fascists, toys and censorship

From Paul Kneisel <tallpaul@nyct.net>
Date Sun, 26 Mar 2000 08:12:36 -0500

[: hacktivism :]

I agree with Steve Green that all people on the hactivism list aren't my
enemy. I never wrote that they were. In general terms, none of them are my
enemy. (I am, however, a bit bewildered at why Steve thought I might have
considered them to be. I hope he can inform us of this.)

I do, however, have problems with the notion presented by Paul Watson and
others who agree with him that others shouldn't critically examine his
views because he asserts he is -- "in the end" -- "on their side." "Sides,"
whatever they might be, must ultimately be determined by critical
individuals examining the issues in a sustained adult fashion. They cannot
be simply asserted in a definitive manner by one individual or group.

One particular problem I've seen with this is that the people doing the
asserting are too often the leaders, the fund raisers, the people playing
internal politics in the Democratic Party, the union bureaucrats ... in
short the exact people whose actions we should examine in a most critical

I'll determine if the Paul Watson's are on my side; they won't decide for me.

There is another, more practical, problem with Watson's desire. Various
forces "compete" for resources. Often people produce fund raising letters
that say "give your limited amount of money to us because we're doing the
best job." In other words, it is difficult or impossible for Watson to
practice what he preaches. Claims of accomplishments by Greenpeace are
simultaneously statements that others have not accomplished what Greenpeace

I've been struck by the "smiling aggression" of some Greenpeace supporters
who first misrepresent the acts of others, exclude the accomplishments of
others, and magnify the accomplishments of Greenpeace. Then, when anyone
starts to correct them, they immediately interrupt with the claim that
correcting the record isn't necessary because "we're all on the same side"
and that "there's no need to talk about it anymore." 

Finally, I think that Steve confused the direction of criticism. We
originally proposed an action against Yahoo. ChuckO and others opposed it.
If Watson's statement is to be used against anyone, it should be used
against the critics of the anti-Yahoo action. But I'm not upset at ChuckO
for the reasons Watson suggested; at a minimum, ChuckO believes that he and
the anti-fascist protestors at Yahoo are *not* on the same side.

I think that Steve misunderstands the Mattel/Yahoo issues. He writes it is
a matter of Mattel trying to hinder smaller groups vs. anti-fascists trying
to hinder fascists. Thus he supports the Mattel action and opposes the
anti-fascist one. But he makes a bad jump in describing things. It is either:

people are attacking Mattel and people are attacking fascists so lets
oppose the anti-Mattel forces and the anti-fascists;


Mattel is attacking people and the fascists at Yahoo are attacking people
so lets oppose Mattel and the fascists.

To pose the difference in the way that Steve did may suggest that fascists
at Yahoo were this innocent group of debaters who never suggested that any
rights be violated let alone that people should commit genocide.

Such distinctions, and other areas of drawing lines politically and
ethically are not "arbitrary." Of course there are areas where personal
decisions enter into the discussion, particularly where people pick their
targets of protest in a world laden with such targets. But I find that too
often people are subjectively concerned with feeling good rather than
engaging in effective actions, however minor. One may hit "Monsanto" with a
DDoS attack. But this has no long term effect on Monsanto or anyone else.
It strikes me as too much a symbolic protest by symbolic protestors.
Leaving aside for the moment the ethics of DDoS, is there not a better way
to target Monsanto that will have a greater more lasting effect?

Let's move on to the Mattel boycott idea.

Actually, it seems that ChuckO isn't really interested in taking the action
necessary for a successful boycott of Mattel. This reduces the areas of

But some still exist.

The basic idea is that Mattel has certain intellectual property rights that
it seeks to protect though the courts and cops. A lot of companies have and
a lot do. Why focus on Mattel?

I think people could answer this question and provide some good reasons.

