Court-Packing Is Not a Threat to American Democracy. It’s Constitutional.

America’s founders probably would not have been surprised by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement last week that if he were president—though he’s not running—and the Democrats controlled Congress, he would “seriously consider adding two seats to the Supreme Court” to counteract Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “power-grabbing antics.” The same goes for a competing proposal from South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for president, seeking to expand the court to 15 justices. Within 20 years of establishing the new federal government, our early statesmen had changed the size of the Supreme Court three times to ensure that a politically hostile judiciary did not thwart the goals of the party controlling Congress and the presidency.

The Constitution does not entrust to public officials the responsibility to check their own power. The founders assumed that people with political muscle (including judges) would show little self-restraint, and they built a government that would provide each branch with many checks against the others. The Supreme Court was no exception. Rather than leaving the size of the Court in the hands of the justices, or fixing the size for all time, the Constitution grants that power to Congress. As soon-to-be Justice Robert Jackson testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1937, “It was obvious at the founding of the Government that the Court would not always remain of the same size, and that changes in its size would be made, as they have been made, at those times when its decisions caused dissatisfaction.”

Critics of Holder’s remarks, including at The New Republic, argue that if Democrats violate the “norm” of a nine-person court, Republicans will do the same once they return to power. This tit-for-tat allegedly will spell the end to an independent judiciary and our democracy.

Such end-time worries are nothing new. When Congress voted to increase the size of the Court during the Jefferson administration, one newspaper wrote that “the Constitution has received a wound that it will not long survive.” Another lamented: “The independence of the judicial power is prostrated. A judge, instead of holding his position for life, will hold it during the good pleasure of the dominant party. The judges will of course become partisans, and the shadow of justice alone will remain in our courts.” Despite these histrionics, a moment’s reflection on the history of the Court shows that it remained fiercely independent after each of the seven instances in which Congress changed its size. It is difficult to believe that a future expansion of the Court would break this mold.

Far from leading to democratic death spirals, changes to the size of the Court have gone hand in hand with the most vibrant periods of our democracy. The first three changes centered around the political reaction to the “Revolution of 1800,” when Thomas Jefferson and his new political party swept into power. The outgoing Federalist Party, which represented big-money interests, reduced the size of the Court from six to five to keep Jefferson from filling an anticipated vacancy. Once Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party was firmly in power, they increased the size back to six justices, then to seven, to allow Jefferson to appoint new justices. Over the next 30 years, Congress denied repeated attempts to expand the Court, but President Andrew Jackson gained sufficient power to add two new justices in 1837.

The final changes to the Court’s size flowed from the upheaval and revitalization of our democracy during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans first increased the size to ten to prevent judicial attacks on his war policies. After Lincoln’s assassination, Congress reduced the size to eight to prevent the new president, Andrew Johnson, from harming Congress’ reconstruction efforts. Shortly after assuming the presidency, Ulysses S. Grant and his supporters added a justice to ensure the overturning of a recent Court decision that invalidated the legal tender law that had allowed the government to finance its war efforts. FDR’s failed attempt to pack the Court similarly took place at a time when political and economic elites were being replaced by a new coalition. These were not times of democratic decay, but of rebirth, and leading figures of the day knew that political change could and would be thwarted by the Supreme Court.

We were never intended to be a government by judicial fiat, but the threat has always existed. As Alexis de Tocqueville famously noted, every major political dispute in the United States eventually finds its way into the courts, and courts have the final say in these disputes. Courts can, and have at times, stagnated our government’s ability to respond to critical political and economic issues of the day. That is exactly what is happening today. A Supreme Court majority, sharing a constitutional vision that harkens back to the days when political power was enjoyed by only a landed, male, white aristocracy, is preventing our democratic processes from solving problems that go to the very heart of our democracy. The court’s conservatives stand in the way of our efforts to keep dark money out of politics, to prevent the suppression of the voting rights of people of color, and to solve the polarization that has come with political gerrymandering.

But as the Court’s originalists must acknowledge, it’s no accident that the Constitution grants Congress the right to make the Supreme Court as large or small as it likes. Having the ability to change the composition of the Court in this way ensures that Congress has the power to prevent stagnant visions of our law from threatening the growth of our democracy.

