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Lifting Up the Rock on the Gutter Right
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Lifting Up the Rock on the Gutter Right

Lie after lie after lie.

I want to write about cruelty and slander and how those dark sins are wielded as weapons of political and cultural warfare in the worst corners of the online right. While politics has never been a gentle pursuit, the advent of Trumpism and the Trumpist ethos has spawned a host of popular voices who embrace lies as a tactic and character assassination as an objective. 

Consider my last few days as a case study. It all started, as so many of these online mobbings do, with a lie. A person who works for The Blaze and who trolls me constantly accused me of calling management to complain about his tweets. I did no such thing. The claim is completely false, and I told him so. And that, I thought, was that.

But no. His completely false claim was picked up by a gutter website called “Twitchy.” Twitchy’s business model is to package right-wing Twitter attacks into news stories, slap inflammatory headlines on them, and gleefully claim that this or that person has been shamed, destroyed, humiliated—often by a set of random Twitter trolls. 

I tend to ignore Twitchy even though I’m a rich source of content for them (just google “David French” and Twitchy and feast your eyes on the theater of the absurd), but as a symbol of the dysfunction of the right-wing infotainment complex, they’re one of the top 20 most-trafficked right-wing websites on the internet. 

It’s one thing when they write a series of juvenile insults. It’s another thing when they repeat completely false claims.

Oh, but that’s not all. A semi-famous anonymous blogger named “Ace of Spades” also picked up on the story and wrote a vile, expletive-laden screed that’s too obscene to link. And he upped the ante. He claimed that I not only tried to get a Blaze employee fired, I’d also unfairly tried to get a writer at American Greatness named Julie Kelly fired. 

This is another flat-out lie, but this is also where things get really gross. Four years ago, Kelly tweeted that my wife, Nancy, “screwed around with her pastor when she was a teen” and condemned a piece that Nancy wrote at the Washington Post. In it, Nancy argued that if Brett Kavanaugh was guilty of the charges against him, he should not serve on the Supreme Court. 

Nancy was responding to arguments that Kavanaugh’s conduct wouldn’t have been disqualifying if it was true. I shared her opinion and still share her opinion. I also happen to think that the case against Kavanaugh is way too thin to be believed

Why is this so gross? Because Nancy didn’t “screw around” with anyone—she was molested by a pedophile pastor. And this happened not when she was a “teen” but when she was 12 years old. It was dreadful abuse. 

I called out Kelly’s lies. She refused to apologize. I called out her lies while on an Aspen Institute panel with her boss (you can hear the entire exchange here, starting at the 5:24 mark). He lied to my face and told me that Kelly had apologized. She had not. I did not call for Kelly to be fired. I called out her lies.

The story gets grosser. American Greatness published (and then deleted) a poem called “Cuck Elegy” that was breathtakingly, brazenly racist, and then put my picture as the “share image” that came up when you tweeted the piece. 

Don’t take my word that it was racist. The New York Times’s Jane Coaston has the screenshots:

Let’s chronicle the lies so far. Gutter right trolls lied that I called Blaze management. Gutter right trolls lied that I tried to get Kelly fired. Kelly misrepresented my wife’s age at the time of her abuse (and refused to apologize or delete her tweet after she was corrected). All of this, of course, has been accompanied by an online campaign of vicious insults directed at me and my wife.

But am I done with this nonsense? Not by a long shot. Rather than deal with the fact that multiple people lied multiple times, the gutter right goes right back to, yes, drag queen story hour. Here’s Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter (he also is a frequent Hugh Hewitt guest host). He tweeted to his almost half-million followers, “The drag queen story hour guy is mad again. Shut up, [David French]. You’re not getting Julie Kelly fired. You’re not getting anything, except mocked.”

Here we go again. This refers to the false claim that I once called drag queen story hours a “blessing of liberty.” As I’ve written (and it’s been fact-checked), the “blessing of liberty” is a phrase I use to refer to our constitutional rights of free speech and free association, the rights that allow any of us—from Christian student groups to, yes, drag queens—to exercise our rights of free speech on an equal basis. 

What makes all of this even more insane is the way Kelly and others claim victim status throughout the entire affair. Even though they lie and even though they attack, when you push back and tell the truth, that’s “cancel culture.” They claim victim status. It’s extraordinarily cynical.

