Bullshit Hell in a handcart Media

Dangerous bullshit

Two unrelated but connected pieces today: first, Paul Mason in the New Statesman about QAnon.

In the past seven days we’ve seen such a “lying world of consistency” inspire mass actions by far-right movements, from the far-right invasion of Portland, to the storming of the Reichstag by anti-lockdown protesters, to the Trafalgar Square demonstration, also against masks and lockdowns.

At each of these protests, fascist symbols were displayed alongside folksy, sub-political slogans; in London and Berlin known neo-Nazis stood alongside libertarian hippies. The glue holding it all together is the conspiracy theory known as QAnon.

…If it literally came to pass that the US military staged a coup, threw Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton into Guantanamo and exposed thousands of famous people as Satanic paedophiles, what would the US look like? There would have to be camps, prisons, trials, secret detention centres – and, of course, the people in them would not be Hollywood stars, but black, Muslim and Hispanic and Jewish Americans, together with the supposed “cultural Marxists” who are alleged to be conspiring to “replace” white Christian America.

The same “white replacement” narrative is at the heart of the present-day anti-abortion movement. Here’s  Sian Norris in Byline Times on the myth of “live abortion” and its use by the far right.

To understand these attacks on abortion rights, one needs to look to the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory – a racist trope that believes a mix of low white birth rates and rising immigration are ‘replacing’ the white race in the United States (and in Europe).

The way to raise the white birth rate, its adherents argue, is to pursue “procreation not immigration”. And the only way you can achieve that is by restricting or flat-out denying women autonomy over their own bodies – restricting access to abortion and, in some cases, incentivising birth.

…Anti-abortion policies are not about faith or religious morality anymore – if they ever were. Abortion is increasingly an issue of white supremacy, with right-wing leaders in the United States and Europe promising to halt a perceived ‘demographic decline’ by getting more (white) women to have (white) babies, rather than let (non-white) families in.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart Media

Queer Eye for the lobster guy

This, by Adam Ramsay in Opendemocracy, is magnificent. It’s about toxic masculinity, male depression and the siren call of bad actors, and it’s endlessly quotable:

The event was a sort of rally for far Right forces hoping to storm the European elections. But the combination of speakers seemed a bit incongruous: Catholic bishops and alt-Right YouTube stars; Italian far Right politicians and American evangelical pastors. While most started their speeches by announcing the enormous number of children they had fathered – as though success comes with the capacity to ejaculate – they were otherwise an odd mix.

It also heaps deserved derision on Jordan Peterson.

[we] watched in horror as the alt-Right Canadian psychology professor conquered YouTube. Like an addictive substance, he lured depressed young men back to the toxic behaviours and power hierarchies which crushed their souls. And he won fame.

…He encourages fans to accept their place in a world where we almost all suffer from collective and unconscious racism, sexism and snobbery, rather than seeking to change it.

Grifters’ amplification of toxic masculinity is a key factor in the rise of the far right.

The attraction of these movements shouldn’t be surprising. If you are the sort of person who is accustomed to being given power by social hierarchies – white, male, straight – then those who tell you to wield that power with pride, that doing so will make you feel alive, will always be a source of temptation.

One reason that openDemocracy’s Tracking the Backlash project focuses on the war on women’s and LGBTQI rights is that toxic masculinity is a key ingredient in the cocktail that has intoxicated so many young men in recent years, and drawn them into far Right movements.

Just as we can’t fully understand the rise of Trump without understanding Gamergate, incels, and the 4Chan community, we can’t understand the elite institutions driving us to authoritarian capitalism without understanding the sociology, psychology and social movements of toxic masculinity.

Ramsay’s references to the Queer Eye programme will no doubt annoy some readers and make others conclude that this is an unserious article, but it’s a useful device to talk about masculinity (because masculinity itself is absolutely not a bad thing; the problem is with regressive, reactionary, repressive ideas of what men should and shouldn’t be).

I thought this was insightful:

Wages have been stagnant in the US for decades, and millions who believed that by now they would have entered the middle class have discovered that they are very definitely working class.

For Jordan Peterson, the solution to this situation – and the reason he is beloved of the powerful – is to accept it. The sixth of his famous ‘12 Rules for Life’ – the title of his bestselling 2018 book – is “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” In other words, ‘know your place’.

And his implicit message goes a lot further than that. The prominence that he – and so many of his fellow travellers – give to their refusal to accept trans people only makes sense when you understand that for them, there is no greater sin than refusing to accept your place in the social hierarchy. After all, if you endlessly work hard to accept your rank in a world which makes you miserable, you resent no one more than those who refuse to follow. To be trans is to transgress against their world order, and they can’t stand it.

