Opinion

Looking Up: Proud Boys Backlash Was Justified

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Looking Up: Proud Boys Backlash Was Justified

Here are some things that are scary: Mob justice. Vicious gossip. The way the Internet allows people to be less kind and jump to conclusions.

Here are some other things that are super scary: Murder and death threats. Militarized hate groups on the rise. Moral relativism, and the inability to appropriately prioritize dangers in a given situation.

Recently an anonymous post was published on Love & Rage Media pointing out that some employees of a local business on Lark Street were members of the organization Proud Boys, a group that promotes street violence to defend the superiority of “Western culture.” (They were among the people showing up armed and attacking people at the antifascist demonstrations in Berkeley, for example.) While not a fully reported journalistic endeavor (which would be worth doing), the post was nonetheless not based solely on hearsay and gossip as some have claimed and it did not doxx anyone. (Also see these excellent points by Bob Wright on the issue of being anonymous.) It contained a detailed list at the end of links documenting its claims—the individuals in question were publically “out” about their membership in this organization, and no one has disputed that.

Given that this organization has beating people up in public as a requirement to achieve its fourth level of membership, and that its founder is deeply, horrifically racist, misogynist, homophobic, etc., this revelation made members of the community feel scared for their safety. After all, we are living in a country and an environment where people are dying from hate crimes on a regular basis—even if you leave out police violence (which you shouldn’t). Do I have to remind you of the Portland train killing? Or the young man killed on a Maryland campus for being black? Murders of trans folk not abating? The Indian immigrants killed in Kansas?

Trans and queer folks, Muslims, and people of color have every right to be actually scared for their safety around people who are members of organizations that assert superiority over them and threaten violence against them or against people demonstrating on their behalf. (File under: Things I can’t believe I have to say.)

If, as Albany resident Rebecca Tell said in a letter submitted to the Times Union, this makes people who are members of said groups unable to fulfill the job requirements of making people feel safe and welcome, which it clearly did given the number of people who were starting to get nervous about even walking down Lark Street, then that is a very legitimate reason for them to leave.

Should we be careful not to engage in a slippery slope where we jump on unsubstantiated gossip to engage in mob justice calls for the heads of people we just happen to disagree with politically? Absolutely. The McCarthy era was bone-chillingly terrible. We cannot go back there. Is the Left immune to falling into such traps? Nope, not at all.

Does that mean that we should throw up our hands and say we can’t tell the difference between embarrassment and threats of violence, pointing out something already public and doxxing out of spite, losing a job and being lynched, disagreeing on how to structure our economic system and disagreeing over the full humanity of people different from us, attacking the vulnerable and defending them? No. Really it doesn’t.

And this is the thing that really rings hollow to me about all the outcry about the outing—the lack of context. Racial justice advocates, feminists, trans folks—the people who were by and large raising the alarm—are far and away the largest victims of Internet threats, doxxing (which didn’t happen here, to be clear), and the like. Remember the Guardian study that showed that a phenomenally large percentage of its abusive comments were directed at its female and black writers? Remember the women who have had to cancel public appearances due to death threats for calling Trump “racist and sexist” or calling for gender parity in the gaming world?

Activists of color I know (none of whom have ever advocated violence against white people or advancing a world view where their race/culture should dominate the whole country) are constantly posting screenshots of the disgusting, anonymous threats made against them just for doing their work.

Despite some unfortunate immaturity in the comment sections (on both sides), I don’t think that most people responding to the Proud Boys situation with a desire to see something done were Internet ingénues, gleefully unaware of its dangerous powers or the fact that it sometimes contains inaccurate information. And no one that I saw threatened anything worse than boycotting the businesses, which is fair game.

It’s just as problematic to cry “gossip” and “free speech violation” when those things are not in fact accurate as it is to uncritically accept gossip.

The self-professed liberals clutching their pearls over the fact that this became an issue at all remind me of the “white moderates” Martin Luther King Jr. got so frustrated by, more concerned with avoiding conflict than actually protecting anybody. Where are your priorities?

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