When Poems of Resilience Get Twisted for Terrorism

One of the U.K.’s propaganda films in World War II remixed portions of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will by overdubbing various Nazi leaders’ speeches at the 1934 Reich Party Congress at Nuremberg into English. In this version, Adolf Hitler and his lieutenants confessed to being pitiful and weak. “I grew into a discontented and neurotic child,” the führer said to rallying masses. “My lungs were bad. My mother spoilt me and secured my exemption from military service. Consider my triumphant path to power.”

The author of the words spoken in the satire was Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet who had a record of jeering at the fascists seeking power in Europe. In a particularly sick perversion of authorial intent, Thomas’s most famous poem, 1951’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” opens the 74-page manifesto written by one of the alleged murderers of 49 people at two New Zealand mosques on Friday.

The shooter’s document goes on to invoke fascist and white-separatist ideology as the rationale for the murder spree. Certain passages of meme-driven sarcasm appear aimed at amping up political divides and creating confusion. But quoting Thomas’s poetry is not like trollingly praising a black right-wing pundit or a popular and putatively apolitical videogamer, as the shooter did. The manifesto advocates direct terroristic action by likeminded racists, and Thomas’s refrain “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”—believed to have been written initially about the poet’s ailing father—may just have been straightforwardly repurposed to fit that violent goal.

[Read: Social media are a mass shooter’s best friend]

Two other poems are fully quoted in the manifesto. One is a doctored version of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Beginnings” that replaces the original’s refrain “When the English began to hate” with “When the Saxon began to hate.” The rest of the poem, originally written about the anti-German sentiment that took root in the U.K. during World War I, is untouched. In the context of the manifesto, the verses might as well be about online radicalization: “It was not preached to the crowd. / It was not taught by the state. / No man spoke it aloud / When the Saxon began to hate.”

The manifesto closes with “Invictus,” by the 19th-century English writer William Ernest Henley. With its avowal that “my head is bloody, but unbowed,” it’s among the most commonly cited poems ever, with famous invocations including Nelson Mandela while he was imprisoned for resisting South African apartheid and Timothy McVeigh before his execution for killing 168 people in the the Oklahoma City bombing. Henley wrote the poem in 1875 while recovering from surgery on his leg. It is a straightforward statement of resilience in the face of death, or, as Henley puts it, “the Horror of the shade”: “I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul.”

These are not obscure poems, and the varying circumstances around their creation do not tightly align with the New Zealand terrorist’s ideology (though, it’s worth noting, Kipling’s legacy is bound up with racist imperialism). He chose them, plausibly, to undergird his broader message about taking the difficult but necessary action in the face of great odds. He could have turned anywhere in Western culture for other odes to lonely, steely bravery—among the most common story tropes there are—but it may be no coincidence he drew specifically from the dead white male literary canon.

Other mass murderers have invoked different art works to evoke the same sense of grandiose anti-heroism. James Holmes, who shot up an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012, found inspiration from the Joker of The Dark Knight. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who massacred a Charleston church in 2015 quoted two movie characters in his manifesto. One was Edward Norton’s neo-Nazi in American History X: “I see all this stuff going on, and I don’t see anyone doing anything about it. And it pisses me off.” The other was the troubled teen vigilante of the 2011 manga adaptation Himizu: “Even if my life is worth less than a speck of dirt, I want to use it for the good of society.”The killer’s actions, it was widely noted at the time, betrayed these movie’s underlying critiques of violence and hate.

The language of messianic bravery can be adopted by anyone, of course, including those of noble intent. But there’s a particular nauseating pattern in it being repeatedly invoked by men who kill groups of defenseless people. The Dylan Thomas work actually most relevant to the New Zealand killer’s case is thus not the one quoted in the manifesto, but the Hitler mockery movie. The übermensch rhetoric that still poisons the world, Thomas suggested back then, is but the costume of pathetic men.

O’Rourke Mostly Gets a Pass for His Lack of Specifics

MT. VERNON, Iowa—The first woman who asked a question wanted to know about ethanol. E10 or E15?

This is more than an academic question. The E number is the percentage of the corn-based fuel that can legally be mixed in with gasoline. More ethanol, which President Donald Trump said in October he wants to make the year-round standard, means more corn being used and so more money in the pockets of Iowa farmers, more jobs for Iowans at processing plants. But more ethanol also more federal subsidies to pump money in to cover the costs of making the biofuel, and more environmental risks from what would be released by corroding engines.

Beto O’Rourke’s full answer went on for a bit.

