Saturday, February 26, 2022

Antifascism Survey

What kind of antifascist are you?  Take this little survey and find out.

There are networks of people in many parts of the world who identify as Antifascists.  This means different things for different people, however.  In Germany, where being against fascism is especially popular, most antifascists identify more or less with the strain known as Anti-Imperialist.  But there's a significant off-shoot of the Antifascist phenomenon that took bloom in the early 1990's, and is generally known as Anti-Deutsch, or Anti-German.

These two strains of Antifascism both exist in the United States in 2022.  To my knowledge, the different tendencies don't even have names in the American context, and a lot of people seem to be talking past each other, though they all identify as Antifascist.  This survey is intended to help people think about which ideological tendency they more closely identify with.

Respond to each of the following statements with 1-5, with 1 indicating "I strongly disagree" and 5 indicates "I strongly agree."

"As an antifascist in the US, I think..."

  1. We need to strive towards building a broad-based, inclusive movement that aims towards achieving an egalitarian society, which will do a lot to lessen the popularity of fascist ideas.
  2. It's important that anyone else who is in any way part of this movement be ideologically pure, or else we don't have safe spaces within which to operate.
  3. We should oppose militarism and imperial wars, which for those of us in the US, especially, means opposing US military occupations of other countries, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba.
  4. Antisemitism is a big problem on the left, and must be rooted out and exposed, so that anyone displaying antisemitic tendencies is as deplatformed as possible.
  5. Apartheid should be opposed, whether we're talking about institutional racism and mass incarceration in the United States, or racialized systems of settler-colonialism in US client states such as Israel.
  6. If people are criticizing Israeli apartheid, it's probably an indication that they are antisemites.
  7. Police infiltration of the left and anarchist movements in the US has historically been a big problem, and probably is now, too.
  8. People who speculate about police infiltration of left and anarchist movements are probably conspiracy theorists who are up to no good.
  9. In order to build a strong and effective movement, we have to support each other, be inclusive, and have a lot of tolerance for our many differences.
  10. It's very important that everyone within antifascist spaces is respected and feels safe, so anyone who makes others feel uncomfortable should be excluded from antifascist spaces.
  11. It's very important to communicate with people who might be attracted to fascist political thinking, including in public spaces, in the process of doing good antifascist popular education.
  12. If you publicly communicate with a member of the right, you are platforming that person's views, and should forever be associated with those views and deplatformed.
  13. People who have far right views can sometimes radically change their perspective, when antifascists who are good, empathic communicators take the time to try to reach them.
  14. People with far right views aren't safe to be around, and we shouldn't engage with them, unless it's in the process of trying to shut down one of their events.
  15. It's important to be tolerant of others, and strive to only discuss differences in nonconfrontational, sympathetic circumstances, to keep things from getting divisive.
  16. When someone transgresses, they should be called out for their mistake on Twitter, and we have a duty to remind everyone of this transgression frequently.
  17. If someone mentions that a particular billionaire is Jewish, there are a lot of different reasons why this might come up.
  18. If someone mentions that a particular billionaire is Jewish, it is probably an indication of antisemitic tendencies, and this person should be treated with suspicion.
  19. If someone discusses demographic differences within US society, such as those between different races, religions, and ethnic groups, there are a lot of legitimate reasons to do this, and no inherent reason to be suspicious of such a conversation taking place.
  20. If someone discusses demographic differences within US society they are probably antisemites, trying to back up the fascist notion that Jews secretly run the world.
If your responses to the odd-numbered statements tend towards "5," while your responses to the even-numbered statements tend towards "1," you're quite likely a typical, ecumenical antifascist of the anti-imperialist variety.  

If your responses to the even-numbered statements tend towards "5" and your odd-numbered responses tend towards "1," you might like to join a troll farm, become an Israeli settler, or, preferably, get some help.  Feel free to reach out to me, if you want, we can talk.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Portland "Antifascist" Troll Farm EXPOSED

If you look up "troll farm" online you'll find an abundant amount of investigative journalism from every corner of the global press about this phenomenon.  Intelligence agencies and corporations make good use of troll farms in a myriad of ways.  The purpose of a troll farm is to use social media and other platforms, mostly online, to influence political campaigns and the opinions of groups of people as well as individuals, employing psy ops tactics meant to harass, intimidate, insult, demean, spread false rumors, lie outright, disclose home addresses of targeted individuals, and a multitude of other related activities.  

The troll farmers make excellent use of the idiosyncrasies of social media platforms -- especially Twitter -- to sow discord and doubt, to assign blame, to try to divide groups and movements, causing them to implode if possible.  Troll campaigns target specific individuals or groups to try to destroy their careers or lives -- campaigns that frequently lead to serious emotional problems for the victims, and occasionally suicide.  This is all well-known to regular media consumers.  

Those who engage in these sorts of campaigns, whether they are organizers of the campaign or just willing (or even unwitting "volunteer") participants, are often referred to by phrases like Cancel Culture.  Cancellation of those who are deemed to be worthy of their  campaigns is the goal -- getting events cancelled, concerts cancelled, causing schisms either way, whether they succeed in their cancellation effort or not.  The trolls like to say that the phenomenon they are engaging in doesn't exist (organized cancellation campaigns as well as "volunteer" cancel culture), and they say they are pursuing a practice called "deplatforming."  It's exactly the same thing, with a different name.

Although there are many inherently toxic aspects to the internet, and specifically algorithm-driven corporate social media platforms full of largely anonymous actors, the organized cancellation campaigns carried out by the troll farms are the single most toxic thing that ever happens on the internet.  

The Rand Corporation has done a study of the tactics of the disinformation campaigns carried out by the troll farmers of China and Russia.  This graph they came up with is very handy, because it precisely describes the techniques used by the "antifascist" troll farmers in Portland, and all of the other organized cancellation campaigners as well, if they've studied psy ops techniques.

Portland, Oregon happens to be home to a serious concentration of troll farmers.  This collection of self-described "antifascist" troll farmers mostly consists of anonymous, and extremely active, Twitter accounts, but its known intellectual leadership seems clearly to be three people:  Shane Burley, Spencer Sunshine, and Alexander Reid Ross.

With enough expert internet sleuthery, I have been astounded at the amount of completely public threads on Twitter that demonstrate how the racket operates.  I am indebted to a friend who wishes to remain nameless, who found all the relevant threads.  My friend's research makes it clear that there are other actors who keep their public tweets at a bare minimum, but Spencer, Shane, and to a lesser extent Alexander seem to prefer to do everything out in the open.  The only reason to have these vile, hateful discussions publicly on Twitter, I figure, is either that they are really stupid, really narcissistic and therefore need all the attention from their fellow Twitter trolls, and/or they think that by conducting their business publicly, they can have plausible deniability.

Regardless, the basic political orientation of the self-described antifascists who are the "antifascist" troll farmers in question here is abundantly clear.  These folks have various published works and websites if you want to explore their political orientation more deeply, go to it.  But in a nutshell, they dedicate most of their writing and most of their activity online to exposing antisemitism wherever they find it.  And they find it everywhere.  They consider themselves anarchists and antifascists, but for them, this does not mean opposing US imperialism or Israeli apartheid, or working to build anything -- quite the contrary.  

