Resistance Can Be Useless

In this follow-up based on some interactions with friends on Twitter, I just want to discuss some objections to the idea that the Charlie Hebdo attack was actually resistance and not some sort of false-flag. I’ll preface it by saying I don’t claim to know anything about who the attackers were or their true motives. My original post was only to discuss the justice of attacking people who act as mouthpieces for and multipliers of the murderous power that owns the world. If you’re the kind to laughingly dismiss this description of Western foreign policy as hyperbolic, I kindly ask you to consider the millions killed and impoverished in just the last few decades across the globe and what other way one might describe this. And then go away, this blog isn’t for you.

The head of Hezbollah is approvingly quoted as saying “takfiri” groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda are more damaging to Islam than some cartoons. If we have to pick between those two contextless points, he’s of course right.

Hassan Nasrallah’s life has been spent — well-spent! — fighting the empire in the specific forms of the US and “Israel,” and definitely France. But he’s always lived in a place where his beliefs are dominant and normal — the man is a regional leader. A ferociously confident man like he must be wouldn’t feel the sting of some frogs drawing idiotic caricatures of aspects of his, let’s admit it, quite moderate and liberal interpretation of his religion. But I don’t think he understands anti-Muslim bigotry in the West the way Western Muslims do. I mean what does Nasrallah know about growing up as a French Muslim? Now let’s put ourselves in the headspace of someone who grew up as a despised, conquered minority in a country they have been told since birth is not theirs, and on top of that, whose ancestral countries were and are barbarized by their own government. I think they could have a different perspective.

And though Islam is the center of the language and framing, that doesn’t mean it is the only motivating factor or even the most important. As a religion, it’s simply a vehicle through which anguish and rage are channeled. So pardon me if I find Nasrallah’s proclamations of what the Prophet literally finds offensive to be less than illuminating on the motives of the attackers.

But does this sort of retribution actually help roll back the empire? Doesn’t it really just help propagate the case the empire’s propaganda organs spew every day, that Muslims are psycho murderers and hate our freedoms? Won’t it just help the French government and its allies clamp down even more on those freedoms as well? No, yes, and yes. So?

Just because something didn’t bring down the empire doesn’t mean it didn’t scratch it, or punish some low-hanging aspect of it. The French state itself may be strengthened, but Charlie Hebdo‘s particular group of jerks sure as shit wasn’t. (Though the paper got a massive infusion of cash from Google and The Guardian trust, so that verdict is still out.) “Cui bono?” isn’t a useful question when it pertains to the biggest, richest conspiracy that has ever existed. That some act of resistance ultimately benefits power says little about that act and everything about power’s ability to juke to benefit from anything. That’s what power is. Resistance can be useless and still be considered resistance. That’s a moral designation, not a practical one we make after the dust settles.

The objections based on their seemingly extensive training are also baffling. We know that all sorts of non-state militant groups can be highly trained. That they are reveals nothing necessarily about their motives. The people most likely to successfully source the correct weapons and pull off this action are the best trained for it. It’s practically a tautology. US training of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan is well-cited as the basis for the later ability of the Taliban to rule. Or was every single thing that ever happened in that country from Charlie Wilson on also an op?

I’m on record dismissing the goofy appeal to “agency” that retroactively categorizes all revolution-tinged agitation as grassroots and legit. The Charlie attackers could be both Saudi-funded, ISIS-hardened takfiri assholes and deeply resentful victims of French racism and imperialism striking against a representation most meaningful to them — their own personal jihad, whatever. In fact, I’d think there would exist a huge overlap in these demographics. It’s not either-or; there’s an infinite range of possibilities between total control and pure free will.

Fuck Charlie Hebdo, or, Take Your Free Speech and Stick It

Yesterday, 12 cartoonists from the racist, imperialist French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were slaughtered at their offices by apparent “Islamic extremists.” The event is being broadcast as a terrifying oriental aggression on the West’s Right of Free Speech, and we’re all meant to bow our heads in remembrance to stupid men who drew and published vicious harmful things.

There will be all kind of “consequences” and “justification” analyses from left and right. Like, here’s why “al-Qaeda” (cool to see them back out with a new single after ISIS has spent the last year topping the charts) attacked, says Juan Cole. Don’t take this distraction bait.

Who fucking cares about this or that tactic or battle when this is, yes, a clash of civilizations. But not in the way liberals claim: the forces of enlightened modernity against benighted barbarism. Countries who drop bombs into caves whose purpose is to suck the oxygen out of and cauterize shut the lungs of all in its path don’t get to label anything barbarous. No, it’s but a pin prick of resistance against the Western beast — whether it was a result of political calculus, street-level rage, or some mixture of the two. Resistance, on the part of those who identify as victims of a global conspiracy to destroy, downgrade, devalue, destitute their values and customs and completely obliterate any power not yet rendered unto Caesar.

And that’s my actual interest here. Not useless questions about the immediate attack, not “why oh why!?” or “to what end!?” or “what next!?” punditological handwringing but real observations on just what exactly our morality is based. Just how much degradation and humiliation do colonized peoples have to endure? They’re defenseless in the face of waves of murder, torture, plunder, and then if that’s not enough, their centuries-enduring tormentor says it’s morally more righteous, better than they are, because it values, inherently, its right to say terrible shit in favor of destroying their civilizations above their right to fight against it? And forget fighting: the right to express their own similarly (in a very small way) violent opinion? Tarek Mehanna translated al-Qaeda materials and is in jail for 17 years. Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated by drone in Yemen for the crime of saying mean things about America on YouTube. For good measure, his 16-year-old son was also evaporated. Javed Iqbal got 5 years in prison for broadcasting Hezbollah’s TV station inside the US. There were no #IAmTarekMehanna campaigns because nobody gives a fuck about a Tarek Mehanna.

All the power, all the power in the world is stacked against the victims of empire, and undisentanglable from this is the lack of power to make their case in defense. Maybe the assholes at Charlie Hebdo weren’t the politically worst that could be found — lots of reminders that they have “left-wing origins” — but they proudly made themselves figureheads of European menace against Muslims. So, in a global dirty war with the odds stacked dramatically against them, do we need to get bent out of shape because some Muslims, driven to the brink in a very psychological war, punished one manifestation of this all-inundating imperial mire of which a huge, integral part is propaganda?

Propaganda also helps the cultural mop-up job after events like this. Western Muslims, especially of the journalist class, routinely fall over themselves to condemn anything any Muslim does in the world. The latest attack provided new colonized supplicant fodder:

I’m expected now to insert some boilerplate about the tragedy of lost lives and the pain of the cartoonists’ families. But with a limited amount of political attention, I can’t find the space to give too much of a shit about this racist trash. Would Andrew Breitbart’s heart exploding be any less welcome on the left if al-Qaeda blew it up and not one too many cheeseburgers? Same for the journalist scum who plumped America for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. If Judith Miller found herself at the wrong end of a Kalashnikov, would I suddenly cease loathing every fiber of that horribly shitty collection of cells because they mercifully were made to stop their mitosis? Nah. If Dick Cheney ended up too close to a directed EMP, I wouldn’t condemn this “terror” attack despite him never, after all, having physically lifted a finger against his victims.

