.

    And, for the record, I don’t want anyone to assasinate Trump, I want him to stroke out on his gilded toilet, fall flat on his face and drool on the floor for a few hours before someone finds him. He should then live for another thirty years, always angry that he was never liked by the cool kids, and always drooling. Maybe incontinent as well.

  48. James Joyner says:

    @Resistance Ron: So, this is just a weird, off-topic rant. It’s a lot of seemingly random, half-baked, self-pitying assertions about things stretching back twenty years or more.

    If you don’t like the editorial content here, there are hundreds if not thousands of sites out there peddling to right-wing conspiracy fantasies.

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  49. MattBernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    Did you expect anything different from Jenos?

  50. Kylopod says:

    @MattBernius: So you can utter Voldemort’s name without having your comment sent to moderation hell? It’s good to be a mod.

  51. mattbernius says:

    @Kylopod:
    Oh, huh… that’s unexpected.

    In total transparency, I haven’t contributed to this blog (beyond comments) in years. And I’ve had a number of posts held in moderation since I stopped my occasional contributions. So if I have any special powers, they are completely a surprise to me.

    Though I’m sure that alone will fuel someone’s conspiracy theories.

  52. Kylopod says:

    Testing: Jenos

  53. Kylopod says:

    Okay, that settles it. Jenos’s name seems to have been taken off the “Voldemort” list, even though it was there just a couple of weeks ago. But I also tried it with the Bung’s full screen name, and my comment got sent to mod hell.

  54. mattbernius says:

    @Resistance Ron:

    The one sidedness is what gets me. GWB was subjected to assassination fantasies all the time. Kill Bush Vol 3 for one example.

    Ok I was fascinated by this idea and so I googled it. I could find only find reference to a student film. (https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-ab&ei=D0XWW6TCE8fPjwSk7LyYBA&q=%22kill+bush%22+volume+film&oq=%22kill+bush%22+volume+film&gs_l=psy-ab.3…8729.11243..11599…0.0..0.185.284.1j1……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i71.2CmhxyIjUS4)

    So equivalent.

    The “Sarah Palin is a Cunt” shirts on cafepress

    So equivalent to the President of the US. You are so right.

    Colin Powell was an uncle Tom.

    Wow, you must have been up in arms when Rush Limbaugh suggested that the only reason that Powell supported Obama is that they both were black. Truly you have the high ground there.

    Then let’s talk about Sharpton and Farrakhan.

    Wow, sooo right… and tell me what you thought about Hannity embracing Farrakhan when he decided that Trump was an ok guy?

    BTW, are you still all aboard the Steve King isn’t a racist or anti-semite train?

    Ultimately, my favorite part of your screeds is that it again demonstrates how much of the MAGA political culture is based on a primal scream that you’re not being treated fairly. God, I miss the days when Republicans complained that the biggest issue with Democrats is that they were feelings above facts.

    Cause pot, say hello to the kettle.

    (p.s. still waiting for a link to that survey that demonstrates that the Right better emphasized with the left than the right… thanks in advance for that…)

  55. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kylopod: Racists usually use their friends/wives/girlfriends/whoever to excuse from their racism. Sometimes they’ll even use a random acquaintance. 😉

    But I was curious to check if Jones was lying. 😉

  56. @Gustopher:

    Again, I think you mistake legitimate for legal. He was elected through a legal process.

    If we talk about Trump’s election as illegitimate then a couple of things are true:

    1) It isn’t the fault of the system (but, it is is the fault of the system and it needs to be fixed).

    2) We range into the same problem as when Trump wanted to say he wouldn’t accept the losing because the system was “rigged.”

  57. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Racists usually use their friends/wives/girlfriends/whoever to excuse from their racism. Sometimes they’ll even use a random acquaintance.

    Yeah, there was Roy Moore’s wife going “One of our attorneys…is a Jew!” (And of course it turned out the person she was referring to was in fact a Christian of Jewish ancestry–but never mind.)

    Besides Jones’ ex-wife, the other person I’ve wondered about for a while is Milo Yiannapoulous. Though reportedly a practicing Catholic, he insists he’s of Jewish ancestry. But I haven’t found any independent confirmation for this claim. The only evidence that it’s true is that he says it is so.

