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Jun 8, 2019

Hate in the homeland

Co-produced with PRX Logo

The mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue and the burning of churches in Louisiana are reminders that hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S. This episode surveys the state of the white supremacist movement in America, focusing on how hate groups are spreading their message.

The first segment is a discussion with Megan Squire, a professor of computer science at Elon University who’s been studying how hate groups are using the internet to win converts. She says that despite attempts to silence extreme sites, they are finding ways to stay online.

Al Letson then explores how comic books are being weaponized by the far right to spread the message of white supremacy.

We end with a conversation with Pastor Mike McBride, founder of The Way Church in Berkeley, California. He talks about how communities of color are standing up to attacks from white supremacists.

Credits

This week’s show was produced by Najib Aminy, Will Carless, Al Letson, Michael Montgomery, Emily Harris, Samantha Fields and Nathan Tobey. The show was edited by Kevin Sullivan, Taki Telonidis and Michael Montgomery.

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Original score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, who had help from Kaitlin Benz.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson: From The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. And if you're like me, the last couple of years you've felt this rising sense of dread when watching the news, mass shootings by white supremacists, violent rallies, opinion shows regurgitating white nationalist talking points, and of course, social media, the new frontier of extremism. It is everywhere.
Al Letson: Reveal has been covering these movements, and for the next two weeks we're taking a deep dive into hate examining institutional racism, and also the hidden messages terrorists use to spread hate like a virus.
Al Letson: This March, a gunman massacred dozens of Muslim worshipers in Christchurch New Zealand. Megan Squire was in her car headed back to her home in North Carolina when she heard the news.
Megan Squire: I heard two different newscasters flipping back and forth between the news stations. One of them said they saw an 83 page manifesto, or something like that, and the other one said a 70 something page manifesto, and I went, "Oh, what's going on here? There is multiple versions."
Al Letson: Megan is a computer scientist and professor at Elon University. A few years ago, she was researching well, boring things like software developers, no offense. That work ended. Donald Trump was elected. She started focusing her research on how extremism is spreading online.
Megan Squire: I am a computer scientist. What can I provide? What can I offer? What patterns can I find? How can I understand what's happening in our country, and what's happening on the internet from a very systematic data driven kind of way?
Al Letson: Megan was driving and listening. Her thoughts were locked on the massacre, and how the shooter was using the internet by live streaming the attacks and publishing his manifesto.
Megan Squire: I'd already been collecting these hate manifesto from different killers trying to do some text mining on it, and see what themes they were taking from one another, and see if they were radicalizing one another, so when I heard there was a manifesto here and that there were multiple versions of it that was extremely interesting to me, so I raced home, and started writing some software to begin collecting as many different versions of the manifesto as I could find, so that I could compare what was changing in between them.
Al Letson: What did you find?
Megan Squire: I collected a couple hundred different versions of the manifesto, and found that they weren't changing it terribly much. Sometimes there was cover added, and things like that, but they weren't... They were treating the manifesto as an artifact, but almost like a holy artifact. They weren't changing it substantially at all.
Megan Squire: But, the video that the killer made of his attack they were changing that a lot. They almost immediately started memeing the video, so they would add soundtracks. They would turn it into a video game. They would take clips out and add different clips. They would add subtitles, add artwork into the video, and just all kinds of changes.
Al Letson: Megan says, "The more variations the harder it is to remove something from the internet," so while there was some success in getting rid of the manifesto, the video was another story.
Megan Squire: For somebody like the New Zealand Government, I mean they want the videos removed. They feel like it glorifies this tragic event. For people who study extremism like myself, we notice radicalization that happens after one incident. We know other incidents could happen.
Speaker 3: Another deadly shooting at a house of worship. It happened in a synagogue in Poway, California. 22 [crosstalk 00:03:28].
Al Letson: Six week after the New Zealand attack a 19 year old man opened fire at a synagogue in Southern California killing one person and injuring three others. Before that attack the gunman posted his own manifesto on Facebook.
Megan Squire: In that manifesto he cited the New Zealand shooter, so one can lead to another. It's a domino effect.
Al Letson: It's really hard to stop the spread of this type of extremism on the internet. What are the social media companies, Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, what are they saying about it? How are they trying to stop it?
Megan Squire: Yeah, so they have a two prong approach right now. 1. They're putting bodies on it, so just more moderators, more people, more eyes, human eyes on the problem.
Speaker 4: Facebook is purging several high profile names from its platform. Among them, [crosstalk 00:04:15].
Speaker 5: Yesterday, Twitter announced that it is permanently suspending the accounts of the conservative commentator, Alex Jones.
Speaker 6: Alex Jones and his media outlet Infowars...
Speaker 7: Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan...
Speaker 8: Paul Joseph Watson who is a notorious anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist.
Speaker 9: They're being banned from spreading, "dangerous ideology."
Al Letson: Social media companies call this de-platforming. Megan says, "Executives are also talking up another approach to removing hate speech from the internet."
