What it's like when Nazis infiltrate your conference

HOPE — Hackers on Planet Earth — is 2600 Magazine's venerable, much-loved hacker conference in NYC, a bastion of progressive politics whose 2018 installment was slated to be the most progressive yet, with discussions scheduled on countering alt-right trolling, consent, sexual harrassment, and the rights of sex-workers.

But the con was marred by a group of neo-Nazi provocateurs who dice-lawyered the con's own code of conduct to get bona fide attendees admitted while they were (at least temporarily) allowed to stay and continue to disrupt talks and harass speakers and attendees.

Mozillan Jairus Khan is an anti-racist activist who has been attending 2600 events for more than two decades (disclosure: I'm also a sometime HOPE attendee and former keynoter); he was at this year's con and witnessed the Nazi infiltration firsthand. His Twitter postmortem is an excellent analysis of the Nazi provocateur playbook and is full of suggestions for the kinds of countermeasures that other organizers can deploy when this happens again. Khan doesn't pretend that the HOPE organizers didn't make grave mistakes, but he's got the best analysis I've seen of how such mistakes came to be made, and what we can do in the future to prevent them.

I once spoke at an OECD event that was trolled by Russian state officials who objected to the presenceof an Azeri dissident onstage with me. They stood up and shouted in Russian, saying things so outrageous that the translators hesitated to translate them. It got so bad that I wanted to punch them, and I ended up walking off the stage with the other speakers instead before I could be goaded into doing something that would end up with me being kicked out of the event. The organizers of that event were no better prepared than the HOPE organizers were, and made plenty of similar missteps, because the trolls had figured out exactly how to provoke others into rule violations while staying on the right side of the rules themselves (as Khan points out, this is also the Westboro Baptist playbook).

Khan's bigger point is that despite its blunders, HOPE is easily the most progressive, politically aware of all the hacker cons, and that is exactly why it was targeted by Nazis. Letting those Nazis provoke a boycott of future HOPEs is handing a victory to the Nazis.

The conference has a CoC that is pretty good on paper, but it's also very new and largely untested. It also explicitly protects political beliefs. Now that's a feature, not a bug, but it's also a vulnerability, because using your rules and norms against you is an alt-right go-to.

It makes it so fucking easy for the MAGA trolls to play "not touching you". And they telegraphed it! A dude literally stood up in a 'Trolling the Trolls' session dedicated to Heather Heyer and talked about marching in CVille. Trolling the Trolling the Trolls session. Of course.

The #hopeconf process fell down here. Once this happened, staff present should have flagged it to CoC and had the dude booted or shadowed by security. But they didn't, and things devolved. From this point onwards, HOPE should be considered under attack by agent provocateurs.

The trolls continued to escalate their agitation (including blocking the aisles and saying anyone who complained was "fat shaming" them) until, predictably, someone responded physically. This is straight out of the Westboro Baptist Church playbook. Now they can call the cops.

By provoking an attendee into clearly breaking the CoC, MAGAs exploit the event security. Security does what they're trained to do, which is kick out people who start physical altercations, and protect the people on the receiving end of them. "Even if they're wearing a swastika."

Word spreads that there are fascists present, a person who confronted them got kicked out, and the fascists are still there. HOPE is slow to respond, people are rightly upset, and the perception is that HOPE is a safe space for Nazis. Activists on Twitter vow to never attend.

I was a speaker and workshop organizer at #hopeconf this year. My first 2600 meeting was over 20 years ago. I'm also an event organizer with hundreds of events/concerts/festivals under my belt. I'm also an anti-racist who has been shitkicked by nazis. Here's my (too long) take.

(via Four Short Links)