Their version of "antifascism" involves viciously attacking anyone who is a critic of Israeli apartheid, and using lies and innuendo to do so.  Their anonymous trolls are the ones who then make the threats and conduct the campaigns of intimidation involving large numbers of accounts with very few followers (sock puppet accounts) making a deluge of adolescent sorts of sexist, racist, and transphobic attacks and "jokes," until people they are targeting feel overwhelmed, disgusted, horrified, scared.  And then their victims cancel events, apologize profusely for their moral transgressions, leave the movement, leave the group they were in, or in some cases, kill themselves.

The relationship between Spencer, Shane, Alexander, and the anonymous Twitter accounts that make the death threats and racist attacks works something like this.  First, a message from one of the chief troll farmers.

Here we have Spencer Sunshine instructing the trolls -- or just suggesting? -- that they should dig up dirt on me and keep tabs on who is defending me.  Why do that?  In order to threaten, intimidate, gaslight, and otherwise make their lives miserable, drive them out of the left, and destroy the movement, one victim at a time.

It can begin in a slightly more subtle way, at least when it comes to public tweets that can be found.  For example, here's where Shane Burley decides Norman Finkelstein is persona non grata.

When these journalists and authors with actual names who get stuff published in Haaretz as well as AK Press -- "prominent actors" might even be an appropriate term for them, in certain circles, if not "leaders" (they're against leaders, theoretically) -- when these people say attack, this is when the attacks develop more strategy, aided by the relative eloquence of the prominent trolls.  They, after all, are capable of stringing together a decent sentence, if they try hard enough, unlike most of their minions, who tend to use the same phrases that they use, all the time, mixed in with bigotry and hate.

The basic orientation of this extreme, puritanical wing of "anarchism" -- I have to put it in quotes, because the only tendencies of historical anarchist movements that these folks share are the absolutely worst ones, and their bizarre little tendency is absolutely a tiny pariah fringe among global anarchism today -- is very much the same as with the Puritans or the McCarthyites in the 1950's.  

Anyone who disagrees with Shane, Alexander, and Spencer's version of reality -- that dangerously visceral antisemitism is absolutely everywhere, it's one of the biggest problems humanity faces today, the left is full of antisemites, and any individual that exhibits what they consider to be antisemitic tendencies or did anything that they consider to be antisemitic should atone for their transgressions, get re-educated (by them), agree with their positions, and be thus rehabilitated -- or otherwise they should be hounded incessantly until they go away completely, never show their faces, die, or whatever.  If they refuse to go away or die, then any organization they attempt to work with should be systematically undermined, and hopefully destroyed.

Here's where Shane announces that anyone who shares Norman Finkelstein's views -- or mine, or Medea Benjamin's, or Max Blumenthal's, or Alison Weir's, or any number of other prominent organizers or intellectuals Shane disapproves of -- should be "deplatformed."

"Deplatformed" is a term that was perhaps more well-known in the 1930's.  The "antifascist" troll farmers use this term consistently, in order to avoid using the much more well-known and easily understood term, "cancelled."  But cancellation is what they're doing, whatever term you prefer.

"Deplatformed" from any political organization, from any media, from a concert venue -- from anywhere.  That's cancellation, that's a cancel campaign, by any definition.  Regardless of who you're talking to, of whatever political persuasion, if they understand that graph up there, if they know what is meant in popular culture by the term "cancelled," that's what we're talking about -- cancel culture, or a cancellation campaign, of a pseudo-anarchist variety.

This political practice is not only horrifically destructive to people and organizations, it is profoundly authoritarian.  There is no room for debate -- Shane says this over and over, in so many ways.  Although there are extremely few people who would dare call Norman Finkelstein sympathetic to holocaust deniers -- in fact, it's about the most preposterous and asinine thing anyone could say about anyone -- Shane says it, again and again.  And furthermore, he says that anyone who disagrees with his definition of this phenomenon of being sympathetic to a holocaust denier, or for being insufficiently condemnatory towards a particular one Norman might at some point have debated, should be "deplatformed" for refusing to condemn Norman themselves.

Here's where Spencer Sunshine says I should be treated as a "fascist collaborator" because I evidently talked to the wrong people -- there are never good reasons to talk to people you disagree with, especially in any kind of public setting, in the orientation of these "antifascists."  Dialog is a form of capitulation.  There is only the authority of the self-appointed gatekeepers of antifascist thought -- Shane, Spencer, and Alexander -- or you're a collaborator.

And what does one do with a "fascist collaborator"?

Spencer's a smart guy.  He knows as well as I do what happens to fascist collaborators in many societies, over the past century or so.  That's a death sentence.  In the modern American context, maybe a serious beating, if seen in public.  Certainly it means cancellation -- it means very intentionally and systematically trying to get someone cancelled.

A common thing a certain variety of (actual) antifascist likes to do is dox (actual) Nazis, revealing their home addresses, where they work, etc., and getting them fired from their jobs.  So, once someone is considered to be a fascist collaborator, the same things are done to them.  Not coincidentally, around the time that this suggestion was being floated around by these "antifascist" luminaries, someone put flyers with my home address on car windshields all over my neighborhood, with my picture, my (old) car's license plate, and the allegations that I am a holocaust-denying antisemite who harasses homeless people.

Most notably, after this was done, one of the trolls pretty much takes credit for the deed on multiple occasions, and receives praise from other trolls as well.  Others who regularly interact with Shane, Spencer, and Alexander threaten to do it again regularly.  This pattern repeats every time someone succeeds in getting an event cancelled or scaring a fellow activist into leaving a group or leaving the movement altogether.  These are considered great victories by Shane, Spencer, Alexander, their sock puppet accounts, their fellow (anonymous) trolls, and their trolls' sock puppet accounts.  The trolls randomly follow this sort of victory up with death threats, sending me private messages with phrases like, "on sight," and a picture of a skull.  They send similar messages to most anyone who publicly defends me.

Another common thing a certain variety of (actual) antifascist likes to do with (actual) Nazis, which the "antifascist" troll farm does consistently with me, is mess with my presence on the internet, pretending to be a friend when they're actually a sort of doppleganger account impersonating someone I know, sign me up to massive amounts of junk email lists, apply to universities and psychiatric services in my name, and attempt to hack various accounts (sometimes successfully deleting a lot of files, such as many of the live videos of me performing on YouTube, that were hosted on someone else's account).  If I had mentioned on Twitter that these things had been done to me, I'm sure one of the trolls would be bragging about it, and receiving praise for their heroic efforts.  But if they have to read about it in a long-form piece like this, it's always less likely they'll notice.  (They clearly don't read much that's longer that a tweet.)

One of the most deceptive practices the trolls systematically engage in is every time I defend myself against their attacks they claim I'm "doubling down" or "having a meltdown," and that I'm targeting them in a cancellation campaign in response.  Obviously, I'm responding to their efforts to cancel me, and to their lies.  Then, because I end up writing so much about cancellation campaigns like theirs, they say I'm a "cancel culture specialist" of some kind, obsessed with cancel culture, which isn't true -- though I'm a bit obsessed with exposing their troll farm and abusive, deceptive activities, for sure.  They make sure that the question of whether I'm an antisemitic holocaust-denier (or sympathetic to those who are) seems like a subject that's regularly in the news, when the only reason it is in the news is because they accuse me of these things.  Once it's in the news, they go to Wikipedia and edit my page to add these accusations.  Like "facts on the ground," as the Israeli settlers love to say.

