This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.

Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

American Neo-Nazis Don’t Have the Numbers

The following is part of an article I wrote for Inc. about interviewing the semi-infamous hacker Weev (legal name Andrew Auernheimer). He currently runs dev-ops for neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer — or at least that’s what he was doing when I talked to him during August and September, 2017.

I’m only publishing the second half of the article because frankly, Weev’s enthusiasm for genocide is banal among neo-Nazis and doesn’t need more coverage. I may change my mind and publish the full essay eventually, who knows. You can read the interview transcript on Pastebin or peruse my commentary on Twitter.

A context note: The news peg for the article was Cloudflare and a bunch of domain registrars booting The Daily Stormer, so that kerfuffle is alluded to a couple of times. My current view is that cypherpunk resistance to censorship is the way to go, but I don’t want to get into that here.

And now, why I think neo-Nazis aren’t as much of a problem as they pretend they are! Some of the following data is surely outdated, but I still believe that the preponderance of evidence points to neo-Nazis and other white nationalists being primarily LARPers (at least in America).

Andrew Auernheimer’s position on de-platforming was straightforward: “People can either talk about things or they can kill people. Only paths to social change.” And: “If we are disallowed from airing our grievances in the marketplace of ideas the only option will be violence.”

Although put in brutal terms, this is logical. If you are sufficiently fed up, and sufficiently silenced, what else can you do but resort to fists, knives, or guns? Auernheimer added, “Not a threat, just an obvious conclusion.”

On the bright side, follow-through seems unlikely now that The Daily Stormer is once again accessible on the open web, although Auernheimer was recently banned from rightwing Twitter equivalent Gab for expressing a similar idea. [Note from the present: I’m not sure whether TDS is still available beyond Tor, but I don’t care enough to check.]

Auernheimer’s common sense ended there. He delighted in quasi-apocalyptic fantasies: “When the final round comes, you guys are gonna see how significant our numbers are. Because we don’t throw tantrums in the street like liberals. If we move, we will move once to solve problems, and that will be that. There will be no demonstrations. There will be a movement in the night. The next day will be rosy for us.”

He added later, “Either we are going to get what we want or our enemies are going to have their houses burned down with their whole families inside.”

While Auernheimer’s vision is terrifying, on a practical level neo-Nazis and their ilk simply do not have the numbers. The Daily Stormer is the best-known white supremacist website, and its monthly traffic before the recent ordeal broke down like this, according to Auernheimer: 6 million monthly unique visitors, roughly 19,000 of whom are forum members, who generated 545 million page views altogether. (A mainstream politics website like Politico garners more than four times the unique visitors.) Auernheimer estimated that 45 percent of the traffic came from the US, while most of the rest was from Europe.

Six million sounds like a lot of people until you put it in perspective. 45 percent comes to 2.7 million, which is eight tenths of a percent of the United States’ 323.1 million residents. That is 3.2 percent fewer than the number of Americans who will tell pollsters that they believe lizardmen run the earth, and also the number of Americans who will tell pollsters that they’ve personally been decapitated. Of course, The Daily Stormer’s audience can’t be assumed to contain all of the United States’ militant racists, but it’s a helpful benchmark.

Richard Spencer, one of the most prominent American white nationalists, put on a conference in 2016 that was only able to pull 300 people, which was — generously — 4.2 percent of the attendance of BronyCon, an event for adult fans of the My Little Pony franchise, as The Daily Caller noted. Ahead of the Charlottesville protest, declared, “A conservative estimate would put us at about 500, although if […] affiliated groups come through, we can top 1000,” which would be a whopping 14.3 percent of BronyCon.

Auernheimer did offer a counterargument. “We are a pro-genocide publication,” he explained. “For everyone that consumes pro-genocide media, there are far more than will embrace casual degrees of media. And having people saying really extreme things redefines the edge of political theater to make people closer to us be more towards the center. Now 10 percent of people think it is acceptable to hold neo-Nazi views.” Nine percent, actually, according to a Washington Post poll. “That’ll be 25 percent shortly,” he continued. “And we’ll keep pushing.”

It would sound ominous, but the notion is again undermined by data. In 1996, United States law enforcement recorded 1,109 hate crimes against Jews. In 2015, they recorded 695. That’s a 37 percent reduction over barely two decades.

Furthermore, 39 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of Democrats said that “prejudice against Jewish people is in the United States today” is either a “very serious problem” or a “somewhat serious problem,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in August. Forty-four percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats said that yes, “white supremacist groups pose a threat to the United States.”

Meanwhile, white attitudes toward blacks have been steadily improving since the mid-1900s. Americans are increasingly concerned about race relations since the early 2000s, but it does not follow that a spate of racially motivated massacres loom on our national horizon.

Interviewing Auernheimer was a frustrating experience. I still feel torn between the view that de-platforming is a dangerous trend, and that free speech as a cultural value is in peril — versus the opposing view that private companies can use their infrastructure however they wish to, and The Daily Stormer is welcome to use Tor or to print out physical “spamizdat” (classic Weev trick) if no one is willing to enable them to do anything else.

