In case you missed it last week, President Donald Trump trolled CNN on Twitter and exceeded even his own abnormally yuge expectations when the once-esteemed cable news channel took the bait and ran with it all week long. Fish on! Fish on!
Trump tweeted a short video clip from his professional wrestling career (yes I’m talking about the president of the United States) in which he pummels WWE boss Vince McMahon in a staged fight. In the altered video, a CNN logo is superimposed over McMahon’s face. The clip went viral and CNN went ballistic, accusing Trump of threatening all journalists on the planet and going so far as to track down the alleged maker of the video, an anonymous Reddit user with the charming online handle of HanAssholeSolo.
As I write this, it’s still not clear whether HanAssholeSolo created the video Trump tweeted or merely inspired it. What is clear is that CNN tracked down HanAssholeSolo online and contacted him for an interview. HanAssholeSolo subsequently deleted his video from Reddit, along with a host of posts various CNN commentators have described as racist and/or anti-Semitic. The now allegedly former Nazi shit-poster then wrote a lengthy apology on Reddit, then begged CNN for mercy when the network’s reporters came calling.
Mercy was granted. Stated in awkward, paternalistic legalese by the network in the blockbuster story about its own tormentor:
“CNN is not publishing ‘HanA**holeSolo’s’ name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
According to CNN, HanAssholeSolo is a middle-aged man, not a 15-year-old boy as one fake news story erroneously reported when the story first broke. Many people, perhaps most, would no doubt find some of his former posts objectionable: A meme criticizing the supposed percentage of Jews employed in CNN’s top positions, an infamous photo of the gates at Auschwitz offered as the solution to Europe’s present refugee crisis.
Indeed, if we accept his apology, which was later mysteriously deleted by Reddit’s comment moderators, even HanAssholeSolo himself finds his former posts objectionable. We can presume he’s grateful CNN didn’t publish his name.
But it was that last little dig at the end of the CNN story that broke the internet: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
Here was the once mighty mainstream media organization, already suffering low ratings and withering criticism for so-called fake news stories alleging collusion between Trump and Russia, threatening to expose the identity of an anonymous Reddit user, if in the future he should happen to post or say or do anything the network finds disagreeable.
That sounds a lot like Big Brother, no matter where you are on the political spectrum, and the network was roundly condemned for its tactics by pundits on both the right and left.
For Trump’s ravenous supporters on the Alt-Right—I’m gauging this based on reading thousands of anonymous comments on sites ranging from Breitbart to the r/the_donald subreddit to Vox Popoli to the The Daily Stormer—the president’s posting of the video and the networks’s reaction to it has served as a giant pinnate in the shape of CNN”s logo stuffed with hungrily-awaited chunks of juicy red meat by the God-Emperor Trump himself.
In fact, it may represent something of a turning point to the many members of the Alt-Right for whom issues concerning white identity are paramount.
Not everyone in the Alt-Right is white, and considering the Nazi elements in it there are a surprising number of Jews (who sometimes identify as white) among its opinion-makers. But I think it’s accurate to say the Alt-Right is mostly a white political movement, with opinions ranging roughly from the basic, “I think we should enforce our borders,” to the philosophical, “I think the white race is not a social construct and may actually exist, contrary to critical race theory,” to the patently absurd and offensive, “I think Hitler did nothing wrong.”
That may seem like a pretty wide range of opinions, and it is, but according to the Alt-Right worldview it’s a single window tightly shuttered by political correctness in the mainstream media, on college campuses and throughout society at large. Only through anonymity on the Internet have white people finally been able to express themselves openly and honestly, or so the story goes. To what degree the window should be thrust open further is a matter of some conjecture within the movement.
Some Alt-Right figures, such as Milo Yiannopoulos—who for the record is half-Jewish, half-Catholic and 1000 percent gay—argue that the whole point of shit-posting, even Nazi shit-posting, is to jar open the window of acceptable public discourse through the use of shock tactics. It’s about freedom of speech, and freedom from political correctness. It’s about blowing off steam. That Nazi stuff, like Pepe the Frog in an SS uniform? It’s not to be taken literally. It’s designed for fun, to provoke a reaction from “liberal snowflakes.”
On the other hand, on the extreme right end of the Alt-Right spectrum, there are genuine anti-Semites, misogynists, homophobes and racists like Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin, who fully embrace all of those negative labels for the same reason African American rappers have owned the N-word, or so Anglin has written: By owning the pejoratives, it takes the societal sting out of them. People get used to hearing them. They become acceptable—even fashionable. He’s a dangerously clever satirist.
One of the few hardcore internet Nazis who uses his real name, Anglin noted in a recent article that CNN, by drawing attention to HanAssholeSolo’s anti-Semitic posts, has opened the window of public discussion just a little wider. Anglin desperately wants to have that discussion, as publicly as possible. It’s no joke to him. He’s not just blowing off steam and he’s not the only one who feels that way about it. The Daily Stormer is one of the most visited Alt-Right web sites on the Internet.
The Alt-Right’s entire online presence piled on after CNN threatened to reveal HanAssholeSolo’s identity. Few outright endorsed the content of the Nazi trolling, but many unequivocally supported the right of the Nazi troll to post it. The hashtag #CNNblackmail began trending No. 1 on Twitter. A meme war was declared, with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones offering $20,000 for the best Trump-pummeling-CNN video on his Infowars website.
Over on 4Chan, the self-described “autists” at /pol launched “operation autism storm,” gathering and posting the online personal data of CNN employees, followed by “operation tard run,” a threat to place GPS trackers on CNN vehicles cruising Manhattan and then reporting each vehicle’s whereabouts to the public.
They call themselves autistic, but these are the same tech-savvy, totally anonymous internet trolls who tracked down Shia LeBeouf’s “HeWillNotDivideUs” performance art flag exhibit twice, the first time by analyzing jetliner contrails in the live video feed. They’ve performed a number of similarly impressive pranks. It’s been said you shouldn’t mess with /pol. I believe it.
Doxing, going through the records of people who dare to cross them publicly and releasing any damning information they find, is a /pol specialty. By threatening to dox HanAssholeSolo, CNN may have bitten off more than it can chew. Its employees are already being heavily trolled by /pol, according to CNN’s own reporting.
For Trump, it’s a win-win situation, perhaps the biggest of his presidency so far, one that cements his growing reputation as a master of multi-dimensional chess, at least on Twitter.
With one simple tweet, he vanquished CNN, one head of the mainstream media hydra he’s been fighting since he announced his candidacy more than two years ago. At the same time, he also placated the Alt-Right, a political movement to which he at least partially owes his victory in November and has, up until now, expressed disappointment with his administration’s progress, particularly on the proposed border wall with Mexico.
Make no mistake, when Trump discussed the need to defend “Western Civilization” numerous times during his speech in Poland last week, he was speaking directly to the Alt-Right and one of its core beliefs: Western Civilization, defined broadly as the imaginary all-white population that developed Europe during the past 4000 years or so, has lately been given a bum rap. It was a fairly heavy-handed sop, and judging from the comment sections, the Alt-Right appears to be sated, at least for now.
As far as CNN is concerned, its professionalism has been gravely wounded after a barrage of bad news over the past several weeks. The over-reaction to the Trump wrestling tweet came on the heels of three CNN reporters being forced to resign for not properly sourcing yet another anonymously-sourced story about alleged collusion between Trump and Russia and several reports by conservative activist/journalist James O’Keefe, in which surreptitiously recorded CNN employees questioned the credibility of their own network.
At this moment, CNN and MSNBC appear to be finally backing away from the Russia story in the wake of Trump’s apparently successful meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. It remains to be seen if ABC, NBC, CBS, the New York Times and the Washington Post, all mainstream media organizations that have been vilified by the president for spreading fake news about Russia, will follow suit.
As for me, I’ve got mixed feelings about all of this as usual.
As a journalist with 30 years of experience in the field, I’ve never cared much for the use of anonymous sources and have employed them only sparingly in my own work, for example, when the identity of a crime victim who’s the subject of a story requires shielding for his or her own personal protection.
The problem is that in general, if the source isn’t held accountable for the information by having his or her name attached to it, the information is less reliable. It needs to be verified by at least two more sources, preferably by someone who will put their name on it. If you can’t verify the information with independent sources, you don’t run the story. Or at least I don’t.
