The Trump Movement: How it All Began

Trumpland: Kill All the Normies

Fusion (2018)

Film Review

This documentary, featuring Kill All the Normies* author Angela Nagle, examines the origin of the political movement that elected an openly racist, misogynist and xenophobe to the US presidency. Nagle believes that Trump initially gathered most of his support from the “dark” sections of the Internet, namely 4Chan and a variety of its spinoff sites. 4Chan is a roughly 20-year-old site where anonymous geeks – mainly teenagers – try to outdo each other with the most repulsive and/or obscene posts they can think of.

According to Nagle, 4Chan and similar sites made an ideal platform for insecure white males to anonymously scapegoat specific social groups (women, Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims) that they blame for their unhappiness. These sites came to be collectively known as the “manosphere community,” a multitude of social media sites hosted by PUA (pickup artists) and other members of the InCel (Involuntarily Celibate) known for their open hatred and degradation of women. The primary themes promoted by these sites are that women aren’t to be trusted, that they must be tricked into having sex by dwelling on their insecurities and that they should only deserve enough education to have children.

Eventually this “manosphere” would “weaponize” Twitter, by using it for toxic harassment of feminists and other publicly prominent women, with insults and threats to kill and/or rape them.

Trumps’ closest political advisor Steve Bannon, who tracked all these right wing sites, assisted Trump in mainstreaming the discontent he found there. Trump’s willingness to publicly give voice to these views provided him with an immediate fan base. Trump is the ultimate troll, drawing attention to himself by insulting people and generating outrage – a trait supporters fed up with “political correctness” particularly adore about him.

For me the most interesting segment criticizes Obama for setting the stage for the Trump movement by abandoning marginalized white workers, focusing instead on identity politics (mainly gay and gender rights) to maintain his liberal credentials.

One commentator blames backlash against against the “gender fluidity” movement, an extreme manifestation of identity politics (mainly concerned with gay and transgender rights) for the rise of the Trump phenomenon. This movement also weaponizes social media to attack views they deem to be “politically incorrect.”


*A “Normie” is Alt-Right speak for “mainstream.”

We Are Legion: The History of Anonymous

 

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hactivists

Brian Knappenberger (2012)

Film Review

We are Legion traces the early history of Anonymous, the vast leaderless international hactivist community, back to geeky pranksters from MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Model Railroad Club. After branching out to form the Cult of the Dead Cow, they would morph into 4Chan, a website where anonymous – mainly adolescent users – go out of their way to post the most repulsive and/or obscene images and text they could think of.

The fact that most 4Chan posts bear the screen name “Anonymous” would inspire a group of 4Channers to formally take that name in 2006-2007. Their first politically motivated prank was directed attack against Neo-Nazi talk show host Hal Turner. In addition to shutting down his website through a DoS* attack, they charged massive amounts of pizza and industrial supplies to be sent to his address. On learning he was an FBI informant (by hacking into his emails), the widely disseminated this information to his right wing supporters.

By January 2008 when they took on the Church of Scientology (after the Scientology lawyers threatened them for disseminated an unflattering video of Tom Cruise promoting Scientology), they had transitioned from pranksters into a virtual online army.

In addition to repeatedly DoS-ing the Scientology website and tying up their hotline, they staged their first street protest in February 2008 – with more than 10,000 Anonymous members picketing Scientology offices in every major city. It was these protests that first popularized the Guy Fawkes mask originating from the V for Vendetta graphic novel and film.

In 2010 they launched Operation Payback to disable Mastercard, Visa and PayPal websites, after Wikileaks published Bradley Manning’s damning emails and videos about US atrocities in Iraq and the four companies suspended Wikileaks online payment services.

In 2011 Anonymous members provided third party website, dial-up and encryption services and text-based Twitter feeds for activists in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab Spring countries.

It was around this time the FBI began investigating Anonymous – resulting in the arrest of the Anonymous 16 for taking down the PayPal website. Several of the arrestees are featured in the documentary as they prepare to go to trial. Owing the amorphous and leaderless nature of the network, the arrest of dozens of Anonymous activists  seems to have done little to curtail their activists.