“How do we free ourselves from a commodity market over which we have no control? We do so by adding value to what we grow at the same time that we meet our energy needs, renewable standards that we have in this country and the crisis of climate change,” he said. “The farmers in Iowa are able to do that. We visited an ethanol facility today: 50 jobs in a community that wants to have high-wage, high-skill, high-investment industry in their home towns—drawing young people back or keeping them there in the first place. Owned not by some gigantic corporation in another place, owned cooperatively by the farmers that are growing the corn there in the first place. In other words, we’re addressing not just a fuel standard, not just environmental concerns, but we’re reviving rural America in the process. So let’s stand behind and with those farmers. Iowa is showing us the way.”

[Read: Beto wants to be Obama—but came off like Trump]

Not included: E10 or E15, or an alternate, or what any of the answers would entail.

That’s all right, said Mirt Bowers, a retired former vice president of patient services at a local hospital who asked the question.  “I’m not sure he answered,” she said. “I think his position is yes, we need to look at it. I’m not quite sure where he is firmly with the E15.”

Bowers said she is willing to give O’Rourke a pass. He’s from oil country, she said. He can’t take a clear position, because he has to be careful of the politics back home in Texas, she figured.

She said this as she was waiting in a line at the bar afterward, eager to take a photo with O’Rourke on her phone. Bowers said she would expect more out of other candidates—Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, for example, aren’t from oil country, so she’d want a clear answer.

Earlier in the day, leaving an art gallery in Washington, Iowa, O’Rourke was asked about impeaching Donald Trump. He’d been in favor of it, a reporter pointed out. Was he still?

“To be clear, I didn’t say that. You asked me one time if I would vote, and I said yes. So I wasn’t out there calling for it, so I think the distinction’s important in this case,” O’Rourke said. “Beyond the shadow of a doubt that the president sought to collude with a foreign power against the United States to undermine our democracy. Beyond a shadow of a doubt the president sought to obstruct justice in the investigation into what happened into what happened in 2016.”

He said that he thinks Trump’s fate will be decided by the 2020 election, and that’s what he’s focused on as a presidential candidate, while staying out of the debate in Washington now that he’s no longer a congressman. Was he saying there isn’t time to pursue impeachment before the election, the reporter asked him, or was he saying that he isn’t in favor of impeachment at all?

[Read: The voters Democrats aren’t really fighting over]

“I’m not asking Congress to do one thing or the other,” he said. “You’re asking me, ‘Has the president committed impeachable offenses?’ Yes. Period.”

He turned, trying to get to the rental car and drive to the next event. Another reporter stopped him and read him a quotation from when he was running for Senate, long after he came around to opposing Obamacare when he was first running for Congress. Then, he said that a single payer, Medicare for All sort of program was the best way to ensure all Americans get the health care they need. Was he still for that?

“I think that’s one of the ways to ensure that we get to guaranteed high quality health care for every single American. I’m no longer sure that that’s the fastest way for us to get there,” O’Rourke said.

He said, as he’s been saying at every event, that he’s for good health care. He’s interested in a bill that Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois has that would keep employer-based insurance but reinvest in Medicare and have that as an option for whoever wants it. A public option, but not single payer.

Later in the day, at a podcast taping in Cedar Rapids, he was pressed on more. What about the criticism he’s faced for saying that he helps out raising his children, but that most of it is on his wife?

“We have a long way to go. I have got to do everything within my power to do my part. And there’s much more that we can do. Much of it will be guided by the women in my life and the women that I meet,” he said, later adding that on women’s issues overall, he’s glad to see a lot of women running in the primary with him, so there’s “a lot of work left to do, but all of those issues, important. And I’m grateful for a lot of the leadership that a lot of these women are providing right now.”

Pushed on specifics of reproductive rights by one of the people in the audience, he thanked the woman who asked the question for working for Planned Parenthood, condemned the moves of the Texas state legislature and the Trump administration to scale back rights, and reminded people that Roe v. Wade is in the balance depending on the Supreme Court appointments that are on the line in the next election.

“When I talk to people across the state of Texas who may not agree with me on every position,” O’Rourke said, “when I talk about the lives that we are losing, and the health care we are losing out on, I begin to find the common ground.”

Asked how he’d address gerrymandering as president, O’Rourke spoke about how bad the voter laws are in Texas and how he wants to address “systemic racism.” Then he invoked his success drawing people out in his own Senate race last year.

All the answers drew applause.