I talked it over with fellow civil libertarian Giancarlo Sandoval, a PhD researcher in digital cultures at Birkbeck, University of London. He said, “I don’t believe there’s a shadowy cabal pulling the strings,” but rather that The Daily Stormer is suffering the natural consequences of advocating extremely unpopular ideas. Sandoval added, “Registrars can do whatever they want, they are commercial entities.”

Ultimately, my conclusion is that businesses refusing to serve someone isn’t a problem that demands legislation. So what if building your own internet infrastructure is expensive — buying a printing press was too! Censorship by the government is another matter, since nation-states force compliance with their rules at gunpoint.

It is true that ICANN, the organization that stewards domain names, was started in part by the United States government. But with the advent of Tor and other decentralized networks, ICANN can’t choke off dissenters, just force them to resort to less convenient options.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the United States Constitution, but cheapness of speech and ease of speech are not. Nor do I think they should be. Until I’m convinced that the government itself is suppressing The Daily Stormer, my unease about de-platforming will stay passive.

An early 2018 data analysis by Chris Stucchio comports with my opinion, as I discussed on Reddit.

Are the Tintin Books Racist? Yes, Absolutely

The Tintin books are super racist, stuffed with offensive stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the parts of them that are heartwarming and hilarious. Krishnadev Calamur, a fellow Tintin aficionado, writes of the comics’ very obvious bigotry and his nevertheless unflagging enjoyment of them:

“There’s certainly irony in a child of the former colonies idolizing a character who might be dismissed by casual critics as a proxy for the white-man’s burden (and by more serious ones as a racist). But I couldn’t entirely disavow the series. What those comics taught me was that heroes, even boyish, never-aging ones like Tintin, are deeply flawed, and if you ruminate on something long enough, even a cherished childhood memory, you will inevitably see those flaws clearly. There were things that I loved about Tintin that made it easier to reject those things I did not — without ignoring them altogether.”

In other words, your fave is problematic.

A mashup of Tintin and Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Artwork by Graphix17.
A mashup of Tintin and Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Artwork by Graphix17.

(If you’ve never read Tintin before, start here.)

Quick Movie Review: Get Hard

Edit: I wrote about why this isn’t a good blog post so maybe you should read that instead.

I’m semi-watching an awful movie called Get Hard, in which Kevin Hart teaches Will Ferrell how to survive in prison. Yes, that is the premise of a mainstream film. I don’t even wanna consider how much money someone spent on this production.

There are wayyy too many rape jokes — in fact, the opening sentence of Roger Ebert’s review is: “If you love rape jokes, ‘Get Hard’ is your movie.” Ebert’s whole take is brilliant. As he emphasizes, there is also plenty of homophobia and debatable racism.

Get Hard starring Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell
Poster for Get Hard.

And yet… Get Hard is kinda funny. For instance, right now there’s a great scene where Kevin Hart plays a bunch of different prison stereotypes in a ridiculous turf dispute in the yard. Sure, it’s bigoted in several ways, and misogynistic, but I’m not gonna lie and say I never laughed.

The USA Today blog Entertain This lists “You’re not easily offended” as the #4 reason to see Get Hard despite its problems, elaborating: “Instead of being a clever satire, the movie mostly presents rude and over-the-top jokes. Once in a while, however, the gags are funny. Like, laugh-out-loud funny.” Welp, yeah. Basically.

Will Ferrell hoisting Kevin Hart.
Will Ferrell hoisting Kevin Hart.

Starbucks Competing For Corporate Cluelessness Award

Joe Berkowitz for Fast Company: “This Is What Happens When You Walk Into Starbucks And Talk To The Barista About Race”. The entertaining article points out some of the ludicrous aspects of Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign. I emailed the link to a friend, who prefers to remain anonymous for job reasons, but commented:

“This reminds me of Netflix saying it was going to split the company into two brands and no longer have a single brand aimed at people who wanted to watch movies. I mean… it’s true that I pay separate fees for the DVD’s and the streaming… but two separate brands was just stupid. I mean, one of those ideas that you didn’t test on anyone. #RaceTogether is just such an idea. Massively stupid and damaging to the brand… but probably not forever. It will go away, and then people will forget about it after a few months.”

Basically. To enforce my friend’s point, I had totally forgotten about the Netflix fiasco! Remember how bad the new name was? Qwikster. Bahaha. I love when brands phenomenally mismanage things.

Starbucks UGLY SIDE !!!
Photo by Ahmad Ziyad Maricar.

See also: Hamilton Nolan mocking the Starbucks initiative, Khushbu Shah rounding up salient tweets, and Hayley Peterson reviewing the hilarity of a Starbucks exec deleting his Twitter due to #RaceTogether criticism. Bruh. How can you lack self-awareness so profoundly?

Jokes aside, Tressie McMillan Cottom makes the most humane observation:

“It takes a lot of training and a lot of institutional support to teach people things they would rather not hear. I wonder what kind of training and support the hourly wage baristas at Starbucks will get.”

Sign up for my newsletter to stay abreast of my new writing and projects.

I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on an Amazon link from this site and subsequently buy something, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).