Seymour and ‘alt-right’ versus female MPs

Act MP David Seymour was stronly criticised – and supported – for comments he made about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, in particular “she is a real menace to freedom”.

“I just think that Golriz Ghahraman is completely wrong, I don’t know if she understands what she’s saying, but she is a real menace to freedom in this country, whether or not she understands that she is, and I think that it’s important that all right-thinking New Zealanders say “the true danger ah… to any society is rulers who put in place rules and regulations saying you’re not allowed to express yourself” – that’s how tyranny begins.

And I’d just invite people to have a look at speeches that Xi Jing Ping gives and speeches that Golriz Ghahraman gives, and it’s actually very difficult to tell the difference. I actually looked at a couple of paragraphs – one paragraph from each – I tried to guess which was which – and ah… Xi Jing Ping actually looked like a more liberal ah guy on this issue than Golriz Ghahraman.”

It was claimed that this contributed to an escalation in online attacks against Ghahraman which led to Parliament providing increased security for Ghahraman after she got more death threats.

Seymour and Judith Collins were interviewed by Sean Plunket: Judith Collins labeled ‘ageist’ as David Seymour attacks her defence of Golriz Ghahraman

Collins:

He referred to her as being a menace to society. I don’t think she is a menace to society. I think her views are not ones that I agree with, and I would agree with him on that. And I think that she is very illiberal when it comes to people’s freedom of speech but that bit does not mean to say that he needs to put it in such a personal way that he did, against her personally.

And my view is that parliament is a very tough place, but actually for some people it’s a lot tougher and she is someone who gives a lot of stuff back to people but she also, I think at the moment, is getting a lot more than what she deserves. And I just think it’s time we calmed down in parliament, and outside of parliament, and remembered that she is just a human being.

I have no problem with David doing what he does, except that if he does then he can expect me to make a comment about it.

So, actually, just like he wants to express his free speech, I am expressing mine, which is that we need to be a little bit kinder towards each other even when the other person has views entirely different from ourselves, and we don’t need to always make it so personal. That’s my feeling.

Seymour was unrepentant:

If people think that me saying that a politician who wants to expand the powers of the state to decide what you’re allowed to say and when they hear me say it, think that the way I say it is more important than the issue of freedom of speech then I think that person has their priorities wrong.

And I do think that a politician who wants to put stricter boundaries around what people are allowed to say, when they genuinely believe it, is a menace, not to our society, but to give me my proper quote, to freedom in our society. Because that is how tyranny begins and I think we should be a lot more worried about that, than how exactly it is said.

The counter claim has been that stoking up abuse and attacks against an MP, deliberately or not, is also a menace to society.

Yesterday from 1 News: Speaker Trevor Mallard says David Seymour bullied Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman

When asked by TVNZ1’s Breakfast host John Campbell if the comments made by Mr Seymour on radio show Magic last week were bullying, he responded “yes”.

“In my opinion that did step over the line,” Mr Mallard says. “It’s not a breach of privilege because it didn’t happen in the House. It’s not a criminal offence but I think it showed poor judgement.”

He said bullying needed to be called out, and said it was leaders and senior staff who needed to step up against bullying.

Seymour responded: Free speech debate shows hate speech laws are a bad idea

The response to my recent comments on free speech proves we cannot trust government to enforce hate speech laws”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Speaker Trevor Mallard is the latest to denounce my views and try to shut down any criticism of those who would take away our right to freedom of expression.

“Imagine if the state had even greater powers to punish speech at its disposal.

“The Government, emboldened by the Twitter mob, would now be using that power to investigate and punish a sitting MP’s genuinely-held views.

“Hate speech laws turn debate into a popularity contest where the winners get to silence views they don’t like by using the power of the state.

“We find ourselves in an astonishing situation: an MP can vigorously campaign to take away our right to freedom of expression, but, if another MP criticises them, Parliament’s Speaker says they are a bully.

“Freedom of expression is one of the most important values our society has. It cannot be abandoned because anyone, let alone Parliament’s Speaker, weighs in with accusations against anyone who defends it.

“ACT will continue to defend the critical principle that nobody should ever be punished by the power of the state on the basis of opinion.”

Calling out bullying speech is also free speech. As a number of female MPs have done:

Newshub: Women MPs urge David Seymour to apologise for Golriz Ghahraman remarks

A cross-party group representing women in Parliament has urged David Seymour to apologise for remarks he made about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.

Signed by Labour MP Louisa Wall and National MP Jo Hayes – co-chairs of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) New Zealand group – the letter asks that Seymour “reflect” on his “behaviour”.