Megan Squire: [inaudible] which it's like well, pretty soon we'll be able to solve this with artificial intelligence, right. We'll be able to throw machine learning, or some kind of AI at this problem, and that'll take care of it. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, is on record in front of Congress saying that AI is going to solve it.
Mark Z.: Over the long term, building AI tools is going to be the scalable way to identify and root out most of this harmful content. We're investing a lot in doing that as well as scaling up the number of people who are doing content review. [crosstalk 00:05:18].
Megan Squire: It's a pretty hard line to tow though. That's just really hard. I don't know how many eyeballs we would've needed to stop something like the live streaming of the New Zealand shooter. I think there was maybe something other things they could do as a stop gap until their magical AI solution comes to fruition, but even that I'm a pessimist about.
Al Letson: The AI solution, I don't know, how are you going to teach a computer to understand how hate and extremism works in America? It's a very human... It's an emotional thing, isn't it? I just have a hard time believing that AI is going to be able to figure that out.
Megan Squire: It's extremely challenging. It's also creepy. I mean we've all seen Minority Report, right.
Al Letson: Yeah.
Megan Squire: Movies like that where you try to predict people's behavior, so I think this is a really dark road they're going down.
Al Letson: Megan says, "There is something else going on. Something that makes it even harder for government regulators and mainstream technology companies." It's called alt tech.
Megan Squire: I like to think of alt tech as... Okay, so imagine you have a playground at school and there is a bully on your playground. The teacher keeps putting the bully in time out, so the bully gets his dad to build a brand new playground with the same slides, and the same teeter totters, and all that stuff. That's alt tech. They're getting put in time out on the traditional playground of social media, right, and so now they're moving into their own special playground that they're getting people to build just for them, and they can do whatever they want in there.
Megan Squire: Alt tech is a suite. It's really a replacement infrastructure for the internet as we know it, so it's everything from special browsers, and plug ins to browsers, to payment processors, and domain registration, and web hosting, and just all of... the VPN services, just all these things that make up the internet the way we use it. They are just building a copy cat version of that for themselves where they can say and do what they like.
Al Letson: One player in the alt tech movement who caught Megan's attention is a guy named, Rob Monster.
Megan Squire: Rob Monster is the CEO of Epik.com. He's the dad. He's the bully dad in my playground scenario. He is the domain registrar right now for Gab, which is a alt tech social network. It's like a Twitter clone. He's also domain registrar for BitChute, which is a You Tube alternative that shows videos that You Tube won't show, which is You Tube will show a lot of videos, so that tells you a little bit about BitChute. He also just does web hosting for tons of alt right podcasts, things like that.
Eric Striker: Today, I have a very exciting guest. [crosstalk 00:07:57].
Al Letson: Rob wouldn't talk to us, but we have an interview of him on something called, The People's Square.
Megan Squire: Oh, yeah. That's a alt right podcast. It's run by a guy named, Eric Striker. He goes by that. That's not his real name.
Eric Striker: How are you, Rob?
Rob Monster: Hey, good. Good to be with you.
Al Letson: On the show, Monster attacks the radical left, the government, and big tech companies, but he says this about David Duke, the white nationalist and former KKK leader.
Rob Monster: He has some far right views, and so forth, but he's actually a pretty clever guy. He's articulate. He knows history. I don't know the body of his work, but I have a feeling that many people grew up with this mindset that says you should never listen to anything that David Duke says, or [crosstalk 00:08:39].
Megan Squire: He's really one of the central players in attempting to build this alt tech infrastructure stack. It would be a replacement for the regular internet tools that we all use. He's really into the fact that he has a right to do it, so if we have a right to do something he feels like he has to express that by physically helping to build the tools to engage that right, so the First Amendment right, free speech.
Rob Monster: Our mandate is essentially to allow the public internet to function as intended, and that sometimes means developing appropriate technology countermeasures.
Megan Squire: He has taken it on himself to build these tools to help companies, and organizations, and websites, and podcasts, and stuff that are so extreme they've been kicked off of regular media, regular platforms. He wants to provide them with an alternative.
Al Letson: It sounds like he's hearkening back to the earlier days of the internet.
Megan Squire: They're always remembering back to an earlier time, which may or may not have actually existed. But, this is another case where he's hearkening back to the days when the internet was free. The internet may have felt more free to some people then, but it wasn't less filled with hate. It just was a little bit harder for that hate to spread. Neo Nazi groups, and the Klan, and all these white nationalist groups, they've been on the internet since pretty much day one. They were very excited about this technology. They've been there. It just wasn't quite as easy for them to spread their message, and you had to look for it a little bit harder. Yeah, they are building something that looks a lot like that.
Al Letson: Megan says, she's especially troubled by one piece of Rob Monster's technology arsenal. It's known as the Interplanetary File System, or the IPFS. It splits files into many pieces that are spread out among thousands of participants on a network.
