Everywhere is war (transcript)

Published September 2nd, 2017

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Grits and greens, pecans and pralines, I do declare, you’re listening to THIS IS NOT A TEST which is an Internet show thingie that consists of me talking. Me, Michael Phillips, and I also happen to not be a test myself, for the record. I beg your honor’s pardon and indulgence while I attempt to enlighten the jury as to the relevant particulars and so forth. Be they as they may. And whatnot. As usual the first 30 seconds of this make no sense, but they’re not supposed to. We’re just warming up, you and I, getting the juices flowing. Clearing the deck. And now we may proceed with another part that should make more sense. Should.

Okay. Well, I just finished a really great book about modern day lynch mobs called, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.” The subject of which is particularly relevant while I’m putting this together, as at least one person “outed” on Twitter for taking part in that Nazi rally in Charlottesville was incorrectly identified by an account called @YesYoureRacist. Oops, sorry we ruined your life, bro. I understand the emotional response that makes people do these things – probably more so now after reading the book – but it’s not like you can retract the Twitter avalanche when you get something wrong. Like publicly pointing the Nazi finger at someone when they’re (probably) not a Nazi.

It’s funny, because not more than 2 days after finishing that book, I ran head first into the Twitter lynch mob at work when they named us as the host of a site that was raising money for some of the neo-Nazi types. The first post was good, “Hey, just wanted to make you aware…” but then they immediately went off the rails, and we were getting email threats – most of which said, “this isn’t a threat, but…” – and phone calls and a Twitter post, by one dink, anyway, calling for the hacking group anonymous to get involved. To DDoS us, I suppose. One especially irritating lunatic troll warrior, who lives in Australia, by the way, not America, posted on Twitter, “Watch out for <my company>, they support fascists and they will hand over your information to them.” That weird and completely incorrect post came less than 2 hours after I said, “Thanks, we’re looking in to it,” and while I was actively working to get the site moved away from our service.

They weren’t really interested in what I was saying, and once the site was down, all of those people who were so angry were nowhere to be found. Not a peep from them. They’d moved on to the next outrage. I’m tempted to tag them all in a Tweet that just says, “You’re welcome.” But they never really cared in the first place, it was just a dog pile. Bloodlust. We could have publicly patted ourselves on the back for kicking the site to the curb and made a big public declaration of our anti-Nazi stance, but I decided not to do that. Not because we’re pro-Nazi, but because to me it would have felt opportunistic to make a statement at the time. Like we were trying to get some “good PR” by piggyback on a tragedy. That, and I don’t particularly want to draw attention to our de facto censorship, whether or not it was justified.

Ah, Nazis. In 1990 a guy wrote on usenet, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1. That is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or his deeds.” That guy was Mike Godwin and what he wrote became known as Godwin’s law. That law has been bastardized over the years into the idea that once a comparison to Hitler is made, whoever mentioned Hitler has automatically lost the argument.

But you have to set Godwin’s law aside completely to talk about the modern Nazis here in America. And I don’t mean the millions of casually racist or lazy racists, I mean those few thousand real fascist knuckle draggers who spend their lives ranting on the Internet about the dirty Jews and the savage niggers and the Trilateral Commission and the media, all gathering together in their little groups of 3 or 4 or a dozen in the less populated areas of the country. This thing in Charlottesville Virginia was a mega-gathering of just such addled imbeciles, and it should bring us all comfort that they were only able to amass a few hundred brave freedom fighters for their “Unite the Right” tiki party. And even fewer showed up to similar rallies held after Charlottesville.

Normal people seem to be very afraid these days that half the country are Nazis, but clearly they are not. Like I said, a very large number of our brothers and sisters here in the U.S. may be racist, and that’s no good, but they aren’t koo-koo drooling racists like the asswipes who marched around a statue of Robert E. Lee in Virginia holding tiki torches and screaming about the oppression of white people. And by the way, what do they mean by “Jews will not replace us?” I thought Jews were white people. Well, what do I know. But those casual racists aren’t going to drive a car into you or blow up your church or anything, the way a determined Nazi kook might.

