Cancel Culture: Surviving the Twitter Mob

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It doesn’t take much to find yourself with a target on your back these days.


n the last couple of days, I was caught in what is called a “Twitter sh**storm.” It started with a piece I read in the Guardian about Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and it ended, via Jean-Marie Le Pen, with the American-Dutch-Somali intellectual Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Let me explain from the beginning.

Eight days ago, in a piece titled “Nearly all Black Lives Matter protests are peaceful despite Trump narrative, report finds,” the Guardian reported that “the vast majority of the thousands of Black Lives Matter protests this summer have been peaceful, with more than 93% involving no serious harm to people or damage to property, according to a new report tracking political violence in the United States.”

The fallacy inherent in this line of thinking should be obvious, but in case it isn’t, let’s apply the same logic to the 9/11 attacks: “On September, 11, 2001, almost all the airplanes in the sky reached their destinations safely, about 99.9 percent of all buildings in Manhattan remained undamaged, and most Manhattanites remained safe, just like their properties.”

In the U.S., every day 7,600 people die from all kinds of causes: accidents, illnesses, murders. In the grand scheme of things, the number of people who died on 9/11 may be relatively low, but their deaths shook the West’s consciousness and completely changed our perception of the world. Everything was suddenly different, from how we go about protecting our nations from terrorism to how we say goodbye to our loved ones when they leave the house in the morning. The violence on the streets of America’s inner cities this summer has a had a similar kind of impact, if on a much smaller scale. Every business that has been destroyed by blind hate is a tiny 9/11 for the people who have worked for it, suffered for it, sweated for it.

The report on which the Guardian article was based was conceived by some academics at Princeton University. They examined 7,750 demonstrations that took place across the U.S. under the flag of Black Lives Matter between May 26 and August 22. Their conclusion was just as the Guardian said: 93 percent of the demonstrations were peaceful.

Do the math, and you find this means that 542 demonstrations during that three-month period were not peaceful. But to the report’s authors and the Guardian, this must have seemed beside the point: The phrase “despite Trump narrative” in the piece’s headline was what needed to be communicated; the misrepresentation of the underlying statistics was just a means to that end.

And the gambit worked! I happened to listen to a radio program in the Netherlands, where I now live, and the participants did exactly what the Guardian and the Princeton researchers must have hoped: They used it as evidence that Trump’s narrative about the violence of the demonstrations was deceitful. After all, only 7 percent of the protests could be described as violent, and seven is almost equal to zero, isn’t it?

Naturally, by this point I was upset. So I did what one does when one is upset these days: I wrote a tweet. Translated from the original Dutch, it reads: “Just now on @NPORadio1, the message that in the US 93% of all BLM demos are peaceful. This is statistical juggling. 570 riots with violence on 220 locations brought misery for 1000s of people.” Alongside it, I linked to a short video of BLM protesters harassing people in Rochester, N.Y.

So far, so good. But I was worked up and felt another tweet forcing its way into my mind. The discussion was so laughable, the figures were so misleading, that I felt they warranted a bit of dark sarcasm. So I wrote it up and fired it off: “The Nazi occupation of The Netherlands was 99% peaceful. Did you ever think about this, you at @NPORadio1?”

It wasn’t enough. I still was angry. So I made a third tweet: “The BLM demo’s were 93% peaceful, @NPORadio1 and @TomKleijnNL [a former Dutch correspondent in the U.S. who was a part of the radio discussion], and 93% of the buildings in the riot cities are still standing. Here’s a picture of a street in Kenosha; look carefully, only 5 buildings destroyed. This is all about nothing. Some wanted to have some fun. Trump lies.”

At this point, I felt a bit better, having expressed how ridiculous I found the report and the coverage of it in properly pointed terms. But within minutes, I received some replies condemning me for downplaying the Nazi occupation. So I sent a fourth tweet: “If followers don’t understand ‘sarcasm’, please go someplace else. Definition: ‘Sarcasm is biting humor condemning exactly what it seems to praise.’”

I had no idea what would happen. I was soon to find out.

A Dutchman teaching at the University of Georgia, a professor named Cas Mudde, had seen my Dutch tweets and evidently felt compelled to respond. He translated the last one, leaving out the crucial context of the second sentence with the tag of the radio station, and he added a line about Jean-Marie Le Pen. In so doing, he twisted my sarcastic invocation of the Nazi occupation into an endorsement: “Jean-Marie Le Pen: Holocaust was detail in Second World War. Leon de Winter: Nazi occupation of Netherlands was 99% peaceful.”

It was a pretty low blow from Mudde, who had without a doubt seen the full chain of tweets and knew exactly what I had meant. Add that he also knows I am a Jew whose family was wiped out by the Nazis, and who thus despises Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his attempt to make me into some kind of neo-Nazi seems downright despicable.

Inevitably, his tweet was retweeted. A wave of insults, condemnations, and misinterpretations washed over me. Mudde had touched off the “Twitter s**tstorm” I mentioned above, and I was feeling its full force.

I’ll survive, of course. But if I had lived in the U.S. and held an academic position, I would have been chased from campus by angry crowds of students. If I had owned a business, it would have been destroyed by boycotts or outright violence. That’s how it works nowadays in America, thanks in no small part to ruthless leftist academics like Cas Mudde.

While I was writing this, a friend asked me whether I’d ever had an encounter with Mudde before his recent attacks. I googled his and my names, and I found a four-year-old tweet he’d written about my friend Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the courageous and smart Somali activist and writer who now lives in the U.S. I had forgotten about this.

“O look, Germany now has a Hirshi [sic] Ali as well, ‘exotic woman’ who is allowed to spread prejudices on the basis of ‘expertise,’” he’d written, linking to an interview with a German Muslim woman who had published a book about violence by young Muslims.

It is a disgusting tweet. One smells the hatred Mudde feels for this “exotic woman,” who, according to him, doesn’t have “expertise” in the way that he does, and makes a living spreading prejudices about female circumcision. Referring to the German writer as “A Hirshi Ali,” as if Ayaan were a certain type of fraud, only compounded the insult. I’d first read it a year later, in 2017, and replied: “Who is Cas Mudde? Under the mask of a multiculturalist, there is a leftist fascist and misogynist.”

Reminding myself of this exchange brought Mudde’s motives into focus: The Twitter s**t storm he’d unleashed was his payback for my defense of Ayaan. And the way he’d mishandled my tweet proved my original point: Cas Mudde is a leftist fascist.

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