When the Police Get into Doxxing
The Guardian recently reported that the Berkeley, CA police posted the names and photos of anti-fascist activists on Twitter. These outed California anti-fascist protesters were arrested for minor offenses while counter-demonstrating against an “alt-right” neofascist protest staged in Berkeley. Many of the arrests occurred under the auspices of new laws prohibiting demonstrators from wearing masks. The executive director of the National Lawyers Guild’s local chapter Jay Kim stated, “It really seemed to us like the Berkeley police department was there to … target the anti-fascist protesters,” rather than to ensure the neofascist demonstration didn’t get out of hand.
“Doxxing” is the new right-wing scare tactic of publishing private information of opponents (leftwing activists) online, in order to intimidate them. In the digital Big Brother age, outing a person’s personal information is a deliberately violent intimidation tactic that could be called digital rape. Fox News and other major outlets of the Fourth Estate have only enabled and amplified this tactic by reposting the names and faces of those anti-fascist activists that the Berkeley Police doxxed. Doxxing has been used against journalists, academics, and protesters engaging in investigation, research, or demonstrations that the rightwing does not agree with. Doxxing is a fascist policy aided and abetted not only by alt-fact news, but now also, apparently, by the government.
This is not the first time that California police have been doing the neo-Nazis’ work for them by neutralizing the power of anti-fascist groups while giving their rivals relative impunity. In terms of transparency, there has also been a legal asymmetry. Unknown sources have filed public records requests to police singling out anti-fascist protester arrestees, thus forcing the authorities to reveal their names and information, while many of the organizers of alt-right protests strive to remain out of the public eye. By complying with such Freedom of Information requests, despite the questionable motives of inducing harm against leftist activists, governments buttress anti-democratic organizations and perpetuators of hate. The misuse of transparency for targeted violence raises, again, Karl Popper’s question regarding the ramifications of the Paradox of Tolerance when democracies become tolerant to intolerant forces.
That the punishment doled out to Berkeley’s anti-fascist protestors includes “outing” their data, letting the whole, mad world know of their whereabouts, is just one more symptom of our brutish zeitgeist. The only plausible reason why the Berkeley police would tweet Antifa data is to intimidate other Antifa activists into inaction.
It seems that wearing a mask is the new high crime that trumps violence, hate-speech, or organized chaos. Through their selective arrests, police are signaling that they view the wearing of masks by Antifa protesters as more threatening than swastika-waving neo-Nazi protesters, fascists hitting and killing people with their cars and weapons, or other physical threats and felonies.
For some unknown reason, there is something uniquely menacing to law enforcement authorities in not knowing the identity of people who, by their own accord, are doing the job law enforcement officers refuse to perform: clamping down on the parasitic actions of those wishing to amputate certain members of the body politic.
Quixotically, those who most wish to have their identity hidden are precisely those targeted by police and fascists to expose their identity and open it up for the most violent and deranged of their bunch to prey on. By analogy with the classic legal issues over the culpability of politicians who spread hate or religious evangelists who espouse murdering abortion doctors, should something befall any of the protesters that have been doxxed, it is the Berkeley Police that will be responsible for inciting violence. They initiated the crime and cannot shirk responsibility for the consequences.
As David Cohen has eloquently written about Trump, uttering the words and committing the deeds that give social esteem to following through with violent action spawned by incendiary remarks or posts of information about people is an act of “stochastic terrorism.” In this case, we have the Berkeley police engaging in stochastic terrorism, “the use of mass communication to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” Stochastic terrorism is an oft-used Western type of terrorism that aims to hide the instigator. It is the coward’s form of terrorism – even though the actual effects are just as bloody as other types of more overt, direct terrorist attacks.
The ongoing series of police attacks on anti-fascist protesters misses the point. Most anti-fascists would be more than happy to go about their lives tending their gardens, hanging out with friends, and working their jobs. But they put all of this in jeopardy precisely because they believe the stakes are too high not to. If not them, then who? If not now, when? These are the questions that people protesting the Nazis asked themselves in Germany in the 1930’s. And it is chilling actions such as doxxing that erode our democracy even further, turning the state into a mob boss in collusion with the darkest elements of delusional supremacy.
Doxxing is the performative contradiction of the alt-right. It is their heartfelt demonstration that they are derelict of values or principle, and that the sum of their speech and platform amounts to opportunistic, kneejerk drivel. If the left in the US were one-tenth as violent as the right, the alt-right would be quaking in their fascist boots anytime their information was doxxed. The hypocritical move of the alt-right doxxing their imagined opponents is that their actions contradict the very thing they are supposedly fighting for: liberty, including the freedom to keep one’s privacy.
That privacy and property are so interlinked makes the right-wing doxxing of those they wish to hurt even more an act of violence against the thing they hold to be most precious. The tedious reply often used by social media big data collectors that “if you don’t have anything to hide you don’t have anything to worry about” becomes increasingly hollow in the face of armed militants who disagree that the government should have the monopoly on violence.
The notion that anyone acting politically should automatically consent to becoming the target of informational sniping only occurs in an already corroded polity. The alt-right, but especially state law enforcement, would do good to remember:
“Democracy must withstand this urge to strip citizens’ souls naked in public, for otherwise we risk erasing the freedoms that democracy provides. Distance and opacity are not inherently dangerous for democracy; instead, they can be ways of maintaining one’s sanity in situations where authority demands unity and transparency.”1
The masks of Antifa demonstrators are protections against the same tyranny of unity and transparency that the alt-right is fighting against. Only, the Antifa’s approach of non-violent protest in a sea of state and extra-state violence recommends that they be smart in their endeavor. If, as Jefferson apocryphally said, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” for those who are speaking for the speechless masses, why should such a job amount to martyrdom? Why can’t we have activists who stand up for solidarity, liberty, equality, non-hate of others, and then go back quietly to their lives as private denizens?
What is revealed in the alt-right inebriation with exposing others is not their morals, but their jackal-like lack of principles. They don’t believe in freedom from big government, or freedom of speech. They don’t believe in freedom of peaceful anonymous assembly. They don’t believe in privacy. No, they want these things only when it is convenient for themselves, and are willing to sacrifice them when it meets their political exigencies.
- Markovits E. The Politics of Sincerity: Plato, Frank Speech, and Democratic Judgment. University Park: Penn State University Press; 2009.
Davis, AY. Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture. New York: Seven Stories Press; 2005.
MacLean N. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Reprint edition. New York, New York: Penguin Books; 2018.
Mayer, J. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. New York: Doubleday; 2016.