The oldest hatred gets woke

Antisemitism is usually associated with the extreme right, for good reason: “alt-right” activists were literally chanting “Jews will not replace us!” in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia not too long ago. And while the current President may not be personally anti-semitic, he’s certainly shown no qualms about amplifying Jewish stereotypes and even neo-Nazis when he thinks it suits his purposes.

But antisemitism is a slippery and adaptable beast, and it has a foothold even among those who insist they’re against all forms of bigotry and hatred. Two recent examples:

First, a heartwarming viral photo from a Black Lives Matter demonstration in London showed a kindly-looking elderly man speaking to a young activist. Turns out that lovely old man is a veteran Holocaust denier:

Britain’s ITV News has been forced to retract a report purportedly about two anti-racism campaigners, one a young black girl and the other an elderly white man, joining forces across the generational divide, after it emerged that the man in question was known to attend antisemitic meetings where Holocaust denial was commonplace.The story was supposed to be a heart-warming one.

A photograph of Rosie Grace and Jim Curran in conversation, snapped by a student at a recent Black Lives Matter protest in London, had quickly gone viral, lauded across the internet as an illustration of the power of the anti-racism protests to bring people together in unity. Curran was particularly praised for a sign he was wearing, which read: “Racism is the virus and we are the vaccine.”

[…]

A report published jointly earlier this year by the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity which protects British Jews against antisemitism, and anti-racism charitable trust Hope Not Hate named Curran as a regular attendee of “Keep Talking,” described in the report as a “conspiracy theory organization” that meets regularly in north London.

According to the report’s authors, a meeting they attended included “open and unchallenged Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy theories about Mossad and the Rothschild banking family.”

A March 5, 2019 meeting was titled: “The loss of freedom of speech on Israel, thanks to bogus antisemitism claims.”

Grace, in a series of since-deleted tweets, made it clear she agrees with Curran:

The difficulty with the photo appears to first have been brought to light by Joanne Bell, an activist against antisemitism, according to CAMERA UK, which tweeted its opposition to the image being lauded. Bell commented in her tweet: “Racists can also wear suits and kindly elderly faces.”

Bell then put Curran’s record to Grace on Twitter, but the latter was unapologetic, defending Curran and his record. In a return tweet, Grace commented “I spoke with Jim and judge him on our convo and from his vibe and his work. The Jews are not innocent.” That tweet appears to have since been deleted.

In a separate tweet Grace added: “He is an activist and a beautiful man. Spoke some real deep truths. His words brought me to tears. He said the genocide the news [sic] went through, was nothing on slavery and what black people endured and are still enduring.”

Meanwhile, Hollywood has apparently decided that veteran Jew-hater Louis Farrakhan is a voice worth amplifying:

Actress Chelsea Handler shared a video of Louis Farrakhan discussing racism on her Instagram page on June 14 and called it “powerful.”

The video is a clip of the nation of Islam leader taking questions from the audience during an appearance on “The Phil Donahue Show” on an unspecified date. During the clip, Farrakhan discusses issues of racism and white supremacy.

“I learned a lot from watching this powerful video,” Handler wrote on her Instagram page.

One Instagram user responded in the comments section, “Based on this logic, if you find a video of Hitler saying something positive and powerful, will you feel equally compelled to share it? You gave hate credibility and a large platform today.”

In the comments section, Handler defended posting the video.

“Hitler was responsible for killing millions of lives,” she replied. “Farrakhan is just responsible for his own promotion of anti-Semitic beliefs. They are very different.”

Another commenter praised Handler for posting the video, stating: “Truth is truth, regardless of who it comes from and whether you like them.”

Handler responded, “Agreed. The message should stand alone.”

[…]

Writer Hazel Cills noted on the feminist website Jezebel that actor Sean Hayes and actress Lisa Rinna also praised the video, and that actress Jessica Chastain may have posted it to her Instagram page before deleting it.

“While he has denied being anti-Semitic, Farrakhan has previously called Judaism a ‘gutter religion,’ has referred to Adolf Hitler as a ‘great man,’ and has spoken about ‘powerful’ and ‘Satanic’ Jews as being his enemy, among many other statements condemning Jewish people,” Cills wrote.

None of these people have access to the nuclear codes, Thank God. But every really bad idea starts out on the fringe and gains currency because more mainstream people adopt it. We should be trying to snuff them out before they get that far.

John-Paul Pagano, a veteran observer of antisemitic conspiracy culture, puts it best:

If you’re explaining, you’re losing

I’ve seen this graphic, explaining what “Defund the Police” actually entails, going around on social media:

There are some very good ideas here. Ideas, unfortunately, that many will not see because they’re turned off by a deliberately provocative, misleading slogan.