As he headed back into his car after the event with the woman who asked about ethanol on Friday afternoon, I asked him whether he thinks it’s unfair for people to be pressing him on specifics, two days into his race.

“I leave it up to them to decide. All I can do is answer the questions that are posed, introduce myself, describe what I think this country can do, and I’m trying to do that,” he said.

He got in the driver’s seat of the rental, buckled in. He’s driving himself between events, eating submarine sandwiches. He said he’s reading two books as he goes, the just released The Uninhabitable Earth, which describes how climate change will destroy the planet if concrete steps aren’t taken quickly, and Joseph Campbell’s classic The Power of Myth.  

There were no lines around the block, like there have been for Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders. The crowds for O’Rourke could be measured by the dozens, not the hundreds, about the same number of voters who showed up for Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio when they came to Iowa a few weeks ago to tease runs of their own—but a clump of reporters and photographers tracking him that Bennet and de Blasio and most of the others in the race could only dream of.

Events look packed in part because they’ve been in small spaces—coffee shops, a small town art gallery. He doesn’t have the staff to fully plan the events that he’s doing, let alone build anything bigger.

But over his first 48 hours and with the schedule through the midwest that’s been released for the days ahead, O’Rourke is running with confidence in his savant understanding of political tactics in the time of Trump and social media celebrity, and as a sort of endurance test. No other candidate has done as many events on a full Iowa swing as he’s tried to squeeze in. He’s looking to replicate his senate campaign last year, put himself forward as a vessel for what he likes to call the “genius of our democracy”: pour your hopes and aspirations into him, and he will carry them forward with his spirit of positivity and the level of drive that had him schedule a 5k run on the morning of his third day in the race. Believe in him, because he believes in you, and together, believe in what more America can be.

Asked earlier Friday what he thought his challenge would be in this race, he said it was about impressing himself personally on enough voters to win.

“It’s a big country, and traveling to be with everyone,” he said. “It’s a function of geography and time. But I will work with everything I’ve got.”

One question that looms over his entry: how much money has he raised online, given how much of a juggernaut he proved to be in his Senate race, and the enthusiasm he’s thought to generate online. O’Rourke set that standard himself, writing in one of the emails that he sent to his list on Thursday, “our momentum right out of the gate will determine whether or not we are competitive.”

As pretty much all the other candidates have, he announced that he had raised money from all 50 states shortly after jumping in. But while most of the other candidates have released their fundraising totals for the first day or two—Sanders raised nearly $6 million online without specifically asking for a donation—O’Rourke has so far left his own total unspecified.

“I can’t right now,” he said, when a reporter asked him if he would release the number.

Well, he could, I pointed out to him.

“You’re right, I could,” he said. “Let me answer the question better: I choose not to.”

He has repeated over and over that he won’t knock his competition, that they’re all great, and the number of people running is a credit to the Democratic Party. But he thinks he’s better than all of them, I pointed out to him, since that’s inherent in jumping in late himself.

His explanation for why is rooted in the Senate race, and how he proved able to bring people together, increase turnout and become a sensation.

That may be, but along the way, he also lost. His campaign made him a celebrity and an inspiration to many people. It did not make him a senator.

“We lost by 2.6, but we also in some larger sense transformed politics for the better in Texas. You saw people win races that were thought before to be un-winnable,” he said. “In part our campaign, in part contributed to those successes and the successes you see down the road.”

Preparing for O’Rourke’s visit to that piano bar in Mt. Vernon, the owner’s son Joe Jennison looked through his catalog for a good song for the player piano up front to get an autograph on.

“Happy Days Are Here Again” seemed like the obvious choice. O’Rourke took the red and white box and a marker as he walked in and signed one word: Beto, scrawled in his loose script.

“I feel that he was sincere and genuine,” Jennison said after.

Asked if he heard anything that could help him pin down exactly what O’Rourke stood for or what he’d do as president, Jennison grimaced. “I don’t know how to answer that,” he said, but waved his hands to say no when asked if that didn’t matter. “Of course it matters,” he said.

There are 11 months to go, he said. He didn’t know who O’Rourke was before two days earlier, when an aide reached out and asked to book the bar for half an hour. Now he’s hoping he can get the rest of the candidates in, and he’s already thinking about what songs he’ll try to get them to autograph.  

But, Jennison said, “if the caucuses were tomorrow, he’d have my vote.”