Megan Squire: On its own it's just another technology like any other, but the way he weaponized this was to deliberately store the manifesto from the Christchurch shooter, and the video out on there as a... almost as a thumbing his nose, right, at the idea that this material could be taken down by regular social media platforms, so he was in a way, he was fronting like, "Oh, I'm building this alt tech stack, and part of that is going to be this decentralized technology, and you'll never be able to taken down files that we put out there."
Al Letson: Where is all this going?
Megan Squire: That's one of the things that worries me the most. It's one of the things that keeps me up thinking about how this is going to play out in the future, so de platforming barely works as it is with the social media companies the way they are. This alt tech stack will probably continue to grow, and it'll get bigger. There will be a move towards the decentralized web, which is this peer-to-peer internet replacement. And once that's in place, if that's in place, it will be very hard to appeal to any centralized authority to do things like remove manifesto files, or take a person off, a disruptive person, off of a social media site.
Al Letson: Do you think that the problems that we're seeing now that are rising to the surface that some of that can be contributed to the fact that the United States Government, and governments are the world have been really slow to understand exactly what the problem is, and so if they don't understand how Facebook works, how can they regulate Facebook? If they don't understand how this alt platforming, alternative dimension works, how can they actually look out for the little guy if they don't understand how it works?
Megan Squire: It bothers me to no end that they still don't understand how the internet works. There are governments though around the world that do understand how this stuff works and are already taking step to just use their version of alt tech, or the separate internet for censorship purposes to remove their country from the main internet, so there was a story about Russia doing exactly that. There is a well documented history of Chinese censorship of multiple, dozens, of pieces of internet.
Al Letson: It's interesting the two big countries that are actually weaponizing the internet are the two countries that are ahead of the curve when it comes to thinking about how to handle this type of stuff. Also, I would say that those two countries really don't care about free speech at all, so do we as the United States have to become like that?
Megan Squire: That's a completely legitimate worry. I study hate speech every day. I study these just absolutely vile, dark, incredibly toxic places online, and yeah it's not a happy place to be thinking about any kind of censorship. I mean it's just bad, and yet here we are. People are dying, so I'm absolutely nauseated with the idea that Russia and China censor and should the United States be in that position is just, it's awful.
Al Letson: What is it like for you to have to go into these dark corners of the internet every day?
Megan Squire: I try to send my software there first. Yeah, mostly I study... I try to write programs that can take some of the load, organize the stuff, and put it where it needs to be, so I can study it. I try to be very systematic about it. I try to keep the eye on the prize. It can be very tiring though, especially when I start thinking about the stuff in the future.
Megan Squire: When I read that comment Rob Monster posted on Gab, he was bragging about how he had stored copies of that manifesto onto a decentralized web platform, so that it could never be censored, or removed. He was really proud of that. I just felt so tired because I could see how this was all going to play out in the future. It's going to be vigilante hacker groups battling it out, and who can invent the next technology that will be able to store things even more safely, more [inaudible 00:14:37]? Oh my gosh. Okay, here we go.
Al Letson: Megan, you have scared the hell out of me.
Megan Squire: I'm sorry. The alt right guys call that a black pill, by the way. They call it when you give someone so much depressing information that they're saddened about it, so I'm sorry, I didn't mean to black pill you.
Al Letson: Well, don't worry. I mean we should name this podcast, Black Pill because we do it every week.
Megan Squire: Yeah, there you go.
Al Letson: Megan Squire, thank you so much for coming in and talking to me.
Megan Squire: It was my pleasure.
Al Letson: Black pills, vigilante hackers, fighting a cyber war to spread hate, it sounds like something straight out of a comic book. It's a story that's already being written.
Alex Jones: I like the Marilyn Monroe shaped red head. Who's she?
Vox Day: Oh, that's [Dina Meek 00:15:27]. She's the newest recruit to the Global Justice Initiative.
Al Letson: From alt tech to alt comics, coming up on Reveal.
Al Letson: From The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. We're tracing the rise of hate today. The far right spreads their message in a lot of different ways, and last year they got into a sacred space for me, comic books.
Al Letson: As a kid, comics gave me heroes and heartbreak. They also helped me overcome dyslexia and fall in love with reading, artwork, and stories. I am and always will be a comic book nerd, which is why my Spidy sense started tingling when I heard last year about a new independent comic book, a new recruiting tool trying to broaden the appeal of the so-called alt right. It's called, Alt Hero.
Speaker 15: He could just be another vigilante.
Al Letson: This is a promotional video for Alt Hero. There is some comic book art of a little white girl cowering in an alley. A large brown skinned man with a mustache menaces her. Then, a white vigilante appears out of nowhere and knocks the brown skin guy out and drops him off at Immigration.
Speaker 15: Cleaning up the streets one illegal at a time.
Al Letson: Six issues of Alt Hero have been published since the first came out last year. Hate comics are now a part of our culture wars. One of the soldiers in that war is a man who has a name like a super villain, Vox Day.