At this point I could share many more screen grabs of Twitter conversations of the innocents being harassed and intimidated by the "antifascist" trolls -- by the same predictable group of accounts.  I'll just share a couple, so you get the drift.

Some of the most vicious, abusive, cruel, condescending personal attacks against me and so many other targets come from the collection of mostly anonymous troll accounts at the top of the page, which make up the main mob.  Many of these accounts were only created in the past few months.

Before the Portland "antifascist" troll farmers began their cancellation campaign against me, edits to my Wikipedia page were made infrequently, and were not controversial.  Since January, 2021, edits are made constantly, by the same trolls who work with Shane, Spencer, and Alexander.

I'll now enumerate some of the specific efforts Shane, Spencer, and their associates at the troll farm have engaged in, since they began their "deplatforming" campaign.

First they all campaigned against a wonderful network of people in Portland called Stop the Sweeps, who were doing marvelous solidarity work with the tent-dwellers of Laurelhurst Park.  I was, too, until the anonymous "antifascist" trolls in constant contact with the head "antifascist" troll trio went on the attack, aggressively and threateningly informing Stop the Sweeps that I was an antisemite who should not be trusted or worked with.

The earnest young organizers with this wonderful group, most of whom had recently moved to Portland from out of state, most of whom didn't know me, were spooked, and stopped working with me.  They're nice folks on an individual level, but scared to associate with me in any public way otherwise.  Cancel campaign successful.

At the same time, they went after the PDX Houseless Radicals Collective for daring to accept donations, publicity, and other forms of solidarity from me.  They told these people who live in tents that they shouldn't take my money, it's antisemitic money.  When the principled houseless folks in this group refused to bend an inch, they added PDXHRC to their long list of groups that sympathize with antisemites -- or in this case, groups that sympathize with people who sympathize with antisemites, unless Shane has changed the words to something I said and added in lots of innuendo, so that he can find something to pin on me that makes me more than just a sympathizer with antisemites, but an antisemite myself.  

After the PDXHRC, they went after an anarchist organization in New York City which was organizing a concert for me there, with the incessant tirade of insulting, demeaning, gaslighting, harassing, threatening messages from a variety of accounts, making it appear to be a large number of very angry, very hostile, very bigoted people.  Young organizers get confused, disoriented, and overwhelmed by these aggressive tactics.  They're accosted with endless accusations, always another one to add to the last, if any defense against one is mounted.

They generally go after people organizing something only days before it's about to happen.  They went after every gig organizer of my European tours over the course of 2021 that they could find, incessantly harassing those who took the bait, as many people will do, especially if they're young, and use Twitter.  Manchester, canceled.  Dresden, canceled.  Other gigs got canceled for Covid-related reasons -- like the pub owner dying of the virus in one case.  Most went ahead, but sometimes only after lengthy and damaging meetings within different sponsoring organizations about whether I'm an antisemite.

Then they went after the Portland DSA chapter.  They're often going after the DSA chapter for one or another of their purity-test reasons.  There's always someone in the group who is alleged to have transgressed, whether in the course of a sexual relationship, or by using the wrong pronoun once at a party while drunk, or for expressing ideas at any time that appeared to imply some kind of antisemitic bias, in the opinions of the "antifascist" troll farmers.

In the wake of the DSA chapter cancelling my appearance at a labor solidarity rally they were organizing, the organization has lost more members, as they do every time the "antifascist" trolls attack the democratic socialists for one reason or the other.

The trolls rejoice every time they succeed in terrifying and overwhelming people and getting an event canceled.  They brag about their exploits on Twitter, publicly, for all to see, relishing in each moment they feel like they struck terror in the hearts of their victims.  I am not exaggerating at all.  Their comments never belie a hint of empathy for their obviously traumatized victims.

The most vicious and prolific (and of course completely unaccountable) of the anonymous trolls appears to be an assistant professor of Spanish at a major US university.  When I or others raise the question of why all the anonymity, they will inevitably respond that it's very dangerous to be a good "antifascist."  Yes.  Because real antifascists will want to get you back for your horrifically destructive actions.  

In the active imaginations of the trolls, real fascists care about what they're doing and would want to get them for it.  In actuality, there is no way to discern between sexist, racist, bigoted fascists attacking DSA chapters and anarchist networks and individual organizers, authors, and musicians.  They say the same sorts of things, with the same tone, and the same insults.

It might be surprising for people to know how clearly bigoted and emotionally damaged especially the anonymous trolls are, all the time, especially when anyone pushes back.  It may be surprising, not because this is going on, but because it is an organized effort, and the most vicious of the troll accounts are regularly, actively, and adoringly in touch with Shane, Spencer, and Alexander.

What anyone out there can do about these fraudulent "antifascists," who have nothing to do but attack the left for perceived transgressions, while having virtually nothing to say about their own country's imperial foreign policy or our country's primary client states, having nothing to say about settler-colonialism, apartheid, or any actual forms of authoritarian rule sponsored by US client states, except occasionally in passing, I don't know.  

But these are not antifascists, these are authoritarian actors with only ill intent -- the intent to destroy any organizations or individuals that don't agree with them, overwhelmingly on the left.

I am not even going to start with the conversation about whether there is any merit to their many accusations against me, Norman Finkelstein, Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, Alison Weir, Vijay Prashad, Max Blumenthal, or the many other brilliant people they have attacked, and continue to attack, incessantly.  We are all being attacked for thought crimes, by thought police.  In my case, for interviewing or being interviewed by the wrong people, in a marginally public forum (someone's not-very-popular YouTube channel).  Anyone who wants to go down the rabbit hole with the trolls may do so, but it will only lead to deeper holes.  This is how such conspiratorial thinking functions, and it's also a troll tactic -- to always have another accusation, regardless of whether you had to make it up completely from whole cloth.

In addition to the ongoing cancellation campaign the troll farmers wage against me and the aforementioned leftwing, mostly Jewish intellectuals, the cancel campaigners relish in condemning any independent media outlets that publish too much of a diversity of voices, such as Counterpunch.  Unlike any of the media the trolls prefer, Counterpunch not only regularly publishes all the aforementioned people they don't like, but they also published a piece that was clearly written by one of these trolls, writing under a pseudonym.  It was ridiculously long and terribly badly-written and meandering, but they published it.  Why?  Because they are interested in presenting different viewpoints, presumably.  This, of course, is anathema to the McCarthyite trolls, for whom Counterpunch is one of the many publications, organizations, and individuals on their ever-growing blacklist, to be publicly ridiculed regularly.

I'm sure I'm not going to be able to make the trolls stop being trolls -- as long as Twitter is set up the way it is, to facilitate this kind of behavior, it will probably continue, even if the only organized cancellation or disinformation campaigns were being conducted by intelligence agencies.  But one of the most destructive and ongoing cancellation campaigns against the left in Portland and beyond is being conducted by the "antifascist" troll farmers of Portland, some of whom have names -- such as Shane Burley, Spencer Sunshine, Alexander Reid Ross.  Remember them. 

Do I want to get them cancelled?  As troll farmers, yes!  Is that a contradiction?  Not at all.  