    And, of course, he uses this claim so he can say stuff like this: “They may have some prejudice about Jews, like the Jews run everything. Well, we do. The Jews run all the banks. Well, we do. The Jews run the media. Well, we do. You know they’re right about all that stuff.”

    In Milo’s case, his claim to be a half-Jewish gay man with a black lover isn’t just excuse-making for his own bigotry. It’s practically his entire shtick–to make openly racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic remarks then claim you can’t accuse him of those things because of who he is and who he’s married to; to suggest he doesn’t really believe all that stuff and is just trying to “trigger the libs.” Needless to say, the fact that he has these motivations makes me even more skeptical of his ancestral claims.

    Of course it’s entirely possible he’s telling the truth about his Jewish roots (whether that justifies his referring to himself as “Jewish” is another matter), and as far as I’m concerned it’s completely irrelevant. I’m just pointing out that he has a vested interest in using this claim (truthful or otherwise) as a central part of his provocateur act–which makes it very suspect in my view.

  58. An Interested Party says:

    …self-pitying…

    The most odious part of many Trump followers in general and the troll up thread in particular…it is amazing how so many people who have so many advantages, (that they don’t even see!) in relation to people in other groups, feel so sorry for themselves and whine to everyone about how unfair life is…and they think turning to the freak show disgrace in the White House will somehow improve their lot in life? Well, a reality-based view of the world isn’t their strong suit…

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  59. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If we talk about Trump’s election as illegitimate

    First, I agreed with everything you say about Trump’s legitimacy… up until we saw how he responded to questions about his collusion with the Russians. Rather than try to prove his innocence, i.e. his legitimacy, he has gone to increasingly insane lengths to prevent or derail an investigation. At some point his actions became, essentially, an admission of guilt. It was at that point that his presidency became illegitimate.

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  60. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If we talk about Trump’s election as illegitimate then a couple of things are true:

    1) It isn’t the fault of the system (but, it is is the fault of the system and it needs to be fixed).

    Saddam Hussein was regularly elected President in Iraq — through a legal process. Was he legitimate?

    Our legal process produces more legitimate* results more often than the old Iraqi process, granted, but both processes have significant flaws. Ours is more fixable.

    (* for the sake of argument, I’m saying that a legitimate election is one where the winner governs with the consent of the governed, with a very fuzzy definition of consent — legitimacy comes from the people)

    But, since 1992, we have had very few Presidents with the majority of the popular vote, and two cases where the legally elected President doesn’t even have a plurality of the vote.

    This has been extraordinarily damaging to our country.

    2) We range into the same problem as when Trump wanted to say he wouldn’t accept the losing because the system was “rigged.”

    Isn’t rigged another word for broken in this context? I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that maybe Trump said something that wasn’t entirely wrong. He was being entirely self-serving, but he was pointing in the same general direction as an actual problem.

    If you are accepting the results as legitimate, you are accepting the system as it is. And things don’t change without a crisis.

    We aren’t producing a legitimate result on a regular basis. Our elections (all of them) should require a runoff, to at least meet a 50%+1 bar. Our Presidency should be based on a national popular vote.

    I would also say that a legally elected President that doesn’t meet that bar under the current system— particularly one that doesn’t even get a plurality — should govern with modesty, from the center.

    I’m honestly hoping that the 2020 election is a complete clusterfvck. The ghost of Ross Perot (is he dead?) making it so no one has a majority, and a Democrat winning without even the plurality. That, after Trump, would create a situation where we could get change.

    It would be a painful few years, but it could leave America stronger. Compared to the current painful few decades leaving us progressively weaker and more divided.

  61. Gustopher says:

    @An Interested Party:

    The most odious part of many Trump followers in general and the troll up thread in particular…it is amazing how so many people who have so many advantages, (that they don’t even see!) in relation to people in other groups, feel so sorry for themselves and whine to everyone about how unfair life is

    They don’t want to be better off — they want to be liked. Many of them are just not likeable though, and if all they can do is rub it in, then that’s the next best thing.

    BernieBros are no better, honestly. A lot of Bernie Sanders supporters were fine people, but there was a fetid group of them who acted the same way. Always demanding some show of fealty to their lefty bona fides that were more pure than everyone else’s.

    “If we nominated Bernie, Trump wouldn’t have won; Clinton was a terrible candidate, you people should have nominated the one man in America we know she could beat!”