Vox Day: It's a big step in the culture wars because it's the first time that the right is actually taking back ground that the left had previously claimed.
Al Letson: Vox Day is the creator of Alt Hero.
Vox Day: Anything the left tells us is off limits. We're going to be going for that, and we're going to go for it hard.
Al Letson: The characters in his comics have secret identities, so does he, sort of. His birth name is...
Amanda Rob: Theodore Beal, and he is from Minnesota.
Al Letson: That's Amanda Rob. She is a reporter with the non-profit newsroom, Type Investigations. I talked with Amanda last year when she was writing a story on alt right comics and Vox Day.
Amanda Rob: And even though he is an American white nationalist, he lives in Europe. He is what you would call an influencer, or even a thought leader of the alt right.
Al Letson: What else do you know about Vox Day besides that he's writing and publishing Alt Hero?
Amanda Rob: He runs an independent publishing house that puts out books by other extreme conservatives. He is a prolific blogger. He wrote an influential manifesto on the alt right. By his early 30s he was calling himself, Vox Day, which means the voice of God, roughly. But sometimes he also calls himself, The Supreme Dark Lord.
Al Letson: He calls himself, The Supreme Dark Lord, and then he wonders why people make him out to be evil.
Amanda Rob: Yeah, it's hard to understand.
Al Letson: Okay, so when did the alt hero comic book get started?
Amanda Rob: Well, Vox launched a crowdfunding campaign after the United The Right rally in Charlottesville. That was in August 2017. He started crowdfunding in September.
Al Letson: In May of 2018, Vox Day went on Infowars to talk about getting into comics. That's the far right website and radio show that's so extreme, Twitter, Facebook, and You Tube banned it. He talked to Infowars host, Alex Jones.
Alex Jones: I realize that this is information warfare and comics are paramount right now because they're archetypal, and it's something the enemy completely controls. I like the Marilyn Monroe shaped red head. Who's she?
Vox Day: Oh, that's Dina Meek. She is the newest recruit to the Global Justice Initiative.
Al Letson: He's talking about the cover of the first issue of Alt Hero.
Alex Jones: Well, I got to tell you it's awesome because notice she doesn't look like a heroine head. She hasn't been drinking soy. She looks like a woman.
Vox Day: Yeah, it's actually a lot of fun to go in and violate pretty much all of the SJW imperatives.
Al Letson: SJW, that's short for social justice warriors. Right wing activists like Vox Day use it as a dis against people who don't agree with them.
Vox Day: If you look at what they're doing they keep introducing more and more gay characters, more and more transgender characters. This is very, very intentional.
Al Letson: Vox Day is trying to make the argument that social justice warriors are on a mission to rule in comics with a leftist, feminist, diversity agenda. The marketing of Alt Hero is all about stoking those fears. That's one of the things Amanda wanted to talk to Vox Day about.
Amanda Rob: I got in touch with him, and at first he said no. He doesn't talk to the mainstream media because we're all fake news, and we lie. But then, he rethought, and he finally agreed to meet me. I was like, "Great, where are you?" He was like, "I'm not telling you." I'm like, "All right. Well, I'll come to your office in Finland." He's like, "No, you can't come there," so I'm like, "Okay, so where can we meet?" He picked the [Daniva Airport 00:20:51].
Al Letson: Geneva, Switzerland?
Amanda Rob: Yeah. I was in Europe for a different story, so I wanted to meet him.
Al Letson: What happened?
Amanda Rob: I went to a restaurant in the airport. I look around and there is a white guy in a gray T-shirt. He has thinning hair, just a regular looking white guy like I went to high school with. And then we ordered the world's most expensive hamburgers. I want to say we talked of three hours, but really I listened to him for three hours.
Vox Day: Vox's first law, any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from insanity.
Amanda Rob: What's that a play on?
Vox Day: Arthur C. Clark's first law of science and magic.
Amanda Rob: Which is?
Vox Day: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Amanda Rob: Okay, and what does it mean? [crosstalk 00:21:44].
Amanda Rob: He was the hardest interview I've ever done, and the worst interview I've ever done. It was Austrian philosophers and war theory, and genetic information. It was all tangled and knotted.
Amanda Rob: Do you not think women should vote?
Vox Day: I think it depends, in a representative democracy, no.
Amanda Rob: Me? I'm so smart.
Vox Day: I've lived for years in a place where I couldn't vote, so I don't quite understand what the issue is.
Amanda Rob: But, not because of your gender, because you're not a citizen.
Vox Day: Yeah, but I mean the main problem is...
Al Letson: After you met him that one time and had expensive hamburgers, did you talk to him again?
Amanda Rob: Yeah. We've talked on the phone. We've talked by Skype. He was actually very nice to me and forthcoming in his own very intellectual, convoluted way until he got mad at me.
Al Letson: Why did he get mad at you? Because you wanted to vote, or... Who's distributing Alt Hero?
Amanda Rob: Amazon.
