Robert Mueller Will Not Save You
Goodbye checks and balances, hello authoritarian shitshow! In the latest Gaslit Nation, Sarah and Andrea discuss the demolishment of checks and balances now that the independence and integrity of the judiciary are gone – joining a legislature that has been, in the words of Senator Patrick Leahy, reduced to little more than an arm of the Trump White House. As we predicted, this was a historic week for America, one that will be remembered as a turning point toward consolidated autocracy. So speak while you can still speak, and vote while you can still vote.
We discuss the aftermath of the Kavanaugh confirmation, the tattered future of the Mueller investigation, the possible compromise of the FBI, and the transnational crackdown on journalists who document corruption and speak up against repressive governments. In one week, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing and was allegedly murdered in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, and Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova was murdered in a Bulgarian border town, making her the third high profile journalist to be murdered in the EUthis year. Both had critiqued the repression and corruption of their countries.
These are also dangerous times for US journalism, as Trump continues his attack on the free press and his dehumanization of anyone who dares criticize him. We discuss the dark future of a world run by a transnational crime syndicate seemingly held in check by no one. Many of our worst fears have been realized; those baselessly claiming a “deux ex Mueller” was coming were severely mistaken.
What we have, in the end, are ourselves and each other to save – along with what’s left of our country. We end the episode with an interview with Sydette Harry, a writer whose prescient analysis of the weaponization of digital media should have been heeded years ago, and whose advice on how to survive in an autocratic political landscape should be heeded now.
A Special Announcement from Gaslit Nation
Thank you to everyone who participated in the Crush the Midterms Challenge. We asked you to create a plan on CrushTheMidterms.org, tweet your plan to @gaslitnation, and from those that we received we chose a winner -- @indigoiis -- who will be sent a signed copy of Sarah’s New York Times bestselling book, The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America. If you participated and didn’t win yet, the contest continues, a new winner announced every week, through election day, November 6th. So send us your Crush the Midterms plan if you haven’t already. We’re also introducing a new contest, the 1,000 Doors Challenge. Join Andrea in a moonshot goal of knocking on 1,000 doors between now and election day. It’s a big goal, but striving for it could help make a difference in the most important midterms in our nation’s history. Tweet a photo of yourself canvassing to @gaslitnation and the winner, chosen on November 6th, will get a signed copy of Sarah’s book and an invitation to come on our show as a special guest. A group of Harvard students created a great YouTube series called Resistance School, and their basic explainer video of how to knock on doors to get out the vote shows just how easy and fun this effective outreach strategy can be!
Gaslit Nation, Episode 008 Transcript
Robert Mueller Will Not Save You
OPENING MONTAGE OF NEWS CLIPS:
The Washington Post reports former president George W. Bush is making calls this morning ahead of the final confirmation vote next week, in support Bush reportedly rallying support from Republican senator Susan Collins, Jeff Flakeand Lisa Murkowskialong with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, key votes to Kavanaugh's confirmation.
Fox News Alert breaking news rocking Washington DC as two key senators will vote Yes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia announcing their decisions just moments ago here's a little portion of Senator Collins’ speech. I listened carefully to Christine Blasy Ford's testimony before the Judiciary Committee I found her testimony to be sincere, painful, and compelling. I believe that she is a survivor of a sexual assault and that this trauma has up ended her life. Nevertheless, the four witnesses she named could not corroborate any of the events of that evening gathering where she says the assault occurred.
Sergeant at Arms will restore order in the gallery. Sergeant at arms has restored order in the galleries. The sergeant at arms will restore order in the gallery. The clerk may continue.
Sarah Kendzior:I'm Sarah Kendzior a journalist and scholar of authoritarian states focusing on the former Soviet Union. I'm also the author of the book The View from Flyover Country.
AndreaChalupa:I'm Andre Chalupa, a writer, filmmaker, and activist and we are the show that stares disaster in the face.
Sarah Kendzior:Yes, this is Gaslit Nation a podcast examining corruption in the Trump administration and the rise of authoritarianism across the world and this is a big week for that. Today we will be discussing yet again Brett Kavanaugh and what his confirmation means for the continuing assault on truth and justice in the US, as well as interviewing a writer whose commitment to truth and justice we've long admired. Sydette Harry who Andrea and I spoke with in August about digital media, race, and how to survive in an autocracy among other topics. So her interview is coming up later in the show.
But back to Kavanaugh, this is the third episode in a row we've done on this subject because Kavanaugh's confirmation is a seminal moment in US history. A moment we have dreaded since November 2016. This week marked the most deadly blow yet against checks and balances. An independent, uncompromised, judiciary which until now had served as the strongest bulwark America had against rising authoritarianism is dying in real time and so shortly after the confirmation, I wrote an article on
Kavanaugh's exploits for The Globe and Mail and so just to kind of get you guys up to date I'm gonna read a little bit of that.
“The confirmation of justice Kavanaugh was at heart a referendum on the integrity of US institutions and the impunity of elites and the U.S. failed. Senators who purport to believe in rule of law, vouched for a judge who sees himself as above it. Senators who purport to believe in democracy honored a man who degrades it and did so in deference to a man seemingly attempting to destroy it, President Trump.
Checks and balances are nearly gone. The executive branch was long ago corrupted. The independent legislature neutered by a GOP majority nakedly seeking one-party rule. Until now, the judiciary had been the strongest bulwark against autocracy, having struck down many of Trump’s unconstitutional executive orders during his first year. The Trump administration responded by packing the courts, appointing right-wing judges to lifetime appointments, and purging attorneys they viewed as opponents. Kavanaugh is the final nail in that coffin.
This is now Trump's Supreme Court, run on white male entitlement and alternative facts. Kavanaugh is expected to act as Trump's legal lackey, exonerating him regardless of the charge or evidence. His appointment may not only end the efficacy of the Mueller probe but curtail other attempts to prosecute Trump or his aides on state charges, due to a case
Gamble versus the United States, that the Supreme Court is set to hear this term.
Autocrats rewrite the law so they're no longer breaking it and they hire and fire accordingly. This is why I've been warning for years that Trump who seemingly autocratic consolidation grows stronger every day, was akin to a criminal able to elect his own judge or delay his own trial and now he has. This is why a purge of the FBI was followed by a sham FBI investigation into justice Kavanaugh, reminiscent of those of authoritarian states, with key witnesses and evidence ignored.”
So there's more where that comes from and we're going to be discussing it from a number of angles but I want to know your reaction Andrea to the news of last week.
Andrea Chalupa:My heart goes out to anybody who's you know listening to all of this from abroad, watching from abroad and just I'm wondering how did Americans get themselves into this mess. Maybe you've met a few Americans and you might consider us, you know based on those few encounters, pretty nice people some decent people. The majority of our country is filled with wonderful human beings and we know that because the polls show again and again that the majority of Americans were against Brett Kavanaugh and the majority of our country is actually quite in favor of typically more liberal policies, a more liberal direction, a fairer freer America for all. The problem though, is that we have a very outdated
system of voting. Nothing illustrates this more of what a crisis this is than the two most unpopular presidents in America's history George W Bush and Donald Trump, who both of course lost the popular vote, shoving through Kavanaugh, an alleged attempted rapistonto the Supreme Court. We have a serious problem of accountability in America. I just really hope that a movement finally grows out to sort of confront this once and for all because we can't really sustain anymore of being like held hostage by the minority in our country.
Sarah Kendzior:No we can't and one of the frustrating things is that you know a recommendation that would normally be made is take this to the Supreme Court, take these problems to the Supreme Court, have them you know do something about gerrymandering, about election integrity, about voter suppression, about voting rights all of these major decisions you know they're now going to be made once more by a compromised actor. You know by somebody who has no real allegiance to the law, the Constitution, the public. His allegiance is to himself, to the Republican Party, which he made very clear during his hearing and to Trump. So I don't know where accountability will come from if it comes from anywhere at all.