    (Some of my best friends supported Bernie in the primaries)

  62. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kylopod: Yannapoulos says that his maternal grandmother is Jewish, so, in theory, he would be Jewish(Ironically, it’s the same situation as virulent anti-semite and Holocaust denier David Irving, that also had a Jewish Maternal Grandmother).

    But this is what he says, no one knows the name of his Maternal Grandmother.

    I once heard a woman(Not Jewish) saying that she always like to save a lot of money because “she had Jewish blood”. Like, inadvertently she was using her ancestry to justify a racist stereotype.

  63. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Yannapoulos says that his maternal grandmother is Jewish, so, in theory, he would be Jewish

    Technically true–in terms of halakha. But Milo has not embraced his (alleged) Jewish heritage in any meaningful way, either religiously or culturally. He basically calls himself a Jew in order to bash Jews, on the dubious belief that his self-identification immunizes him to charges of anti-Semitism. I’ve never seen him wear a Star of David, but I have seen him wear an Iron Cross.

  64. dennis says:

    @One American:

    @Kathy: you seem like a somewhat intelligent person at times but constantly referring to my President as orange/Cheeto something makes me not even want to read your comments. Carry on

    Now, think about everything you said about Obama, and behold your hypocrisy.

  65. @MarkedMan: There is the very real possibility that the Russia situation could change my assessment.

  66. @Gustopher: I will try to answer later. I think, though, I have written posts that address most of what you are saying (more or less).

    Legitimacy is a tricky concept, to be honest. Maybe I will write a post on it at some point.

  67. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Resistance Ron:
    I see J-enos is back.

  68. JohnMcC says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Such a gift of understatements we find here!

  69. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Things I would add to your pondering for a potential post on legitimacy:
    – did Republicans view the election of Bill Clinton as legitimate in the 1990s? (I suspect this is where we went off the rails as a country)
    – To what extent was that the electoral process, and to what extent was that right wing talk radio coming of age?

    And then roll those questions forward through every president since.

    Sizeable chunks of the opposition party do not view any of those Presidents as legitimate. With Obama, it was because he was a secret Muslim Kenyan anti-colonialist, but all the rest have tainted electoral victories.

    Related: Reports on the effects of gerrymandering and vote suppression and vote fraud undermine the perceived legitimacy of smaller elections across the country. (I would say that the first two have actual evidence to back them up, and the third is roughly nonsense, but the perception of it exists on the right)

    I think this is a crisis in our democracy. I also think Trump is not legitimate.

  70. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher: I’m curious. Putting aside the fact that the Republican Party Id has increasingly inhabited a fantasy world since the time of Reagan, what reason would they have for seeing Clinton as illegitimate? He won both the popular and electoral vote by a significant margin.

  71. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: He got only 43% of the popular vote, and Republicans believed that Perot was taking votes from Bush far more than Clinton.

    If you believe that Perot voters were conservative (I think this has not been born out by exit surveys, but the belief was there), then Clinton won only because the massive Republican-leaning majority was split.

  72. @JohnMcC:

    Such a gift of understatements we find here!

    I have been frequently accused of such.

  73. @Gustopher: There is a very important distinction to be had between winning under flawed rules and winning by cheating.

    Winning under flawed rules means we can have a debate about fixing the rules.

    Winning by cheating (in a “rigged” process) is about the manner in which one won. And the debate is not about the rules, but about how one circumvented them.

    Trump won under the well-established (and legitimately established) rules of election to the presidency. Barring evidence of direct collusion with Russia, I don’t think this is arguable. That he is a terrible person and unfit to govern does not make him illegitimate, it makes him a terrible president.

    That the rules have serious flaws does not make him illegitimate, it makes the rules flawed.

    If the same process (setting aside the potential Russia taint) had elected the reincarnation of FDR or Lincoln, or Jesus Christ or whomever would not render the same kind of accusations of illegitimacy. But them again, I think any of those candidates would have won the popular vote 😉

  74. And in regards to “Sizeable chunks of the opposition party do not view any of those Presidents as legitimate”–but, really, how sizable and to what end? Some ranting on talk radio?

    True crises of legitimacy manifest as breakdowns of institutions and the governing order. As messed up as things may be at the moment, we are not at that stage.

  75. @Gustopher: But, yes, I think our system could well be head for crisis.