U.S. Warns Maduro That Arresting Opposition Leader Guaido Would Be 'Terrible Mistake'

The United States has warned that Maduro regime in Venezuela that it would be a “terrible mistake” to arrest opposition leader Juan Guaidó, as political tensions in the crisis-stricken country continue to mount.  (More)

EU to slap with fresh fine…


(Third column, 19th story, link)


Grieving in the Anthropocene

The old morada at Abiquiu. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“Having a conscience now is a grief-soaked proposition”

– Stephen Jenkinson, author of Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble

“We are the first generations to grow up surrounded by evidence that our attempt to separate ourselves from ‘nature’ has been a grim failure, proof not of our genius but our hubris.”

– Paul Kingsnorth, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays

“The greatest challenge we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront our situation and realize that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the difficult task of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.”

– Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization

A few years ago I saw my first glacier. I was on a trip to Alaska with my family before my father died and he had always dreamed of seeing the region; so we were happy we could do this one last trip to fulfill it for him. We cruised through the Inside Passage past glimmering mountains of cerulean blue ice, drove through part of the Yukon Territory of Canada by turquoise lakes, and hiked close to a receding glacier. It was breathtaking, yet throughout the journey a specter of sorrow accompanied me.

In the West we are conditioned to chase those specters away. Grief itself is often viewed as something unnatural, as some kind of disorder to be dealt with by silencing ourselves, ignoring it or medicating it to numbness. We often hear well-meaning people suggest to the bereaved that they “keep themselves busy.” If our grief lingers, we are told that we are “depressed” or “not coping well” or that we need “closure.”

But like many others I have found myself encountering a grief that envelops my entire being more and more. An existential grief that cannot ignore our collective predicament as a species and that often accompanies a sense of panic and powerlessness. And I have begun to relate even more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an unheard anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of an omnicidal status quo. And so many of us feel that sense of terrorized paralyzation at the madness of rising militarism, fascism and brutality and an unfolding ecocidal nightmare. But so often we feel confined to an interior space that our culture has consigned us to.

Today we are bombarded with distraction. Our brains are flooded with carefully programmed and meticulously marketed algorithms that condition us to respond to screens rather than each other and the living planet. The dominant economic order robs us of our feelings, thoughts and even our grief and transforms them into capital and commodities for sale. Indeed, it is incapable of doing anything else. But many ancient traditions grappled with grief in a public way that was not exploitative.

Years ago, in Europe and in the Americas, those who were mourning the death of a loved one announced their grief to others by wearing a piece of black cloth around their arm or by placing a black wreath upon their front doors. Many indigenous cultures have elaborate rituals to mark the death of loved ones and the passage of bereavement. In the small fishing and farming community where my mother grew up every able bodied person was expected to follow the casket up to the cemetery in a solemn procession. And these public expressions of private grief provided a bridge of solidarity and community.

Now many of these traditions have been rejected or forgotten. They are vestiges buried by modernity; and in their absence a deep sense of alienation has grown. Facing our grief can be transformative. It can foster empathy and has the power to galvanize people to action. It cannot alter the past. It does not have the power to halt climate feedback loops or predict and prevent tipping points. And it cannot stop a looming biospheric and societal chaos that is all but locked into the system. But it can strengthen the pysche, offer us an insight into resilience, and give us the tools we need to resist the inhumanity that accompanies collapse. It can also help us appreciate and protect what remains.

I remember pouring over wildlife books when I was a boy, always dreaming of exploring their exotic locations in person one day. The natural world was at once terrifying and abundantly rich with mystery and wonder. Of course in those days I never thought I might witness its end. I never considered that the Great Barrier Reef and scores of other coral reefs around the world would succumb to a bleached death. I never thought that the Arctic Ocean would be ice free, or that it would rain in Greenland in winter, or that gigantic nation-sized shelves of ice would simply break off and fall into the sea in Antarctica.  I never imagined the Amazon Rainforest would suffer from catastrophic fires every year, or that 40% of wildlife would be sponged away from the living earth, or that plastic in the seas would be so ubiquitous that a bag would be found in the deepest part of the ocean, the Marianas Trench. Now, decades later, I have witnessed all of that and more. This is the reality of the Anthropocene, so with all of this it becomes impossible at some point for any rational human being of conscience not to grieve.