*A denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) is a cyber attack where perpetrators seek to make a website  unavailable by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting services. It’s typically accomplished by flooding the targeted website with superfluous requests in an attempt to overload its systems.

Anonymous: A Global Force to be Reckoned With

We are Legion: The Story of the Hactivists.

Brian Knoppenberger (2012)

Film Review

We are Legion lays out the history of Anonymous, the leaderless global network of Internet activists who can shut down and/or hack the website of virtually any government or corporation. In June 2011, sixteen members of this anonymous network became publicly  known after the FBI arrested them for attacking the websites of Paypal, Mastercard and Amazon for their refusal to process Wikileaks donations.

I was quite surprised to learn that the origins of Anonymous were totally apolitical. The hacker culture that led to the formation of Anonymous originally grew out of MIT prank culture. The MIT student body’s IRL (in-real-life) pranks preceded their online pranking. I visited the MIT campus for my daughter’s graduation, and the tour she gave me include a history of some of the more clever pranks, eg the Volkswagen MIT’s model railroad club put on the roof of the administration building.

Interest in online pranks and hacking led to the formation of online hacking groups, such as Cult of the Dead Cow, LOPHT and Electronic Disturbance Theater. It was in these groups hackers learned how to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. The goal of a DDoS attack is to shut down a website by having tens of thousands of people link to it simultaneously.

Over time these early groups morphed into 4Chan, an image-based bulletin board where people used their anonymity to post the vilest and most disgusting images, comments and memes they could think of. The primary goal was to think up new ways of offending people. This included creative trolling and hacking of mainstream websites, often by plastering them with pornographic images.

4Chan Becomes Political

4Chan’s first political target was Hal Turner, a Neo-Nazi Internet radio producer. The techniques used against Turner included DDoS attacks, delivering hundreds of pizzas and industrial pallets to his home, signing him up for escort services, posting phony Craigslist ads in his name and hacking his email account.

By 2008, this weird international network of Internet pranksters numbered in the millions, and they took in their first major political target: the Church of Scientology. Their run-in with the Scientologists stemmed from a ludicrous promotional video Tom Cruise made for YouTube, which they posted to tens of thousands of websites. This, in turn, generated a barrage of threats from the Church’s legal team. The Scientologists have a long history of threatening journalists and educators who try to investigate their cult-like activities.

4Chan retaliated by tying up the Scientology hotline with prank calls and DDoS’ing their website. They also disseminated a simple, open source (free) computer game called Low Orbit Ion Canon which enabled each of their members to link to the Scientology website 800,000 times.

Anonymous is Born

On January 21, 2008, 4Chan activists launched their first video under the name of Anonymous. It called for mass protests at all worldwide Scientology offices. Protestors were instructed to bring no weapons and cover their faces to keep from being identified. The choice of the Guy Fawkes Mask (from the 2006 film V for Vendetta) was a lucky accident.

guy fawkes mask

The protests started in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne. Eventually several hundred people turned out in every major city in the world. As it was the first time any of them had met offline, teen 4Chan nerds were astonished at the number of female and older activists in their midst.

Operation Avenge Assange

More online Anonymous protests followed, culminating in Operation Avenge Assange in December 2010. Following Wikileaks’ release of more than 100,000 secret US diplomatic cables, Paypal, Amazon and Mastercard tried to cripple them by suspending financial services to their website. Anonymous responded by DDoS’ing and shutting down the websites of Paypal, Amazon and Mastercard.

In February 2011, Anonymous provided assistance to Tunisian and Egyptian activists whose governments were trying to suppress their Internet access.

Following the Arab Spring protests, the formation of Lulz Sec caused a split in the Anonymous membership. Lulz Sec hactivists were into stealing credit card numbers and other personal information for malicious purposes. Other Anonymous members strongly believed their hactivism should only be a force for good.

In June 2011, 16 Anonymous members became visible for the first time when the FBI arrested them** for their role in Operation Avenge Assange. These and many nameless Anonymous members would go on to play a major role in the September 2011 Occupy protests.


*See Britain’s Famous Anarchist Superhero
**In 2014, the thirteen with outstanding charges pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and received maximum sentences of one year probation and $5600 restitution. See The Paypal 14

photo credit: Behind the Mask – Guy Fawkes 02 via photopin (license)