On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on white nationalism, featuring witnesses who testified on the movement’s recent rise, and the role that online indoctrination plays in far-right communities. Considering the subject matter — and the trollish habits of those in the movement — it wasn’t a huge surprise that the hearing got derailed.
Conservative provocateur Candace Owens was the witness that first pushed the hearing off-course. “We need to condemn all types of hate speech,” Owens said, complaining of a “double standard” that allows condemnation of Christians and black conservatives. (Of course, such language ignores the very point of a hearing meant to understand the rise of far-right violence, including the recent mosque shooting in New Zealand and the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.) “The hearing today isn’t about white nationalism, it’s a preview of a Democrat 2020 election strategy, same as the 2016 election strategy,” Owens said. “If they were really concerned about white nationalism, they’d hold hearings on Antifa.”
Republicans on the committee ran with Owens’s “All Types of Hate Speech” Matter rhetoric. Texas representative Louie Gohmert asked a Facebook official testifying why the platform is so hard on “my friends, Diamond and Silk.” Arizona representative Andy Biggs asked why Owens was listed on the witness list as a “conservative activist.” As NBC News notes, both Biggs and Gohmert “mused about the concept of staged hate crimes and hoaxes, suggesting they are frequently at play in the United States.” Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the afternoon that Hitler was mentioned, when Democratic representative Ted Lieu played a recording of Owens stating that his plans for Germany were “fine,” but that his “globalized” ambitions were the problem.
If the hearing itself maintained at least some semblance of etiquette, the reception online was lawless. While Google public-policy counsel Alexandria Walden said in front of the committee that “hate speech and violent speech have no place on YouTube,” the site’s users proved her abjectly wrong. After an hour of hurling white nationalist shorthand and epithets against Jews and Muslims on a YouTube livefeed of the hearing, the stream’s comments section was taken down.
Perhaps most egregiously — considering the hearing explored the internet’s role in promoting white nationalist ideas — the far-right YouTube channel Red Ice hosted the livestream of the House testimony as a fundraising tactic. “This is nothing but the elites and globalists setting up laws that will be enacted in a single pen stroke against the white race in the future,” wrote one user, who donated $100. Another user, who donated $10, employed the white nationalist 14 words. Past Red Ice videos have claimed that interracial couples are promoting “white genocide” and that America “can never, ever, ever, be too white” — two common arguments made by far-right media outlets.