All of those under attack are under attack for doing useful things, for organizing, for building bridges, for working with a variety of people, for reaching out, and what they/we get in return is vicious attacks for perceived transgressions, generally related to perceived antisemitism.  On the one side, constructive activities -- on the other, destruction.  Destruction should stop, yes.  Publicly denouncing fellow progressives and attacking anyone they associate with with little cadres of trolls filled with hate and bile and viciousness has no place in any sane society.  Whether it will stop or not is another matter.  Whether it should -- no question.

Whatever they say, what they and their trolls are doing is horrendously destructive.  And it is more than a little worth noting that every single one of their victims has only one thing in common:  we are all outspoken critics of Israeli apartheid.  Go figure.

Go to for more background on Portland's "antifascist" troll farmers, and more background specifically on the history of their attacks against me.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Libertarianism Is Not Fascism

I may be a voice in the wilderness here, but that's OK. It's a very nice patch of forest, you should come visit.

The slope keeps getting slipperier, and the snowball rolling down it is growing fast.  The liberal and conservative media has much of global society siloed into one bullshit narrative or another, and most everyone seems to get their talking points from one side or the other.  Then their loyal viewers go on my social media accounts and have arguments, talking past each other, neither side making much sense.

I want to start out by going way back, to set the scene a bit.  Each country's history is different, but in much of the industrialized world, the history is similar to the trajectory in the US.  That is, it wasn't until the 1930's that government programs existed that generally meant people who were too old to work usually didn't have to die in poverty.  This was the beginning of serious government efforts to establish some kind of a welfare state, a conscious effort to lift up the working class and the rural poor, so there might be schools some of the kids could go to, and laws preventing most of them from working in the mines.

This very half-hearted attempt at some form of social democracy in the US lasted for two generations, at most.  In other industrialized countries it started earlier and lasted longer, like arguably to the present day.  But some things that have been common among so many of these industrialized countries that generally refer to themselves as democracies is the gradual weakening of the welfare state, combined with a rise in the cost of living, and a growing gap between the classes. Another thing many countries have in common is the popularity of the libertarian orientation, prior to the growth of the welfare state especially. Back then, libertarianism was associated with anarchism, which in turn was generally associated with the left.

Along with the long-term process of economic stratification over the past several decades in so much of the world, with the waning of the welfare state, there has been increasing political polarization.  In multiparty democracies such as Italy, France, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, or Germany, among others that come to mind, this process can be seen, easily demonstrated by the rise in popularity of both left- and right-wing parties, while those perceived to be more centrist lose popularity.

As welfare state institutions continue to weaken or dissolve in so many countries over the past few decades, there is one powerful tendency that says what we need to do is strengthen the welfare state, make society more egalitarian (for the first time, in so many cases, or once again, in others), and cause other contradictions in society to fade away, as they do and have done in situations where there has been the kind of engagement in society where state institutions and community organizing have successfully eliminated poverty and illiteracy, etc.

But there is another powerful tendency that says screw the state, it just serves the interests of the big corporations and doesn't care about the little people -- if we get the state to bug off, we can just take care of ourselves and each other.  That, in a nutshell, is the libertarian orientation.

Now, any of the more educated socialists and anarchists reading this may be thinking, yes but that's too simplistic!  We know what happens with this libertarian perspective -- take away the state, challenge the democratic institutions thereof and the laws they pass to look after us, and the corporations will run rampant, with no democratic institutions left to try to control them.  In other words, libertarianism will inevitably be the midwife for fascism.  Therefore libertarianism must be opposed as an orientation that facilitates corporate rule, even if that's the very last thing the actual libertarians want, and libertarianism is an orientation that will give birth to fascism, even though authoritarianism is also the last thing most any libertarian actually wants.

Pretty soon you have all kinds of people calling libertarians fascists.  

To me, this is shocking and appalling, in equal measure, and I wonder, how did we get here?  How is it that all I have to do is post on social media expressing how impressed I am at the militancy and commitment of the truckers occupying downtown Ottawa, and I spark a lengthy argument on various platforms, with some folks agreeing that it is quite impressive (which doesn't mean good, necessarily), and others saying that all the truckers are Nazis?

Obviously, the truck convoys are being supported by major corporate media figures, and at the core of the movement, according to lots of reliable-looking reports, are far-right, xenophobic, racist organizers who are not libertarian at all.  They are, in fact, the polar opposite of libertarian -- authoritarian.

But across Europe, across the US, and clearly across Canada, the far right has had success in hijacking widespread libertarian sentiments present in large swaths of most societies, and bringing more people into their fold.  

Effective grassroots organizing methods and lots of funding are advantages the right has in so many instances, which shouldn't be understated.  But part of their success lies, undoubtedly, in the intolerance and outright stupidity of large swaths of those who consider themselves to be on the left, both in terms of organized groups, and left-oriented individuals, by my observation, anyway.

Since I don't trust the liberal media any more than I trust the conservative media, I called a friend in Ottawa the other day, to try to get a first-person take on what's going on there.  As someone who travels for a living, I have friends in a lot of different places, so I'm less dependent on media or social media for first-person accounts, which is the next best thing to going there myself, as far as I'm concerned.  I've also spent a lot of time in this wildly expensive national capital, and most other major cities in Canada, over the years.

My friend in Ottawa, as I suspected, had not been sitting at home watching the news to find out what was happening downtown.  He spent a lot of time there, and engaged in conversation with truckers and their supporters, out in the bitter winter cold.

His conversations with the occupiers of downtown Ottawa mirrored my own conversations with anti-mandate protesters in Europe.  These are largely people with legitimate grievances related to their work, and to what look to them to be blatant double-standards of all kinds, coming from the government.  Their solution to these problems is the most straightforward one they could think of -- tell them to leave us alone.  Stop making our lives difficult, and we'll take care of ourselves.  

Whether they're right or wrong (whatever that means in this case) is not my point.  My point is this is how they are looking at what they are doing, and this is also how their many supporters see what they are doing -- supporters who are coming out in large numbers all over Canada, in the bitter cold, in cities and in the small towns.

In the liberal media we are hearing constantly about the Confederate flags and the swastikas flown by some of the truckers.  And on all of my social media accounts I am seeing people who consider themselves to be progressive, leftwing, socialists or anarchists in many cases, condemning the whole convoy as a bunch of Nazis as a result.  

When I attended (by accident, but anyway, I was there) an anti-mandate rally in London, England, a few months ago, I was also offended by the swastikas I saw there.  I'm not in favor of using swastikas or yellow stars or other imagery like that for just about any reason, because there just aren't any really relevant comparisons today to the Nazi holocaust, which was a singularly horrific event in the history of humanity, that has no parallel of which I am aware.  However, what I saw in London, and what my friend saw in Ottawa, was the use of the swastika in combination with other imagery, in this case a Canadian flag (in England it was something about the pharmaceutical companies) which is intended to communicate a revulsion for authoritarian overreach by government.  This is, in fact, intended as an anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian statement.

For anyone my age or older who grew up in North America, the Dukes of Hazard was on TV every day.  While for many people in society today, and back then, the Confederate flag was and is a horribly offensive symbol of institutional racism and slavery, the Rebel Flag, along with Rebel Country music, has very different connotations, which, once again, have libertarian associations, for them.  Don't tell us what to do, don't tread on me, I can do it myself.

