Scripted Hate: What to expect when Campus Watch writes about you

Activism
on 16 Comments

A couple days ago, I woke up to the following email from someone calling himself “George Barbery”:

It was only then that I discovered that Campus Watch still exists and that it has two other heads, one called Middle East Forum, and one called American Thinker (whose icon is a patriotic man in a straining, seated position). Thanks to “George Barbery” I had been alerted  to the fact that an employee of MEF and Campus Watch had defamed me as an apologist for ISIS. Given that what the author wrote bore no resemblance to what I had posted on my blog, it was easy to dismiss as non-serious. Yet, I couldn’t help but respond:

“George Barbery” did not respond. But as I looked at the vitriolic comments that began to build on the website, I noticed a comment, posted by “RedzoneDog” that could belong to him:

People began to take RedzoneDog’s advice. Minutes later, I received the following note, this time from someone calling himself “Dr. Tom Barron”:

I responded again:

“Dr. Tom Barron” wrote back immediately:

The email read like it had been written by a Campus Watch/American Thinker/MEF employee whose job was to solicit content and create the appearance that these organizations are engaged in debates about ideas. Again, I decided to respond:

“Dr. Tom Barron” did not reply. Subsequently, as the piece was reposted across Campus Watch’s other websites, such a Middle East Forum, I began to receive other emails such as this:

And this:

And on it goes. What has been most striking in the emails and comments are these things:

  • Misrepresentation. These folks—authors and readers alike—speak a lot about ‘ideas’, but do not actually engage with them. At first I was surprised to see how confident the editors of the site were that their readership would not bother to compare the piece’s claims to what I actually wrote. Silly me. They know their audience very well, and are secure in thinking that their readership couldn’t be bothered to check whether claims are accurate or fair.
  • Defamation. Sites like these exist not to debate ideas, but solely to defame character. Usually, they set their sights on people of color and especially Muslims. For some reason, I am in their gunsights this week. Next week it will be someone else. The logic of their defamations boggles the mind. For instance, this author and his audience claim I am a communist, a Nazi, an ISIS apologist and more. But that’s not the point—the point is they believe if they can fling enough crap, some of it might stick. For people whose careers are actually precarious, such willful misrepresentations of character and thought could actually inflict damage.
  • Censorship and Danger. What the author and his audience find so objectionable is not just the content of what someone like me has said, but rather the fact that we were allowed to say it in the first place. In other words, the project is grounded in doubts as to whether people who disagree with them have the right to free inquiry and research. Why is their anger and outrage so visceral? Why are they so outraged that people oppose their agenda?
  • End the University. From the outset, one of this organization’s goals has been to poison the workplace of universities. Why? With their relative autonomy, universities are some of the last places that cannot be (completely) controlled by the right-wing and their corporate backers. It is true that informed, disinterested research produces knowledge that diverges radically from the programs of think-tanks and interest groups. But Campus Watch and MEF would like to take it a step beyond contesting the claims of scholarship—they would like to do away with the institutional supports that make disinterested scholarship possible in the first place. Perhaps it is because they cannot imagine what it would be like to do disinterested research, for unlike scholars, American Thinker‘s editors and writers are paid to produce a given party line, just as an advertiser is paid to produce inticement or a lobbyist is paid to produce political and rhetorical pressure. These organizations are so detached from actual scholarship that they have come to assume that, like them, everyone else must be a party stooge or paid propagandist.
  • Scripted Hate. The comments and emails sent to me by readers of The American Thinker (and MEF and Campus Watch) are so regular that they appear to be based on a preexisting template or script. The bullet points are remarkably focused: tenured liberals are radicals; our universities are corrupting the youth; leftists hate America; people who disagree with them must be Nazi sympathizers. The insults I have received from Campus Watchers pale in comparison to the kind of hate and contempt these organizations reserve for the Arab and Muslim figures they defame. But it is hate speech all the same, designed to hurt and intimidate. Behind this symphony of hate stand its conductors and composers, the Campus Watch/MEF/American Thinker editors and authors.
  • Echo Chamber. The public comments section of the forums of these publications speaks volumes about the institutions that support them: they are uncivil and non-serious, characterized largely by an intense hate and fear, most of it directed toward Muslims and Arabs. It’s difficult to get a sense of how hateful and inarticulate the comments are without reading them. Some of these comments are composed by sock puppets, no doubt—readers like “Dr. Thomas Baron,” but others might be actual people. The vitriol in these forums is neither spontaneous, nor is it accidental, as happens often in unmoderated venues. At The American Thinker, incivility and hate flourish precisely because the forums are anything but unmoderated: their whole purpose is to cultivate flowers of hate and fear.

Who needs groups like ISIS when such homegrown threats to civilization already flourish on our own soil?

This post first appeared on Elliott Colla’s site, Baghdad Central.

About Elliott Colla

Elliott Colla writes fiction and translates Arabic and teaches modern Arabic literature at Georgetown University. His first book, Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity, studies the colonial roots of modern Egyptology and the complicated ways modern Egyptians have viewed the Pharaonic past. His current academic interests focus on revolutionary literature in contemporary Egypt.

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16 Responses

  1. MHughes976
    March 28, 2015, 1:53 pm

    I must read your book, Professor Cola. (Or is it ‘Colla’, as per the Georgetown website?) I notice that you spend some time engaging with these people or robots or whatever they are. That in itself must be taking your time and emotional energy, which you could be devoting to better things – yet they have no right even to normal politeness, have they?

