As white nationalist, “alt-right” protesters shook the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, Logan Smith decided that calling out racists wasn’t enough – unless he could call them by their real names.
“If you recognise any of the Nazis marching in #Charlottesville, send me their names/profiles and I’ll make them famous #GoodNightAltRight,” he wrote on Twitter, attaching four pictures of protesters to his post. It was liked nearly 85,000 times and retweeted 67,450 times – and then the names began rolling in by direct message.
Smith said by phone that the Friday night alt-right “torch march” in Charlottesville had immediately made him think of historical pictures from Nazi Germany. “This sea of angry white men carrying torches…This is in my country, and this is happening now, and they are no longer afraid to show their faces,” he said. “And I decided that if these people are so proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis and white supremacists, then people deserve to know who they are.”
It took only half an hour to identify the first of those un-masked faces: that of Cole White, an employee at a Berkeley, California, hot dog eatery called Top Dog. Twenty-four hours later, White no longer had a job – though in a statement, Top Dog said he had not been fired but had resigned.
Smith, 30, grew up in what he describes as a “predominantly white small town” in eastern Tennessee. He speaks articulately, in thoughtful sentences that still carry a twang from his Tennessee childhood, though he has lived in North Carolina since he left home for college. That’s when he first “started to see how pervasive structural racism is in American society”, he said. The @YesYoureRacist Twitter account was a response to how he began to perceive the world. Initially, it was a comedy project that he launched in 2012, the result of searching for random phrases on Twitter “that you would hope nobody would ever say.”
“One day I was just messing around and gawking at the idiocy, and then I typed in, ‘I’m not a racist, but…’ and the tweets were so disturbing I thought, ‘How could anybody ever think that?’” he explained.
In the 48 hours after the tiki torch march, Smith would identify a dozen people from the Charlottesville protest: members of the alt right, neo-Nazis, open white nationalists and those who saw no problem being there with them.
Among them was Matthew Colligan, from Boston, who once tweeted that “the worst atrocities of WWII were committed by the allied nations” and who has since deleted his account. Peter Cvjetanovic, 20, a student at the University of Nevada-Reno, pleaded on local TV that he wasn’t really the angry racist he looked like in a photo of him that went viral – hair gelled in a side-part, torch in hand, mouth open in a scream of rage. But during the same interview he spoke out against “the slow replacement of white heritage in the United States” and defended Robert E. Lee as a man he “wanted to honour [for] what he stood for during his time”.
Ryan Martin, who has a large tattoo around his neck, and Jacob Dix, from Centerville, Ohio, were also identified. Then came James Allsup, the president of Washington State University’s chapter of College Republicans, who claimed later that he had attended the rally in a “media capacity” but who also resigned his position after being identified. None of the above persons could be reached by FRANCE 24 for comment.
Smith says that he doesn’t have an ultimate goal beyond naming and shaming – that he’s not, for example, trying to exact any sort of concrete social punishment for the people he identifies. “I am putting these people’s names out there, and that’s enough for me. I’m not contacting anyone’s employer. If other people go out and do it, that’s their prerogative,” he said. “These aren’t just random faces in a crowd, they’re your neighbours, co-workers, people you pass in a grocery store – and allowing them to remain anonymous and blend in and continue to espouse their white supremacist views with no consequences, that in and of itself is helping them win.”
But before Saturday was over, Smith made an error. He identified a bearded man with glasses, wearing a red “Arkansas Engineering” T-shirt, as Billy Roper – “the uncensored voice of violent neo-Nazism”, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups across the United States. Shortly after, some of Smith’s followers (the account went from 90,000 followers on Saturday morning to 400,000 by Thursday afternoon) posted that the man in question was actually Kyle Quinn, a professor at the University of Arkansas. Both allegations were wrong; neither man had been anywhere near Charlottesville at the time of the rally.
A man named Andrew M. Dodson later came forward and admitted to a local news station that he was the man in the picture.
The errors helped raise an important question: How far should average citizens be able to go in seeking justice in the court of public opinion when the institutions of the state won’t – or in this case can’t, because even KKK rallies with people flying swastikas and giving Nazi salutes are protected speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution?
“I’m not a journalistic organisation,” admitted Smith, who studied journalism at university but today works at a nonprofit that champions progressive political causes. “Where I draw the line is publicising someone’s address or phone number.” He adds that white supremacist groups have done just that to him in response, and that “for the last sixteen to twenty hours” he has been getting death threats.
“I do not encourage violence against anyone, so for them to claim that they are just giving me a taste of my own medicine is just wrong. I’m not sending death threats, I’m not tweeting out pictures of anyone’s family, which is what they’ve done to me.”
He says that his neighbours and community know he is the person behind the Twitter account, and that they have largely been supportive.
“I strongly believe that white people have a responsibility to stand up against bigotry whenever they see it,” Smith said. “Otherwise, by remaining silent, we are complicit.”
Date created : 2017-08-17