I wonder if the liberal media pundits are aware of the way actual people on the ground at these protests understand their use of such symbols.  My only question is whether the media is generally spreading disinformation on purpose, or through ignorance.  As to whether or not they are spreading disinformation, I have no question whatsoever about that.  And as to whether they and my more rabid leftwing social media commenters are helping to drive people who might otherwise be libertarian socialists into the camp of national socialism, I have no doubts about this, either.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Free Speech, Expensive Speech, Censorship, Social Media Algorithms, and Anarcho-Puritanism

Anyone who tries to boil the disinformation debate down to questions of free speech vs. censorship is either trying to distract you from the wizard behind the curtain, or they don't know he's there.

The corporate media shows us an endless stream of patriotic Ukrainians standing up against the Russian menace.  Then in their coverage of more local news, among the diverse crowd of truckers and other protesters occupying downtown Ottawa, only the most rightwing participants are highlighted.  Meanwhile, if Joe Rogan dares to interview any of them on his podcast there will be more cries for Spotify to drop him from their platform.  Others will say no, this is censorship.  And at a small labor rally in Portland, Oregon, the anarcho-puritan Twitter trolls will successfully prevent a labor musician from singing at a labor rally by using online intimidation and disinformation to convince the young organizers that the Jewish musician in question is antisemitic.

This is our reality now, this week, like it or not (and I sure don't).  All of this stuff is intimately related, but it generally gets siloed off into different discussions.  This happens partly for perfectly innocent reasons, and partly for completely nefarious ones.  It's often innocent because many people can understand the basic principles of free speech vs. censorship, but they don't understand where social media algorithms, and perhaps even corporate wealth and power, fit into the picture.  Often it's nefarious, because other people understand full well that the issue of rampant disinformation is rarely one of free speech vs. censorship, but they frame it that way, in order to attempt to distract us from the elephant in the living room, the wizard behind the curtain, the naked emperor (insert allegory here).

I heard a host on NPR the other day refer to the world's most popular podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, as a podcast "distributed by Spotify."  I kept listening to the national radio story, waiting perhaps for the host to be corrected by a producer or something, for her to say, "sorry, I meant hosted exclusively by Spotify at a cost of $100 million," or even just "hosted" rather than "distributed," but that correction never came.

If you download a podcast app -- and I know most of you have never done this, since it's still only around a quarter of the population who has -- but if you download a podcast app, or just open the one that came with your phone, if you have an iPhone, you will not find the Joe Rogan Experience anywhere.  This is because it is not distributed by Spotify, it is hosted exclusively by Spotify.  It's Spotify programming.  It's not really a podcast, in the sense that the term used to be understood, as audio content that you can subscribe to as a feed, from any podcast app (generally for free).  That's how it works if you use the podcast distributing service that Spotify now owns, called Anchor, or if you use the podcasting app that folks like me and the BBC use, Podbean.

This is a relatively minor point, but it helps illustrate the inherent confusion in picking apart these questions.  The folks who want us to see the issues with, for example, Joe Rogan's choice of guests or interviewing style, are generally concerned not with who he's interviewing, but whether he's spreading dangerous lies to a very large audience, which is, in part, as large as it is because of a whole lot of corporate sponsorship.  It's the vast size of the audience exposed to the lies that they see as the problem, rather than the notion of Joe Rogan interviewing whoever he wants to.  

Others will defend Rogan's right to interview whoever he wants and cry censorship at Neil Young and Rogan's other critics, while intentionally papering over the questions of scale and audience size involved.  Between a podcast like Rogan's and a podcast like the millions of other pods out there that are little one- or two-person operations with a monthly audience that may reach four digits during a really active period, there may or may not be much of a relationship, but that's not a point the free speech vs. censorship crowd want to highlight.

To my way of thinking, when it comes to $100 million exclusive contracts with massive corporations, we are talking about Expensive Speech.  This is not the free marketplace of ideas or the Labor Radio Podcast Network, this is massive, global, corporate money.  When we're talking about this kind of corporate money and corporate influence, the free speech question is largely overshadowed by questions of corporate power.  At the very least, any one corporation or one individual who has that kind of reach, really of a monopolistic sort in several different ways, the unbalanced, top-heavy nature of the situation is paramount.  How to deal with it is another question.  But that this is what we might call the principal contradiction we face when it comes to the influence of the biggest music streaming service on the planet or individuals like the most popular podcaster on Earth -- power and wealth, and the extreme and extremely unfair influence of it on all of us, whether we like it or not (and I sure don't).

But then even when people do understand the problems presented vis-a-vis the questions of speech, censorship, and corporate influence on both what content is promoted and the laws that may or may not regulate it, the biggest factor of all, that so dramatically affects our lives, whether we know it or not, every minute of the day, especially if we spend any time at all on social media platforms, or rely on them to get news, keep up on the gossip, discuss issues, or communicate with people, is the least understood of them all.  I'm talking about social media algorithms.

Everything changes so fast, and I know that anyone my age or older might especially resonate with that statement.  The term "future shock" that was coined back in the 80's is a very good one, and I think more of us are feeling it every day, overwhelmed by the pace of transformation in all kinds of different ways, very much including with technology.  Those of us who are old enough to remember the 1990's may look back on the period as a sort of golden age for the internet.  The MP3 hadn't been invented yet, it could take half an hour to load a graphic-intensive website, there were all kinds of other issues, but your means of communication were very democratic and straightforward.  Email lists could be moderated or not, and especially the many well-moderated email lists out there could function as amazing sources for finding out what's going on in town or for promoting an event, for free.

The way it tends to go with high-speed technological change constantly going on is people get future shock and they can't keep adapting, understanding what's changing and how.  There are other reasons why some of the big things get lost on a lot of folks.  

Partly, it depends on your role in society when it comes to social media.  If a big reason you use social media is for promoting content or otherwise making money through it, the changes can be very noticeable very quickly.  For most people, though, who are using social media to communicate, gossip, follow their friends and news stories, scroll their feeds, etc., the changes are much more subtle, and often hard to notice at all.

But what has happened since the egalitarian days of the early web, dominated by grassroots email lists and independent media collaboratives (at least for a certain set of folks at the time), has been the rise of social media.  At the beginning, it appeared to many of us that a phenomenon like the news feed would function much like an unmoderated email list, and as the old email lists and other vestiges of the free internet began to gather virtual dust from disuse, and most of the world began to spend most of their time online on a small handful of massive corporate platforms, entities like the ultra-dominant platform, Facebook, introduced the algorithm-based news feed.

When this happened, me and many other content-creators who were using platforms like Facebook to promote gigs, tours, songs, etc., noticed immediately, because suddenly we were getting dramatically less attention when we posted most anything.  Whereas the day before, if we had more followers on the platform, more people would see what we posted, suddenly this was no longer how it worked.  Suddenly you had to pay to boost posts if you wanted people to see them, unless you were posting a picture of your baby or a pet, or you were engaged in a heated argument related to a post.

What became the norm was if you posted a link to an article you had spent lots of time writing which you had published on a platform other than Facebook, like, say, Counterpunch, no one would see it anymore.  But if you boiled down your argument in the Counterpunch article into a few paragraphs on a Facebook post that wasn't a link off-platform, people would see it, and maybe even engage with it.  But the inherent dumbing-down phenomenon here was clear.  A tweet had to be a certain very short length, everyone knew, but less well-known was which sorts of Facebook posts might be seen and which would not, depending on the workings of secret algorithms.