Peterson’s message isn’t just “Don’t change the world.” It’s “Don’t change who the world tells you that you are.” And it does profound damage.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart Media

Paper tigers

Nesrine Malik in The Guardian on fearmongering and culture wars:

It is about order. The threats to order are always present, and always held at bay, just barely, by conservative leaders valiantly fighting the imminent deluge. This authoritarian populist strategy is founded on an essential fiction: the pretence of powerlessness among politicians, and their voters, who are very much in charge. The weak and the marginalised, and especially their fragile movements for racial and economic equality, are cast as a terrifying force, influential and deeply embedded – a shadow regime that will bloom into tyranny the instant the Democrats are elected.

In Britain, we watch this American political horror from behind our fingers, with the bewildered bemusement of a country far from this madness. But we are there too. The right in the UK now is following the same playbook.

Malik focuses on the fictional Black Lives Matter ban on singing Land of Hope and Glory, entirely invented by the Murdoch press. There are many more, all of them designed to distract you from the incompetence and corruption of the people running the show.

Things are bad now, and they’re going to get worse: we’re apparently going to get not one but two new broadcasters who hope to bring Fox News-style partisan reporting to the UK in order to combat the supposed lefty wokeness of the BBC.

Journalist Mic Wright:

While Sky News has become more pluralist and delivered higher quality output since it slipped the yolk of Murdoch, these new outfits will likely push the impartiality rules to their very limits, enabled by a government that looks certain to abolish those restrictions altogether for commercial channels, while keeping the BBC firmly leashed to them.

…Like Times Radio, TalkRadio, and LBC, the new UK Fox News-style channels will succeed. Not simply on a ratings level — that matters less — but by pushing the overall discourse in the direction of their right-wing owners and forcing BBC News into ever more difficult corners.

In the culture war — constructed whole cloth by the right-wing news operators and their associates in the think-tanks — the BBC has a pop-gun and the right-wing broadcasters and newspapers have heavy artillery.

Hell in a handcart

A forensic, frightening read

I’ve just finished reading Democracy For Sale by Peter Geoghegan. It’s a fascinating and forensic analysis of the corrupting effect of dark money on British politics, and it left me thoroughly saddened: the toxic combination of big money and big tech is having a ruinous effect, and I don’t see a light at the end of this particular tunnel.

The Guardian:

It’s a compulsively readable, carefully researched account of how a malignant combination of rightwing ideology, secretive money (much of it from the US) and weaponisation of social media have shaped contemporary British (and to a limited extent, European) politics. And it has been able to do this in what has turned out to be a regulatory vacuum – with laws, penalties and overseeing authorities that are no longer fit for purpose.

The Herald:

Written in crisp, vivid prose, Democracy for Sale is a dense but compelling narrative that takes us from the backstreets of Washington DC to Viktor Orbàn’s Hungary. Above all, it is a call to arms, and everyone who is concerned about our democracy should read it.

While Geoghegan remains an optimist, he does not hide the scale or urgency of the challenge. “Like the climate, democracy is fast reaching a tipping point,” he warns.

Hell in a handcart Media

Teaching boys to hate women

This, by Zoe Williams interviewing author Laura Bates, is terrifying: the toxic world of online misogyny. I think many people appreciate that the internet is a toxic swamp, but I don’t think many people appreciate the scale or the danger of it.

“I started hearing boys at school who already felt that they’d been poisoned against the idea of even having a conversation about feminism. And they were coming out with some quite extreme things: feminism is a cancer, all women lie about rape, white men are the real victims of society … But the moment it really clicked for me was when they started repeating, at schools from rural Scotland to inner-city London, the same wrong statistics.

Women and minority groups have been trying to raise the alarm about this online radicalisation for at least six years, and they have been ignored.

The point Bates makes is both stark and subtle: there is a live community of violent extremists, operating online without censure, generating concrete terrorist attacks in which the perpetrators are very open about their guiding ideology of misogyny, and radicalising young boys

…this world of extreme misogyny is chillingly intertwined with the neo-Nazi one. “The journey of many men who are groomed and radicalised online towards white supremacy starts in anti-feminist forums,” Bates says. “You can see it in the overlap of the lexicon – the entire dense, complex language they’ve created for themselves [red pills, blue pills as in The Matrix, black pills to denote suicidal certainty] – is very similar across both groups.

A lot of white supremacy is predicated on this obsession with birth rates and replacement theory, the idea that white women need to be forced into sexual servitude and raped, in order to bear white, pure babies. The incel movement is obsessed with sterilising or forcing abortions on black women. And some groups explicitly say – they call it ‘adding cherry flavour to children’s medicine’ – that you target kids of 11-up with anti-feminist memes and jokes, and that’s the gateway to white nationalism.”

