Mascot Ragnarok, pt. 2 -- Is this memes?

A dive into the inexcusable vitriol burbling up through social media and message boards over the WWU Viking mascot controversy. 4chan and Yik Yak are the main cesspools here, although Breitbart and Twitter make appearances.

I.

I wish the previous post had been the end of it, me making some criticism at the WWU AS for being silly about social media nonsense, then ending with a half-joking, half-serious suggestion that WWU change its mascot to the Viking... landers. Tee hee! 

Or, you know, some fucking asswipes could ruin everything. That could happen, too.


What... the...



Are you... fucking... kidding...


And that's just about when Western Washington University, for the first time in decades, decided to cancel classes on Tuesday, 24 November.

Now, these are just the things that were publicly available to me [NB: The 4chan thread has since been deleted], so there could very well have been additional private threats, emails, or deleted Yik Yak posts that I'm not privy to.

II.

There's still a lot of missing information and inconsistencies here. For example, the Herald article and the University itself claim that the threats meriting a shutdown came from Yik Yak, though nothing substantive had been released at the time. (People: If you see something, screenshot that bastard! Phones can do this pretty easily!)

Next, the media is promoting the erroneous message that users can only post to Yik Yak if they're within a certain geographical area. This is a big fat falsity, as documented by several outlets from Blogger posts to academic computing journals, even unto InfoSec!Taylor Swift. And it's already been exploited by Internet douchebags from 4chan and Reddit, most notably when one idiot and his roommate decided to spoof their GPSes to the University of Missouri campus and pose as active shooters! Classy, motherfuckers! And apparently the guy who shot up Umpqua Community College in Oregon posted about his intents on 4chan beforehand. So recent history might have added some extra weight to WWU's decision.

Except that 4chan is a pretty ahistorical crowd. The Internet in fact has a very selective view of its own history, so how do you possibly deal with that? For example, that /pol/ thread: the board is known for being a collection of people pretending to be over-the-top jingoistic white supremacists, and then people who actually are over-the-top jingoistic white supremacists. It's hard to say what posts come from whom. Of course this means one should probably assume that all such posts come from actual white-supremacist fascist fuckwads. Of course that means the fakers get to do it "for the lulz," saturate the Internet with garbage, and enjoy a ridiculous advantage in terms of emotional energy expended. They get to treat every post as a joke, while the people they're calling "apes" (and worse) must treat every post as an utterly sincere threat.
I'd bet that a random commenter from the Breitbart or FreeRepublic fever swamps is more likely to actually do something to "take back his country" than anyone on a 4chan board.
Counterpoint: People with ties to 4chan (and very probably /pol/) were implicated in a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, and then a shooting at a BlackLivesMatter rally in Chicago. To actually drill into this we'd need more data on incidents of religious or racial terrorism where the perpetrators posted about it on either 4chan or a right-wing media website. My heuristic for the bet is that the perpetrators of hate crimes are usually middle-aged white men, whereas 4chan is mostly 18-30 year old white men.
I'd also bet that, if an arrest is made over something on the WWU Yik Yak, that the perpetrator is not even close to campus.
Now, an arrest was made, and it was a Western student. This is interesting.

III.

First things first: I'm not going to name the student that was arrested, even though his name can easily be looked up. There are a couple reasons for this.

CASE ONE: Suppose he's entirely innocent. Well then, I don't want to contribute to his lasting shame by parroting his name in connection to racial threats.

CASE TWO: Suppose he's only partially guilty; for example, he posted something awful on social media but it doesn't technically violate the RCW statute on malicious harassment. I still don't want to name him, partially because I don't want to connect him to the actual threats of lynching (e.g.), and partially because if he doesn't feel ashamed over it, I don't want to give him the satisfaction of named infamy.

CASE THREE: Finally, suppose he's the one who sent substantive, racially motivated threats to Belina Seare, Abby Ramos, or both. Then he's at best an unfathomably stupid person with some issues to work out, and at worst he's a shitstain of a human being. Ideas get met with ideas, not with abuse and violence. Never never never forever. In which case I still don't want to name him, because we don't need martyrs for reactionary fuckwits who think it's okay to threaten people they don't like.

In all of these cases, though, he hasn't been formally charged. News media reported his name because the University did, because the University has comparatively low standards for evidence and disclosure. I guess it might also do that to quell rumors of why a student was dragged out of the dorms in handcuffs?

Interestingly, I don't think the University said anything when a graduate student in the Mathematics department was arrested for shooting someone off-campus, and that student was kicked out and everything. Maybe the procedure is different for graduate students.

Point is: Names will not be named.

I'd now like to call out the University for some rather poor communications regarding the arrest. Per the Seattle Times and Bellingham Herald articles, University spokesperson Paul Cocke wouldn't comment on the nature of the posts connected to the student.

Herald:
It was unclear Monday night what [the student] posted that led to the arrest, and university spokesman Paul Cocke would not comment on what threats [the student] allegedly made. University police are continuing their investigation of other messages that targeted students of color.
Times:
At Western on Monday, university spokesman Paul Cocke declined to say why [the student's] name was released before he had been charged, other than to say WWU has done so in previous, unrelated cases, such as robberies.

