Saturday, 11 February 2017

Who are the trolls?

Rosa Brooks writing on Foreign Policy about the reaction to her purely theoretical think piece on what might happen if senior US military officers refused to obey an order from a clearly unhinged Commander in Chief "And Then the Breitbart Lynch Mob Came for Me" 

Sometimes I wonder who they are, these people who spend their free time sending vitriolic messages to strangers. Often, I imagine them as actual trolls, leaving their computers only to kick the occasional puppy, smack their children, or tend to their basement meth lab.
Other times, I imagine something even worse: Perhaps these are all seemingly normal people who go about their days smiling politely at strangers but then go home and start spewing.

I think at least some of them are police officers, security guards and employees of the Department of Homeland Security. I have certainly come across several who were themselves in the grip of some power trip.

Not every border crossing, but enough that I am beginning to get very wary of crossing the border if I am going to be asked to give up my smartphone and password. If my political opinions are going to be questioned. We have already seen people turned back at the border for quite egregious reasons, and appallingly bad behaviour by people who clearly have no fear whatever of being called on it. Police handcuffing a five year old girl (I thought that was an isolated incident until I did a Google search). Refusing entry to Canadian citizen with a valid passport and no links to any country on the already suspended "Muslim ban" Executive Order. Or because they intended to exercise their right of free speech.

On the most frightening books to read for me was "Hitler's Willing Executioners" - or Hannah Arendt's "Banality of Evil". Bannon and Trump are legitimising the knee jerk responses of those who are only to ready to see threats and enemies: who make huge assumptions based on little or no evidence, who readily confuse a sikh turban and dark skin with militant Islam.

I had a troll go after me on my other blog - until I blocked him. Because of that he confirmed his real identity. He is now dead, and I will not identify him but he was a popular mainstream leftwing political activist, and civil servant, who claimed his activities were simply "harmless amusement". He was actually driven by the common delusion that all progressive votes belonged to his political party, and that independents and third parties simply aided the powers that be to win elections with a minority. One might have thought that such a person would want to win over someone like me by persuasion or reasoned argument. Something had tipped him over the edge. He even invited me to talk about this over coffee: I declined.

I saw something similar once with a police officer who transformed from a possible source of assistance to a hectoring bully in the blink of an eye. I have no idea what set him off. But reading the reports of the various trials and enquiries that have occurred after the death of Robert DziekaƄski I began to see how some people seek out employment as police officers but ought to have weeded out long before they could do any harm. Of course, in many parts of the US police officers have been able to work out their racist and other phobias with little fear of retribution for years: if that were not the case there would be no Black Lives Matter campaign. There would be no account of a black man held for over forty years in solitary confinement and who had to sign a tendentious admission in order to get released.  The behaviour of RCMP officers to women in their own force, and to indigenous women in general would fill many more paragraphs. I am not at all surprised that one group now does not want to see the police take part in the Vancouver Pride Parade.

Actually the answer to my question is as always the same: we have seen the enemy and he is us.


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