Back in 2015, far-right pseudojournalist, provocateur and conspiracy peddler Charles C. Johnson was permanently banned from Twitter for numerous cases of doxing and trolling. It led him to whine that he was being “persecuted for journalism.” This from a guy whose idea of “journalism” includes harassing Ebola victims, among other things.
While Johnson’s whining about being the victim of persecution is outrageous in and of itself, it’s even more so when you consider that actual journalists really have been persecuted for nothing more than ordinary journalism. Well, add another to the list. Last week, an investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center was almost kicked off Twitter after he revealed an apparent link between the massacre at a New Zealand mosque and the destruction of one of the historic centers of the Civil Rights Movement.
On March 29, the main office of the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee, near Knoxville, burned to the ground in an apparent act of arson. The center is best known for training a number of prominent civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
Last Tuesday, center officials revealed that a “white power symbol” had been spray-painted on their parking lot. Watch coverage from WATE-TV in Knoxville here.
Co-director Ash-Lee Woodward Henderson said that the first time she saw the symbol was when she and her colleagues came to survey the damage on the morning after the fire.
The symbol is the logo of the Iron Guard, Romania’s fascist party. It was known for being viciously anti-Semitic; indeed, according to historians, the Iron Guard was the only fascist movement that was nearly as virulently anti-Semitic as the Nazis. It briefly became the ruling party of Romania in 1940 in coalition with General Ion Antonescu, but was driven out of power in 1941 when it proved too extreme even for Antonescu and Hitler’s liking. Before it finally gave up power, it orchestrated a violent pogrom in Bucharest in which Jews were butchered and hung from meat hooks.
Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter at the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, thought he’d seen that symbol somewhere recently. He recalled that the New Zealand gunman used it as well. He also recalled that Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, which had been one of the more notorious white supremacist groups before it imploded in an internal squabble, was particularly fond of this logo as well.
Hayden decided to share his findings with his Twitter followers on Tuesday morning.
The following night, Hayden discovered that Twitter had locked his account for 14 days–but offered to unlock it if he removed the tweet about the Iron Guard logo. Hayden smelled a rat and appealed the decision, claiming that in all likelihood that white supremacists had reported the tweet and/or his account in a bad-faith attempt to silence him.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing has become all too common. There is a cabal of right-wing trolls who frequently report the Facebook and Twitter accounts of liberal blogs and bloggers, as well as mainstream journalists who frequently turn the hot lights on either the far right or their dear ones at the federal, state and local level. By reporting several posts as either fake news or harassment all at once, they game Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms in order to bludgeon their targets into silence.
Apparently Twitter hasn’t realized this yet, because on Thursday morning, it told Hayden that his account would remain locked because it found that his tweet about the Iron Guard violated Twitter’s policy against “behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another person’s voice.”
There is something fundamentally wrong when merely highlighting the use of a well-known white supremacist symbol amounts to “behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another person’s voice.” Last I checked, when you demonstrate a proven link in this manner, no one is being persecuted. It’s just good journalism. It was demonstratably obvious that Hayden was being persecuted simply for doing what any reporter worth his salt would do.
After several other Twitter users came to Hayden’s defense, Twitter backed down, unlocked his account and apologized. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Twitter has gotten the message. On Tuesday, Hayden discovered that Sandi Bachom, a freelance journalist who documents white supremacist activity, had her account locked for reporting on white supremacist symbols.
To Hayden’s mind, though, what is happening to him, Bachom and others should be a wake-up call to Twitter and other social media platforms.
If white supremacists are included in the types of voices Twitter is concerned about protecting on their website, it is an error in judgment, and one for which innocent people will eventually pay the price.
That’s because there is no respectable reason to take a balanced or nuanced view of white supremacy. It’s an ideology that causes death to innocent people and one that calls for the outright destruction of our society.
It’s hard to put it any other way. There are certain matters on which there is no other side. And one of those matters is that white supremacy has no place in any civilized society. For the people who peddle this garbage to claim that they’re being persecuted by those calling them out is nothing short of an outrage. And by trying to shut off Hayden’s mic in this manner, they have shown their true colors.
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