“It’s hard to get a job, hard to make a living, hard to have a normal social life when all your friends and family know you believe in ethnic cleansing.”
by Steven Blum
Aug 15 2017
When one of the polo-clad, tiki-torch wielding white supremacists at Charlottesville lost his job at a hot dog restaurant two nights ago, you could almost hear left wing Twitter breathe a sigh of relief. Perhaps the social fabric of our country hadn’t completely dissolved and there were still ramifications for appearing at a Neo-Nazi rally, even if the president was blaming “many sides” for the violence at Charlottesville.
Of course, social media mobs have a spotty record when it comes to identifying assailants, and the Charlottesville rally was no exception. Kyle Quinn, an engineer at the University of Arkansas, woke up to thousands of expletive-filled messages from strangers after he’d been misidentified as one of the Charlottesville marchers on Twitter.
But there wasn’t much sympathy for those who’d been correctly identified as part of the racist horde. Some of those identified, like Peter Tefte, were publicly disowned by friends and family. Even Jon Ronson, author of a sympathetic book about those who’d been on the receiving end of public shaming, weighed in to say the shaming of white supremacists was justified. “[The Charlottesville white supremacists] were undisguised in a massively contentious rally surrounded by the media,” Ronson wrote on Twitter in the midst of mob calls for justice. “There’s a big difference between being a white power activist [or] white supremacist and being, say, Justine Sacco,” he wrote, referring to the PR executive who was fired from her job after joking on Twitter about how white people can’t get AIDS.
Online, white nationalists may use pseudonyms, VPNs, and other techniques to try to mask their identity out of fear of doxxing, or having their personal, sensitive information leaked online. But at Charlottesville, those who attended had no reasonable expectation of privacy, according to the organizers themselves.
“The difference between Charlottesville and other public events is that the organizers were saying ‘Do not come to this event without the expectation of being doxxed,'” says Keegan Hankes, an analyst at Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “They had some inkling [that they could be outed] given the furor in the weeks leading up to the event, where you saw things ramp up between some of the anti-fascist groups and some of the alt-righters online.”
Groups like the League of the South urged members to prepare for violent confrontations with anti-fascists and protestors from Black Lives Matter. In a Facebook post which has since been deleted, the pro-Confederate organization also said the rally would “affirm the right of southerners and white people to organize for their own interests just like any other group is able to do, free of persecution”.
Typically, Hankes says, white nationalists tend to be “incredibly conscientious” about concealing their identities. “They scrub images of any identifying details before they post them, they try not to post any personal information,” he says. And for good reason. “There’s a huge cost to being identified as a member of one of these groups because it makes you, in effect, unemployable by a lot of people.”
In the days since the Charlottesville rally and as white nationalists have been identified in photos on social media, white supremacists have fretted —often self-pityingly—about the risks posed by social media mobs bent on exposing their identities. In one forum thread on the Daily Stormer, which recently went dark after being cut off by both Google and GoDaddy, a user lamented that the peril of doxxing made attending a rally too scary for him. “The thought of getting outed as ‘white supremacists’ to our employers and possibly losing our jobs is a horrifying prospect,” the user Ignatz wrote. If forced to choose between a rally, which could bring him unwanted exposure, or supporting his white family, he says he would choose the latter.