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Links for June 2020

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3 hours ago
South Burlington, Vermont
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The Boogaloo Tipping Point

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On May 29, two federal security officers guarding a courthouse in Oakland, California, were ambushed by machine-gun fire as elsewhere in the city demonstrators marched peacefully to protest the killing of George Floyd. One of the guards, David Patrick Underwood, died as a result of the attack, and the other was wounded. For days, conservative news broadcasters pinned the blame on “antifa,” the loosely affiliated group of anti-fascist anarchists known to attack property and far-right demonstrators at protests. But the alleged culprit, apprehended a week later, turned out to be a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant named Steven Carrillo, the head of a squadron called the Phoenix Ravens, which guards military installations from terrorist attacks.

According to prosecutors, Carrillo and an accomplice, 30-year-old Robert A. Justus Jr., were part of the “boogaloo” movement, a patchwork of right-leaning anti-government libertarians, Second Amendment advocates, and gun enthusiasts all preparing for another American civil war.

Authorities say that when they went to apprehend Carrillo at his residence, he attacked them with pipe bombs, killing a police sergeant named Damon Gutzwiller. Investigators found a boogaloo-themed patch in a vehicle used by Carrillo. And Carrillo had scrawled boog, along with various boogaloo slogans, in his own blood on the hood of a car.

The boogaloo movement originally grew from the weapons discussion section (“/k/”) of the anarchic anonymous message board 4chan over the past several years. By 2019, its culture had disseminated across social media into a mix of online groups and chat servers where users shared libertarian political memes. In the past six months, this all began to manifest in real life, as users from the groups emerged at protests in what became their signature uniform: aloha shirts and combat gear. As nationwide unrest intensified at the start of the summer, many boogaloo adherents interpreted this as a cue to realize the group’s central fantasy—armed revolt against the U.S. government.

In Colorado earlier in May, then in Nevada in June, police arrested several other heavily armed self-identified boogaloo members, who the authorities claimed were on their way to demonstrations to incite violence. Disturbingly, the boogaloo movement is at least the third example of a mass of memes escaping from 4chan to become a real-life radical political movement, the first being the leftist-libertarian hacktivist collective Anonymous, which emerged in 2008; the second was the far-right fascist group of angry young men called the alt-right, which formed in 2015. (The conspiracy theory QAnon might be considered a fourth, but it is more than a political movement.)

[Read: The Prophecies of Q]

At first glance, armed right-wing militants dressed in floral shirts may seem like another baffling grotesquerie in the parade of calamities that is 2020. However, their arrival can be explained by tracing their online origins. Similar to other right-leaning extremist movements, they are the product of an unhappy generation of men who compare their lot in life with that of men in previous decades and see their prospects diminishing. And with a mix of ignorance and simplicity, they view their discontent through the most distorted lens imaginable: internet memes.

Since its founding in 2003, 4chan has attracted a unique population of deeply cynical men, once all young, but now aged from their 40s down to their teens, who generally use the board to express their angst through dark humor. People who are unhappy with the circumstances of their life tend to retreat there. The unhappier they are, the longer they stay and the more they post.

The site was originally conceived as a blank slate, where anyone could scrawl what they pleased. Gen Xers and Millennials started out wanting to talk about escapist fantasies such as anime and video games, but after two decades of economic crises and political deadlock, the discussion eventually evolved into cartoon-inflected talk of political mobilization.

The birthplace of the boogaloo movement, 4chan’s /k/ section, is ostensibly devoted to the ownership and purchase of weapons. But in practice, it is a space where weapons discussions combine with 4chan’s politicized male anger. The name “boogaloo boys” is a reference to the critically maligned 1984 sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo—around 2012, users on /k/ began referring to the possibility of “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Half-serious posts about how certain weapons might be employed in “the boogaloo” evolved over time and grew more elaborate. Like many memes on 4chan, each new version was more cryptic than the last, a means to express insider knowledge and in-group status.

This meant that the oft-repeated phrase Electric Boogaloo became corrupted into the similar-sounding Big Igloo and Big Luau. Soon users were creating images in which revolutionaries appeared beside houses made of ice and at Hawaii-themed parties.

