Thursday, June 3, 2010

Justine Sharrock: Right-Wing Extremists Organize and Promote Violence on Facebook

Right-Wing Extremists Organize and Promote Violence on Facebook
Should the Feds Bust Them Or Leave Them Alone?
By Justine Sharrock article link
June 3, 2010 | AlterNet

With all the concern about the lack of privacy on Facebook, one would think that the online social networking site would be the last place that paranoid, right-wing extremist groups would organize. But a wide range of groups, from patriot organizations to militias and even white supremacists, are using social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube to organize and even espouse illegal activities.

Take the American Resistance Movement, a network of militia groups that vows to take up arms against what it claims is an increasingly tyrannical government. Its Facebook pages and those of its members are filled with conspiratorial news about the New World Order and impending martial law, information about AK-47s, announcements for meetings, links to YouTube recruitment videos, and information about boycotts and elections.

Clicking through ARM's profiles and walls offers an insider’s view of what these groups are all about. ARM member and Three Percenter Bradley Clifford, who ran the ARM online forum, suggested that I check out Facebook, MySpace and YouTube rather than ARM's own Web site to “get a better picture” of the group. In fact, he eventually ended up taking down its Web site all together.

The photo pages are filled with shots of masked men holding machine guns, some with the U.S. flag tied around their lower faces. There are photos of AR-15s and AK-47s, Palin signs, eagles and hot chicks with guns. There are American flags, Don’t Tread on Me flags and Confederate flags. Images of the Founding Fathers sit next to those of Obama depicted as a socialist in front of the Russian flag. Favored Thomas Jefferson quotes like “The Tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” and "When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny" litter posts and individual About Me sections.

Looking through pages for ARM as well as linked groups like Sons of Liberty, (a “peaceful” group whose mission states, “As John Locke said, it is not only the right, but the duty of the people to overthrow an oppressive government. In the future, if need be, the new 'sons of liberty' shall and will take back control of this nation.”) Three Per Centers, Right to Revolt and “White Fang Revolution,” linked YouTube videos range from footage of militia trainings, infomercials about the New World Order and hip hop videos promoting an armed revolution. There are tips on how to stockpile ammo and survival gear, and calls to impeach Obama and resist the New World Order.

It seems odd to see all this on Facebook, but in some ways it makes perfect sense. Any grassroots political movement from the Tea Parties to MoveOn to Obama’s election volunteers has to maximize social-networking sites to be successful. Likewise, right-wing extremist groups realize that the reach and efficiency these sites offer can’t be duplicated. They can reach members who are isolated in rural areas (or liberal pockets like San Francisco), link to like-minded organizations and quickly disseminate information far and wide.

It’s particularly essential for groups like ARM, which use the leaderless resistance model, in which organizations operate as a network of small dispersed independent yet interlinked groups and individuals, without one easily identifiable leader who can be easily targeted. It eliminates the weak link represented by a central leadership that has historically been targeted by the government and has proved vulnerable to internal disputes and struggles within movements. It allows individuals to take initiatives on a local level while still working together and sharing strategies and ideas. Popularized in 1962 by former Klansman turned Aryan Nationalist Louis Beam, it’s a structure that is used by a variety of groups, from the Earth Liberation Front to the Tea Party movement.

Social networking sites mimic the structure of these groups, making them the ideal way to communicate. The page itself becomes a sort of central command: it’s a meeting place, operating manual, source of information and inspiration, outreach tool and in essence becomes a sort of cyber leader in itself. The Xerox machine made pamphleting easier and telephones aided outreach, but social networking has influenced the very essence of organizations.

Social networking sites also encourage a greater level of cross-pollination and cooperation between different factions. “If you physically put these different factions in a room together, they would fight. Online they can sound off and vent instead of exchanging blows, and agree to put aside their difference. At public rallies you will find the whole spectrum invited to join together and show a strong presence in the real world. There is more willingness to work together,” explains Brian Marcus from the Anti-Defamation League.

Social networking sites work best for leaderless resistance models as opposed to hierarchies. The Oath Keepers, for example, which is rigidly led by its founder Stewart Rhodes, has disabled most of its Facebook page, since Rhodes couldn’t stop people from posting things like calls for armed resistance that contradicted his message and mission. Online, the group took on a life of its own and became greater than the founder and the official organization itself.

Many of the posts are benign---sharing news articles or announcements for meetings---but some cross the line into potentially illegal or dangerous territory. One member and frequent Facebook poster, active duty soldier Robert Hase, wrote on ARM's wall that ARM “will resist and destroy Socialism, Fascism, Communism and terrorism. Foreign or domestic. I will never stop fighting the traitors. Wan't [sic] to help me?