By the time this entire little online fight ended, I’d trended on Twitter and Nancy and I had both been subjected to countless vicious, slanderous attacks.

Why tell the story? Because it’s important to understand how this slice of the right operates, it’s important to understand the dilemma that faces people of good will, and it’s important for understanding how toxic lies spread through the right-wing infotainment ecosystem.

I know there are readers who are yelling at their screens, “Why do you respond to this, David? You’re giving them oxygen!” And I agree with you, mostly. I rarely respond to online lies and online attacks. There are right-wing publications that have “David French” tags that link to articles that are chock-full of vitriol. They’re often written for the purpose of goading me into a response. I rarely give them what they want.

But why is the answer “rarely” rather than never? For the simple reason that a sufficient number of attacks made over a sufficient span of time can crush your reputation if there’s no response. I can’t tell you the number of times that people of good will have asked me about some of the worst lies because they googled my name, and the lies popped right into their feed. 

Unrebutted lies can cause people of good will to be automatically skeptical of anything you write. “Oh, he’s the Never Trumper who tries to cancel people who don’t agree with him and thinks drag queen story hours are a blessing of liberty.” The only thing truthful in that sentence is my opposition to Trump. The rest is a pack of lies told these last weeks, months, and years—often from people who hold themselves out as devout Christians who are seeking to save the church in America. 

There’s one last aspect to address. I hope it won’t happen, but online attacks—especially those that escalate so much they trend on Twitter—often trigger real-world doxxing and real-world threats. What starts online doesn’t always stay online. The message is simple. Shut up, fall in line, or you will be made to pay. 

I hate writing about this stuff. Indeed, the online right also mocks you and derides you when you expose their conduct. They call it “crying” or “whining” or “complaining.” But it’s important to expose a version of a process that is playing out time and again, with public figures and even private dissenters, in communities and families across America. Cross the hard right, and you will be made to pay.

I’m at Duke University this week speaking at a number of events, and just this morning I spoke to a person who described the vitriol within her own family, directed immediately at anyone who departed from the Fox/talk radio line. Other journalists and politicians can tell stories far worse than mine. 

But this is not the time to give in. This is not the time to shrink back, join the “exhausted majority,” and cede the public square to America’s worst voices. Instead it’s vitally important for Americans—in public and in private—to live the political values they seek to advance. It’s not enough to wish for a change in American culture. It’s important to model the change, as well as imperfect people can.  

To paraphrase Alexander Solzhenitsyn, we can resolve to live our lives with integrity. The lies may come into the world, they may even triumph. But not through us.

One more thing …

On Dispatch Live tonight, we’ll be discussing the astounding transformation of the Ukrainian battlefield’s, Russia’s possible military collapse, and the threat of a Russian nuclear response. This Eliot Cohen piece is your homework. It’s a sober examination of the catastrophic costs of giving in to Putin’s nuclear blackmail. This part is especially salient:

To yield to nuclear blackmail, however, would be folly. Give in now, and anyone with nuclear weapons will learn that the secret to success in a negotiation is to froth at the mouth, roll up one’s eyes, and threaten a mushroom cloud. To yield to Putin would be, as Churchill said in a different but not entirely dissimilar context, to take “but the first sip from a bitter cup.” What then to do, and to threaten to do, particularly if Russia does indeed detonate one or more nuclear weapons, either as a signal or against some Ukrainian target?

More:

China has a stake in this, too: A world in which the nuclear taboo is broken is one in which Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea may feel that they need the security of their own nuclear deterrents. India, facing a Pakistan that may have more nuclear weapons than it does, and whose politics are terrifyingly unstable, has no interest in seeing nuclear use become acceptable. Those who can still talk to Moscow should be urged to convey that message to Russia’s leadership—if they are not, in fact, doing so already.

One last thing …

This newsletter has been dark. So let’s end on a happy note. It’s October, and that means the NBA is (almost) back. Preseason basketball is underway, and that means Ja Morant and a casual 360 degree dunk. Athletic greatness.

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David French

David French is a columnist for the New York Times. He’s a former senior editor of The Dispatch. He’s the author most recently of Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation.