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On Monday, the United States Holocaust Museum joined those opposed to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s characterization of the conditions and facilities housing migrants, stating how it “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary.”

It stood well apart from what historians and descendants of the Holocaust have been saying, prompting one prominent lawyer to suggest “the practical application of ‘Never Again’ apparently is to make the Holocaust definitionally sui generis, ruling out any comparison of its precursors to contemporary conditions no matter how similar and appalling.”

It’s undeniable that the U.S. government is warehousing children in conditions so appalling, former Department of Defense special counsel Ryan Goodman says they are “worse than the most basic standards required by international humanitarian law for enemy prisoners of war.”

Tuesday saw the sudden resignation of John Sanders, acting commissioner for the Customs and Border Protection agency, with the situation growing increasingly chaotic.

While attention has rightly shifted to substantive matters of policy, one particularly insightful column regarding the debate on terminology is worth highlighting:

But the argument is really about how we perceive history, ourselves, and ourselves in history. We learn to think of history as something that has already happened, to other people. Our own moment, filled as it is with minutiae destined to be forgotten, always looks smaller in comparison. As for history, the greater the event, the more mythologized it becomes. Despite our best intentions, the myth becomes a caricature of sorts. Hitler, or Stalin, comes to look like a two-dimensional villain—someone whom contemporaries could not have seen as a human being. The Holocaust, or the Gulag, are such monstrous events that the very idea of rendering them in any sort of gray scale seems monstrous, too. This has the effect of making them, essentially, unimaginable. In crafting the story of something that should never have been allowed to happen, we forge the story of something that couldn’t possibly have happened. Or, to use a phrase only slightly out of context, something that can’t happen here.

The thread previewed below, written last summer when news of family separation and mass detention first garnered attention, is worth revisiting.

It pairs well with the viral clip of a Trump official arguing the merits of the inhumane treatment of migrants, which many felt exemplified “the banality of evil in modern times.”

“The truth is more complex, but still appalling,” former federal prosecutor Ken White writes in The Atlantic. “The sheer effrontery of the government’s argument may be explained, but not excused, by its long backstory.”

That backstory is worth reading in full, but the following points are key:

It is right and fit to condemn the Trump administration for its argument and its treatment of children. But it’s wrong to think the problem can be cured with a presidential election. Trump will depart; the problem will not depart with him. This administration is merely the latest one to subject immigrant children to abusive conditions.

The fault lies not with any one administration or politician, but with the culture: the ICE and CBP culture that encourages the abuse, the culture of the legal apologists who defend it, and our culture—a largely indifferent America that hasn’t done a damn thing about it. This stain on America’s soul will not wash out with an election cycle. It will only change when Americans demand that the government treat the least of us as both the law and our values require—and firmly maintain that demand no matter how we feel about the party in power.

Time and again, justification for unjustifiable atrocities against some “other” is the end point of gradual, escalating dehumanization, which is the crux of what AOC initially argued.


A privileged discussion

Back in May, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and team explored Joe Biden’s personal relationship with Mississippi Democrat John Stennis, a “respected member of the senate but longtime opponent of civil rights and desegregation who Biden called a ‘hero of time.’”

“Now in his third run for the presidency, Biden presents his ability to respect and work with ideological opponents as an asset that could return the country to a bygone era of bipartisanship and consensus,” they wrote.

That story, paired with one similar which followed, served to demonstrate that however noble his intentions, Biden doesn’t seem to understand the unworkable nature of his approach in the modern political sphere, or the strong reaction to his words.

“If a white segregationist doesn’t call you ‘boy’ it’s because you’re white. That’s it … he didn’t see you as part of ‘an inferior race’,” Smith concluded.

An aside: This controversy provided a few great opportunities to learn, thanks in part to those who are stubbornly and perpetually immune to facts.

While condemnation of Biden’s remarks and subsequent defensiveness wasn’t unanimous—civil rights icon John Lewis offered an unequivocal defence of his colleague—it wasn’t driven by “white woke progressives” as alleged by the right’s dedicated culture warriors any more than the backlash to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s justification for opposing reparations was.