But on that trip years ago I had the opportunity to meet grief face to face. I stood alongside my father in silent reverence at the nature before us. At the time I could not have known that he would not be with me on this earth much longer. Perhaps some other sense did. Standing on the deck of the boat, passing under great mountains of melting ice, I felt that sense of awe that a child does. I also felt immensely small. My heart beat hard in my chest as I attempted to comprehend what my species and, in particular, my society has done to this precious life giving earth.  I felt the cold air from that melting glacier roll over me.  But this time I decided to not chase that specter of sorrow away. For a brief moment I wouldn’t view him as an adversary, but as a companion. So I embraced him like a long lost friend and he smiled at me and said, “What took you so long?”

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Despite Crackdowns, White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi Videos Take Stubborn Root on YouTube

In his 74-page manifesto, Brenton Tarrant, the alleged gunman responsible for the massacres at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, lays out a hyper-extreme worldview animated by racist and fascist thought.

While the authorities say Tarrant posted his treatise on 8chan — a relatively obscure web forum that attracts trolls, hackers and hardcore white supremacists — the ideas in the document are also circulating on many of the world’s most popular social media platforms.

Over the past four months, for instance, a YouTube user known as Third Positionist posted over 100 videos espousing extremist ideas that closely resemble what the authorities have identified as Tarrant’s writings. The user’s videos — full of racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic views — have attracted more than a half-million views.

YouTube said on Friday that it had terminated the Third Positionist account after being alerted to it by ProPublica and HuffPost. It said it had found no evidence that the account belonged to the accused New Zealand gunman.

Social media giants have long struggled to moderate extremist content, and most have waged periodic crackdowns. But in recent months, YouTube has emerged as something of a flourishing option for white supremacist and neo-Nazi videos.

The material posted by the user named Third Positionist — mirroring much of the hateful content subscribed to and promoted by the gunman in New Zealand — is but one example. Third Positionism is a variant of fascism that blends elements of the extreme right and left.

Tarrant’s online writings praised Sir Oswald Mosley, a mid-20th-century British fascist leader who supported Adolf Hitler and fiercely opposed immigration. At least two speeches by Mosley are featured in Third Positionist videos. The symbol used as the logo for Third Positionist’s YouTube channel — nine interlocking crosses — was also drawn on one of the gunman’s rifles. The graphic on the front page of Tarrant’s treatise also appears repeatedly in Third Positionist videos, albeit in a slightly altered form.

A recent video posted to the Third Positionist channel featured a discussion about the merits of Nazi Germany and the need to remove all Jews from “positions of power. Another, uploaded late last year, argued that the U.S. fought on the wrong side during World War II. On March 11, 2019, the channel posted an interview with Thomas Rousseau, one of the organizers of the 2017 white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and leader of Patriot Front, a right-wing extremist group that uses the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil.” Rousseau said the group is focused on “reclaiming America” for white men.

White supremacist YouTube channels have been online for years, but many appear to have launched — or relaunched — in the past few months. Banned videos seem to reappear regularly, sometimes with new titles, confounding the efforts of content moderators.

“It’s a war of attrition against those who keep coming back, keep coming back and posting,” said Oren Segal, director of the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League. White supremacist content “is a huge challenge” for social media platforms. “They don’t have the technology to assure that once you’re banned you can’t come back.”

Much of the material on the Third Positionist channel is drawn from podcasts and livestreams originally posted by Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, a New York City-based white nationalist and anti-Semite.

Peinovich, who helms a racist media micro-empire called The Right Stuff, maintains a YouTube channel, as well. “The muslims are in the process of conquering Europe through migration and birth rates,” wrote one commenter on the TRS Radio page. “Something needs to be done about this above all else.” Another added: “It’s time to become Vikings and wipe these people out.”

A media organization calling itself Vanguard Streaming Network is typical of the recent activity on YouTube. The network has created an array of channels on YouTube over the past year, many of them featuring the same content in an apparent attempt to elude censors. The network is quite open about its beliefs: Its logo features the SS insignia used by the Nazis, and one of the hosts calls himself Goebbels.

One Vanguard video features a cross-Atlantic conversation between Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist, and Mark Collett, a longtime racial extremist in England. Some of the videos include links to Streamlabs, a streaming service that white nationalists have been using to collect donations. Streamlabs has taken some action against racist material, recently shutting down two Vanguard channels.

Carla Hill, a senior investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League, said she’d heard of the Vanguard Streaming Network through Augustus Sol Invictus, a far-right attorney who attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and defends white supremacists. “He is collectively working with these other individuals to form these media outlets for podcasting, which is the new way for white supremacists to get their messages out,” she said.