There’s a lot of chatter that Trump has made the hardcore racists more bold, just by being Trump and what Trump means and apparently believes. The irony, or course, as we’ve talked about before, the irony being that Trump wouldn’t sit down anywhere with any of the people marching around that statue and worshipping the confederate flag any more than he would sit down with a bunch of Mexicans or poor people of any kind. He doesn’t give a shit about poor people, and most of those Nazis are poor people. So yeah, it’s funny that they take such pride in Trump, someone who wouldn’t hesitate to bulldoze all of them into a mass grave to make room for another golf course.

Maybe Trump has made them more bold, but he hasn’t made more of them. He hasn’t created new Nazis. Well, with the exception of those kids of his maybe. Tell me those Trump sons don’t look like storm troopers. The daughter too, as far as that goes. So if Trump isn’t creating more Nazis, what does create more Nazis? Well, the Internet, of course! Just like it’s created more jihadists, more lefty activists, more writers and artists, more proud queer and trans people, more everything. The Internet has amplified the world, good and bad. There’s more of everything today because it’s easier to become anything or find those other five people who are just as weird as you are. But the idea that shutting down Nazi websites or Fox News is suddenly going to make the world a beautiful place is naive.

The Internet, or more accurately, the web, really excited me in its early days. It was magic, and it was freedom and democratization and most importantly, it was a completely free exchange of ideas with no governing body. Meaning no one could tell me I couldn’t say something, whatever I wanted to say. It’s worth pointing out here that freedom wasn’t planned, it was just kind of baked in to the Internet. None of the people who built it had free expression in mind, that wasn’t what they set out to do. It just happened that way. Of course the advantage to having a freedom guaranteed by a governing body – or a constitution – is that one person can’t decide to revoke that freedom the way one person can decide to revoke your expression on the Internet. I mean, I don’t have to look any further than myself for an example of that, since I decided to kick the Nazi fundraising site off of our service, just one guy sitting at a desk in Los Angeles. And the guy who ran the site had no recourse, because we’re a private company. So that’s the down side, and it’s something that’s going to be debated a lot more now that the Nazis are having trouble finding online homes.

But overall, and especially in the early days, the Internet and the web were total freedom, and freedom is exhilarating. It’s also frightening, kind of like getting into a shopping cart and suddenly your friends decide that it would be funny to give you a push and send you bouncing down a long hill that ends at a busy intersection. Exciting like that. Because freedom has a cost. And one aspect of that cost is you might not really dig other people’s idea of freedom. But it’s all the same freedom, man, so you have to deal with it. That’s why I always argued – and guess I would still argue – that Nazis should have as much right to a website as you do. Assuming you are the opposite of a Nazi, which for the sake of argument, we’ll all assume. Why do I believe that? Because if a typical kid can see what Nazis really are, what they really believe, they will – most of them will – come to the conclusion that Nazis are really lame and they won’t want to be involved with them.

Bringing something into the light opens it up to investigation, and if that thing has a shaky or disgusting foundation, that will become obvious very quickly. Forcing something underground though – well, of course that has the opposite effect, especially on a young person, many of whom have a natural inclination toward being anti-establishment, because that’s just the natural state of a lot of young people. Which is good, because that’s how societies progress. In other words, tell a kid they can’t be a Nazi a lot of them will immediately think, “Oh yeah? Fuck you, I’m going to be the biggest Nazi you’ve ever seen…” without even knowing what it means.

Darkness also allows the thing that’s living in the dark to more easily misrepresent itself. “Hey, being a Nazi is cool, look at these pictures of hot Nazi chicks! All the beer you can drink at our next meeting!” It’s like Scientology. Oh, you didn’t see Scientology coming, did you? Well it’s a good analogy. Scientology is a dangerous and toxic mind control cult. You can read that fact now in a million places on the Internet and see it on Leah Remini’s TV show every week. But the thing about a mind control cult is you have to indoctrinate people slowly. Starting with positive, helpful things and slowly but surely leading them down the path to big-screen technicolor looney tunes.

