Thursday Reads, With RabbitsPosted: February 3, 2022
Today I want to share some interesting stories I came across in my internet browsing yesterday.
From Mother Jones, Ali Breland has a piece about a woman who went underground to learn about the Trumpist far right: The Plan Was Simple: Infiltrate MAGA World and Tell Everyone What She Saw. Then She Was Found Out. This is long and involved, so you’ll need to read the whole thing; but here are some excerpts:
“Looks like my cover is fully blown, actually, fuck,” Amanda Moore told me over Twitter direct message. It was a Saturday night in late October, and the mission that had probably saved her life was coming to an end.
She had spent months attending MAGA events across the country while undercover and after carefully constructing an alias. While she had messaged me a few weeks earlier to say the truth was trickling out, her real identity hadn’t yet spread widely. She thought it might stay that way. It didn’t.
“This was my life,” she told me a week later over FaceTime, still rattled from the project’s abrupt end. She described her situation at the beginning of the pandemic: “Before this, I thought about killing myself every day. I was not making a livable income. I couldn’t even order shit off Amazon, and the other things people were doing to keep themselves entertained and cope—because I had no fucking money.” Instead, her coping strategy was to embed deep within MAGA land.
It’s rare for a journalist to really go undercover these days….But what if you weren’t a journalist? Say, if you had the skills of an amateur investigator and the ability to focus so deeply on a single subject that you almost lose yourself to it. If you had the time, money, resources, desire, and general wherewithal, you could embed into something interesting. During the pandemic, Amanda Moore found herself fitting the bill.
Moore had not initially set out to embed in MAGA world. But when pandemic shutdowns dried up her income from being a booking agent connecting models with businesses who need them for live events, she found herself with little money but plenty of free time. At first, she used it to aggressively badger DC politicians on Twitter about the slow pace of her Covid unemployment benefits, and, once they expired, the staffers of national politicians whom she held responsible for the program’s deficiencies.
Even when she was able to get benefits, the contract model-booking work didn’t count, leaving her with only about $100 a week based on a brief stint as a bartender. “I was thinking about killing myself, every day, for hours a day. That’s all I did,” Moore later told me, emphasizing that her suicidal thoughts were very real: “I reached a point where it no longer mattered to me if I lived or died.”
What she learned was fascinating and frightening.
Moore, who is 33, didn’t initially build a cover story. But she realized that if she didn’t wear a mask, held her tongue, and acted friendly, demonstrators simply assumed she was on their side, and would warm up to her and speak freely with little prompting. After the November 2020 rally and several other events, Moore realized that she was noticing things—observations that kept her from being as surprised as many people were by the January 6 storming of the Capitol.
“December was incredibly disturbing,” she explained, describing a tone of menace at the next major MAGA rally in DC that followed Biden’s victory. “It was tense all day and people were telling me about how the Proud Boys had protected and saved them at the last rally, and how the police can’t do anything”—anything meaning, she says, commit violence against counterprotesters. “I remember, this guy walking by me and saying ‘When it gets dark…’”
When the sun set, a group of men in “America Strong” hats and clothing with golden laurel wreaths—a typical Proud Boys uniform—surrounded and beat a Black counterprotestor outside of Harry’s bar, the group’s notorious DC hangout. (The protestor fought back with a knife and was arrested, along with one man who was stabbed.) Other fights broke out, as the Proud Boys, known for inciting street brawls, roamed around town. By the end of the night, four churches had been vandalized.
Amid the rampaging, Moore heard Proud Boys claim that everything beyond the domain of the MAGA rally was dangerous and riddled with antifascists looking to sow violence. “They would offer to walk me places. They offered this to old men and other women,” Moore says, describing how it created paranoia, and the impression that it wasn’t safe to move around DC without protection.
Moore also published her own story at Logically:
Before there was a riot at the Capitol, there were two other D.C. Stop the Steal rallies, where baseless fear-mongering and distortion of facts helped accelerate the rally goers’ acceptance of violence. At both events, members of the Proud Boys helped convince attendees that they were in constant danger of being attacked by random people who were secretly Antifa, and then used the fear they had created to “justify” attacking and terrorizing residents of Washington, D.C. The evening of the second rally, held on December 12, 2020, was particularly instrumental in ramping up tension and distrust between rally goers, local residents, and the various police forces in D.C.
After the speeches wrapped up on December 12, rally goers milled around in front of the Supreme Court stage. They made small talk with one another, casually making sure everyone had mace, and swapping stories about times they alleged they had been attacked by BLM and Antifa. One woman told me she was almost attacked after the November D.C. Stop the Steal rally; her phone was dead, she was separated from her group, and she was walking to the train station when a few guys ran by her. While she never quite got to the part where an attack almost occurred, she was sure to tell me that she was furious it had happened.
“I’m angry. I’m angry. Average American citizens being attacked, and nobody’s doing anything other than Proud Boys. The police don’t, they’re a joke. I back the blue, I do, but they have got to do something…[Today] is much more intense [than November’s rally]. I marched with the Proud Boys last night about 1 o’clock in the morning.”
Later that night, hundreds of people congregated downtown, holding what was essentially an unpermitted block party in the streets, primarily in front of Harry’s Restaurant, a place that served as a meet-up point for the Proud Boys. At some point there was a stabbing; information on the ground was confusing, and at the time, many people seemed to agree the Proud Boys had done the stabbing to save the rest of us.
