Recently a handful of extremists were permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram for violating the platforms’ terms of service. This group of crackpots and bigots included unhinged Islamophobe Laura Loomer, conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and protégé Paul Joseph Watson, misogynistic fame-seeker Milo Yiannopoulos, antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and Neo-Nazi Paul Nehlen.
Each of these bans were well within Facebook’s power (Instagram is owned by Facebook, Inc.) and completely justified given their past behavior.
The Infowars account on Instagram posted an arguably antisemitic cartoon that depicted George Soros, Ben Bernanke, and others seated around a large Monopoly board. Both Jones and Watson have promoted the fringe belief that high-profile mass shootings and terrorist attacks are actually false flags. Jones is currently being sued for defamation by parents of Sandy Hook victims.
In late June 2018, in response to a question by The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, Milo Yiannopoulos wrote that he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight!” He followed this up with a post on Instagram in which he wrote, “If journalists keep lying, deceiving and manipulating the public, then they will reap the same hatred they are sowing against Trump and his voters.”
Although unrelated, shortly after Milo’s post a 38-year-old man with a grudge against the The Capital — an Annapolis, MD-based newspaper — stormed its office and murdered five staff members in cold blood.
In early April, as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was being inundated with death threats and wild accusations of anti-Americanism, Laura Loomer took to Instagram to denounce her and her Islamic faith. In a video Loomer called Islam a “cancer on humanity” and called for banning Muslims from running for political office. She also posted a photo of Omar and falsely claimed that the congresswoman was “pushing for another 9/11!”
For years Louis Farrakhan has spouted antisemitic nonsense. In a 1990 Saviour’s Day speech in Chicago, the Nation of Islam leader proclaimed that “The Jews, a small handful, control the movement of this great nation, like a radar controls the movement of a great ship in the waters.” Farrakhan has repeated the falsehood that Jews ran the transatlantic slave trade and, last year, to the delight of white supremacists, likened Jews to termites.
Paul Nehlen began making appearances on white power podcasts like Fash the Nation and Salting the Earth in 2016, after he lost his bid to unseat Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. By 2017 Nehlen was having full-scale racist meltdowns on Twitter, lobbing antisemitic insults at Jewish critics, particularly on the Right. He then began promoting white supremacists like David Duke, and resurfaced in 2018 as an open Neo-Nazi.
Some conservatives, however, attempted to fold this latest deplatforming into their false narrative of anti-conservative bias by big tech companies. Frequently the problems conservatives point to as examples of censorship or political bias are, in actuality, just a reflection of their own ignorance of technology.
At the newly relaunched Human Events, Raheem Kassam — formerly of Breitbart — wrote a piece titled “Day of the Long Knives. Right Wingers Dragged Off Facebook.” The title was unintentionally revealing, as the “Night of the Long Knives” refers to a Nazi Party purge that mainly targeted other Nazis, including Ernst Röhm, Gregor Strasser, and Anton von Hohberg und Buchwald.
Perhaps just as revealing is that Kassam refers to figures like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos as “right wingers,” thereby downplaying their extremism.
Kassam wrote that “Human Events stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those being routinely targeted by the would-be ‘Masters of the Universe’, no matter if we agree with them or not.” Of Farrakhan, whose social media presence conservatives have long complained of, Kassam added that he “should not have his fate decided by some little nerd in Silicon Valley who has decided his or her feelings are hurt.”
He also rattled off a list of personal complaints regarding these bans. Neo-fascist politician Tommy Robinson “struggles to gain traction” politically. Yiannopoulos “faces total financial ruin.” Jones “had a massive business ripped out from under him,” while Loomer, who responded to 2017’s New York City truck attack by stalking and photographing random Muslims, “has been relegated to staging protests on the front lawns of those who needlessly aggress her.”
Kassam believes that in spite of their cruel and bigoted behavior on and off of social media — which openly flouts terms of service — companies like Facebook and Twitter owe these people a platform. And instead of acknowledging what they did wrong, Kassam alleged that the ban was 1) motivated by the popularity of these figures’ ideas, and 2) a way to test the waters before banning mainstream conservatives.
The claims that the popularity of their ideas was a factor, or that this is the first step toward banning mainstream conservatives, doesn’t hold water. The behavior of these figures — harassing and defaming families of shooting victims, Islamophobia, antisemitism, calls for violence — more than justifies their bans regardless of how many people agree with them. And most conservatives have, for years, somehow abided by Facebook and Twitter’s terms of service.
