Years from now, the “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville, Virginia may be remembered—oh so ironically—as a digital rights Kristallnacht. And it may have turned Daily Stormer owner Andrew Anglin, of all people, into the 21st century’s greatest free expression martyr.
The motor vehicle death of Heather Heyer immediately became a culture war flashpoint, and The Daily Stormer (for those late to the party, it’s a satirical website that the mainstream media labels as “neo-Nazi,” “anti-semitic” and “white supremacist,” among other arbitrary, self-serving descriptors) became quite possibly the first 100 percent “legal” website kicked off the Internet for “muh feelings.” Shortly after an article calling Heyer a “fat slut” was posted on the Stormer, both GoDaddy and Google announced they would no longer host owner Andrew Anglin’s site. And that’s when things got very interesting.
When Anglin and pals tried to register a site on the .wang domain, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—an international I.P. manager enacted by a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Dept. of Commerce—quickly yanked The Daily Stormer off the Web again. The website went live shortly thereafter on the .ru domain, but was seemingly crippled by a DDoS attack when Cloudflare (whose owner called Anglin and associates “assholes” in a memo to his employees) abruptly suspended their paid services to the Stormer.
A stay at the .lol domain was similarly short-lived, with the Stormer getting booted off the platform in mere hours. With nowhere else to go, Anglin and crew were forced to host the website on the Dark Web, a decision which drew condemnation from The Tor Project, an organization that’s apparently peachy keen with its product being used for drug running, child porn, and literal slave trafficking, but absolutely aghast that some people might use it to say racial slurs and criticize the Jews.
Effectively, Anglin was banned from the Internet—that horrid goulash of pedophilia, scat videos and ISIS snuff films that it is—for somehow being too offensive. Considering his anti-diversity, anti-globalization rancor so utterly repugnant (read: oppositional to their own political ideals), the entire Silicon Valley empire organized a coordinated effort to bar a specific human being from expressing his opinions to the world at large.
Thoughtcrime: From Fiction To Reality
While a few organizations (namely, the Electronic Frontier Foundation) have stood behind Anglin, both civil liberties watchdogs and the tech industry as a whole have said little about the chilling effects established by the Daily Stormer case (even though Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince himself touched upon the ominous precedent-setting, stating “I woke up in a bad mood and decided that someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet … No one should have that power” in the very same internal memo that excoriated Anglin’s “hate speech.”)
I reflect on the early 1990s, when the equation was flipped around. Then, the hardcore right-wing fundamentalists were hell-bent on silencing rap groups like 2 Live Crew (sample lyric: “because I’d stick my dick in and it would get stuck, the girls would say ‘stop!’ I’d say ‘I’m not!’”) and shutting down museums that showed the anal fisting “artwork” of Robert Mapplethorpe in the name of wholly subjective, intangible principles such as “decency” and “family values.” While the ACLU and other alleged First Amendment proponents were quick to rush to the defense of unpopular, controversy-courters who got federal endowments to drop crucifixes in buckets of piss, the supposedly freedom-loving left is nowhere to be seen when it comes to defending the free expression of today’s countercultural right.
Indeed, the ACLU recently came out and announced that they don’t believe the First Amendment applies to so-called “white supremacists seeking to incite or engage in violence” – an oddly-worded policy shift that not only rejects the First-Amendment reaffirming Supreme Court ruling in Brandenburg v. Ohio, but seems to advocate an ideology-driven smell test for the “merit” of one’s free expression.
Funny how the ACLU never released a statement disavowing the free expression rights of black supremacists seeking to incite and engage in violence after Ferguson was torched to the ground or after 17-year-old Brian Ogle was nearly beaten to death, nor did they release a statement disavowing the right to assembly of leftist factions seeking to incite and engage in violence after Antifa attacked Trump supporters in California, Missouri, Chicago and in more than 50 other cities in the U.S. since 2016, no?
The plight of The Daily Stormer is but one example of the ideological censorship writ large demonstrated by Silicon Valley’s tech titans. We see such in Google’s termination of James Damore, YouTube’s jihad against “hate speech” (complete with the deputization of user-generated Red Guards), the removal of Gab from Google Play and the increasingly despotic policies of Twitter and Facebook. And as the un-personing of Andrew Anglin indicates, the free expression-squelching power of these tech heavies continues to increase.
If a website that is 100 percent legal under the Constitution can be scrubbed from the Web altogether for ideological reasons, what’s stopping ISPs from blocking users from accessing the Internet at all—or real banks from stopping electronic payments—based simply on the fact they don’t like what somebody is saying online? Such examples sound preposterous now, but up until a few days ago, so did the idea of tech companies blocking an entire website from the Internet simply because they wanted to virtue signal.
The New Free Speech War
If nothing else, The Daily Stormer brouhaha lets us know two things about contemporary society. Number one, the left is no longer the vanguard of free expression and, in fact, have become obsessed with eliminating any ideologies that run counter to their pro-diversity, pro-globalization, pro-multiculturalism religion. And secondly, modern free speech is no longer a story of the state against the citizen, but the technological infrastructure against the user. A recent statement from Richard Spencer printed in The Washington Post is well worth quoting in full:
Doofuses in the conservative movement say it’s only censorship if the government does it … YouTube and Twitter and Facebook have more power than the government. If you can’t host a website or tweet, then you effectively don’t have a right to free speech. Social networks need to be regulated in the way the broadcast networks are. I believe one has a right to a Google profile, a Twitter profile, an accurate search … We should start conceiving of these thing as utilities and not in terms of private companies.
It’s a strange predicament, to be sure, considering the United Nations has already declared several edicts (all unenforceable, naturally) that favor Anglin’s right to Internet usage as a god-given human right. From Frank LaRue’s 2011 UN Special Rapporteur report, presented before the UN Human Rights Council:
The special rapporteur considers cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights laws, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
And if that doesn’t give Anglin enough support, try this 2016 non-binding resolution, in which the UN declares the intentional disruption of citizens’ internet access as a direct violation of article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
The UN affirms the same rights people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice.
Apparently, nobody sent Google, GoDaddy, Cloudflare or any of the other platforms that considered Andrew Anglin persona non grata a memo letting them know that, according to the United fuckin’ Nations, they were actually committing bona fide human rights violations by denying him services.
An Ominous Future
You don’t need a crystal ball to see where such ideologically-driven tech principles will lead us. Indeed, the fate of Chinese citizens—whose online behavior is monitored, recorded and used as deal makers and deal breakers for loans under the Sesame Credit system—may one day be the norm in our neck of the woods as well. Think it’s crazy to believe that, one day, Facebook and Twitter could turn over our user data to banks and our allegiance or non-conformity to the populist tide could determine our fiscal well being? It’s already happening in Beijing, and what Constitutional safeguards are in place now that could prevent it from happening in Berkeley?
Andrew Anglin and The Daily Stormer are easy targets. Of course no one in the mainstream media or big business will rush to their defense. But what’s happening to them very well could be a fate that befalls each and every one of us. As painfully ironic as it may be, perhaps nothing sums up the inherent danger of Anglin’s de-personing more than a slight rephrasing of Martin Niemoller’s most famous poem.
First, they came for the neo-Nazis and I did not speak out, because I was not a neo-Nazi.
Then, they came for the alt-lite and I did not speak out, because I was not the alt-lite.
Then, they came for the moderate conservatives and I did not speak out, because I was not a moderate conservative.
And then they came for me, because there was no one left to speak for me.