On January 6:
I found myself marching down to the Capitol around 12:45 pm on January 6, ten feet from the QAnon Shaman — without a gas mask. By the time I made it to the edge of the Capitol grounds, it was packed. A man with tears pouring down his face came up to me. “I just punched a fucking cop!! He was trying to hurt some lady, and I told him we don’t do that where I’m from, and I just hit him!!! I’m not crying, they’re gassing us.” His eyes focused on my shirt, which reads “Biden: Not My President” in the same font used by the real campaign. For a brief, terrifying moment he looked furious, before he laughed. “I thought you were one of them for a minute. Hey, I want you to know — I’m really not crying. It’s because of the tear gas.”
After he ran off, I joined the group marching forward. Having just had a conversation with a man who told me he was fighting with the police close to the Capitol, it was surreal to be surrounded by old ladies and young children as I headed in the exact direction he had told me violence was occurring. No one around me seemed to care. Every so often, small groups of men would against the crowd, one or two of them with chemically induced tears streaming down their faces, led by others who would clear a path yelling, “PROUD BOYS, COMING THROUGH. BACK UP! MEDICAL EMERGENCY!” At no point did anyone seem to think it was a bad idea to continue walking toward whatever was causing these “medical emergencies.”
A couple of times the police let off smoke bombs. Each time they would go off, people around me cheered. Where I was standing, the consensus was the cops were trying to clear out the counter-protesters who were hoping to keep us from getting to the Capitol — except, of course, there weren’t any counter-protesters; it was the police who didn’t want us in the Capitol. At no point did anyone around me consider we might be the bad guys.
I hope you’ll read these pieces for an inside perspective of the Capitol insurrection.
From Heather Digby Parton at Raw Story: Donald Trump’s having an awful week — and it’s only Wednesday
Generally speaking, the Washington press corps and, in particular, the political reporters at the New York Times are not ones to engage in hyperbole when it comes to Donald Trump. If anything, the paper of record has been downplaying the ongoing saga of Trump’s Big Lie and all the evidence that’s been piling up about what happened in the lead-up to January 6th recently. But this week’s Trump news seems to have shaken even their jaded attitude.
For instance, the Times’ Peter Baker tweeted on Tuesday, “Even for Trump it’s quite a week — first dangling pardons for capitol attackers, then admitting his goal was to have ‘overturned the election’ and now calling on the House to investigate Pence for not throwing out votes of multiple states so a president who lost could keep power.” Then the Times’ Maggie Haberman, appearing on CNN on Tuesday night, said, “it’s been a breathtaking couple of days.” This NYT piece by Shane Goldmacher headlined “Trump’s Words, and Deeds, Reveal Depths of His Drive to Retain Power” says it all.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Trump’s scripted comments at the rally in Texas over the weekend in which he promised pardons for the January 6th insurrectionists who were “treated unfairly” and called for protests against prosecutors who are investigating him. But that was just the beginning. On Monday, Trump put out a truly revealing statement (which some might call an admission of guilt.)
Republican leaders have picked a side and it appears to be Trump’s. As usual, there hasn’t been much of an outcry about any of this. Oh sure, a few have said it’s “inappropriate” to talk about pardoning the January 6th rioters and there has been some tut-tutting about how “the process worked” but that’s about it.
Trump followed up his confession that he wanted to overturn the election by suggesting that the January 6th Committee should investigate Mike Pence if they believe he could have overturned the election and ask him why he didn’t do it. I would guess that’s Trump’s pathetic attempt at trying to clean up his earlier comment but it’s incredibly lame and self-defeating. He shouldn’t be pushing Mike Pence toward the committee — Pence’s closest aide and his lawyer both testified for hours this week.
Read much more at the link.
This is interesting and depressing from Scientific American: Schoolkids Are Falling Victim to Disinformation and Conspiracy Fantasies.
When Amanda Gardner, an educator with two decades of experience, helped to start a new charter elementary and middle school outside of Seattle last year, she did not anticipate teaching students who denied that the Holocaust happened, argued that COVID is a hoax and told their teacher that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. Yet some children insisted that these conspiracy fantasies were true. Both misinformation, which includes honest mistakes, and disinformation, which involves an intention to mislead, have had “a growing impact on students over the past 10 to 20 years,” Gardner says, yet many schools do not focus on the issue. “Most high schools probably do some teaching to prevent plagiarism, but I think that’s about it.”
Children, it turns out, are ripe targets for fake news. Age 14 is when kids often start believing in unproven conspiratorial ideas, according to a study published in September 2021 in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology. Many teens also have trouble assessing the credibility of online information. In a 2016 study involving nearly 8,000 U.S. students, Stanford University researchers found that more than 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that an advertisement labeled as sponsored content was actually a news story. The researchers also found that less than 20 percent of high schoolers seriously questioned spurious claims in social media, such as a Facebook post that said images of strange-looking flowers, supposedly near the site of a nuclear power plant accident in Japan, proved that dangerous radiation levels persisted in the area. When college students in the survey looked at a Twitter post touting a poll favoring gun control, more than two thirds failed to note that the liberal antigun groups behind the poll could have influenced the data.
Disinformation campaigns often directly go after young users, steering them toward misleading content. A 2018 Wall Street Journal investigation found that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which offers personalized suggestions about what users should watch next, is skewed to recommend videos that are more extreme and far-fetched than what the viewer started with. For instance, when researchers searched for videos using the phrase “lunar eclipse,” they were steered to a video suggesting that Earth is flat. YouTube is one of the most popular social media site among teens: After Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Information and Library Science, spent time searching for videos on YouTube and observed what the algorithm told her to watch next, she suggested that it was “one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.”
Click the link to read the whole article.
A few more stories to check out:
The New York Times: Read the Nov. 18 Memo on Alternate Trump Electors.
Satire from Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post: Opinion: Relax, the coup people weren’t very good at it and won’t try again until 2024.
What interesting stories have you been finding? Please share.