Many of these tropes – replacement theory, “tradwives” and so on – have infiltrated the mainstream media and politics both here and in the US.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart

“God. Damn. YouTube.”

If you don’t want to make yourself thoroughly miserable about the state of the world, don’t read the Reddit group r/QAnonCasualties. It’s a forum for people who’ve lost or are losing friends and family to conspiracy theories.

Mum, stepdad and brother have been well down the rabbit hole since about 2013-2014.

Started with flat earth, now I’ve heard almost all conspiracies you could imagine. Doctors are bad and all drugs are bad, vaccines cause all health problems, billionaires eating babies, flouride, 5g. It all started because YouTube. God. Damn. YouTube.


Since we’ve been in lockdown [my two best friends have] become consumed by Plandemic misinformation, anti-mask and COVID denial stuff, and my friend admitted to me the other day that she supports Trump because “he’s the only one doing anything about the child trafficking.” She’s gotten a medical exemption from wearing a mask because she thinks the virus is a lie.

I haven’t mentioned this, but I won’t trust her around my newborn since she’s not being safe with the virus, and I also have a condition that puts me in the highly risk category.

In many cases the slide into conspiracy theories began with trauma.

[My boyfriend’s mother] really started to subscribe to conspiracy theories over 20 years ago, when her other son (BF’s little brother) was diagnosed with severe autism. That son died last year, just before his 25th birthday, after suffering from seizures his whole life. She blames vaccines for all of it.

Unsurprisingly, she is very suspicious of COVID-19 and masks, has already stated she will never take a COVID vaccine, doesn’t understand BLM or the protests, etc… and yesterday at dinner, she asked us if we knew about “pizzagate”. I braced myself. She claimed that some of BF’s cousins opened her eyes to this theory and she’s starting to believe it.

This one’s from the UK, a woman writing about her boyfriend:

His Grandad has just passed away and I think he was in a vulnerable place making him more susceptible to all this. He was researching more and more, joining more and more groups on Reddit/Facebook, watching countless videos and basically just spending hours and hours getting deeper ‘down the rabbit hole’

…I feel like I’ve lost my boyfriend. He’s normally so level headed and sound minded and normally so smart and switched on but now he’s been brainwashed by these people

It’s a terrible litany of destroyed friendships, families and relationships, made all the sadder by the knowledge that the people who’ve been sucked in by this bullshit believe that they’re the rational ones.

This is absolutely breaking my head, because at this point any sort of rational discussion hits an immense brick wall. How can you argue with someone who always says that all your souces are “fake news”, and all her sources are correct?

It’s also very clear that these conspiracies are spreading far beyond their usual audience.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart

Your neighbours are going mad

One of my friends has been watching with horror as a former school friend has plummeted down the rabbit hole of online radicalisation. The former friend is a university educated middle class woman; think stereotypical Waitrose shopper.

Six months ago, the friend started posting on Facebook about her doubts over the official COVID death tolls.

Three months later:

She has gone from questioning official death tolls to hollering about 5G to spreading QAnon conspiracies on Facebook: “I’ve done my research!”

And now we’re at the six months mark:

This weekend she was out at the QAnon protests with her husband and kids. Maskless, no social distancing. Wearing a T-shirt that said “NO TO: pedophiles, Bill Gates, Covid Lies, Plandemic, MSM”…. out on the street giving speeches about Pizzagate and how it’s linked to the ‘fake virus’ through a megaphone.

As my friend pointed out, note the American spelling of “paedophile”. QAnon is a US conspiracy movement that’s being imported wholesale, American spellings and all.

If you’re not familiar with QAnon, it’s a far-right conspiracy theory endorsed by clueless celebrities, Donald Trump and other Republican politicians and, increasingly, the people next door. It’s grown significantly during lockdown and social networks have been too slow to crack down on it.

The BBC puts it very well.

At its heart, QAnon is a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.

Let’s just read that again.

President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.

It’s a kind of meta-conspiracy theory that happily pulls in other conspiracy theories – 5G phone masts spreading coronavirus, Bill Gates supposedly putting microchips in Coronavirus vaccines, Hilary Clinton carrying out child sacrifices – and makes them its own. Remember the recent claims that the online furniture shop Wayfair was trafficking stolen children? QAnon.

The FBI considers “conspiracy-driven domestic extremists” a growing threat:

The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.

The Guardian featured a piece about US women who are falling for and amplifying these conspiracy theories.

This is not solely a fringe group of uninformed people blindly forwarding cat videos. These are college-educated women who (correctly or incorrectly) believe they have done their research. They look out for their families, the health of their children, and they share information on their Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Adherent literature abounds, providing a rabbit hole of media links to seemingly real evidence from experts.

