This Week with David Rovics
This Week with David Rovics
Fear and Suspicion in the Northwest

Fear and Suspicion in the Northwest

Amidst all the solidarity is the unavoidable observation there is a whole lot of fear and suspicion making sure it's unlikely to spread.

I read in the news this morning a study that finds that 50% of interactions on the internet involve bots.  The article, on Al-Jazeera's website, was particularly focused on the role of the pro-Israel bot factories they're monitoring.  They found that early in the ongoing Gaza genocide, posts on social media worldwide were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Palestinians.  Then that changed, due to armies of bots being unleashed, as it turns out.

At the beginning of this month Facebook commended me for having as much engagement as celebrities I follow on the platform such as Tom Morello and Joan Baez.  I got 27,000 comments in the past 28 days, the Meta bot congratulated me.  It was abundantly evident to any casual observer of my Facebook page that at least 95% of those comments were from pro-Israel accounts that had recently been set up.

I had wondered how many trolls-for-hire Mossad was paying, in some corner of the world where people were desperate enough to do such work.  But apparently these days most of the accounts openly advocating for the mass murder of children, the razing of Gaza, and the non-existence of Palestine are bots.  Which means that all those accounts actively arguing with these bots, among the majority of them which I suspect are real humans, are really, truly wasting their time.

Although my Facebook account and sometimes my X/Twitter account are frequently flooded with such Hasbara bot bile, to me and other people I actually know who also are prone to seeing my posts, the flood of blatantly pro-genocide hatred that follows any photo I post that includes words like "Gaza" or "Palestine" are easy enough to dismiss, though of course quite intentionally bewildering.  What has much more potential destructive power are the trolling activities of those who consider themselves on the "antifascist" side.

There is a certain cohort of self-proclaimed antifascists who spend much of their time posting on social media and writing articles that involve efforts at character assassination of ostensibly fellow leftists who have strayed from their convoluted version of antifascism.  Once such character assassination has been carried out -- along with regular, well-timed reminders of the supposed transgressions of the target -- then the modern culture of fear and suspicion that has been cultivated by social media algorithms and other factors takes over.  That is, the suspicion of others resulting from the fear of association.

In the modern culture of the online American left and the slippery slope beyond, association with a tainted person taints you, and you are then guilty by association.  We must avoid being burdened by the need to constantly fend off accusations.  We've seen this happen to so many others, and we don't want it to happen to us.  Therefore we avoid associating with those who are under suspicion.  The power of false rumors has never been greater, in the entire history of humanity, I'm pretty sure.

Those spreading the rumors don't even need to identify themselves or say why they feel unsafe, they need only make the accusation, anonymously online, and it must be believed, or else the unbelievers may be tainted by their unbelief, and accused of all the same transgressions as the one they are possibly about to be guilty of associating with.

Thus Rose City Antifa cult guru Shane Burley posted a video shot of me surreptitiously and from a safe distance, from behind me as I was busking near the library at Portland State University, while it was occupied by protesters.  "David Rovics seems to think the world just loves him as much as he loves himself," he posted, attempting to mock the notion that I was having an album release party on the sidewalk, with an audience of disinterested passersby, as I had joked I was doing.

I am guilty of loving myself and thinking the world loves me, because I play music in front of audiences on occasion, I guess?  Shane employs the same type of condescension in his posts as the Hasbara trolls do, and as all the trolls do, in an effort to toxify the target of their condescension.

He developed his interest in destroying my career when I violated the rules of his "antifascist" principles by communicating with the wrong person.  By committing the crime of communication with the wrong person I am now that person's advocate, supporter, buddy, and collaborator, and should thus be shunned, as the person I associated with was also being shunned.  For other reasons?  The same reasons?  It doesn't matter.  Shun them all to be safest.

Spotify doesn't allow comments, and thus, trolling on the platform is pretty much impossible.  As a result, this very popular platform works very well for introducing people to music they'll be likely to like, once the algorithm has a good idea of what kind of music they're into.  This is how I get a significant percentage of my new fans on the platform.  Most of them are young, and most of them are sympathetic to the Palestinians, and responding very well to my recent albums.  People are streaming over 100,000 of my songs on Spotify each month.

It's when they move onto other platforms, where anyone can post and comment, where they may learn about my many scarlet letters.  Between the time a fan from Spotify organized an appearance on the campus in Eugene and the time I arrived in Eugene, someone let someone else know that this guest is tainted by association with the wrong person, and associating with him may taint us, too, regardless of the veracity of any of the allegations.  Best be safe.  The truth doesn't matter, anyway -- being tainted means being rendered ineffective, and this work is too important.  Safest to shun, to isolate, to divide, to be as pure as possible, and thus hopefully avoid our own cancellation.

Last week I got a message from someone in Portland, with an anonymous account on Signal, who wanted to talk about eviction resistance.  Great, I thought.  I've been working on cultivating an eviction defense network in my spare time for years, and I've made a bit of progress, too.  I welcome people who are working on similar projects and want to work together.