    As some dude recently wrote:

    Not to sound overly dramatic, but a system that on the one hand promises “government of, by, and for the people” wherein “all men are created equal” and then produces government by the minority is a system headed for serious crisis. Our system diffuses power, and it even makes pure majority rule difficult, but the goal was never minority rule.

    All of these factors are a direct result of the over-representation of rural voters over urban voters. This violates the notion of the equality of citizens. This is especially problematic as we have increasingly seen one party predominantly represent rural voters/states and the other party represent urban voters/states. Such a self-reinforcing cleavages will exacerbate the potential for crisis.

    And sure, you can declare Trump “illegitimate” as your normative opinion. As much as I find his presidency to be an utter disaster, I don’t find “illegitimate” to be the appropriate description.

  76. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Then what is the appropriate description?

    I think “some dude” is completely right about the problem, at least as I read him — results that do not reflect the majority vote at large — but if the word to describe that isn’t “illegitimate”, then what is it?

    I see the distinction between following the rules and not following the rules, but I would paint those as “illegitimate” and “criminal”.

    I think you place legitimacy in the law, where I would place it with the people.

    I would also say that voter disenfranchisement undermines any legitimacy, even if the Supreme Court is ok with it. And that legitimacy is a spectrum, not a binary — Trump did get 45% of the vote or whatever, so he certainly represents a significant minority of American voters.

    I think we either are at a crisis, or are so close to a crisis that if we have one, we will mark the beginning of the crisis as some time before right now. But, maybe I’m just being wildly optimistic, and will discover what a real crisis looks like.

  77. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Jesus Christ would be crucified as a socialist if he ran for president. 😉

  78. @Gustopher:

    I think you place legitimacy in the law, where I would place it with the people.

    And right now the overwhelming majority accepts the current rules. By that definition, the system is legitimate. (This also underscores the tautological nature of the definition to a certain degree).

  79. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And in regards to “Sizeable chunks of the opposition party do not view any of those Presidents as legitimate”–but, really, how sizable and to what end? Some ranting on talk radio?

    I think you might be underestimating the power of some ranting on talk radio to sway the views of the base.

    I recall the attacks on Clinton as having a significant element of attacking his legitimacy, rather than just attacking him — I might be wrong there. Certainly the attacks on Obama over the birth certificate were an attack on his legitimacy.

    There was a lot of grumbling on the left about George W. Bush, but there wasn’t a voice to galvanize it. The left doesn’t have talk radio so much, and deals with a lot more nuance.

  80. @Gustopher: The left has late night comedy instead of talk radio, especially in the age of Trump (or such is my theory).

    You do seem to be conflating a direct claim “Trump is illegitimate” with attempts to undermine past presidents (there were attacks on Clinton, Obama, Bush, etc).

    I agree that birtherism was an attempt to undermine Obama. That is different, to me at least, of saying “Trump is an illegitimate president” as a matter of fact.

  81. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    If you believe that Perot voters were conservative (I think this has not been born out by exit surveys, but the belief was there), then Clinton won only because the massive Republican-leaning majority was split.

    The exit poll breakdown when Perot voters were asked how they’d have voted if Perot hadn’t been on the ballot was perfectly equal: 38% said Bush, 38% said Clinton, and the rest said they wouldn’t have voted.

    Steve Kornacki did a thorough debunking of the Perot myth (which, by the way, isn’t just believed by Republicans, I hear it all the time from Democrats as well):

    https://www.salon.com/2011/04/04/third_party_myth_easterbrook/

    Wikipedia, citing NYT, has more: “A mathematical look at the voting numbers reveals that Bush would have had to win 12.55% of Perot’s 18.91% of the vote, 66.36% of Perot’s support base, to earn a majority of the vote, and would have needed to win nearly every state Clinton won by less than five percentage points. Furthermore, Perot was most popular in states that strongly favored either Clinton or Bush, limiting his real electoral impact for either candidate. He gained relatively little support in the Southern states and happened to have the best showing in states with few electoral votes.”

    As for whether Perot voters were “conservative,” it’s funny that in all these analyses I rarely hear the ideological angle even discussed. Perot himself was, arguably, right-of-center, and he was a former Republican who would eventually return to the Republican fold. But he was also pro-choice, anti-NAFTA, and he openly attacked Reaganomics and backed some tax increases. In fact his views on balancing the budget were not that far from Clinton’s–but he would never give Clinton one iota of credit for this and later in the decade he went on to be a hysterical Clinton-hater (he even once compared Clinton to Hitler).