The co-option of Hawaiian imagery and igloos was inherently cynical and meaningless. There was no connection to the group’s ideology outside of the linguistic resemblance of the word boogaloo to igloo and luau. But this co-option fit the ethos of online spaces perfectly, with a niche group celebrating its anti-government, libertarian views by draping them in colorful jokes and nonsense that could be remixed and reinterpreted endlessly.

The message board /k/’s culture overlapped heavily with 4chan’s virulently racist politics discussion board /pol/. However, by 2017, the movement that had developed there—the alt-right—had largely imploded, after the disastrous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

While overt fascism fell out of vogue for many, the core demographic of disenchanted men remained, their circumstances and unhappiness largely unchanged. Indeed, the unique mixture of right-wing male discontent appealed to many who never frequented 4chan. By 2018, as talk of fascism declined on /pol/, the more libertarian and less overtly racist culture of 4chan’s /k/ and the boogaloo movement began to fill the empty niche.

[Read: It’s Not Easy Being Meme]

The memes about a new civil war spread from /k/ to various groups on Facebook and Reddit, all with names that evoked the terms boogaloo, igloo, or luau. Enthusiasts also congregated in group chats using services such as Discord. The politics of the boogaloo boys are deeply contradictory and varied but can be roughly summed up by a few agreed-upon ideas. They are libertarian, in favor of gun rights, and opposed to government police forces. Many users say they are active-duty service members or military veterans.

The boogaloo groups disagree when it comes to racism. Some members are white supremacists. Others compare the movement to the left’s campaign against police brutality. Many boogaloo memes are focused on police overreach, equating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and FBI sieges at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, in the ’90s with the recent high-profile police killings of Black Americans.

As with the alt-right, many boogaloo posts are about men in crisis, humiliated or debased. Intermingled with memes about revolution are nostalgic images and video clips, glitched out to look like old VHS tapes, of what they imagine was the ideal existence: being the patriarch of a middle-class American nuclear family sometime between the 1950s and the 1990s.

As alt-right protests waned, boogaloo boys began to appear on the streets. Armed men in aloha shirts and boogaloo patches made their first widely noticed appearance at a heavily attended pro–Second Amendment rally in Richmond, Virginia, in January. And they came out again for the anti-lockdown protests in March. Later, many attended protests over the killing of George Floyd, some in solidarity, others to oppose the left.

The catalyst was similar to what mobilized so many young people on the left: the notion that the government enriched a privileged few at the expense of the people. In this, the boogaloo boys shared the anti-corporatist left’s belief that the government had betrayed public trust by maintaining a growing police force to perpetuate an unjust status quo. President Donald Trump’s inconsistent response to the coronavirus pandemic and his promise to march the military into American cities to quell unrest only strengthened these convictions.

The recent killings in the name of the boogaloo appear to blend two once-distinct domestic-terrorist movements, one new, one old.

Last summer, murderers who identified as fascist “incels” (involuntary celibates) attacked synagogues and mosques, and, in one case, a Walmart. Like the boogaloos, their stated goal was to spark a larger conflict. And in addition to posting hateful manifestos on 4chan and a copycat site, 8chan, some coated their automatic weapons and gear in images from memes from the chans.

But Carrillo’s crimes in Oakland are also closely related to Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of an Oklahoma federal building in 1995. McVeigh was a military veteran whose experience in the Gulf War left him radicalized and resentful of the government as a source of injustice. His hatred killed more innocents than the ATF and FBI did at Ruby Ridge or Waco, his bloody-shirt causes that have since become the boogaloos’.

Having spent the past several years speaking with radicals on 4chan for a book I wrote on its political history, I’m not surprised by the odd mixture of ideologies that the boogaloo movement encompasses. One of my first sources was a chan-going Black man in his 30s, an accelerationist Communist who was friends with a variety of radicals, including many in the alt-right. What these men shared was years of marginalization and a hatred of the present state of society.

As decades of rising inequality produced successive generations who felt they were consigned to the fringes, 4chan became an outlet to express rolling waves of escapist memes and radical anger. Among the left, this uptick in radicals and the corresponding increase in funding for law-enforcement agencies have generated further support for protests aimed at defunding the police and diverting the funds to social programs. Among libertarians, they have produced phenomena such as the boogaloo boys.

