01.24.21

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Internet Origins of the Mob

Posted in Site News at 8:32 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock

For anybody who has ever been elected into office, from the student union to a national legislature, the recent scenes in Washington DC have been particularly disturbing.

When reports appear about the efforts Trump made blackmailing the State of Georgia into changing their results, it is even more disturbing for those of us who also experience threats or blackmail while holding some form of office or voluntary leadership role. In my case, the free software community elected me as a representative in 2017 and right up to the day I resigned in September 2018, people who opposed the election result sent me constant threats and harassment.

Even two years after resigning, the same mob still pushes doxing and defamation. This is blackmail, they want the questions about volunteers and elections to be withdrawn. Each time new revelations come to light, such as the notorious FSFE women court case, it demonstrates why they find an independent representative so inconvenient.

US Capitol mob, FSFE, Debian, Doxing volunteers

My experiences with bad actors go back a long way and give some startling insights into the rise of these practices in the online space from way before the birth of Facebook or Twitter.

US Capitol riot, predicted and censored

Pine Gap, intelligence down underIn a Novmeber 2020 discussion about elections in a free software project, I posted a comment that predicted exactly where Donald Trump was going:

Kevin Costner got it right in his 1997 flop, The Postman. Stay tuned for the sequel, The GNU Mailman. Quote from the trailer “You are a dangerous man!”.

The email never appeared in the thread. It vanished.

In the movie, the country is ravaged by a plague. Cliven Bundy is the law. The only remaining trace of great national institutions is a postman’s uniform, which seems to fit Costner. This quickly leads to physical conflict. The Bundies are the mob, the Postman is a proxy for Washington.

Paranoia from the grave

In 1996, an Australian political party realized they had made a mistake, they had selected a candidate who was too extreme even for Australian politics. During her campaign, her racist comments about Indigenous Australians prompted the party to withdraw her endorsement. The decision came too late, ballot papers had already been printed with her name beside the party name. The Division of Oxley elected Pauline Hanson by mistake.

There is a unique symbiosis between extreme politicians and the media. Not only does the media profit from giving these candidates airtime but as a bonus, rival groups staging protests and counter-protests guarantee further news stories. Within months of her election, Australia’s police were exerting more resources to protect Hanson than any other politician, including the Prime Minister.

In this context, Channel 7 saw an opportunity: Hanson cut a deal with the news desk to record a video to be played upon her assassination. On 25 November 1997, it was leaked (truncated version).

Dubbed the Video from the Grave, the following lines jump out:

There was always a chance that I would be killed and many believe this would be a mortal blow to what began with my election. You must not allow this to happen, … you must fight on.

Like a geologist examing a core sample, we can go back to this 60 minutes report on the first 100 days of Hanson mania. Watching the first minutes of the video again today, the penny dropped. The Tea Party movement and Trump spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns. Hanson was able to cook up an indistinguishable feast of extremism in a fish and chip shop. Trump had a budget like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Pauline Hanson was operating like the producers of the Blair Witch Project but you can’t really tell them apart. Before the invention of social media, Hanson had perfected and exemplified techniques that America’s Tea Party movement would not start immitating for another 10 years.

Unlike Trump, Hanson sold her business empire when she was elected. The fish and chipperie was subsequently acquired by immigrants. A crowdfunding campaign was established to buy them out and convert it into a kebab or halal takeaway.

Hanson now has her own political party. In 2019, her candidates were calling for Australians to fight like hell and rival politicians were the targets.

Pauline Hanson, Fight like hell, Donald Trump

Quote from Pauline Hanson Party: Time to fight like hell against lazy or dishonest politicians

When the mob came for me

I had just completed my first year of undergraduate engineering and been elected to a role in the Melbourne University Student Union. As a side project, I created a web site supporting native title rights for indigenous Australians. The web site received a commendation from the leader of one of the main political parties, Kim Beazley:

Daniel Pocock, Kim Beazley, Canberra

Support for the maintenance of native title – and opposition to the Howard Government’s Wik legislation – from all sections of the community has been unprecedented. Australians from all walks of life are coming together to proclaim their support for native title and reconciliation.