AndreaChalupa:No, and he's vindictive like Trump, you saw him in that snarling performance he gave to Congress. He's somebody that is going to punish us for our opposition and forget our stand for decency. He’s gonna have no problem doing that. We've been talking a lot of how this
has been impacting women on a personal level and there's been a lot of calls out there for survivors to really focus on self care and anybody who's a partner or you know family of a survivor to really google the words holding space for someone.
You know right now is a really important time and just be patient and provide unconditional support for survivors, they just need you to hold space for them right now because this is incredibly difficult time and it's not gonna go away. Every decision that goes to Supreme Court we're gonna be reminded of this again and again so survivors practice self-care and teach your partners, teach those around you, your friends, your family about holding space for you because that's really what we need right now.
There’s a saying that if a man can't fuck you he'll find some other way to fuck you and what that means is strong women tend to go through life camouflaging themselves. They soften their voices. They tone police their emails. They tone police themselves generally. They try to shrink themselves any way they can in business not to sort of trigger a man’s, I don't know, threat of strong women. Of course men play dominance games with each other in the world of business but for some whatever reason one thing that you hear common complaints about and that you can observe is that with women it tends to be like a casual sport more for fun, the behavior is more obnoxious and inappropriate and dehumanizing and so with America not wanting Brett Kavanaugh now he's gonna make
us pay for it. It's coming the temper tantrum is not over. He's gonna find some other way to fuck us.
Sarah Kendzior:Yeah, I absolutely agree about everything you said and I think that he made that clear and I think the vindictiveness goes to waste, obviously goes towards the Democrats towards the Clintons, you know which he explicitly called out during the hearingbut I think it goes towards women in general and towards strong women and the idea that you know we.
AndreaChalupa:Putting us in our place, it's putting us our place, it's flaunting their power.
Sarah Kendzior:That we have no inherent worth, no inherent rights, it's what he'll bestow on us.
AndreaChalupa:Yeah a great metaphor for it is what Kavanaugh himself was accused of doing by multiple witnesses at a party, shoving his penis in someone's face and that's basically what the far-right minority that is holding our country hostage through these archaic voting laws that came out of the original sin of slavery, the electoral college, that's what they're doing.
Sarah Kendzior:Yep and I think that the kind of the propaganda apparatus that surrounds him reminds me of what he was accused of
doing to Ford you know they're covering our mouths and turning up the music so that they can't hear the screams and they're doing this more and more since the confirmation.
You know at least last week, there was a kind of widespread recognition of the pain that people, especially women obviously, were going through. There was a lot of testimony from survivors and there is a kind of reluctance to denigrate Ford, you know her credibility was widely accepted, you know even among the Republicans who were voting for him anyway you know they were going with this lunatic theory of mistaken identity.
Once Trump mocked herand degraded her and let me emphasize that is the thing that traumatized her most about the attempted rape was the mockery and the laughter. Once he did that, you know that stopped happening and she was treated like utter garbage and now it's as if the Republicans and not just the sort of Fox News media but the media in general are trying to forget all that happened, to forget Trump's speech, forget her testimony, forget his snarling testimony and kind of chalk it up to a bad day. You know they're doing the presidential pivot nonsense with Kavanaugh they're trying to pretend that that was some exception to the rule. But that is the rule. That is who he actually is and who he's going to be and that's going to underlie all of his decisions in his behavior so do not let down your guard, do not fall for this horseshit that people are going to be spewing out and I think some people just don't want to confront this.
They don't want to confront that somebody that cruel and vindictive and unqualified and belligerent is on the Supreme Court so they're just gonna pretend that that's not who he is especially these DC elites who've had him in their social circles for such a long time.
But we saw who he was. He revealed who he was. He took off the mask you know so when you see him you remember that moment because they will gaslight you. This is why we have this podcast is to kind of clarify these tactics because they can be effective and they certainly can be traumatic as any survivor could attest.
Andrea Chalupa:Right, you just have to confront their efforts to normalize this and Susan Collins, what was she promised? Everyone needs to watch Susan Collins moving forward like how was she convinced? I almost wonder if it was just George W. Bush calling her up or just reminding her when the Republican Party had some self-respect and maybe giving her a feeling of normalcy again and that everything was going to be alright and that the Republicans were in control. Because even though they have all the power, this is a party that looks and must certainly very much out of control and so maybe the reassuring call like the charm offensive of that war criminal George W. Bush calling up Susan Collins like maybe that was something that helped tip her over the edge, I don't know, but it's clear that the way she demeaned herself in her remarks on the Senate floor and basically defied science saying that she believes that Dr. Ford was attacked but that she doesn't remember her attacker. In response to that, experts were weighing in saying that's not normally how it's done. Victims of attempted assaults and assaults they they do remember their attackers especially if they knew that person to begin with so Susan Collins embarrassing performance was very much another example of Republicans lying about science. It reminded me of climate change and how the Republicans handle. It's like the science on sexual assault survivors, it's very clear, this is a trauma that gets embedded in your in your brain, it can change your personality and it doesn't go away. She broke the hearts of millions of Americans not just women but the majority of us that believe in basic decency.
Sarah Kendzior:Yeah I thought it was a cruel speech. It was obviously written in advance you know the first half of it I think was written during a time before the allegations came forward but then she just continued along that logic and you know the press often treats this as a performance, as this sort of you know, a little drama the soap opera that's going on, this will she won't she but it's our lives you know it's the rest of our lives, you and me, you know it's my children's lives it's my daughter having fewer rights than my son, you know this is a fight for their future. It’s young people you know who've already lost more than they ever had the chance to know that's what's at stake and so yeah I'll never forgive that I don't know the motivation behind it I think it might be something along the lines of you know just clinging to the party line of this kind of tribal loyalty and of her maybe needing to convince herself that what she witnessed in his testimony was not, as you know, disgusting is what it was.
It doesn't matter in the end why, what matters is what she did and you know what we're going to have to do going forward because this affects so many things, you know women's rights, voting rights, civil rights, decades of progress being pushed backward by this court. Another thing I wanted to ask you about is how you think this is going to affect Trump and his own legal battles and the Mueller probe going forward
Andrea Chalupa:Well that's what this is about. I mean that's really what this is about. For me this felt like a very big Citizens United moment, that Supreme Court decision that said yes a corporation is a person which opened the floodgates to all this dark money that's been tilting our elections across the board. Citizens United gave birth to Donald Trump and so what will Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court give birth to it sort of spawn of Satan is coming for us and I think very much protecting the president and his family in the Mueller investigation. I think that's where this is all headed and just in connection to that what you saw with the total farce of the FBI pretending to do an investigation into Brett Kavanaugh with multiple witnessessaying that they were willing to help, they're willing to provide their own testimony and not being heard.
So what you saw this past week was the FBI behaving in such a way that it was almost like it was revealing that it was scared and that it's under control by the president of the United States. Because if they really wanted justice, they really wanted to get to the bottom of this, they would have done a proper investigation. They would have called for these witnesses that were begging to talk, begging to share their stories about Kavanaugh. They wouldn't have put any restrictions on an investigation into someone who has multiple accusers and would be living out the rest of his life for decades to come on the Supreme Court and so yes I definitely think that this was again a reminder this week this sham FBI investigation into Kavanaugh, that Robert Mueller is not coming to save you. Robert Mueller is not coming to save any of us and honestly the only power we have left is and it’s a very strong substantial power, we have infinite power in my opinion from you know studying movements against authoritarianism, you know across history, across countries, we in America still have it still very, very, very, very good and we have a lot of rights and a lot of things that we could take advantage of to fight back and really pluck these guys out, pluck out the corruption and I know that from like my years of research and my own work.
I had a really sort of bittersweet evening with some friends from Russia, who escaped Russia for a better life in the US and we forgot our troubles had a great night and of course the conversation kept coming back to Putin and Trump and it's just surreal for them that they left Russia to come to the US and now that same kleptocracy is creeping in and accelerating here, in a country they thought where they could be safe, a country they look to for refuge and it's a scary feeling of like not knowing where you
could hide. But at the same time what they were telling me was just a reminder, you know Fox News is awful, Fox News is grotesque but they still have some criticism of the president of the United States. You don't even have that on Russian state TV at all. It's just a total pro Putin carnival and so we still have a lot of relative freedom in the US and we can't take that for granted because not taking that for granted is our superpower right now and taking advantage of everything, everything that we still have and just fighting like hell through that, that's desperately what we need is a country because the power is now on us, the media is letting us down with this lack of empathy and falling in lockstep normalizing Trump and his every move and the checks and balances are getting eroded so it's up to us now.