But there’s another, unwritten reason Kassam is sympathetic to people like Yiannopoulos and Loomer and Jones: he appears to align with them politically.
During a recent episode of Alex Jones’ online show, he and his attorney Robert Barnes made outlandish statements about the bans. Jones told Barnes it was akin to Facebook officials saying “we’re gonna tie you up and rape you,” and said being called a “hate leader” is a “literal yellow star.” Barnes praised Laura Loomer’s farcical lawsuit against Twitter and made heavy-handed references to Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The pair even mulled over a lawsuit of their own, against Facebook and PayPal and even the Southern Poverty Law Center for some reason. Jones explained that,
We are gonna sue Facebook now, we are gonna sue the Southern Poverty Law Center because we have to. They’re the ones creating the lists saying we’re Nazis, they’re the ones who create the TV shows that say come out and attack us, they’re the ones saying take our bank accounts, don’t let us travel, they’re the ones now that won’t let you use Airbnb or Uber. And it’s happening to me now. These Leftists are in our accounts terrorizing us…
The Southern Poverty Law Center has not classified Alex Jones as a “Nazi,” does not produce television shows, and has no ability to prevent Jones or other extremists from traveling. A coherent reason for suing the Southern Poverty Law Center was not once mentioned during the broadcast.
Still, as a guest on the program, Raheem Kassam seemed to actively agree with Jones’ paranoid rants, informing the host that Facebook was “erasing you people” and “trying to erase all of us.” He nodded in agreement as Jones compared it to a “Soviet airbrushing,” and said “if President Trump doesn’t do something about this, this will be his greatest failure as president,” because these are “his supporters that are coming under attack.”
He further explained that people like Jones were banned because they have been the “tip of the spear in terms of, not just the support for President Trump, but the support for constitutional principles, support for libertarian, conservative, nationalist principles — all of those over the course of the years.” When Jones blamed “an army of SJWs” who are “engaging in Stasi-level crimes,” Kassam nodded and said, “That’s exactly right, Alex.”
This is not the first time Kassam has made common cause with extremist figures.
As editor-in-chief of Breitbart London, Kassam defended a white nationalist writer, Virginia Hale. Hale once spread a lie that a mob of over one thousand migrants chanted “Allahu Akbar!” and set a German church on fire. When news outlets disputed Hale’s article, Kassam falsely claimed they “confirmed almost every substantive fact about the Breitbart London report on the issue.”
When HuffPost reported on December 16, 2017 that Paul Nehlen — who, at the time, received backing from Breitbart and Steve Bannon — was a white nationalist, Kassam dismissed the story outright. Kassam called the evidence of Nehlen’s racism — appearing on an overtly white supremacist podcast, retweeting Neo-Nazis, telling a Jewish American to “self-deport” — “hysterical rubbish.”
Days after the article was published, Nehlen went on another antisemitic tirade, using the alt-right echo meme in reference to Ari Cohn and tweeting a picture that said “the goyim know” — another racist meme. Kassam continued to stubbornly insist that the HuffPost article was “tripe,” but eventually admitted that “has NOW shown himself to be quite unhinged.” Nehlen was not mentioned in Kassam’s aforementioned Human Events piece.
Kassam is also a fan of Enoch Powell, a notoriously racist British politician who, on April 20, 1968, denounced immigration in his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech. Powell called for the mass “re-emigration” of immigrants of color still living in the UK, and quoted a constituent as saying, “In this country in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”
Powell also proclaimed to his right-wing audience, “We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.”
Last year Kassam authored Enoch Was Right: ‘Rivers of Blood’ 50 Years On and, in a video promoting it, gave a toast to Powell. Kassam told viewers that what Powell meant was that “for both the indigenous population and the immigrant population life tends to get harder when you introduce, at a mass level, a group of people at one time into a civilization, into a society, and just expect things to go swimmingly well.”
This belief is often echoed by white nationalists. Jared Taylor of American Renaissance remarked that “Racial diversity is not a strength. It is a grinding, permanent source of conflict and tension, not just in the United States but everywhere in the world where there is racial diversity.” Or as Paul Ramsey once tweeted, “Diversity + Proximity = Conflict.”