Another member, Johnny Pernisco, posted, “...I will start war against to [sic] new world order till it over and our country will take america back to us as we the people.” The person behind Right to Revolt posted “The Founders knew we would one day lose our Republic. They also knew we would shed our blood & spill the blood of tyrants to restore it!” and earlier, “I'm beginning to feel an urge, more descriptively....a violent impulse! Totally unrelated I'm sure, but my trigger finger has been having muscle spasms as well! MUCH MUCH self control is being exhausted to keep myself within the confines of the law. What a pity that those we sent to DC to uphold the law, have so blatantly and frequently defecated on it!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Jered Bonneau, who used Facebook to draw people to his militia in Washington State, posted a detailed plan for a “mass stand-off” blockading state Capitols meant to incite police and federal officers to “fire the first shot...Letting other militias Amp up their guards. Sending an Alarm and muster throughout the nation.”

Bonneau has a network of allies in groups like the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, Sons of Liberty across the country that he communicates with almost exclusively through Facebook. During the health care reform debates there were numerous tweets calling for Obama’s assasination. Solomon "Solly" Forell wrote, “"We'll surely get over a bullet 2 Barack Obama's head!" Jay Martin, aka Thheee_Jay posted a series of tweets including, “You should be assassinated @BarackObama” and “If I lived in DC I’d shoot him myself. Point Blank. Dead Fucking Serious.” Most infamously, Daniel Knight Hayden tweeted threats “start the killing now” signaling his intent to wreak havoc at a Tax Day protest (some of which is still up on Twitter. Under the name CitizenQuasar, he tweeted:

7:59 p.m. "The WAR wWIL start on the stepes of the Oklahoma State Capitol. I will cast the first stone. In the meantime, I await the police."

8:01 p.m. "START THE KILLING NOW! I am wiling to be the FIRST DEATH! I Await the police. They will kill me in my home."

8:06 p.m. "After I am killed on the Capitol Steps like REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!"

8:17 p.m. "I really don' give a shit anymore. Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the on the State Capitol steps."

Facebook has a policy against any posts that are “hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incite violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence...violates someone else's rights or the law...or is used to “bully, intimidate, or harass any user.” If you violate those rules, your post can be deleted or you can get kicked off Facebook. “The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving people the freedom to express themselves,” explains spokesperson Andrew Noyes, and maintaining a safe and trusted environment.

But a simple search through various groups’ and individual’s sites makes it clear that Facebook can’t keep up. For example, it was only after CNET alerted them that Facebook disabled a month-old publicly open “Kill Obama” page with 122 members. One of its goals read, “"We are going to kill Obama. Ten of us will surround the capital, armed with sniper rifles. Mr. Hope And Change just made his last speech." There are enough pro-terrorism posts that Facebook has to “regularly” remove them, according to Noyes. In fact, they’ve set up a separate page to report that kind of thing. When asked whether they hand that information over to the FBI or DHS, Noyes refused to comment.

It’s unclear how much the federal government is using the information about these groups that is right there on the computer screen—which is a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. It’s a delicate balance between freedom of speech and privacy, versus the common sense to keep an eye on activity that is technically public and only one quick click away.

Right now, Facebook is a goldmine of information (that private businesses, at least, are gladly taking full advantage of). The Web site records and stores all user information through screenshots, documenting what people have viewed and entered on the site, even if it has been untagged or deleted. It seems an obvious source for the feds. But there are serious jurisdictional and constitutional limits to what they can do. For example, it is still unclear whether social networking sites legally constitute public or private information and whether it is fair game to go undercover on the sites.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security told me they don’t monitor Facebook generally. “There are specific instances when you can and can’t monitor what someone is posting on Facebook or sending in emails,” he explained, “There has to be some type of criminal predicate.” Likewise, Paul Bresson at the FBI, which admits to looking at such sites in certain examples, explains, “There are First Amendment issues that we are aware of and must respect.”

Most social networking sites permit emergency access to information. MySpace, which stores current users’ information indefinitely, only requires a search warrant for any private messages, bulletins, or friends lists that are less than 181 days old. Twitter will only hand over information in response to legal process and has no guide for law enforcement procedures. According to a Department of Justice slide presentation on social networking sites obtained (pdf) by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Facebook is “often cooperative with emergency requests.”

The IRS searches the sites to see if you have side businesses you’re not reporting, but it has issued clear and strict guidelines that it can only use sites that don’t require logging on. The DOJ on the other hand trawls the sites, but has't come up with an answer to whether it's allowed to go “undercover” on the sites, taking on fake personas and friending people.

It’s not that the extremist groups are so naive as to think there isn’t a possibility of being monitored. ARM’s Facebook administrator posted that he “wants everyone to stay vigilant and careful about what you discuss to strangers, we are all living under the patriot act now and must act accordingly. remember it does the movement no good if you are sitting in a federal prison.”

“Facebook probably is monitored just as much as everything else -- probably more so,” says Clifford. “That however, should not stop anyone from exercising their rights. If we just hide and not exercise those rights... we may wake up with none.”

