Neo-Nazis target Florida school with death threats

“With the school shooting in South Florida yesterday this article highlights a dangerous situation the Trump Administration & Republicans state and local governments have created with their glance over response to gun legislation and alt-right support”

A high school in Florida has been receiving harassing emails and phone calls from “alt-right” trolls after a news story falsely claimed the school district had expelled a student for attempting to have an undocumented immigrant classmate deported.

The story came into national focus after Babe, a viral news website that according to an ad campaign is marketed to “girls that don’t give a f—k,” published two posts about the male student, who attends Gainesville High School. The first included images that the boy posted on social media, showing him bragging about turning a fellow student over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The second claimed the student had been expelled in response to his social media posts. Alachua County Public Schools told Newsweek that wasn’t true, but did not explain why the boy was no longer in school, citing privacy laws.

The posts about the student, who according to the school is a minor, received mixed reactions: Critics of his apparent racism—he posted about torturing immigrants, for example—excoriated him on social media, with one issuing a vague warning that someone was going to “find him.” On the other hand, Gainesville High School received a number of threatening and racist messages from white supremacists, and the school shared them with Newsweek. “You are not Americans. You are communists. And the day of the rope is coming,” one message read, referring to a sequence in an overtly racist novel, The Turner Diaries, in which so-called race traitors are murdered in the streets.

The incident illustrates the volatility of issues involving racism in the era of social media—particularly when involving minors. “Unfortunately, a great deal of misinformation about this particular situation has been spread through social media and some websites,” said a statement from Alachua County Public Schools that was published in the aftermath of Babe’s reporting. “We encourage citizens to recognize that much of the information they are hearing and/or reading about this situation is not accurate.”

A second statement the school district issued to Newsweek added that not only had the student not been expelled, but “we have no information that any student has been deported, arrested, or otherwise questioned for being undocumented.”

Newsweek attempted to reach the boy’s parents for a comment about why he was no longer attending the school, but was unable to reach them. ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the incident, which may never have been reported to the agency in the first place. Babe claimed to Newsweek that it was told by other students at the school that the student had been expelled, but declined to offer further details. The school filed a complaint with the Gainesville Police Department about harassment it received, but added that no charges have been filed. A request for comment from the Gainesville Police Department was not immediately returned.

The campaign against Gainesville High School may have originated on Gab, a self-described free speech website favored by many far-right extremists. On Gab, a user who goes by the handle @Rapefugee Watch posted the school principal’s phone number and email address, which were already publicly available. Another account, @Moonman, reposted them and added the comment, “Everyone needs to support this kid.” He tagged three accounts with larger followings, including that of Andrew Anglin, the editor of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, who reposted it to more than 12,000 followers.

Anglin has been accused of touching off harassment campaigns. For example, a Montana real estate agent, Tanya Gersh, sued him in April 2017 through her lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center for allegedly terrorizing her and her children with an internet trolling campaign that included death threats. No one has been able to serve Anglin with the lawsuit, however, because he is in hiding.

Harassment campaigns waged by the writers of Daily Stormer and by its mostly young, male readers have targeted everyone from reporters to the owner of a Jewish deli, often leading to death threats. A number of the site’s commenters—who congregate on a separate site called The Goyim Know, which is presently hosted out of the Kingdom of Tonga—have been linked to murders. Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black people in a South Carolina church in 2015, was believed to be one such commenters, according to SPLC’s research.

Another high school has also been the target of a harassment campaign, and it also may have started on Gab. Jared Wyand, a white supremacist who has even more followers than Anglin, posted the phone number of Montpelier High School in Vermont, which recently raised a flag that proclaimed, “Black Lives Matter,” in concert with Black History Month.

“This is sick indoctrination of kids,” Wyand wrote in the post with the school’s phone number and the Twitter handle of its principal. “The new principal is a Jew of course and he’s pushing white privilege propaganda on his white students.” Wyand is an anti-Semite, and incorrectly believes conspiracies that Jewish people are secretly plotting to undermine others’ success and happiness. A spokesperson from Montpelier High School told Newsweek that the school had received harassing phone calls, but also calls from people expressing gratitude about its actions. Wyand did not respond to a request for comment about his interest in the Vermont high school.

Utsav Sanduja, the COO of Gab, told Newsweek that while he could not control the preponderance of white supremacists on his social network, “Gab doesn’t tolerate things of a criminal nature or condone things that harm people’s lives.” He suggested that the recent actions on the network involved public information, and violated no law.

Oren Segal, director of the Center on Extremism for the Anti-Defamation League, told Newsweek that such incidents are an effort by white supremacists “to weaponize social media” against political targets.

“They use these tools to spread propaganda and then urge supporters to engage in their tactics,” he noted. “They like to put themselves in the middle” of news stories such as those published by Babe.

Anglin has bragged about recruiting children as young as 11 years old to his neo-Nazi cause through Gab and his website. The Gainesville student is just one of several recent teenage cause célèbres in the world of white supremacy. Another is a 14-year-old “Nazi” who was mentioned in Slate’s advice column, Dear Prudence—something that adherents of the movement took to be a sign of growth. Segal told Newsweek that while the movement is “still very fringe,” the potential use of social media as a recruitment tool should be taken seriously.

Jackie Johnson, a spokesperson for Alachua County Public Schools, told Newsweek that students responded with unity after unwanted attention fell upon the Florida high school. She said the school got no sense that students in any way identified with the anti-immigrant rhetoric employed by the boy in question, and in fact that the opposite was true.

“The kids were very positive,” Johnson said regarding reaction to efforts made by the school’s administration to inform the students of what was happening.

Sanduja added that strangers on the internet would produce campaigns with or without Gab.

“The internet can be a repugnant and vile place sometimes,” he said.

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