July 5, 2018

Things are rough in Trump’s America—here’s how we fight back

By Melissa Ryan

As Trump administration scandals compound and their cruelty multiplies, it can be exhausting to stay plugged in. This is the advice that Ctrl Alt-Right Delete's Melissa Ryan had to share with attendees of HOPE not hate's recent conference.

I want to start by acknowledging that it’s been a week. Every week in the Trump era is exhausting but this one has been especially difficult. It’s gratifying to see so many people in front of me right now, ready to fight another day. Thank you for being here.

I started Ctrl Alt-Right Delete in November in 2016, not long after I’d decided to make it my mission to learn everything I could about this so-called alt-right movement and how they’d weaponized the Internet so successfully against us.

At the time I thought a few of my colleagues in the progressive world would be interested in what I learned but I greatly underestimated the response. The first newsletter went out to 200 people, all of who signed up from a single Facebook post. Today we reach over 14,000 readers every week.

The newsletter’s audience quickly expanded beyond my individual network. In addition to progressive activists and organizers I was surprised at the number of folks in media, tech, and national security circles who subscribed. Even more surprising were how many European readers I picked up, notably the research team from HOPE not hate. Informal conversations about our shared weird hobbies eventually led to this incredible partnership and today’s conference.

HOPE not hate, for those of you who are just hearing about them, is the UK’s largest anti-racist organisation and premier anti-fascist campaign. It has been instrumental in the political defeat of several far-right political parties over in the UK, in the banning of a dangerous neo-nazi movement by the British government, and recently led the campaign to prevent UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader, Nigel Farage – a close friend of Donald Trump and prominent Fox News contributor – from being elected to the British parliament. More recently, it helped defeat a pan-European attempt by far-right activists to harass humanitarian rescue ships in the Mediterranean.

But HOPE not hate also works at a community level, where it has pioneered techniques to engage divided neighborhoods, developing shared identities and using Socratic questioning and empathetic listening to bridge divides.

This year HOPE not hate has expanded into the US, and I’m proud to partner with them on Ctrl Alt-Right Delete each week. Their research team produces incredible content allowing me to offer my readers an even deeper understanding of the many threats we face. I’ve learned a lot from working with HOPE not hate and I’m passionate about bringing them into the progressive fold here at home.

The threats we face are terrifying both in volume and the consistency at which they come at us. The past year and a half has been relentless. Just when you think you have a handle on how to fight back, another piece of news breaks. I’m overwhelmed. We all are.

I started Ctrl Alt Right Delete because I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant. The more we know about what happens in the dark corners of the Internet, the more we understand about how Donald Trump taps into those forces, the better equipped we are to fight back.

I joke about reading 4chan so that you don’t have to, but the truth is I think we all need a basic working knowledge of information warfare, how hate groups organize online, and influence operations. We can’t defeat an enemy we don’t understand. Helping others gain that knowledge is my passion, and the best way I know how to fight against Trump and for democracy.

Here’s what you need to know:

This is a global problem. Donald Trump is the American version of a global movement with a clear vision of what they want the world to become. The alt-right coalition is white supremacist movement who want to maintain white supremacy at any cost. They’re willing to destroy democracies around the world if it means keeping people of color and women from accessing more political power. And they work together to accomplish this in a way that left of center movements currently don’t.

They have weaponized the Internet. I’ll get into this more in the first panel but this coalition have weaponized the social networks we use every day against us, pitting us against one another by exploiting our cultural and political weaknesses. They’ve gamed social media to amplify their views, spread disinformation and run targeted harassment campaigns against people of color and women driving them offline and out of the conversation. And for the most part, tech companies have let them.

This isn’t a policy fight. This coalition are largely uninterested in any legislative or policy agenda. Here’s what they love: white nationalism, Any policy that makes life harder for Immigrants, Muslims, people of color of LGBTQ Americans, they’re all for. If you have a right wing uncle or friend you went to highschool with, you’ve probably seen this in action on Facebook. That radicalized language online is getting stronger and more consistent as the alt-right coalition congeals. A University of Amsterdam analysis of 3 billion reddit comments shows that disparate Internet communities are forming a coherent identity around hating liberals, Donald Trump, and racial resentment. It’s growing in volume but also in consistency.

To win we need to get out of our comfort zones. We’re here because a white supremacist movement controls the White House, Congress, and as they reminded us this week, the Supreme Court. That doesn’t mean that every Republican is a white nationalist but the alt-right movement now dominates the Republican party. This is a nightmare scenario, and if I’m being honest I don’t believe the left in America has yet risen to meet the challenge. There are pockets of resistance that inspire me: the Parkland students, Indivisible, striking teachers, but winning against this movement requires a consistent stream of non-violent direct actions large and small. Robert Mueller isn’t going to save us. Tom Arnold absolutely isn’t. Winning in November won’t be enough. We’re in the fight of our lives and our resistance needs to be bolder, braver, and a lot more creative. We need to work across sectors, and we need to think globally.

How do we beat back this enemy? What strategies are working and what should we stop doing? How can we win again? These are the questions I want to start to answer today. If we’ve done this right, everyone should leave this conference armed with information, tactics, and new strategic ideas.

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