Check out these dumb, unoriginal, trite cartoons in response to the massacre. They are exactly the kind of simplistic, idiotic thinking that helps delete all background and make it so that history began yesterday. As if Western Civilization’s mighty pens were the only missiles pointed at Muslims. The West is just minding its own enlightened business and these jihad crazies come and assail our absolute greatest right. It’s what makes it possible for us to identify firstly with the dead cartoonists and not the millions of people, many their own countrymen, whom they proudly and routinely made feel less than human in a very real way. This matters because this dehumanization carries with it other consequences including death.

On a complimentary note, you could always count on the Free Speech religionists centered around the Great Infodad to shovel plenty of coal into the liberal #JeSuisCharlie train. From Wikileaks

to Freedom of the Press Foundation

to First Look’s earnest gaggle of also-rans

the priggish moralism of the Greenwald star system never disappoints.

The WikiLeaks tweet is an excellent example of why, by the way, we can love and appreciate a real act of whistleblowing and not be required to sign on to the whistleblower’s specific politics. Tarzie said it best:

Snowden’s political philosophy illustrates a problem with whistleblowers: they’re the kind of people who get into the sort of deep, dark places from which whistles customarily get blown. Places that are uniquely attractive to patriots, ultra-conformists, imperialists and sociopaths. Ellsberg was deep inside the war bureaucracy after hanging out in Vietnam with his mentor, notorious psychopath Edward Lansdale and other thugs. Manning was an Army Intelligence Analyst in Iraq. John Kirakou had spent a decade in the CIA before blowing the whistle on torture. Snowden has spent his entire working life in various arms of the security apparatus. I appreciate their service to the truth, but with all due respect, these are not my kind of people.

Unless they significantly repudiate their past lives, some residue of what took them into Empire’s belly is going to stick. This would be fine, were some of them not also inclined to offer opinions on how the world should work, and their admirers exceptionally inclined to take them seriously because of their heroic deeds.

The point is, “mere” words aren’t benign. Politics is run on words. Wars are launched on words. It matters who is using them. We should defend the right of the powerless to rail against their tormentors. The powerful — and this includes people using words in support of powerful people — don’t need or deserve our support.

—-

The title, some may have already realized, is an homage to the as-it-happened critical coverage of the Snowden spectacle by Tarzie before anyone else I knew was doing so. That he turned out to be SO prescient is as absolutely stunning as his pillorying has been relentless. He was also ahead of his time in attacking the sacrosanct ideal of Free Speech with no consequence — for power only, of course. He doesn’t get nearly as much recognition for this as he deserves, all done against a torrent of Twitter-troll pigshit and smear campaigns from quite on high.

h/t @lorenzoae for tweeting the names of persecuted Muslims and Sam Husseini for collecting the “pen” cartoons.

UPDATE:

Here’s a discussion of whether or not the attack can be considered “resistance.”

The Intercept Becomes Its Own Punchline in Weak War-Profiteer Exposés

Low-key Intercept hire Ken Silverstein has been writing a series of articles billed as exposés of war profiteering. Connecting these dots is always useful and interesting. But while I would love to read the dirty details of what beltway assholes got rich off Iraqi evisceration and Afghan obliteration, the series is kneecapped by a goofy lack of analytical awareness that pervades all of The Intercept’s coverage. And most of the pieces have little to do with war, aside from the fact that most of what Washington does is funded by the lucre siphoned off US foreign policy. Silverstein relies more on mild invective than establishing a real case and peppers his revelations with positively Greenwaldian smears, though he lacks his founding editor’s infamous piquancy.

An oceanfront Palm Beach penthouse is a sexy backdrop for former FBI chief Louis Freeh’s sliminess and greed. Freeh runs a consultancy that helps represent the naughty rich and connected, and Silverstein hinges his entire case against Freeh on the fact that his client Saudi Prince Bandar’s country was “home to fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers” and on that government’s “export of Wahhabism.” Everyone involved is scum. But Saudi Arabia is a US ally, acting in the interests of the very US foreign policy from which Freeh benefits. No aberration from the imperial playbook is noted. If all he’s got to pick on Bandar is that his country raised some bad people and has nasty policies, the national character of the US must be absolutely unmentionable. And lo, it somehow always is.

In another smack at Freeh, we’re meant to be outraged at his involvement in defending an Israeli billionaire — the first time we’ve seen the word used with an implied negative connotation at The Intercept? — on bribery charges. The entire article is about the accused, capped only by a schmucky assurance that “Freeh could be just the right guy to exonerate” his client.

When former head of the CIA George Tenet comes up, with his four million-dollar book deal and $200,000 salary, we’re treated to his list of “failures” that are apparently supposed to make us shake our heads in disbelief.

As head of the CIA, he missed multiple signs of a major Al Qaeda attack directed against the United States,

The CIA is supposed to protect us!

called the case against Saddam building Weapons of Mass Destruction a “slam dunk,”

Um, is this not an article on how war has made certain people very very rich?

and approved the Bush administration’s torturing of terror suspects.

Torture is no good for information-gathering that would have, say, helped the CIA protect us from those dirty Saudis. But it’s actually great for sowing terror among your enemies and subjects, a thing the government spends a hell of a lot of money to do.

And yet, Silverstein thinks that “in any fair world Tenet would be tried for criminal incompetence.”

The idea that Tenet has somehow not done precisely what was expected of him echoes back through the evidence against Freeh. He “botched” cases against America’s enemies! Can you believe he’s so rich! Ken Silverstein can’t. What would the Founding Fathers say about letting Wen Ho Lee get away with betraying Washington’s nuclear dominance? The guy was “asleep at the wheel” of the FBI, that other heroic defender of American liberty.

Silverstein’s latest piece summarizes how House staffer cum lobbyist Stephen Rademaker and his wife, AEI apparatchik Danielle Pletka, double-team the foreign-policy establishment for the big bucks that pay for their 6,000+ square-foot suburban DC spread. It’s gross, but this is classic revolving-door shit. You can tune into Rachel Maddow for more of that. In noting Rademaker drafted the legislation that created the Dept. of Homeland Security, Silverstein says the agency is “now widely regarded as the most dysfunctional part of the federal government.” I thought this was supposed to be a series on how war profiteering makes connected people wealthy. In what way is DHS “dysfunctional” in this equation?

Freeh’s penthouse, by the way, isn’t connected to the War on Terror, but to his involvement in the Penn State child molestation scandal. In fact, Silverstein’s story is really just about how connected officials move on to well-remunerated gigs in their post-official lives, which is true of them all, not just ones who ran war-connected bureaucracies.

More pieces, like this one full of details on the rise of political consultant Jim Messina and another on the very unethical ethics professor Robert Deitz, fit the Intercept pattern of pointing out the alleged hypocrisy of a system that promotes the scum of the earth to lofty positions.

Ultimately, it’s a briefer, less interesting rehash of the much more exhaustive work others have done showing the murky web of neocon operatives, their foreign elite co-conspirators, multinational corporations, and the US government and the death and destruction that feeds this machine. In that way it’s typical of all Intercept coverage: Greenwaldized reblogs of things already covered elsewhere, lots of dry facts recited in lengthy articles with unsubstantive conclusions and no important impact.

Neh.

But perhaps the punchline is when Silverstein described his investigatory visit to Messina’s corporate trust-owned house. He took with him on that trip The Intercept‘s new editor, Sharon Weinberger, whose shilling for the military-industrial complex puts some of these other guys to shame. Maybe she gets a pass from Silverstein since so far the only riches she seems to have been gifted is the helm of a publication whose main product is self-unaware mountebankery.

