It’s not ‘OK’

It seems like a lifetime ago in this stupid timeline, but it was only six months ago that Zina Bash, a Republican operative who was seated behind Judge Brett “Devil’s Triangle” Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last September, flashed a white nationalist hand gesture. It was during the latter half of the week of Kavanaugh’s hearings when Bash, with deliberation, looked directly at the camera, lifted her hand, and made the “OK” sign, which white supremacists had been using as an identifier for more than a year at that point.

Most of the media didn’t report it that way. Rather, the dominant narrative was that Bash was making a joke, a troll meant to prank liberals and nothing more. Why she thought that was an acceptable way to behave during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing is anyone’s guess.

The response from conservatives and mainstream journalists was widespread accusations of paranoia. So the next day, Bash reacted to the criticism by deliberately and unmistakably flashing the sign again. One way to read that was that Bash was removing all doubt. But what most journalists chose to believe instead was that she was just kidding around with white nationalism, like people who kid around do. Again, during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

The Anti-Defamation League declared the episode a “hoax” perpetuated by 4chan and other online trolls to bait liberals into acting stupid. Most media outlets left it at that, mocking “snowflake leftists” for being taken in by this “hoax.”

Six months later, a white nationalist from Australia shot up two mosques in New Zealand, killing 50 people. When he appeared in court after the shooting, the killer flashed the OK symbol at the cameras.

This time however, the media reports did not frame the OK gesture as a “prank” or a “hoax.” Vox for instance, simply reported that it was “a white power sign.” Racism stops being “ironic” when the racists are murdering people. It’s not “trolling” when you shoot dozens of people.

Although, the fact that they’re a mass murderer doesn’t mean that he’s not a troll. He’s both. He livestreamed his killing spree and posted an online manifesto that is stuffed full of alt-right memes and inside jokes, making it clear that one of his goals in murdering all those people was, in internet parlance, “for the lulz.” “Triggering snowflakes” is what trolls live for, and it turns out that nothing messes with people’s heads quite like “committing mass murder to own the libs.”

According to ContraPoints’ video Decrypting the Alt-Right, this is how the fascist strategy works: “shroud your sincere ideas in cartoon characters and memes and then, when called out, you mock your accuser for being a clueless normie who isn’t in on the joke…They benefit from the confusion and the appearance that the left is paranoid,” Wynn noted, adding that it’s not entirely untrue that the left is paranoid. “Paranoia and self-doubt and questioning of your own is the psychological consequence of being constantly gas-lit by fascists pretending not to be fascists and communicating in code. And it’s an intentional consequence.”

It’s Schrödinger’s fascist, simultaneously expressing sincere beliefs and just trolling depending on who who’s looking at the moment. Flashing the the OK sign both serves at a white supremacist symbol, and is also just ordinary enough that when people express concern, the white supremacist can just play the victim of liberal hysteria.

Punking journalists by tricking them into denying that the OK symbol is a white nationalist signal is also part of the troll. White nationalists hate both the liberals who are calling them out and the mainstream media who are so eager to call liberals paranoid so they can seem “neutral.” So the trolls take pleasure in creating conflicts over trivial issues like the OK sign, which can cause both groups to look foolish.

The seriousness of this situation means there is no pleasure in being able to say, “Told you so.” At least the Christchurch killer flashing the OK symbol in court removes the ambiguity around the gesture that made it such an effective troll. If some Republican official does that again, like Bash did in September, it’s less likely that we will see a bunch of condescending articles accusing the left of being paranoid for seeing white nationalist intent in it.

Instead, the far right and their sympathizers in mainstream politics will find some new way to troll progressives into launching accusations of white nationalist sympathies so they can respond by acting huffy and offended. Journalists will once again be stuck between the two, fearful of admitting that progressives might have a point, lest they be accused of having a “liberal bias.”

Donald Trump seems to be playing this game with the New Zealand shooting already. Hours after the mass murder, he made comments signaling sympathy with the shooter’s views, characterizing immigration from Latin America as an “invasion” and claiming that the country is “bursting at the seams” with new arrivals, in language that echoed the white nationalist’s manifesto and the online forums from which he sprung. But as soon as people pointed that out, Trump and his administration played innocent, pointing to his rote condemnations of violence and claiming it was “outrageous to even make that connection between this deranged individual that committed this evil crime [and] the president.”