First, the idea of *compulsory* filters on government computers really does
attack free speech (as opposed to the invented notion of "free speech" used
by critics of the anti-fascist campaign.) Requiring exclusionary filters
really is an act of censorship. And because of this it can be reasonable to
attack this society-wide attempt at censorship. It might even be the most
appropriate attack, for normal censorship goes after one author or one
publication while filters go after enormous numbers of people and
institutions. Filters can thus be accurately described as super-censors.
For that reason I see nothing wrong with people making filters the focus of
their anti-censorship actions.

The issue is even more important because of the incredible dishonesty of
many software companies who produce the filters. We have been constantly
informed that the filters are ever-so-carefully written as to preclude
excluding innocent web sites or protected speech. But these claims cannot,
in the normal run, be examined for the companies keep both their data bases
and algorithms secret.

That's why they are so enraged when their filters are reverse engineered
and the world can confirm their dishonesty by looking at the real sites
that are blocked.

My central focus is on anti-fascism; the totality of my ethical interests
is not.

Thus, I have no problem with people who want to engage in *sustained*
effort around filters. Given his clarification, ChuckO is not one of them.

My questions of ChuckO's talk of a boycott against Mattel was based on his
earlier attacks on an anti-fascist organizing effort. Critics pointed out
that fascism would not be stopped by writing to Yahoo. This is of course
obvious to everyone supporting the Yahoo effort ... save, it seems, the
critics. Critics pointed out various things that fascism would not be
stopped on the net, that hate would not be prevented by writing Yahoo, and
a whole series of related issues. They seemed to propose some meta-protest
or meta-actions though they were unclear about them.

Then, suddenly, ChuckO writes of a boycott of Mattel.

It was in sharp contrast to his earlier attacks on "piecemeal" actions. I
asked him about it.

Part of my concern over a sudden "boycott Mattel" call is rooted in my
experiences with many different types of activists on New York's Lower East

I watched some people try to claim credit for the actions of others; I
watched them act as parasites on the organizing efforts of others. They'd
hear of a planned demo and then rush out with their own leaflets claiming
that they called the action. They'd hear of another group discussing an
action and short-circuit the discussion by calling the press and announcing
they're leading the protest. It was the anarchist equivalent of a few
leftists who run to the front of a demo with their banner, take their
picture, go home, and then print the photo as "proof" they lead the demo.
Such people produced an almost endless series of "calls to action" and
followed though on few, if any. As a journalist I was always amused at the
publicity hounds who would importune me about the great job they were doing
and how I had to write their story. Of course, I knew that they had nothing
to do with the action they were trying to take credit for; they did not
know that I knew.

And I think that anyone with significant time as an activist has seen such
things. I did not accuse ChuckO of acting in such a fashion, but my past
experiences were, in part, behind my questions.

- - - - - 

I find Flint Jones motivations for his comments almost incomprehensible. I
do not recall *ever* writing any substantive criticism of the e-toy(s)
campaign. I do not *ever* recall contrasting it to other organizing or
claiming that an e-toy(s) protest mutually excluded others actions. Given
this, it seems the totality of Jones's comments collapses.

I am particularly bewildered by his assertion that the campaign around
Etoy(s) is "the fundamental issue." I am also bewildered at his contention
that it represents "typical leftist infighting." Issues involving
hate-based violence are not discussed only within the Left nor are the
victims only to found in that part of the political spectrum. Nor are
discussions of issues like "censorship" and "free speech" contained only
with Left discourse. I fail to see how Jones believes they are, let alone
how discussions of these issues represent "infighting" of any sort.

Hopefully he can provide us with more detail about his beliefs here.

Much of Jones's other contentions are factually false. Anti-fascists were
not "the aggressors" on Yahoo. If written messages can be "aggressive" than
the aggressors were the people calling for genocide, lynchings,
assassination, and the like: the fascists. And if written messages are not
"aggressive" than the anti-fascists could not have been aggressors for
writing any.