Tor Project Pulls from War on Terror Playbook

I’m sure it’s apropos of nothing that the Tor Project has sensationalistically announced a plot against some of the servers in its network. Couldn’t be an attempt to move on quickly after washing its hands of the crime of libel against an innocent New Jersey pharmacist by its employees and boosters.

The post is several hundred words longer than it needs to be for the information conveyed — it’s mostly boilerplate from the project’s “about” page. All the information we have is that “there may be an attempt” to seize “specialized servers in the network called directory authorities.” It’s impossible to get a layman’s description of what this is from reading the nerd documents provided, but I assume this type of server keeps track of and authenticates Tor’s internal relays for users. Doesn’t really matter.

Nobody at Tor provided an answer or even a source for this “intelligence.”

Silence.

Useless.

Useful only in that we find out nothing even happened.

So. We have an unspecified “threat” against a poorly specified target with no clue about the origin of the warning. Did Tor hire some of those “officials speaking on the condition of anonymity” for its PR? Better up the threat level from poindexter to urkel.

It should probably come as no surprise that an organization overwhelmingly funded by the intelligence and military services of the United States is pulling right out of the “terrorism” playbook. Feds gonna Fed.

Diplomacy Is Shit, The President Is Evil, The Left Is Trash

Today, Obama announced a mild normalization of relations with the Cuban state. That means a US embassy may open in Havana and you’ll be able to bring a few more trinkets back from Cuba legally. The travel ban will NOT be loosened for tourism. Caps on remittances by family members will be raised. The US will “review” the presence of Cuba on its list of state terror sponsors.

I’m not going to comment on the Revolution itself. As a Floridian I’m biased for several reasons, and that includes my anarchism. All I’ll say is that while condemning certain tactics, I understand them through the prism of imperialism. Fortunately, this doesn’t matter for what I’m pointing out.

The reality of what happened today, broken into individual facts, is less exciting than the joyful (or angry) explosions we’ve witnessed in the media. The White House released for the world a detailed explanation of its reasons for this diplomatic outreach. If you can see past the think-tanky democratization bullshit you’ll see a vicious plan to complete the domination of Cuba, probably ending in its total recolonization by financial capital.

Among the openly described plans are

1) a ramping up of rhetoric showing the Cuban government as a rights violator
2) making the Cuban government work toward US goals
3) “empowering” the Cuban people, code for continuing to directly undermine the Cuban state
4) injecting more US currency and finance into the Cuban economy
5) opening the Cuban market to more US goods
6) increasing propaganda penetration by allowing private import of telecom materials

This is more like a declaration of war.

But then, that’s what diplomacy is. “Diplomacy” is what Washington calls its imperial scheming and the left falls for it. Diplomacy is cold war, and it often enough leads to hot war. It is not a peace-making endeavor. It is not a good thing to encourage. It is good to disrupt it, as Chelsea Manning — whose birthday is today! — did. Thanks to her, we know so much about the nasty, petty, vindictive, stupid, lying, thieving, murderous shit our hallowed diplomats do every day in subjugated nations around the globe. These are rich, powerful, high-born criminals that have served time in the upper echelons of our own evil government and its largest parastate corporations. They’re scum, and their work is the devil’s. The only real question is, why do these countries allow it?

In the absence of these parasites on the world’s good faith, the US has in Cuba had to resort to bizarre (failed) assassination plots and other idiotic schemes. Key to these schemes is the USAID program, ostensibly an honest organization meant to aid the world’s people, but in truth a subterfuge aimed at kneecapping all attempts at self-determination that do not line up with US foreign policy goals. Cuba, possessing a government ideologically aware of the empire’s goals, has been hip to this bullshit from the beginning. They even imprisoned scamster Alan Gross, released today as part of the deal (which also saw the release of three of the Cuban Five). Gross is a USAID contractor who was cynically using the extant Cuban Jewish community as a shield for his service to US policy. Just look at this spook’s life. As we know, Ukraine wasn’t as savvy.

USAID has also rolled out a fake Cuban Twitter, tried to infiltrate Cuba’s hop hop scene, and perhaps most disgustingly — like Pakistan vaccination scheme-level disgusting — held fake HIV-prevention seminars. That’s just a short list courtesy of the Moon of Alabama blog, which has an amusing warning:

But should indeed a U.S. embassy return to Havana that job will fall again to the CIA. Cuba should be very worried about that. The only reason why the U.S. government has never fallen to a CIA coup is the lack of a U.S. embassy in Washington DC.

It’s well-accepted that US embassies are basically just CIA offices. Nothing good can come of one of these in Havana. We only have to look to Libya to see what can happen when relations are “normalized.”

At this point I can just assume the grizzled Cuban old guard is throwing its hands up at the inevitability of their loss to the juggernaut. I tuned in to see Raúl Castro speak for about 20 seconds and just in that one moment, watched him praise both Obama and the Pope. I don’t know who to roll my leftier-than-thou eyes at — Castro, or emoji-fist-raisers in my Twitter timeline lionizing him in that moment. These liberals dressed as radicals let their masks slip a bit today. Medea Benjamin, CodePink’s milquetoast maven of minivan dissent, has always wanted to love Obama, and now, for just a moment, she can have a day to unabashedly do just that.

It wasn’t just Benjamin praising the drone president and whooping it up for cigars and rum. Look at this fucking dingbat:

But liberals gonna liberal right? Well let’s reach a tiny bit further “left”:

wait there’s more

(hypocrisy!)

(Obama finally wins out!)

The twin whitebros of the libpocalypse are just the ones laughed at in my timeline, I’m sure there are even better out there.

But none of this is as dumb as this, retweeted by Glenn Greenwald, below, which, no.

A few hundred thousand Cuban exiles in a throwaway city, as Miami was in the 1960s, do not directly influence a multigenerational policy. They’re a great public excuse for one, and for political reasons it’s great propaganda. But the empire has its own reasons for making a communist island just 90 miles from its southernmost territories, especially one run by anti-imperialists, appear to be an innate economic basketcase. That’s what a crushingly near-total blockade can do. In exactly the same way, Israel is useful to the empire as a giant spaceship of white capitalism in a typically resistant Middle East. It has very little to do with Jewish power over Washington, oh my god.

The embargo was never total, but even that slack was for propaganda purposes. Connected US agribusinesses, for example, have been privileged enough to make millions trading staple foods to the Cuban government. Thanks to the US, Cubans can eat! Those farmers and possibly many more stand to get even richer in the near term from this thaw. Scahill and Blumenthal probably aren’t wrong to point out that, down the road at least, the hordes are coming.

Imagine, the venerable emoprogs of America praising POTUS for this sham “opening” amid the terrifying threats of that White House statement. All this from the bombingest country on earth. The regime that tortures prisoners (in Cuba!) and spies en masse. An empire that has spent the last century or more systematically binding the peoples of the world to its political and financial will.

Fuck it. Bust out the mint; let’s make mojitos!

————

for lulz

Enraged Nerds Defend the Honor of Math

I know, I just said I hoped I wouldn’t have to talk about this again. But in the hours after I hit “Publish,” so much crap has followed. The Tor project’s blog featured an earnestly melodramatic post in “solidarity” with Andrea Shepard. Paul Carr of Pando has been both-sides-ing the issue because it looks like someone higher up — a purse strings person, perhaps [see update] — has ordered this whole drama quashed. And Micah Lee of Tor and The Intercept — because that’s all that was really missing — wrote a very illuminating blog post encapsulating everything wrong with nerd thinking.