Boogaloo boys certainly do not face the economic disadvantages of marginalized groups in the United States, but like the alt-right, they are unhappy enough to form their own radical identity politics of collective grievances. Also like the alt-right, they now face a wave of de-platforming. In the past few months, both Reddit and Facebook have purged major boogaloo groups, though not all of them, from their sites.

But 4chan occupies a unique place on the social web, distinct from more mainstream sites. If 4chan’s history is any indication, it’s extremely likely that some portion of these social-media users and posters on /k/ are federal agents. Having interviewed many young men who ran chan-style sites, I know that state security agencies knock on their doors early and often and ask for comprehensive records. On 8chan, many posts were automatically logged for federal agencies issuing subpoenas in a data-collection system nicknamed “Sunshine.” (8chan was taken offline last summer and replaced by a site called 8kun.) When chan radicals are caught and prosecuted, court documents often reveal police “honeypots,” meant to tempt extremists into unwittingly plotting crimes with undercover agents.

Indeed, before most people, including myself, got wind of the boogaloo movement, Rutgers University had generated a “contagion and ideology report” for law-enforcement agencies in February that detailed the group’s online network. Its conclusion: The boogaloo boys are terrorists. Its recommendations: more law enforcement, more surveillance.

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South Burlington, Vermont
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“What, to My People, is the Fourth of July?”

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In a powerful video for the Movement For Black Lives, Daveed Diggs asks: “What, to My People, is the Fourth of July?”

What, to my people, is the Fourth of July? My people, who are failed every day by every country, sleepless in the long night, terrorized by fireworks, we who have cried salt baths for our kin.

Look at all we have borne for you: arms, armistice, the sweetest fruits, flesh of children hidden away from the ugly summer of their own blood — we are on the front lines. Help me, tell me, what do we tell the children of your Fourth of July? What is death to a daughter? What is river to a sea? Where is the country where my people are safe?

Ancestors set the table send dream mares in high supply. Too heavy, too spent, too hot to cook, no promise beyond the sparkly simple bombs. Keep your holiday, your hunger, the blood in your teeth. Police parade down streets, proud descendants of the slave patrol. Theater of denial, a propaganda pageant, and we are on the front lines all summer. My uncle can’t sleep and he was born free. And he ain’t never been.

The text performed by Diggs — written by Safia Elhillo, Danez Smith, Lauren Whitehead, W. Kamau Bell, Angel Nafis, Idris Goodwin, Pharoahe Monch, Camonghne Felix, and Nate Marshall — was inspired by Frederick Douglass’ July 5, 1852 speech, in which he asked, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Tags: 2020 protests   Daveed Diggs   Frederick Douglass   USA   holidays   racism   slavery   video
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South Burlington, Vermont
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Let’s Make July Fourth a True Independence Day

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On July 5, 1852, the great African-American statesman Frederick Douglass asked a provocative question at a Rochester Independence Day event: “What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?

His question still resonates and demands that we come to grips with the fact that America’s first promise—equality—has not been fully realized.

This is not to say that the Declaration isn’t worth celebrating. It very much is.

“The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men,” Douglas said. “They were great men, too, great enough to give frame to a great age. . . . For the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.”

And Douglass was right. Until the Declaration, all governments had been structured to discriminate amongst people. There was no aspiration to do otherwise; it was just the way the systems were built. In the Declaration, for the first time in human history, the governing principle declared that we are all equal.

An amazing development!

In theory.

But in our American reality, women were largely excluded from the promises of the Declaration. Slaves and Native Americans (and no doubt others) were entirely excluded. The Declaration was the greatest governing aspiration ever articulated, but it overlooked harsh and barbarous unequal realities.

For example, we all know that Thomas Jefferson, the acclaimed author of the Declaration text, was a slave owner who had a longtime sexual relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Jefferson himself recognized the cruel irony. “Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” he wrote in 1781, “that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

After Douglass paid the Founding Fathers their respect, though, he turned back to the question of how the slave should consider the Fourth of July:

I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity.