Al Letson: Why is Amazon distributing this book?
Amanda Rob: Well, I asked Amazon. Someone from their PR department got back to me. He said, "It falls within their guidelines." He helpfully sent me a link to their guidelines, so I clicked on them. It says, their definition of offensive material is, and I'm quoting, "What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect," end quote.
Al Letson: That doesn't make sense because I find this offensive, and they don't find it offensive.
Amanda Rob: Well, it's a very movable goal post it turns out. Amazon changes what it thinks is offensive all the time.
Amanda Rob: Talk to me about Alt Hero.
Al Letson: This is from a Skype call that Amanda and Vox had before he ghosted us.
Vox Day: Well, a lot of people came up and had been telling me that they wanted me to get into comics.
Amanda Rob: Okay. He says he just felt there was a crying need for this. That the superhero universe had become diverse for diversity's sake. They weren't heroic anymore.
Vox Day: Their female Thor, their Fatso, and GI Joe soldier.
Amanda Rob: But, he thought, okay, I'll give it a whirl, and see if there is an audience out for that.
Vox Day: What happened was there was a guy named, Chuck Dixon backed the project.
Al Letson: Chuck Dixon. Chuck Dixon is one of my all time favorite comic book writers.
Vox Day: All these people got excited because they're like, "Oh, Chuck Dixon is back again." I called him up to thank him for backing it. He said, he had no problem and he was happy to do so. Then I said, "Well, you know, I hear that you're not writing any much for Marvel, or DC anymore. Do you want to work with us?" He said, "Sure," so I actually turned over an entire line to him. Basically, he's creating our Gotham.
Al Letson: Chuck and I have something in common. I also write comic books. A couple of years ago, I published my first story with DC Comics. I got to write Nightwing, Batman's former sidekick. He's a character Chuck wrote all those years ago. Now in my opinion, Chuck didn't just write Nightwing, he defined him. And now, this legend in the comic's community is writing in the alt hero universe, and Chuck is not alone. Obviously, Alt Hero is an independent project on the fringes. Is there anything else out there like it?
Amanda Rob: Oh, yeah. It's a burgeoning genre. Alt Hero is just one of a handful of crowdfunded far right comic books that have cropped up recently.
Al Letson: Wow. Thanks, Amanda.
Amanda Rob: Thank you, Al.
Al Letson: That was Amanda Rob, reporter with Type Investigations.
Al Letson: I was so surprised and disappointed that Chuck had agreed to write comics for a white supremacist that I decided I had to hear from him why he decided to do it, so I flew to Florida to meet Chuck.
Chuck Dixon: We are at Yancy Street Comics in Port Richie, Florida, and this is just an awesome shop as you can see.
Al Letson: Yancy Street Comics is an old school comic shop in a strip mall. It looks exactly like the image that pops up in your head, spacious with rows, and rows, and rows of comic books and toys. I fell in love with this place the minute I walked in. How long have you been writing comics?
Chuck Dixon: Over 30 years.
Al Letson: Chuck has metal frame glasses and these days his goatee is a little more white than gray. Back in the day, Chuck wrote a bunch of comic classics that I grew up on, The Fantastic Four, The Punisher, Batman. Chuck also wrote for a lesser known comic book start-up called, CrossGen. I remember CrossGen. I had several of their titles. They had The Sigil, right?
Chuck Dixon: The Sigil, yeah.
Al Letson: They had the yin and yang Sigil.
Chuck Dixon: Yeah.
Al Letson: And to be quite honest, I probably started buying CrossGen because your name was on it. If your name is on the book I'm going to pick it up.
Chuck Dixon: Well, I appreciate that.
Al Letson: He tells me that over the years his personal politics haven't always lined up with what he is assigned to write in the comics.
Chuck Dixon: I've written impassioned anti-gun speeches for Batman. I mean I've laid out in reasonable passionate terms why Batman doesn't like guns and why they're bad. I don't believe anything of what I put in his mouth, but I wrote it.
Al Letson: Chuck is a supporter of gun rights. He's described himself as a Genghis Khan far right conservative. He says he hasn't worked for Marvel Comics since 2002. That's when Marvel brought back an Old West cowboy character named, Rawhide Kid.
Chuck Dixon: The Rawhide Kid, they brought The Rawhide Kid back as gay. I said a few things online like, "Why don't you create a new character who is gay?" They wrote Rawhide Kid as a sissy and that was the joke of the series. I'm like, "How is this a pro-gay comic book? How are you presenting this guy as a gay hero in any kind of serious attempt at what you think you're trying to do?"
Al Letson: If you're a gay kid and you like comic books and you've never seen yourself represented in comics, I don't know, I just feel like shouldn't they be able to come into a comic shop and see themselves?
Chuck Dixon: I don't have a problem with it as long as you create a new character.
Al Letson: Right. But you and I both know how hard it is to launch a new character.