“We ask that you reflect on your behaviour and consider offering a public apology to Golriz for the comments made, preferably in the House,” the letter addressed to Seymour reads.

The co-chairs said they’d received requests from members of the CWP group urging them to “take appropriate action” on their behalf in response to comments made by Seymour “in reference to a member of the House, Golriz Ghahraman”.

The letter acknowledged how Seymour didn’t make the comments in Parliament and couldn’t be held to account by Standing Orders – the rules of procedure for the House.

But it went on to tell Seymour: “We, as women MPs, consider your behaviour towards a colleague who has been under attack with death threats and is already in a vulnerable position is unacceptable”.

Again Seymour was unrepentant.

Seymour responded to the letter saying he was “disappointed” to receive it, and that the group “seem to believe that expressing a sincerely held view on an important topic makes me responsible for threats of violence”.

Seymour said the comments he made “do not come close to giving me such responsibility”, adding: “Your belief would absolve the real perpetrators, those making the threats, of responsibility.

“You also introduce a worrying implication that some MPs are unable to fully participate or be criticised because there are violent threats. You are effectively letting violent thugs set the agenda.”

No, they are trying to confront violent thugs from setting the agenda.

Seymour is getting into very risky territory here. He is appealing to the alt-right in social media but I think may be being fooled by how much voter support this might represent.

It has been reported that Act intends rebranding as a party this year. Seymour seems to be already attempting a rebranding.

But I think he would do well to consider the responsibilities of how an MP speaks in relation to free speech, especially when associated with hate speech.

For MPs, what they say can have consequences. They can give credence and support to abusive minorities. And they can also affect voter support. If Seymour lurches too far alt-right he risks becoming too toxic for National to make it easy for him in Epsom.

 

Insights into the rise of the alt-right in the US

Some people involved in radical politics and extreme social activism can change. And repent. And good people need to stand up against those deliberately promoting bad stuff.

Katie McHugh’s story gives some insights into the rise of the alt-right white nationalist movement in the Unites States.

“Get Out While You Can” – A Former Alt-Right Member’s Message: Get Out While You Still Can

Once notorious for her racist and bigoted tweets, Katie McHugh saw the dark insides of the white nationalist movement.

Examples of past tweets:

“The only way to strike a balance between vigilance, discrimination, (& terror) is to end Muslim immigration.”

“Funny how Europeans assimilated, unlike Third Worlders demanding welfare while raping, killing Americans.”

“There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn’t live there.”

An intruduction:

I didn’t know what to make of her. This was someone whom I’d known to be a bigot, someone who freely threw around the “cuck” slur and who represented the kind of ideology I have devoted much of my career so far to explaining and exposing. It was a little over a year after Charlottesville. The bad things from the internet had started to come to life, with terrible, violent, and real consequences. It was bizarre to see in person someone who had existed for me only as an online symbol of the very worst parts of contemporary politics.

She was saying she wanted to leave it all behind: her years as a far-right media figure and tweeter, and someone who close observers of right-wing media knew was one of Breitbart’s most obvious connections to the white supremacist core of the alt-right.

McHugh had dated Kevin DeAnna, the founder of Youth for Western Civilization, a now-defunct right-wing campus youth group that billed itself as promoting “the survival of Western Civilization and pride in Western heritage,” but was entwined with the white nationalist movement; Jared Taylor, the self-described “white advocate” founder of American Renaissance, once fundraised for the group.

Her disparaging tweets about people of color and Muslims made her stand out even at Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, which had launched Milo Yiannopoulos’s career, had featured a “black crime” tag for stories, and had been described by Bannon himself as a “platform for the alt-right.”

Her story is fascinating, and sometimes frustrating. She wishes she had never said the things she’s said or did the things she’s done, but when I first met her, she still insisted that they were often jokes gone wrong and that, on some level, she’d said these things because she’d been egged on by others. She seemed unable to face her full complicity in her own behavior.

Where was McHugh radicalized? Her story is about support systems and pipelines. It’s about how an angry young conservative with reactionary views got herself involved with a small coterie of ideologues in Washington and prepped for a conservative media career in the crucial years before the rise of Donald Trump, as extremism became more popular on the right and as people could optimize themselves for success through attention on social media.

It’s about how the organizations she worked for either turned a blind eye to or were genuinely ignorant of the fact that one of their young stars was leading a double life among hardcore racist activists. And it’s about how the cultlike atmosphere of the so-called alt-right helped people make more and more harmful decisions.

Her story is also about something that has ended. The events she described to me took place mostly between 2013 and 2017, a span of time in which the alt-right rose and fell dramatically as it attempted to go mainstream.

