‘Learn To Code’: The Alt-Right’s Latest Anti-Journalist Meme Is Based On A Lie

Last week was a terrible week for journalism as major media companies cut their workforces. According to The Cut, approximately 1,000 workers — editors, writers, etc. — were laid off in a three-day period, with BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and Gannett as the hardest hit. Splinter rightly referred to these mass layoffs as a “media bloodbath” that is unfortunately expected to continue. And while hundreds of talented people lost their jobs, far-right fanatics celebrated.

When President Trump began assailing the press as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people,” white nationalists and other right-wingers gleefully joined in. Conservative Trump supporters abhorred the constant fact-checking of the Commander-in-Chief, and the pointed questions directed at him and his press secretaries. White nationalists shared their hatred of the press — but theirs was rooted in a different kind of logic.

According to white nationalists, all — or almost all — major media conglomerates are helmed by wealthy Jewish elites who broadcast “degenerate” and “anti-white” propaganda 24/7. They believe that advertisements and television shows that depict interracial or same-sex couples are part of a concerted plot to extinguish the white race.

And they’re sick of being unmasked in exposés on the alt-right — when employers know who they are, after all, they’re likely to lose their jobs.

In a coordinated effort to taunt and intimidate journalists, white nationalists invented a meme called “Day of the Brick.” A play on the “Day of the Rope” — a major plot point in the Neo-Nazi book The Turner Diaries in which “race traitors” are hanged en masse — the “Day of the Brick” advocates smashing journalists in the face with bricks.

The #DayOfTheBrick hashtag was popularized on Twitter by serial harasser and failed journalist Norman “Trey” Garrison III — better known as Neo-Nazi podcaster “Spectre.” During last year’s gruesome shooting in Annapolis, MD, in which five employees of the Capital-Gazette were executed in cold blood, Garrison mocked the tragedy as it unfolded.

Journalists on Twitter were inundated with threats, along with photos of bricks and ISIS executions. Twitter took its usual hands-off approach to harassment, and only intervened when offending tweets were repeatedly reported. Recently, however, racist trolls opted for a softer, non-violent approach to harassing journalists: targeting laid-off journalists and spamming their Twitter feeds with instructions to “learn to code.”

Talia Lavin traced the meme back to the website 4chan, the online sewer responsible for the “It’s Okay To Be White” meme. 4chan trolls admitted that the goal of their campaign was to taunt journalists into committing suicide:

White supremacist Scott Greer, who was outed last year as a contributor to Richard Spencer’s Radix Journal by The Atlantic, tweeted “Left-wing journos want all of their enemies destitute and their families ruined. Being magnanimous, we just want journos to learn to code.” Jesse Dunstan of The Daily Shoah joked about starting “Mike Enoch’s Coding School for Wayward Journalists.”

Enoch himself wrote that the “funniest thing about the journalist layoffs” was that people were “telling them to explore education in other potential lines of work.”

Other right-wing figures joined in the fray, including repugnant blowhard Erick Erickson, Cassandra Fairbanks of the online dumpster fire Gateway Pundit, and National Review Online’s Stephen Miller. Even the President’s idiot son Donald Trump Jr. got in on the action, tweeting “Could someone explain to me why if I tell my kids to ‘learn to code’ it’s likely sound parenting, but if I told a journalist the same it’s grounds for a @twitter suspension?”

Still, the question remains as to why the racist trolls at 4chan chose “learn to code” as their choice of insult to fling at laid-off journalists. According to the Right, the phrase was used by elite liberal journalists as a taunt to laid-off blue collar workers, particularly coal miners. Thus, telling a journalist to “learn to code” is simply throwing their words back in their faces. A bit of poetic justice on behalf of the struggling working class.

Alex VanNess, a research analyst at the anti-Muslim hate group Clarion Project, tweeted, “Hey laid off journalists who are upset that people are telling you to ‘learn how to code’: Go mine some coal and then go fuck yourselves.” Conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich claimed journalists were “lying” when they attributed the meme to 4chan, writing that the phrase was a “‘Let them eat cake’ theme shared with blue collar workers who saw factories close.”