“But I’ve learned so many good and helpful things from them, how could this group suddenly be insane? You know, I’m just going to give these crazy parts the benefit of the doubt, because up to now everything they told me seemed to make sense.” That’s exactly how Scientology – and every other cult – works. But do you know what started hammering the nails into Scientology’s coffin? That’s right, our friend the Internet! South Park could only make a cartoon ridiculing Scientology because the Internet revealed the “upper level” batshit crazy parts of Scientology for everyone to see.

Most lower level Scientologist had – and many of them still do have – no idea how utterly ridiculous and laughable the actual core beliefs of Scientology are, because when you’re in the cult you have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to read those beliefs. Now, how many of those lower level Scientologists who don’t know about Xenu and the galactic overlords and body thetans would have never joined if they knew it was all based on poorly written comic book stories? I’d have to imagine it would be a lot fewer. Very few. So you could make a strong case that opening the truth about Scientology up to the light was the thing that will eventually destroy it.

The local Nazis inviting the young kid to a kegger to meet some cute Aryan chicks is the same thing as the early, seemingly sensible levels of Scientology. It’s the beginning of the slow indoctrination. Then the radical and insane ideas are revealed bit by bit, and before you know it, the kid is goose stepping around a civil war statue. He didn’t start out as an extremist, he was turned into one. But if the extremism is out in the open for everyone to see, you can’t trick as many people into your cult, whatever the cult is. Because people are more likely to see the whole picture and say, “Um, no thanks, you motherfuckers are crazy.”

But if you are in favor of freedom of speech or expression for yourself, then you have to be in favor of it for everyone. Sorry. As soon as you say, “Okay, we have free speech, except for these guys and those guys…” as soon as you say that, you don’t have free speech. You just don’t. Freedom has a cost, and sometimes, like when you’re talking about Nazis or any other infected pimple on humanity’s ass, it can be really painful to pay that cost. But there’s no freedom of expression without it.

“Well then what do we do about Nazis, mjp? You saying we should just leave them alone?” No, I’m not. In the book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson makes the point that most of the people doing the public shaming are wounded somehow, and that’s why they engage in dog pile activities like public shaming. I don’t know about that, but if there is any validity to that, you might also make the assumption that people joining dangerous fringe groups are wounded somehow and are just looking for somewhere to belong. If the cost of that belonging is wearing a swastika armband or saluting a picture of L. Ron Hubbard, well, so be it.

And if that’s true, then it’s also true that you could sway someone who has strayed down one of those dark paths using compassion and understanding. That’s not theoretical, it really happens. Just a few days ago I read an article about a guy who was instrumental in the formation of the modern American Nazi movement – they don’t call themselves that, but whatever code words they want to use, he was a founder, and now he has pretty much devoted his life to speaking out against hate groups, and his group in particular, and he does that because someone – or more than one person – talked to him about what he was doing with compassion and understanding, rather than attacking him, and eventually the light bulb went off over his head and he realized everything he was doing was wrong.

Have you ever heard of Megan Phelps-Roper? If you haven’t, you’ve certainly heard of the group she was born in to: the Westboro Baptist Church, that minuscule congregation of lunatics who hold up the GOD HATES FAGS and THANK GOD FOR MILITARY DEATHS signs at people’s funerals. This might be a good time to make the point that most of these hate groups you read about are much smaller than they might seem. Westboro, which is known around the world, has 25 to 30 members. That’s it. But you know the name because they are very good at promoting themselves. Shock tactics always attract a lot of attention. Ask the 19 guys who hijacked the planes on 9/11, or anyone who’s driven into a crowd of people in the name of some dopey religion.

But those small numbers – the same goes for Scientology. They would like you to believe their propaganda that claims that there are millions of Scientologists in the world, but the reality is there are about 25,000. In the world. But they are also good at publicity, and they have a lot of money so they are constantly doing things like putting up new Scientology buildings to demonstrate how magnificent they are and how quickly they are growing – and the bulk of that construction is done using Scientologists as slave labor, by the way. But for the most part, those shiny new buildings or renovated old buildings with the big SCIENTOLOGY signs out front are completely empty. With one or two lonely Scientologists twiddling pencils at the front desk, constantly worried that their eternity is going to be fucked because no one will come in the front door with a credit card.

So the perception can be that these fringe groups are huge, but the reality is very different. The same goes for the modern Nazis. They aren’t half the country. They are the lunatic fringe. I don’t mean to minimize the threat modern Nazis pose or underestimate what they’re capable of. I just hear people talking about the country these days as if everyone who voted for Trump is a Nazi who would have liked to have been in Charlottesville kicking the shit out of black people. That’s not true, and again, thinking like that only makes it impossible to ever understand someone who made the horrible mistake of voting for that sociopathic mound of squishy dead brain tissue that we are currently forced to call our president. And if you can’t understand them you’ll never be able to muster up enough empathy to effectively change their minds about anything.

Because regardless of how large or small the modern Nazi groups are, or any other cult is, the people in those groups are the ones who need the compassion and understanding. Like Megan Phelps-Roper. While she was promoting the insane Westboro party line on Twitter, one of the people who befriended her was a guy named David Abitbol, and he ran a website called Jewlicious. Now Westboro doesn’t only hate fags, they hate Jews too, so what are the odds that a filthy Jew could eventually befriend and convert someone who – for all of her life – has only known the hate of the people around her. That was her reality, her entire world. But he did it, David did. And he did it by being nice to her, and never attacking her or her family.

He didn’t do it single handedly – there were a few Twitterers who were kind to her and friendly to her. But David took it a step further, actually visiting Megan on the picket line when she was in his home town. He brought her food and just continued to be nice to her. And of course the result of all that friendliness is eventually the brain can no longer deal with the dissonance, it can’t hold both the idea that Jews are baby-eating demons and also that a really wonderful person who you know is also a Jew, one who brings you treats when you’re out on the street holding up a hate sign. The two conflicting ideas have to battle it out, and unless you’re criminally insane, you eventually realize that your hate is a lie. Or what your hate is based on is a lie, anyway. And once you realize that, game over.

You know, ideally. Obviously it’s hard to look at Nazis and say, “Well, best thing to do is give them a hug,” but unfortunately that probably is the best thing to do. As horrible and revolting as the idea may seem to a normal human. because what’s the alternative? Screaming back at someone who has wacky ideas has never once changed anyone’s mind. It’s human nature to defend when attacked. Besides, when you are red with rage and the veins in your forehead are bursting as you scream at a Nazi, you’re only convincing them that you are indeed as crazy as they thought you were, and they are right to distrust you or fear you or hate you. Physically attacking them doesn’t work, look at how the Nazis that were in Charlottesville – and the people who defend them – used the few physical attacks on them to spin the message toward the lie that they are peaceful and non-confrontational. You know, I guess except for the one who drove a car into a large group of people at high speed.

Well, there is an alternative to giving them a hug, I suppose. We used it in World War II. But it was easier then, because all the Nazis were in the same general vicinity, and they even wore uniforms so they could be identified. And the Civil War solution won’t work either, because not everyone in the South would stand alongside Nazis to fight. Because again, most of them are more casually racist, not I’ll-die-for-the-swastika-flag racist. They won’t even die for their stupid confederate flag. Which is smart. Maybe the only smart thing to ever occur to a hillbilly racist.

See, look, I’m doing it myself. Insulting them when I should be accepting them. Which only goes to show that we’re all savages when you scratch off the paint and get to what’s underneath. I’m not sure what the Nazis are bitching about anyway. They say they want a separate state, a “white homeland.” Well, we already have a few of those. They’re called Wyoming and Idaho and Montana. Go live there, where the rest of us can ignore you. Put up all the confederate flags and statues that you want, we’ll never see them because no one in their right mind ever goes to those places. I’m not sure they need an entire state anyway, it seems like maybe a county would be enough. Or maybe a large apartment complex. For one of the big Charlottesville follow-up rallies in Boston, less than 50 nazis showed up but 30 to 40 thousand normal people showed up to protest them. Those numbers come from the Boston police.

