The War on the ADL
Elon Musk helps a neo-Nazi campaign go viral.
In early August, Keith Woods decided to stick up for his down-and-out pal: Elon Musk.
Twitter has been bleeding advertisers since Musk’s calamitous acquisition. And Woods was positive of the culprit: The Anti-Defamation League.
“Since Musk's takeover, the ADL has been using this platform to damage his reputation and promote advertiser boycotts, which have cost the company billions,” Woods wrote. “It's time for @elonmusk to ban the ADL from X.”
In the increasingly extreme world of Twitter, Woods’ call-to-arms found fans — particularly amongst those who pay the $8 for a little blue checkmark, which propels their replies to the top of the heap.
Sam Parker, a failed Senate candidate who wants to repeal universal suffrage for women, replied “same energy.” He attached a screenshot of the frontpage of the March 24, 1933 edition of the Daily Express: The headline proclaimed “Judea Declares War on Germany.”1
“ADL is the worst representative of Jews since the Rosenbergs,” another wrote.
Woods himself had been on this kick for awhile. The ADL, which aggressively monitors and reports on the far-right, had published a thorough backgrounder on Nicholas Fuentes, the face of the new American neo-Nazi movement. Woods had joined his little club of propagandists and Twitch streamers, the so-called Groypers, and was furious that the ADL had itemized Fuentes’ effort to red-pill the masses. Fuentes is a rare star of the far-right: Someone able to spew explicitly anti-semitic, racist, and homophobic ideology to his followers, while moderating his message to the masses in order to win audiences with elected politicians. Most famously: Donald Trump.
After the ADL article went up, Fuentes was banned from a raft of platforms, including (pre-Musk) Twitter.
That was a problem for the Groypers. Twitter was, for them, an indispensable tool of mass communication. Youtube and Facebook had always been more hardline when it comes to outright white supremacist and neo-Nazi content. The far-right could form communities on Gab and Locals, and upload video to Rumble and Bitchute, but the needed a cross-cutting tool to reach new audiences. That was Twitter.
That’s why, after their respective bannings, Groypers would keep registering new sockpuppet accounts. (Woods was @PunishedGoy1000 for awhile.) But even their alt accounts would get banned.
Woods lamented that the white nationalist cause had indeed been thwarted by Twitter censorship. “Imagine how much it could have been accelerated if every big nationalist account didn't get banned and the conversation wasn't being led by nerdy JRx [Jewish reactionary] accounts and phony populist talking heads.”
But Elon Musk bought Twitter. And he went out of his way to reinstate Fuentes’ account. Whether he realized it or not, he had just fixed the Groyper’s communications and recruitment problem.
Here was an opportunity for Woods to go after their chief tormenter, take the narrative back from the feckless conservatives, and help Musk put the boots to their common enemy, all in one go.
This week, on a very special Bug-eyed and Shameless, how a band of neo-Nazis launched a campaign to ban a major Jewish organization, how Elon Musk enthusiastically joined, and how it shows the upside of good social media moderation.
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“I worry that if he has too much power and influence, we won’t be able to expose what is going on in South Africa much longer on X,” a right-wing influencer wrote last month.
She was talking about Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL. He had posted a statement earlier that month denouncing a rally where leaders of a small South African political party sang a violent protest song about murdering whites in the name of righting the historical wrongs of apartheid. But Greenblatt had earned the far-right’s ire because he warned that the clip of the rally was being weaponized by those advancing the racist ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory.2
Greenblatt’s statement, she wrote, could mean that any mention of the “horrific, targeted, disturbing, and near daily attacks” on white South Africans could be censored as hate speech — even on Twitter.
Musk — himself a white South African — responded with his oft-used tweet reply: “!!!”
Woods saw a chance. Glabach’s tweet was going viral anyway, and Musk’s reply only ensured it would be put in front of a lot of eyeballs. So Woods replied: “The ADL is an anti-White hate group that conspired to cost you billions in advertising revenue because you promised free speech. People are still banned for political speech while the ADL has a platform to try and sink the company. Time to #BanTheADL.” He included a link to his previous posts, from earlier that month, calling on Musk to ban the organization.
And it worked. Musk smashed that like button on Woods’ post.
Woods took to Telegram to juice his attempts to suck up to Musk. “Let’s get #BanTheADL trending on Twitter,” he implored his followers. Within the hour, former MMA fighter Jake Shields — who has repeatedly used his Twitter account to call for executions of anyone caught helping or counselling transgender people — had endorsed the campaign. “Let’s get this trending to help wake the masses of how evil they truly are,” he wrote.
The call was quickly echoed by a constellation of accounts — including members of the Canadian far-right wannabe-militia group Diagolon, QAnon influencers, and Fuentes himself. By the next day, it was the number one trending hashtag in the United States.
Woods kept tweeting at Musk over the next day — “the people have had enough of organizations like the ADL dictating what speech is allowed” — and Musk kept liking those tweets. Eventually Musk replied: “ADL has tried very hard to strangle X/Twitter.” The next day he mused: “Perhaps we should run a poll on this?”
As he floated the idea of letting Twitter vote on banning the Jewish organization, his blue check followers popped in with some straight-up anti-semitism. One accused Jews of conducted ritual child sacrifice, perhaps to “harvest the adrenochrome.” (Musk had an answer for that, of course. When longtime right-wing troll Mike Cernovich suggested that many anti-Semitic accounts are “funded/operated by the [Democratic National Committee] DNC to create fear and division,” Musk tacitly agreed and suggested they could also be bots.)
Regardless of the swell of anti-semitism that propelled this movement, supposedly mainstream conservatives rushed in to capitalize on the energy.
“I love the Jewish people. I love Israel. I do not love the ADL,” Charlie Kirk wrote. It has become a “mass purveyor of anti-white hate,” he said, adding the hashtag: #BanTheADL.
“If you want to keep hate off the platform then I guess you agree we need to #BanTheADL” wrote Matt Walsh, owner of the anti-trans media empire The Daily Wire.
A Newsweek column proclaimed: “The ADL Has Lost Its Way. Elon Musk Is Right to Stand Up to Its Censorship.”
Dinesh D’Souza retweeted Woods’ posts directly. Alex Jones rejected the idea of banning the ADL, but went on to call the Jewish organization “pro-Hitler,” “evil,” and accused them of unspecified crimes.
And the wheel kept spinning. “The ADL, because they are so aggressive in their demands to ban social media accounts for even minor infractions, are ironically the biggest generators of anti-Semitism on this platform,” Musk wrote, in reply to Woods.
It has culminated in a plan, put forward by Musk, to sue the ADL for defamation.
Let’s take a step back.
This wasn’t just a dogwhistle that went viral, or a campaign onto which neo-Nazis bandwagoned. No, this was a concerted, targeted, deliberate effort by neo-Nazis to keep their safe space safe.
The Groypers, and their ilk, had two goals: Stop the ADL from reporting critically on their movement; and to nudge the broader American right towards their ideology.
Woods, a 20-something Irishman, just happened to be the one to get it going.
He rose to his middling level of prominence in the far-right space through a series of poorly-produced and deeply boring Youtube videos, offering some first-year-poli-sci-level arguments for a “third way” politics — some mix of fascism and socialism. A kind of collectivist, anti-capitalist, race-obsessed nationalism. (a.k.a national socialism.) Earlier this year, the ADL took note of a Youtube video he posted (and since deleted) on “Transhumanism and Judaism.”
Woods has written of the “ZOG censoring the internet of criticism of Jews” and that “treason to ZOG is loyalty to humanity.” (ZOG stands for “Zionist Occupational Government,” a neo-Nazi term for Western governments which are, supposedly, controlled by the Jews.) He joins livestreams with other neo-Nazis, where viewers regularly donate $14.88.