There are obvious parallels with UK anti-trans activism, which I’ve seen described as “QAnon for British women”: it too rejects science and facts because “I’ve done my research.”

“From Rockefeller to Gates, it’s all related,” Alice told me. “This has been in the works for a long time, and it’s all part of a new world order of control and surveillance.” She attends Zoom meetings with doctors who explain the “misuse of ventilators in NYC hospitals” and how “wearing a mask will kill you”. She felt privy to a labyrinth of interconnected world-altering plots. My questioning the credibility of these sources was taken as a sure sign that I had been brainwashed by the mainstream media.

My friend:

The speed of these conversions is frightening.

We are living in terrifying times.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Shots are fired

We’ve known for some time that Donald Trump and the Republican Party intend to demonise trans people and trans allies in their election campaign to distract from that whole “killing 170,000 people and being corrupt on a scale never seen before” thing, and the first shots in that attack have now been fired.

With the help of the Christmas-voting turkeys in the Log Cabin Republicans, Trump is being positioned as “the most pro-gay president” of all time, an “honour” he gladly accepted despite his administration attempting to roll back rights not just for trans people but for all LGBT+ people. The Log Cabin Republicans, not for the first time, are providing the cover for Trump’s assault on trans Americans while turning a blind eye to his administration’s discriminatory acts towards the entire LGBT+ community.

And then there’s this, from this week’s Trump speech in Pennsylvania.

They want to cancel you, totally cancel you. Take your job. Turn your family against you for speaking your mind, while they indoctrinate your children with twisted, twisted world views that nobody ever thought possible

(Incidentally, if you rewrote that slightly I could convince you it was from a Times or Guardian op-ed or a JK Rowling blog post. That’s how far down the rabbit hole we are right now.)

Hate crimes against trans people are rising globally because of language like this, and in the US the violent deaths of trans people is expected to reach a record high this year.

It’s pretty clear who he’s going for here, and what the consequences will be.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart Media

Facebook fuels hate

This, by Julia Carrie Wong, was written in 2017.

Facebook groups – like any social capital – can just as easily be used for ill as good. And social capital is not an unalloyed good. A 2013 study by New York University political scientist Shanker Satyanath, Bowling for Fascism, found that dense networks of social organizations and clubs in Germany helped promote the spread of nazism. And even a cursory search of Facebook unearths networks of extremists using groups to recruit and organize.

And this is from the same paper this week.

Last Wednesday Facebook announced it was banning conspiracy theories about Jewish people “controlling the world”. However, it has been unwilling to categorise Holocaust denial as a form of hate speech, a stance that ISD describe as a “conceptual blind spot”.

The ISD also discovered at least 36 Facebook groups with a combined 366,068 followers which are specifically dedicated to Holocaust denial or which host such content. Researchers found that when they followed public Facebook pages containing Holocaust denial content, Facebook recommended further similar content.

…A Facebook company spokesperson said: “We take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust. The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way.

You’ll note that the words “Holocaust denial” aren’t in that statement. Facebook continues:

While we do not take down content simply for being untruthful, many posts that deny the Holocaust often violate our policies against hate speech and are removed.

And many posts that deny the Holocaust do not violate Facebook’s policies and are not removed. I’ve seen this myself: I’ve given up reporting Facebook hate speech, including posts containing Holocaust denial videos, because every time I did Facebook came back and said that the content did not violate their community guidelines.

When historians write about our era, they will conclude that Mark Zuckerberg was one of the bad guys.

Hell in a handcart

Far right in “racist” shocker

The Independent:

The British far right is becoming more openly racist in the wake of a backlash against international Black Lives Matter protests, experts have warned.

A report by Hope Not Hate, seen exclusively by The Independent before its release, said that years of dominance by Tommy Robinson and other figures focused on Muslims was giving way to rising white nationalism.

The bigotry was always there, but it was toned down for PR purposes.

[The report author] warned that Patriotic Alternative was “trying to give the friendliest possible face to extremely fascist ideas” by using veiled terminology.

But Hope Not Hate’s report found that private online chats between members were “awash with extreme racism, Holocaust denial and open veneration of fascism”.

It said Patriotic Alternative had “antisemitism at its core” and played into conspiracy theories claiming Jews are orchestrating the “replacement” of white Britons.

There are strong parallels with UK anti-trans activism, sections of which are also openly bigoted: scratch a transphobe and you’ll often find an antisemite, a racist and/or a homophobe. It too perpetuates the conspiracy theory that Jews are orchestrating the “replacement” of white Britons, in this case women. 

Patriotic Alternative claims that children are being exposed to pro-LGBT and anti-white “propaganda” and advocates home-schooling using its own package of hateful material on “history and culture”.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which group of bigots you’re looking at.