Emboldened by Trump, Alt-Right Gloats Over Death of John McCain

— A white nationalist, a professional provocateur, a former revenge pornographer, and a big basket of deplorables

On August 14, 2017, Unite the Right rally organiser Richard Spencer held a press conference at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, where he spoke at length about the alt-right’s affinity for US president Donald Trump.

“We were connected with Trump on this kind of psychic level,” Spencer explained. “He was the first true, authentic nationalist in my lifetime…and in that sense we were connected with him in a way that the conservative movement wasn’t.”

Richard Spencer (source)

The rally in nearby Charlottesville had turned violent when two days earlier, James Alex Fields Jr., an outspoken neo-Nazi sympathiser, crashed his car into a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer.

Signalling his own affinity for the alt-right, Trump refused to denounce the marchers, who’d mobbed the city carrying tiki torches and chanting Nazi-era slogans—even arguing that there “were very fine people on both sides.”

Unite the Right marchers (source)

The president’s response contrasted sharply with statements by another prominent Republican, Senator John McCain.

“White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special,” said McCain, who died late last month after a year-long struggle with cancer.

It wasn’t the first or last time McCain publicly clashed with Trump; the two men seemed to fight each other at every turn, often over basic American principles.

Trump/McCain (source)

At the outset of Trump’s campaign, McCain denounced the unlikely candidate’s inflammatory anti-immigration rhetoric, and refused to attend an early MAGA rally in Phoenix, Arizona—McCain’s home state. When Trump subsequently took the stage to ridicule McCain before an audience of 15,000 ardent supporters, McCain accused him of having “fired up the crazies.”

The war of words escalated at an event in Iowa the following week, when Trump disparaged McCain’s service in Vietnam.

“He’s not a war hero,” said Trump, who was deferred from the draft no fewer than five times. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Amid the glowing eulogies following news of McCain’s death, Trump did not appear to waver from that opinion, initially vetoing an official White House statement praising the late senator. The episode hinted at deep divisions within the GOP, between the so-called “principled conservatism” espoused by McCain, and a radically new brand of conservatism, unconstrained by the normal parameters of American politics and decorum.

It also demonstrated the extent to which Trump’s presidency has emboldened previously unseen elements of the far-right fringe, who appeared to be taking cues from Trump in echoing some of his most flagrantly disparaging comments about McCain.

“Is it okay to be glad when a vindictive old bastard dies?” asked Milo Yiannapolous in an article published on his website, Dangerous, where the alt-right provocateur confessed to only being “a little ashamed of the warm feeling in my stomach” upon hearing about McCain’s death.

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The vitriol continued to pile up on Gab, a social media platform associated with the alt-right, where users celebrated McCain’s death using the pro-Trump hashtags #MAGA,  #DrainTheSwamp, and #NotAWarHero.

On Twitter, Richard Spencer rehashed old conspiracy theories that McCain was responsible for starting a deadly fire aboard a naval aircraft carrier in 1967, and that in 2013 McCain met and had his photograph taken with the leader of Islamic terrorist group ISIS. Both claims were previously debunked by the fact-checking website Snopes.

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Meanwhile in McCain’s home state of Arizona, Craig Brittain, a lesser-known member of the alt-right, has been running a one-man campaign against McCain.

Brittain found infamy in 2013, when he was busted by the Federal Trade Commission for engaging in “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” via his now-defunct revenge porn website, IsAnybodyDown?

On that website, Brittain facilitated and encouraged the publication of non-consensual nude photos—along with victims’ full names, home addresses, and Facebook screenshots—then charged hundreds of dollars for removing victims’ profiles using a second business he also controlled under the alias David Blade III.

Earlier this year, Brittain ran for senate seeking to replace outgoing senator for Arizona Jeff Flake. When he failed to produce enough votes to make the ballot, Brittain filed a lawsuit against Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey and secretary of state Michelle Reagan in an attempt to force a second vote, and in a “frivolous” attempt to remove McCain from office.

“[A] reasonable person would conclude that McCain’s seat has been ‘vacant’ since his final Senate vote in December of 2017,” Brittain said in an e-mail. “This does not weigh on his qualifications but rather is a simple statement of fact. He wasn’t there; the seat was vacated, THE TRUTH IS THE TRUTH.”

Last year, an anonymous Gab account registered to Brittain’s personal phone number was used to post numerous disparaging comments about McCain’s cancer diagnosis.

“Maybe God does exist after all,” read one of the posts. “If so, good job, God. I’m rooting for the brain cancer – the best chance to replace John McCain as a US Senator.”

