Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Nazis Poisoning the Well: Digital Blackface

My friend had a rather unpleasant encounter on Twitter with what she assumed to be a Hotep. His avatar was that of the face of a Black man. His display name (Sofa King Woke), though campy, seemed a plausible play on words for such a person. She said the account attacked her for tweeting about the ACLU Election Protection Program with something about "illegal aliens." First clue: Nazis almost never stay on message. Next was the user's @: @MumiaDouche. An obvious swipe at Mumia Abu Jamal and his supporters.

Nazis really can't help but give themselves away. In fact, I think it's part of the game, to make it in some way obvious that their ruse is a hoax. This gives them the ability to claim humor, a prank.

This tactic is not a far cry from the Sam Hyde hoax. The difference here is that it is the persona that is being counterfeit. The utility is roughly the same, to muddy the waters of public discourse with falsehoods. This manner of engagement serves a double purpose of reasserting nazis' perception of themselves as discerner of truths.

I first noticed digital Blackface - the use of Black avatars and in some cases (poorly imitated) dialect - during the 2015 uprisings at Mizzou. In response to a series of anti-Black hate crimes dating as early as 2010, protests began breaking out in September of 2015. In November, a network of accounts, erroneously reported to have been directed by Russian intelligence, began retweeting a picture of a bruised Black boy warning residents that the KKK was beating up Black people in the area.

I want to pause here and emphasize that the report suggesting that Russian intelligence was responsible for this poisoning of the well was erroneous. First of all, Andrew Anglin took credit for the bot army (warning: these are all white nationalist Daily Stormer links with all the racial slurs that go along with it) at the time, a year later, and a few months after that. Second, the originating account changed its avatar to an iron cross soon after going viral with the tweet. The iron cross, as you might know, is a symbol affiliated NOT WITH THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT but with nazis.

In the second Stormer link, Anglin actually outlines his strategy for creating a fake Black avatar on Twitter and encourages his followers to do the same. His expressed goal with this is to "create a state of chaos on twitter, among the black twitter population, by sowing distrust and suspicion, causing blacks to panic." Anglin further aims his sights on the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, "Activists will no longer be able to operate without being constantly suspicious that blacks responding to them are fake accounts."

For whatever reason, nazis love to portray Hoteps. They seem to revel in saying "We wuz kangs" and using EXTREMELY BAD African American Vernacular English (to the point that it almost doesn't make sense to call it that). They love to LARP as Black men. Most of all, they love to be in on the joke which is always sordid fun at others' expense.

This sort of hoaxing isn't limited to The Daily Stormer either. It seems to arise organically from 4chan threads. For instance, in 2014, channers trended the hashtag #WhiteWomenCantBeRaped. Again, they donned avatars posing as Black Marxist feminists to spread the hashtag. The hoax would earn a return no matter what. Either the "libs get triggered" or they go along with the ruse. In this case, as in most cases, both happened.

To a small degree, this has worked. Nazis have both tricked people, including Black people, into buying into their ruse. They have also, to a far lesser extent, made activists more suspicious of online personas. Look out for nazis in digital Blackface.