Eleven years later, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Two years after that, on June 19, 1865, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger told a group of enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War was over. The North had won, but the slaves hadn’t been aware. Some plantation masters didn’t tell their slaves about their liberty until after the harvest work had been done. Galveston’s mayor forced freed people back to work. Some former slaves, trying to move toward their freedom, were shot.

We honor that moment on Juneteenth as a symbol of Black independence in America. There are other contenders. For example, on September 22, 1862 Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order; it took effect on January 1, 1863. On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment.

But Juneteenth is unique and confusing and poignant—because the slaves had been freed, yet were still living as captives. This complexity is what makes the date more meaningful, as the formerly enslaved people transformed June 19 from a day of ignored military orders and bitter malice into a defiant, yet hopeful, rite.

One hundred and fifty-five years after that moment in Galveston, we’re still living in confusion and rage amidst ongoing racial injustice.

In his book In the Matter of Color, the great Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. (with whom I had the privilege of studying and for whom I clerked) offered profound insight on this most incongruous state of affairs in America. Was the Declaration of Independence a lie, a failure, a joke?

Not at all.

Higginbotham believed that principle “all are created equal” in the Declaration represented the largest possible promise in our first statement as a nation, the standard to which Americans of all colors could appeal as America edged closer to its fulfillment.

You could hear the Declaration’s echo in the Emancipation Proclamation, in the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing the equal protection of the laws (for the newly freed slaves and otherwise), in the Twentieth Amendment’s guarantee of women’s right to vote, and in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

And I would suggest that you can hear it in the streets today, as protesters grieve George Floyd and demand accountability once and for all.

Because the Declaration’s promise demands us to strive to fulfill it.

As Americans celebrate the Fourth of July this year, the festivities won’t look like they have in the past. Our outdoor grilling will have appropriate spacing between guests, and instead of community gatherings, we might wave at each other from our front porches. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that Douglass’s lament will still hang in the air, even after the fireworks have faded.

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” Douglass said in Rochester. “You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Today we should still ask: “What, to Black Americans, is the Fourth of July.” Or, even better, “What, to all Americans, should the Fourth of July be?”

This year, let’s not gloss over the disconnect between the lived experience of white and black Americans. Let’s acknowledge the path Black Americans have traveled—through Emancipation, Juneteenth, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil rights era, and on to today—to even get where we all are.

It’s okay for our holidays to be complicated. Memorial Day and Veterans Day, to take just two examples, commingle our celebration of what has been achieved, with our mourning of the sacrifice that work entailed, and the aspiration to earn the freedoms which were secured for us at great cost.

That’s a lot of freight. But the truth is, the holidays mean more when we appreciate their complexity. Not less.

Similarly, let’s change how we take July Fourth to heart. Together we can celebrate what has been achieved.

But together we should also mourn the costs with Douglass and our Black American brothers and sisters. And so together we can pledge to work to fulfill the Declaration’s promise.

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2 days ago
South Burlington, Vermont
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Social Media


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Still better than cable news, though.

Today's News:
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1 day ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
3 days ago
South Burlington, Vermont
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Unpacking the logic behind “slow the testing down, please”

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A lot has been made of the President’s claim that we should “slow the testing down,” a claim that he doubled down on in subsequent remarks to reporters. Most commentators state that he’s under the mistaken impression that if we just don’t look at the problem, it’ll go away.

But I follow a bunch of virus skeptics on Twitter and in other venues, and based on what I see from them I think I understand the reasoning behind the president’s remark. The evidence leads experts to believe he’s wrong, but it’s not the logic of a small child who thinks if he doesn’t look at a problem then it stops existing. Rather, there is an actual school of thought behind this, and there are numbers and charts and graphs, and some very smart (but wrong) people are involved in it.

I want to unpack all this not to take a side in or stir some political debate, but because it’s important for everyone who’s monitoring the pandemic and preparing for what’s next to understand that there is an informed and sophisticated community of virus skeptics, that there’s a story they’re telling themselves and anyone who’ll listen, and that this story is driving the US response to the virus at the highest levels.