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When asked if he owned the account, Brittain said he’d never used Gab and suggested that the anonymous account holder was an impersonator.

Minutes later, the account was mysteriously deleted.

When asked again, Brittain suggested that “maybe the site administrator of Gab realized it was a fake account and deleted it.” He subsequently sent a lengthy, pro-Trump diatribe criticising the mainstream media, and speculating that Chelsea Clinton—who sits on the board of directors at IAC, the parent company of The Daily Beast where I recently co-bylined a few stories—was personally involved in this article.

“Soon, President Trump will restore social media access (the loss of which crippled my campaign severely and left me vulnerable to impersonators) to people of all genders, races, creeds, origins, and beliefs,” Brittain railed. “That is when the current Mainstream News Media, which is Non-Representative, will be deleted. It will fade away and be classified as obsolete.”

*   *   *

In the end, Trump capitulated to mounting criticism over the White House’s “disastrous” response to McCain’s death, issuing a statement praising the late senator, and ordering that the flag be lowered to half-staff until after McCain’s interment.

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The gesture was arguably a big move for a president known for bearing grudges, yet it did little to appease his critics, or, for that matter, his supporters on the far-right.

“I love you, Mr. President. But this was a pussy move,” said one self-described “Middle aged conservative Odinist.”

It was just the latest reminder that within the alt-right, the only consistent principle is trumping your opponent.

Inside the Russian Troll Factory

— Leaked documents reveal details of anti-U.S. operations by Russian trolls

The Internet Research Agency (IRA), a pro-Putin “troll factory” based in St. Petersburg, recently found fame after it was indicted for allegedly trying to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.

Leaked documents reveal details about the IRA’s operations, including online posts criticising U.S. domestic and foreign policy, plus a lexicon of common Internet slang terms that staff at the factory were instructed to use when arguing with commenters online.

55 Savushkina Street (source)

Russian newspaper My Area (MR7.ru) first published the documents in 2015 while the IRA was allegedly engaged in efforts to interfere in the U.S. election.

The documents set out a list of “general requirements” for publishing Russian propaganda on Live Journal, including “obligatory use of keywords in the text” and “use of graphic images or videos, found on Youtube, on the topic of the post.”

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The leaked documents include a 119-page set of guidelines titled “Assignments to the Kremlin for Savushkin, 55,” containing directives requiring staff at the factory to write about certain subjects, or “themes.”

One directive instructed staff to write negative posts about U.S. domestic policy regarding “regular cases of mass shooting of people.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 4. USA

The main idea: We form a negative attitude to US domestic policy. There are regular cases of mass shooting of people

News: In the United States for two days there were two cases of shooting, which resulted in the deaths of several people

It went on to blame U.S. gun crime on “Democratic” support for gun rights:

Mass shooting in the US occurs with a terrifying frequency. According to information experts, in the United States, mass executions of citizens occur every month. In almost all cases, people die from personal weapons that are not closely monitored. In this regard, often the victims are children who kill with weapons taken from parents. These tragedies are due to the vague and ‘Democratic’ position of the authorities, which simplified the rules for obtaining weapons, pushing, therefore, irresponsible people to lynch.

Another directive instructed staff to write about the “lawlessness of the American police.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 2. USA.

The main idea: The lawlessness of the American police, coupled with a biased judicial system create instability and problems in society.

News: Two policemen injured during shooting in New York.

It went on to comment on the social instability created by institutional racism:

Enormous powers, impunity and deeply entrenched racism…in the ranks of the police [coupled with] incidents involving the murder of both ordinary citizens of the United States, and policemen, show how fragile social stability is in the States.

A third directive instructed staff to write negatively about then-president Barack Obama because he’d expressed support for The Interview, Seth Rogen’s 2014 satire of the North Korean dictatorship, after the film was cancelled by distributor Sony (the company later reversed its decision).

The directive quotes a lesser-known 2016 presidential candidate, Matthew Pinnavaia from San Diego, who—according to the IRA—once criticised Obama for his “immoral policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 1. USA

The main idea: Negative attitude to the foreign policy of the state, conducted by Obama; US politicians have to apologise for the actions of the president of the country

News: Member of the presidential race in the US apologised to the DPRK

It went on to claim that Obama’s comments were negatively viewed as being reflective of U.S. foreign policy:

The policy of US President Barack Obama raises doubts among many American politicians. That actions of the state on the international scene shows that the US only take their point of view and does not want to listen to public opinion. In connection with this, American politicians have apologised for the actions of the president and the foreign policy of the country.

