Theo E.J. Wilson | A black man goes undercover in the alt-right

#blm #racism #politics #altright

I took a cell phone and accidentally made myself famous. 

(Laughter) 

I was just talking about the things that I cared about, but with the click of a button and an incendiary viral video I propelled myself into overnight stardom. When I say overnight, I mean I literally woke up the next morning with so many notifications on my phone, I thought I slept through a national tragedy. 

(Laughter) 

It was the craziest thing, guys, but when it came to my influence and my exposure, I literally took a quantum leap. So I made more videos and the subject matter of my videos was often the most divisive subject in American life, but it was the way that I articulated race that made me somewhat of a digital lightning rod. See, being a survivor myself of police brutality and having lost a childhood friend, Alonzo Ashley, at the hands of the police, I had a little something to say about the topic. You see, this was at the height of the Black Lives Matter furor and people seemed to be turning to me to articulate their viewpoints, and honestly, it was sort of overwhelming. 

You see, the internet has this interesting quality. In one way, it totally brought the world together, and I remember being a kid and all of this utopian propaganda was being dumped on us about how the World Wide Web was going to span the reaches of people across the globe. But as it turns out, people are people. 

(Laughter) 

And this magical superhighway also took the demons of our nature and gave them Ferraris. 

(Laughter) 

You see, technology, y’all, is a lot like money. It just brings out what’s already inside you and amplifies it. And so I soon became familiar with the phenomenon of the internet troll. These guys seem to live beneath the bridges of said superhighway — 

(Laughter) 

And they also missed the memo about the enlightenment of the internet age. I remember being called highly colorful racial slurs by those who use the anonymity of the internet as a Klan hood. And some of them were pretty creative, actually, but others were pretty wounding, especially navigating the post-traumatic world of a police brutality survivor in the height of Black Lives Matter, with all of these people being killed on my timeline. To these trolls, I wasn’t a human. I was an idea, an object, a caricature. Did I mention that this race stuff can be kind of divisive? You see, I’m an innately curious person and as I drew my sword to engage in epic battles in the comment section — 

(Laughter) 

I also began to notice that a few of my trolls actually had brains, which made me even more curious and what to understand them even further. And although these supposed morons engaged in what appeared to be original thought, I said to myself, “Um, these guys are highly misinformed, at least according to my knowledge.” Where are these guys getting these arguments from? Like, was there some kind of alternative universe with alternative facts? 

(Laughter) 

(Applause) 

Was history and gravity optional over there? I don’t know. But I needed to know. Like, I wanted to know. And as it turns out, I had no idea about digital echo chambers. That same target marketing algorithm that feeds you more of the products you like to buy also feeds you more of the news that you like to hear. I had been living in an online universe that just reflected my worldview back to me. So my timeline was pretty liberal. I had no Breitbart or Infowars or Fox News. No, no, I was all MSNBC and The Daily Show, CNN and theGrio, right? Well, these trolls were hopping the dimensional doorway and I needed to figure out how. 

(Laughter) 

So what I decided to do was trick the Facebook algorithm into feeding me more news that I didn’t necessarily agree with, and this worked fine for a while, but it wasn’t enough, because my online footprint already established the patterns that I like to hear. So with the anonymity of the internet, I went undercover. 

(Laughter) 

I set up this ghost profile and went crazy. Now, on a practical level, it was very simple, but on an emotional level, it was kind of daunting, especially with the racist vitriol that I had experienced. But what I didn’t realize is that my trolls were inoculating me, thickening my skin, making me immune to viewpoints that I didn’t necessarily agree with, and so I didn’t react to the same things as I would have several months prior. All right? So I pressed on. 

Noticing that this stuff also worked on YouTube, I became Lucius25, white supremacist lurker — 

(Laughter) 

And digitally I began to infiltrate the infamous alt-right movement. Now, my doppelgänger was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter character — 

(Laughter) 

a sci-fi hero who was once a Confederate soldier. And to think, like, years ago, I would have needed acting training and, like, makeup and a fake ID. Now I could just lurk. And so I started with a little Infowars, went on into some American Renaissance, National Vanguard Alliance, and, you know, I started commenting on videos, talking bad about Al Sharpton and Black Lives Matter. I started bemoaning race baiters like Eric Holder and Barack Obama and just mirroring the antiblack sentiments that were thrown at me. And to be honest, it was kind of exhilarating. 

(Laughter) 

Like, I would literally spend days clicking through my new racist profile — 

(Laughter) 

Goofing off at work in Aryan land. It was something else. 

(Laughter) 

And so I then started visiting some of the pages of my former trolls, and a lot of these guys were just regular Joes, a lot of outdoorsmen, hunters, computer nerds, some of them family guys with videos of their families. I mean, for all I know, some of y’all could be in this room right now. Right? 

(Laughter) 

But when I went undercover, I found a lovely plethora of characters, luminaries like Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer and David Duke. All of these guys were thought leaders in their own right, but over time, the alt-right movement ended up using their information to fuel their momentum. And I’m going to tell you what else led to the momentum of the alt-right: the left wing’s wholesale demonization of everything white and male. If you are a pale-skinned penis-haver, you’re in league with Satan. 

(Laughter) 

Now, would you believe, would you believe that some people find that offensive? And — 

(Laughter) 

And so, I mean, listen, the fact is that millennials get a lifetime of diet brand history. I mean, America seems to be hellbent on filling its textbooks with CliffsNotes versions of its dark past. This severely, severely decontextualizes race and the anger associated with it, and that is fertile ground for alt-facts to grow. Add in the wild landscape of the internet and it’s easy to sell rebranded “Mein Kampf” ideas to a generation who has been failed by public schools. 

A lot of these ideas, easily debunked. Alt-facts have that quality. However, one theme kept screaming at me through the subtext of those arguments, and that was, why should I be hated for who I cannot help but be? Now, as a black man in America, that resonated with me. I have spent so much time defending myself against attempts to demonize me and make me apologize for who I am, trying to portray me as something that I’m not, some kind of thug or gangster, a menace to society. Unexpected compassion. Wow. Now, listen, the historical source of the demonization of black males and white males is highly different, and where you fall on this argument, sadly, tends to be an accident of birth. 

Now, you’re probably surprised by this perspective, and so was I. Never in a billion years did I think that I could have some kind of compassion for people who hated my guts. Now, mind you, not enough compassion like I want to be friends. I don’t have infinite olive branches to extend to people who, like, would not want to see me on this planet. Right? But just enough compassion to understand how they got to where they are. And to be honest, there were a couple of fair points. One of them was how liberals have this wide acceptance for everybody except for those with honestly held conservative viewpoints. 

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S. Jack Heffernan Ph.D. Funds Manager at HEFFX holds a Ph.D. in Economics and brings with him over 25 years of trading experience in Asia and hands on experience in Venture Capital, he has been involved in several start ups that have seen market capitalization over $500m and 1 that reach a peak market cap of $15b. He has managed and overseen start ups in Mining, Shipping, Technology and Financial Services.

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