Who Are The Domestic Terrorists?

Who should we fear? I’ll give you a hint.

The men (they are almost always men) causing death and destruction are rarely Muslims. They are hardly ever immigrants. As a Texas Department of Public Safety report has recently confirmed, by far the largest threat to domestic safety and tranquillity comes from white racists and Incels.

And who–you would be forgiven for asking–are the Incels? Let Juanita Jean tell you.

Incels are white boys who couldn’t get laid at the Chicken Ranch even if they had a chicken under each arm and fifty dollar bill taped to their forehead. But, you always suspected that, didn’t you?

Or– in the less florid language used in the report,

 Based on the prevalence of recently conducted attacks nationwide, White Racially Motivated (WRM) is currently the most violently active domestic terrorism type.

Although not a new movement, Involuntary Celibates (Incels) are an emerging domestic terrorism threat as current adherents demonstrate marked acts or threats of violence in furtherance of their social grievance.

Wikipedia defines Incels, as “involuntary celibates”– members of an online subculture who are unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, a state they describe as inceldom.

A recent article in the New Yorker says that what Incels want is “extremely limited and specific: they want to be able to have sex on demand with young, beautiful women. They believe that this is a natural right.” The article subhead calls this what it is: a belief in male supremacy.

Vox goes further, in an article detailing how a support group for the dateless became one of the internet’s most dangerous subcultures.

Over the past two decades, the incel community, which numbers somewhere in the tens of thousands, has fallen under the sway of a profoundly sexist ideology that they call “the blackpill.” It amounts to a fundamental rejection of women’s sexual emancipation, labeling women shallow, cruel creatures who will choose only the most attractive men if given the choice.

Taken to its logical extreme, the blackpill can lead to violence. The mass media has focused on the risk of more mass killings like Toronto and others before it, and that is indeed a serious concern. But the focus on incels as potential killers risks missing a more subtle threat: that they will commit acts of everyday violence ranging from harassment to violent assault, or simply make the women in their lives miserable.

A column in the Washington Post suggests that the Incel movement is an extreme and worrisome symptom of the struggle men face in a changing society.

Today, the incel subculture has become not just self-reinforcing but self-radicalizing, often with tragic outcomes. At its most horrifying extremes, self-described incels have taken their anger out on the women they believe are refusing them. At least two mass shooters have left behind manifestos identifying themselves as adhering to incel ideology and explaining their actions as taking revenge on the world that hasn’t given them the women they think they deserve.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Governor Abbott is “safeguarding” citizens of the Lone Star State by refusing to accept refugees–who, according to all available research, pose no threat to public safety.

And in the nation’s capital, the Trump administration is caging (brown) children and excluding (and vilifying) Muslims. Worse, they are actively encouraging the racists and white nationalists who, along with the Incels, are responsible for the vast majority of domestic terror attacks.

They’re determined to make America great again– for straight white “Christian” men.

 

Listen to Rick Wilson

In the run-up to the Iowa caucuses (a period of time that has begun to seem interminable) and in the wake of the January Democratic debate, the identity of the Democratic party’s eventual nominee is still unknown. Whichever candidate emerges, however, he or she will face an incumbent and a party untethered to ethics and willing to employ a range of “dirty tricks” that far exceeds even the worst of what has gone before.

That nominee–and the Democratic Party–need to be prepared. They need to listen to Rick Wilson.

Wilson is a long-time Republican strategist. He is also one of the (comparatively few) “professional” Republicans who were horrified by Trump’s victory; he has spent the last three years advocating for a return to sanity and battling the conspiracy theories and “alternate facts” so beloved by Trump’s base. (I think–although I’m not sure–that he is the source of the “Vichy Republican” epithet widely used to describe Trump’s feckless GOP collaborators.)

Wilson has just come out with a new book: Running Against The Devil. His previous book was Everything Trump Touches Dies–the title doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity about Wilson’s opinion of The Donald, but just in case you didn’t pick up on his animus, he’s been quoted as saying that Trump will “go down in history with asterisks next to his name for endemic corruption, outrageous stupidity, egregious cruelty and inhumanity, for diminishing the presidency and the nation, and for being a lout with a terrible wig.”

Although I haven’t had a chance to read the new book, I did come across an informative review of it in The Guardian. Some excerpts:

Unlike most of the Washington reporters covering Donald Trump, Wilson, a Republican strategist and ad man, wastes no time trying to be fair or balanced about the career criminal who is the temporary occupant of the White House. His advice to Democrats is beautifully summarized in his epilogue:

Do not, as my party did, underestimate the evil, desperate nature of evil desperate people. Do not come to this fight believing that the Trump team views any action, including outright criminality, as off limits. [The 2020 election] is a battle that decides whether they have an unlimited runway to create a dynastic kleptocracy based on an authoritarian personality cult that makes North Korea look like Sweden, or whether the immune system of the Republic kicks in and purges them from the body public …

There is no bottom. There is no shame. There are no limits … He is surrounded by cowards with frightening and tremendous skills …

Wilson believes that the only thing that could save Trump in November would be a Democratic party “too stubborn, undisciplined and foolish to get out of its own way”–and those of us who follow such things know that such behavior on the part of the Democratic Party is a realistic possibility.