This person asked me if I wanted to join the Signal group with other people involved with similar projects.  Of course, I replied.  It only took a few hours before I mentioned my admiration for Portland Tenants United founder, Margot Black, and I found myself unceremoniously removed from the Signal group.  Margot, you see, is tainted by the ridiculous accusations made about her by a very discredited former activist.  Although it was obvious to anyone who looked into it that the allegations were ridiculous, Margot can no longer effectively organize in the city of Portland, along with some other of her colleagues at PTU who were similarly smeared.  The need for others in the left milieu to avoid being smeared themselves by associating with Margot meant they had to shun her, and so many others.

Even mentioning her name in a positive light today will get you immediately kicked out of a Signal group, by people who themselves openly admit to me that they haven't looked into the accusations against Margot, it's all before their time, they say, but they trust their colleagues who believe the accusations to be true.  Their colleagues, in this case, may be anonymous accounts on Signal, but that's good enough -- victims don't need to reveal their identities or say why they feel unsafe, that's against the new rules of communication, that seem to have been written by Cointelpro.

Last weekend I played three gigs in different parts of the northwest, outside of Portland.  (This weekend the "northwest tour" continues with a Sing Out for Gaza and a concert in downtown Portland.)

I managed to catch up with a bunch of different friends in various places on my little trip.  I was in Vancouver, BC on Saturday.  Among the folks I visited with was longtime internationally-traveling journalist and brilliant singer as well of proud Lebanese heritage, Hadani Ditmars.  She had just recently written about a jarring experience, where she visited the pro-Palestine encampment at the University of British Columbia and after an hour of talking with various folks there, she was escorted off of the campus by masked, self-appointed encampment security people, who claimed with no basis that she was a Zionist.

I visited an old friend in Seattle who has started a line of coffee she's calling Antifascist Coffee.  The coffee is fantastic.  In her efforts to spread the word about it on social media, she has found herself getting attacked by a handful of accounts that are saying all kinds of snarky and nasty things, denouncing her line of coffee for one reason or another.  She did what I did in identical circumstances, and asked someone with far greater IT skills than either of us have if they could tell us about these people posting this nonsense.  As with my attackers, she found all these accounts had Portland, Oregon IP addresses.

On Sunday in Seattle, before heading to Olympia, I looked online to discover my old friend John Baine, aka Attila the Stockbroker, responding to people claiming to be from Antifascist Action who were attacking him very publicly and in a profoundly uncomradely fashion, for having the wrong position on Israel-Palestine.

John and I have done 14 tours together, and we've spent a significant minority of our time on those tours arguing about politics.  We're both well-read and well-traveled leftist musicians, but we have had various spicy political differences that have made for lots of good arguments about lots of subjects, one of them being the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.  He's for it, I'm against.  This has never stopped us from touring together, and has never led either of us to feel the need to publicly denounce the other for having a different perspective, even at a time like this.  But now that an allegedly official representative of AFA has written all of this bile about John online, despite the thousands of people who have eloquently defended John on his Facebook page in light of these attacks, we can all be reasonably sure there will be more trolling of John based on the original allegations, because that's how it works with such public allegations and social media's bottom-feeding, sensationalistic algorithms. John's attacker also made reference to his loving himself too much, apparently a common transgression for artists who habitually perform for audiences.

In Olympia, the house concert happened in a beautiful backyard of an old friend there who has long ago been canceled himself for saying the wrong things, thinking the wrong thoughts, and posting them online.  Some of the folks who did come to the show were nice enough to let me know that the reason why they didn't tell other people they knew about it was because of where it was taking place.  

Other folks who showed up had come from Centralia.  The last time I played in Centralia, they were the organizers of the gig.  When some self-proclaimed, allegedly local "antifascist" heard they were having me play there, they tried to get the gig canceled based on my supposed transgressions, but the organizers couldn't figure out what my transgressions were supposed to have been, so the gig went on, though perhaps with a smaller attendance than it might have otherwise had.  

There will be another one in Centralia soon, and in Olympia as well, not to mention Seattle and BC, but no doubt there will be those who try to get all of those gigs canceled, and try to make sure people who were thinking of going think otherwise, lest they be associated with one who has been associated with those who are accused of committing transgressions.

Remember when Obama was running for office and the Republicans were trying to smear him for his associations with former members of the Weather Underground and all that?  They called him a terrorist supporter.  That's what the Hasbara trolls constantly call me, too, because of my association with the Palestinian cause.  But for daring to unapologetically interview a couple of allegedly rightwing guests on my YouTube channel, I'm denounced as an insidious member of the sneakily antisemitic, supposed "red-brown alliance" that festers in the imaginations of the self-appointed gatekeepers of antifascism today.

Kicking the heretics out of churches and then literally or symbolically burning them at the stake goes back a long way in this country.  With this tradition being joined so actively by armies of rightwing bots along with self-appointed antifascist cult gurus and their anonymous followers, all amplified to a staggering degree by conflict-feeding social media algorithms, it really is a clusterfuck.

People say very often in commenting on missives such as this one that I must be doing something right to be getting all of this negative attention.  I agree.  But knowing this to be the case sure doesn't solve any of our collective problems here.

If you know anyone in Portland, Oregon or in Australia, please spread the word about the events below!

This Week with David Rovics
This Week with David Rovics
If I do an interview, whether as the interviewer or interviewee, or a livestream event, new song, audio essay or various other things, it’ll often go out as a podcast here.