There are two possibilities here. One is that the Trump is acting with deliberation, both in signaling support for white nationalist terrorism, and gas-lighting the left by denying that he’s doing what he’s doing. The other is that he’s a dotty old bigot who is too self-absorbed to realize that his use of terms like “invasion” are used to justify violence from white nationalists, and that his administration is covering for him because they are too power-hungry to care about the consequences.

Considering that Trump had been told, time and again, that his racist language emboldens terrorists, it’s hard to imagine that he’s acting out of ignorance instead of malice. But he is an incredibly stupid and mentally feeble man, so there’s no way to be sure.

To avoid being perceived biased, journalists will continue to give Trump the benefit of the doubt that he may just be too stupid and/or ignorant to understand that characterizing immigrants as a subhuman invading army is basically inviting people to murder them or the people that seek to help them, as the terrorist who committed the Pittsburg shooting did.

If we’re lucky, perhaps after this debacle the mainstream media will be a little less quick to mock liberals for believing that people on the right are using symbols and other coded gestures to signal their sympathy for a toxic and hateful cause. Remember that famous quote from novelist Joseph Heller: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Let Them Eat Cake

It’s though out there being a Trump supporter. Trump supporters have to worry about harassment or discrimination when entering spaces that may be bipartisan or—gasp—liberal. Apparently, enough Trump supporters are seeking safe spaces that a new app, 63red Safe, has launched. The goal? To help pro-Trump conservatives find these safe spaces, including restaurants and other businesses, where they won’t have to worry about being maligned for supporting Donald Trump.

Sigh.

The app, which you can find in the Apple store, is basically Yelp but for people who wear MAGA hats while eating their chicken wings.

Scott Wallace, the creator of the app, appeared on Fox & Friends (where else?) last week to discuss his intentions with the app. “We wanted to make sure that people could let others know what restaurants may have a political bent,” he said. “We’re not looking to try and find restaurants that are ‘conservative’ or ‘pro-Trump.’”

Wallace alleges that Trump supporters are likely to be targeted by “socialist goon squads.” “I think Antifa was nothing compared between now and what’s coming in 2020,” he explained. “And I’m deeply concerned.”

“We want businesses to understand that there’s no money in politics,” Wallace continued while talking about his app that rates businesses based on their politics. “We want to make sure everyone’s safe out there.”

Well, so much for the Conservative “alpha male.”

Conservatives are notorious for mocking “safe spaces,” making this ironic to begin with. Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet that “everyone” doesn’t actually apply to everyone. Since Trump’s presidency started, rates of hate crimes based on sexual orientation, race, and religion have all gone up. A couple of people who work for Lord Dampnut had their dinner ruined.

Imagine the cognitive dissonance it takes to support a politician who locks children seeking asylum in prison camps a like they were a demigod, only to want a safe space to wear a MAGA hat without having so deal with public scrutiny.

While trans people are legitimately worried about being able to safely use public bathrooms, and same-sex couples are in fear of being attacked, and people of color fear having the cops called on them for simply existing, Trump supporters are worried about “socialist goon squads.”

If this were a comedy routine, it would feel too on-the-nose.

We Need to Name the Threat

Early on Friday, a 28-year-old white man who described himself as “an actual fascist” entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, armed with assault rifles and killed at least 49 people and injuring many others. New Zealand authorities also report that the attacker had placed two explosive devices in his vehicle, which apparently did not detonate.

In a gruesome contemporary twist, the gunman apparently streamed parts of the attack live on Facebook. Although that feed and other accounts associated with the shooter have been taken down, but the New York Times reports that both the 17-minute video and a manifesto posted by the shooter have been widely disseminated on social media. Others were taken into custody, but reports suggest that the 28-year-old man, who by his own account was born and raised in Australia, was the sole shooter.

That man appears to have posted a manifesto online before the attack. In it, he rages against “Islamic invaders” who are “occupying European soil,” and writes that he used guns to commit this massacre in order to call attention to debate about the Second Amendment in the United States. The alleged mass murderer also claimed that he donated money to American white supremacist organizations, and quoted the “14 words” pledge often used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

According to reports, the alleged terrorist specifically cited Donald Trump as an inspiration. His online manifesto praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

Friday’s massacre appears to be an example of what is known as “stochastic terrorism,” when someone who has a large platform describes the kind of violence that they want to be carried out, but stops short of direct incitement. They identify targets, but leave it up to their viewers or listeners to carry out the violence, giving themselves just enough plausible deniability if/when violence occurs. It is another case study in how right-wing terrorists, with no official group affiliation, can be radicalized online.