If you haven’t yet, please see the official Tor post. Many admirable general sentiments are expressed but none that really describe what Shepard, who is not named, “suffered.”

“Women who work on Tor are targeted, degraded, minimized and endure serious, frightening threats.”

I don’t even doubt this is true, though I suspect any real threats would be issued by Anonymous 4channy types — the type Shepard probably considers to be comrades as evidenced by her weird network. That it has been said at this time, after so many have expressed horror at the attack on the livelihood of a critic, makes it seem as if they are charging this victim with having issued “serious, frightening threats.” This is the anatomy of a smear.

It’s one long, pablum-soaked justification of the doxxing of JB by hundreds of tech officials and hangers-on.

Lee’s post is a troll from the get-go, reducing all questions about Tor to Yasha Levine’s Pando reporting and repeating the bullshit smear that Tor critics think “you can tell everything about a woman because she dyes her hair.” The worst is the comparison to GamerGate using only the fact that the shameful behavior of Tor developers has been referred to on Twitter using the humorous #TorGate hashtag. I know some of these people are young, but they must know the “-Gate” suffix has been glued to tens or hundreds of issues over the years since the Watergate scandal. *gets down on one knee, takes child’s hand* “Yes, Micah, that’s where ‘-Gate’ comes from!” And that’s why this is yet another obviously calculated smear.

The Intercept connection is amusing here, since a good chunk of Lee’s argument was: “Pando didn’t find anything that wasn’t published on http://torproject.org.” Well, yes, but much of investigative journalism is often the arrangement of known facts to display a pattern. Previously unknown, hidden facts certainly make a story more compelling and certainly a better scoop, but that’s a matter of pride for the publication itself, not the reader. It makes sense for a guy who works for a news organization that will only report on the NSA using original source documents and only after checking with government officials. It’s an organization whose spiritual and editorial leader wanted to redact the name of the country of Afghanistan, in deference to “security” concerns. What better place for nerdkind to work with words, where any serious journalism is reduced to relying only on reams of documents liberated directly from the source and requiring none of the messy meatspace interpretation of other reporting.

Like Lee, Tor defenders in my mentions have repeatedly attempted to bring it back to the discussion of the raw math involved. This seems like a purposeful derailment, but having dealt with this particular sort of troll in my many years on forums, I think many of them seriously do not know another way to think. It’s never been about the code, for critics. That we say we do need to be able to have a modicum of trust in its developers is not ad hominem, it’s simply the noting of a legitimate concern for us potential end-users. I do not read code. I can barely add two double-digit numbers in my head. It is literally impossible for me to independently verify the soundness of any type of programming. This would make legions of tech types scoff and roll their eyes in dismissal at anything I have to say about Tor, and that is precisely my point. The vast majority of humans are in my boat (maybe they’re a bit better at basic math on the fly). If we have to trust our security to a bunch of smeary, whiny assholes, we probably just won’t.

To illustrate this point even better, David Golumbia — nice guy and computation expert! — notes that Tor, while surely based on the immutable substance called math, is not a “fundamental law of the universe.” The claim that it is, made by Quinn Norton (friend of weev, fan of doxxing) in a goofy “balance” piece Pando ran just to show they’re not too rabidly anti-Pentagon-tech, is “false, breathless narcissism and arrogance at its most outrageous, and very typical of our digital age,” Golumbia said. “The belief of Tor advocates that they are tapping into something over and above what the rest of us have access to is misbegotten and hubristic in the extreme,” he continued, and noted the “petulant, arrogant, dismissive, power-hungry reaction computationalists typically have when anyone they deem unworthy dares actually to ask them to account for themselves.” There’s a guy I think I can trust, and he says Tor is vulnerable now and possibly in ways we can’t predict in the future. [In the same vein, see Roasty’s “Math is Universal; Ethics Are Not“]

Pando‘s Paul Carr has taken a seemingly forced “even”-handed approach to the subject, positioning himself a bit above the fray with his categorical condemnations of the alleged harassment of Shepard. I say “a bit” above the fray because it didn’t stop him from bragging about Pando being under fire from powerful, scummy Uber as well as the jerks at Tor and Anonymous. Yeah, Pando must, as Carr says, be doing “something right,” but with this self-absolving piece that doesn’t even mention the actual victim who may yet lose his job, I’m trying to figure out what that might be. Some kind of directive seems to have been handed down from Pando‘s managers — funded by Silicon Valley investors — to cool it a bit and give lip service to social justice with the same insipid mimicry employed by the Tor bots. It’s boring but expected.

Carr included and called “ludicrous” this next bit:

You only had to note the glee with which Shepard, from behind her locked account, continued her war against JB — her real-life victim — and called for further doxxing of all Tor critics and JB’s advocates to view with suspicion of calculated drama her “suicide” tweets. Some proof is here and there, but a little thinner now that she has successfully had the @DoxySpeculo account, which documented all of this via a mole in her followers, suspended from Twitter.

I don’t care to keep getting into the interpersonal parts of this mess, as I could go on another several thousand words and nobody cares that much. But the evidence up until now shows we are expected to entrust, in this digital world, absolutely every fucking thing in our lives to what is essentially a mob of vindictive, anti-social creeps doing opaque work for the world’s most evil state and its right-hand corporations. I have no choice but to use their products but I do not have to abide their ridiculous narratives, which read like a lie a 4-year-old might tell about hitting his little sister.

Lee repeated the TorGate standby strawman that critics claim the project’s military and intelligence-agency funding itself is what directly compromises Tor. No. The question is why it has this type of funding to begin with, to the tune of nearly its entire budget. The funding itself is not undermining in the same way it is in a field like journalism. But when Tor stops being useful to the Department of Defense, it will stop funding Tor. Conversely, as long as the millions flow, we can assume the world’s most vicious, murderous organizations find Tor more useful than not. And that is the question, so wrapped up in morality and non-Internet politics, that nerds desperately don’t want to have to address.

UPDATE:

Paul Carr clarifies that he in fact has no higher ups and he made the decision to run Quinn Norton’s dumb Tor propaganda all by himself.

Taxpayer-Funded Privacy Advocates, Liberal Pundits, and Nazi-Rapist-Snitch Allies Make Case for Doxxing Critics. You Are Literally Next.

It seems the MSM finds fights at the far corners of Twitter to be interesting enough fodder for semi-researched articles, so I feel the need to clarify my positions and expand the analysis of the shitshow surrounding the ongoing @JbJabroni10 saga.

All trolling isn’t equal. Trolling is bad and fascist. But trolling peers or people with higher status doesn’t have the same gravity as trolling lower-status people either as a high-status person yourself or on behalf of one. Given that, I want to reiterate that JB was NOT a troll — at least not a mere troll, acknowledging he surely had fun at the expense of some public figures.

One man was suspiciously absent from Tor tyrant Andrea Shepard’s list of “victims”: JB’s main and most doggedly pursued target was Glenn Greenwald. In the smear game, the truth doesn’t matter if you can get the lie out first and amplified. This is what happened when Vice and the Guardian picked up, and mangled, the story. They published JB’s full name without even asking him for so much as a quote. Vice also cherry-picks my quotes to make it seem I’m uniformly supportive of his tactics when I am NOT and had called him on that, too.

