The weekend of January 18-20 was a watershed moment in American history. In only about 24-30 hours, we watched two stories unfold that were treated with an insane level of angst by the news media: The “leak” that Donald Trump told fixer and attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about something, and the Covington High School students’ altercation with “minority” groups that went viral in social media.
Both stories caught fire in the news media, and both were rather quickly proven to be false. There has been a great deal of reporting on this matter so we will not dive into that too much again here.
However, the ferocity displayed by Americans’ reactions, mostly through social media, to the Covington incident was frightening. This is not alarmist language at all to say this. Look at the text in these posts. We have removed the foul language and replaced it with *s:
“I am thinking of finding every one of this ****** kids and giving them a very large piece of my mind.” – Kara Swisher, Op-Ed writer for The New York Times
“Nobody is born racist. Bigotry is learned from parents, teachers, society and leaders. So yes, I sure as hell think Trump’s racist comments and constant dog whistles have contributed to Making A**wipes Great Again. It is why we must condemn racism everywhere and every time we see it.” – CNN Personality Ana Navarro, apparently the token Republican on that network
Actor Ron Perlman, Golden Globe winner for his work in Beauty and the Beast, referred to Covington student Nick Sandmann as a “little (female dog)”, but after the story was revealed to be false, he did not delete his initial tweet saying this but then sent out another one saying “What we need of less in this country are the deep divisions that rip apart our emotions.”
Viewed critically, this is hardly an apology; it appears to be more a rather polite way of saying that those who are different are the problem rather than our emotions.
A Los Angeles DJ named Michael Buchanan, tweeting under the name “Uncle Shoes” had this creative idea:
“LOCK THE KIDS IN THE SCHOOL AND BURN THAT ***** TO THE GROUND.”
Twitter at first did not remove this message, saying Buchanan had not violated Twitter’s rules.
Reza Aslan, religious studies scholar, producer and guest on numerous television shows, responded,
“Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”
Comedian (if anyone thinks she is actually funny anymore) Kathy Griffin (yes the one who held an effigy of President Trump’s decapitated head) wrote,
“Covington’s finest throwing up the new nazi sign,”
not realizing that the sign was actually the standard celebration of a successful three-point shot in basketball, which was the game that was in progress when the photo was taken.
Although there are many far more vile and profanity laced tweets and comments throughout social media that happened, this one was among the most dangerous.
GQ writer Nathaniel Friedman wrote this:
Although this was swiftly responded to by many people who still had their sanity, this writer’s anger continued to be on display for quite some time. Later Mr. Friedman acknowledged that he was wrong but still blamed Trump supporters in a claim that appears unbelievable, as Trump supporters have never been proven to show anything remotely as bizarre in their behavior as the claim here:
It was an irresponsible and stupid tweet that happened in the heat of the moment because I was upset. It partly came from having been doxxed by MAGA people myself but that’s no excuse and no one should wish that on anybody else. It’s counterproductive to say anything along those lines and if you make yourself look like an irrational, mean idiot you’re playing right into their hands.
The results of this sort of action were evident in very short order. The parents of the Covington students found themselves receiving death threats from strangers. “Doxxing”, the practice of finding out how to orchestrate a hit on someone by using all available information from the targeted person’s social media pages, is as stated before, potentially deadly.
Such doxxing nearly resulted in the death of one young man whose name we will not publicize for fear of an attack against him happening again. This young man, a Christian who is simply rather outspoken about his beliefs, but not hostile to anyone for any reason, was doxxed in a Colorado city by members of Black Lives Matter that was operating in that area. These people identified the youth in a bar during a concert, attacked him and nearly killed him.
He had to fight so hard that he told us that he also almost killed one of the BLM attackers, though he was fighting in self-defense. He suffered broken bones and was in very bad shape, and so far there is no word that the BLM perpetrators have yet been found.
