The Shocking Anatomy of an Internet Witch Hunt
by Dagny Taggart
The recent internet witch hunt shows us that humanity is heading into dangerous territory.
This week, we explained how the mainstream media twisted the story about the “MAGA Kids” from Covington Catholic high school and their “confrontation” with Native Elder Nathan Phillips in D.C. last Friday.
A short video clip and an image of an alleged confrontation between the students and a small group of Native Americans spread like wildfire over the weekend, resulting in widespread condemnation of the boys on social media.
The story is still up front in the news and on social media, and even though all evidence presented so far supports the kids’ side of the story, many are still trying to find reasons to vilify the boys.
Based on what I have observed all over social media over the last three days, there are two things that Nick Sandmann, the boy who is at the center of the story, is “guilty” of: smiling and wearing a MAGA hat.
To many, those two things are enough to justify attempts to dig up any bit of dirt on Sandmann, his school, and his peers. The effort some are putting into making these teenagers the worst people on the planet ever is quite troubling.
Some people who believed the initial story and called for actions against the boys have since apologized and admitted they were wrong for jumping the gun.
Here’s how ugly it got on social media.
Apologies or not, some of these “adults” said truly evil things about those kids.
Allow me to show you just how ugly things got on Twitter.
This Tweet was posted by Jack Morrissey, a film producer whose credits include Beauty and the Beast and movies from the Twilight franchise:
Morrissey later Tweeted an apology that read:
‘Yesterday I tweeted an image based on Fargo that was meant to be satirical – as always – but I see now that it was in bad taste.
‘I offended many people – my sincerest apologies.
‘I would never sincerely suggest violence against others, especially kids.
Kathy Griffin – whose reputation still hasn’t recovered from her fake-beheaded-Donald-Trump “art” fiasco – also posted a few shocking Tweets about the Covington kids:
As if calling for the teenagers’ names to be publicly released wasn’t enough, Griffin doubled down with this Tweet:
Oh boy. Griffin must not know anything about basketball, or fact-checking: those hand signs are three-point celebration symbols. Other Twitter users snapped back at Griffin over the ridiculous Tweet, sharing photos and images of professional basketball players making the same hand signs. Griffin deleted her Tweet, but the internet is forever: Twitchy captured screenshots of her Tweet and some of the responses.
Wheeler Walker Jr. (the alter-ego of comedian Ben Hoffman) asked his fans to assault Sandmann:
Walker’s Twitter account no longer exists (some say he deleted it, some say Twitter suspended him), but you can see the archived Tweet here.
Comedian Sarah Beattie offered up something too:
The internet witch hunt was in full swing.
There are many, many more similar Tweets from people calling for violence against Sandmann and his classmates, but including them all here would take up way too much space, and honestly, who wants to see more hate against a bunch of kids?
The hashtag #VerifiedBullies is being used on Twitter to track and identify all of the people who have called for doxxing, assaulting, and otherwise bullying the Covington kids. Oh, and the wrong kid was doxxed – a boy named Michael Hodge was incorrectly identified as the boy in the “face-off” with Phillips and he and his family were harassed.
Last night, Tucker Carlson discussed how terribly the media has treated the boys:
And it gets even worse.
Unfortunately, the threats against the Covington students are not limited to social media.
One of the students told Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire that in addition to death threats, the boys, their parents, and their school have received other threats:
Yes, so the effect on our community has been great. I mean, we’re from a small town, I mean it’s been horrible. That’s what I meant. We come from like a smaller town in Kentucky so we’re not really used to like this media attention. So we’ve been getting school shooting threats, school bomb threats, vandalism of our buildings, people have gone out and said they’re going to slash our tires and break our school windows. We’ve have threats saying that it’s best if the students at CovCat are locked in the school and set on fire. We’ve had tweets saying that we should be raped by clergy members. We’ve had every sort of threat that we should be thrown in woodchippers. I mean, we’ve been several doxxing of minors. (source)
Let’s step back and take a look at what we have here so far.
People – adults, many of them public figures – have been calling for the MURDER of teenagers over a smile, a few MAGA hats, and some typical teenage behavior?