  82. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    There was a lot of grumbling on the left about George W. Bush, but there wasn’t a voice to galvanize it.

    I disagree. I think there’s a fairly widespread consensus among Democrats that Bush was not legitimately elected in 2000.

  83. Gallup, July 2001: Seven out of 10 Americans Accept Bush as Legitimate President:

    A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, however, finds most Americans satisfied that George W. Bush is the “legitimate” president, and only 17% believe he “stole” the election.

  84. Gallup, November 2016: In U.S., 84% Accept Trump as Legitimate President

    After Donald Trump’s surprise defeat of Hillary Clinton in the highly contentious 2016 presidential campaign, 84% of Americans say they accept Trump as the legitimate president, but 15% do not. Among Clinton voters, 76% accept Trump and 23% do not.

  85. If you are going to define legitimacy as acceptance by the people, there you go.

  86. Matt says:

    @PJ:

    Well, Facebook seems to be able to keep away anything with nudity (whether its legal or not)…

    No it has not. Not even remotely. I do have some friends who had issues with facebook taking down pictures of their male nipple piercings and such. That only happened because someone on their friend’s list is an asshole. There are tons of penises,vags and more on facebook in picture and video form…

  87. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kylopod: Yes. That’s why the comparison with Irving is interesting.

  88. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: I actually did not know that about Irving, or perhaps I forgot; I’ve read heavily about him (I read two books about the Lipstadt case in addition to her book which was the source of the lawsuit, and I don’t recall that fact ever coming up).

    Bobby Fischer, though entirely of Jewish extraction, was a big anti-Semite; he denied the Holocaust and claimed he was the victim of an international Jewish conspiracy. Of course, part of this was that he was just mentally off.

    There have been some bizarre cases of major anti-Semites turning out to be secretly Jewish or partly of Jewish descent (supposedly Hitler, but that seems to be an urban legend). The Skokie controversy in the 1970s (where neo-Nazis wanted to march in a heavily Jewish neighborhood and it became a big legal battle involving the First Amendment) was led by a guy whose father was Jewish. In the 1960s a high-ranking member of the American Nazi Party was discovered to be Jewish, and when it was revealed, he committed suicide. This case was loosely the basis of the 2001 movie The Believer, a remarkable film starring a pre-stardom Ryan Gosling. Already an indie film doomed to limited circulation, it had the misfortune of being released less than two weeks ahead of the 9/11 attacks, whereupon it was quickly pulled from theaters–a combination of the already controversial subject matter and the fact that it featured a subplot involving the skinhead’s attempts to bomb a New York synagogue. It’s a shame, because the movie was really thought-provoking.

  89. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kylopod: Irving never talked about his Jewish Heritage, even if in theory that could be used in his favor. His mother, Beryl, is a well known(And talented) graphic artist, and she is the daugther of a Jewish woman.

    Obviously anti-antisemitism is a much more cultural type of racism. A Jew that does not follow Jewish customs and do not use a Jewish surname is unlikely to face antisemitism because antisemites are not likely to know that he or she is a Jew.

  90. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    A Jew that does not follow Jewish customs and do not use a Jewish surname is unlikely to face antisemitism because antisemites are not likely to know that he or she is a Jew.

    Conversely, I’ve heard cases of people who aren’t Jewish at all being attacked by anti-Semites who perceived them as Jewish. It could be their name, or something about the way they look. (When Sarah Palin was running for mayor of Wasilla, the incumbent she was running against was a man named John Stein. She ran an ad boasting she was going to become the first Christian mayor of Wasilla. Stein was a Lutheran.) It’s really that superficial.

    And when anti-Semitism becomes as extreme as in Nazi Germany, it’s not going to matter so much how visibly or obviously Jewish you are. You could be completely secularized, or converted to Christianity, and while you may have a slightly easier time escaping than your Hasidic cousins, there are still records identifying your origin. It all depends on how far the anti-Semites are willing to go.

  91. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kylopod: Yes. Many people that were sent to the Nazi Concentration camps were just people that happened to have Jewish ancestry(Irving would have undoubtedly ended in a concentration camp).

    And many people are going to put anyone with a random German or Polish name under the umbrella of “Jews”.

    But people that just happen to have Jewish ancestry are much less likely to be attacked by anti-semites.