In the latter case, the most powerful rebuke came from widely-respected writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee as it explored the case for reparations.

We grant that Mr. McConnell was not alive for Appomattox. But he was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney. He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodard. He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama and a regime premised on electoral theft. Majority Leader McConnell cited civil rights legislation yesterday, as well he should, because he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing, and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them. 

What they know, what this committee must know, is that while emancipation deadbolted the door against the bandits of America, Jim Crow wedged the windows wide open.

It’s far too easy for the white population to forget or dismiss just how recent the subjugation and state-sanctioned discrimination against the black population was.

This isn’t ancient history.

Take, for instance, Lester Townsend who, in 2016 at the glorious age of 108, met with then-president Barack Obama.

“The grandson of a slave shaking hands with the president of the United States,” Townsend marvelled. “I never thought I’d live to see this.”

Townsend’s larger story, as detailed in Essence, really underscores the meaning of that moment.

“My grandfather, he and his brother were given to his old master for his daughter’s wedding present. They were young men but they were given to him. I tell you, to think how far we have been behind and come this far, we’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.”

Just last year, Richard Overton—at the time, America’s oldest WWII veteran—died at the age of 112. A thread paying tribute to his remarkable life noted this “grandson of a slave, served in a segregated unit, the 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion, in Pearl Harbor after the attack.”

Still, the very idea of reparations—not even set policy, simply the notion—continues to prompt asinine commentary from a large swath of the right.

One voice in the anti-reparation chorus is worth closer examination. Compare the most-cited quote from Coleman Hughes, captured below, to that of O’Reilly above. The logic remains absurd, but coming from a black man, such a mindset becomes more acceptable for a white one to openly share.

There were some telling reactions to those who simply mentioned the name of the publication which hosts and champions Hughes, one which routinely claims to be above or beyond tribalism.

And as has become typical, Quillette editors chose to amplify only the most obscene tweets regarding Hughes’ testimony before the subcommittee, rather than elevate any number of thoughtful responses offered.

Below, for instance, touches on survivorship bias:

And here, an entirely fair characterization of why Hughes has captivated a certain audience (with images to illustrate in the full thread): “He said he actively didn't try hard in high school because he knew being black would give him an advantage to get into college … he suggests there's social capital to be gained by identifying as black.”

In my view, this doesn’t suggest individuals operating in good faith.

In the end, this conversation reminds me of an interview from 1967 I recently came across, where Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently explains—without using the words—the concept of “white privilege.”

That term, understandably, is one which many reflexively bristle at. The aggressive nature of some activists in the social justice community has made it almost impossible to have any meaningful conversation following the invocation of those two words. This short clip, however, offers a clear, powerful articulation of the reality.


What’s your type?

A Venn diagram of those who believe Juanita Broaddrick but who doubt everyone else

Some are asking legitimate questions, and having necessary conversations.

Others are telling on themselves.

If you’re going to run a piece calling into question the credibility of a woman who comes forward with a story of sexual assault, especially where contemporaneous accounts of the misconduct exist, perhaps seek out individuals who aren’t entrenched in the violently misogynistic extreme of Men’s Rights Activism, or who aren’t on the record defending convicted pedophiles against what they baselessly claim are “false allegations,” or who haven’t dedicated their lives to undermining the credibility of sexual assault survivors.

Or, at least, who hadn’t already made up their minds.


One more thing…

When They See Us, a docudrama on Netflix which explores The Central Park Five has earned as much praise as Chernobyl from those in my circle. I’ve yet to see it, but I’m told it is well worth the time and I plan on giving it a try this weekend. Because I don’t have anything unique to recommend for this week’s newsletter, I thought I’d pass along this suggestion.