The algorithms are secret, and they change.  They're blatantly manipulating our perceptions of the world, in all kinds of unknown ways.  If we weren't at least in theory all doing this to ourselves voluntarily, it would be much more alarming.  But it's very alarming either way.  At one time, many of you reading a piece on Counterpunch might have found your way there because of a link someone posted on Facebook.  When they changed the algorithm, overnight this would be the case half as much of the time.  It's easy to see how the casual Facebook scroller who is used to consuming a few Counterpunch articles a week because of links posted by friends might not notice that from one week to the next, they may now only be seeing half as many.  They've been replaced by other things, and there's always so much.  The people who notice are the writers, the editors, and the treasurers, of such publications.

It's fairly well-known at this point how YouTube's algorithms work.  If you're looking for good scientific information on the moon landing, for example, it won't be long before you're being served YouTube's algorithmically-generated recommendations for videos about how the landing was faked.  "Moon landing" appears in the description, and metadata indicates people who like videos about the moon landing also don't stop watching when this one comes on, so it goes into the mix.  Whether that's the logic of the algorithm, who knows, because it's secret, and it changes constantly.

When it comes to music streaming platforms, at least from my personal experience, the algorithms aren't so bad.  The people who get recommendations about my music because they listened to another artist that Spotify's algorithms thought were similar do keep coming back to me.  Assuming it works that way with other artists, Spotify's algorithms seem to have musical tastes of listeners pretty well figured out.

But when it comes to learning about what's going on in the world, what may be innocent music-recommendation algorithms can suddenly be terrifying.  While social media algorithms alone certainly can't be blamed for the increased polarization in society and the fact that what passes for discourse increasingly resembles some cross between Idiocracy and the Salem Witch Trials, they play no small part, either.

And they also play perfectly into the hands of those who want to use social media to spread disinformation, since that's what social media is algorithmically inclined to do in the first place.  Social media is a great equalizer at least in terms of the ability of random people to make a lot of noise in ways previously unknown.  Combine that with the abundant amounts of disinformation, and then add five hundred years of the Puritan tradition, and you get the phenomenon known as the internet troll, often just called the Twitter troll, since Twitter is designed to facilitate this kind of behavior more than other platforms seem to be.

Here we come back to the free speech vs. censorship debate, minus any concepts around corporate wealth or power or influence or scale being part of the conversation.  The trolls of the left variety hone in on the perceived transgressions of anyone on the internet who gets a little more attention than they do, and do their best to take them down.  If a podcaster with 200 weekly listeners interviews someone who says something offensive, for the anarcho-puritan troll of the left variety, it's totally irrelevant whether the podcaster is a high school kid in their mom's basement, or a multimillionaire in a mansion in Los Angeles with an audience of tens of millions.  In fact, for the troll mentality, the one with only 200 weekly listeners is probably a better target, because there's more of a chance of campaign success, to successfully get an event or a human being cancelled, which causes the troll to rejoice at their achievement.

For the rigidly-principled troll of the self-styled antifascist variety (or wanting to impersonate one), their role is to find anyone who is transgressing, by talking with someone with unacceptably rightwing opinions in a public forum of any kind, such as someone's YouTube account with 200 viewers a week, and then hounding them.  They pick a target, then start harassing them and anyone they have any connections with on Twitter especially, trying to expose their home addresses, get them fired if possible, and spread any kinds of slander they can come up with that might be believable, in order to discredit their target. 

The motivation of the troll behavior, it seems to me, is multifold.  Some of it is undoubtedly undercover operatives engaging in often-successful campaigns to disrupt communities, organizations, and careers through these tactics.  With the "volunteers" engaging in this kind of disruption, it should be noted that in no small way are their tactics both directly and indirectly facilitated by social media algorithms, and other aspects of how certain platforms are organized.  

But the behavior is rooted deeply in the Puritan tradition of moral outrage, moral righteousness, and moral purity.  Thus, it doesn't matter how insignificant your target may be.  If they have dared "provide a platform" for the wrong person by uploading an interview on a YouTube channel with a very small audience with the wrong person, this is grounds to endlessly hound and condemn the offending content provider.

In a sense, only for this most extreme group of puritanical, censorship-happy Twitter trolls does the discussion of media (or social media) truly boil down to questions of free speech and censorship.  Unlike those who see the problems presented by extreme corporate wealth and power, or the impact of secret, manipulative algorithms, for the anarcho-puritan (or disruptive element posing as one), all offensive content should be banned, and their creators cancelled.

Now I'm supposed to conclude with some kind of an idea about how we dig our way out of this pit of corporate power, widespread disinformation, and domination of large segments of society by a new form of puritanism, but I haven't a clue.  I only hope that my understanding of the problem has been helpful for someone.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Advice from an Anarchist Epidemiologist

A good friend of mine in England is an epidemiologist.  Like many of my friends, she's also a very insightful member of what is sometimes called the far left.  I recently asked her for her opinion on whether I should get my young children vaccinated for Covid.  Her response covered a bit more ground than that, and I thought it well worth editing slightly and sharing in a post, in case it's of interest to others.

As you know, both [my partner] and I are double vaccinated.  However, neither of us have yet had a booster vaccine.  My reasoning is as follows.  The omicron variant is now the dominant strain here, as in the US.  According to 'our world in data' it accounts for 100% of the sequences analysed in the 2 weeks to February 2nd.  While omicron seems to be fairly contagious, in most people it is a relatively mild illness in those without pre-disposing conditions.  These include other diseases like diabetes, anything that means your immune system is compromised, a list of rare genetic disorders and obesity, among others.  I have none of these conditions and am reasonably healthy despite my advancing years.  I don't have a problem with having a mild illness, having to quarantine for a few days and acquiring some 'natural' antibodies that way.

My understanding is that infection rates with omicron are highest in the 2-6 age group but that the disease is very mild in almost all children of this age.  In many cases it may be symptomless so your 5-year-old may have antibodies already, but I guess you've tested for that.  In terms of their own risk, it seems very, very unlikely from what is known that s/he would become more than mildly ill were they to catch omicron.  Children seem to transmit the virus at lower rates than adults.  Nonetheless they can transmit it so could infect other people even if they themselves are symptomless.  So, the main plus of vaccination in children seems to be the potential reduction in transmission to older compromised groups of people.

All the vaccines available to date still only have emergency licences.  The data on long-term protection and safety won't be available until 2023.  This is why it usually takes 4-5 years for a vaccine to get approval.  To date the safety in terms of short-term side effects looks good, but clearly clinical trials of the current vaccines wouldn't be ongoing if projections could be made from the existing data.  In terms of protection, it seems that omicron is quite good at causing breakthrough infections i.e. infections in fully vaccinated people.  It has 37 mutations in the spike protein so is better at evading the protection conferred by the vaccine.  In terms of long-term safety, we will have to wait for the data. Probably they will be safe.

The omicron wave is passing here in the UK.  In London it is past its peak, here in Cumbria the infection rate is still quite high but should pass soon. If I had a child of 5, would I get her or him vaccinated?  Probably, if the wave continued to pass, I would not.  I think the long-term safety record will be good, but I don't actually know.