Part of the point of posting calls for revolution on Facebook is because it is a public forum and anyone---including the federal government -- can see it.

While much of the content posted on these sites could be unsubstantiated threats and rhetoric---calling for a revolution is very different from actually taking up arms---there is power in words. As Bill Bychowski, who posts about everything from getting Tea Partiers into Congress to the eugenics he thinks drives health care reform to stockpiling weapons, points out that Facebook messages also reach those running for office. “Mostly politicians are copying the [Facebookers’] phrases, using the terms "revolution", "don't retreat, reload", "born again Americans", Global WAR-ming,” says Bychoski. “They are paying attention.”

When our politicians' response to these calls for an uprising is to co-opt them to win elections, instead of investigate potentially violent crimes, it’s time we all pay attention.

© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

AlterNet home page

BP Oil Spill: A Slippery Slope to FEMA Detention Camps?
By Stephanie Mencimer article link
Jun. 3, 2010 | Mother Jones
Mother Jones home page

Southern Poverty Law Center
Intelligence Report, Spring 2010, Issue Number: 137
SPLC Rage on the Right article link The Year in Hate and Extremism
SPLC’s August report, "The Second Wave: Return of the Militias," download report (pdf)

Intelligence Report, Summer 2010, Issue Number: 138
Meet the 'Patriots' web page
SPLC Hatewatch blog home
Southern Poverty Law Center home page
SPLC Publication web page



Anonymous said...

Come on. I am not calling for any acts of violence. Stop slandering me..."Fighting" does not mean I am implying violence. You can fight somebody at the ballot box. Nobody has any machine guns. Those are illegal. We only own semi automatic weapons. Which are not illegal. So do some research. Like I said. You tend to write before you think. So what if I have Sarah Palin Pics. Also if we have pics of President Obama as a Communist that is our right under the first amendment. Do you have a problem with political dissent? Should we not question our government? Stop claiming I am doing anything "potentially illegal or dangerous territory." That is slander. Now I am asking you to prove it.

Please contact me Justine. I would like to speak to you. You have my Facebook link. I would suggest next time you slander me you contact me first and ask me a few questions. Stop assuming you know what I am speaking about. One other thing...The first and second amendment apply to me also...

Robert Hase

Anonymous said...

I forgot one thing. We do not tolerate racism. So stop immplying it...You are a joke as an opinion editor. You never get any facts strait. Just speak and write what you feel. Not what is true.

Robert Hase

JudieC said...

Justine, just because you WANT something to be true doesn't make it so! Stop playing your "Rules for Radicals" games here..... you are a commie wanna-be and must be frustrated because everyone laughs at what you write! You are a pathetic excuse of a human being!

Anonymous said...

HAHA that is correct. I love how no one reads this but us. STOP associating us with nutjobs that want to hurt the President. I am very pissed off that you would do that.

Robert Hase

Anonymous said...

I do not appreciate you calling me a "nutjob" first of all. Secondly, really mature choice of words. Shows how broadened your vocabulary is. And Thirdly I think if anyone is going to be called a "nutjob" here, it would have to be Obama :) And I am with Robert on this one. You obviously have no clue about what we are really about. And as for the racism comment. I just would like to let you know, you are talking to a person who comes from Mexican heritage. So, before you go spouting off about who is racist here, get the facts straight, do not assume. You will just make an ass out of yourself. Not that the article didn't already do that for you, but in all seriousness. Get the facts straight, do your research, and use that thing that us "nutjobs" call a brain.


Anonymous said...

Those that make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable. Most of the groups you have talked about would rather work things out in peace. Jared B. is more on the radical side and I have disagreed with what he has said but most of these groups have the right to vent about the corruption in this country. You insinuate that they should be investigated for potentially violent crimes you are saying that they should be locked up without committing a crime (
When our politicians' response to these calls for an uprising is to co-opt them to win elections, instead of investigate potentially violent crimes, it’s time we all pay attention.) People should pay attention to what is going on, I agree with you on that point. Things need to change. Our voted in leaders have lost touch with the American people. Corruption abounds. Banks are bailed out of their predatory shark loans while people have their homes ripped out from under them. Our southern states are being invaded by ruthless drug cartels. People are sick and tired of waiting for the federal government to take care of business. They are now calling for a revolution. It can be a peaceful one, but that's up to the leaders. Everything from Waco, Ruby Ridge to the disarming of citizens in Katrina was against the Constitution. Its all there just take a look. Our own President promised to bring troops home in 6 months. Did not happen. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act. Did not happen, in fact he said that indefinite detention was necessary. Michelle Obama stated that Kenya was Obama's homeland. Look it up on youtube. See it for yourself. I thought if you were president of the United States your homeland was the US? Something is fishy and people know it. If they feel like they need to arm themselves they will. That is a personal call. America has always been radical. It is weaved in the fabric of this country.

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