Of course, every right-wing provocateur came out to demand that we ignore where this man got his hateful ideas. Their gaslighting was wrapped up in virtue signaling, “starve them of attention” they said, just as they peddled the hate that fuels these attacks.

They don’t want you asking questions. They didn’t want you to ask after Norway, or Charleston, or Charlottesville, or Quebec, or Pittsburgh. And now, they don’t want any questions after Christchurch either. And it’s worth asking: Why?

It has been repeatedly documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as other organizations, that Donald Trump is considered a hero by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Since Trump launched his presidential campaign nearly four years ago, there has been a surge of hate crimes, including violence against Jews, Muslims, and immigrants of various backgrounds.

There have been many documented examples of assaults and other forms of violence by Donald Trump supporters, in some cases the perpetrators even wearing MAGA hats and other regalia, shouting his slogans or claiming to act on his behalf. These hateful actions have included the so-called MAGA bomber, who mailed pipe bombs to public critics of Donald Trump, the man who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and the neo-Nazi mass murderer who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Trump has suggested that the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, included “very fine people.” He sought to ban Muslims from entering the United States and pursued a policy of separating immigrant children from their families and placing them in concentration camps. He has suggested that Latino immigrants are a natural criminal class who come to America with the express goal of raping and killing white people.

Trump has described predominantly black nations such as Haiti and Nigeria as “shitholes.” He basically abandoned the people of Puerto Rico after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, implying that they were lazy and did not deserve humanitarian aid. At least 5,000 people died.

Trump has shared neo-Nazi talking points and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Twitter. He has condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and has said that African-American athletes who exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of protest are traitors who should be kicked out of the United States.

Trump was and remains one of the leading voices for the “birther” conspiracy theory alleging that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and may be a secret Muslim. The Trump administration is working to remove language in UN documents that condemns racism, xenophobia, bigotry, or nationalism.

Some would like to look away from this list. Others will find it tedious and complain that they have seen this all before. Some will mutter that we all know that Trump is a racist, but so what? And yes, many other people who will see such a list and feel validation. Numbness to this kind of horror is one of the main ways through which evil is normalized.

Later on Friday, Donald Trump issued an obligatory public statement condemning the Christchurch massacre, apparently committed by a self-identified fascist who claimed him as an inspiration. The president wrote, “My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques.”

As usual at such moments, there is something deeply awkward and strained about Trump’s pronouncement. We all understand the reason for that awkwardness. Trump does not value the lives of Muslims, or nonwhite people more generally, as equal to those of white Americans.

Here’s the Rub

It’s weird that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a billionaire many times over, would patronize a massage parlor called ‘Orchids of Asia’ for a “rub and tug” on his way to the AFC championship game. Men with Kraft’s wealth usually have trophy wives, can easily hire high end escorts (who aren’t victims of human trafficking), and often have mistresses.

So why go to a cheap strip mall?

Kraft wasn’t the only wealthy john who got caught in the sting that has put him in the headlines. Private equity mogul John Childs and former Citigroup president John Havens were also arrested. There seems to be more to this story of Chinese sex trafficking to come in the near future. With the recent re-evaluation of the extremely disturbing Jeffrey Epstein case from the previous decade, it seems that an illegal sex trade has been thriving in the ultra-rich enclaves of South Florida.

So much for a pizza place in D.C. It seems that, once again, nearly everything that the right accuse Democrats of is projection of some kind.

A woman named Cindy Yang founded the “day spa” where all these wealthy powerful men went to relieve their “stress.” Although Yang no longer owns the specific business where Kraft was videotaped receiving oral sex, it was known for offering the same “services” in her time. Her family still operates several similar enterprises that are also under suspicion for sex trafficking and prostitution.

And wouldn’t you know it, Yang is a big-time Republican who now owns a company that sells access to another wealthy and powerful man with a big presence in South Florida: the president of the United States.