Of course, at one level, like so many decisions, it is also a moral question.  As any infection is likely to be mild, I would be having my child vaccinated largely to protect other older people.  This is laudable and may be a good reason to go ahead, but I am not sure about using the young to protect the old.  I don't think the young owe us that.  We haven't done well for many of them them on our watch in my opinion.

Countries like Austria, Italy, and Germany are implementing mandatory vaccination, but I think not for children.  As you know I am 101% against mandatory vaccination.  WHO also do not support mandatory vaccination.  Their line is that the rich countries should be ensuring that people in poorer countries have access to the vaccines not keeping it all for multiple vaccinations of their own populations.  They say that the problem will never be solved when such a large proportion of the people in the world have no access to vaccines and can act as a reservoir for future mutations.  Should we be sharing with them? I think we should.  Will that be facilitated by us vaccinating against potentially low-level risks, probably not.

I am very worried about the reduction in civil liberties that have accompanied the pandemic.  In the UK these have been draconian.  I have also been worried by people in the anarchist camp who seem to think anything can be justified in the name of public health.  We need to be careful of where such opinions can lead.

After Cancellation Messages

My latest piece in Counterpunch, Anatomy of a Cancellation, resulted in me getting a lot of messages of solidarity (at least 95% of the messages I received that were related to the piece were of this nature).  Many of the messages were from other people who have faced the same kinds of cancellation campaigns as I have.  A message from one person was especially eloquent, and also especially typical in terms of the process described:

I was also canceled a few years back... When I made an apology, they would pretend it didn't exist. Harm would be overstated for dramatic effect. People would take the least charitable interpretation of things I said and run wild with that. They would also message my friends one at a time in an effort to make them abandon me. There would be much hand-wringing about what a danger I am to the community whilst remaining intentionally vague about what exactly I would do to them or why.
I hope you won't let this ugly incident destroy your energy and enthusiasm for the struggle. We need voices like yours to speak out against cancel culture so goddamn badly right now. After this wave of cancellation passes and the wokescolds (or anarcho-puritans as you call them) move on to ripping apart the next person, and the next, and the next, and the next, please continue to speak out.
This shit is killing us. Cancel culture has decimated organizing in every major city. It is making our movements laughably easy to destroy. I have watched more groups collapse than I can count. I have seen so many true believers in changing the world for the better lose hope and drop out of organizing and stay benched indefinitely because of cancel culture. I am a true believer as well. I'm not benched, but I could be doing a lot more.

Yup.  Me, too.

In addition to many stories like that one, a friend sent a link to a Rand Corporation study, from which she got a graph that she shared, which all by itself is a very helpful thing.  It describes exactly what has been happening to me, and exactly what has been happening to many other people I know, along with many others I don't know, but have heard about the details.

If you are also having such experiences, I would love to hear from you.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Anatomy of a Cancellation

If you play by the rules of the cancel culture, the cancel culture rules. This is my response to being publicly disinvited from singing at a rally last Saturday, due to false allegations spread by Twitter trolls apparently being believed.
First of all, this is not going to be a screed against the Democratic Socialists of America, or of any chapter of the organization, or of any individuals active within it.  But the story starts with a tweet from the account of the Portland chapter of the DSA:

Again with no ill will towards anyone in the DSA, I'm hoping this might be a teachable moment.  In order for it to be one, we need to do some unpacking.  There is a diverse cast of characters involved.

I'll just assume everyone knows who the Democratic Socialists of America are.  If not, you can look them up easily enough, but they probably represent the biggest organized political group to the left of the Democratic Party today (or on the left of the Democratic Party, depending).  As any sensible democratic socialist organization would do, they are actively supporting the Portland city workers in their contract negotiations with the city, and their plan for an imminent strike.

Then we need to introduce another prominent character in the sordid tale, me.  Those of you reading this on my blog probably don't need any explanation on this and you can skip this paragraph, but if you're reading this on another platform and don't know much about the author of this post here, I'm a leftwing singer/songwriter, I make a living as such, I travel and perform for a wide variety of leftwing groups in many different countries, I'm in the top 4% of artists on Spotify, with lots of obviously leftwing music that's been getting recorded and released for the past 28 years.  If you Google my name, you'll come right up with my Wikipedia entry, YouTube channel full of leftwing music and interviews, my very tame, family-oriented Instagram account, my podcast, blog, songbook, and other things that clearly and unequivocally identify me as a leftwing activist/musician.

Beyond the really broad stuff like that that anyone with a web browser can quickly ascertain, more locally, I'm the guy that sang at the last DSA rally a couple weeks ago, and at lots of other leftwing events in Portland over recent years, and less recently.  If people spend a few minutes looking for details about what I'm up to, they'll find loads of recently-published essays on leftwing platforms, they'll find I've recently sang at events organized by all kinds of antiwar groups from several countries, leftwing parties from all over Europe, labor unions from several different countries, etc.

But the very first "related searches" suggestion for anyone looking me up on Google will be this one:

"David Rovics canceled."

Some of you may have been following my own personal saga with a certain wing of what is increasingly referred to as "left cancel culture" or "callout culture."  The specific details aren't especially important, as far as analyzing this whole social dynamic goes.  But to the extent that the details matter, I'll do my best to be succinct:  the day after the Capitol siege, I interviewed Matthew Heimbach, privately, and extensively, wanting to talk to someone who might understand what was going on here.  Matthew was an organizer of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, among many other awful things he's been involved with, but more recently his perspective had changed radically (though this is a point of contention).  It was a very interesting conversation, so I posted it on my YouTube channel (which has a diverse audience, not just leftwingers).  I got a lot of people upset at me for doing that, and after ten days of sometimes heated discussion, I took down the interview, in the end agreeing that it should have been better contextualized, and that I should have been more familiar with the background of the person I was interviewing.  To put it very plainly and clearly:  I apologized for fucking up, and I took down the interview.

Almost everyone who was upset about this interview forgave me for my errors once I took it down.  But not everyone.  Enter the anarcho-puritans.  They're the next set of characters in this play.  Note the hyphenated name.  I am not talking about fine upstanding anarchists here, like the ones that make up most of my mostly youthful audience as an artist.  The million or so songs streamed each year on the streaming platforms are overwhelmingly streamed by people aged between 18-34, and the most popular song I wrote is "I'm A Better Anarchist Than You."  To be clear, most of my musical social circle is young, leftwing, and has a sense of humor.

The reason why "I'm A Better Anarchist Than You" is my most popular song on Spotify is because the anarcho-puritans are such a toxic and self-destructive tendency within my audience, the leftwing youth of the US, and Germany, to name two countries, and people facing these kinds of attacks themselves on a regular basis find the song cathartic.

This tendency on the left is not new.  Your nearest neighbor is also your easiest enemy.  The Circular Firing Squad has been a depressingly consistent part of the left since the shouting matches between Karl Marx and Henry George, since the so-called "criticism/self-criticism" sessions many left tendencies in the 60's became known for, since the rise of what we might call Extreme Identity Politics in the 80's.  With the advent of Twitter, and social media generally, but especially Twitter, the possibilities for spreading disinformation about people has been amplified in previously unimaginable ways.

