Tweet Storm: The Rise of Trump and the Mainstreaming of White Nationalism
The opening event for The College of New Jersey’s “Women’s History Month 2017” was a talk given by Dr. Jessie Daniels titled “Tweet Storm: The Rise of Trump, the Mainstreaming of White Nationalism, & the Real Threat to Building Just and Sustainable Communities”. The talk took place in The College of New Jersey’s Library Atrium on March 8, 2017 and began with Dr. Janet Gray introducing Daniels by detailing her impressive academic history. Dr. Daniels is a professor of sociology at Hunter College and at the Graduate Center at CUNY who specializes in critical social psychology. She is internationally recognized as an expert in the expression of racism on the internet and the author of two books, White Lies and Cyber Racism, which were the basis of her talk.
Daniels opened her talk by first recognizing that the material she would be covering, while important, could be triggering to some members of the audience and promised to not have the anti-semitic and racist imagery on display for longer than necessary. She then goes on to explain how she views white nationalism as a serious, growing threat to developing just and sustainable communities and that she will be discussing these ideas in the context of the most recent U.S. election. Daniels uses her two books, which were “accidently written on either side of the internet” (Daniels), to examine the growth and change in the white supremacy movement and system in the United States due to the drastic increase in availability of the internet in the late 1990’s. White Lies focuses on “white supremacists printed publications” (Daniels) and is “a quantitative analysis of 400 publications from five different white supremacist organizations” (Daniels). From her analysis, Daniels first argues that white supremacy is gendered both in regards to the supposed positive attributes of whites and the supposed negative attributes of non-whites. Her second argument is that the rhetoric of white supremacy is similar to the popular political rhetoric around race in general. While this may be extremely apparent to us today, when White Lies was published in 1997 these observations and analysis were novel both in academia and in social justice communities.
In her second book, Cyber Racism, Daniels revisits the five groups explored in White Lies to see if “had they made this transition; did they make it across the internet on to doing white supremacy digitally” (Daniels). She did a “quantitative content analysis of Stormfrontâ€¦andâ€¦a quasi-experimental in-depth interview designâ€¦based on web usability studies” (Daniels). One of her major findings is white supremacists’ use of “cloaked sites”, which she defines as sites that “intentionally disguised authorship in order to conceal a political agenda” (Daniels), and that racism is changing due to the digital revolution. While this is not surprising, her second finding that students are willing to consider information given on these cloaked sites if asked but are usually deterred by the unprofessional look to the sites is terrifying in its implications. Daniels argues that the goal of white supremacists is “to challenge these moral and political victories, like the abolition of slavery, to say let’s debate that again” (Daniels). This gives white supremacy legitimacy as a reasonable position to hold that can be debated and has caused the United States to be a haven for white supremacy.
Our class has spent a significant amount of time talking about white privilege especially in connection to current events such as the Women’s March last January and the continuing rise in police brutality against people of color. I believe Daniels’ second book Cyber Racism and its conclusions could have added another dimension to those discussions since we did not explicitly touch on white supremacy in any of them. Daniels’ argument that racism has drastically changed due to the digital revolution directly connects to my short presentation on Native Feminism on our second day of class. During that presentation, I included a quote from Sydne Rain which included the line “The tone-deafness of all these “angry” white supremacists around me. Their lack of care.”. The use of “white supremacists” in the quote portrays the new white supremacy described by Daniels in her second book. White supremacy is now much more cloaked than it has been in the past which has led to many average people holding beliefs that are characterized as white supremacists’ beliefs. Rain touches upon several realities directly caused by historic and current white supremacy but the average person would not label many of these realities as white supremacy because they only recognize the pre-internet version of the system.
This talk also spoke to a topic we have only briefly covered in class but will go more in-depth with in the near future: cyber feminism. Cyber feminism was coined in the 1990’s as a way to describe how feminists were critiquing, theorizing about, and using the internet for feminist work. Daniels directly, but probably not purposely, addressed this idea when discussing the revolution of the internet: “Then one day I went to bed and when I woke up everyone had the internet”. While Daniels never mentions cyber feminism in her talk, her description of how she became interesting in using the internet as a tool for research on racism, white supremacy, and how the internet affected the effect of white supremacy on young adults was essentially the definition of cyber feminism. I believe this talk will inform the classroom discussion on cyber feminism when we reach the topic especially since at least half the class attended the talk.
Overall, I found the talk to be informative and enjoyable and the speaker to be conscientious and willing to address complex issues that do not have easy answers. I was glad Daniels took the first few minutes of her talk to recognize that the images she would be showing could be triggering for some members of the audience and to promise to only have them on the screen for as long as she needed. The fact that she took time to do this and followed through on her promise, especially in reference to the anti-semitic images with the recent attacks and threats on Jewish communities, told me she was extremely conscientious and aware of what she was presenting. It was during the questioning part of the event after the talk where she showed how willing she was to address complex issues. I asked a rather difficult question about where she thinks the future of white supremacy is going, both in the short and long term, and how she thinks changing demographics of the United States would affect this. She did not dismiss my question and answered it to the best of her ability in my opinion. Daniels’ argument about how students analyze online sources, especially cloaked sites, has been one of the largest take-aways for me. On a personal level, I wonder if I am guilty of dismissing a cloaked site simply due to graphics and if I would recognize these sites for what they are if they did have more professional designs. On a professional level as a teacher, I wonder how my students are interacting with these cloaked sites. Ultimately, this event left me concerned and wondering how I could address these topics with my own students.
Daniels, Jessica. “Tweet Storm: The Rise of Trump, the Mainstreaming of White Nationalism, & the Real Threat to Building Just and Sustainable Communities.” Women’s History Month 2017, The College of New Jersey, 8 March 2017, The College of New Jersey Library, Ewing, NJ, Lecture.
hokte (sydnerain). “And it makes me so, so fucking angry to type this. The tone-deafness of all these “angry” white supremacists around me. Their lack of care.” 22 January 2017, 8:45 PM. Tweet.