Shane Burley, Spencer Sunshine, & Alexander Reid Ross lead a social media mob to try to ‘cancel’ such prominent organizers / intellectuals as Norman Finkelstein, Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, Alison Weir, Vijay Prashad, Max Blumenthal…
They also target progressive media like CounterPunch, Mintpress News, Dissident Voice
Their version of “antifascism” involves viciously attacking longtime critics of Israeli apartheid through lies and innuendo, and editing their Wikipedia pages
The goal: destroy the movement, one victim at a time…
By David Rovics, reposted from David Rovics Blog
If you look up “troll farm” online you’ll find an abundant amount of investigative journalism from every corner of the global press about this phenomenon. Intelligence agencies and corporations make good use of troll farms in a myriad of ways.
The purpose of a troll farm is to use social media and other platforms, mostly online, to influence political campaigns and the opinions of groups of people as well as individuals, employing psy ops tactics meant to harass, intimidate, insult, demean, spread false rumors, lie outright, disclose home addresses of targeted individuals, and a multitude of other related activities.
The troll farmers make excellent use of the idiosyncrasies of social media platforms — especially Twitter — to sow discord and doubt, to assign blame, to try to divide groups and movements, causing them to implode if possible. Troll campaigns target specific individuals or groups to try to destroy their careers or lives — campaigns that frequently lead to serious emotional problems for the victims, and occasionally suicide. This is all well-known to regular media consumers
Those who engage in these sorts of campaigns, whether they are organizers of the campaign or just willing (or even unwitting “volunteer”) participants, are often referred to by phrases like Cancel Culture. Cancellation of those who are deemed to be worthy of their campaigns is the goal — getting events cancelled, concerts cancelled, causing schisms either way, whether they succeed in their cancellation effort or not.
The trolls like to say that the phenomenon they are engaging in doesn’t exist (organized cancellation campaigns as well as “volunteer” cancel culture), and they say they are pursuing a practice called “deplatforming.” It’s exactly the same thing, with a different name.
Although there are many inherently toxic aspects to the internet, and specifically algorithm-driven corporate social media platforms full of largely anonymous actors, the organized cancellation campaigns carried out by the troll farms are the single most toxic thing that ever happens on the internet.
Disinformation campaign tactics
The Rand Corporation has done a study of the tactics of the disinformation campaigns carried out by the troll farmers of China and Russia. This graph they came up with is very handy, because it precisely describes the techniques used by the “antifascist” troll farmers in Portland, and all of the other organized cancellation campaigners as well, if they’ve studied psy ops techniques.
“Antifascist” troll farmers
Portland, Oregon happens to be home to a serious concentration of troll farmers. This collection of self-described “antifascist” troll farmers mostly consists of anonymous, and extremely active, Twitter accounts, but its known intellectual leadership seems clearly to be three people: Shane Burley, Spencer Sunshine, and Alexander Reid Ross.
With enough expert internet sleuthery, I have been astounded at the amount of completely public threads on Twitter that demonstrate how the racket operates. I am indebted to a friend who wishes to remain nameless, who found all the relevant threads.
My friend’s research makes it clear that there are other actors who keep their public tweets at a bare minimum, but Spencer, Shane, and to a lesser extent Alexander seem to prefer to do everything out in the open. The only reason to have these vile, hateful discussions publicly on Twitter, I figure, is either that they are really stupid, really narcissistic and therefore need all the attention from their fellow Twitter trolls, and/or they think that by conducting their business publicly, they can have plausible deniability.
Regardless, the basic political orientation of the self-described antifascists who are the “antifascist” troll farmers in question here is abundantly clear. These folks have various published works and websites if you want to explore their political orientation more deeply, go to it.
But in a nutshell, they dedicate most of their writing and most of their activity online to exposing antisemitism wherever they find it. And they find it everywhere. They consider themselves anarchists and antifascists, but for them, this does not mean opposing US imperialism or Israeli apartheid, or working to build anything — quite the contrary.
Their version of “antifascism” involves viciously attacking anyone who is a critic of Israeli apartheid, and using lies and innuendo to do so.