Political science lecturer Julie Norman, in The Hill, explains why the phrase “Defund the Police” could end up hurting the advancement of desperately needed reforms:

…words matter, and slogans like “defund (or abolish) the police,” taken without nuanced explainers, could backfire on the very reforms activists want to achieve. 

For most activists, defunding the police does not necessarily mean doing away with police departments (although the Minneapolis City Council has already voted to disband the city’s police force). In most cases, defunding the police might look more like cutting expanding budgets, such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti deciding to slash up to $150 million from the LAPD’s $1.86 billion budget.

A more systemic approach sought by advocates is to re-direct dollars currently going to policing to social services like mental health, domestic abuse, and homelessness, and invest in professionals who could be first responders in those situations instead of police, as is the case in most U.S. precincts. Other proposals include making federal funding to local police departments contingent on making reforms, or shifting current police funds towards community mediation and violence prevention programs.

For those already sympathetic enough to read the fine print, there are a number of interesting policy proposals worthy of consideration. But those important conversations might not happen if the slogans themselves push away those who most need to engage with them, including policymakers and police themselves. 

[…]

There are some who maintain that, given that past procedural reforms have not ended police violence, reforms are not enough, and a more radical “abolish the police” objective is necessary. But most people who use the “defund the police” phrase support more nuanced approaches of re-distributing funding for public safety by increasing investment in other crucial social services. However, the potential conversation around the plausibility of such policies risks being obscured by reducing it to a controversial slogan. Such framings can be useful for mobilizing adherents but can backfire when trying to translate protests into policy.

The current movement has created an unprecedented moment for long-needed reforms. Recent polls show that a strong majority of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, favor police reforms. Less than 1 in 5 support defunding the police. 

By conflating reforming the police with defunding the police, activists risk missing an opportunity to win public support and investment in much-needed reforms.

The Washington Post‘s James Hohmann suggests “Demilitarize the Police” instead.

The virus doesn’t care what’s in your heart

Remember when coronavirus was a thing? NPR remembers.

President Trump this month will begin hitting the road once again to make his pitch for reelection in the 2020 White House race, despite the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc on the lives and livelihoods of households across the country.

[…]

Public experts continue to warn against large gatherings of people, even as the country has begun in the past several weeks to reopen the economy. The coronavirus crisis has already killed more than 100,000 people in the United States — the highest number of fatalities of any country in the world.

Just imagine what a state we’d be in now if there had been, say, people by the thousands marching and chanting slogans all over the world for the past couple of weeks.

Oh, right.

Obviously, I don’t think there’s moral equivalence between a march to oppose police brutality and racism and a hate rally where the conspiracy-theorist-in-chief gets to rant about his real and imagined enemies for a few hours.

The virus, on the other hand, sees no distinction between the two. And if the same people who told us to lock down, but changed their minds and said we should march, then say we have to lock down once again, who is going to take them seriously?

Thomas Chatterton Williams, writing in a notorious right-wing, pro-Trump rag called (checks notes) The Guardian, says it’s not just the Trumpsters who have squandered their credibility for political points:

After two and a half months of death, confinement, and unemployment figures dwarfing even the Great Depression, we have now entered the stage of competing urgencies where there are zero perfect options. Police brutality is a different if metaphorical epidemic in an America slouching toward authoritarianism. Catalyzed by the spectacle of Floyd’s reprehensible death, it is clear that the emergency in Minneapolis passes my own and many people’s threshold for justifying the risk of contagion. 

But poverty is also a public health crisis. George Floyd wasn’t merely killed for being black – he was also killed for being poor. He died over a counterfeit banknote. Poverty destroys Americans every day by means of confrontations with the law, disease, pollution, violence and despair. Yet even as the coronavirus lockdown threw 40 million Americans out of work – including Floyd himself – many progressives accepted this calamity, sometimes with stunning blitheness, as the necessary cost of guarding against Covid-19.

The new, “correct” narrative about public health – that one kind of crisis has superseded the other – grows shakier as it spans out from Minnesota, across America to as far as London, Amsterdam and Paris – cities that have in recent days seen extraordinary manifestations of public solidarity against both American and local racism, with protesters in the many thousands flooding public spaces.