Woods may have a pretty facile grasp of politics, but he clearly understands the online radicalization dynamic very well. As he explained in a 2021 Youtube video:
I’m pleased that Tucker Carlson is saying things that were only being said by very radical people a few years ago. And I'm pleased that this old paradigm is breaking down, because it's ultimately a paradigm of control by evil people with an evil social agenda. And what comes next will be very interesting. But it's up to us. It's up to people that are very much outside of this political paradigm to keep advancing, on the fringes, a proper radicalism. Because I think we've seen, the last few months, that radicals that are really pushing ideas that are very much outside of the acceptable paradigm — even if they don't get a seat at the table, in terms of mainstream media and so on — it is possible now, with the internet, to move the dial somewhat.
Last year, Woods enumerated all the ways in which the radical right has succeeded.
There has been the creation of the National Party in Ireland and the Patriotic Alliance in the UK, he wrote — both parties are avowedly white supremacist, while the UK party is led by a Holocaust-denying neo-Nazi.
Woods points to a crop of new book publishers serving as their ideological vanguard, including Imperium Press and Antelope Hill Publishing. The former primarily prints classics, which argue things like “the Spanish Inquisition was moderate, necessary” and sells bookmarks with such beloved Nazi symbols as the Odal rune. The latter publishes books which argue “Jewish hatred for Christianity is the origin of Jewish hatred for Whites” and that “affirmative Christian violence, such as that practiced by the anti-infanticide or pro-natalist Army of God, is justified and even commanded.”
Woods goes on to boast of their technological achievements: The success of Odysee, Bitchute, Gab, even crytocurrency. They’ve boosted “websites like Counter Currents, TRS [The Right Stuff], Unz and Amren,” he continues. These websites publish essays which glowingly celebrate “the Hitler faith” and engage in unabashed Holocaust denial; they’ve launched a political party made up of neo-Nazi goons; and organized conferences to link up with Hungary’s fascists.
Eight years prior, he writes, “Critical Race Theory was something only talked about on fringe nationalist forums and websites. ‘Anti-white’ was a term used exclusively by nationalists with no mainstream adoption, now it's used in mainstream media articles.”
And now, Woods can add the #BanTheADL feather to his cap: He’s won over the richest man in the world. “No one punches above their weight more than our movement,” he wrote this week. “But it only works because we are more active and coordinated.”
Most of this smugness is deeply unearned.
There have been extremist book publishers, conferences, political parties, and newspapers for as long as there has been a far-right. I see nothing on these racist outlets that wasn’t being published by Ernst Zündel when he was (unfortunately) still alive. The three American, Irish, and British political parties listed by Woods have, between them, barely been able to contest an election. (The Irish party has been beset by a gold heist.)
The fact that Woods’ movement remains as small and marginalized as it is stands testament to just how much people do not, in fact, want that fascist groove thang.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: The neo-Nazis and right-wing radicals are doing a good job of commanding the news cycle, winning over more mainstream figures, and recruiting new members. And, right now, that’s thanks to Twitter and Elon Musk.
As one of Woods’ neo-Nazi compatriots wrote: “Whether right wing influencers jump on the #BanTheADL hashtag is the perfect litmus test of whether they are controlled opposition or not.” Make no mistake they are making a list, checking it twice, and trying to determine who they can continue to influence in the future.
Twitter’s open nature makes that possible. But Musk’s consistent decision to boost this far-right content made it a reality.
Worse yet, the fact that the hashtag trended on Twitter gives more button-up political types plausible deniability in joining it. Conservative figures can now endorse a dismantling of the organization without, necessarily, being tied directly to neo-Nazis.
In recent weeks, I have been writing a fair bit about the dangers of technology — particularly, how big tech leadership should not be trusted, and how it certainly shouldn’t be roped in as a partner with the state. (Dispatch #65) I am skeptical that regulations around “online harms” will do much good, and I worry they will create net harm.
I firmly believe that there is a minimum standard that the platforms must abide by — identifying and dealing with child pornography, stalking, appeals to violence, non-consensual intimate images, and extremist organizing. Platforms continue to be incredibly slow and inconsistent on those issues. We should put real legal weight behind those big things before we start litigating the myriad of tricky conversations around the edge cases — slurs, bullying, misinformation.