The issue, contrary to Jones's contention, is not "how one defines
censorship." Censorship has a particular meaning and one cannot for
polemical purposes merely change the meaning of words to suit one's
objections. To use an example: Jones might run into one of a small number
of deeply troubled women who hang on the fringes of the feminist movement
and, through their sexual hysteria, routinely accuse those they don't like
of rape. If Jones was so falsely accused, the issue would not be "how one
defines rape" nor would the woman's claim that she "did not use the word
that way" restore Jones's reputation nor make the woman's slander somehow

The record of the discussion around the anti-fascist campaign at Yahoo
reveals an interesting point about how people do not discuss, or, rather,
engage in a pseudo-discussion. They merely adopt a private definition of a
word and then endless assert something. To use the earlier example: The
woman does not like some particular action. She could oppose it by
gathering facts and putting them together in a rational argument. But this
is beyond her, perhaps for psychological reasons, perhaps for intellectual,
perhaps she is "too busy" with other things and does "not want to waste the
time." So she goes after "rape." She knows there is a substantial body of
thought -- a general consensus -- that rape is wrong and must be opposed.
She develops in the privacy of her own mind a unique thing she calls "rape"
and they accuses people of "rape". But when she does this she wants to
mobilize opposition to rape, not "rape."

Critics do the same thing with "free speech" and "censorship."

We can discuss the benefits of various forms of expression but "free
speech" is a legal term. Governments censor; non-governmental individuals
cannot. This is one of the reasons I wrote that some ostensible activists
want to give fascists even more rights than the non-fascist but
ultra-conservative libertarians: rights against private corporations are

This notion has been elegantly summed up by people supporting the protest
against Paramount for sponsoring "Dr. Laura." As "Advocate" Editor-At-Large
Michelangelo Signorile put it: "Dr. Laura, like everyone else, has a right
to her opinion, but no one has a right to a television show. And everyone
has a right to lobby a private company not to promote hate. No government
entity has told Schlessinger or Paramount to refrain from making antigay
remarks; if Paramount scraps the show it will do so voluntarily, under

A particular problem -- illustrating the discussion around the anti-fascist
campaign -- occurs when Jones wrote "Yahoo owns itself and can do whatever
the hell it likes."

This is *fundamentally* false. Yahoo is bounded by two limitations:
criminal and civil law. Yahoo might "like" to murder its critics with
impunity; it has no ability to do so. It may wish to violate its contracts
without unpleasant consequences; but is cannot prevent unpleasant events
from occurring when it does so.

Jones wrote of a union's problems with Yahoo, as if the anti-fascist
protestors somehow furthered Yahoo's anti-union efforts. Reality is exactly
the opposite.

Let us note the economics of portals like Yahoos. Yahoos profits rise when
more people use its portal for its advertising revenue increases. The
choice of portal is one that net users are free to make.

One might imagine -- for illustrative purposes -- some Black college
training students in computers and the net. The techies there understand
that whatever portal they recommend will financially benefit from the
endorsement. They don't want to finance the particular type of net-based
hate represented by Klan mailing lists. They look at different portals and
see that Yahoo has a written guarantee that it will not support this
hate-based activism. On this basis they recommend students use the Yahoo

These people have a right to force Yahoo to enforce the Terms Of Service
Contract. Having picked Yahoo based on Yahoo's promises they have a right
to forces Yahoo to keep those promises.

Yahoo, as a private company, does not have (the de jure) right to "do
whatever the hell it likes." It now has an obligation to do what it
promised: not provide free services to fascists.

One might also imagine -- because it happened -- that other people read
Yahoo's offer to sell advertising space. They write their ad; they send it
and money to Yahoo. Yahoo takes both and thus another contract exists.

Yahoo, as a private company, does not have (the de jure) right to "do
whatever the hell it likes." It now has an obligation to do what it
promised: run the ad campaign.

I am amazed that people are confused about contract law. Instead of
demanding that Yahoo honor their contractual obligations they oppose people
who demand this. Then -- in some bizarre logic -- they seem to think that
demanding Yahoo honor contracts against fascist organizing supports Yahoo
violations of its contracts with unions! Go figure.