To have a prominent writer call for doxxing against a group of kids whose images were billboarded across the entire nation, when echoed sentiments by so many Americans is the same… this is a very grave threat. Some people reacted to this tweet and pointed out that Mr. Friedman was perpetrating a felony, but he defended his anger for quite a while.
It must be noted that almost everyone mentioned above is relatively to highly prominent in the United States. Kathy Griffin was a well known comedienne. Nathaniel Friedman writes for a popular men’s magazine. Reza Aslan is a common sight on many television programs and networks.
The phenomenon of great rage and anger was not confined to media celebrities; it was manifest by ‘regular Americans’ as well.
Colorado teacher Michelle Grissom, of Mountain Ridge Middle School in Douglas County, went on record saying ““His name is Jay Jackson,” according to Twitter screenshots shared in the Douglas County School District Watch Facebook page.
“His twitter account is closed to non followers so we won’t interfere with his training #HitlerYouth.”
She got placed on leave over this, and may lose her job over it. While this seems justified in light of what she did, it is also reflective of the very tragic pattern that more and more Americans have succumbed to.
Even the Bishop of the Diocese in Kentucky that the oversees Covington High School condemned the students, at least initially.
The circumstances surrounding this are bizarre. Consider that the Roman Catholic Church has long been held to be one of those organizations that stands objectively to the world… or at least it is supposed to be. But Bishop Roger Foys told a different, and shocking story:
In a letter to Covington Catholic parents, Foys wrote the diocese felt harangued into reacting as quickly as possible to a viral clip of the incident — and then, when additional clips filmed from other perspectives began to circulate, to issuing a just-as-quick retraction of its earlier condemnation.
“We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely, and we take full responsibility for it,” he wrote. “I especially apologize to Nicholas Sandmann and his family as well as to all CovCath families who have felt abandoned during this ordeal. Nicholas unfortunately has become the face of these allegations based on video clips.
“This is not fair. It is not just.”
The bishop is correct in assessing his and the Diocese’ actions, but it was after the fact.
Even the methodical reputation of the Roman Catholic Church seems to have been replaced by a hair-trigger tendency to wild and unrestrained emotional outbursts.
This tendency is on the increase across the nation, parallel to what appears to be an increasing lack of objectivity, of sanity.
Of all social media services, Twitter is one of the places that seems to most often attract cesspool-level comments, because the format is perfect for the incendiary, snarky, or outraged statement (the “tweet”).
This does not make Twitter inherently evil; that network can be used for effective purposes. President Trump is a master of Twitter and has successfully used it to keep in touch with his voter base because most media outlets like to try to just show what they want people to see, which is often very different than what Mr. Trump actually does.
But when Twitter, Facebook or YouTube or any other social media network is used by people who think it is okay to use this stuff to vent their anger “into the ether”, it appears that it is causing problems. It appears that the more anger shows, the more anger results – a chain reaction of outrage that, last weekend, extended to a pitch never seen before.
It placed the lives of students, faculty and parents of a Roman Catholic boy’s high school at risk.
We need to let this sink in. How many school shootings have resulted in massive deaths from far less provocation? Thank God, this was so blatant that the school could at least see the threat and close in advance to give the situation a chance to defuse, especially since the story had been proven false.
The hope was that the correction would result in two things: vindication of the falsely accused students, and an honest bit of self-assessment on the part of the media (and hopefully all of us by extension) to look at how dangerous this mob reaction almost became.
However, after only a day or so of some people apologizing for what they said in hyper-reaction to the video clips of the students, many prominent sources reversed their course again, and continued to blame President Trump, conservatives, Christians, MAGA hats and other things, and the outrage is now ramping up again.
And, as the news cycle moved on Friday into its pattern of attempting a major hit against President Trump just in time for the weekend, the outrage flared anew about other issues.
It does not appear that much has been learned. However, here, in Part I of this report, we have gone so far as to note one fact – that emotions on rampage seems to have become the norm in America, at least so far as social media is concerned.
Part II of this series will examine the patterns of media reporting and their contribution to this phenomenon.