Journalist Alexa O’Brien, who seems incapable of thinking like a smear-artist, bothered to point out to them that the main and heaviest targets of JB’s activities were men: Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Tor and WikiLeaks’ Jacob Appelbaum, their whistleblower ally Thomas Drake (who has since turned mild GG critic), and woman-hating Nazi scum Andrew Auernheimer aka weev. O’Brien refused to blow JB out of proportion and repeatedly attempted to bring the discussion back to earth. For it, this intrepid chronicler of the Chelsea Manning trial was treated to an addled sliming by a particularly stupid Tor troll.




This, about the woman who basically gave us everything we know about the Chelsea Manning trial as it was happening so that hero could be better represented in public opinion.

In the days since JB was doxxed, it’s been admitted that the worst charge against him — that he issued rape threats — is completely false. He also has been shown to have mostly targeted men, and so despite his occasional use of the word “bitch” (against both genders), it’s yet another fabrication that he had any anti-woman motivations for his activism.

It was also claimed that he used anti-Semitic slurs and the word “c*nt.” His alleged anti-Semitism was nearly instantly revealed untrue, as the evidence given was a manual RT, which can obviously be manipulated very easily and in fact was shown to have been. Nobody seems to have produced evidence in any form of his having used the c-word, which is odd since they’re so ready to produce screenshots of his other transgressions.

Of course, the Guardian and Vice wouldn’t actually find this bullshit interesting until someone high-status brought it to their attention. The existence of these pieces shows the power wielded by these fiends, and that the differentials involved matter. JB spitting a few taunts about someone’s hair color is being characterized as far worse than libeling a man and potentially ruining his life by leading privacy luminaries like the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian. In case you need to know who’s in charge here, the last line of the Guardian turd re-ups on JB’s dox as an advertisement. “Becker would have most likely kept his identity secret if he’d used Tor.”

The cast of characters in this loose network is fascinating and a little horrifying. Remember the evil traitor to Anonymous, Sabu? He’s viewed harshly by the activist group and well known as a snitch but he was originally turned a Fed after himself being snitched on to the FBI by other anons worried about his “unpatriotic” alleged recklessness in choosing targets. One of those who apparently ratted him out by furnishing the FBI with relevant chat logs is Laurelai Bailey. Here she is tweeting at JB’s employer in an attempt to get him fired.

Here’s her justifications, to the protestations of allies who think alerting JB first to leave Shepard alone would have been best.


Interesting because she’s also accused by many women of literally raping them. The story of this predator within the trans community is filled in and verified here, by a former friend and current libel victim of hers. Note Bailey even viciously misgenders this victim across social media using her given name — a particularly nasty form of doxxing. One of Bailey’s actual alleged rape victims also notes at the time that Bailey’s whole crew was fascinated by a young white supremacist named… weev. But does it get better?

Fun fact: Bailey is a veteran of the US army. Can you believe it. She’s also chummy on Twitter with DoD contractor Shepard.

Salon.com columnist Charles Davis seems to have invented his own rationale for doxxing. He accepts that doxxing should only be done to expose power. Since JB engaged in a form of “snitchjacketing” — making it seem as if his targets were actually government agents or provocateurs of some sort, which is something actual agents do to people all the time to “turn” them — he was himself under suspicion of being a Fed. The only way to verify that he is not was, “unfortunately,” to out all the details of his life and snitch to his boss. That he did in fact turn out to be merely a hyperactive pharmacist in New Jersey is something we could have only known about after his parents’ names were published in the Guardian newspaper. But that’s what he gets for saying CodePink sucks.

The above is actually about Tarzie’s alleged snitchjacketing, but I’m including it to paint a fuller picture of this authoritarian attitude. The rest concern Becker:

The witch drowned after all, may God rest her soul.

It turns out this wasn’t even the first time someone called for doxxing JB. Back in July, the account @WikileaksTruck wanted him exposed for the capital crime of questioning Daniel Ellsberg. Oh yeah. Another friend of weev’s!

Some others have their own, even less rigorous (I know!) moral theories. The Tor crew now thinks anyone who thinks the attempt to destroy JB’s livelihood to have been a severe overstep in a Twitter troll war is themselves a justified target of doxxing.

After I wrote my last piece, Shepard hit back with a dox on me. I wrote some Bell-Curve-y racist stuff when I was 19 after falling in with a right-wing libertarian crowd online, which I will regret forever and had scrubbed from the internet many years ago because I think it’s harmful. You’d think someone concerned about “triggering” wouldn’t unearth this useless but potentially upsetting 15-year-old material after it was buried, but hypocrisy is this crew’s strong suit. The material, of course, had jack shit to do with my criticism of JB’s doxxing but it’s just a punishment, not an argument.

@lastwheel was threatened with doxxing for merely questioning the justice and use of “spending Thanksgiving doxing a network with a 0 valency.” As a British cycling activist, his information is probably pretty accessible. One of Shepard’s British tech buds, a Facebook employee, started asking around for his info.


For his own defense of JB, Shepard issued a fatwa against Tarzie. First, she is angry that he called her homophobic, and for this alone he is to be doxxed. But probably in an attempt to bolster this perverse pretext, she declared him to be behind the JB-homage account @ShrillBrigade via an interesting investigatory process. This formidable sleuth is hanging her hat on the fact that one of Tarzie’s admitted sockpuppets, whose paternity he never denied, uses the word “ghost” in its handle, and so does @ShrillBrigade. She’d be laughed out of any court outside of 1490s Córdoba, but since we’re just talking about some anonymous homosexual, Shepard probably isn’t too worried about her claims being legally admissible.

The thing is, there is good evidence for at least saying Shepard has a problem with homosexual men. Not only is she the rare tech nerd who isn’t a fan of Greenwald, a gay man, she uses all kinds of language about gay sex and relationships as slurs. She’s spent months calling PandoDaily’s reporter Yasha Levine the “bitch-boy” of editor Mark Ames, who is Levine’s “top” and whose dick Levine chokes on.


Pay close attention and realize she consistently uses words considered feminizing to describe the relationship of Levine to Ames. Because, of course, women are naturally subservient to men. Very Randian.

Her Tor colleague and JB target Jacob Appelbaum twisted himself into a disingenuous pretzel trying to explain away Shepard’s shocking disdain for gay men. I seriously do not care at all what this creep thinks, but in light of her feigned horror at JB’s antics — the very reason Tarzie even brought it up — it’s pretty eyebrow-raising.

I’ve seen much much worse stuff in my mentions anyhow. viz:

I can only suspect this is a crude attempt to hint at my HIV status. I’m rather out of the closet. The misogynistic bit has got to be self-parody considering what follows below. But stop. This isn’t about me!

