Sometimes a cigar is a just a smoke. Other times, it’s an intrusive, malodorous, carcinogenic annoyance. Innocuous ain’t what it used to be. Nor, it seems, is the ability to exercise judgment.
In Washington Tuesday, as tempers were hot and takes were hotter, the question of whether a rose was going by another name came up rather dramatically over the finger positioning of a young woman seated behind Judge Brett Kavanaugh during day one of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
The potential meaning and intent of the hand position rocketed from “hmm” to “Klan alert” in record time; such is the nature of both social media and contentious but inevitable confirmations.
It was revealed later that the woman in question, Zina Bash, is an immigrant, of Jewish-Polish descent, with a Mexican-American mother. Perhaps the second least-likely Klan member ever. (Paging Spike Lee.)
Truth isn’t social media’s first or even second language, but truth matters, and there are several true but unremarked aspects of this story worth knowing.
Of all, the most certain truth is that internet trolls are among the worst things modern society has to offer. In the last two years the worst of that worst became the most visible, in the form of white power Twitter.
The online white power movement is very much an alive and recruiting worldview, and has a set of talking points designed to rope people in, mostly centered around the sort of “how come rappers can use the n-word” sophistry.
The politically engaged among them, a sadly prominent aspect of social media, will happily (aggressively) tell you they are proving a point about accusations of racism or unfair treatment of Trump voters. These sentiments may be thinly masked in self-aggrandizement about defending free speech or “moving the Overton window” or fighting “political correctness,” but their core eventually comes through.
One of the things these racist-adjacent-but-for-some-reason-treated-differently trolls do is use a hand gesture, a modified “OK” in photos as a supposedly “fake” symbol of white power. The idea is that when people or reporters say, “he was doing the white power!” they can object that the left is paranoid. Here are some pictures of some of those types doing that.
I'm sure it's just a coincidence that all these people are saluting in exactly the same way. pic.twitter.com/3Vr2rXNK9M
— Esoteric Jeff (@EsotericCD) December 29, 2017
That tweet, from Jeff B, was followed by an explainer.
This is about gaslighting. These people think they're ultra-clever meme-warriors. What they don't realize is @Popehat's Maxim: someone who only f**ks goats "ironically" is still a goat-f**ker.
— Esoteric Jeff (@EsotericCD) December 29, 2017
One hundred percent accurate. Still, time has passed and there is yet more to the story.
Last year, a photo of White House interns revealed one young man flashing the okay symbol, and controversy ensued. The Daily Mail provides a good example of media coverage, in an article alarmingly titled “EXCLUSIVE: White power at the White House – Trump intern flashes ‘alt-right’ symbol used by notorious extremists during group photo with the president,” a true mouthful of a headline.
It says the intern was using “a known ‘white power’ sign” that has “been linked with far-right groups.”
“It is the same sign that white nationalist Richard Spencer gave on the steps of the Trump International Hotel on election night and that right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos posed with in front of the White House,” it reads.
Unlike Daily Mail, conservative site The Daily Caller spoke with the intern, who offered a plausible, if not definitive explanation that he was simply emulating the president’s favored sign of approval.
Absent any other context, there’s no reason not to believe people who say they are just saying OK or even just resting their hand casually on their arm. And using the OK symbol casually and in the common way should never result in anyone being punished, fired, or otherwise dragged through the mud. OK? But…
But it requires pretense to argue there is no such thing as the phenomenon.
Jerks like Richard Spencer actually do come up with and engage in things like this. They think it’s clever and that they’re really getting one over on the media and they discuss it openly. And if the media are their victims, so are regular Republicans and conservatives who defend to the death the idea that this is a completely unfounded fabrication on the part of the left, which is just not so.
The impulse to reject paranoid hysteria on the left often manifests as paranoid fear on the right. Otherwise reasonable people end up making ridiculous arguments or defending indefensible things. They end up pretending not to see perfectly visible photographs of all these scummy lowlifes making the exact same hand gesture over and over — a gesture literally taken directly from 4chan, where it was expressly decided it would be used in exactly this way, in the open and on the record, so to speak.
Last year, the Anti-Defamation Leauge (ADL) labeled the notion of the OK gesture being a symbol of hate as a “hoax” here. If you simply leave it at that, the link works as a swell closing argument in absolution. But that would not be the whole truth.
Here is what the ADL wrote about the “hoax.”
The “OK” hand gesture hoax originated in February 2017 when an anonymous 4channer announced “Operation O-KKK,” telling other members that “we must flood Twitter and other social media websites…claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy.” The user even provided a helpful graphic showing how the letters WP (for “white power”) could be traced within an “OK” gesture. The originator and others also suggested useful hashtags to help spread the hoax, such as #PowerHandPrivilege and #NotOkay. “Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy,” wrote the poster, “We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s***.”
This is the gaslight. You see? They deliberately associate it with white power, and then, when it is thereafter associated with white power, they’ve proved how dumb the left is somehow.
That’s why hoax is not the correct word. It’s “deliberate.” This is something done deliberately, to actually signal white power, to prevent discussing real issues of race, to bolster their claims that all accusations of racism are frivolous, and to manipulate people into describing perfectly innocent behavior as white power malignancy.
Tragically, it worked like a charm.
Here we are, watching members of the media and leftists sticking to their insane theory that a young Jewish Latina female attorney Zina Bash — by the usual measures a perfect diversity resume — is somehow a racist white supremacist who, by the way, wants to bring about The Handmaid’s Tale.’
The trolls won this round, but thankfully the win was not total with some media, including even Brian Stelter of CNN and Chris Hayes of MSNBC, refusing to fall for it. But a win for the troll nevertheless. An ugly one.
A kid may have just been emulating his president. A woman of color, from a Jewish-Polish family and a Latina mother, wasn’t pimping white power for Kavanaugh. But people — if you can use that word for such jerks, trolls, and scumbags — actually do use that symbol. They do it because they can grin at each other knowing what they mean by it and get away with it. And now they’re laughing.
What do you call it when you’re making it easier for racists to do their racist things? Empowering them. But it’s easy to not do that. Just don’t let them set the rules. Don’t let them have this. And use some common sense, decency, discernment, and restraint. On both political sides.
Hysteria empowered Nazis this week, and used a child of diversity… Jewish diversity… to do it. It was just the first day of the Kavanaugh confirmation. What fresh hell will tomorrow bring?