This homepage provides yet another avenue for people around the world who support native title to make their feelings known to the Howard Government.

<snip>

This homepage is an excellent new way in which people in the community can contribute to the native title debate.


Kim Beazley

Leader of the Opposition

Canberra

The site was a runner up in the Loud Festival run by the Australian Council for the Arts. This was well outside the traditional undergraduate engineering curriculum. Mr Beazley became America’s most wanted Australian.


Daniel Pocock, Loud Award runner up, 1997


Three days after Hanson’s video was leaked in 1997, pleading with people to fight on, I found myself in their cross hairs. Although social media did not exist, doxing had just been invented and they chose to practice on Mr Beazley, Carlo Carli, the local member of parliament and I. Some of the online attacks captured here.

Looking at the doxings, you can find many synergies in the style of abuse between fascists in the far right and those who give orders to volunteers in open source. As Wikipedia notes, there is always some violation of the victim’s privacy. The Australian fascists chose to publish my mobile phone number, it doesn’t even belong to me any more but it still lingers on that web site for any neo-Nazi who comes along and wants to call it. The more recent attack involved molesting my entry in the Debian keyring the night before my wedding anniversary. Fascists choose to add something personal like this to add personal pain, to deter people from speaking again. We can see the same tactic in the siege of the US Capitol, the fascist note on Nancy Pelosi’s desk:

Nancy Pelosi, Debian, FSFE, threats

Whether it is a threat on Pelosi’s desk, a rogue Debian Developer desecrating my wedding anniversary or a dog leaving some dampness on a tree, the mindset behind it is equally intrusive and crude.

What I find really stunning from the earlier fascist doxing is the following quote, most ordinary readers would feel the efforts described here deserve praise:

What is interesting is that a little bit of on-line detective work reveals that Daniel Pocock is the technical contact for a domain vmore.org.au which is called Virtual Moreland and that this service provides FREE Internet services for Community Groups – just COMMUNITY GROUPS! (Au$100,000 has been sought from the Victorian state government to get this little baby going and based on the success of the participants in the past getting this tax payer funding should be a breeze).

Helping the government transfer taxpayer dollars back into highly transparent projects like Virtual Moreland would appear to be an incredible success.

You know your mob is special if the sight of a library has them frothing at the lips:

“(CO.AS.IT owns) A modern library service, … <snip>” … No guessing who paid for all of that…

Why do fascists hate libraries? There are usually lots of books. Some of those books, like some blogs, may confront their Code of Conduct mindset.

The doxing paints an image of community groups coming from the extreme left. Multiculturalism is a far more complex phenomena. The philosophy of people like Mr Carli and I would probably be seen as mainstream in most civilized countries. The Moreland region is popular with the Italian diaspora, which is also a very Catholic community. At that time, the Arch-Bishop of Melbourne was the conservative Cardinal George Pell. In addition to the state funding, we received generous donations of some spare computers and even a surplus file server from the Catholic administration.

It is fascinating to fast-forward 20 years and contrast the rants of Pauline Hanson’s mob with the rogue elements of the open source software community. Hanson’s mob started attacking me after students elected me as a representative. This pro-Google mob started attacking me after the free software community elected me as a representative. While Hanson’s mob complained about my dedication to helping communities, Google’s mob use me as a scapegoat, blaming me for all the strife in communities where some volunteers are disenfranchised. Yet in the latter case, they are not communities at all. They are exploitative organizations that keep volunteers off their membership rolls, a model that is barely a notch above modern day slavery. They don’t allow members to join but if members ask questions about the money, they tell people we have been expelled. There is a strong smell of fraud in misrepresenting the true nature of membership.

While the defamation from Google is incredibly extreme, it is easy to see that my principles remained constant over these decades. Whether it is in the case of the native title campaign (1997) or my efforts to document the doctored membership rolls of the FSFE in 2018, what drives me is a concern for all participants to have equity, dignity and justice. A system where some volunteers are excluded from elections in the open source world has an unusual odour, much like the Apartheidesque phenomena of excluding Indigenous Australians from the land.

