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Wednesday, October 4, 2017


At the time of writing (October 3rd) it is some six weeks or so since the events at Charlottesville and the ripples caused by the violent clashes between Trumpers, Alt-Righters, white supremacists and rightwing nationalists opposed to the removal of Confederate statues and leftwing counter protestors. Protests which culminated in the death of Heather Hyer - the result of being hit by a car driven by a white supremacist in an act that may have been deliberate or accidental? Dozens more people were injured on both sides, either hit by the car, thrown rocks and bottles, or hurt in fighting between the two groups. 

The fallout is radically changing and polarising American politics, and what happens in America eventually happens everywhere else. So these post Charlottesville events are important. The ’shut it down, shout it down’ nature of the debates between the left and the right and the increasing propensity of both sides to use violence is also creating a dangerous shift in the way that democratic politics functions and operates. Now the extreme position and what was the reaction of last resort, is almost the first reaction and the new normal, with debate bypassed in favour of shouting and fists. 

Charlottesville has also done something else, it has begun to shift the dynamics of power and influence across the board, from left to right, from the mainstream media to the fringes of the internet, all have been and continue to be effected. It is as if on August 12th a game of chess had been in progress and then someone had knocked the board over and when the pieces were put back again on August 13th all the positions had been changed, making some weaker, some stronger and some completely irrelevant.

Key figures in the world of the Alt-Right have, like Richard Spencer, founder of the Alt-Right and a key organiser and supporter of the Unite the Right rally have been, if not absent from the scene, then certainly unusually low-key. Nathan Domingo, who headed up Identity Evrope, and was himself a key player in the Charlottesville rally, stood down as leader of Identity Evrope at the end of August in order to pursue other projects. 

Likewise many groups across the right have attempted to distance and disassociate themselves not just from Charlottesville but from each other, or to spin the events either as a terrible failure of leadership and organisation, or praising them as a turning point, or launch pad for white supremacy and the far right movement as whole. Others have been, if not appalled, then certainly concerned at their image, thrust as they were from the relative safety and anonymity of the online world into the glare of the world’s media in the real world where many of them fell far short of their supremacist ideal. 

Charlottesville showed the far-right in all its eclectic glory from the KKK to the preppy looking Identity Evrope and Alt-Right, resplendent in chinos, polo shirts and fashy haircuts, and in-between everyone from the paramilitary looking National Socialist Movement and Traditional Workers Party, to rag-tag brigades of fringe nationalist, militias and confederacy groups, through to isolated nazis wannabes with newly bought swastika flags and replica WW2 steel helmets, and overall it did not look good.

Equally unsettling for the far-right was the subsequent post Charlottesville backlash against them, coming as it did after almost two years of growing support and ascendency in the run up to Trump’s inauguration and presidency. Now the far-right suddenly found that their pariah status was back big time. No only that but as a direct result of Charlottesville and the death of Heather Hyer, coupled with an offensive opinion piece mocking Hyer’s weight and death in the Daily Stormer, that they were being banned online as well.

As already covered in my blog Whose Speech, Our Speech Part 3 - The Great Shuttening, the Daily Stormer’s site was closed down on August 13th, followed by dozens of others, including the long established forum Stormfront, numerous other rightwing websites, personal blogs and thousands of individual Twitter accounts and Youtube postings, many of which were demonetised depriving many people not just of a political voice but an income.

In the White House Donald Trump was assailed by the media for not having specifically denounced the far-right in his first comments on the Charlottesville violence rather than just saying that there was violence on both sides. Later Trump would specifically condemn the far-right but by then his words were felt to ring hollow. 

The media circled with many citing Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon’s links to the rightwing Breibart News and his avowed nationalism as evidence of Trump’’s covert sympathy for the far-right. They also linked in key adviser Sebastian Gorka, an English man of Hungarian descent whose father had fought and suffered at the hands of the Soviets. Gorka often wore a small badge commemorating this which was wrongly and deliberately claimed by the left to be of Nazi origin. 

Whether because of sensitivities post Charlottesville or coincidence, both of these rightwing figures were out of the White House by the end of August, to great cheers from the left who regarded the departure of Bannon and Gorka as a great victory. 

The fortunes of other high profile, but less mainstream rightwingers also suffered. Milo Yiannopoulos, the flamboyant writer and broadcaster, who had been actively rebuilding his personal brand over the last few months after his reprehensible and stupid comments on underage sex torpedoed his career back in March, floundered very publicly again. Milo was the organiser and champion of the grand sounding Free Speech Week at Berkeley University where speakers supposedly included among many Steve Bannon, Ann Coulter, Katie Hopkins and Pamela Geller. 

This time rather than being surrounded by rioting students trying to prevent him from speaking Milo found himself outmanoeuvred by Berkeley Uuniversity officials who effectively and peacefully managed to get the whole event cancelled though not before many of the scheduled speakers cancelled themselves or claim that they had not even been booked. In the event Milo had to deliver a twenty minute speech outside the venue to a small desultory group of supporters. There was no Antifa, no riots, no drama and it was all over in a couple of hours rather than the promised seven days which undermined his credibility with distractors and supporters alike. Milo has now taken his brand of camp rightwingism to Australia.