He said he could not discuss the evidence in the case that pointed to [the student].
But then President Bruce Shepard goes out and tweets this:


Arrest made in “lynch her” post: http://bit.ly/1NmBD9f
In my view this is a pretty strong allegation that the student was indeed the one who made the "Lynch her" post on Yik Yak; that is, the one that University Police and a local prosecutor determined sufficient to warrant an investigation.

It's worth noting that the Times and Herald articles were updated around 7:00pm, that is, after Shepard tweeted about the arrest. If there had been such detail provided to those news outlets, it would have gone into their respective articles; instead, we get No Comments from the University spokesperson.

So at this time, we simply do not know what specific posts the arrested student made―and of course, he hasn't formally been charged with any crime, so we don't even know if what he did post actually constitutes a criminal offense.

It's maybe a long shot, but I hope more details emerge about the Yik Yak side of the investigation. Per Shepard's update last Friday and some other screenshots scraped together from around the Internet (see above), "Lynch her" was not the only objectionable thing posted. Were those also WWU students? Bellingham locals? GPS-spoofing channers? How does Yik Yak figure that stuff out?

More than this specific incident, it's kinda fascinating how law enforcement manages to drag IRL suspects out of a digital incident.

EDIT: By now other news media has indicated that Tysen Campbell (he's been charged so I'm naming him this once) has been charged with malicious harassment, a class C felony, in connection to the "Lynch her" post on Yik Yak.

His friends and family seem convinced that the post, if it was his post, was sarcastic.

Except, I'm not sure about that. Or at least, his behavior can't be explained away by a sarcasm defense, if indeed that's what he's charged with. Any other post I've seen, even the "Yeah, let's wear white robes" comment, is plausibly sarcastic, even if it lacks an appropriate "fuck off" sort of clause that indicates its sarcasm and whose absence would provoke Campbell to delete the post.

Notice that in the news video, everyone they talk to, everyone who evaluates his sterling character—at least on camera; his girlfriend is Latina—is white.

I just have to be skeptical. Isn't it possible for someone to be as charming and polite as you wish around people who look like him, and still be ignorant (or indeed, hateful) enough to post such a thick-skulled, idiotic thing as a lynching comment during a time when a black student is being criticized? "Sarcasm" just doesn't quite cut it, and he deserves some sort of punishment. Maybe not five years in prison... but if black kids get more for a baggie of marijuana...

III.

In the previous post I mentioned how I tried (and failed) to find "extremely hateful comments." Now local news sites are usually a good place to find that, but for the real shit you have to go to the right-wing blogosphere. You know, the Breitbart dot coms and Drudge Reports and Hashtag TCOTs of the world. Behold, the fever-swamp comments section on a Breitbart article covering the school shutdown:


It's legitimately insane, to say the least. And of course Breitbart encourages exactly this sort of frothy-mouthed babbling. The article itself is careful to mention that law enforcement didn't believe the campus to be under significant threat, and that Bruce Shepard characterized the threats and comments online as "hate speech" (itself a right-wing derangement trigger word)... and was also careful to omit the fact that law enforcement, including a local prosecutor and FBI liaisons, thought that at least some of the comments constituted a crime.

Mr. Dark Gray, in the first comment, happens to be a local boy, too, under the nom-de-nutjobbe Sol1776 Checking off all the boxes of right-wing nutjobbery:
  • Username referencing the American Revolution or American Civil War? CHECK.
  • Ridiculously self-important "patriotic" blog title? CHECK.
  • Confederate battle-flag as blog background? CHECK.
  • Blog header with some Founding Father document snippet background? CHECK.
  • Inclusion of pornographic posts along with regular (insane) content? CHECK.
  • Occasional posts about heavy metal? CHECK, unfortunately.
  • Weird obsessive posting about "SJWs gone wild" on college campuses? CHECK.
  • Vague posts about standing up to "tyranny"? CHECK.
  • Agitprop infographic as profile image ("A Leftist paradise... is a giant prison for all mankind")? CHECK.
According to his Disqus comment page, he also posts on WorldNetDaily (CHECK CHECK CHECK) and... PC Gamer (uggghhhhh). A proud keyboard warrior, this one.

Then there's the white-nationalist entity—could be a group, could be a feverish nut in a basement—"NPLCenter" (I guess in mockery of the S(outhern) P(overty) L(aw) Center? They seem to have sent a ridiculously frothy email to the WWU faculty and President Shepard. Noted white-nationalist / neo-fascist gems like "AFRICA FOR AFRICANS, ASIA FOR ASIANS, WHAT ABOUT TEH WHITEZ" and "ANTI-RACIST IS CODEWORD FOR ANTI-WHITE" make an appearance, too, like ugly dandelions.
But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.
What this guy is, is delusional. And probably involved in the "White Genocide Project" people coming to campus last year because of President Shepard's commencement speech about WWU needing to become "less white."