Democrats, in Wilson’s view, should emphasize foreign policy (a case that “makes itself”) and especially corruption.

Whether “it’s lobbyists for Wall Street banks, big coal, the payday loan industry, private prisons, or any other number of economic vampires, the Trump kakistocracy really does have something for everyone: nepotism, cronyism, pay-for-play, backroom deals for donors, abuse of power, lying to Congress … and as a bonus, monetizing cruelty to children.”

Trump, Wilson writes, is “sending a signal, loud and clear, that he’s for sale, satisfaction guaranteed.”

In November, we will see how many voters are buying the primary product Trump is selling–white supremacy and the demise of the American experiment.

 

 

Those Damn Courts Can’t Overrule Me!

Sometimes, only a Yiddish word is capable of adequately conveying the disdain of an insult. Chutzpah is infinitely stronger than gall, its most common English translation. It’s also more earthy than hubris, and more all-encompassing than smugness.

And chutzpah absolutely permeates a measure that has been introduced in the Indiana House of Representatives by  Representative Curt Nisly. Here is the digest of House Bill 1089:

Protection of life. Repeals the statutes authorizing and regulating abortion. Finds that human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm. Asserts a compelling state interest in protecting human physical life from the moment that human physical life begins. Provides that court decisions to enjoin the law are void. Specifies the duty of Indiana officials to enforce the law. Specifies that federal officials attempting to enforce contrary court orders against Indiana officials enforcing the law shall be subject to arrest by Indiana law enforcement. Redefines “human being” for purposes of the criminal code to conform to the finding that human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm. Makes other conforming changes.

Where to begin…

Ignore, for purposes of this rant, the fact that the only life Rep. Nisly is interested in “protecting” is that of the fetus; if the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman carrying that fetus, evidently that’s just too bad.

There is, of course, the enormous chutzpah displayed by a man with no medical credentials–a man who owns a sheet-metal company–who feels entitled to determine when life begins, and the chutzpah of a person who can never be pregnant dictating behavior to those who can be. (Pregnancy, as people with medical credentials will confirm, is a greater risk to women’s health than abortion. But Rep. Nisly is willing to force all women, whatever their medical or emotional or financial circumstances, to assume that risk. No skin off his nose.)

That’s bad enough, but what really is astonishing about this piece of excrement–what demonstrates both outrageous chutzpah and monumental constitutional  ignorance–is Nisly’s apparent belief that the legislature can pass a bill that overrules the courts and prevents the executive branch from enforcing court orders.

Checks and balances? Piffle.

Separation of powers? What’s that?

The Constitution? If Trump doesn’t have to read, understand or obey it, why should Rep. Nisly?

Even in a legislative chamber as overwhelmingly rightwing as Indiana’s, this is highly unlikely to pass. (I use the term “rightwing” rather than “conservative” because there is absolutely nothing conservative about people who don’t want to conserve the values of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.) Even our legislature’s dimmer bulbs aren’t likely to endorse a measure that simply ignores our country’s entire legal structure. But you have to ask yourself: who votes for the sort of ignoramus who would propose a bill like this?

And what sort of ego–what monumental amount of chutzpah–does a person have to have in order to run for public office without bothering to understand the government he wants to be part of?

Oh yeah…

 

 

The Art Of The Religious Deal

Reporters who have followed Donald Trump over the years tend to describe his approach to pretty much everything–business, family, charity and now the Presidency–as transactional. (That’s a nicer way of describing the paradigm through which he operates than “what’s in it for me.”)

A recent article from the Guardian suggests that a similarly transactional approach is not only more widespread than we might suppose, but that it explains the otherwise inexplicable support for Trump of those “family values” Evangelical Christians who comprise the majority of his political base.

Before the end of 2016 there was little in Donald Trump’s life, or frequently offensive political campaign, to suggest that as president he would be hailed as God’s appointee on Earth, be beloved by born-again Christians, or compared to a biblical king.

Yet that is exactly what has happened in the three years since Trump took office, as he has surrounded himself with a God-fearing cabinet and struck up an unlikely but extremely beneficial relationship with white evangelical supporters.

It’s a relationship that, for Trump, has ensured unwavering support from a key voter base and for his religious supporters, seen a conservative takeover of the courts and an assault on reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

The Executive Director of Americans United has accurately summed up the transactional nature of this support, noting that Trump continues to confer “unparalleled privilege” on this one narrow religious constituency–and that, in exchange for that privilege, Evangelicals are willing to ignore the numerous behaviors that are blatantly inconsistent with their purported beliefs, and to exhibit loyalty at the ballot box.