[…]

What are we to make of such whiplash-inducing messaging? Merely pointing out the inconsistency in such a polarized landscape feels like an act of heresy. But “‘Your gatherings are a threat, mine aren’t,’ is fundamentally illogical, no matter who says it or for what reason,” as the author of The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols, put it. “We’ve been told for months to stay as isolated as humanely possible,” Suzy Khimm, an NBC reporter covering Covid-19, noted, but “some of the same public officials and epidemiologists are [now] saying it’s OK to go to mass gatherings – but only certain ones.” 

Public health experts – as well as many mainstream commentators, plenty of whom in the beginning of the pandemic were already incoherent about the importance of face masks and stay-at-home orders – have hemorrhaged credibility and authority. This is not merely a short-term problem; it will constitute a crisis of trust going forward, when it may be all the more urgent to convince skeptical masses to submit to an unproven vaccine or to another round of crushing stay-at-home orders. Will anyone still listen? 

Trump, and his fellow populists around the world, didn’t just come out of nowhere. The past few years have been marked by increasing mistrust of almost every kind of authority. If we can’t trust our public health officials, either, we’re in even bigger trouble than we know.

Ironically, people who support the BLM marches and oppose Trump’s rallies do have a credible argument on their side: the protests are outside while Trump events are held indoors, where the coronavirus may be more easily transmitted. That, and not some fanciful idea about the virus skipping over people who have good intentions, could actually work.

Why #abolishthepolice doesn’t actually mean abolishing the police

The slogans “abolish the police” and “defund the police” are a common sight at demonstrations against police brutality and racism. Jacob Frey, the earnestly liberal mayor of Minneapolis, was mau-maued out of a protest when he wouldn’t commit to police abolition. Even in Truro, Nova Scotia, this past weekend’s march had people carrying a large “abolish the police” banner at the front.

Are people actually proposing to get rid of police altogether, or reduce police departments’ budgets to zero? Law professor Christy E. Lopez says no – at least not any time soon:

To fix policing, we must first recognize how much we have come to over-rely on law enforcement. We turn to the police in situations where years of experience and common sense tell us that their involvement is unnecessary, and can make things worse. We ask police to take accident reports, respond to people who have overdosed and arrest, rather than cite, people who might have intentionally or not passed a counterfeit $20 bill. We call police to roust homeless people from corners and doorsteps, resolve verbal squabbles between family members and strangers alike, and arrest children for behavior that once would have been handled as a school disciplinary issue.

Police themselves often complain about having to “do too much,” including handling social problems for which they are ill-equipped. Some have been vocal about the need to decriminalize social problems and take police out of the equation. It is clear that we must reimagine the role they play in public safety.

Defunding and abolition probably mean something different from what you are thinking. For most proponents, “defunding the police” does not mean zeroing out budgets for public safety, and police abolition does not mean that police will disappear overnight — or perhaps ever. Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental-health care and housing, and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.

The word “abolition” is used explicitly to highlight the comparison with slavery, according to Lopez:

Police abolition means reducing, with the vision of eventually eliminating, our reliance on policing to secure our public safety. It means recognizing that criminalizing addiction and poverty, making 10 million arrests per year and mass incarceration have not provided the public safety we want and never will. The “abolition” language is important because it reminds us that policing has been the primary vehicle for using violence to perpetuate the unjustified white control over the bodies and lives of black people that has been with us since slavery. That aspect of policing must be literally abolished.

I’ve seen many of my Facebook friends (and even some of my Facebook enemies) freaking out about the Minneapolis City Council’s proposal to disband the troubled Minneapolis police department. In practice, I suspect this is not about recreating The Purge, but about dismantling the current department and rebuilding a new one in its place, a plan undertaken with some notable success in Camden, New Jersey.

Honestly, I think many of these suggested reforms are long overdue, and agree that American and Canadian cities are using police to perform functions they really weren’t designed for.

I just wish they’d use another hashtag. As Matt Lewis points out in his latest email newsletter, it doesn’t make any sense to choose a slogan that specifically makes it look like you’re promoting an unpopular fringe idea, especially when that’s not even your actual goal.

My rush to judgment

This week there were two viral stories online that really set me off. The first was about a doctor in Campbellton, New Brunswick who travelled to Quebec, didn’t self-isolate and inadvertently brought COVID-19 back to his home province. The other, complete with shocking video, involved an 18-wheeler barreling into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Minneapolis.

I lashed out against both on Facebook. (I would have done it on twitter, too, if I hadn’t wisely deleted my account.) I called the New Brunswick doctor shockingly irresponsible and said the trucker was literally a terrorist.

Now that the dust has settled, it turns out that stories lacked crucial context.

John Hinderaker at the conservative Minnesota-based blog Power Line notes that the trucker wound up on the closed highway by mistake and did his best to warn and avoid the protesters when he saw them. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt or killed.