Chuck Dixon: Dude, that's the problem. That's where putting the agenda, and I'm not saying you have an agenda, there is nothing wrong with you wanting to see a character that you can relate to more closely, but when you put the agenda before the story that's where the problem lies because then you come up with uninteresting characters for the sake of diversity.
Al Letson: Then I asked the question that brought me all the way down to Florida. Why work with Vox Day?
Chuck Dixon: Well, he approached me. I didn't know much about him. I still don't know a whole lot about him, but I mean this is the first time in my experience that I've gone to work on a job and everybody is concerned with who is publishing it and their background, and their beliefs, and everything else because this guy is like, man, is this guy a lightning rod. I don't agree with a whole lot of what he says, but he was offering me an opportunity to create our own work.
Chuck Dixon: He had a funding thing. He had a distribution deal set up. He admitted that he didn't know what he didn't know, so he wasn't telling me what to do. He was asking me what I should do, or what would be best for me, and all the rest of it, offered me an opportunity and didn't tell me what to write, and still has not told me what to right, so to me it was just an opportunity to be free of the constraints that are put on you at the major companies, the political correctness constraints. I wasn't interested in doing a book that was political. I wasn't interested in doing a message book.
Al Letson: He's not asking you to write anything political, but you understand how just working with him is political?
Chuck Dixon: I've read the Alt Hero thing, and I rejected parts of it I didn't want to do, that I don't agree with, and I don't write to that.
Al Letson: I understand that it's an opportunity to write and to do all of this other stuff, but what it means for me is that you are lending him your credibility.
Chuck Dixon: Yeah, I don't know. I don't know how much credibility I lend to him, seriously.
Al Letson: Earlier I told you that I started reading CrossGen.
Chuck Dixon: Right.
Al Letson: Because your name was on it. But, the only reason why I went with them is because you, in essence, gave it its credibility for me. And to other people who may not know what Vox Day is about, who may be just on the outside of all of this, they see a comic book in the store and its got Chuck Dixon's name on it, and they pick it up.
Chuck Dixon: Right.
Al Letson: And then they see, oh, this is in that universe. And then they pick up Vox Day's stuff. You are giving him credibility.
Chuck Dixon: Yeah, I don't even know how to deal with that.
Al Letson: Yeah.
Chuck Dixon: Because I don't believe that I lend that much credibility to anybody. Certainly the majority of the people in this industry who do hiring, the gatekeepers, don't see me.
Al Letson: Yeah, but those are different people.
Chuck Dixon: I mean all my work is for outsiders.
Al Letson: Right.
Chuck Dixon: I'm doing a lot of work for guys I never heard of six months ago, and now I'm working for them.
Al Letson: Can you understand how you writing for them feels like to the people that grew up reading your books who are Black, who are Jewish?
Chuck Dixon: Okay. Yeah, I mean I can see your point of view on it. I don't really have a ready answer for you. I don't have a pat answer for you. It's I'm doing my work from my point of view, and it doesn't really share everything.
Al Letson: A few weeks after I talked to Chuck in Florida his series for Vox Day launched. Vox bragged about it on Infowars.
Vox Day: We've got the best writer in comics who is doing a separate series for us called, Avalon. His name is Chuck Dixon. He's the man. It's only going to get better from here.
Al Letson: That was last year. Two months ago, Chuck started another comic series for Vox Day. It's called, Alt Hero Q, a reference to QAnon. That's the totally bogus far right conspiracy theory that there are people within the government dubbed the deep state who are out to undermine President Trump. Chuck also published a new comic on his own called, Trump's Space Force where Trump is a superhero fighting aliens and something called, the [Magaverse 00:32:47].
Al Letson: As we've seen hate spread, how are communities of color responding? That story next on Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Al Letson: From The Center For Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. This is Episode 1 of a two-part series on Hate in America. We've talked a lot about how white supremacists are weaponizing everyday things like the internet, or comic books. But, that hate doesn't just stay in those places. They're just Petrie dishes where the contagion grows. We've seen the result of it, churches burnt to ash in Louisiana, a gunmen kills 11 in a Pittsburgh synagogue, the Mother Emanuel Church massacre in South Carolina, just to name a few.
Al Letson: But, what about the communities that are targeted, the people? It's an issue that Pastor Michael McBride has been dealing with his whole life. He's known nationally for his work to end gun violence and mass incarceration. He says, "The contagion of hate is spreading further and becoming more dangerous."
Michael McBride: Well, I think we're seeing a rise in violence among many vulnerable populations. I think it's critical for us to appreciate that the kind of rise of authoritarianism, totalitarianism is happening literally all across the globe. Yeah, we see this happening both here and abroad and it's quite frightening.
Al Letson: Does that mean that now you have to organize basically on two fronts i.e., one front being thinking about systemic racism as well as now you have to worry about the rise of white nationalism in just everyday people?
Michael McBride: For some of us, we don't see those as very separate, right. It's worth noting that many, if not a good chunk of the individuals who were participating in these white nationalist rallies, they work on somebody's job. We know these folks are judges. We know these folks are teachers. We know these folks work in stores, so they're around us all of the time.