Sarah Kendzior:You know we need to use every remaining right, every last freedom that we have in order to fight this and I've been you know saying that for a while. I mean I think anyone who has history they're living in or you know having a lot of friends who are from authoritarian states knows to not take those rights for granted.
You know what frightens me is that we are emulating you know the path of power that Putin had in Russia and you can't make you know exact comparisons obviously, the US has a different history we have a different electoral structure, you know all these different things. But the way he consolidated power this brutal kleptocracy, this mixture of criminal elements of businesses and billionaires, and of you know gradually eroding away what rights Russians had and again you can't quite make this comparison because their rights were relatively new, you know their democracy was a new phenomenon but you know they ate away at them.
I was thinking about this this week because it's the 12th anniversary of the death of Anna Politkovskaya, murdered on Putin's birthday in 2006, and about you know the relative rights and freedoms that they had in the decades prior to that and how much it accelerated and I feel like now we're entering this new era not just for the US but for the world where you have former democracies like the United States and to some degree Britain and certainly Poland and Hungary and Turkey image to the degree that those are democracies aligning with overt autocracies like Russia, Saudi Arabia, you know China, North Korea, you know we have Trump proclaiming you know his I guess romantic love between him and Kim Jong-un. You know we have this axis of autocrats that's growing and that I think is you know in a kind of way it's eating away at the possibilities we have to reverse this, you know they have their own economy and economy of stocks and of Bitcoin that kind of floats above that of citizens that have jobs and wages. They have kleptocratic inherited wealth, they have dynasties, and they have no accountability and that's one of the most frustrating thing is that this isn't a new phenomenon. This is something that's been brewing for decades, it's especially been brewing since about 2008 when the market crashed.
In episode three of the show we talked about how Mueller gave a speech about this new nexus of criminality, corporations and government, and how you know they are forging with the Russian mafia kind of unstoppable force and I'm just kind of like who's left to bring that accountability and with regards to Mueller, you know who is investigating all of these things? This is a transnational investigation, it's not only about Americans, we've seen them indict Russians and other international figures as well. You know when that report is finished, who will see it? Who will read it? Will the public get to see it? Will it make its way to Congress if Congress especially is dominated by the Republicans? If it goes to the Supreme Court, then what happens? I mean I think we know now. We know what will happen if any kind of thing that threatens Trump reaches the Supreme Court. We already know the verdict in advance. That is a defining feature of an autocracy is to always know the verdict in advance and it's one of the most disheartening things and I am still startled that Mueller did not move faster, because they have been working on this for a very long time, people think this investigation started in May 2017, that's incorrect. They were looking at a lot of these players for you know well over a decade and they must have seen this coming. They must have seen this erosion of possibility happening right before our eyes and its effect on millions of people and I just don't get it. I'm just gonna, you know as you said, don't put your faith in a man, don't put your faith in Mueller either. I hope I'm wrong.
Andrea Chalupa:Well I mean look at Don Jr, Don Jr. is walking around campaigning in the midterms, when legal experts are pointing to the fact that you know maybe he should have been indicted by now. If you read legal experts breaking down what he did so let me just read from the New York Timesbecause this tells you everything about how much faith you should be putting into Mueller's investigation, so I'm quoting now from the New York Times.
“It is a felony to lie to Congress. In his September 2017 interview before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Donald Trump Jr. was asked whether any other foreign governments or nationals offered assistance to the Trump campaign, or whether he had directly or indirectly sought such foreign assistance for the campaign. He said he had not.”
Then again, he may have committed conspiracy. The article also says “conspiracy an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime whether or not they end up doing so. A powerful tool for prosecutors, conspiracy charges allow them to hold each conspirator responsible for illegal acts committed by others in the circle as part of the arrangement. To convict someone of such a conspiracy prosecutors would need to obtain evidence of an agreement to commit a specific crime. A provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, Section 30121 of Title 52, broadly outlaws donations or other contributions of a “thing of value” by any foreigner in connection with an American election — or even an express or implied
promise to take such action, directly or indirectly. Depending on how a grand jury interprets the facts the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has gathered about the two Trump Tower meetings, it could find that the foreigners violated that law — and that Donald Trump Jr. conspired in that offense.”
So when the Russians said hey we have dirt on Hillary Clinton and Donald Jr. is like that's great let's meet and they have meetings about it and next thing you know the Russians are dumping their emails and weaponizing them against Trump's opponent and doing this with a strategy to distract from the Access Hollywood grab em by the pussy tape for instance. This is a clear quid pro quo going on and yet Don Jr. is out there, shaking hands, campaigning for Republicans in the midterm election. So the fact that he hasn't been nabbed yet, hasn't been indicted, that just tells you how much strength and power Mueller’s investigation has in this beleaguered FBI.
Sarah Kendzior:There's no reason he shouldn't be indicted. He should be indicted for that. There are other figures who are being investigated like Hope Hickswho just tooka lucrative job with Fox News. There are lifetime mobsters like Felix Sater, who are going and giving guest lectures at Berkeley and going to parties hosted by New York socialites and then you have people in the administration and these are you know the people I think are the most dangerous, people like Jeff Sessions, who lied on his security formsyou know another easy case where you can indict, as well
as his role as a foreign policy adviser during the Trump campaign, meeting illicitly with Russians like ambassador Kislyak. You have I think the most dangerous person besides Trump in this administration, Jared Kushner, who alsolied on his security forms, likely sold state secrets, has been conspiring with terrible people all over the world. It is just a tremendous danger not just to the US, but to the world at large and nothing has happened to him. You know if Mueller were to indict him I would feel a lot better about this investigation because I would feel like it was living to the commitment of what a special prosecutor should do which is you know serve and protect, protect the American people from harm because harm is being levied upon us by these people, who act with utter impunity.
It's unbelievable where we are today it's almost surreal. This Judiciary Committee is no longer an independent branch of government and we're supposed to be, the Senate's supposed to be an independent, equal branch of government. We’re no longer that. We’re an arm and a very weak arm of the Trump White House. Every semblance of independence has just disappeared. It’s gone. And I think that is something historians will look at and they'll call it a turning point in the United States Senate.
Sarah Kendzior:We saw this, this week in a somewhat indirect way with the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul. You know of course Kushner is one of the
people responsible for building this new relationship with Saudi Arabia, cozying up to people like Mohammed bin Salmanand you know basically helping him pull off a coup last year and now Khashoggi is dead. For those who don't know who he is, he was a well known Saudi Arabian journalist, he was recently writing for the Washington Post, who critiqued the Saudi Arabian regime but didn't see himself as a political dissident. He just saw himself you know and was somebody who just wanted a better way of life for Saudi Arabians.
I'm gonna read a couple sentences from a September 2017 column that he wrote for the Washington Post, when he was essentially living in exile. He says,
“It was painful for me several years ago when several friends were arrested, I said nothing. I didn't want to lose my job or my freedom. I worried about my family. I've made a different choice now. I've left my home my family and my job and I'm raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot. I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better.”
And so now he's dead. He was tortured and he was murdered and this act was likely carried out by a brutal regime that Kushner has enabled and so you know there are consequences to letting these guys get away with all of these machinations with not clamping down on blatant criminality. You
know we'll never, I mean you know I think anyone hearing those sentences you know would recognize the pain that he was in and the bravery it took to write them in the loss of this man as a writer, as an individual and as somebody who valued you know his dignity and just wanted a better way of life for his country and it's such a simple prospect and it's something that this ban, this axis of autocrats, is dedicated to destroying.
