By William K. Black
September 4, 2017 Kansas City, MO
When people do awful things and know they are doing awful things and want to continue to do them they compound their awfulness by playing cute. The cuteness demonstrates that they know that what they are doing is indefensible to moral people. The political “dog whistle” is an example of this cutesy tactic. Rachel Maddow’s September 4, 2017 program presented a classic example. She showed video of a white supremacist/Neo-Nazi praising Donald trump’s election victory to an all-white audience. The speaker ended his talk by proclaiming “Hail Trump” and extending his arm in a Nazi salute – except that he was holding a glass of water. His audience understood the “dog whistle” immediately. A number of them leaped to their feet to give answering, frenzied Nazi salutes – just as the speaker hoped. The speaker created this charade because he knew it was not acceptable to moral audiences to praise President-elect Trump as the new incarnation of Hitler and a group of his strongest supporters as neo-Nazis. The leaders of the worst people in America know they need to hide how awful their followers are from regular Americans.
Their dog whistles are so easy to decipher, however, that they demonstrate the leaders’ contempt for the intelligence of the media and Trump’s “normal” supporters. As white-collar criminologists, we stress the importance of the concept of “plausible deniability.” That tactic produces far more sophisticated forms of deniability than Trump’s most awful subset of core supporters. It requires substantial analytical skills to detect and refute the forms of denial devised by elite white-collar criminals’ elite attorneys. By comparison, the cutesy forms of denial devised by the leaders of Trump’s worst supporters are facially preposterous. It is as if one were watching a Penn & Teller show. Showing the audience the trick is the point of the performance. I finally realized that the absurdity is the point. The leaders of Trump’s worst portions of his base know that the media will rarely point out even the most obvious dog whistles. They love making the media complicit in their droll theater of the troll.
The same type of leader loves making social media complicit in spreading hate and lies. I have long emphasized that the single most important trait of the most destructive white-collar criminals is audacity, not supposed brilliance. The leaders of Trump’s base of hate have created a bizarre strategy for spreading hate through stories they admit are fiction. Their strategy’s success depends on the combination of their follower’s (1) bigotry and (2) contempt for the truth and actual news.
Over one-hundred thousand of Trump’s hate base “like” a fictional article reporting that an Imam in Houston responded to Hurricane Harvey by banning non-Muslims from taking refuge from the deadly floods in the mosque in which he preached. They “like” these lies because two websites for “conservatives” publish articles the sites admit are fictional. They claim to be “satirical” sites but that is an obvious lie. They write fiction designed (ala Birth of a Nation) to spread hate against groups like Muslims. The stories exemplify the bigoted beliefs of their followers’ greatest hates. The fictional hate of a fictional Houston Imam for Christians who desperately need help due to Hurricane Harvey was a recent story. The leaders of the site wrote a fictional screed designed to read as if it were a news story about the fictional Imam’s fictional hostility. The “conservative” web sites’ defense to this obvious act of deceit and hate is that their web site warns its readers that its stories are all fictional. The BBC explained:
The story was published on 31 August on the website America’s Last Line of Defense, which calls itself satirical. “[This] is a satirical publication that may sometimes appear to be telling the truth. We assure you that’s not the case,” it explains.
The trolls’ devotion to never telling the truth (or engaging in actual satire) is understandable and reflects the Trump base of haters’ central problem with attacking those they hate. The actual imams of Houston did the opposite of “America’s Last Line of Defense’s” lies and the best-known right-wing Christian pastor in Houston was so late to offer sanctuary even to his own flock that the truth was inconvenient to Trump’s base of haters. The pastor was the perfect target for satire, but “America’s Last Line of Defense” exists to flatter far right hypocrisy and hate rather than expose it. The hate website did not satirize the right-wing Christian pastor’s unchristian behavior. The nature of bigotry is that the facts do not support it. The folks running the hate website, therefore resorted to the common strategy of all hate groups – lying about the people they hate. Writing propaganda attacking groups one hates is vastly easier than trying to find facts proving that American imams refuse Christians seeking shelter from killer floods. The top trolls of the hate web sites could wait 200 years and never be able to report honestly such an act of depravity by an American imam. They can, however, by never “telling the truth” tell lies at any time they wish slandering any group that they hate.
I love satire. Satire’s genius is exposing the lies and hypocrisy of the powerful. There is something obscene and pathetic about perverting satire into a dishonest weapon of hate and lies used by the powerful against the victims.
The trolls who run the “conservative” hate websites that create these fictional tales designed to cater to and feed their readers’ intense hates rely on their written disclosure that their articles are fictional as making it OK for them to create a literature of hate that reads as if it were actual news. The trolls have three goals. First, they want to stoke hatred by feeding their readers a steady diet of hate propaganda. Second, they hope that their readers will spread their lies to others on social media as if they were actual news stories. Third, they want a two-part deniability — (a) we told you our stories were fictional and (b) what we do is satire. Anyone that objects to satire is being humorless and “politically correct” and is part of the problem destroying America. The readers that spread the hate on the web, of course, typically leave out the warning that what they are spreading is a lie designed to cause readers to hate some group that Trump’s base of hate despises.