Michael McBride: Now, of course the public expression of that pre-Charlottesville, or pre the inauguration of Donald Trump, this is a new reality, right. That's not to diminish this idea that yes, we have to organize ourself against the legacy of systemic instructional oppression and violence at the hands of the state that is often, if not always, racialized, and otherized, and now we have to organize ourself against the very real and imminent threats of both visible and invisible forms of white supremacy and white nationalism that is around us all of the time. We have still places and spaces that are known to be Ku Klux Klan meeting spaces, right, and so this stuff is around us, but it's just much more ubiquitous.
Al Letson: Charlottesville still surprised me. I was still caught off guard by it. Not that I thought it wasn't there, more that I thought we are past the time where people outwardly show this type of stuff. Were you surprised by it?
Michael McBride: My first reaction, I actually fell into despair. I was a little bit in tears because they surrounded a church filled with Christian people and some other interfaith partners. I was saying to myself, "Man, I should be there with you guys." They came to a church in the South and surrounded it with torches. It was terrifying, right. The second was just sorrow. Sorrow that this was under our nose and we either were not in touch enough to be able to expect it. I was definitely surprised by their chants. This idea that, "Jews will not replace us." These people have created their own kind of orchestrated rehearsed public demonstration of hatred and annihilation, and they feel comfortable doing it in the public. I think that was quite sorrowful and a bit surprising, but that quickly dissipated as I began to just think of the buildup, right.
Michael McBride: I mean again, our experience of state violence happened in Ferguson. In Ferguson, we had white clergy and some white police officers calling us the N word, sticking us in the back with guns. They were doing that on camera. Now, nobody responded, but that still happened. That happened to me personally. Trump [inaudible] and he is publicly whipping us into a frenzy. No one was really trying to whirl that in, and so as I begin to think about just the progression of this, which is why it's so dangerous for many of us, I think in this moment to not take this as seriously as it should because these things are all seeming to be progressions. We have to take seriously that if we don't organize people away from racism and hatred they will be seduced by it, and arguably become agents of that.
Al Letson: Communities of color have a long history of fighting back against white supremacy mostly, not all, but mostly through nonviolent means. Has the model changed? Has the game shifted so much that maybe nonviolent protests isn't the only way forward?
Michael McBride: Well, I think we should not conflate nonviolence with self defense, right. If you were living in the South where Ku Klux Klan and white terrorists were bombing churches and lynching people with the cover of the state, right, trying to defend yourself with necessary force would still probably get you a death sentence. I think as someone who of course is living in this space I think we should just continue to not conflate the two, and yet still remember that we do not want to become the monsters that we are attempting to defeat.
Al Letson: A little push back on that, so I did a documentary Bayard Rustin. I should just say for our listeners who are not familiar with Bayard Rustin. Bayard Rustin was the man who basically taught Martin Luther King the practice of nonviolence. He was a gay man who had been fighting against racism. But, the scene of him meeting Martin Luther King for the first time is that he goes into Martin Luther King's house. There are men surrounding King with rifles and Bayard's thing to him was off the bat was you've got to get rid of all the guns. You cannot have any guns because if you have guns and people do heinous things to you, and you're going to use those guns and you're going to undermine our position.
Al Letson: What you're saying is, is the way that you see nonviolence is that when you're going out and you're protesting, you're absolutely nonviolent. You're not going there with violent intent, but you're prepared to defend yourself and your community if put in that position?
Michael McBride: I believe that no act of self defense should be off the table. It should be up to individuals to decide how they are willing to preserve their life, or the lives of those that they love. I think too often we only want nonviolence for Black folk, and violence can be then for everyone else.
Michael McBride: I would like police officers to be nonviolent. I would like the government to be nonviolent when it attempts to go resolve conflicts all across the world. I would like teachers to be nonviolent when they deal with unruly kids in the schools. But, it seems to me that violence is okay for everyone except for Black people, and that is an immoral position that we should not, I think, allow the systems that are as Dr. King says, "The greatest exporters of violence in the world is our government," to lecture or give advice to people, or oppressed people about how they choose to either reach for liberation, or defend themselves.
Michael McBride: I personally am a student of Dr. King, a follower of Jesus. I commit myself to nonviolent from a moral, spiritual place, and a strategic place because we do not have enough guns to defeat the United States Government.
Al Letson: How do you think police departments have handled this new outward emergence of white supremacy?
Michael McBride: Well, I think it depends. One thing the work has taught us is it's very difficult to have integrity and be too generalizing. I think some of the police departments have taken very seriously this idea that they have to lean into issues related to race, bias, and the ways in which that shows up in policing. Now, it's an extremely low bar. Let's start there, right. If you are willing to do an implicit bias, or procedural justice training in your department, we know that, that is not going to transform your department, but it is a first of many steps. There have been a few police departments willing to do that. There have been many police departments that have not been willing to even do that one step.