Andrea Chalupa:Yeah I think it's just a reminder that rhetoric matters rhetoric matters and so when you have this destruction of values, like this domino effect of states falling to the far right and attacking journalists, attacking opposition leaders it spreads. Those values spread, so when the president attacks journalists, the president United States, that's giving permission for corruption out there to flourish and to take out journalists and it normalizes that.
Sarah Kendzior:We've seen that from the start, I mean it shouldn't come as a surprise, during the campaign Trump was encouraging you know his most rabid followers to physically assault journalists saying he would pay the legal fees and in the last few weeks, you know he's been ramping up that kind of rhetoric at rallies, you know extending it beyond journalists attacks on anybody he sees as opposition including Democrats and it's extraordinarily dangerous. If there is some sense of accountability, whether it's merely you know losing support in the election, losing votes, but also just you know going to jail for murdering somebody then maybe we would feel more secure.
But just as we were talking about the sham FBI investigation that happened like it doesn't feel like there's anywhere to go to if you're threatened and you know you and I have both been threatened and your sister has been threatened and a lot of those threats were fairly severe and I don't think we've ever told anyone the full story and maybe we'll save that for another day but you know one of the most frightening things about that experience was knowing how alone we were that there wasn't a trustworthy body to turn to that there wasn't anywhere to get protection beyond you know hiring private security. And a lot of other journalists have come forward with their own stories, you know it's this thing it's this thing that kind of you know seethes underneath all this horse race rhetoric and palace intrigue tales there are a lot of terrified U.S. journalists and rightfully so and I think that they are people who don't know how to deal with authoritarian states. You know I see writers who come from states that either experienced extreme violence or authoritarianism, they recognize the signs, they know you know how to cover it and they know to some extent to the best that they can how to protect themselves but I think a lot of journalists are in denial because it is so scary and if you confront it head-on you know you have to sort of reevaluate everything you've thought of about your country and everything you do in terms of your daily life and your self-protection.
Andrea Chalupa:Yeah and it's not only that we felt threatened but also turning to people in the media in 2016 for help to get the story out like
some were just thought we were crazy and one friend in the media actually wanted to do an intervention with me and told me in November 2016 and after Trump won she's like you need to stop with this Russia stuff.
Sarah Kendzior:Oh I had so many people telling me that I remember after the election Foreign Policy wanted me to write an article about comparisons between Uzbekistan’s dictator and Trump as a kleptocrat and so I was like tentatively agreeing to do this but I said what you really need to examine are Paul Manafort and Russia you know the story was dropped it's really important, you need to look at this, it's much more enormous in scope than anybody is giving credit and Russia very likely interfered in this election and you know that was an email I wrote in like November 10th or something and he wrote back and said that I was like a lunatic that needed psychiatric help, I think he used hysterical, you know it was it was so gendered you know of course I just went and wrote about it for somewhere else so bye Foreign Policy I haven't written for you since then so who's hysterical now?
But you know it's incredibly frustrating and so I go through this kind of mixed emotions of pity and protectiveness for other journalists because I think no matter who you are, well maybe not like Sean Hannity, but like most people I don't want to see anybody getting killed I don't want to see anybody getting harmed or getting censored or threatened or any of that but in order for that to happen we need to stick together, we need to recognize that this is an unacceptable threat and that when one journalist
is threatened all journalists are threatened and I don't think that people are quite there yet and then meanwhile you know we have this wave of killings of journalists across the world you know it happened in Malta earlier in the year and it happened this week in Bulgaria, Bulgarian journalist Victoria Marinova was killedand she like the other journalists who have been killed was investigating corruption. She's the third high-profile journalist to be killed in the EU this year, the fourth since the start of 2017 and it's a frightening thing because that's what you know we're looking into as well and you know what other journalists are looking into and what many have been shying away from because you face these type of potential repercussions and that's a terrifying prospect.
Andrea Chalupa:And the dog whistles matter. Chuck Grassley blaming, saying that protesters were funded by George Soros, like that's the dog whistle that all the far-right love, that's a dog whistle that unites Putin's far-right and Trump's far-right and that is you know the dog whistle of the Jewish banker, that's like the meme they've created around George Soros. Papa Soros who funds us all.
Sarah Kendzior:What the hell are they gonna do when Soros like actually dies? Like all this shit just like blows my mind because I'm kind of like how did George Soros even become this like mainstream figure. I first heard of Soros because I heard of like open society and you know they funded a lot of programs that helped human rights and journalism in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union like kind of a niche thing like not really the
person I would have thought they choose as you know the potential Satan, or the Elders of Zion conspiracies stereotype but yeah I don't know what they're gonna do when he's gone and it's such a complicated phenomenon because people putting out the Soros anti-semitic myths, it includes a lot of Jewish people in the Trump administration, people like Stephen Miller, like Kushner. You know you're hearing fascist like rhetoric from Kushner's close friend Netanyahu and so it's this really bizarre and double-sided phenomenon and I guess like my final word on it is just it's unacceptable in every respect, it doesn't matter who you are or you know what you're intending if you're making anti-semitic conspiracy theories and trying to rile people up to kill Jewish journalists or to kill journalists in general like you're a despicable person. But it is an under-examined phenomenon I think in some respects is exactly how did this narrative get started.
Andrea Chalupa:No white extremist groups are the most dangerous terrorists in America right now and then you had just this past week a Jewish school in Virginia being vandalized being tagged with swastikas. This is why the dog whistling, the normalization, all of it, the gas lighting it matters. The only successful trickle down that the Republicans have ever been able to achieve is the trickle down of their hate. The white supremacy coming down and that's really what they've unleashed here.
What has gone on here senator I mean you've had people thrown out of restaurants, you've had people shamed and criticized online and obviously protesters in your face. First off do you believe George Soros is behind all of this paying these people to get you and your colleagues in elevators or wherever they can get in your face?
I have heard so many people believe that I tend to believe it I believe it fits in his attack mode that he has and how he uses his billions and billions of resources.
Andrea Chalupa:I think it's really sort of interesting reminder that it's in everyone's best interest to take care of the most vulnerable in a society and let's just examine the FBI for a second in its history. If you look at the
FBI on how its own history of racism in America, how it harassed Martin Luther King, how it tried to silence him, how it you know worked with the
Chicago PD to assassinate Fred Hamptonthe leader of the Black Panther Party, and of course they've infiltrated black communities they’ve had this whole history of racism and so it's really interesting to me is now, because they've had those values for so long, it's just this horrible irony that now they're essentially being held hostage by that racism now, by the racist in chief in the White House. They can't do anything now like that's what they've showed us with this Kavanaugh investigation. So it just goes to show that you have to really watch the values that you keep because it
can come back to haunt you. You can become a victim of the hate that you're putting out there in the world and that's really what this reminded me of this past week.
Sarah Kendzior:Yeah I'm afraid of this like as you said you know the FBI has a very mixed history and a very bad history you know when it comes to race relations, civil rights, spying on you know dissidents in the U.S. who aren't doing anything more than trying to fight for a better way of life but you also of course have you know the FBI, at least until recently, clamping down on the Mafia, clamping down on militia groups, on white terrorist groups, and Trump not wanting them to do that, you know redefining the terms of terrorism, labeling everything Islamic extremism and really not wanting them to investigate white supremacist terrorist groups or people committing hate crimes like the people you know spray-painting swastikas on buildings or desecrating Jewish cemeteries or desecrating mosques because those are his voters, you know and he also it's meant to make a shift in political culture and so I've been trying to figure out you know what's been going on with the FBI since 2016 because there does seem to be such an internal fissure, you know such a divide, you know where it's clear there are people who are trying to do the job that they're tasked with of keeping Americans safe, of keeping our freedom safe and then others who seem to be acting as Trump's internal operatives for those who are interested earlier episodes of the podcast I think in episode two we talked about some very bizarre rhetoric that came out around the time Comey released his second email, the one claiming
that Hillary was being investigated, that a former State Department official came out and said we've held an internal coup in the FBI like we, meaning the Trump camp, control the FBI now and he was dismissed as an insane conspiracy theorist but you have to remember that insane conspiracy theorists are Trump's advisers you know this is a guy like he invites Alex Jones to the White House to like give his thoughts on national affairs this is mainstream the fringes got pulled to the center and so I really wonder you know what's happened with the FBI, how trustworthy they are, and how much independence do they have now. Could they have done more when it comes to Kavanaugh? I've heard mixed things about this. Are they merely a constrained organ of the Trump administration not on their own volition? Either way, if that's what they are then again we're in a lot of trouble. Then it comes back to the Mueller probe and that has its own limitations and so you know it's enormously frustrating both about Trump's crimes not being investigated but also the broader threat to public safety, you know when the most vulnerable citizens, non-white citizens immigrants, you know anyone who's of a persecuted group are able to be persecuted without consequence. That's a nightmare, that's you know antithetical to anything this country should stand for you know and I guess I just wish I knew what ground we stood on.