One wonders about the motivations of these people. They berate
anti-fascists as somehow responsible for Yahoo violating a contract with a
union, with the implication that they are supporting the union's actions.
But has a single critic taken any confirmable action to support the union?
Or is the union situation simply a fallacious argument with which to beat

Jones's opinions, like all opinions, are neither true or false. Such
distinctions are reserved for statements of facts. Here Jones's arguments
are based on his assertions of facts that are, in a nutshell, wrong. Such
actions do not make for discussions; they are almost the opposite.

He tells us, for example, that "Try and shut the fascists out of
rec.music.white.power ... they will just spring up elsewhere.  And all this
is completely ineffective, as the
information will get out, it will find a way."

This argument, summed up by Jones in a far more elegant way that by most,
is at the heart of many criticisms of anti-fascist organizing. The critics
are politically depressed; they cannot imagine themselves conducting an
effective protest. And so they conclude that others cannot conduct win a
campaign either. 

For many -- and I do not claim Jones is among them -- this is a wonderful
rationalization for sitting on their ass while others fight. Such people
convince themselves that their (in)actions are most effective while those
actually acting make the problem worse. We hear this a lot now in New York
City where the cops have killed a number of unarmed citizens. There have
been a number of protests and a number of  people objecting to the
protests. "Protesting brutality," claim the opponents, "just makes the cops
angrier." So they posit an equation where "protesting brutality = more
brutality" and "not protesting brutality = less brutality." One side
benefit is they get to sit in their nice warm homes and stroke their own
egos about how much more effective their "assism" is over those out
protesting in the cold, risking tear gas and police beatings.

Let's also look at the reality of the campaign against the Usenet news
group <rec.music.white-power>. I have a fair knowledge of this anti-fascist
action because I initiated the VOTE NO campaign.

We can judge Jones's assertion that the action was "completely ineffective"
by examining cyber-fascism then and now.

Before <r.m.w-p> fascists openly bragged how their "unstoppable" organizing
could destroy any Usenet group they targeted. Fascist groups like the Cyber
Nazi Group, CLOC, and the Aryan Internet Corps existed and worked on Usenet
in a consistent, daily, organized fashion. 

There are reasons why people haven't heard of these groups in the past
several years. They were defeated around <r.m.w-p>. They were so
demoralized several quit and others dissolved the groups.

In particular, the National Alliance lost its top net-based organizers.
Milton Kleim and Ray "whitewolf" Horrigan openly announced their
dissatisfaction with the other fascists who led them down the path of
incredible defeat.

Jones's objections based on the necessary ineffectiveness of anti-fascist
organizing strikes me like people objecting to medicine on the grounds that
people "are going to die anyway."

One measures organizing successes in relative and not absolute terms.
Fascist messages might "continue" to get out, but the question is how far
are they going, with what vehemence, via how many people, and how often?

This illustrates what might be called the quality/quantity duality. It
reflects people who see an issue from the academic perspective of "the
idea" versus those who see it from far more practical political terms. One
can imagine a situation where a dozen fascists go out every night and paste
up hundreds of posters. Then, after an anti-fascist action, 11 of the 12
drop out while the remaining fascist posts up one token poster a year.

>From the standpoint of "the idea" the protest was "completely ineffective."
The fascist "idea" was presented before the protest and is presented after.
But the practical organizers smashed that form of fascist organizing in
their city.

Of course the Yahoo campaign wasn't going to stop *all* fascist propaganda
on the net or off. But it is strange that critics can both attack people
for thinking that it will and also attack the organizing because it won't.

  --  tallpaul (Paul Kneisel)
      editor: The Internet Anti-Fascist

[: hacktivism :]
[: for unsubscribe instructions or list info consult the list FAQ :]
[: http://hacktivism.tao.ca/ :]