Michael McBride: I argue that if police departments don't take seriously the presence of white nationalism, anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant, anti, if you don't take seriously these kinds of influences that are just in the air we breathe and the water we drink then you as a department are failing to provide adequate public safety in the 21st century given all the many threats that are imminent, and invisible, and even visible.
Al Letson: I think the issue though is that just like you said it's in the air we breathe. I think that most people because it's in the air they have no idea it's there. It's just a part of them. Actually I should say, it's a part of all of us.
Michael McBride: Yes.
Al Letson: We all are in that system.
Michael McBride: But, this is where police officers and the profession have to reimagine themselves in this moment in time. Police departments, I believe, have to remind themselves that they work for the people. The people do not work for them. They are public servants. They have one of the most powerful positions in this country in that they can take a person's life without any accountability, right, and so the idea that police officers don't have power, don't have to be better stewards of their power is irresponsible to both the profession and to the officer. We are asking, do your due diligence, do whatever it takes to attend to your biases that are both historical in your profession and personal in your formation. Number two, submit yourself to the accountability of the people you serve.
Al Letson: How probable do you think that is?
Michael McBride: It's as probable as the people make it. I mean the power belongs to the people in a democracy. And of course, there have always been moments when everything seemed impossible. We were in the fields picking cotton it was impossible. When Jim Crow happened it was impossible. It's impossible until it's not.
Al Letson: What gives you hope?
Michael McBride: What gives me hope? Well, young people give me hope. I'm 43. I like to think I'm still a little bit young, but I'm not as young as I used to be. I think young people give me hope because they continue to push for a world that we have not been able to yet realize. My faith gives me hope, and organizing gives me hope because it allows me to see that every day there are people outside the view of the media that are changing this country. They are waking up every day attempting to get people across difference to come into rooms and spaces and imagine that we belong to one another.
Michael McBride: There are folks who are registering folks to vote even right now. Formerly incarcerated people winning new policies to make sure folks can vote, and make sure folks can have equal protection under the law, and access to jobs and housing. All of that action gives me hope. I'm excited for the opportunity to bring that hope into the public square.
Al Letson: That's Pastor Michael McBride. In addition to founding the Way Church in Berkeley, California he also leads a national campaign to end gun violence and mass incarceration.
Al Letson: Finally today, I have a confession. Let me explain. I am a theater guy. I write plays. I act. I go to the theater as often as I can. In some ways, theater is my church. Okay, so here's my confession, I just saw Hamilton for the first time. I know, I know, I know, I just never got around to it. Tickets were insane and well, it never really happened until recently. But, I listen to the music all the time. This song is my jam. [song lyrics 00:46:22].
Al Letson: Lin Manuel Miranda is brilliant. He took history and made it come alive. The performers killed it. The music was infectious, and everyone had a good time including me, until I started thinking about it the next day, and something wasn't right. I could feel it in my chest, an unsettling. And then it hit me. I was in a theater and the audience was mostly white. The performers were mostly people of color. The historical figures they were playing were mostly white men, many of whom owned slaves, and slavery was barely mentioned in the play.
Al Letson: You see, I could see me and the actors and that was great, but I couldn't see me in the story, the history, and that gets to the root of the issue. America, the place, the ideas, the freedom that Hamilton was fighting for was exclusively for white men. The foundation of the United States of America is white supremacy. There is a clear line from stealing land from the indigenous people to start this country to the Civil War, Reconstruction, The Civil Rights Movement, Charlottesville, to right now. It's all connected.
Al Letson: Over the last couple of years a lot of people's eyes have been open to the threat of white supremacists when there are these violent outbursts, and I get that. But, there is other forms of racism that are more subtle and baked into American institutions. That's what we're going to look at next week on Reveal. How racism and discrimination are affecting everything from policing to banking to Hollywood.
Al Letson: Before we go, I want to tell you about something new coming this Summer to public television, Reveal TV. Over the course of four shows, we'll bring you the work from award-winning filmmakers. One episode I really liked is a story of a controversial counter terrorism expert. Some people say she sees terrorist threats where none exists.
Speaker 19: The bad guys today can be jihadists, Al Qaeda, ISIS...
Speaker 20: We are coming and we will destroy you.
Speaker 19: ... white supremacist.
Speaker 21: America was built by and for the white Christian people in this nation.
Speaker 19: It's identifying cells. It's going to the source. It's understanding where the threat is coming from. How do they do what they do?
Al Letson: To find out where you can watch the show call your local public television station, or check our website, revealnews.org/revealtv.
Al Letson: This week's show was produced by Najib Aminy, Will Carless, Emily Harris, Michael Montgomery, and Michael Schiller with help from Kaitlin Benz. The show was edited by our executive producer, Kevin Sullivan with help from Taki Telonidis. Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J. Breezy and Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man, yo, Arruda. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor in chief. Our theme music is by Commorado Lightening.
Al Letson: Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Johnathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 22: From PRX.