Rebel Media, one of the most successful of the new right-leaning media groups ended up sacking one of its most popular broadcasters, Faith Goldy, for taking part in a podcast affiliated to The Daily Stormer. Goldy had already put herself in her bosses bad books by covering the Charlottesville rally and the Stormer podcast was seen as beyond the pale. Since then Goldy seemed to spend most of August and September keeping an uncharacteristically low profile before she began re-emerging with the new Reddit group TNR or The New Right and appearances on Youtube chatting with fellow ex-Rebel Media colleague Lauren Southern.

There are dozens more examples of rightwing fracture but the overriding impression is of flux and changing fortunes; that basically whatever certainties were in place on August 12th no longer applied on August 13th. As if to reinforce this Donald Trump brought in former US Marine Corps general John F Kelly as White House chief of Staff and put an end to the state of organised chaos that previously prevailed. Now order and, by Trump’s standards, calmness reigns as was witnessed by Trumps widely praised handling of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. 

Yet now, some six weeks after Charlottesville, all of these repositioned chess pieces are beginning to adapt to their new roles and in many cases are proving to be much stronger as a result. The Daily Stormer, now without doubt the most banned website and publication in world history, has, by refusing doggedly to give up, become more successful and well known to a degree unthinkable a few months ago. Now producing a weekly downloadable edition, and increasingly talking of a future print edition, or of syndicating itself amongst its followers so that their website could in effect be reproduced hundreds of times, the martyred ’Stormer’ has shown that it is not going anywhere and that it would probably have been better if Go Daddy, Cloudflare and Google had just left it left alone.

Indeed many of the companies and individuals that led the attacks on the far-right are already feeling an ill wind. For example, Matthew Prince, the CEO of Cloudflare the company whose services had protected the Daily Stormer site from DDoS attacks, has been cited in a legal action by a porn company who has used the closing down of the Daily Stormer’s site as evidence that Cloudflare can, if it wishes, arbitrarily shut down a site if it choses to - the porn company in question is seeking to shut down sites pirating their products. Cloudflare meanwhile says that shutting down sites without a court order is against their policy…

Steve Bannon, the notorious lord of darkness and power behind the Trump throne, at least as portrayed by Saturday Night Live and his leftist critics, has, far from going quietly into the night, begun work on launching a Breibart TV channel with the aim of eventually rivalling Fox News and presumably further spreading the nationalist economic cause he champions. And, no doubt, also being able to use this new TV arm of Breibart to destroy his enemies.

Websites like Stormfront, which was dismissed by many on the far-right as being too old, boring and essentially past it, has proved itself to be both resilient and up for a fight, and is now back online. Equally, by closing down accounts and demonetising thousands of others, Youtube and Twitter have driven many on the right to seek refuge on, the Facebook and Twitter hybrid with a Pepe style logo. While YouTube refugees are fleeing to Bitchute, the new free speech alternative.

Perhaps most telling of all is the attempt by the right to challenge and launch a rival to ICANN, the corporation that controls the allocation and management of domain names, IP address and root servers. The new challenge comes from WeCANN which describes itself as being a ‘web equality coalition for assigned names and numbers’ with the aim of ‘protecting free speech’ by using emerging technologies.

These are all small, David verses Goliath ventures, but nevertheless their existence and growing support has been caused directly by the assault on the far-right, and by the bludgeoning use of vaguely termed ’hate speech’ criteria to silence and shut down anyone, or group, or organisation, that the new ’establishment’. behemoths of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and politically motivated charities like the Southern Poverty Law Centre, decide is guilty.

Acting like a modern day Inquisition these corporations and wealthy charities who have a vested interest in perpetuating ‘hate’ crimes find guilt in the slightest infringement of their ever growing definitions of ‘hate speech’. Once found guilty they hand out any punishment they deem fit, which in the online world means banishment and unpersoning. In the real world it can mean abuse, doxing, loss of a job, career or physical assault. 

The ‘hate speech’ net widens daily and has long moved to include mainstream conservatives and those whose opinions criticise or challenge the left, and who in turn the left then labels, ad infinitum, racists, or homophobes, or Islamophobes, or fascists, or of course, Nazis, the word to use if all else fails. This in turn is, in my opinion, pushing more and more people into the far-right camp, not because they necessarily want to be there but because they have no choice. 

So the legacy of Charlottesville is not just an ever widening gap between the left and right, but an increasingly polarised and hate-filled one. It has also shifted allegiances and the balance of power between friends and foes, and, perhaps most importantly of all, it has seen Donald Trump become more political and a little less Trumpian, but whether that is to the benefit or detriment of his rightwing 
supporters and the nationalists who put him into power is anyones guess. 

© Nigel Wingrove 2017

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