“I take responsibility for all my actions,” McHugh says now. “Everything I said that was terrible was my fault.” She says she knows she was a racist. She says that she has changed. And she’s ready to tell everything she knows.

A lengthy insight into her alt-right involvement follows.

In conclusion:

This titillating group shame is what McHugh thinks motivated her and the rest of the alt-right. And it allowed them to keep going even in the face of overwhelming social opprobrium.

“They indulge in negative social rituals, and that’s how their ties are bound tighter and tighter together,” she said. “By repeating these negative social rituals, they build tighter bonds with each other over ideology and shared experience. That’s why it’s hard for a lot of people to break out because they mistake these people for their friends.”

I see aspects of this here in New Zealand, on Twitter and Facebook, in Whale Oil posts and comments and in Kiwiblog comments. Familiar tactics, familiar phrasing, but these are loose associations, a sort of mob effort but encouraged on Whale Oil and pushed by individuals on Twitter and Facebook.

Knowing exactly what to do with McHugh isn’t easy; but the point is more what she is able to do, not what society is supposed to do for her. She said terrible things and helped empower a destructive social and political movement. She was part of a group of people who took advantage of others’ trust and obliviousness to smuggle racists into polite society.

Now, she says, she’s changed. She knows that many people won’t believe that she has. “That’s why I’m saying I take full responsibility for everything I said, every mistake I made, anyone who I hurt in this process, period,” she told me last year.

At age 28, she has made herself unemployable in the career field she chose — even on its fringes. She perpetually struggles to support herself financially. It’s easy to see how someone in McHugh’s position might regret the path she took that got her here. Would she regret it if she still had friends, still had a writing job?

McHugh has a message for the people on a similar path, though, one that can be considered regardless of whether you believe she’s actually changed.

“People like me should be given a chance to recognize how bad this is and that the alt-right is not a replacement for any kind of liberal democracy whatsoever, any kind of system; they have no chance, and they’re just harmful,” McHugh said.

“There is forgiveness, there is redemption. You have to own up to what you did and then forcefully reject this and explain to people and tell your story and say, ‘Get out while you can.’”

Exposure by people like who have been a part of the alt-right and promoters of white nationalism like McHugh help explains what has been happening, and may deter some or prompt them to get out while they can, but it won’t stop the sort of extremism that has used alternate media and social media to try to drive up hate and division, and to try to precipitate a sort of clash of civilisations

It is mostly still a sort of an uncivil war of words, but the Christchurch mosque massacres show that it can become far more damaging through the efforts of a single person encouraged by a toxic ideology.

On a world scale at this stage it is more isolated and less of a threat than radical Islamic terrorism, but in New Zealand it is a big deal. The death toll from the Christchurch attacks has just risen to 51.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke (include good women in that).

 

Peters blames ‘alt-right’ and NZ First member bewilderment for criticism of UN compact on migration

Winston Peters goes into irony overdrive in a grumpy interview blaming others of dog whistle politics over the UN migration accord.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister has blamed “a campaign strategy by the alt-right” to discredit his and the Government’s support of the accord – see Government to sign controversial UN Migration Compact – and agrees (or doesn’t disagree) that NZ First party members are bewildered.

And he criticises anyone who doesn’t align with his views on the accord – including taking swipes at interviewer Mike Yardley and Australia.

Newstalk ZB: Peters blames ‘alt-right’ for UN migration pact criticism

Winston Peters says the UN Migration Compact has been misrepresented by people spouting nonsense who want to lie to the public.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister says uninformed people and the “alt-right” are intentionally misleading about the true nature of the agreement.

He says the legal advice is very clear that it’s not legally binding, and won’t override our immigration laws and he is entirely comfortable with adopting it.

Peters told Mike Yardley it’s an agreement in principle about how we reduce harmful, illegal migration and how to stop trafficking.

“We have decided as a matter of principal it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sign up to the agreement. Just because there have been people dog whistling false information on this, that doesn’t mean we will sway.”

Winston Peters says he is comfortable with the compact, despite the outcry from many people, especially NZ First members, who believe the agreement will sign away the country’s sovereignty.

He says the compact doesn’t blur the lines between legal and illegal migration, and they are not legally bound to the document.

“We are trying to stop the awful human trafficking of people, and the corruption of people. These are dreadful things which are happening around the world.

You have a campaign strategy by the alt-right to try and spread misinformation on this, it is just not true.”

There is audio of the interview at the Newstalk ZB link. It concludes:

Mike Yardley: Are you receiving lot’s of congratulatory messages from your party faithful?

Winston Peters: No.

Mike Yardley: Are you surprised?