Andrea Chalupa:And just to be clear there are really good men and women across the FBI and they depend on trust and our local communities to do their investigations and my heart really goes out to them because they are patriots, they are decent people and this is a
critical time in our country and if there's any consolation it's taking the long view in history and America has a history of burning itself down and then rebuilding and right now the Republic is on fire, but of course the people who are always on the front lines of this are people of color, especially women, and just a reminder as exhausted as you may be, if you know you feel like you've been fighting for so long and that you're just poisoned by the surreal news cycle, the best thing you can do right now is you sure stay in your despair for a bit but then get out again get out as soon as you can and just choose faith over despair and just any little action you can take whether going to a campaign near you and just adding your energy.
You need to be the calvary now, like we need the calvary to come in and especially like look out for campaigns of people of color or any sort of community organizations especially with women of color. They have been on the front lines protecting us for a very long time and they're gonna continue to do it because their lives literally depend on it. But you just can understand being a human being yourself but they must be exhausted so anything you can do to lend your energy lend your spirit lend any sort of encouragement and just get in there and say how can I help you what do you need help with? That's what we're talking about about like don't lose faith in your country, we still have a lot of resources to take advantage of to turn this around.
We still have time, there absolutely is time and just begin now, just begin now and look past the midterms. This isn't just a sprint to the midterms, take a longer view, look over the next decade, ten years from now what kind of country do you want to have? And just start pulling this into your life and I'm telling you once you make the decision to choose service to choose doing something instead of nothing your entire life opens up. So for instance on October 31st 2016 I hit rock bottom emotionally, you all know that story I ran to Ben & Jerry's and I dunked my face in a carton of ice cream and if I had stayed in my despair a little too long I might not have met Sara Kendzior on Twitter, okay so that's how you get rewarded by choosing faith over despair and just stepping out there into the world and saying how can I help you? What can I do? And that's what we need to do over and over and over again.
And another personal story I want to share very quickly, I just spent the last fourteen years working on writing and producing an independent feature film, not a documentary but a feature film. Even my own parents thought I was crazy for a very long time. There's nothing more depressing to immigrant parents than not becoming president of the United States, or an anchor on The Today Show, like it was heartbreaking for them, and even into year thirteen of this project I still had people I respected looking at me as though I was like crazy, like patting me on the head oh you have a screenplay dear that's nice and I saw my friends in journalism that I started with speed past me and become editors at fancy magazines or get their own show on cable news and meanwhile I'm like juggling all these
freelance assignments and feast or famine as a freelancer and like trying to get this film into production and just trying to get people to take me seriously. Well we just wrapped production with a three-time Academy Award nominee and absolutely insanely talented cast I've watched the final film several times this month alone and it's an absolute, you know,
our director is a master filmmaker it's Agnieszka Holland. She did Europa Europa. People are comparing our film to her next Europa Europa which is a masterpiece. So all of this is to say independent filmmaking is a constant exercise day after day of staring disaster in the face and choosing faith over despair. I did that for 14 years. So for your next 14 years you have to make that choice, we all have to make that choice of choosing faith over despair every single time.
Another thing I wanted to say is as a woman we have a very hard time putting ourselves out there in the world, I felt very embarrassed and shy saying I have a screenplay I want to produce it. So the thing that really got me to take myself seriously was you know in the 2008 economic crash I thought okay well if I make this film I'm gonna be creating jobs and opportunities for people and that was really the pure intention I had that helped me get out into the world and then on the last night the very last night of production, the very last night we ended shooting the film in Scotland, one of our superstar, angel, production assistants this brilliant guy, this Polish hipster kid whose poor job was to chase after me and help me like get to where I needed to be. He's Polish but he spoke fluent English and on that last night when we wrapped the film he said to me that
his father wanted him to become a coal miner just like his father was and his father imagined his whole life of him working in the coal mines of Poland and instead he got this job to work on a film and and he got so emotional that he had to take out his laptop and pull up Google Translate and type in Polish what he wanted to say and it came out into English that's because of you that I have this job. That was one of the highlights of this entire 14-year journey.
What it reminded me of and what I wanted to just share is whatever intention you begin a project with, a journey with, whatever intention you start with that is what you'll end with and so going into the midterms it's not about the midterms it's about what kind of country you want to create. We’re burning right now. We're soon gonna be ashes. America is burning down to the ground, you know so what kind of country do you want to now rebuild? What kind of future do you want? Do you want to get rid of Electoral College? Do you want to create a living wage? Do you want green jobs? Do you want to turn your entire state government blue so you can enact all these great programs in your state without Mitch McConnell's interference? What do you want to do, what are your dreams right now for your country? Because every day, for the next 14 years, you have to work towards those and start now with whatever that intention is because it'll be there waiting for you 14 years from now.
Sarah Kendzior:Reach out to people in your community you know put serving others first, put helping vulnerable people first, because you're not
your job. You're how you treat people and this is particularly important in an economy like ours, you know where jobs are hard to find and if you're basing your self-worth on external validation or you know prestige, you're going to feel terrible, you need to find something else and I think part of that lies in helping others and I think part of that is in what you said and having you know big ideas and following your own values your own beliefs and to the extent you can, your own ambitions and like you said if those ambitions are thwarted even repeatedly it doesn't mean that they're necessarily dead.
You know I mean if there's something that's been driven home over the last few years it's you know life is precious and things can change very dramatically and you shouldn't take you know a moment that you have for granted. You should treasure that time and do what you want with it and I think that means just dispelling with the notion that what other people think of you matters. You know especially women. You know this is a very tough time for us now but you know no man is the arbiter of your worth and I hope that people know that.
You know I get the sense sometimes that younger people see this with more clarity than older generations because you know they've grown up without the delusions and the expectations that we had and nowadays those delusions and expectations are often one and the same. They have a very you know pragmatic and grim view of reality and I hate that that's the future they're walking into. You know and I want to do everything I can
to change that future but you know I think that they also do you know so it's important to support them and just in general you know we have to look out for each other that's how I ended my op-ed this week is you know we the people are the last remaining check. You know everything else is either gone or it's compromised but they can't change that they can't change you, who you are inside, unless you let them you know that's your power and you should hold on to it with everything you got.
Andrea Chalupa:And I think we'll close now by just announcing our winner of our Gaslit Nation crush the midterms challenge. So this is an important reminder that we are our own leaders now, communities are leaders now and thank you so much to the Gaslit Nation community for checking out crushthemidterms.org and making your plan in a matter of seconds to help create the blue wave from now until Election Day on November 6th. One woman tweeted at us that it was so easy to do it's such a simple sight that she was able to create her plan while blow drying her hair. There's nothing more zeitgeist than that.
Sarah Kendzior:Haha, oh yeah.
Andrea Chalupa:So we are gonna announce the winner now. So we basically have as much scientific method for this as like a Republican meeting on sexual assault or climate change so I'm just gonna, I've been retweeting all of the people that have been tweeting at us their their crush the midterms plan so I'm gonna scroll down and Sarah do you just tell me
to stop and whichever when I stop on that's the winner. Oh my gosh I'm freaking out, who's it gonna be? Who is it gonna be? So tell me when to stop.
Sarah Kendzior:Uh, stop.