    • Philip Weiss
      March 28, 2015, 6:14 pm

      Colla. Misspelling was due to our department of obfuscation and mystification. Apologies to all.

      • just
        March 28, 2015, 6:22 pm

        Well done, Phil!

        (Nice humor, too.)

      • Donald
        March 29, 2015, 12:21 pm

        “Due to our department ofobfuscation and mystification”.

        Any job openings in that department? Resume on request, but I think my body of work speaks for itself.

  2. just
    March 28, 2015, 3:07 pm

    Many thanks for the exposure of these hate groups and their agenda. It’s the only way to delegitimize them and their adherents.

    I am sorry that you’ve been savaged by them, Elliott Colla.

    “At The American Thinker, incivility and hate flourish precisely because the forums are anything but unmoderated: their whole purpose is to cultivate flowers of hate and fear.”

    ~and~

    “Who needs groups like ISIS when such homegrown threats to civilization already flourish on our own soil?”

    So true!

    (I could add some other groups that consider themselves “civilized” and of the “first world” as well. But that’s another fine kettle of fish…)

  3. bryan
    March 28, 2015, 4:12 pm

    “American Thinker” – is that not a perfect example of an oxymoron – (just joking) – but please you guys, make sure that if you want to set up wacky think tanks / political campaigns you clearly call them the Freedom Defense Initiative (not Defence!) or the Stop Islamization of Europe group (not Islamisation!) so that we Brits cannot be implicated in your racist / fascist endeavours (not endeavors!). (:->)

  4. Krauss
    March 28, 2015, 4:56 pm

    What you got was passive-aggressive emails. They didn’t even call you names. They were wrong in substance but if that’s “hate speech” then the words have no meaning.

  5. Rodneywatts
    March 28, 2015, 5:33 pm

    First of all you have my sincere admiration of the way you have sought to deal with these odious members of humanity. Your polite revelation of facts about your stance in the original piece was correct and commendable. I have taken the opportunity to get to your blog, but the link given above does not work correctly. The following does, but people will need to scroll down to get to original piece which caused the ignorant and hateful mail:

    http://www.elliottcolla.com/blog/

    In fairness, in reading your original piece, I can see how people who are are either not academics or of a nasty mindset could misconstrue it. However, I have to say that your very first sentence has to be ignored, for the kind of misconstruction exhibited, to occur.

    Sadly I would be the first to agree that America needs to look at itself and the kind of lobby groups (yes, zionist included) that exist before looking at even ISIS.

  6. justicewillprevail
    March 28, 2015, 7:12 pm

    Classic mob incitement. Proto-fascist behaviour where you whip up the crowd with propagandistic speech, sure to be unquestioned, then hide back in the shadows while the mob bays for blood and attacks the object of your campaign. Unfortunately, the anonymity and virality of the internet has been a boon to these manipulators and covert rabble rousers, with a very willing audience just looking for targets to attack and smear. It is the antithesis of democracy and free speech, and is parasitic on it – i.e. it exploits it, only to deny it to others, and undermine its tenets.

    • John O
      March 29, 2015, 8:47 am

      Watch out for any organisation calling itself –Watch. CampusWatch; CiFWatch (targeting the Guardian’s Comment is Free); and BBCWatch.

  7. RoHa
    March 29, 2015, 1:23 am

    And, adding injury to insult, the message from George Barbery includes two examples of commas after subject clauses. Where do people learn this? Every American writing course I have seen agrees this is wrong.

    • Mooser
      March 29, 2015, 1:04 pm

      “Misspelling was due to our department of obfuscation and mystification”

      RoHa, does “department of obfuscation and mystification” originate with the American writer known as “O. Henry”? Maybe from “Gentle Grafter”? Or, more likely “Whirligigs”?

      • gamal
        March 30, 2015, 2:01 am

        ah O.Henry

        “Ha! cursed paleface, do you dare to enter the camp of Red Chief, the terror of the plains?

        “He’s all right now,” says Bill, rolling up his trousers and examining some bruises on his shins. “We’re playing Indian. We’re making Buffalo Bill’s show look like magic-lantern views of Palestine in the town hall. I’m Old Hank, the Trapper, Red Chief’s captive, and I’m to be scalped at daybreak. By Geronimo! that kid can kick hard.”

        From Ransom of Red Chief

        http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:5FUoJTOq7JkJ:www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1041/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ie

        its so lasciviously allegorical..

      • Mooser
        April 1, 2015, 2:46 pm

        I think that O Henry might have originated the phrase “department of obfuscation and mystification”. Not at all sure.

        Didn’t he write the classic Gothic horror story of life from beyond the crypt? It was called “The Gift of the Maggot” or something. Maybe I’m getting him mixed up with Edgar Allen Pope. It is April 1st, after all.

  8. phylliprezzel
    March 30, 2015, 10:15 am

    Out of curiosity, I checked the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center to see if any of these three groups were listed as “Hate Groups.” None of them were, but the Jewish Defense League was listed as such.
    However, there were several articles discussing the tactics of intimidation and spewing of vitriol of these three groups. While not making the list, they are certainly on the radar of SPLC.

  9. JWalters
    March 31, 2015, 7:51 pm

    An excellent dissection of the techniques of fake “discussion”. All students should be taught to recognize these dishonest techniques.

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