Let’s also further clarify the “Op Porn Pixie” angle. I was not saying that Shepard was selling anything with sex, and I tend not to focus so much on this sort of critique since it borders on sex-shaming. But where appearance is leveraged to sell/shill, it’s appropriate to note it can itself be a tactic of either salesmanship itself or to immunize someone from criticism. And I don’t think it’s necessarily even something that’s calculated, but it can be noted as an effect. All that aside, this isn’t about making fun of someone’s hair. This is a crew who did this:

and this, from Shepard’s newest performative-feminist defender

and this, from another of Shepard’s lovely dork-Twitter friends

“Tankie” @RedKahina is attacked constantly, on her looks and often in a sexualized way. She takes this revolting abuse against her incredibly thick skin and returns fire with her denunciations. I personally think she is disproportionately focused on Molly Crabapple, despite the artist’s ever-presence in nearly every one of these spats (she has her own argument in favor of doxxing JB, naturally). But Kahina’s focus is on Crabapple’s work and her appearance in service to it is just one aspect. The intent is not slut-shaming. To illustrate that further, Kahina often offers as a counterweight to the imperial narrative-serving Crabapple the very sex-positive Staceyann Chin, a fire-breathing lesbian who rails against empire and patriarchy. Of course nobody who attacks Kahina is ever called a misogynist, unlike everyone who defends her including women. Davis even called @m_anyfesto, for her own critique of using sex to sell imperialism, a men’s rights activist.

The best part about all this talk of snitchjacketing is that Greenwald himself decided to release a very revealing piece of the Snowden trove just at the moment when a particularly sticky parody account began making waves on Twitter. That piece was almost entirely about how the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ run sockpuppet accounts to troll their enemies and confuse the discourse. Nobody was named, but Greenwald had been having some surely flustering interactions with these parodies in the days before, and the First Look technical staff had several of the parodies nixed from Twitter in succession. Anyone who has tried to get rid of malicious parody accounts on Twitter will know how difficult that typically is for those of us without access to tech billionaires. The timing was a fantastic illustration of the stark, base, juvenile pettiness and utter fraudulence of the entire Snowden Spectacle. But most importantly for this story, yet again, a powerful person can paint whole swathes of the internet as fake to at one fell swoop discredit literally every single critic as a federal agent’s sockpuppet, but if as an anonymous nobody you make “feddy” names riffing off people’s handles you are a dangerous menace to civilized society and are ripe for termination by doxxing.

Greenwald must have found that particular Snowden slide a gift from heaven. It’s the perfect silver bullet against foes who refuse to reveal their identities. Witness the public disciplining of journalist Jonathan Cook, in which the latter was brought to his knees by Greenwald’s special “respectful” tone that he reserves for higher-status erstwhile allies who must be brought back into the fold. It was a particularly gag-inducing act of discipline by Greenwald and shocking cowardice on the part of Cook, a man who daily reports on racist “Israel” from inside the beast’s belly but won’t stand his ground against a newly gilded media polemicist. The best part was the Intercept story was published just days after a Greenwald parody account poked fun at the Cook train wreck.

That’s fun but I really do digress. Anyway.

This insanity is proof that this vindictive doxxing regime isn’t about trolling or misogyny, but criticism. All of this behavior displays a disgusting provisional fealty to the rhetoric of social justice used not to defend the downtrodden but to silence critics. ANY critics. It debases the real triggering that victims of sexual violence, homophobia, and misogyny experience for the benefit of cheap one-ups. The worst part is these tactics are always used to protect some faction of power or those who aspire to power from the criticism of the powerless. It’s literally fascism: trolling and doxxing are twin brownshirt tools meant to silence and defame targets, use kangaroo courts as in the case of JB and Tarzie, and pass judgment without appeal. This was the test case for the normalization of this tactic. And as we’ve seen, it’s not at all just about Tor itself — or Pando, for Christ’s sake — but about agitating against the public investigation of the complete scam enveloping Snowden’s conservatoid dissent in leftish clothing.

In no way am I suggesting this is a tightly interconnected and coordinated network. I’m just pointing at a particularly ugly pile of status-seeking, smearmongering, terror-sowing, rent-seeking assholes in a loose alliance of convenience. I doubt, for example, that Davis and Bailey are even aware of each other’s existence. But I’ve enjoyed pointing out that they serve the same master.

Whatever the drawbacks of the people I interact with on Twitter, I can tell you I certainly have no ties to rapist snitches, white supremacist GamerGaters, or the motherfucking Pentagon. Wonder what the excuse of the bizarre network I’ve outlined could be.

I hope this is the last I will write about this snake pit, but I promise I’ll update if they send my dick pics to my mom.

—-

Special thanks to @ShrillBrigade for screencapping a lot of great stuff. I highly recommend this Storify with all kinds of extra hypocrisy goodies to savor. A LOT of people helped on this piece directly and indirectly which is why the screencaps are of various sizes and styles.

Anyway, I’ll leave the final word on what I’ve done here to the ACLU, which I guess is your go-to org for the most effective retweets for black revolution:

Fuck me.

Privacy Advocates to Critics: Shut the Fuck Up or We’ll Dox You

The filthy reactionary pile-on we call Twitter dot com lost a scrapper the other day, the account @JbJabroni10. For a couple of years, as far as I’m aware, JB ran around the infosec internet poking holes in bullshit official stories and connecting dots few others could see. He wasn’t a force, he never required reckoning, but he was hated all the way to the top by even Infodad Glenn Greenwald. This was his undoing.

JB’s problem was his bullheaded ignoring of “social justice” language conventions. He sometimes used the word “bitch.” He referenced spousal abuse as a headgame tactic, since this is what’s used against us from above every day. He made fun of some people’s appearance. He used sockpuppets to get around blocks to continue his harassment of his targets. This made him a ripe, more easily justifiable target for termination, when the time finally came. He hit the wrong dog on the nose and it tore his arm off: he was doxxed and his work contacted about his Twitter activity.

He was obsessive but this made him encyclopedic. He could reference things said by people weeks, months, years back. I couldn’t even always follow his train of thought, but others referenced his tweets to make points. The main thing to remember is though clearly annoying, he was not a troll. A troll is an often content-devoid interaction meant only to annoy, enrage, and derail constructive discussion. JB badgered high-status, key people for answers to questions he considered important. These people almost never answer questions to low-status individuals in good faith, if at all. That’s when JB would typically begin his harassment, and I find it hard to get too bent out of shape by this tactic.

One of his targets was Andrea Shepard, a Tor developer. She apparently orchestrated his Thanksgiving Day doxxing and documented the process of outing him. It’s important to note it did not involve hacking, but if you click through to her website you are logging your IP on her server. “Should have used Tor, fucko,” she tweeted from her locked account.

Should have used my product, fucko. Fittingly for a libertarian, she’s pushing a product and made JB an instructive lesson of what could happen when we don’t. Too bad she doesn’t take the philosophy so far as to allow questioning of her own funding source.

It’s popular to appropriate the phrasings of social justice toward anti-justice ends, and even typically anti-PC libertarians have taken it up. Shepard noted JB was involved in the “Pandorast” (as in, Pando Daily) “triggering” she experienced that caused her to lock her Twitter account. I’d be less inclined to dismiss her “triggering” if she weren’t palling around with misogynist Nazi (and doxxer) extraordinaire Weev, whom she included on her list of JB’s “victims.”

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If that scumbag doesn’t trigger you, you can’t be triggered. I’m also not about to listen to citations of alleged queer-shaming (17.7837625% of JB’s targets in my non-random “victim” sample were lesbians!) from someone who uses butt-fucking as a slur to render her own smear targets nonentities.

I know it’s so funny to ridicule and bat aside the “OpPornPixie” critique, but it’s a legit observation even if not necessarily directed from above. It is a Thing to sell products with sex, and the left is well aware. Why not also messages, philosophies, policies? And why not with other appearance signifiers? We can be told to vote or die with traditionally anti-establishment hip hop aesthetics. Shepard’s appearance fits this MO. Is she not dying her hair purple and using white face makeup for some sort of attention? There is no “self-expression” if there’s no one around to see it. She does her goth thing for a reason; how is it inappropriate for someone to notice? But it wasn’t the purple hair in a vacuum that JB was making fun of, it is specifically the countercultural signaling employed with the effect and maybe intent of distracting from her status as a fucking defense contractor.