As described by Emily Nussbaum, When They See Us is “a harrowing story about a hideous injustice: the railroading of a group of five black and Latino boys for the beating and rape of Trisha Meili, who was attacked while jogging in Central Park, in 1989. The show portrays a racist justice system and an equally hellish penal system, as well as media that amplified the lies that put the boys in prison. But its main concern—its method and its theme—is empathy. Not a syrupy, manipulative empathy but a rigorous one, meant as a corrective. As the title indicates, it takes boys who were seen as a group—reduced to an indistinguishable pack of animals—and insists that they be viewed as individuals, children worthy of love, and then, years later, men worthy of justice.”


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On extremism

And the extremely biased

In April, a U.S. congressional hearing on hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism was derailed by Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, who felt their own perceived victimhood was the real injustice worth exploring.

But one livestream of the event had to be disabled when “hundreds of anti-Semitic comments, racist missives, and declarations of white supremacy flooded the YouTube page for the hearing: ‘Anti-hate is a code word for anti-white’,” Tina Nguyen reported for Vanity Fair.

Once the snippets of desired confrontations and scripted one-liners began to circulate on social media, the ultimate lack of substance on the day mattered little. The fight for control of the narrative is what preoccupied most observers.

Here at home, given the controversy stemming from Conservative MP Michael Cooper’s bizarre tirade during last week’s House of Commons justice committee hearing and his subsequent removal from the vice-chair position, the unanimous decision to suspend the video broadcast of Tuesday’s meeting exploring hate was a wise and laudable move.

It was one which predictably angered those—panelists and observers—who’d long prepared to weaponize the footage for ideological ends.

Less admirable, however, was the decision by parliamentarians to formally strike a portion of Cooper’s remarks from the record. NDP MP Randall Garrison, one of the six who supported the motion put forward by Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault to expunge the name and words of the man alleged to have carried out the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand, felt a responsibility “to make sure that those who engage in violent acts based on extremist ideologies do not get a public forum to spread their ideas."

Above, you can see a tweet Liked by Cooper, one which rather contradicts the apology posted to his timeline.

CBC has a thorough, accurate account of what occurred, but the section below (emphasis mine) is key:

Suri went on to say that people like Robert Bowers — who is alleged to have killed 11 people in a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in October — and Brenton Tarrant, who is accused of shooting and killing 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, were similarly influenced by online hate coming from "alt-right online networks."

Suri told the committee that "online hate is a key factor in enforcing hate in all forms," including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and that more efforts should be made to study online hate and its effects in the offline world.

When it was his turn to ask Suri and other witnesses questions, Cooper laid into the Alberta anti-racism activist, accusing him of suggesting a link between "conservatism" and violent extremism.

"Mr. Suri, I take great umbrage with your defamatory comments to try to link conservatism with violent extremist attacks. They have no foundation, they're defamatory, and they diminish your credibility as a witness," Cooper said.

The Conservative MP then read into the record a passage from Tarrant's 74-page manifesto — which has been banned in New Zealand. In the passage, Tarrant is quoted as saying the social and political values of China are close to his own and that he rejects 'conservatism'.

What merits attention here isn’t so much Cooper’s mention of Tarrant or his reading of the manifesto, so much as his premeditated and deliberate misreading of it.

That such dishonesty was contrived in advance—this torqued narrative a premeditated effort to absolve the right of responsibility while positioning conservatives as victims—suggests a problem which extends beyond this one MP.

Further, I’d argue it’s incumbent on elected officials, particularly Conservatives, to study and properly understand Tarrant’s manifesto, as his depraved ideology is one which extends into Canada and flourishes online in both open and private forums.

That Ben Shapiro—whose rhetoric is known to have directly influenced homicidal extremists, as discussed last week—was invited to testify along with the unqualified trio who appeared Tuesday underscores how willfully ignorant the Conservatives continue to be in this matter.

One highlight from Tuesday, thanks to a reliably intelligent Liberal MP:

An honest plea from an openly-gay NDP MP:

And revealing remarks from one of the Conservatives’ featured guests:

If only she had a chance at committee to articulate her views and beliefs:

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Another reason Boissonnault’s motion was short-sighted is that it welcomes a re-writing of history by dishonest actors.