Yet for the past year, all of the above named mainstream news organizations have been running anonymously-sourced stories alleging Trump somehow colluded with the Russians during the past election. It’s been a travesty of bad reporting, much of it overtly motivated by politics.
The truth is, if CNN (and by extension the entire MSM) hadn’t stooped to reporting leaks from every disgruntled Obama-era intelligence agency official it could lay its hands on, if it had instead stuck to sound, basic journalism principles and used named sources instead of anonymous party hacks with known high potentials for political bias, it might not be in the position it’s in today.
Admittedly, that’s an old school point of view regarding anonymous sources. I’ve got an equally old fashioned opinion when it comes to anonymous shit-posting on the Internet.
The short version is, don’t anonymously post anything on the Internet if you’re not comfortable putting your real name on it. Why? No. 1, because you’re an inherently good person and good people don’t shit-post. No. 2, just in case you don’t have a conscience and ignored No. 1, if you haven’t taken strict precautions to shield your online identity, your post isn’t anonymous and can be traced directly back to you.
That’s exactly what happened to HanAssholeSolo. In a certain sense, I wish CNN had revealed his true identity, just to see if he suffered any repercussions for being outed as a Nazi shit-poster. My gut feeling is he would have paid a heavy price for his transgressions, perhaps even the loss of a job or a rental apartment. The public window for non-anonymous Holocaust denial on the Internet isn’t quite that wide open yet, I think. That’s the good news.
The bad news is there are all these youngsters on the Internet, and by youngsters I mean anyone younger than I am, 57, who’ve grown up in a digital world using anonymous online identities in video games and comment sections and social media, to the point where it’s become second nature to them.
They consider anonymity to be woven into the First Amendment, into the very fabric of the Constitution, if not their very being. No matter what their identity, Alt-Right or Resistance or whatever, they assert their right to say anything they damn well please on the Internet, anonymously, expecting no real consequences for their words other than the joy of victory in a flame war between competing tribes.
I’ve been a critic of identity politics since the days of President Bill Clinton, a masterful practitioner of its tactics, because by design identity politics divides us into competing factions — black verses white, male verses female, straight verses gay — instead of bringing us together as one people, focused on the common good.
I think identity politics is one of the fundamental reasons we’ve been locked in political stalemate at the national, state and local levels for well over three decades. It’s why so many people are fed up with government. It’s why the Democrats lost the election, in my opinion, and why they’ll continue to lose elections in the future.
The recent rise of the white identity movement known as the Alt-Right, coinciding with the rise of Donald Trump, broadcast on this crazy face-sucking machine known as the Internet, has increased the level of societal tension exponentially.
For the first time since the late 1960s, in major cities across the nation, there’s the threat of real violence in the streets this summer, this time between Trump supporters and the anti-Trump Resistance instead of National Guardsmen and antiwar college students. The well-financed Resistance is planning events throughout the summer that will certainly include members of the so-called AntiFa, the black-clad anti-fascist communists who wear masks in order to commit acts of violence and vandalism with impunity.
Anonymity has it adherents on all the factions involved, it would seem. Things could get ugly, both online and in the streets. I suggest praying, if you’re of that persuasion, although you should be at least physically safe if you live in a rural area such as Shasta County, like I do.
Meanwhile, it’s hard not to believe that some sort of government crackdown on anonymous Internet trolling and shit-posting is coming down the pike soon. The feds are of course already working on it with the big social media companies such as Facebook and Twiiter, as well as search-engine giant Google. CNN is now apparently volunteering to serve as Ministry of Truth.
In many EU countries, including France and Germany, which lack our 240 years of experience with constitutionally-protected free speech, internet hate speech laws are already in effect. It’s only a matter of working out the legal details here in the United States.
I’m not saying I support or disavow such a crackdown, I’m saying it seems imminent, as in any second now. We’ve already seen one act of overt political violence this summer, the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, a conservative Republican from Louisiana, by an unhinged Bernie Sanders supporter well known for writing terse letters to the editor of his local newspaper, using, it should be noted, his actual name.
It won’t be long before there’s another incident; all sides are primed and ready to go off. Stay safe out there if you’re in the big city, and don’t be a Nazi shit-poster. Good grief! I’ve just written yet another cautionary tale about the Internet.