A lot of this noise would probably dissipate if any of these people worked to settle the concerns of critics with good-faith answers. Win the argument. But no, just look what they do to some of their proponents! Tor supporter George Bell asked earnest questions of the developers a couple of weeks back. Rather than address his concerns, infosec celeb/Tor dev Jacob Appelbaum and Shepard played good cop-bad cop, meeting Bell with deflection and derision.

“It would be nice if someone at Tor rebutted the Pando stuff. I know everyone thinks it’s beneath them, but I keep seeing non-tech aware people who I respect and admire taking Pando moral panic on Tor seriously. I try to explain to them that it’s no secret and of all projects Tor is least vulnerable to corruption by funding, but it is an uphill struggle. I really don’t think taking a “don’t feed the trolls” approach is fair to the good people who don’t know any better and in the absence of a rebuttal of misinformation from Tor people, have to assume there’s something to it.”

Bell was ultimately rewarded for his good-faith persistence with blocking by Shepard.

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I hate to dwell on Shepard because though she was the one who apparently led the doxxing, the antics were “faved” by everyone at Tor, weakly ratified by EFF’s Jillian York, and facilitated by Tor hanger-on Bruce Leidl. A whole group of “net freedom movement” “privacy advocates” hi-fived each other on finishing off a particularly prickly gadfly and possibly getting him fired. Transparency from professional transparency advocates shouldn’t be such a strange thing to demand.

JB — and his parents, too, by the way — were doxxed not for his “misogyny,” evidence of which is thin at best, but for making powerful jerks uncomfortable. His language and tactics made it easy to make a misogyny charge stick. They’re the cops, and JB was a particularly vocal “criminal.” They shot him dead, and the lesson they hope we take is: “you’re next.”

—-

See the follow-ups and clarifications to this article:
Taxpayer-Funded Privacy Advocates, Liberal Pundits, and Nazi-Rapist-Snitch Allies Make Case for Doxxing Critics. You Are Literally Next.

Enraged Nerds Defend the Honor of Math

The Empire Isn’t a Thing, It’s a Concept

In my daily falling-down-the-rabbit-hole-style perusing of the internet, I randomly rediscovered this great article by Alexander Cockburn (RIP) on the worst of 9/11 conspiracy theory. It’s an excellent take on how the focus on bizarrely minute details are harmful distractions from the world’s actual conspiracies, which unfold in front of us all the time. It notes the impossibility of such a conspiracy in specifics — yes, high-grade steel melts! — and through proven examples of official incompetence. Great stuff! But what if — it suddenly occurred to me — some hypothetical reader were to cite it as evidence of the ineptness of the empire? It’d be incredibly, almost purposely dumb, right?

Motivated by this Jeremy Scahill tweet, Kevin Dooley pointed out the flaws in the argument that the ruling classes just go around the world screwing up their foreign policy and are therefore stupid (and hypocritical!), causing “problems with their right hand that they try (and often fail) to solve with their left.”

Now, if one were to cite the very real failures of specific military or bureaucratic operations as evidence that the entire system of rule is fatally self-contradictory, one might be missing the point. Let’s say we weren’t to summarily dismiss the “Sideshow Bob stepping on a rake forever” example as illustrative of imperial action. Should the rake be seen as representing the individual operations of the empire, which can sometimes or even often be said to have failed? No, the rake has to be meant as the overall goals of the empire, or what even is the analysis? Humans fuck up? Tell me more.

When the rake hits face, is the face America/The West? No. It’s whoever is killed and impoverished. Oops! Bush fucked up Iraq! That rake really smacked him right in his smug face, huh, retired in his luxurious ranch sitting on millions of dollars. Or… maybe the face is the Iraqi people, over a million of whom didn’t even live to see Bush’s “fuck up”? Keep in mind that even when Bob smoothly sidesteps the rake and snatches it up in his hands in a single motion — a foreign policy objective was successfully completed — what the face actually must represent is still smashed.

Because “foreign policy” is evil and hurts people, in case that needs further explication.

This dissection does seem labored. Maybe we should just dismiss the rake-face angle as too goofy to engage.

One example I can see my hypothetical know-it-all picking out of Cockburn’s piece is the WMD controversy. They couldn’t even work out planting Saddam’s WMDs! Some all-knowing conspiracy, guys. Well sure, there were far too many people that would have to be involved in such a plot to actually carry it out. Better to realize that hey, they literally did not even need to find the WMD to “get away with” the invasion, as we have seen. So why even bother trying to manufacture it? As Cockburn showed, this is all a distraction from the real, successful, open conspiracy to destroy Iraq for power and profit.

We might as well say the subprime/foreclosure crisis was a disaster for the Fed, regulatory agencies, and the big banks. They created a bubble! Oops for sure man.

Fuckups don’t call into question the fundamental function of the system, which is to protect those at the top at literally all — every single ever — costs. I say function and not purpose because the system doesn’t require a purposeful unifying conspiracy, just like humanity didn’t need to be created by God. We’re here, you’ll have to work back from that. We don’t have an alternate reality. Humans exist. The upper classes rule.

“The Empire” isn’t a hivemind or even necessarily a purposeful entity, it’s shorthand for a concept, for what happens naturally in the system we have. That the various ruling factions don’t necessarily even directly communicate or aren’t privy to all the details of the system doesn’t change the true fact that the benefits accrue to them.

The “Ineptitude, Sloth, Distraction & Resentment” Cockburn cited are not a fault in the system, as behold — there it is, functioning, funneling the wealth created by the labor and ingenuity of the world’s billions ever-upward into the hands of criminal scum. We have the system we have, and we just have to gaze upon it to see it doesn’t require flawless execution to function as it does. To err is human, so error is obviously built into any human system.

This is why we can look at all the terrible “disasters” in recent foreign policy and yet see that there is no danger that military funding will be cut, that war contracting will be reduced, that war finance will take a hit, that weapons manufacturers will lose business, that politics itself will be delegitimized in the eyes of the vast majority of imperial subjects.

I know this seems like a silly strawman, and maybe it is. Nobody intelligent would actually imply that anti-imperialists think the empire is a perfect conspiracy with a staff of millions. In any event, it’s useful to talk through it even just for our own edification. Keep those analytical skills sharp! Just don’t poke your eye out.

The Agency

Here’s a cool conspiracy theory: writers are purposely injecting popular left discourse with a perverted interpretation of the concept of “agency.” And I don’t mean in university settings but more democratic spaces like Twitter. It’s being used by ostensible lefts only in service to US foreign policy and never in opposition.

Agency is “the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.” Typically, however, this is considered against the problem of Structure: “those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and his or her decisions.” Playing up agency while ignoring structure is associated with the political right. That’s why it’s been surprising to see this tendency among left-identifying figures.

An example of right-wing playing up of agency is when my Fox-watching dad complains, for instance, that black people “know better” and slavery and Jim Crow and the drug war “aren’t an excuse.” It’s The Liberals who are actually racist (by denying agency), not those who think “criminals” (stealing and dealing for sustenance, sabotage against class enemies, expressions of righteous anger are included) are “responsible for their own acts.” In this flavor — the kind most modestly educated people would recognize — this usage loses its humanist luster.

