What It Feels Like to be Quoted Talking about Nazis in the New York Times
When I signed up for my first journalism class in high school, I would not have guessed that a message from a Neo-Nazi would be the way I’d discover my first appearance in the New York Times.
Alas, it is not a byline. Instead, Times reporter Nellie Bowles found me at an anti-racism rally in San Francisco, drawn in my my sign, and briefly interviewed me. This was my sign:
The resulting story, “How Doxxing Became a Mainstream Tool in the Culture Wars,” is about what you think it is about. It says what you think it says. It expresses mild concern about doxxing going wrong and expresses mild concern about doxxing going right. It briefly quotes people who have a diverse array of thoughts about doxxing, all presenting a number of points of view that are unlikely to seriously enrage anyone on any side. As with all Times stories that sit at the intersection of culture and politics, it includes much obligatory handwringing over “murky” ethics. And because it includes the phrase “the ukulele player moving by electric pony,” it is a very complete New York Times story.
I realized I’d been quoted in the piece when a Twitter troll — complete with a Pepe-plus-Trump cartoon showing the president draped in a St. George flag, a burgeoning dogwhistle for Neo-Nazis — rolled into my mentions.
I am sorry to report that the word count for my first appearance in the New York Times is not very high. It is five words. Six if you want to be generous.
Oh, right. The sign. So, my sign had two sides. You must hear both of them.
I have conducted hundreds of man-on-the-street interviews in my career, and I’ve always worried about misquoting people, or failing to convey the depth of their story or intellectual engagement with a subject. I am now on the other side of this concern, and it is thrilling and bizarre. To be clear, I don’t think I was misquoted here — I am sure that I said that doxing Nazis is important, because I believe it is — but “She said she had ‘outed’ white supremacists to their parents, which she said often worked well to stop bad behavior online” thoroughly fails to convey what happened to me back in 2015 when scads of Neo-Nazi trolls piled into my online life with rape threats and racist blather.
I don’t “out” Neo-Nazis as a hobby because I dislike “bad behavior online.” I “outed” Neo-Nazis because they put a Photoshopped pig nose on my Twitter avatar, put that picture on their Daily Stormer Neo-Nazi blog, and unleashed a flood of white men into my mentions, telling me they hoped I would be raped by black men and kill myself as a result. I “outed” Neo-Nazis because they depend on fear and silence to keep their victims compliant. I “outed” Neo-Nazis because if your fucking kid is a Neo-Nazi, you need to fucking know it, Debbie.
I wrote extensively about the ordeal at Rewire. You can read about it in two pieces: “Do Feed the Trolls: To People Who Will Hold Them Accountable,” and “How To Talk to Your Guy Friends About Not Threatening To Rape And Murder Women on the Internet.”
I conveyed the broad strokes of this experience to Bowles, near-hollering over the din of the rally around us. She was friendly and understanding. I am certain she understood that I had outed Neo-Nazis to their families because they had attacked me online — an essential component of understanding why doxxing was, ahemm, my own “tool in the culture wars.” I assume this crucial detail got struck in the editing process, though I’m not sure why I was resultingly included in the piece at all, because “It’s important to dox Nazis” is something plenty of other people did or could say, and the only reason it’s important that I doxxed Neo-Nazis is because Neo-Nazis told me they hoped I got gang raped. Actually, as Elliot put it: “I hope you get raped by a gang of black man and they set you on fire.”
When I forwarded Elliot’s message to his listed family members on Facebook, one defended him as “excitable.”
There were many Elliots. They would go on to put Donald Trump in the White House.
I told Bowles almost as soon as she introduced herself to me that I was a journalist and that she probably shouldn’t interview me. I wouldn’t have interviewed me. But I’m glad she did, because I had forgotten just how shitty and harrowing it was to be the top story on the world’s biggest Neo-Nazi blog. I had forgotten how busy it is at the intersection of men who obsess over their gun rights and men who make rape threats and men who are Neo-Nazis and men who believe white race traitors should “die at the hands of real Americans.”
I had forgotten because men like Elliot love men like Donald Trump, and while lots of us knew that, and said that, nobody believed us — especially, no one believed the black women who have long been targeted online by men like Elliot — because something something economic anxiety and populist sentiment and drain the swamp.
I had forgotten, because the Neo-Nazis are no longer only in my inbox. They are in my streets. And if I have to tell their moms and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and girlfriends about them to keep them at home in the basement instead of behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger or at a prayer meeting in a Charleston church, I will do it.
Because it’s important to dox Nazis.