Invictus, which is his legal name, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

One relatively new show on the Vanguard Streaming Network is called “Goy Talk” co-hosted by a masked man calling himself “Dino.” Prominent white supremacist and neo-Nazi figures have appeared on the show, including Christopher Cantwell and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

As reported by the anti-racist blog Angry White Men, in November, a “Goy Talk” host wore a large rubber nose and pretended to be a Jewish man named “Finky Heebstein,” talking in a nasal voice about the “caravan of love” moving through Mexico. The skit was meant to promote the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews are hastening immigration to the U.S. as a way to replace white people. It’s the same conspiracy theory that prosecutors say motivated Robert Bowers to massacre 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October, only a few weeks before the episode of “Goy Talk” aired.

Both the Third Positionist and Vanguard Streaming channels share followers with The Red Elephants, a channel that predominantly features controversial political commentary from the channel’s owner, Vincent James, and livestreams of anti-Muslim and pro-Trump rallies and protests. At times, James has been a vocal supporter of the Rise Above Movement, a white power gang.

James livestreamed an event billed as the “March Against Sharia” in San Bernardino, California, in June 2017. In his video, streamed to his Facebook page and later published on the Red Elephants YouTube channel, James bantered with Rise Above Movement leader Robert Rundo. On camera, James asked Rundo to “say the 14 words,” a reference to a neo-Nazi slogan about preserving the white race. Rundo responded by saying, “I’m a big fan of the 14 words.”

Later in the video, James filmed Rundo and fellow RAM member Ben Daley running through the crowd, boasting that they had “physically removed” counterprotesters. Rundo added, “We chased ’em down the block, smashed up their car.”

Late last year, Rundo, Daley and six other members or associates of RAM were jailed on federal rioting charges. Rundo and Daley have pleaded not guilty and are currently incarcerated while awaiting trial. Two of their co-defendants have already admitted their guilt and taken plea deals.

Segal, of the Anti-Defamation League, credited YouTube and other major platforms with having become more aggressive about policing white supremacist content. Still, he noted, “It’s pretty easy still to find anti-Semitic and white supremacist videos online.”

Becca Lewis, of Data and Society, a New York-based research center, said YouTube has historically taken a “hands-off, laissez faire” approach to white supremacist content, focusing mostly on eradicating “explicit slurs or threats to violence” from the platform. But white supremacists, she said, have become “extremely adept at masking use of slurs and the inherent violence in their discourse.”

“There are certain white supremacist channels that have been running for upwards of 10 years on YouTube,” said Lewis, an affiliate researcher with the center.

YouTube did not respond to a request for comment on its efforts over the years to deal hateful content. It did promise to investigate the channels brought to its attention by ProPublica and HuffPost.

The killings in Christchurch are part of an international pattern of attacks on Muslims, which seem to have increased over the past two years. In January 2017, a man entered a mosque in Quebec City and shot and killed six people. He was sentenced to at least 40 years in prison this year. The killer followed white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and right-wing commentators online, and he was fixated on Muslims and immigrants. He was a fan of President Donald Trump and his Muslim ban.

Since 2016, at least three U.S. mosques have been set afire, and at least three other Islamic institutions across the country have targeted for terrorist attacks.

YouTube is owned by Google, which is a ProPublica Donor.

The Longer History of the Christchurch Attacks

On Friday, an Australian white supremacist committed a monstrous act of violence against Muslim worshippers in New Zealand. The attack, which he livestreamed, was steeped in the kind of global iconography and discourse that characterizes modern white supremacy. The assailant played a song about convicted Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic as he approached the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, and his weapons bore further testament to the global resonances of contemporary white supremacy: One rifle apparently eulogized a Swedish girl who was murdered by an Uzbek immigrant in Stockholm, while another celebrated a Frankish nobleman who fought Muslim armies in Western France over a millennium ago. His manifesto cited U.S. white supremacist mass murderer Dylann Roof as inspiration, and featured a diagram promoted by U.S. white supremacist David Duke on its cover.

In any attack like this, it is important to look at the particulars: the online hate speech the perpetrator absorbed, for example, which has proliferated in recent years. But it is equally important to remember that this latest outrage, and similar barbarities elsewhere, are not anomalies: White supremacy has a long, global history, and New Zealand and Australia have played central and interrelated roles in that history. This most recent horror is not just testament to a more recent uptick in far-right violence. It is also the latest episode in the ongoing story of antipodean white supremacism at the heart of both New Zealand’s and Australia’s national histories. And then, as now, American white supremacy has been intimately linked to that story.

