The (Alt-)Right Way to be a Journalist

Toronto Women's March, 2017 . (Photo by Ethan Jakob Craft.)

Dear self-proclaimed members of the alt-right’s internet brigade,

I’d like to strip you of your ammo, your jargon, your buzzwords, your labels. I’m tired of holding my tongue, tired of eschewing the truth; using any title other than ‘racist’ in reference to you all is doing just that. Today, I’m calling you out.

After days of research in preparation for this piece, and a lifetime of being a brown-skinned Muslim, I have a pretty good idea of how one of your fear-mongering spin-doctors might perceive this article. I can picture some fallacious headline targeted at yours truly like “Radicalised Islamist Threatens People on the Internet; Possible ties to ISIS.”

Understand that this is no threat; I have no ties to ISIS, I do not support them, only an infinitesimal amount of the massive global Muslim community does. This is an out-pour of the pain and fear I feel on a daily basis, the manifesto of a victim of blind hatred, an annotated collection of the online racist vomit that is drowning men and women of colour.

As much as I’d love to smile and nod along when I’m told that racism is passé, that everyone is given equal opportunity, I just can’t. Xenophobia, prejudice and racial supremacy are real and rampant.

Though its physical presence is dying slowly thanks to social stigma, its spirit is alive and well, haunting the internet. Nowadays, cowards, swathed in anonymity, take to the Wild West of the internet to defecate horrible, blood-curdling things without fear of repercussion.

The internet is go-to for many during times of panic due it its ability to disseminate information instantaneously. Sometimes events hit the web before they hit mainstream news media:

At 9:57 am on January 6th 2017, former White House Press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted this from the Ft. Lauderdale Airport after hearing gunshots. Esteban Santiago, the gunman, a 26-year-old U.S. military veteran shot and killed 5 people and injured 9 others before he was arrested. Authorities say that he flew in from Alaska, legally checked a gun in his luggage, loaded it in the airport washroom and then opened fire.

Santiago served in the Puerto Rico National Guard and the Alaskan Guard and was deployed in Iraq in 2010. He came home from the war a changed man, family members told the New York Times. After his return, he started to have run-ins with Anchorage law enforcement and began claiming that the U.S. government was forcing him to watch ISIS videos, and that he was being chased and controlled by the CIA through secret messages online.

Convictions have yet to be laid at the time this article is being written, U.S. federal authorities have not ruled out terrorism, but the lack of motive indicates that it is unlikely that he will face terrorism charge, according to the CBC and the AP.

As I said before, social media often outpaces mainstream news. This story perfectly exemplifies that new reality. The latter’s never far behind though:

This tweet from ABC news is a microcosm of media professionalism. It contains relevant, unbiased information and a link to an article that talks about the problem at hand with updates as the story progresses. This is what I call proper online journalism: a news organisation relaying factual information, cited and sourced. I have no problem with this, it’s what I look for when I’m online researching a news story. Thank you, ABC News, and other news organisations that conduct themselves in this manner, you keep my hope for the profession alive.

My problem with online reporting comes from the chaos that ensues when alternate “news sources” pick up the words of “right wing traditionalists”, or, dispensing with the decorum I said I’d do away with, racists. At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t care about a person’s views, but issues arise when they’re born of a fundamental lack of understanding and then arrogantly presented as absolute truth, like the following examples:

@BluegillRises is an American mother firmly against mass immigration and illegal alien amnesty. She believes in securing the border and is an outspoken Trump supporter.

It’s unclear whether @US_Army_Vet actually served, but it’s abundantly clear that they’re anti-Islam, anti-illegal immigration, anti anti-American propaganda and pro-Trump.

Internet racists ask “why isn’t mainstream media pointing out (no pun intended) the ‘one finger salute’ or the scarf?” Because, in case you didn’t know, there’s no such thing as an “Islamic one-finger salute”. Allow me to confirm that war scarfs don’t exist either. Know how I know? I’m a Muslim, I’ve read the Quran and used that finger motion before. I’ve used it to point at things or people and while playing basketball to call a ‘pick and roll’, which is the name of a play and not a sign of terroristic intent. I also wear scarves, because it gets pretty cold here in Canada.

 

Project Purge is a self-proclaimed right wing “news” website that aims to “shine a light on those corrupting society”. This is what Jared Wyand, the creator of this website, claims “God put me here to do”. Their article on Santiago states that, by virtue of pointing, he’s using the (non-existent) “One True God, Allah” hand sign.

I’d be terrified reading “news” like this, if it weren’t for my ability to fact check. Here I am, a Muslim man, not realising that pointing meant oneness with God, that scarfs mean war and that this Hispanic, U.S. army veteran is somehow spreading the word of my God by spraying bullets at innocent people. Thankfully, I can differentiate between factual, dependable news and substance-less fire-starting.