Of course, the terrible thing is that there's not really a bright line between those keyboard warriors fapping to photos of scantily clad female IDF soldiers (blech, and yeah, that's our good ol' boy Sol1776 I'm talking about) and pasting the "moron label" on the bumper just above their truck nuts... and the kind of people who drive to Minneapolis to go intimidate some "dindus" and end up shooting a half dozen protesters or so. Or the kind of people who shoot up the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Or the kind of people who get stopped for having no license plate, scream "FREEMAN ON THE LAND," and blow away a couple state troopers...

So what can we do when terrible comments and possible threats burble up from those slimy depths? There's really not much warning between sending emails raving about "ONLY WHITE COUNTRIES ARE BEING FORCED TO ASSIMILATE" and pulling on your Rhodesia-patched jacket and murdering people.

Keep in mind that Western Washington University has a relatively large campus: it would be beyond impractical to make sure no strangers (or, even worse, students) were going to come on campus to commit acts of terrorism. So, even though this was the first time in nearly a decade that WWU suspended classes, I support that decision.

IV.

That's basically the end of this post, but I want to highlight some more of the social media messages that created the climate of fear over 21–23 November. I feel it's important, not only to provide some context and justification for the students' actions in the ensuing days, but also to make a distinction between that and my forthcoming criticism of certain behavior following the class cancellation of 24 November. Basically: everything that happened was understandable, even if I find most of it disagreeable (for different reasons, naturally).

I have the Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition (whom, ironically, I will levy some critique towards in a later post!) to thank for the following screenshots. You can view their timeline on Storify here.

First, a proposal for a new mascot:


Jesus Christ people, do you even understand optics? Fucking do not portray hairy ape like creatures speaking vaguely African-American Vernacular English! Even in a vacuum it's vaguely racist. In this context? Fucking stupid. And racist.

Here's a lesser sample of idiocy:


I think this is a good representation of the personal nature of the rhetoric on Yik Yak and other social media. It's also a good place to point out what makes my criticism in the earlier (and later) post different, at least in my opinion: I'm concerned about the office of the AS President, insofar as that office is capable of meaningful change. When that office is put to (what I see as) stupid use, I'll say so. But I reserve profanity for (see above) neo-Nazis and other shitheels who have been proven wrong for at least fifty years, and still haven't given up on their program of agency-denial and demonization and physical violence against their ideological enemies. You know, the Big No-No's of a civilized liberal society. Fuck 'em.

So all that said, imagine being shown "pages and pages" of these kinds of messages, all talking about you in such immediate, personal terms. That's cause enough for fear. That's cause enough to ask for certain measures of protection.

And then we get to this fuckwit:


HOW FUCKING IGNORANT DO YOU HAVE TO BE?

I'm applying probably the most charity possible here. Maybe the person who posted this just didn't know (or care) about what was going on. Maybe they were unaware, or uncaring, of the recent shootings in Minnesota and Oregon involving anonymous posters on social media revealing their intentions before committing acts of terroristic violence.

Even still: FUCK YOU.

Worse, why does this post have only -1 votes? I posted before about an ethics of social media, and here's a good test case for an extension of that. What should you do when you see such obvious inflammatory horseshit? FLAG FLAG FLAG, and downvote to oblivion, that's what. Of course, maybe it did get downvoted to -9,999,999 and this screencap was just quick on the draw. But, there were twenty replies. Is it too much to ask that users of social media be a bit socially aware and treat certain posts with the appropriate context in mind? I'm not a fan of eternal censorship but I do feel that a statute of limitations applies; do not post inflammatory messages during a period of turmoil. For fuck's sake.

Case 1: You're sympathetic to the more substantive threats. Then fuck off, disagreement should never be in the form of bullets. Never ever ever forever.

Case 2: You aren't sympathetic to the threats, but you don't care about them either. Then fuck off, you're very much not helping.

Case 3: You're ignorant of the more substantive threats, but want to post "for the lulz." Then fuck off, you should know better.

This is analogous to the principle demonstrated at the Umpqua shooting. Even if you have concealed-carry weapon, don't wade in to the incident, because law enforcement can't tell if you're a "Good Guy With A Gun" or an evildoer. As a gun owner, you should know all about situational awareness, and this applies to digital situations as surely as "real life."

Basically, Person Who Posted the Gun Photo: You're to blame for the class cancellation. All those people who expressed frustration that their classes were cancelled? That's at least 50% on you. Take some goddamn responsibility. (Hate mail can be sent to me (at) stephenmeansme (dot) com.)

So we've arrived at the context of the wee hours of 24 November, when AS President Belina Seare and VP-Diversity Abby Ramos ask President Bruce Shepard to shut down the WWU campus to protect student safety—in particular the safety of the roughly 3,500 students of color at Western.

I think I'd stand by any action between "cancelling class" and "full campus shutdown" at this point.

This post is part of a series called Mascot Ragnarok, about the controversy in Fall 2015 surrounding a proposed change—hardly even a proposal, at that—to the mascot of Western Washington University, a stylized Viking warrior. The controversy exploded into racially-charged threats against students of color at Western and specifically at the WWU AS President and VP for Diversity, both students of color themselves. You can find a timeline of events and additional posts in the series at the hub page.