Winston Peters: No.

Mike Yardley: Are they bewildered?

Winston Peters: (I think he says or meant to say) Well guess why? Because you’ve had a group of, a campaign strategy by the alt-right in particular, and it is the alt-right in this case…

Mike Yardley: Is Paul Spoonley alt-right Winston?

Winston Peters: Oh well actually Mr Spoonley is a sociologist from Massey University, and doesn’t understand the law, so he can opine all he likes…

Mike Yardley: Is Chris Trotter alt-right?

Winston Peters: No he’s not alt-right, and if Chris Trotter is talking about the political consequences of sometimes having to do something called principle.

There is a lot of criticism of Winston’s support of the accord on the NZ First Facebook page: Response to Winston Peters support of UN Migration Compact

He is also being slammed at Kiwiblog (in General Debate comments), and Whale Oil, in the absence of pro Winston activist Cameron Slater, has gone into anti-Winston overdrive:

That may be the closest thing to the alt-right in New Zealand.

Peters really doesn’t sound comfortable being on the receiving end of criticism from the demographic that in the past he has often appealed to for support.

Fake news, elections, Facebook

Attention continues on how fake news is being used in political campaigns, how fake news helped win the US presidential election for Donald Trump, and how Facebook is a significant  part of spreading false news.

Gizmodo: Facebook’s Fight Against Fake News Was Undercut by Fear of Conservative Backlash

It’s no secret that Facebook has a fake news problem. Critics have accused the social network of allowing false and hoax news stories to run rampant, with some suggesting that Facebook contributed to Donald Trump’s election by letting hyper-partisan websites spread false and misleading information.

Mark Zuckerberg has addressed the issue twice since Election Day, most notably in a carefully worded statement that reads: “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics.”

Still, it’s hard to visit Facebook without seeing phony headlines like “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide” or “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” promoted by no-name news sites like the Denver Guardian and Ending The Fed.

Gizmodo has learned that the company is, in fact, concerned about the issue, and has been having a high-level internal debate since May about how the network approaches its role as the largest news distributor in the US.

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias.

One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed.

“They absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous citing fear of retribution from the company. The source added, “there was a lot of fear about upsetting conservatives after Trending Topics,” and that “a lot of product decisions got caught up in that.”

on Facebook:

1. Facebook is a perfect example for why government regulation is important.

2. The incentives are all wrong here:
  a) Users are happy with fake news
  b) FB is happy making billions
  c) Advertisers are happy with clicks

3. The fake news literally makes everyone involved happy–from producers and distributors to advertisers and users.

4. In this way, it’s not unlike, say, heroin, which also makes everyone in the chain happy–until someone dies. And that’s why it’s illegal.

I don’t know how government regulation will help prevent fake news being fed via other countries.

Guardian: Click and elect: how fake news helped Donald Trump win a real election

We are fully ensconced in the post-truth world. The greatest editor this paper ever had, CP Scott, had it that “facts are sacred”. CP Scott, by the way, apparently used to have this thing where he brushed his teeth a certain way so the flecks of toothpaste would make a rude shape as they hit the bathroom mirror.

Zuckerberg has said: “Personally, I think the idea that fake news – of which it’s a small amount of content – influenced the election is a pretty crazy idea.”

The influence of verifiably false content on Facebook cannot be regarded as “small” when it garners millions of shares. And yes, it runs deep. The less truthful a piece is, the more it is shared.

In Zuckerberg’s follow-up statement, he seems to have shot himself in the foot, by saying it was “extremely unlikely” fake news on Facebook had an impact on the election, but also boasting that Facebook was responsible for 2 million people registering to vote. So which is it, Zuck? Does Facebook have influence or not?

Where do these stories originate? Well, some are created by teenagers in Macedonia. Wait, that one isn’t a joke – non-partisan kids looking for cash just catering to demand. Many more come from people we now term the “alt-right”, who cook up stories on boards such as 8chan, 4chan and social media, and are then co-opted either by genuine right-leaning sites or shill sites, and are then shared again on social media by accounts with Pepe the Frog or eggs as their avatars. It’s a bit like the water cycle, but if the water cycle were diarrhoea.

‘Alt-right’ is a sanitising term. Perhaps Alt[-wrong or Alt-deliberately-wrong would be more appropriate.

Some of these stories are frankly ridiculous (myth busted: Hillary Clinton is not the leader of an underground paedophile ring), and cater to an increasing number of conspiracy theorists. But others are relatively benign if wildly inaccurate. They have still begun on message boards created by the same people who – and I will not sugarcoat this – refer to people who are not white as “shit-skins”.