Andrea Chalupa:I stopped. Okay so the winner, okay I hope this person responds, it’s gonna be indigoiis! Congratulations you get a signed copy of Sarah Kendzior’s New York Times wrestling book the View from Flyover Country and you are @indigoiis and we will reach out to you relentlessly until we can get your home address and show up on your doorstep together.
Sarah Kendzior:Haha, aren't you lucky? You're gonna really regret having participated in this exercise. But hey, free book congratulations!
Andrea Chalupa:Yeah and so I'm gonna ask Sarah right now in front of all of you, because it's the best way to pressure her to say yes, can we continue this contest for another week Sarah? Can we give out another copy of your book?
Sarah Kendzior:Yes, I think we should. I think we should continue it weekly until the midterms.
Andrea Chalupa:I agree.
Sarah Kendzior:Until the midterms are indeed crushed.
Andrea Chalupa:Yes, til we crush the soul of the far right in America, yeah that's the plan. So I also want to up the ante by introducing the 1,000 doors challenge. That is of course a moonshot, and Americans love their moonshots, so it's a stretch goal. So I'm going to try between now and November 6th to knock on one thousand doors because canvassing, going door-to-door is the most effective way to reach people, and it's also the most fun you get some exercise, fresh air, you check out some lovely gardens and if you're nervous about it most people just simply are not home so you can listen to podcasts and music and you know talk to maybe ten people and just be polite you're just introducing a candidate to someone it's actually quite simple and fun and so don't be intimidated by it.
So we can even play a little bit of a clip of a group of Harvard students that created the resistance school that walks you through the simple steps of canvassing and how easy and simple and effective it is to helping create change. So we'll play a bit of that. So if you want to join me Andrea and the 1,000 doors challenge, we can do this together, even if you do 200 doors between now and November 6 that may still be 200 more doors than you even thought you could do. I mean I'm up to 70, that's pretty good, I'm proud of myself but I'm working on 1,000 and so if you're gonna do the 1,000 door challenge tweet us a picture of yourself doing it and will
retweet it on a Gaslit Nation and we will be doing this together and at the very end on November 6th Sarah and I are gonna choose a winner of the 1000 doors challenge from all the photos we get sent to us a people canvassing and that winner will be invited onto our show, after election day, to talk about their experiences and what dreams and intentions they have for their country, over the next 14 years and beyond.
Sarah Kendzior:Wow that's gonna be quite a show I hope it all works out well so that this person looks forward to this experience or it could just be all three of us sobbing maniacally but either way.
Andrea Chalupa:And you get a book! And you get a book! OK, so yeah.
Sarah Kendzior:And you get a book!
Andrea Chalupa:You got to join the Golden Girls kitchen table and you get a book. Haha.
November is coming! November is coming! November is coming!
November is coming!
Tip number one, make sure you're talking to persuadable people. Now that's hard to know but if you're part of a program that's doing this well then your team will have identified folks potentially open to being
persuaded one way or another and those are the doors you're gonna be knocking on sometimes you'll find a voter who's got a really strong opinion developed already. That's okay, just move on to the next door because remember your goal is to talk to persuadable voters.
Tip number two, remember that effective persuasion conversations are about listening. It’s not about arguing your facts or saying every word on your script. That means asking questions like, what issues matter the most or what do you think?
Tip number three, build a relationship. I know it's difficult in a short time and it's very important to be real so the shortcut here is to use a tactic I call as someone who. Use it and you kind of force yourself to relate. Yes I understand that as someone who works as a teacher and remember it does not need to be extreme it just needs to be you.
Tip number four, you're not gonna persuade someone in 30 seconds on the door. That's okay because it's not your goal. It's to make a dent and help the person start to see it this way because remember you literally cannot persuade someone they're gonna persuade themselves and that takes time. Fortunately your conversation isn't our only shot. It's part of a broader program where the campaign is going to engage the voter many times.
Tip number five, data, data, data. Other volunteers are gonna be knocking on doors too and you’ll help others just like yourself if you record the information on the walk sheet that you're provided. If you don't do it the program will likely need to repeat your work.”
Sarah Kendzior:Hi, welcome to the interview portion of Gaslit Nation. I'm very excited that we're finally posting our interview with writer and cultural critic Sydette Harrywhich we taped in August.
First, I need to explain a few things about this interview and some changes we at Gaslit Nation have since made on the production end. Gaslit Nation is now a fully independent podcast. We’ve parted ways with DAME Magazine for a variety of reasons, though I'd like to emphasize that while we're no longer affiliated with them, we still encourage you to read the solid journalism DAME is doing on social and political issues. One of the reasons, however, that we parted ways is that Andrea and I were unhappy with the production quality of our early episodes. A key example of the problems we faced is the fact that much of this excellent interview with Sydette, which we were so excited about, was rendered inaudible due to poor production. You'll still hear a bit of lackluster audio for me in the following clips and I apologize for that.
But I think that what she's saying is really important, so we hired another editor to clean up the interview and preserve it for you. Because Andrea
and I have made Gaslit Nation fully independent, we are now paying the production team ourselves, which means that we're relying on our audience for financial support. We encourage you to subscribe and donate to our Patreon, even a dollar a month makes a difference in keeping us going and allowing us to go weekly.
Anyway back to the interview of Sydette. For those of you who don't know Sydette Harry is a writer, cultural critic, scholar of digital media, and a prolific tweeter who is well known for her analyses of national and international politics race, class, feminism, and other topics. Back in the summer of 2014, Sydette was among the black female activists who called out the weaponization of Twitter by hostile actors in real-time. These actors were later revealed to be among the operatives mapping the social media landscape for the Kremlin, the Trump campaign, and other dangerous parties. Sydette’s warnings, much like mine, were ignored or dismissed by most journalists and politicians. Had they not been and had Twitter cracked down on imposters and mob harassment we might well be in a different place. There's been a refrain among pundits since 2016, that no one saw it coming. This is frustrating to hear both because it's a lie and because it shows who they consider to be no one. In 2014 black women saw it coming and called it out when it mattered, only to have their research presented as a new finding by white men once the Mueller probe kicked off in 2017. Before getting to her interview, I'm going to read the introduction to an article Sydette wrote in June 2014 for Model View
Culture called More than the Message.I want you to think about this in the context of what we face now. So here it goes.
“We aren’t all in this together. The risks, rewards, and danger for bringing about any kind of major change is weighted on prejudice, access and sometimes sheer luck. The perception that we can form an amazing bond stretching across class, culture and geography to create moments of fantastic affinity through hashtags, fundraisers and shared emotion: find the message, get it out and get everyone on board. It sounds idyllic, it plays simplistic. The rush to get “the message” out ignores the real consequences of safety, power and sustainable support. PR management of these moments of affinity become more important than the policy shifting. In a new media landscape where the old school values of racism, classism, and sometimes well-intentioned but utterly selfish savior complexes run rampant, the necessary care to protect the most vulnerable is slipshod at best, if not absent altogether.”
That article is from 2014 but we still face the same issues of abuse of power, of lack of compassion, on a new political scale is witnessed through the rise of neo-nazis and the abuses of the Trump administration and other repressive parties. In August 2018 I asked Sydette when she knew that the weaponization of social media was helping give rise to these changes.
Sydette Harry:It’s strange for me to say about what I knew because my focus has always been not about what I knew but who are we talking to? And are we having a good enough conversation that we have some idea of what's going on. I started online because of a family event my father was deported I've talked about this and there weren't people who were talking about it from my perspective there was a lot of immigration as an idea and that's come right back around right now and I'm about to fight everybody and your mom over that but that's later.
But this whole thing of that I don't hear myself, I don't see myself I don't see myself represented. So I started blogging and I was part of a woman of color bloggers group where again the idea was we find other people who are having those feelings and we have conversations. It's not about whether or not we're right or wrong but it's like are we getting enough perspectives and for this, this is where I was working as a retail salesman and tech trainer for Apple and people would talk about the joy of tech and I’m like you know tech when you have to someone how to do their email, when you have to teach someone how to help their mom and that's how you get these real experiences of tech, so a lot of my analysis wasn't kind of high level what I studied even though what I studied is important.