Use anonymous ‘sock puppets’ to perpetrate threats against their targets
Their anonymous trolls are the ones who then make the threats and conduct the campaigns of intimidation involving large numbers of accounts with very few followers (sock puppet accounts) making a deluge of adolescent sorts of sexist, racist, and transphobic attacks and “jokes,” until people they are targeting feel overwhelmed, disgusted, horrified, scared. And then their victims cancel events, apologize profusely for their moral transgressions, leave the movement, leave the group they were in, or in some cases, kill themselves.
The relationship between Spencer, Shane, Alexander, and the anonymous Twitter accounts that make the death threats and racist attacks works something like this. First, a message from one of the chief troll farmers.
Here we have Spencer Sunshine instructing the trolls — or just suggesting? — that they should dig up dirt on me and keep tabs on who is defending me.
Why do that? In order to threaten, intimidate, gaslight, and otherwise make their lives miserable, drive them out of the left, and destroy the movement, one victim at a time.
It can begin in a slightly more subtle way, at least when it comes to public tweets that can be found. For example, here’s where Shane Burley decides Norman Finkelstein is persona non grata.
When these journalists and authors with actual names who get stuff published in Haaretz as well as AK Press — “prominent actors” might even be an appropriate term for them, in certain circles, if not “leaders” (they’re against leaders, theoretically) — when these people say attack, this is when the attacks develop more strategy, aided by the relative eloquence of the prominent trolls. They, after all, are capable of stringing together a decent sentence, if they try hard enough, unlike most of their minions, who tend to use the same phrases that they use, all the time, mixed in with bigotry and hate.
McCarthyite tactics & death threats
The basic orientation of this extreme, puritanical wing of “anarchism” — I have to put it in quotes, because the only tendencies of historical anarchist movements that these folks share are the absolutely worst ones, and their bizarre little tendency is absolutely a tiny pariah fringe among global anarchism today — is very much the same as with the Puritans or the McCarthyites in the 1950’s.
Anyone who disagrees with Shane, Alexander, and Spencer’s version of reality — that dangerously visceral antisemitism is absolutely everywhere, it’s one of the biggest problems humanity faces today, the left is full of antisemites, and any individual that exhibits what they consider to be antisemitic tendencies or did anything that they consider to be antisemitic should atone for their transgressions, get re-educated (by them), agree with their positions, and be thus rehabilitated — or otherwise they should be hounded incessantly until they go away completely, never show their faces, die, or whatever. If they refuse to go away or die, then any organization they attempt to work with should be systematically undermined, and hopefully destroyed.
Here’s where Shane announces that anyone who shares Norman Finkelstein’s views — or mine, or Medea Benjamin’s, or Max Blumenthal’s, or Alison Weir’s, or any number of other prominent organizers or intellectuals Shane disapproves of — should be “deplatformed.”
“Deplatformed” is a term that was perhaps more well-known in the 1930’s. The “antifascist” troll farmers use this term consistently, in order to avoid using the much more well-known and easily understood term, “cancelled.” But cancellation is what they’re doing, whatever term you prefer.
“Deplatformed” from any political organization, from any media, from a concert venue — from anywhere. That’s cancellation, that’s a cancel campaign, by any definition. Regardless of who you’re talking to, of whatever political persuasion, if they understand that graph up there, if they know what is meant in popular culture by the term “cancelled,” that’s what we’re talking about — cancel culture, or a cancellation campaign, of a pseudo-anarchist variety.
This political practice is not only horrifically destructive to people and organizations, it is profoundly authoritarian. There is no room for debate — Shane says this over and over, in so many ways.
Although there are extremely few people who would dare call Norman Finkelstein sympathetic to holocaust deniers — in fact, it’s about the most preposterous and asinine thing anyone could say about anyone — Shane says it, again and again. And furthermore, he says that anyone who disagrees with his definition of this phenomenon of being sympathetic to a holocaust denier, or for being insufficiently condemnatory towards a particular one Norman might at some point have debated, should be “deplatformed” for refusing to condemn Norman themselves.
Here’s where Spencer Sunshine says I should be treated as a “fascist collaborator” because I evidently talked to the wrong people — there are never good reasons to talk to people you disagree with, especially in any kind of public setting, in the orientation of these “antifascists.” Dialog is a form of capitulation. There is only the authority of the self-appointed gatekeepers of antifascist thought — Shane, Spencer, and Alexander — or you’re a collaborator.
And what does one do with a “fascist collaborator”?
Spencer’s a smart guy. He knows as well as I do what happens to fascist collaborators in many societies, over the past century or so. That’s a death sentence. In the modern American context, maybe a serious beating, if seen in public. Certainly it means cancellation — it means very intentionally and systematically trying to get someone cancelled.
A common thing a certain variety of (actual) antifascist likes to do is dox (actual) Nazis, revealing their home addresses, where they work, etc., and getting them fired from their jobs. So, once someone is considered to be a fascist collaborator, the same things are done to them.
Not coincidentally, around the time that this suggestion was being floated around by these “antifascist” luminaries, someone put flyers with my home address on car windshields all over my neighborhood, with my picture, my (old) car’s license plate, and the allegations that I am a holocaust-denying antisemite who harasses homeless people.
Most notably, after this was done, one of the trolls pretty much takes credit for the deed on multiple occasions, and receives praise from other trolls as well. Others who regularly interact with Shane, Spencer, and Alexander threaten to do it again regularly. This pattern repeats every time someone succeeds in getting an event cancelled or scaring a fellow activist into leaving a group or leaving the movement altogether.
These are considered great victories by Shane, Spencer, Alexander, their sock puppet accounts, their fellow (anonymous) trolls, and their trolls’ sock puppet accounts.
The trolls randomly follow this sort of victory up with death threats, sending me private messages with phrases like, “on sight,” and a picture of a skull. They send similar messages to most anyone who publicly defends me.
Additional malicious tactics
Another common thing a certain variety of (actual) antifascist likes to do with (actual) Nazis, which the “antifascist” troll farm does consistently with me, is mess with my presence on the internet, pretending to be a friend when they’re actually a sort of doppleganger account impersonating someone I know, sign me up to massive amounts of junk email lists, apply to universities and psychiatric services in my name, and attempt to hack various accounts (sometimes successfully deleting a lot of files, such as many of the live videos of me performing on YouTube, that were hosted on someone else’s account).
If I had mentioned on Twitter that these things had been done to me, I’m sure one of the trolls would be bragging about it, and receiving praise for their heroic efforts. But if they have to read about it in a long-form piece like this, it’s always less likely they’ll notice. (They clearly don’t read much that’s longer that a tweet.)
One of the most deceptive practices the trolls systematically engage in is every time I defend myself against their attacks they claim I’m “doubling down” or “having a meltdown,” and that I’m targeting them in a cancellation campaign in response.
Obviously, I’m responding to their efforts to cancel me, and to their lies. Then, because I end up writing so much about cancellation campaigns like theirs, they say I’m a “cancel culture specialist” of some kind, obsessed with cancel culture, which isn’t true — though I’m a bit obsessed with exposing their troll farm and abusive, deceptive activities, for sure.
They make sure that the question of whether I’m an antisemitic holocaust-denier (or sympathetic to those who are) seems like a subject that’s regularly in the news, when the only reason it is in the news is because they accuse me of these things. Once it’s in the news, they go to Wikipedia and edit my page to add these accusations. Like “facts on the ground,” as the Israeli settlers love to say.
At this point I could share many more screen grabs of Twitter conversations of the innocents being harassed and intimidated by the “antifascist” trolls — by the same predictable group of accounts. I’ll just share a couple, so you get the drift.
Some of the most vicious, abusive, cruel, condescending personal attacks against me and so many other targets come from the collection of mostly anonymous troll accounts at the top of the page, which make up the main mob. Many of these accounts were only created in the past few months.
Before the Portland “antifascist” troll farmers began their cancellation campaign against me, edits to my Wikipedia page were made infrequently, and were not controversial. Since January, 2021, edits are made constantly, by the same trolls who work with Shane, Spencer, and Alexander.
I’ll now enumerate some of the specific efforts Shane, Spencer, and their associates at the troll farm have engaged in, since they began their “deplatforming” campaign.
First they all campaigned against a wonderful network of people in Portland called Stop the Sweeps, who were doing marvelous solidarity work with the tent-dwellers of Laurelhurst Park. I was, too, until the anonymous “antifascist” trolls in constant contact with the head “antifascist” troll trio went on the attack, aggressively and threateningly informing Stop the Sweeps that I was an antisemite who should not be trusted or worked with.
The earnest young organizers with this wonderful group, most of whom had recently moved to Portland from out of state, most of whom didn’t know me, were spooked, and stopped working with me. They’re nice folks on an individual level, but scared to associate with me in any public way otherwise. Cancel campaign successful.
At the same time, they went after the PDX Houseless Radicals Collective for daring to accept donations, publicity, and other forms of solidarity from me. They told these people who live in tents that they shouldn’t take my money, it’s antisemitic money. When the principled houseless folks in this group refused to bend an inch, they added PDXHRC to their long list of groups that sympathize with antisemites — or in this case, groups that sympathize with people who sympathize with antisemites, unless Shane has changed the words to something I said and added in lots of innuendo, so that he can find something to pin on me that makes me more than just a sympathizer with antisemites, but an antisemite myself.
After the PDXHRC, they went after an anarchist organization in New York City which was organizing a concert for me there, with the incessant tirade of insulting, demeaning, gaslighting, harassing, threatening messages from a variety of accounts, making it appear to be a large number of very angry, very hostile, very bigoted people. Young organizers get confused, disoriented, and overwhelmed by these aggressive tactics. They’re accosted with endless accusations, always another one to add to the last, if any defense against one is mounted.
They generally go after people organizing something only days before it’s about to happen. They went after every gig organizer of my European tours over the course of 2021 that they could find, incessantly harassing those who took the bait, as many people will do, especially if they’re young, and use Twitter. Manchester, canceled. Dresden, canceled. Other gigs got canceled for Covid-related reasons — like the pub owner dying of the virus in one case. Most went ahead, but sometimes only after lengthy and damaging meetings within different sponsoring organizations about whether I’m an antisemite.
Then they went after the Portland DSA chapter. They’re often going after the DSA chapter for one or another of their purity-test reasons. There’s always someone in the group who is alleged to have transgressed, whether in the course of a sexual relationship, or by using the wrong pronoun once at a party while drunk, or for expressing ideas at any time that appeared to imply some kind of antisemitic bias, in the opinions of the “antifascist” troll farmers.
In the wake of the DSA chapter cancelling my appearance at a labor solidarity rally they were organizing, the organization has lost more members, as they do every time the “antifascist” trolls attack the democratic socialists for one reason or the other.
The trolls rejoice every time they succeed in terrifying and overwhelming people and getting an event canceled. They brag about their exploits on Twitter, publicly, for all to see, relishing in each moment they feel like they struck terror in the hearts of their victims. I am not exaggerating at all. Their comments never belie a hint of empathy for their obviously traumatized victims.
The most vicious and prolific (and of course completely unaccountable) of the anonymous trolls appears to be an assistant professor of Spanish at a major US university. When I or others raise the question of why all the anonymity, they will inevitably respond that it’s very dangerous to be a good “antifascist.” Yes. Because real antifascists will want to get you back for your horrifically destructive actions.
In the active imaginations of the trolls, real fascists care about what they’re doing and would want to get them for it. In actuality, there is no way to discern between sexist, racist, bigoted fascists attacking DSA chapters and anarchist networks and individual organizers, authors, and musicians. They say the same sorts of things, with the same tone, and the same insults.
It might be surprising for people to know how clearly bigoted and emotionally damaged especially the anonymous trolls are, all the time, especially when anyone pushes back. It may be surprising, not because this is going on, but because it is an organized effort, and the most vicious of the troll accounts are regularly, actively, and adoringly in touch with Shane, Spencer, and Alexander.
What anyone out there can do about these fraudulent “antifascists,” who have nothing to do but attack the left for perceived transgressions, while having virtually nothing to say about their own country’s imperial foreign policy or our country’s primary client states, having nothing to say about settler-colonialism, apartheid, or any actual forms of authoritarian rule sponsored by US client states, except occasionally in passing, I don’t know.
But these are not antifascists, these are authoritarian actors with only ill intent — the intent to destroy any organizations or individuals that don’t agree with them, overwhelmingly on the left.
I am not even going to start with the conversation about whether there is any merit to their many accusations against me, Norman Finkelstein, Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, Alison Weir, Vijay Prashad, Max Blumenthal, or the many other brilliant people they have attacked, and continue to attack, incessantly.
We are all being attacked for thought crimes, by thought police. In my case, for interviewing or being interviewed by the wrong people, in a marginally public forum (someone’s not-very-popular YouTube channel). Anyone who wants to go down the rabbit hole with the trolls may do so, but it will only lead to deeper holes. This is how such conspiratorial thinking functions, and it’s also a troll tactic — to always have another accusation, regardless of whether you had to make it up completely from whole cloth.
In addition to the ongoing cancellation campaign the troll farmers wage against me and the aforementioned leftwing, mostly Jewish intellectuals, the cancel campaigners relish in condemning any independent media outlets that publish too much of a diversity of voices, such as Counterpunch.
Unlike any of the media the trolls prefer, Counterpunch not only regularly publishes all the aforementioned people they don’t like, but they also published a piece that was clearly written by one of these trolls, writing under a pseudonym. It was ridiculously long and terribly badly-written and meandering, but they published it. Why? Because they are interested in presenting different viewpoints, presumably. This, of course, is anathema to the McCarthyite trolls, for whom Counterpunch is one of the many publications, organizations, and individuals on their ever-growing blacklist, to be publicly ridiculed regularly.
I’m sure I’m not going to be able to make the trolls stop being trolls — as long as Twitter is set up the way it is, to facilitate this kind of behavior, it will probably continue, even if the only organized cancellation or disinformation campaigns were being conducted by intelligence agencies. But one of the most destructive and ongoing cancellation campaigns against the left in Portland and beyond is being conducted by the “antifascist” troll farmers of Portland, some of whom have names — such as Shane Burley, Spencer Sunshine, Alexander Reid Ross. Remember them.
Do I want to get them cancelled? As troll farmers, yes! Is that a contradiction? Not at all.
All of those under attack are under attack for doing useful things, for organizing, for building bridges, for working with a variety of people, for reaching out, and what they/we get in return is vicious attacks for perceived transgressions, generally related to perceived antisemitism. On the one side, constructive activities — on the other, destruction. Destruction should stop, yes. Publicly denouncing fellow progressives and attacking anyone they associate with with little cadres of trolls filled with hate and bile and viciousness has no place in any sane society. Whether it will stop or not is another matter. Whether it should — no question.
Whatever they say, what they and their trolls are doing is horrendously destructive. And it is more than a little worth noting that every single one of their victims has only one thing in common: we are all outspoken critics of Israeli apartheid. Go figure.
Go to davidrovics.com/trolls for more background on Portland’s “antifascist” troll farmers, and more background specifically on the history of their attacks against me.
David Rovics is a Jewish singer/songwriter/activist and parent of young children who has worked for social justice for decades, often focusing on Palestinian human rights. He has shared the stage with a who’s who of the left in two dozen countries, and has had his music featured on Democracy Now!, BBC, Al-Jazeera and other networks.
- Alexander Reid Ross, disgraced author of several retracted articles, works with ex-cops, CIA spies, and DHS agents
- The Forward publishes criticism of Alison Weir, but refuses to publish response
- ‘Antifa’ activist Spencer Sunshine & cohort target Alison Weir
- Shane Burley’s Anarcho-Puritan Cancellation Campaigning, Explained
- WATCH: Israel-Palestine Basics