A better term for many of the alt-right, therefore, might be “far-right”. For “alt-right” is an ambiguous term and encompasses many forms. Sure, they are internet-savvy millennials who reject mainstream conservatives and despise Paul Ryan. But they’re also far-right lurkers who probably bid on Nazi memorabilia and have moved from white supremacist sites such as Stormfront. Then there’s the Russian faction; online commenters bought in bulk. And on social media, there are the bots and sockpuppet accounts to inflict automated insult to injury.

But let’s be clear: the internet alt-right is more successful as an In Real Life political force than the online left.

And that success is why it will be hard to combat.

Just like old media seem to put clickbait ahead of accuracy, and Facebook is driven by revenue, political activists are driven by a desire to win, and if they win with fake news they will keep peddling fake news.

And they will get better at disguising it as legitimate news, and they will get better at spreading it before it can get busted as fake.

The Internet was a great new hope for spreading information and communication to the masses, but it is becoming a means of duping the masses on an unprecedented scale.

This will evolve and change – for better and for worse.

Alt-middlish

I usually don’t care much for political labels, because politics is much more complex than petty pigeon-holing allows (at least from my point of view).

Even the simplistic left and right have acquired different slants.

The alt-right label is getting a bit of attention with it’s association with Donald Trump in the US. Even it is fairly loosely defined.

The alt-right is a segment of right-wing ideologies that reject mainstream conservatism in the United States. It is largely Internet-based and found on websites such as 4chan and 8chan, where anonymous members create and use Internet memes to express themselves. It is difficult to tell how much of what people write is serious, and how much is intended to provoke outrage. The alt-right uses social media likeTwitter and Breitbart News to convey their message.

Generally alt-right postings support Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and oppose immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness.

The alt-right has no formal ideology, although various sources and alt-right figures have stated that white nationalism is fundamental. It has also been associated with white supremacism, anti-Islamism, antifeminism, antisemitism, ethno-nationalism, right-wing populism, nativism, traditionalism, and the neoreactionary movement. The alt-right is an umbrella term. The movement has been associated with multiple ideologies from anarcho-capitalists, American Nationalism, neo-monarchists to men’s rights advocates and people who oppose mainstream conservatism.

– Wikipedia

Alt-left seems less prominent, although there have been attempts to connect it with Hillary Clinton.

ATLEFT.COM simply describes themselves as “The left wing of the AltRight”, which is pretty pointless.

From Quora – Is alt-left an operative concept in US politics in a similar sense of alt-right?

There is indeed an Alt Left movement but it is quite small. In fact, it is much smaller than the Alt Right. The Alt Left could possibly be seen as “the left wing of the Alt Right.” The original Alt Leftists were Leftists and progressives on the Alt Right who felt very uncomfortable and out of place there for many reasons, mostly because in many ways, these people ARE Leftwingers, despite their presence on the Alt Right. They finally broke away from the Alt Right and formed an Alt Left.

The Alt Left has been described in many ways. “It’s the Alt Right, except they like Mao more than they like Hitler,” is not a bad description.

The Alt Left is where the Left and Right meet at the bottom of the circle if you envision politics as circular instead of linear.

Most Alt Lefties supported Bernie Sanders, but Sanders would probably not like the Alt Left much. Now most of them will vote for Hillary even though they hate her. A few are voting for Trump.

The Alt Left has all sorts of wings but some commonalities seem to be a negative view of the Cultural Left ranging from annoyance to contempt alongside explicitly leftwing economics. So they are Left on economics, but somewhat Right on culture.

This sounds all over the place.

I’ve sometimes thought of myself as centre-ish but that’s often misunderstood. I am not in the centre of every issue, nor do I have no strong opinions or political convictions as some seem to think a non-lefty or non-righty must be.

I see myself as a bit ‘alternative’ in politics. I certainly don’t feel like I belong to any particular political faction or label. I like to challenge those who have fixed positions and think they are staunchly right or left.

In political debate and in how I like to run Your NZ I often (not always) I stand in the middle of those with fixed ideas, considering the merits and the negatives of both sides.

Sometimes I agree more with leftish positions, sometimes more with rightish positions, but I can’t define when I might lean one way or the other, or might have a neutral-ish opinion, or a mix.

I don’t see why it’s not ok to have, for example, a conservative approach to socialism, or think that a social conscience is an important aspect of decent capitalism.

Centre and centrist seem too positional to me so I’m going off those terms for my own way of looking at things.

So for today at least I’m tending more towards alt-middlish – when I’m not agreeing with more polarised positions.

At least this doesn’t paint me into any political corners.