It was very much this is how I'm dealing with people every day how they're dealing with tech and we're not talking to them. I then became community lead of the Coral Project, which was a building better communities around journalism, better comment systems and everybody went oh no we don't
need comment systems and I have always said I have no problem with people saying we don’t need comments, I have no problem with people saying I don't have the bandwidth to deal with comments. The issue is always if you don't have comments how do you have feedback? How do you hear from the people who you are making product with? Or from? Or to? And, there was this no, no, no, and then the election happens and everybody goes oh shit we didn't know and I’m like huh? I could of guessed this. I wrote an article about cultural surveillance in 2014 about how specifically there was a response to observations by Channers and bots of how feminism and the left and progressivism were specifically attacking and undermining and not listening to black women and it was about hashtags and this was when people were getting up at graduation speeches and saying hash tags weren't important.
Sarah Kendzior:This is from Model View Culture.
Sydette Harry:Yes, Model View Culture. And then it suddenly becomes oh they're not important then they're studied and then suddenly hashtags become a thing and there's end Father's Day and @sassycrass and people think about it as this larger thing but I remember our mutual friend, who we've sung Guns ’n Roses to you online, that's so true. They were saying they wanted to kill her kids, over this thing because she would just go into 4chan and go click, click, click and screen cap it.
Sarah Kendzior:Right and you're talking about this summer of 2014, this sort of eruption of what we now call the alt-right, but basically white supremacist.
Sydette Harry:Nazis, fascists, nazis, fascists, nazis, fascists.
Sarah Kendzior:Nazis and fascists. Lets just call it what it is.
Andrea Chalupa:Such cute haircuts guys and they love spaghetti like we do.
Sarah Kendzior:So dapper. So stylish.
Sydette Harry:Duckbill Von Goosestep can kiss my ass and anybody can buy a Brooks Brothers suit. Im sorry, no I’m not
Sarah Kendzior:No I kind of wanted to talk about that, sort of set the scene. You know now it's 2018, last year suddenly all these quote-unquote experts we're testifying about how they had just realized there is this influx of Russian bots, of people hired by Cambridge analytical, people associated with Bannon, with Trump, etc. who were mass harassing women online who are mass harassing non-white people online, basically trying to
Sydette Harry:And I’m both!
Sarah Kendzior:And you are both. And you are basically mapping the social media landscape and they presented this as if it was a revelation and you know I of course recall the summer of 2014 very vividly as do many women that was the time of Gamergate, it's a time I endured some personal harassment as well, and it's also a time that you and @sassycrass Shafiqah Hudson right is her real name?
Sydette Harry:uh huh.
Sarah Kendzior:So true LaNasa what's her last name ?????
Sydette Harry:????? Every black woman who's a journalist who seems slightly south of middle class was going through it
Sarah Kendzior:Right and so do you want to describe with what were you going through what was happening on Twitter at that time.
Sydette Harry:I might be a little off but I think it was around the time that Hugo Schwyzer had his big I admit to, that was at the 2013 or 2014, and I admit and he named specifically me and someone who tweets now is Rust Belt Rebel and I, in a fit, which is probably like in a fit is gonna be like the subtitle of my description of my years on Twitter what happens in a fit I turn to specifically I remember it Jill ?????
and I went, so I'm glad that you're taking care of him what about me and then right after Mickey, who is my friend goes, they're never gonna answer that baby solidarity is for white women we all know that hashtag. It went someplace and they admit to watching that and what was very happen is that they noticed that there is a fracture, there is a fissure.
Sarah Kendzior:And by they you mean the nazis?
Sydette Harry:Nazis, men's rights activists and this is something I've always wanted to say out loud is that the fissure was not that we disagree or we have a fight but the fissure was that we would never address it. We would never sit down, had that come to Jesus meeting at the table, set some rules, come to blows and deal with it as a family or as of collective or as a movement. We would always go really silent and then go away and we would say these are the people who are not taking care of and these are the people who we can pick off and that is always a method.
You figure out who is not gonna be taken care of. You figure out who's most integral or who is most good at looking at what you're not when they're not taking care of and you keep going and that's just been the practice and it's been the practice for four to five years and it's infiltrated into, I always tell people a mass comm, I like all mass communications so religion, TV, media, all of that but you'll see it pop up in all of these things where it's like when you look at abuse when you look at how people treat it it's about who you don't take care of so a lot of times people go well
we're gonna take down this person and this person and I'm like that is to me always a terrible strategy.
What I want to know is who we're gonna take care of because that's who they're looking for because the most important people who are not going to be the people who attain some power, they've already been integrated into the power structure. It’s going to be the people who might shift the power structure and how do we make sure that they do not have those options? Who are we not listening to? And that to me was a very big example of, I think how it went for the next four years and people talk about the all right and the Nazis and the fascists and I'm always sometimes I think people think I'm very simplistic but I'm just like I, at the end of the day I can't control what they do.
Sydette Harry:I can whoop their ass or they can whoop mine, that is pretty much they've established that with that political standpoint their goal is my destruction. What I can control is what we do, what resources we build, so what are we going to do? So, flash forward now we get a lot of 2018 there are a lot of folks who are like oh my god I don't know what's gonna happen and I feel like I'm always like that's nice you don't know so what we doing? And online I think we do lose some nuance. People weaponize that word a lot because we can't hear inflection and we can't hear tone and things like that.
And that's where what I studied comes up is my major was history my minor is theater so I get that about whatever people like try to tell me about well you don't understand about written communication versus in-person communication. I have a minor in theater, I have 9 years of opera study yes I do understand about it, I can do it in 3 languages. What I'm saying is we at some point really have to turn the focus for what they're going to do, what they're going to do is in general try to destroy us that's the point, that's the end goal. I know that.
What I need to know is what we're doing to protect each other and ourselves and it gets very interesting because you always turn it when you ask that question it's just um but we don't like your tone, you're never going to like my tone. You didn't like my tone when I was nice. You know like my tone in French. You don't like my son in Spanish. You don't like my tone when I'm pleasant. You don't like my tone when I use my natural accent. You don't like my tone I use a British accent. You don't like my tone when I use my mama's accent. You just don't like my tone. That's great you don't like me, I don’t like you, we can agree we don't like Nazis, what are we gonna do me you can fight tomorrow.
Sarah Kendzior:Exactly so what do we do?
Sydette Harry:We have our conversations. We have really hard conversations and we have discussions that center not what they're going
to do, not what the new wild shit that's gonna come out whoever's mouth. It's what do we care about? Who do we care about? Why do we care about them and how are we taking care of them? They're destroying healthcare how do we protect healthcare? If they're destroying up at a federal level how do I look at at a local level? If people want to give money to fight Trump instead of giving money to a party or parties that can't get it done start a Medical Fund let's take care of everybody who does that. I learned at the hands of Old West Indian church ladies.
One of the things I say is that my fundamental strategy at this point is called baby has hat. Does baby have hat? If baby does not have hat we give baby hat. If I cannot give baby hat, I need to figure out why baby doesn't have hat. Do I need to sew the hat? Is the transportation wrong? If somebody's standing in the middle of the doorway between me and giving the baby a hat and if I can make it I can do it in that and sometimes making sure the baby has hat means if you are standing in the doorway and I need to shoulder tackle you to get you out of the way that might be part of it but that's not the focus.
I'm willing to fight anybody but my focus isn't fighting anybody my focus is are we doing the thing that we say we care about if I fight someone in the middle but that's the thing and what I find is really difficult to have any of these discussions right now and I think that's often our online exchanges are so funny like all the time I didn't think people getting started they were like so about Slash and Guns ’n Roses, what are we drinking, what are we
eating? Are we going to a burlesque show? That is how you continue to do this work because if there's no after if there is no thing that generates and makes you happy, you sit there waiting and hoping for the next fight. People ask me what is the one thing you want most of all to wake up to. I want to wake up, turn to y'all and go we were wrong. Oh man we were wrong about that!