Vechirko, it turns out, had made a delivery to a black-owned gas station and innocently ventured onto the highway before authorities had effectively closed it. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but Vechirko was hauled out of his cab and beaten by “protesters.” He was rescued before they could murder him. [Co-blogger Scott Johnson] wrote:

Trailer truck driver Bogdan Vechirko has been defamed by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler and disparaged by Governor Tim Walz. Driving his rig on Highway 35W in Minneapolis, he was surprised to come upon “protesters” packing all lanes of the road in front of him. If he had wanted to hurt them, he could have taken them out like bowling pins. Instead, Vechirko blared his airhorn and brought his rig to a stop before he hit anyone.

Vechiko was beaten by the crowd and denounced by several Minnesota politicians…and by me.

Meanwhile, a Facebook friend of the New Brunswick doctor has a lengthy post explaining why he shouldn’t be scapegoated:

He was also savaged by politicians. And again, on my own Facebook page.

The Covington incident from early 2019, in which a group of teenagers were subjected to a witch-hunt based on misleading photos and video, was a defining moment for me. Even when I thought the boys were in the wrong, I believed the response was unnerving and over-the-top. When it turned out they were innocent but even professional journalists kept piling on anyway, it made me fear for society itself. Social media is whipping us up in angry mobs.

(People say mainstream media is making it worse, but I believe the opposite: mainstream media is under pressure to join the mob after it’s flared up. By my reckoning, the average American liberal angrily cancels his or her New York Times subscription five times a year because of an insufficiently judgmental headline or doubleplusungood op-ed.)

For all of my self-righteousness about these online mobs, it turns out I’m just as guilty. I have to be better. We all do.

Here’s how a great man 150 years ago avoided publicly flying off the handle:

Abraham Lincoln had a brilliant tactic to dial down his anger during the Civil War, a time when the country wasn’t just divided–the house was “on fire,” according to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times.

[…]

According to Goodwin, when Lincoln was angry at a cabinet member, a colleague or one of his generals in the Union army, he would write a letter venting all of his pent-up rage. Then–and this is the key–he put it aside.

Hours later or the next day, he would look at the letter again so he could “attend to the matter with a clearer eye.” More often than not, he didn’t send the letter. We know this was Lincoln’s tactic because years after his death historians discovered a trove of letters with the notation: never sent and never signed.

Lincoln practiced this habit for three reasons. First, he didn’t want to inflame already heated passions. Second, he realized that words said in haste aren’t always clear-headed and well-considered. Third, he did it as a signal–a learning opportunity–for others on his now famous “team of rivals.”

Twitter wouldn’t be such a dumpster fire if it held your tweets for 24 hours before they become public.

Some take a knee to protest, others bend the knee to submit

This man was considered the future of the Republican Party, once. Now he’s defending his God-Emperor having protesters (and allegedly actual clergy) tear-gassed so he could have a photo-op holding a Bible as awkwardly as Michael Jackson kissed Lisa Marie Presley.

Trump’s opponent this fall, acting like an actual leader, met with demonstrators in person and talked to them.

But I want to go back even further, to another time when the United States of America was at war with himself. The President back then was loathed passionately by his political opponents. I’m sure death threats flooded into the White House every day. And then a shooting by authorities inflamed tensions even further.

But that President nevertheless went to the Lincoln Memorial one night, without a heavy security presence, and spent two hours talking to anti-government protesters and hearing their concerns.

That President’s name was Richard Milhous Nixon.

Update: speaking of Tricky Dick…

Iran stands up for social justice (stop laughing)

I love the compare-and-contrast in this Reuters story:

Iran took Washington to task on Saturday over the alleged killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer that sparked protests in the United States over racial injustice.

“Some don’t think #BlackLivesMatter,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter. “To those of us who do: it is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism. Time for a #WorldAgainstRacism.”

[…]

Separately, Iran’s interior minister indicated in an interview that the death toll in November street protests in Iran over fuel price hikes was below 225.

The reported toll has varied between an Amnesty International figure of over 300 and a Reuters account of 1,500 – both dismissed by the authorities.

No one tweets #IranianLivesMatter.

That said, just because Iran says America has problems with racism and police brutality doesn’t mean it isn’t true. My message to the American government would be to work toward making it harder for hostile governments to speak out against human rights abuses in the US, just as Soviet propaganda embarrassed Americans into supporting the goals of the Civil Rights Movement.

My message to the Iranian government would be: خودت را جدی بگیرید

(I love Google Translate)