In law school contracts class, students learn that enforceable transactions require consideration (promises) from both parties. If you do thus-and-so, I promise to do thus-and-so. If one of the parties breaches, by failing to deliver on those promises, performance by the other will be excused.

Thus far, at least, Trump has lived up to his end of this particular deal. That makes this  transaction unusual: he has stiffed contractors, banks and charities, cheated on wives, broken promises to students enrolled in Trump University…In this case, however, he undoubtedly realizes that failure to perform would doom any chance of re-election.

Trump’s capture by the Evangelical Christian constituency has been widely remarked, and the steadfast loyalty of that community has been the subject of significant commentary–most of which has revolved around the stunning hypocrisy shown by  religious right figures and their transparent efforts to justify support for a man who (if he wasn’t delivering judges) they would call the anti-Christ.

The unlikely alliance between those nominally following biblical interpretations of right and wrong, and a thrice-married man who has been credibly accused of sexual assault and infamously paid off a pornographic actor, has thrown up a rich – and bizarre – cast of characters.

A sustained effort by influential Christian voices to justify Trump’s personal misdeeds and political cruelty has led to the frequent portrayal of Trump as a flawed vessel for God’s will. In particular, Trump has been compared to King Cyrus, who, according to the Bible, liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity, despite himself being a Persian ruler.

The hypocrisy is certainly there. But what is becoming clear is that it isn’t only Donald Trump who approaches everything as a “deal.” In the Evangelical community, capitalism and market values have rather clearly overwhelmed (trumped?) theological commitments.

Wasn’t there a warning in Genesis about selling one’s soul for a bowl of pottage?

 

 

The Disinformation Century

As citizens all over the world confront a daunting number of challenges–climate change, the rise of populism and white nationalism, the decay of social and physical infrastructure, the wealth gap, endless wars, terrorism, and on and on–we find ourselves deprived of an essential tool with which to address them: reliable information.

Such information exists, but it is increasingly countered by seductive propaganda.

I say “seductive” because–thanks to technology– disinformation can be crafted and aimed with precision at people whose profiles suggest the nature of their vulnerabilities.

Remember Cambridge Analytica? It turns out that its influence was far greater than we originally understood.

An explosive leak of tens of thousands of documents from the defunct data firm Cambridge Analytica is set to expose the inner workings of the company that collapsed after the Observer revealed it had misappropriated 87 million Facebook profiles.

More than 100,000 documents relating to work in 68 countries that will lay bare the global infrastructure of an operation used to manipulate voters on “an industrial scale” are set to be released over the next months.

It comes as Christopher Steele, the ex-head of MI6’s Russia desk and the intelligence expert behind the so-called “Steele dossier” into Trump’s relationship with Russia, said that while the company had closed down, the failure to properly punish bad actors meant that the prospects for manipulation of the US election this year were even worse.

The documents were released by a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, Brittany Kaiser, who became a whistleblower. She starred in the Oscar-shortlisted Netflix documentary The Great Hack, and says she decided to go public after last month’s election in Britain.

“It’s so abundantly clear our electoral systems are wide open to abuse,” she said. “I’m very fearful about what is going to happen in the US election later this year, and I think one of the few ways of protecting ourselves is to get as much information out there as possible.”

Kaiser had shared some material with the British parliament in April 2018, but she has since said that there were thousands of additional pages, showing a “breadth and depth of the work” that went “way beyond what people think they know about ‘the Cambridge Analytica scandal.”

Kaiser said the Facebook data scandal was part of a much bigger global operation that worked with governments, intelligence agencies, commercial companies and political campaigns to manipulate and influence people, and that raised huge national security implications.

The firm helped develop what Kaiser describes as a “sophisticated infrastructure of shell companies that were designed to funnel dark money into politics.”

Among the documents are exchanges between Trump donors discussing how to disguise the source of the contributions, and others disclosing tactics used in the election in Great Britain. The most chilling aspect of the new disclosures, however, wasn’t the fact that the organization’s operations were much more far-reaching than previously known, but the description of what it did, and how.

Emma Briant, an academic at Bard College, New York, who specialises in investigating propaganda and has had access to some of the documents for research, said that what had been revealed was “the tip of the iceberg”…

“There’s evidence of really quite disturbing experiments on American voters, manipulating them with fear-based messaging, targeting the most vulnerable, that seems to be continuing. This is an entire global industry that’s out of control but what this does is lay out what was happening with this one company.”

Politics in 2020 are almost guaranteed to be uglier and more misleading than any in the recent past. If we can get past November without self-destructing, however, the growing effort to teach media literacy may make a longterm difference.

Ad Fontes Media has created a very useful media bias chart.  Media Literacy Now has a state report on the status of media literacy education,as well as model legislation for states that currently don’t require such education. There are other, similar efforts underway.

For a long time, it has been popular to claim that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” but we live in an era that disproves the saying. The technical ability to create what the White House celebrates as “alternate reality” is new; we need to respond by creating tools that separate fact from fiction.