And like the usage the country’s conservative boobs favor, the kind wielded by those we like to call the Celebrity Left is being twisted to serve a system that systematically denies people their agency.

Now… I normally wouldn’t ascribe to mendacity what I could pin on naiveté — maybe I should start doing that — but the remarkable frequency of Vice contributor Molly Crabapple’s smug non sequiturs over the last year poking fun at the very idea of CIA involvement in her crew’s messaging at least forces me to mention it. Not ONE instance of “CIA” in her feed is serious. At least her homie, Danny Gold, is willing to entertain CIA involvement in, well, anything. Journalists, especially foreign correspondents (Crabapple went to Syria for a minute one time) are often suspected of being actual spies and more commonly, handlers and assets. It’s a rather pervasive phenomenon, as Carl Bernstein — not a crank — documented in 1977. It ain’t that implausible of a charge, especially if your messaging seems useful to power. For the record, the CIA is not simply rumored to have been involved in an unknowable number of plots around the world, that is its actual openly admitted purpose. The CIA, obviously, engages in psychological operations. Even David Graeber seems loose with his suspicions as long as the same isn’t done with him.

In fact, I noticed a lot of “agency” (lol) talk when Ukraine was being backhoed by the international democracy machine earlier this year. I had only a faint idea of who Crabapple even was at that point; in my mind she was a radical definitely opposed to empire. I realize now I probably only had this perception because it’s her very specific branding. This is why I was surprised to see her “fuck yeah“-ing the release of the criminal former prime minister of Ukraine and making fun of those honestly curious about Greenwald sugar daddy Pierre Omidyar’s role in helping finance the latest USAID color revolution.
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When I told her she was glorifying US foreign policy objectives and her “dismissing discussion of billionaires co-funding US foreign policy objectives is profoundly, proudly reactionary” she began her “agency” spiel:

Bonus: Tarzie never loses an opportunity to be prescient:

It’s not like anyone against whom the concept is rhetorically weaponized has argued the poor/minorities/workers/foreigners are not capable of identifying their interests and acting to satisfy them. It’s that we have an international juggernaut with almost literally all the money in the world behind it and a propaganda machine that has most people under its direct control — and many in its indirect control — believing its actions are righteous. Workers can strike — against a ruling-class owned asset. The Third World can organize a defense — against the ruling class’s war machine and massively destructive deployment of capital. We’re defined by our position relative to capital and the war machine. We’re too deep in the hole to just think positive.

Know who also has agency? The people who run the empire. Which is also the structure. So.

To establish a bit of perspective, here’s a map of countries in which the US has intervened just since WWII, often disastrously, despite these nations being populated by literally billions of agency-having human beings!

interventions_map[1]

From William Blum’s Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, 2004

That’s a pretty bloody map. The US military and CIA are responsible for millions of casualties, the installation of dictatorships, and the gutting of totally agency-born democratic revolutionary processes throughout this period in one-third of the countries of the planet. That’s not a theory.

All this “agency” talk leads very cynically into the quaint notion of “blowback.” The idea that “terrorism” exists solely because the US has predictably provoked it, that it has poked at masses of drooling animals and they have responded the only way they know how: extreme, senseless violence and oppression. This ignores that these “savages” nonetheless form focused militancies with specific goals. Yes, the US did “help” create the Islamic State but not in the “oops” way — it literally armed and financed either itself or through proxies organized groups of killers who have acted in ways probably not specifically predicted by the empire but whose actions will certainly benefit it in some way or another once it’s figured out how to profit from them. And it usually does. It’s happening now in Syria, and is ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the idea that these groups are deliberately promoted and often even created by Western and allied intelligence agencies is bizarrely dismissed as a denial of agency. Are we questioning that Muslims are capable of forming horrifying death-cults in hairtrigger response to previous “bad” interventions? Racist. Orientalist.

When this endless slaughter industry results in a handful of imperial citizen casualties this shouldn’t be looked at as “blowback,” a misnomer at best, or even a cost of doing business. A smattering of American deaths are so useful for the perpetuation of the machine. The ruling class is only strengthened. It is the structure.

Satire-forever-collapsing-into-itself Aaron Bady, on the question of whether we should destroy Libya, figured in 2011 that since our opinions don’t matter — and this is of course true — he’ll opine that hey Obama was probably right on this one, guys. Gadhafi was a real stinker, killing political opponents in his own country. In America, we brainwash our opponents and save the slaughter for people who don’t hold G8 passports. He spent 5,500 words gnawing on the reasons why the left might oppose intervention; the only one he doesn’t consider is that of principled anti-imperialism. It’s a tactic later taken up by David Graeber — who also supported attacking Libya — on “helping” the Kurdish revolutionaries in splintered Syria.

But all actions we might consider “imperial” are not equal, as Bady argued. When Gadhafi invests in infrastructure in Chad — even though it seems like a dick move to have it bear his name — it is still an anti-imperialist action. When Chávez funds political movements in Bolivia — even though they serve to reinforce his influence on the continent — this is still anti-imperialist action. This is because all of this is done in the face of the biggest imperial force: The West, The Empire. Washington and its closest, most murderous allies such as the UK and France are omnipresent, their roots snaking through the soils and breaking the pavements of almost literally every single country on the face of the earth. The kind of left that equates Russian state funding of RT America with Soros funding of “civil society” organizations in Georgia is not serious about even talking in opposition to the ideology that allows the West to remain astride the world’s peoples.

None of this implies anti-imperialist actions can’t be objectionable even to those who oppose the empire. I’m not a fan of revolutionary terror or liquidation of political opponents or even political imprisonment and I’d probably think that even if, as an anarchist, I weren’t among those who are usually first against the wall. But if the Cuban government puts away people who, even if they don’t intend to, are subverting anti-imperialist policies, it’s because they coincide with Washington’s goals. And if the United States has proven anything over the last 60+ years, it’s that its goals are to completely fucking destroy any Cuban system not within the firm grasp of the ruling classes. That is, it’s a reaction to empire. We all have agency, yeah, but outside forces — structure — shape our ability to fully express it.

The origins of this crap don’t matter, though apparently this twisting of the valid concept of agency made its way into pop leftism from philosopher Pascal Bruckner via Slavoj Zizek. What really interests me is a discussion of who gains when we look to our rulers for the solutions to the problems of being ruled. Which system is cemented? I think asking the question is answering it. Whether they mean to or not, the Celebrity Left is doing the empire’s propaganda work. That means they’re the structure. They’re denying agency.

I mean.

Thanks to @RedKahina for her nonstop unpacking of imperial garbage and Tarzie for his help with research and general encouragement. Big credit to @PhilGreaves for providing many more examples of how “agency” is used to undermine anti-imperialist and revolutionary narratives.

UPDATE

I highly recommend Tarzie’s comment offering more “agency” blather from the usual suspects, including The Intercept‘s Maz Hussain, Omidyar acolyte Jillian York, and even Tom Friedman. Yes that one!

UPDATE 2

Jillian York has pointed out below that she regrets her defense of Omidyar and has changed her thinking on “taking US money.”

UPDATE 3

An excellent and much more in-depth riff on “agency” from @aseriesofpoints

“I think it’s important to clarify that liberals don’t really believe in agency; what they mean by agency is the people affecting situations without necessarily changing structures.”