People are basing their outrage on a hat and a smile.
If MAGA hats trigger people this much, we are in big trouble. I have been told by several people on Facebook over the last three days that the hats are now a sign of white supremacy and racism (funny, that, considering how many non-white supporters the president has…who wear those hats), and that the Covington kids deserve all of this hate for that alone.
I am a non-partisan person, and I am often critical of Trump and his policies. I also think that wearing political garb in public is silly, especially given the way people are so easily triggered these days.
But all the rage and hatred and vitriol over this non-incident is chilling.
While I am not a Trump supporter and don’t understand why some of the teens chose to wear MAGA hats to a protest in DC, I believe that integrity means sticking up for those you may not like when they are being unjustly smeared.
If you hate the president and his supporters enough that you think death threats and ruining these kids’ lives is justified, you have some deep soul-searching to do.
It is bad enough that we have government agencies spying on us via methods that George Orwell warned us about and social media platforms silencing dissent.
Now we have news outlets and social media users accusing a teenage boy of a crime straight of Orwell’s book 1984:
It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: FACECRIME, it was called. (source)
To any reasonable person, this entire debacle should be recognized for what it is: ridiculous.
But people are sticking to their agenda and the internet witch hunt continues.
But no amount of reasoning works with people who have an agenda. They deny evidence that is right in front of them. They refuse to view it. If they do view the evidence, they refuse to acknowledge what they see. Confirmation bias and its nasty cousin, the backfire effect, have taken control.
This particular story gets more twisted by the day. Now we know that Nathan Phillips is not actually a Vietnam veteran (I am not sure if he ever claimed to be, or if this is just one more detail mainstream sources got wrong and others repeated without fact-checking).
And, as it turns out, Nick Sandmann handled the situation even better than we thought. In this video, watch what Sandmann does when another Native starts an argument with the boys behind him: he gestures to them to “cut it out” (this happens around the 7:33 mark in the video).
Still, the media refuses to say much at all about the Black Hebrew Israelite agitators who were stirring the pot and calling the Covington students horrible things that day. The media also refuses to address the awful things one of the Natives was saying to the kids. Why is that?
The one mainstream journalist who let Sandmann share his side is paying for it.
Yesterday, Savannah Guthrie of the Today show interviewed Sandmann. To her credit, she did mention the BHI protesters and included some footage of the group hurling insults at the students. She allowed Sandmann to share his side of the story, but she is paying for it dearly: she is now the target of leftist outrage on social media.
Even though a longer video showing the full context of the incident has now been widely circulated (as of the time of this writing, it has 1,915,663 views) and videos showing different angles of the non-confrontation have emerged, people who are determined to vilify the Covington kids are changing the goalposts.
They are looking for anything they can find that might justify treating the students like horrible people.
Now the media is trying to prove every kid from Covington is a racist monster.
A photo of Covington students wearing blackout paint (a common occurrence at school games) at a basketball game in 2012 is circulating, with the claim that the image is “proof” the kids are racists. It doesn’t matter that none of the students in the image are the same ones that were in DC last weekend. The witch hunt is in full swing, and there is no turning back now.
The “Nazi sign” image that Griffin posted and then deleted on Twitter is also making the rounds on social media – I saw it on Facebook several times. That image is being touted as “proof” that ALL the kids who attend Covington are white supremacist racist monsters.
Not only are the two “racist” photos being taken out of context, labeling ALL of the students who attend Covington as racists is a logical fallacy called hasty generalization, or guilt by association. But again, logic and reason are disregarded when the outrage machine is in full force.
Eventually, another non-event will happen, or someone else will wear the wrong thing in public or use the wrong word or awkwardly smile and the internet mob will have a new outrage to freak out about.
Social media fuels the madness of an internet witch hunt.
Writing for The Week, Damon Linker warns us that “Extreme partisan polarization is combining with the technology of social media, and especially Twitter, to provoke a form of recurrent political madness among members of the country’s cultural and intellectual elite.”