The first victims of white supremacy in New Zealand and Australia, where the latest killer was born, were indigenous inhabitants. But by the late nineteenth century, white colonials had also turned that sentiment against the imagined influx of “undesirable” immigrants from Asia. The gold rushes of the 1850s brought the first Chinese migrants to both Australia and New Zealand. Curiosity turned to hostility as the mines were exhausted and Chinese miners moved off in search of other opportunities. By the 1880s, both New Zealand and the Australian self-governing colonies had enacted immigration regulations that made Chinese immigration prohibitively expensive and therefore nearly impossible.

Remoteness from Britain and proximity to Asia, white New Zealanders and Australians proclaimed toward the end of the nineteenth century, would bring racial degeneration and ruinous economic competition unless they maintained a total commitment to white territorial, political, and economic control. As one representative explained to the Victorian Parliament in 1899, “we have a territory with a suitable climate, but with a sparse population, while on the other hand, we have quite adjacent to our shores hundreds of millions of a very undesirable class of people.” The same sentiments were echoed in legislative bodies, newspapers, and trade union halls all over Australia and New Zealand, and the same solution was repeatedly volunteered. In the words of that same Victorian legislator: “It should be one of our ideals to maintain, if possible, a pure Australian blood, or a pure British blood, or a pure British and European blood, within the shores of Australia.”

What followed was the White Australia Policy and its lesser-known analog, the White New Zealand Policy. The former was enacted almost immediately upon the federation of the Australian Commonwealth in 1901. In the words of Australia’s first Attorney General (and future prime minister), Alfred Deakin, the new Immigration Restriction Act demonstrated that “at the very first instant of our national career we are as one for a white Australia.” The law empowered immigration officers to exclude non-white immigrants on the grounds of literacy rather than color. New Zealand had instituted a similar policy in 1899. These laws—encouraged by the British government, which opposed explicit racial exclusion for diplomatic reasons—derived from a similar policy adopted by the British colony of Natal, which in turn took its cue from so-called educational tests designed to prohibit African American voting in the American South.

In 1908, some white New Zealanders and Australians sensed an opportunity to connect with white supremacist allies in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt had recently dispatched the newly constructed American battle fleet on a circumnavigation of the globe, and from August to September 1908, that so-called “Great White Fleet” visited Auckland in New Zealand and Sydney, Melbourne, and Albany in Australia. Some legislators embraced the racial implications of the American visit, especially in the context of deteriorating U.S. relations with Japan over the issue of immigration restriction: Liberal MP William Steward spoke for many when he declared that “the brown and yellow races will challenge the white race for the possession and occupancy of [the earth]” unless white colonists rallied around American naval strength in the Pacific. The New Zealand Times agreed, pronouncing the fleet’s visit a “bold, emphatic assertion of the dominance of the White Race.”  Some white Australians expressed similar hopes, with Prime Minister Andrew Fisher later enunciating a plan to “to join with [the Americans] as far as we may in keeping the Pacific for the Anglo-Saxons.” While these initiatives came to naught, their intent was unmistakable.

That effort reached a dangerous zenith following the end of the First World War a century ago. In Paris, the Japanese delegation hoped to write a statement of racial equality into the constitution of the new League of Nations. Determined to protect the White Australia Policy from Japanese claims to racial equality, Australian Prime Minister William Morris Hughes repeatedly and ostentatiously scuttled those attempts. “White Australia is yours. You may do with it what you please,” he declared to the assembled crowd upon his triumphant return to Melbourne in August 1919. While it would be an overstatement to draw a straight line between Hughes’s actions and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor some twenty years later, there is no doubt that this episode contributed to Japanese alienation and facilitated the rise of militarists and expansionists in that country.

White Australians and New Zealanders have long wrestled with the implications of white supremacy. Moreover, that history has always been inextricably intertwined, and it has often been connected to broader currents of white supremacist politics across the Pacific in North America. In that context, it is not so strange that a white Australian terrorist might choose to make his stand in New Zealand, citing American extremists as inspiration. How all three societies—as well as other majority-white societies across Europe—respond to this outrage will determine whether this history of trans-Tasman white supremacism can finally be brought to an end.