What the anarcho-puritans do -- again, a small minority of what we might identify as anarchists or leftists in the US or any other country, but a very loud one -- is any time I (or another of their many leftwing targets) get any attention on Twitter or elsewhere on the internet for anything I've done or especially something I'm about to do, like play at a rally I've been actively promoting (which is why the trolls heard about it in the first place), they go on the offensive.  What this involves, since January 2021, is reminding everyone that I did this interview with Matthew Heimbach, and blatantly and repeatedly lying that I never apologized for doing it, never mentioning that I took the interview down, or any other such salient facts.  They then go to such lengths as to misquote me, making me look like an antisemite.  Now, if I had actually said the things they quote me as saying, they might have a point.  But they change key words, so the quote looks similar, but is actually radically different from what I really said.

One question we may ask is who are these people who would go to such lengths to defame me for my transgressions, forever bringing them up, keeping track of everything I'm doing and saying?  There is one person, at least, who clearly spends all his waking hours following everything I'm doing, and attacking anyone who associates with me.  One nut like that would be one thing, but if you look at the Twitter accounts of the other folks who join @heyzell in attacking me, many of them do nothing but attack other leftwingers for their perceived transgressions, such as one of the rally organizers that I didn't sing at, who is guilty of once playing the role of police liaison for a march, and for being an old white man.

But the far more important question is not why there are wingnuts making false accusations and spreading disinformation on Twitter, but why so many other people seem to be so ready to believe what they say.  It should be pointed out that most of the people who are involved with this kind of thing have accounts with very few followers, which are often what are known as sock puppet accounts.  But there are more prominent players in the callout culture, such as a certain anonymously-run anarcho-puritan riot porn platform that I won't bother to name.  In any case, this tendency exists, and though small, it has an outsized impact.

To wit:  when the anarcho-puritans got wind that I was going to be singing at the rally for city workers organized by the brilliant young folks that make up the local Portland DSA chapter, they started regaling the DSA's Twitter account with stuff about me, the libelous nonsense about my fascist sympathies and antisemitic orientation, and threatening to heckle me if they dared fail to cancel my appearance at the rally.  So Portland DSA issued the tweet that I began this article with, and publicly disinvited me from performing at the rally, due to unnamed "concerns" about me.

If the organizers had been afraid of being physically attacked by the anarcho-puritans as well as heckled, according to precedent, this would not be an entirely unreasonable fear.  The most recent death threat I have received from someone who appeared to be from the anarcho-puritan camp was yesterday.  (I get death threats from fascists regularly, too.  Who knows who's who, but it's easy to tell how they see themselves, whatever their political stripes.)  

But unfortunately, I have the inside scoop, and, as in many other past instances with me and others under constant attack by these trolls, unsurprisingly, fear of heckling and whatever else was only part of the process that led to the decision.  As in many other instances, their decision was also rooted in some people within the organization being worried that the allegations had truth in them.

Now, if one was actually worried that allegations about a guy being a fascist sympathizer who has recorded 500 songs, not one of them pro-fascist or antisemitic, with at least 100 of them being explicitly antifascist in nature (I'm just guessing), then one would think the appropriate response to a bunch of anarcho-puritan threats and hatred on Twitter would be to say, wow, Twitter sure sucks, and hey, we should maybe look into that, but it seems he's alright, he's been doing this shit for 28 years, maybe we'll just give him the benefit of the doubt, since the rally starts in a few hours.  But instead, a public cancellation.

What motivates such a response?  

Partly fear of facing this kind of vitriol as an individual or an organization, if they don't distance themselves from the person being attacked.  This fear is widespread, people tell me about it every day.  This is very understandable, and a form of cowardice that I will readily admit to engaging in regularly in the past myself.

But what also prompts such a response is the belief that because someone makes an accusation, thus claiming a state of victimhood, that they should automatically be believed -- especially when there are several dozen other people (or Twitter accounts) that clearly share this orientation, and are amplifying the "believe me, I'm a victim of David Rovics" message that anonymous Twitter accounts like the mysterious @heyzell put out there.  In this particular case, the apparent feeling is that there's a Jewish person who feels unsafe around me.  For anyone to believe that a guy with no violent record, who was raised by Jews, among Jews, and today lives with Jews, to say that a Jew feels unsafe around a Jew, what the hell is this?  And how could it possibly be believed by anyone?  

And yet here we are.  This is what the extreme end of identitarianism has brought us.  One anonymous, allegedly Jewish person on Twitter says he feels unsafe, and another Jew gets his gig canceled publicly because someone "raised concerns."  This is believe-the-victim culture gone completely off the rails.

If it were just happening to me, it would be outrageous enough.  But this is happening to musicians, comedians, politicians, labor organizers, antiwar activists, tenants rights organizers, and other people all across the US, right now, every day.  As anyone who has been around a few years can attest, many of the best organizers in communities across the US have gone into hiding, unable to effectively do anything, because showing their face in any public forum online will result in this sort of stuff happening.

In addition to causing so many of the best activists to retreat one way or another, these kinds of public disagreements between members of a group like the DSA are completely destructive to the group itself.  Regardless of how they emerge from the disagreement, it will not be one that strengthens the group, but one that causes more people to leave.  I can already see it happening, and this is also what has happened within the group in other situations in recent years, according to many people I've talked to who have been deeply involved.  This is happening in other DSA chapters across the country, as well.  You can hear identical stories from Green Party chapters, IWW branches, student groups, and so many other corners of society.

This tendency to assume the worst, to believe accusations flung around on Twitter hours before an event might have real merit, and then to react like this, is an example of a widespread phenomenon.  At least in some ways its roots lie in the puritan tradition of moral purity, moral outrage, moral supremacy, and generally boiling everything down to questions of morality, and then excluding and exiling those who don't appear to share your moral purity, rather than having a movement-building, bridge-building, ecumenical orientation -- the sort of orientation that built the labor movement, in its most radical and successful historical periods in the US.

The first step in the direction of overcoming the stifling, toxic impact of anarcho-puritanism, perhaps, could be for society to somehow adopt the radical notion that if something smells like shit, it probably is shit.  If you get a message from someone whose Twitter account does little other than attack other leftwingers, don't engage with them, just block them, and move on.  Give people who are being attacked the benefit of the doubt, especially when their attackers are obviously ignorant lunatics.  

We don't have to give someone an important position in our organizations when we just meet them or something, but we can assume someone who appears to be a leftwing performer who's been consistent about his political analysis for the past 28 years is in fact that, and anyone saying otherwise might be considered dubious, at least until we're absolutely sure they're not.  

The idea can be very problematic, depending on the situation, but it's a very good concept related in Article 11, Section 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  the presumption of innocence.  Without it, we too easily end up with a situation where we are easily manipulated into playing by the rules of the puritanical ideas of cancel culture, and being ruled by a small anarcho-puritan minority, most of whom will develop a more nuanced perspective when they grow up a little more.  

I know something about these things, having been an intolerably arrogant Maoist in my youth myself, back in the 80's.  I still feel guilty for heckling Utah Phillips once when I was around 22.  Now, with that man who became my friend and colleague long gone, I'm around the age he was when young David was heckling him from the audience in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Full circle I guess, though Utah never had to contend with Twitter.

A Tale of Two Narratives

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