Truthfully, I’m still scared; scared by the flocks of people who turn to sites like Project Purge for information and who, without question or confirmation, begin to preach their inventions as gospel, as the answers to questions much more complicated than they seem. This mindset makes my skin crawl, it keeps me up at night. It makes my stomach turn when I see people actively and aggressively participating in it.

At least we have humour, sometimes the only socially acceptable recourse for the marginalised:

 

Hypocrisy is scary, right?

 Stephen Curry, basketball player for the Golden State Warriors and apparent ISIS member. (Photo courtesy of AP.)

Stephen Curry, basketball player for the Golden State Warriors and apparent ISIS member. (Photo courtesy of AP.)

Damn Steph, say it ain’t so!

 Pope Francis embracing Islam (Getty Images.)

Pope Francis embracing Islam (Getty Images.)

As for Santiago yelling about not being Jewish …

Now let’s look at this objectively: the verified twitter account of one the United State’s largest news corporations tweeted reports from eyewitnesses who stated that the shooter remained silent for the entirety of his attack. They even attached footage. Meanwhile, Project Purge tweeted that the shooter screamed that he isn’t Jewish. This was all done without any verification whatsoever, all to imply that the attack was planned by the government, or special interest groups, to push gun legislation.

Project Purge concerns me deeply. They have their news organised into specific hateful categories, like ‘Islam’ and ‘Social Cancer’. It’s amazing to think that people subscribe to a publication that evades attributions and invents evidence and arguments. I was hard-pressed to find anyone who bothered to fact check Project Purge’s fictional, racially-charged bile before posting about it. It seems like alt-right “news” sites, like Project Purge, aim to broadcast whatever makes the targeted group du jour sound the most despicable, regardless of truth.  

Project Purge implies that Santiago is Muslim and somehow tied to ISIS because of a hand gesture. They also say the shooter claimed he was “Forced to fight for ISIS”, but according to CBC, AP, CNN and BBC he said that the government forced him to watch ISIS videos, clearly not a sign of affiliation but mental instability.  

Many conservative sites alleged that Santiago had started to use alternate name ‘Aashiq Hammad’. Well, go to the sites that proliferate this, they’re openly alt-right and not in the habit of citing their sources (they do engage in meta-citations or refer to other alt-right sister sites). There’s no mention of this pseudonym on any major news outlets, other than ABC, and they’re clear that the details surrounding it are still under investigation, a fact left out of the alt-right articles on “Hammad”. All other major news organizations still refer to him as Esteban Santiago.

So why isn’t mainstream media “exposing” or “covering” these alleged “facts” that make minorities look bad? Because alt-right journalism is dishonest. Mainstream media does have its faults and there is an undeniable history of unfair treatment of minorities. A recent example being the Jesse Watters’s Chinatown incident, when the Fox News reporter made racist jokes about non-English speaking Asian-Americans to their faces on a segment of his show Watters’ World.

However, over time, as people voiced their opinions and demanded impartial coverage, most mainstream media outlets significantly reduced this behaviour. This is why the alt-right claims that the media used to be honest. No, the media used to be run by monochrome, cis, heterosexual men that are only now beginning to be replaced by a new generation of diverse and socially aware young people. Victims of the mainstream media’s former group-shamming tactics have taken a stand against that oppression. They’re slowly working toward the ideal: post-crisis reporting that focuses on the guilty individuals, not their race or religion.

At least Project Purge is an equal opportunity hate-machine. They released an article on the kidnapping and assault of an 18-year-old with special needs committed by the four black teens. Despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, Project Purge claimed that there were 6 teens, that alcohol and smoking were a factor and that the teens ‘scalped’ their victim. Every other news organization that covered the story named the four teens involved, shows matching pictures, made no mention of drugs/alcohol and not a single one reported that any scalping occurred. Divisiveness and shock value shouldn’t be prioritized over the facts.

I call on you now, Alt-Righters, Right-Wingers, Traditionalists, respond to my vivisection of your media and step in the ring with me for a battle of words. Insult the way I look, my religion or where I come from, it’s what I’ve come to expect; just know that I would never attack anything you haven’t chosen. My only targets are your bigotry, your ignorance and the bricks of lies and assumptions that built the foundation of your school of thought.

Before you come for me, I have some suggestions that, if carried out, would not only give more credence to your arguments but ameliorate your experience on this earth. Call it life training.

Make a friend that doesn’t look like you, isn’t from your social circle, or your part of town. Talk to them, get to know them learn about their problems. Tell them yours. Exchange ideas, stop believing what you want and start looking for citations. Fact check everything. Have the integrity to rise above confirmation bias. Stop targeting groups and start targeting individuals; realize that the world is not black and white but an ethical and metaphysical greyscale. Understand that the alt-right might actually be wrong.

I’ll be in my corner, waiting.