Lastly, the leaked documents include a lexicon of common Internet slang terms, such as “butthurt” (“literally ‘asshole pain’”) and “oldfag,” to be used in arguments with commenters online.

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Via Google Translate, here’s the IRA’s preamble to the lexicon:

A successful dispute with an opposition commentator [requires] literate speech that fits into the traditional slang of a site on which the employee works. Moreover, posts written using the necessary words (by situation) will not cause readers unnecessary questions, as bloggers of this kind are trusted more than ordinary political reviewers.

And here are some notable entries from the lexicon itself, including a definition for “trolling” that explicitly excludes “writing articles to order”:

BUTTHURT – (English butt – ass, hurt-pain, literally “asshole pain” or “Попоболь”) Possessor of Butthurt is distinguished by exceptionally strong negative reaction to insult or sarcastic depreciation…Like all the words of Internet slang, it was coined at the dawn of the development of the first world Internet forums. Also, the only way to combat this term is the most popular meme-weapon.

GTFO – (abbr. From English Get the fuck out (off) please leave the conversation / conversation…As a rule, it is applied to speakers exclusively on Internet slang users, in order to respond by counterattacking their insults / statements. Example: “Proof or GTFO from here”. (referring to an opposition commentator or blogger).

NEWFAG – (English new faggot: new – “new”, faggot – “faggot”)…the term defining the Internet user “newcomer” (that is, a recently registered user). Was invented on the well-known Internet-resources, but it is also used extensively in the blogosphere. Akin to the meaning of the term “Oldfag”, and is practically synonymous with the words “noob” (English noob, newbie – “Beginner”, “kettle”), “lamer” and “kettle”. Example: “You are here recently, yes, Newfag? News you do not read, you do not follow the events, but just screaming, how bad are you?”

OLDFAG – (English old faggot: old – old, faggot – “faggot”)…definition of “the old Internet inhabitant” namely, a user who has long used the Internet and with an extensive list of known memes, news or events…Akin to meaning with the term “newfag”. Example: “Of course, I’m not exactly oldfag, but I do not remember anything like that! And you, by chance, do you think up?” (when communicating with opposition bloggers).

PROOF – (English Proof, proof) content (whether it’s a picture, a link, a video), confirming what has been said. As a rule, proof is a requirement for an interlocutor to provide proof of his words. Example: “Proof of your words, in my opinion you’re lying, sir!”.

CANCER – [The] highest degree of idiocy on the Internet…Cancer is not an insult. This is rather a definition. So it is possible to name everyone a commentator, who is viciously insulting any of his interlocutors. Cancer does not possess sufficient intelligence to simply leave empty quarrels in the comments, so the only way to deal with “fasting cancer” is to remove from the discussion. An example of a comment from such a commentator: “You are all idiots, lol! All! And you’re an idiot, you think that you’re right? You’re an idiot!”

TROLL – [The] goal of the troll is the production of a quarrel, the topic of which is knowingly offensive to his interlocutor (actually, the main food of the troll is the butthurt). It is worth remembering that trolling is not writing articles to order, it’s not flood and off-topic in posts and comments, and certainly not household quarrel between Internet users. Trolling is a deliberate provocation interlocutor for the purpose of simply ridiculing the opponent in dialogue. There is an unspoken classification of “cattle-trolling” (outright nonsense, which is very simple), “thick trolling” (an unsuccessful attempt of the troll to provoke the interlocutor, which is also quite easy to figure out, but this attempt is complicated in meaning) and “thin trolling” (a clever provocation, which is easy to tell, and which is really hard to figure out). As a rule, the troll, who was discovered, is removed from the dialog. An example of an extremely unsuccessful trolling: “And I’m for Ukraine! And there is no war, the Russian the army is at war! And Moscow is guilty, she organised EuroMaidan to destroy Ukraine.” And the correct answer to it: “Too thick, green, go to the oven, you are not wanted here.”

Update, February 28, 2018: An Arizona Republic survey published yesterday has determined that Russian Twitter trolls sought to smear John McCain by peddling a doctored photo of the AZ Senator posing with ISIS extremists, who follow a strict, orthodox form of Sunni Islam. McCain is identified for criticism in the leaked documents as a supporter of Sunnism:

[Saddam Hussein’s] “Ba’ath” was predominantly a Sunni party [and so] the Sunni part of the country (more than a third population) had protection…

A group of American senators believes that the demands of the Sunnis are quite fair. And among these people there is even John McCain.

However, as many newspapers and websites have pointed out, McCain isn’t the most reliable speaker on the Middle East, and has frequently confused Sunnis and Shiites.