And I think the ADL is wrong about some of these things. Particularly, the organization has gone too far to equate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. And I think they sometimes go too far in demanding social media regulation or censorship. But reasonable people can, of course, disagree on all of these things without making common cause with actual Nazis.
Even if I’m skeptical of state regulation, I think we have got to demand that these major companies deny a megaphone to actual Nazis.
By and large, those platforms have done an okay job of this. Overt neo-Nazi content is, most often, banned by the major platforms. On sites like Youtube, extremists use more coded language — even then, it is punished by the Youtube algorithm, and tends to do miserably. (Although a new paper found that Youtube’s recommendation engine has some role to play in promoting “small but active” extremist channels.) It’s not perfect, but neo-Nazi organizing is quite difficult on the major social media platforms.
And it was difficult on Twitter. Even with the platform’s wildly inconsistent moderation policies, they were at least responsive to research and reporting on extremist movements from journalists and groups like the ADL. And to listen to the Nazis themselves explain it, the ADL was extremely effective. That’s why they celebrated Musk’s takeover and launched a concerted campaign to convince the new ownership to go after the ADL.
Musk, desperate to stop the pressure on his advertisers, was happy to join the Nazis.
The latter half of the 20th century shows that broadly censoring Nazis entirely isn’t necessary: They’re losers. They will keep losing. Let them publish their indecipherable books so that fellow Nazis can learn to read. Activists and anti-fascists can be counted on to outnumber them in nearly every instance. Researchers and journalists can track their efforts to infiltrate bigger movements.
The major upset to this functional balance has been social media. It has radicalized a small cohort of new adherents but, more importantly, it has given these Nazis a chance to “punch above their weight” and affect rhetoric, politics, and policy. Not because they’re popular — but because they can create the appearance of popularity. They can, through coordination, both make their causes seem more grassroots and give politicians and figures in the media the opportunity to speak to this small-but-active constituency without having to own up to playing footsie with fascists.
The only flaw in this plan has consistently been groups like the ADL, the Southern Poverty Law Centre, Hope Not Hate, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, and so on.
When the ADL began, in the 1910s, it was tasked with challenging anti-semitic depictions in the newspapers, on stage, in theatres, and so on. By the time the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933, its mission took on a new intensity.
A “vast system of propaganda units has been established in America to create anti-semitism in this country,” one observer, just back from Germany, told an assembly in 1933. “This has been growing so fast that the Anti-Defamation League has the biggest job on its hands that any Jewish organization has ever had throughout the centuries of Jewish history.”
But even then, some of the biggest names in American media said the ADL was going too far. “Tell them for me,” radio host Charles Coughlin told a rabbi in 1935, “not to be so thin-skinned. There is not the slightest danger of any anti-Semitic movement in America. Jews make a mistake talking about it and putting such ideas in people’s heads.”
Coughlin wasn’t just wrong, of course: He was one of the leading voices of that anti-Semitic movement.
It is critical that we support organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, even if we don’t always agree with them.
Because we are truly fucked without them.
That’s it for this special Wednesday edition of Bug-eyed and Shameless.
As always, thanks for reading — and a particular thank-you to my paying subscribers, who make this work possible.
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This headline has an interesting history. While it seems some sources report that the Express was conjuring up a conspiracy theory about a worldwide Jewish plot, this slogan was actually used for a short period by Jewish activists. They wanted to. as the Express put it, “not to rest quiescent in face of this revival of medieval Jew-baiting.” Eventually, it was decided not go with a slightly more welcoming slogan: “Boycott Nazi Germany.”
The fact is, these targeted killings, usually of white farmers, are not new but have always been a tiny percentage of murders in South Africa. There is some evidence to suggest that they have gotten worse since the end of COVID-19, but so have killings more broadly. This murders are not being covered up or downplayed, either in South Africa or in the U.S.