That is quite the interpretation of what happened.

Those taking issue with Scheer’s decision have every right to feel as they do, but if you’re a media personality working for an organization which routinely accuses credible outlets of supposed bias, maybe check your own blinders once in a while.

There was no “left-wing mob” here—the vice-chair of a committee studying a deadly serious matter proved himself to be both unprofessional and unfit, and his party leader took appropriate action. Conservatives aren’t the victims here any more than Republicans were back in April, and it’s in the best interest of those on the centre-right who abhor extremist ideologies in their ranks to take the lead, show some responsibility, and work to combat it.

Back to Tuesday’s testimony, John Robson, a conservative columnist who suggested the man who slaughtered 51 Muslims in New Zealand wasn’t representative of an extremist ideology worth concern, claimed to "want to rescue the haters as well as protect society from hate. If you keep it off the open internet it goes into the dark web, where it festers and it breeds.”

First, you can’t “rescue haters” you cannot or will not recognize. Second, that’s not how this works.

Recall Robert Bowers, the neo-Nazi who allegedly opened fire on a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 Jews. He is the product of a social network without guardrails:

There was a blue check mark next to Robert Bowers’s name, meaning that the social media account was verified. His bio said that “jews are the children of satan,” his banner image a clear reference to a white supremacist meme. His last message, posted Saturday morning, read, “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

All images above are from Gab. In addition to Bowers, there is Chris “Crying Nazi” Cantwell and “Eric Striker,” a prolific and influential white supremacist.

Meanwhile, pictured below is standard worship and glorification of far-right terrorists you can find over at Minds.com:

Pretending a problem doesn’t exist will not make it disappear anymore than refusing to understand it will produce a solution. And blaming “The Left” for bringing things to the attention of conservatives, rather than those on the right proactively minding their extremes, won’t absolve them of some extent of culpability if and when the next act of far-right domestic terrorism occurs.


A few things you should Ngo

Perhaps you’ve come across reports which allege unethical ties between left-leaning reporters and antifa activists, and the subsequent “mobbing” of the man behind the revelations:

That is indeed the same guy, whose record of very ethical and professional behaviour is demonstrated below as “Progressive Dad”:

Regarding this assertion:

Lenihan was caught evading a prior ban and lost his account. That’s what happens when you’re a documented troll.

Re: “… how some journalists & writers have close ties to extremists & were working to mainstream those ideas”— that is some impressive projection.

On that conservative militia and this reporter’s habit, here’s the sort of history and record Ngo would prefer you not read or recognize.

But back to Lenihan, this was a curious part of his elaborate thread:

First off, McNabb—a prominent white nationalist and co-host of The Right Stuff network’s influential neo-Nazi podcast The Daily Shoahwas ultimately fired.

But more importantly, Mathias didn’t dox him. He simply opted to report on him.

One reason /ourguys/ respect McNabb—embarrassing optics aside—is because of how open and unapologetic about his views, his identity, and his job he has been for years. McNabb “self-doxxed” as they say, thus removing one potential weapeon of his enemies.

A sort of you-can’t-fire-me-if-I-quit-first approach.

McNabb actively trolled throughout the contentious hearings spurred by reports of his less-upstanding activities, seeming preoccupied with, while displaying rather prominently, a provocative book by Jim Goad.

Meanwhile, on the matter of doxxing and harassment, the sort of (dishonest) effort below is standard from the far-right, whose leadership targets civilians and journalists alike.

When organized in private, however, these “raids” are much more aggressive and sinister in both approach an intention.

While antifa is just as deserving of fair criticism as the far-right movements they counter and clash with, the threat they pose—online or off—is wholly incomparable to the extremism the Tucker Carlson/Laura Ingraham crowd (which includes Ngo) seeks to downplay or trivialize.

Anyone suggesting experts on counter-extremism—particularly reformed individuals—who speak with members of antifa or who work for organizations which, in some way, associate with such movements, are themselves adherents of an extremism should be viewed with a great deal of skepticism if or when they seek to “educate” others on who or what constitutes a problem in society.

Below is a tremendous feature on far-right extremism and those dedicated to fighting it, and is an example of a proper exploration of all involved.


Are you sensing a theme this week?

Nehlen, who recently fought with another neo-Nazi over the best way to start a race war, is pictured below sporting a shirt which celebrates Robert Bowers, while offering a white-nationalist gesture with a number which purportedly signifies the number of countries Jews will soon be expelled from.

The concern illustrated below (click for the full thread) isn’t limited to Twitter, but is nevertheless valid.

As long as status-seeking and social media virility is valued above all else, those who know the least—but do so with great confidence—will continue to drag everybody else down.

Another (superb) thread:


One more thing…

Shannon Proudfoot is a journalist who has taken great care in reporting on death, dying, and the quest for dignity for those facing irremediable illness or who are at the end-stages of life.

I’ve written about the issue a couple of times (for Maclean’s here and here), and have discussed these matters with Shannon on various platforms. What I appreciate most is her ability to listen—to truly hear one’s experience—and seek to understand what it is they’re feeling, and why.

Some of that is captured in this podcast, and if this matter is one you happen to care about, I recommend giving it a listen and following Proudfoot’s work.

One final thread:

tl;dr


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Those who cannot be shamed...

...can still be held to account

“It begins.”

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum was one of many who suggested that the viral video of Nancy Pelosi, manipulated to make her seem impaired, signalled the beginning of the “deepfake” era of politics.

While concern about the malicious potential of deepfake technology is valid, the Pelosi video doesn’t fit this category. Far from being a sophisticated fabrication, it was a relatively low-effort con—video footage, simply slowed down.

This effort wasn’t unprecedented, either. It was a continuation of the sort of digital warfare used against Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 presidential race, where far-right propagandists pushed a litany of conspiracies, including an array of claims concerning “Hillary’s Health”—that she was secretly suffering from Parkinson’s, was having multiple seizures, required a body double, and so on.

Part of the strategy at the time, to get wider media amplification, was to accuse credible news organizations of “hiding the truth” on behalf of the Clinton campaign.

Rather than ignore the bad-faith allegations made by those actively and unapologetically shilling for Trump, some outlets, desperate to avoid accusations of bias, played into the propagandists’ hands. They dutifully picked up reports of the rumours—“some people are saying…”—and in doing so granted the lies a degree of legitimacy.

By contrast, with the Pelosi video, pushback was widespread, near-unanimous, and arguably sufficient. The overwhelming majority of coverage prioritized and amplified the facts rather than give prominence to the fabrication.

What more could or should have been done?

Whether Facebook, facing mounting pressure, scrubs the video from its platform is irrelevant at this point. Further, I’m not sure what confrontations like this are meant to achieve, other than a viral bit of grandstanding.

And I say that as someone with a great deal of respect for Anderson Cooper.

Charlie Warzel, a writer I find reliably insightful on the debate surrounding Facebook and its obligation (or lack thereof) to remove problematic content, was correct to recognize how, with the latest controversy, “our attention has been successfully hijacked by a remedial iMovie trick.”

His entire column on the matter is worth a read, but these few paragraphs are particularly on point:

“Facebook, the platform of origin for this video, did exactly what it was designed to do. It brought people with similar interests together, incubated vibrant communities that spawned intense discussion and then gave those communities the tools to amplify their messages loudly across the internet. The rest of the social media ecosystem followed suit.

The mainstream media, designed to document controversy and separate fact from fiction, picked up the story with the best of intentions. Media discussions and stories arguing over whether Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should remove the video were an effort to hold the platforms accountable, while political pieces highlighted the abnormality of a presidential administration and political party spreading such brazen propaganda. The press identified a story, fact-checked and pointed audiences at the truth. Straight out of the journalism school handbooks.

But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t bring a handbook to an information war. The distribution mechanics, rules and terms of service of Facebook’s platform — and the rest of social media — are no match for professional propagandists, trolls, charlatans, political operatives and hostile foreign actors looking to sow division and blur the lines of reality.”

Those who want to believe the worst about those they dislike or with whom they disagree are always searching for examples—legitimate or manufactured—which reinforce their views. Unfortunately, they’ve no shortage of allies eager to further erode the boundaries of intelligent discourse, who sow discord and stoke animus for fun and/or profit while encouraging those primed for outrage to firmly embrace their most hateful inclinations.

To say this problem will get worse before it gets better requires faith that, in time, things will trend in a more positive direction.

At this point, I don’t trust that will happen.


Bias, bailouts, and bullshit theatre

A robust, independent news industry is vital to any healthy democracy, and the Liberal government’s move to provide a financial lifeline of sorts is arguably well-intentioned. In practise, it was always going to prove controversial.

But how does one fail to clear a bar set firmly on the ground?


I feel the Liberals have handed a gift to fringe outlets and partisans whose entire existence is predicated on disingenuous claims of everyone else—namely, established and entirely credible mainstream outlets, reporters, and columnists—as inherently biased, with them alone as the arbiters of truth (and always in need of donations to help fight the “Lügenpresse.”)

There’s no shortage of examples of hypocrisy with this crowd, and I’m aware you can’t shame the shameless.

Still, flashback:

Should the federal government rethink their aid strategy due to bad-faith criticism? Not at all. They should do so because of concerns raised by those with integrity, whose arguments are both sincere and persuasive.

The Liberals are putting journalists in an unfair and precarious position. No amount of financial assistance can undo the potential damage this disastrous move might yet achieve.


Facts don’t care about your feelings

Fresh off his BBC tantrum, which followed his Economist tantrum, Ben Shapiro is again lashing out after fresh reports correctly linked his inflammatory rhetoric to violent extremism:

It’s true that Shapiro is both despised and ridiculed within the neo-Nazi, white nationalist scene. But as Holt previously noted, this “does not erase or write-off the ways he inflames hatred against racial and religious minorities in America,” a tendency which makes him an alt-right ally, willing or otherwise.

Part of the problem with obsessively (and broadly) labelling people or movements as definitively “Nazi” or “alt-right” when it doesn’t apply—using terms as epithets rather than classifiers—is that it minimizes the potential danger and influence of those who don’t fit neatly into a given scene, but who nevertheless play a key role in radicalizing those on the margins.

These people help bridge the gap between mainstream conservatism and more hardline ideology, facilitating the ever-rightward drift of those who consider—and sometimes, carry out—acts of domestic terrorism.


FACT: Those seeking to murder Jews are just as eager to massacre Muslims. Including Ilhan Omar specifically, who Shapiro and others have relentlessly accused of being a stealth radical Islamist (among other things).

Christopher Mathias @letsgomathias
Alexandre Bissonnette, who massacred 6 people at a Quebec mosque, "checked in on the Twitter account of Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of the conservative news site the Daily Wire, 93 times in the month leading up to the shooting"
washingtonpost.com/news/worldview…

Ben Shapiro @benshapiro

Coming from the media: staging a racial hoax for more money while making $65K per episode -- and paying poor immigrants $3,500 to undercut the labor base for race hoax conspirators -- is just a sign we need socialism. https://t.co/r9HDM9sVOJ

Wise words, here:

Call your office, Ben.


One more thing…

Each week in this space I’ll include something unrelated to everything else.

This week, I’m going to recommend the HBO docudrama Chernobyl. It’s a masterful production which “dramatizes the true story of one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history and tells of the brave men and women who sacrificed to save Europe from unimaginable disaster.”

The thread below is one of many discussing the five-part miniseries. If you haven’t come across it yet, click over and give it a full read. And if you’ve yet to give Chernobyl a chance, do that as well.


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