When Google attacks independent volunteers, it is because they can’t accept the principles outside their own worldview, just as Donald Trump can’t accept the people who didn’t vote for him. In a stunning role-reversal, while officials are releasing details of Trump’s attempts to blackmail Georgia, a GAFA mob led by Google was exposed blackmailing Australia’s parliament.

It is disturbing for me to see that rogue elements of Debian, FSFE and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation have found something in common, doxing volunteers with personal attacks to drown our principles. We find another synergy in the way fascist groups discredit people outside their monoculture, branding everything they don’t agree with as spam. Like some archaeological discovery, tracing this tool of groupthink back to a far right web site from 1997. It is up there in the very first line of the doxing, the statement “Now I have said before that I don’t like to receive unsolicited email“. There is no way he could receive a message from my web site if he hadn’t inserted his email address in the form to test it. To this day, fascists use the assertion of spamming to avoid questions and hobble people into groupthink.

Centenary of Federation, Australia, 2001

My efforts with Virtual Moreland were recognized with a Centenary of Federation certificate. Web sites hosted by the project were absorbed into other community hosting providers when I left Australia in 2002.

We also ran a training lab and portable Internet cafe based on thin client computing, like Linux Terminal Server Project, but that was only invented two years later.

Virtual Moreland lab

The government grant provided 1,000 hours of training to people from local community organizations making their first web site. Drupal and WordPress didn’t exist. I built my own Content Management System using PHP. This made it easier to train people. Thanks to the CMS, many of these local groups were keeping their web sites up to date.

This shows just how long I’ve been doing development with Debian. Earlier projects, while I was at high school, involved Slackware. When some newcomers arrive and start trying to erase the volunteers who lived in the era before Google, they are trying to erase a critical part of our heritage. Changing our history and our language is another synergy between the traditional fascists and those raiding the open source community. Google has even redefined the word fascism so it no longer includes their allies and apologists in society. It is both an attack upon society, who lose the insights from history and it is also an act of aggression against the target. When you’ve been doing something like Linux for this long, you don’t just disappear on the whim of some Google puppet. When somebody stands up at a conference, pronounces herself to be a developer by fiat and incites a mob to humiliate real developers, it feels like she wants to cut off my arm. Maimimg people like that is another tool of fascists. In Sierra Leone, the practice of canceling people has been taken to extremes by amputating hands and feet. The false claims of expulsions and demotions have the same intention: frustrating people’s future ability to work, enforcing and perpetuating asymmetry between the fascist and their victim. Not everybody who wears a uniform behaves this way.

Debian, FSFE, demotion, expulsion, shaming, community team, defamation, gossip, amputation, bodily mutilation, groupthink, cybertorture

In any other domain, volunteers who give decades of service like this are given recognition and thanks.

From PUPs to Mobs

One of the more remarkable phenomena in Australian politics was the decision of businessman Clive Palmer to start his own party and pick novice candidates to run under his name in as many seats as possible.

Palmer, like Trump, is a businessman. Trump’s slogan was Make America Great Again. Who copied who?

Clive Palmer, Make Australia Great

The billionaire Palmer won a seat in parliament and set a record for absenteeism. President Trump counted a record amount of time and money spent on golf, mostly on his own properties.

But it turns out the copy-cat behaviour didn’t start there. One of those almost randomly selected candidates of the Palmer United Party (PUP), Jacqui Lambie, was promising to fight like hell as early as 2014 in her campaign against poppy farms. In fact, Lambie has used the fight like hell slogan for everything from gay marriage to home defence.

The conclusion is that Trump’s rabble-raising pitch may not even be his own creation, down under it sounds like a cover act inspired by two of the most loathed politicians in Australia’s far right, Pauline Hanson and Jacqui Lambie.

A deeper conclusion is that if fascists around the world are all a bunch of carbon copies, this debunks the central pillar of their platform, their argument that we should discriminate against people based on their place of origin.

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