At The Resurgent, Erick Erickson wrote, “Prior to during 2016, millennial reporters at various online outlets suggested that blue collar coal miners ‘learn to code’ as the Obama Administration hatched plans to close coal mines.” White nationalist Paul Ramsey accused journalists of “us[ing] this phrase when writing about the plight of ‘redneck’ coal workers who lost their jobs.”

Don Jr. wondered “why no one cared when many of those same journalists thought it was amusing that laid off Blue Collar workers were told to ‘Learn to code’ when they lost their jobs???”

And yet for all the accusations of media callousness toward blue collar workers, the evidence for this is surprisingly thin. One would think that with this amount of anger there would at least be some mean-spirited “learn to code” tweets directed at coal miners, or an article making light of Rust Belt unemployment. Instead most people are just repeating the claim without evidence.

At least Andrew Torba, founder and CEO of the flailing white supremacist honeypot Gab, tweeted a collage of what he believed to be snarky articles telling miners to code:

gab learn to code

Yet the articles Torba cites are anything but malicious, and none of them are examples of journalists “push[ing] coding on the coal miners.” The WIRED piece, “Can You Teach a Coal Miner to Code?”, was written about Rusty Justice, the owner of a land-moving company in Eastern Kentucky, who took it upon himself to teach himself and others to code in response to a taunt by ex-NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg. Together with his business partner M. Lynn Parrish, Justice founded the software development company BitSource.

The article was a sympathetic look at Justice and a dying industry — coal is not an infinite resource after all, and the less of it we use the better. At no point did the author mock coal miners or say that they should learn to code. Rather it was simply a story about someone who was trying to teach people to do just that.

One article, “BitSource building a Coal to Code mentality in Appalachia Kentucky”, was published by the group There is a Future in Appalachia, which vows to “use technology to disrupt poverty in Appalachia.” To that end the group has amassed “[n]early 200 organizations and individuals” as partners, including BitSource, Pikeville Medical Center, Kentucky Power, and AmeriCorps among others. The article praised BitSource for having “taken the transferrable skills of coal miners and turned them into world-class computer coders.”

The 2018 New York Times piece, “The Coders of Kentucky”, focuses on the company Interapt, which was founded in Louisville, KY by Ankur Gopal. As he told the article’s author, Arlie Hochschild, “With millions of U.S. tech jobs out there we could help transform eastern Kentucky. Well, hey — Middle America.” Several success stories were highlighted, including that of Matthew Watson who went from being unemployed to earning “well over $50,000” as a software developer.

The pièce de résistance is that Republican politicians provided Interapt with vital support:

Mr. Gopal first gathered support from Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Representative Hal Rogers, both Republicans. They were instrumental in the Appalachian Regional Commission approving $2.7 million to get the training program off the ground. The Department of Labor authorized apprenticeship status for its graduates.

Mr. Rogers is a conservative who represents Kentucky’s Fifth District, home to many unemployed coal miners and one of the poorest and most population-depleted districts in the country. He found an unlikely ally in Mr. Khanna, a progressive Democrat and former official in the Obama administration, who represents California’s 17th District, one of the richest, fastest-growing and most liberal districts in the country. In the 2016 presidential vote, it went 73.9 percent for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Rogers’s district went 79.6 percent for Mr. Trump. But Mr. Rogers’s office called Mr. Khanna’s, and invited him to see Interapt in a widely promoted visit last year.

Mr. Rogers wants the tech companies in Mr. Khanna’s district to consider investing in Kentucky and hiring its citizens. Mr. Khanna was remarkably open to the idea. “We believe in distributed jobs,” he said. “There is no reason these companies can’t engage thousands of talented workers in Iowa, Kentucky or West Virginia for projects.”

This hardly fits the narrative of effete liberals demeaning miners and forcing them into coding. Perhaps this is why people like Torba only use screenshots of headlines and never engage with the content of the articles. If they did they would have to admit that the supposed rampant mockery of downtrodden blue collar workers by journalists was largely — if not entirely — a figment of their own imagination.

The idea that simply writing about programs designed to teach miners to code is an endorsement of those programs is just a bad faith argument. It relies on people not reading past the headlines and has no basis in fact. The “learn to code” meme is simply based on a lie. And if the Right wants evidence of lefty journalists taking shots at out-of-work working class Americans, to quote another meme, “this ain’t it, chief.”