What the virus skeptics are thinking

The story the virus skeptics are currently telling goes something like this:

  • The outbreak actually peaked in March, and at far higher numbers than we know about. The cases were probably in the millions, and were undercounted by an order of magnitude.
  • We didn’t know about this uncounted mountain of cases because the virus is very mild, probably milder than seasonal flu, and the vast majority have no symptoms. Unless you’re very old or otherwise compromised, in which case it actually is kind of deadly.
  • The number of uncounted cases has been dropping dramatically as the outbreak fizzles, and you can see this in the ongoing drop in deaths. (Nationally, deaths are still dropping despite the upturn in cases.)
  • Therefore, the rise in detected cases is simply because we’re doing a bunch of track-and-trace and testing, which is leading us to uncover all these previously undetected cases that were out there.

So the bottom line of all of the above, is that if we weren’t sending “hotspot hunters” (a real term I’ve come across) to do contact tracing and find all the remaining pockets of infections, we wouldn’t be seeing these alarming rises in case counts. By this logic, this “phantom” rise in apparent cases (remember, really we’re just finding more old cases that are mild) is giving rise to media hysteria and economic devastation.

At this point, goes the reasoning, the economic damage from the “fake” rise in cases is far worse than any damage from the very mild virus, so we need to just quit testing. Or at least slow it down. That way, the perception will begin to match the reality of the fact that the pandemic peaked months ago and is now basically over. We can all get back to work, and things will be normal, again.

The argument: this rise in cases is ‘fake’

Once you understand the above background, the President’s subsequent remarks in an interview begin to make sense as something other than blind head-in-the-sand-ism. From the CNN article linked above:

“No,” he answered, “but I think we put ourselves at a disadvantage, I told my people. I said, ‘We’ve gotten so good at testing … We test much more than any other nation,’ so you hear about all these cases.”

“So, instead of 25 million tests, let’s say we did 10 million tests. We’d look like we were doing much better because we’d have far fewer cases. You understand that,” Trump told CBN. “I wouldn’t do that, but I will say this: We do so much more than other countries it makes us, in a way, look bad but actually we’re doing the right thing.”

Trump also said his comment in Tulsa was “semi-tongue in cheek” and asserted that “when you do more testing you find more cases.”

“We have kids, with sniffles, and all of the sudden we report a case and they’re in no danger whatsoever,” the President added.

To be clear, the above is still head-in-the-sand-ism, but it reflects a sophisticated head-in-the-sand-ism that’s being earnestly promoted by a crowd that includes some prominent medical professionals in the US and abroad. The government of Sweden, for instance, has been operating on a variation of the above story.

If you want a good, brief summary of this virus skeptic case, this Medium post is a great place to start.

I’ve also gone ahead and made my Virus Truthers list public. So if you really want to go down the rabbit hole, then you can scroll that list and get an eyeful of it.

I am not planning to engage with any of this in detail, because the only part of it that’s interesting to me is the ongoing decline in fatalities. I think that’s due to a mix of lag (it takes weeks for people to die of COVID-19) and the fact that the new cases skew far younger (younger people are less likely to die.) But I expect that fatality curve will turn back up before July is over — if not nationally then in the hotspots.

What to expect in the next few weeks

My guess: the next three or four weeks (at the most) will put an end to this particular narrative. Once deaths start to rise again, we’ll see this crowd switch to something else. But I’d rather spend time helping people prepare for what’s next than debunk this kind of thing.

But still, I wanted to highlight that the president’s remarks actually have their origin in a community of skeptics that has a coherent (but mistaken) view of the state of the pandemic and of what’s at stake in the testing rates. Many of these skeptics no doubt have his ear, and they really, truly do believe that the testing — not the virus, but the testing-driven perception that the pandemic is still A Thing — is the main danger America faces right now. They have sliced and diced the numbers to make this case, and they earnestly believe it’s true.

Unfortunately for all of us, they’re totally wrong, but they’re still calling the shots nationally and in many states. So prepare yourself accordingly.

The post Unpacking the logic behind “slow the testing down, please” appeared first on The Prepared.

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9 days ago
South Burlington, Vermont
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