There’s always an element of egoism to intellectual and political debate. But Twitter puts every tweeter on a massive stage, with the nastiest put-downs, insults, and provocations often receiving the most applause. That’s a huge psychological incentive to escalate the denunciation of political enemies. The more one expresses outrage at the evils of others, the more one gets to enjoy the adulation of the virtual mob.
But isn’t a virtual mob much less damaging than a real one? I’ve suggested as much myself, most recently in a column titled “If you think another civil war is imminent, get off Twitter.” Yet more and more the venom has been bleeding into the real world, with boycotts, doxings, firings, death threats, and groveling apologies offered to placate mobs wielding digital pitchforks. It increasingly feels like it’s just a matter of time before real-world violence breaks out in response to an online conflagration.
What Twitter shows us is a real-time ultrasound of the souls of America’s cultural and intellectual elite and its most committed activists — the people in charge of disseminating knowledge and who take the lead in organizing political action in our society. The picture it reveals is ugly, vulgar, shrill, and intolerant, with souls exhibiting an incapacity to deliberate, weigh evidence, and judge judiciously. They display an impulsiveness and unhinged rage at political enemies that is incompatible with reasoned thinking about how we might go about governing ourselves, heal the divisions in our country, and avoid a collapse into civic violence that could usher in tyranny. (source)
And even though the story was disproved, some folks are doubling down.
Despite the fact that the original narrative has been fully debunked, some mainstream media outlets are doubling (and tripling) down.
NBC is one of them. Yesterday, they published a story about with this headline: Gay valedictorian banned from speaking at Covington graduation ‘not surprised’ by D.C. controversy.
Here’s an excerpt from that article:
However, this is not the first time a school overseen by the Diocese of Covington in Kentucky has come under national media scrutiny.
In May of last year, the Catholic diocese ruled just hours before Holy Cross High School’s graduation that the openly gay valedictorian and the student council president could not give their planned speeches sat the Covington school’s official graduation ceremony.
Apparently, the diocese has still not provided the student and the student council president with “thorough explanations” of why their speeches were canceled last year. “At the time, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Covington said the students’ speeches were not submitted on time and “were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church,” the article says.
Also, note that the student did not even graduate from Covington Catholic – he was the valedictorian from Holy Cross High School. “The only thing tying the two schools together is that they are overseen by the Diocese of Covington in Kentucky,” explains Ashe Schow, writing for The Daily Wire:
So, basically, NBC found a student from another school to trash Covington Catholic, and insinuated that somehow Covington is anti-gay.
In the second paragraph of the NBC article, they note the student is from a different school, but go on to refer to Holy Cross as “the Covington school.”
In the fourth paragraph, NBC mentions that the student, Christian Bales, “said at the time that he was unsure whether his sexual orientation played a role” in the decision not to allow his speech. The Diocese also barred a speech from the student council president, who doesn’t appear to be gay. (source)
Oh…and the whole thing is Trump’s fault.
The Washington Post has decided to blame Trump supporters for this entire ordeal. The headline alone is cringe-worthy:
Here are a few excerpts from that article:
For the students and their defenders, attempts by the media to widen the narrative of the first viral video came too late. Online vigilantes had identified the teens. Sandmann said he had received “physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults.”
Now, a new viral outrage emerged. This time the villain of the story was the news media.
That outrage came from a parallel universe online, one that has been waiting for a moment like this. The pro-Trump Internet has, for years, worked to create a media environment that is designed to destroy the traditional news media and replace it.
The liberal backlash against the teens, and who had apologized, and who hadn’t, and whether those apologies were sincere enough, became a breaking news story on the pro-Trump Internet.
Eventually the president weighed in, tweeting Tuesday morning that “the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.” (source)
Just unbelievable. Really, the lows the mainstream media will stoop to in order to appease the blood thirst of the leftist mob is appalling.
“…We shall be fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred. “
I am reminded of a passage from the book Mere Christianity by the brilliant author C.S. Lewis:
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.
Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?
If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker.
If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred. (source)
What do you think about this internet witch hunt?
Do you think things have gotten out of control? Do you think the issue is the mainstream media? Social media? Something else? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
H/T to Don
Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of a professional journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.
About the Author
Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.