Sarah Kendzior:I feel like there's this sense of people refusing to even admit that these problems exist and that's been one of the most challenging things I mean that's Andrea and I started this podcast because that's gaslighting and I keep thinking about that going all the way back to 2014 because there's not just this issue of harassment and sort of cliques and infighting and this kind of thing. There were imposters and one thing you know I think that you're involved in 2014 is when @sassicrass Shafiqah, you know documented.
Sydette Harry:Your slip is showing.
Sarah Kendzior:Your slip is showing which was this hashtag that well do you want to explain what it was?
Sydette Harry:She started Inasa ????? really did a lot of the research but it was very much black women on Twitter going you are trying to sound like a black woman and because we've actually been black women all of our lives this doesn't sound right. That's not how we talk to each other.
That's not how we interact and when you got someone who got a little loud or sounded wrong or you went to 4chan and you documented it, it was just it just dropped us in the hashtag your slip is showing.
Sarah Kendzior: Right because it was obvious, it was obvious to you guys and I remember Shafiqah sent me you know data and I was like it was obvious to me that this was some sort of organized harassment campaign and we didn't know exactly where it originated it seems to be on 4chan, I think they were calling it operation lollipop at that time. I tried you know I sent this stuff out to people I knew who were in communications, who were professors, who were computer scientists because I felt like there is something bad at hand and you guys obviously felt like there was something bad at hand and it was dismissed.
Sydette Harry:Your slip is showing even the verbiage of that is very much grounded in a black, southern, femme culture of you're not ready to be outside yet. I'm first-generation American but one of the things that a lot of this thing we talk about 2014 as the nexus of this in terms of social media, but this is historic. People are like we can't believe the racism. But I'm just like well I have a degree in history, it could happen here. It is part of the way we've conducted ourselves when people ask me when you really look at binary code, I gave a talk at the Museum of Modern Art and I said I look at the Treaty of Tordesillas. I look at Spain and Portugal splitting up the world into Spain or Portugal, one, zero, binary code. It's on or it’s off.
Mind you everybody involved knows that's horseshit, everybody's been trading along Arab slave trade routes. The Atlantic slave trade is popping. This is predating Shakespeare. Everyone knows that the world is much bigger than one and zero, Portugal and Spain but we accept the theater of it. We get the Pope on stage and he’s in the hat and we go okay and that is as much a part of it as the first time anybody goes with an Apple IIe or Lisa because we code and we create by what we know by what we've been historically taught so one tweet at Africa conference in Portland, an amazing conference and it was one of my like first keynote talks and they talk about and my talk was called do you want to fight or not?
I talked about Blade, a lot, a lot of my personalities what happens when you let a twelve-year-old girl watch Wesley Snipes. And there is that fundamental thing of we are who we are we're going to be this. So we have to be honest about what it is and I think one of the big issues is that there's so much of this where everyone's trying to find a point to reinvent themselves so that they can enter without being blameless and for me the issue isn't that I want to be blameless or that I'm right or wrong at this that I want to fix this.
The fact that I've threatened half or not threatened, I've just been open about the fact that there are members of the press that should not come within seventy two inches of me because that's my exact reach, no 75, and if you are within my reach I'm going to try one time for ?????? is not helpful to the discourse but it's who I am.
Sarah Kendzior:Later in the interview I asked Sydette about the fact that even in 2018 we still have a mainstream media that covers up for Trump instead of covering him, that refuses to call a lie a lie. Even the most incontrovertible statements, Trump is a racist, immigrants are in danger, Russia was involved are treated as debatable by the same journalist who refused to identify the danger of Trump during the campaign. How do we deal with the press that constantly frames the basis of our reality as subjective? Often in a smug or dismissive way.
Sydette Harry:You stop talking to them and you also stop pretending that what they're talking about is actually about the discussion. This is why I love studying theater, you’re putting on a show. You get money for this show, you get the same important because of the show and that's the show and it's important to study the show as a fact of these communications so it serves a purpose it does a thing and we have to acknowledge that but it also is not the same thing as finding out what people think.
Now some of them are abject racist and I shouldn't be the one talking to them I don't think that they need any more high profile you know glittery coverage we didn't get it. But even in those stories there are the little bits and pieces that I'm always wondering like oh well yeah it's hard for me sometimes in my area because these people won't talk to me and I can't even go to this coffee store so I'm like so why have you not talked to the
person in the coffee store that won’t let them in? Or that there is a black farmers and they're losing their farms or they're finding these things or I have those questions these questions the questions of let's actually start having discussions with people with the news, what's happening, what's going down, how does it affect, what are the actual things people need to know?
That is what interests me, that is where my next thing is unless so if you have a small newspaper how do I get you to keep that up? If you need to get connected to somebody in another country how do we get that up? And I want to do it all in the open. People like what we have to get more people at tables, we want to get people at more things and I'm like, I agree that person probably will not be me below a certain pay scale because I don't want to, but that there is this deep decision that we have to come up with one one mode and then go, we come up we do part of the way that they are working that they are not is and I say this all the time, if I say something but as analytical or hits too close to the truth or is a question that he was too close to a line of where there may be a fracture point, I don't need an egg timer to clock the box you got 90 minutes 90 seconds sometimes, there will be a bottom I mentioned there's someone in my mention that means I haven't cleared out signal accounts, someone is paying attention.
I’ve been trying to have certain conversations with major leftists and major papers for years, for years now. They will not talk to me.
Sarah Kendzior:We talked more about this lack of empathy in the media, particularly in certain callous op-eds put out by columnist to act as if they're not dealing with actual people and don't care about the repercussions of their words. I asked Sydette what can be done and what I love about her response is that while so many of us especially this week have been put in a constant reactive position as we deal with the horror of this administration, she reminds us of what we're fighting for. It's not about what you hate, but what you love.
Sydette Harry:The ultimate thing is it's mean and it's cruel and a lot of it is just to what end to what purpose and this idea of ultimately it flattens the world so much there's constantly discussion of both sides. And that is the most reductivist, insulting way to look at this great, big, beautiful, amazing world to say that it's both sides. There are only two, we have dimensions we have different perspectives, there are people who get along great who have completely different views a lot of our jokes are like Midwest Missouri, Ukraine, London. But we all have this thing, we are interested in the world and what bothers me is that these are not folks who are interested in the world, they're not interested in something, they just want to start screaming.
That is what primal scream therapy was for, Tears for Fears made excellent songs, but it's been done. What do you love? What do you care about? And I read these things that there's always this a well it finally
made it okay for me to and I was like no that's the kind of shit you tell your therapist. What do you actually love? What do you want to see in the world and with a lot of these our side I hope everyone can visually see the air quotes I'm making and the other sides. I just want to know what you love, trying to find what people love.
I like working in journalism, I like working in like opening up tech because what I then look for is instead of looking for the next person I want to throw a chair at, I look for things like who's telling me the story of the south? Who’s telling me about Appalachia? Who is making archives of black music? Who is chronicling back black dance? Who is taking the inability to make up physical museum and putting it on Instagram? Who is chronicling the libraries of Eastern Europe? All of these things there are things we love. There are things that are important.
Who was watching food waste? And these are all things that we could be concerned about and when you look at those things when you sit there and say what do you need to make so that you can have what you love you have different conversations, you have different strategies, you have different ways of being in the world and the more you do that the less space you have for a lot of the other stuff but it's also not something that you treat as soft like it's loving and you can be loving and kind but you go back to the idea that sometimes to protect what you love you got to be willing to throw some god damn hands so if I love black theatre which I do.
If somebody says that black theater isn't a real thing they might have to fight me but I'm not fighting them for the joy of fighting them, I'm fighting them because I love something and too often when you talk to these journalists, when you talk to these places in these faces in these spaces I'm like what do you love?
Sarah Kendzior:Gaslit Nation is produced by Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa. And our editor is Nick Torres. If you want to help us leave a review on iTunes, every review helps us build our audience.
Andrea Chalupa:And check out our Patreon if you like what we do.
Thanks for listening.