So yeah, free speech. Wasn’t that supposed to be the point of this? Hell if I know. But I know that everything we’re doing now is wrong. I know it’s wrong because it isn’t working. And silencing or killing Nazis isn’t the answer. If it was, there wouldn’t be any problems today, because we already killed all the Nazis over in Europe in the 1940s, right? Well that’s not a good comparison to make. I don’t want to compare the tiki-torch bro-billys to the Third Reich. The old time Nazis had to be killed, there were too many of them and they were completely out of hand. You couldn’t hug Hitler into being a chill dude. There weren’t enough compassionate arms in the world. So I guess the answer is to round up all the modern Nazis, send them to Idaho and then when they’re separated out, we can kill them more efficiently when they’re all there in one spot.

Oh, wait, that sounds just like what the old fashioned Nazis did…

Bob Marley had a song called War that said, basically, listen, until you fuckers stop being racist shitheads, there’s going to be war in the east, war in the west, war up north, war down south, war will be everywhere. Those lyrics were taken from a speech that Haile Selassie made to the United Nations in 1963, and it’s easy to see why people, or more specifically black people, were still talking about those words and working them into songs years later. “Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race…the dream of lasting peace…will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.”

Selassie was confident in the victory of good over evil, and I am too. There just isn’t any leadership anywhere to, you know, spearhead the good side. Don’t look to any politicians for that. The fact that Trump roams free and continues to ostensibly lead the free world is the horrible proof of what politicians are made of. Or more accurately, not made of. There’s not a cultural figure…there’s no Malcolm or Martin or even Bob. David Letterman gave an interview to Vulture earlier this year and he said something that surprised me. The interviewer asked: “If you could snap your fingers and make it happen, who’d be a dream interview for you?”

Letterman said, “I think about that all the time. It would be great to talk to Bob Marley. Because when Bob Marley left us, he was politically active. He was the biggest musical star in the world, and he came from such desperate circumstances. It seems like we don’t have that person now whose life and music and behavior apply to soothing the waters of world strife.” And he’s right. Where is that person now? But maybe a more relevant question would be, could a person like that even rise to prominence now, in these times? I think not. Not with the bored housewives of Twitter waiting to pounce on everyone and everything.

Anyway, the interviewer made a very good point when he followed up Letterman’s answer by saying, “Bob Marley’s last two albums were called ‘Survival’ and ‘Uprising.’ I don’t know that he’d only be singing ‘One Love’ in 2017.” Which hit’s the nail on the head for me, as far as Marley was concerned. And I’d just add the original title of ‘Survival’ was ‘Black Survival,’ and the album came out after Uprising was called ‘Confrontation.’ So Survival, Uprising and then finally, Confrontation. That about tells the story, doesn’t it? Now, in our past history, in the future. Survival, Uprising, Confrontation.

And I appreciate that Dave would have liked to interview Bob, but he did interview Peter Tosh, and Dave was as confused as a hillbilly in a bathtub during that conversation. But I can’t blame him for that, since Tosh was purposely cryptic most of the time, especially if he didn’t feel like the person talking to him was on the same wavelength. And very few people were on Tosh’s wavelength.

Oh jeez, I did it again. Hillbilly in a bathtub. That was uncalled for. I don’t know how you can keep listening to this. It’s insensitive, inscrutable and insufferable! Sufferin’ succotash! Well here we are, talking about these serious life and death things. And I guess it’s better to be talking about them than pretending they don’t exist. Pretending that because there was a black president once that now there’s no more racism. I mean, you can see evidence just about every day that that’s about as far away from the truth as you can get.

I don’t know what the answer is. When I was 20 years old I figured that all of the racist and sexist shit would be gone in 20 or 30 years when all the old people died. Yeah, I know, pretty dumb. But I was 20, give me a break, that wasn’t the dumbest idea I had, believe me. So I know waiting won’t do anything, and looking around at the easy, breezy way cops all over this country murder and oppress black people makes me wonder what good all the civil rights laws passed in the 60s did. I mean, I know they had a positive effect, but apparently those laws don’t stop white people, or white cops and judges for the most part, from killing black people for no reason. The laws didn’t change anyone’s mind. Or not enough minds. So we’re back to trying to find the best way to change someone’s mind. The eternal circle.

Everywhere is war, indeed.