The Miami Herald reported that Yang had attended a Super Bowl gathering at Mar-a-Lago, and produced a selfie of Yang and Donald Trump posing together at the party. The Herald also published pictures of other events showing Yang and both Don Jr. and Eric Trump, along with a trio of prominent Florida Republicans: Former governor and current Senator Rick Scott, current governor Ron DeSantis and Representative Matt Gaetz. There are also pictures with onetime vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel.

According to the Herald, Yang had shown no interest in politics prior to 2016 but “has now become a fixture at Republican political events up and down the East Coast.” These gatherings all charge big donations to attend, although much of the money collected at Mar-a-Lago goes straight into the Trump Crime Family coffers.

For obvious reasons, national security experts were alarmed by the report. This combination of sex trafficking, prostitution, and politicians presents a perfect opportunity for espionage and blackmail.

Presidents normally divest themselves of their businesses not just to avoid the “appearance” of conflict of interest, but to avoid the possibility of compromise. This president seems to have a peculiar fetish for putting himself in as many compromising positions as possible.

You Didn’t Build That

Last week, Forbes magazine reported that 21-year-old Kylie Jenner was the youngest “self-made” billionaire ever. She has pulled in at least $1 billion from her makeup company Kylie Cosmetics.

Jenner bent over backwards to say that she’d started her company with her own money which she earned through modeling. “None of my money is inherited,” she said in a recent interview. It should also be pointed out that Forbes’ definition of “self-made” is farcically broad, meaning simply that her business hadn’t been directly inherited.

It’s still obviously absurd to attach the phrase “self-made” to Jenner, who is part of the wildly rich and famous Jenner-Kardashian clan. While she may be savvy about marketing and promotion, Jenner grew up in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the world with access to every advantage money could buy and then some, including years of self-promotion on a successful reality television show. The value of her makeup company lies in the celebrity she inherited from her family if not by direct inheritance of money or assets.

This isn’t just about dunking on Jenner or her popular lip kits, though. She is just the most outlandish example of a bigger problem: the persistence of the idea that the wealthy succeed because of their own genius, hard work, and perseverance. Even Donald Trump, whose parents gave him hundreds of millions of dollars, has managed to promote himself as “self-made.”

The fact of the matter is: wealthy people are mostly wealthy because their parents are wealthy. The correlation between parents’ and children’s wealth is well-established in the research.

Are wealthy parents just passing on some super-amazing genes to their kids that enable them to go on to great success by virtue of their brilliance (That’s Trump theory anyway)? Or is the environment a child is raised in the reason for their success as adults?

The environment you grow up in, the quality of education your parents can afford to give you, the investments they can make in you, the relative affluence of your neighborhood, etc. is almost twice as important as biology, economics professor Sandra Black and her coauthors write in a working paper put out this month by the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

For their paper, the researchers looked at the parents of adopted children in Sweden, where there is robust data on both adoption and wealth. They examined kids’ biological and adoptive parents. Then they looked at the wealth of those adopted children at around age 44, old enough to have established themselves as adults, but generally young enough to have not yet inherited their parents’ money. (They only looked at adopted children who still had at least one living parent.)

Black and her cohorts found that the adoptive parents’ wealth was a much better predictor of whether or not their adult child was wealthy.

The outcome seems obvious, wealthy parents have the money available to invest in their children, in schooling, extracurricular activities, and college funds. They also have connections to other wealthy people that poor and middle-class people simply don’t have. This means better access to investors in your new company, for example, or a leg up getting into an Ivy League school.

Or you know, access to lucrative modeling contracts.

Kids with wealthy parents also have a fabulous safety net. And they’re apt to take more chances, plowing all their money into a lipstick company or overpaying for a piece of New York real estate for example.

Entrepreneurs are much more likely to come from wealthy families, where they feel more comfortable gambling for success. Trump’s father routinely rescued him from financial collapse. Though Jenner’s parents pushed her to go out on her own, I doubt they would leave her on the streets to fend for herself if things went belly-up.

To be sure, Black says, environment isn’t the only reason someone like Jenner can make $1 billion. You do still need some amount of intelligence or savvy to succeed.

Personally, I think Donald Trump and his ne’er-do-well kids are pretty definitive evidence against that. But I’m not a professor of economics.