Warning: quotes of abusive white supremacist and transmisogynist language
White supremacism comes in many more
forms than shouting racial slurs or engaging in blatantly
discriminatory behavior. In addition to these forms of 'hard' white
supremacism, there is also a wide array of behavior which can be
called 'soft' white supremacism- things which enable or sanction more
blatantly harmful behavior and make spaces harmful to marginalized
and oppressed people. The same problem exists for other kinds of
oppressive or abusive behavior, particularly transmisogyny.
Recent events within the La Crosse Area
Freethought Society (LCAFS) regrettably exemplify one of these forms
of 'soft' white supremacism. A toxic member of this organization
occasionally posts racist and transphobic content to the group's
e-mail listserv. In April 2017, he made a series of statements
denying the validity of transgender people, saying things like “We
have to help people accept who they are, not who they wish they could
be. No one should be changing their bodies,” “People don't get to
choose. Science does. Genetics does,” and “they they don't have a
womb and can't bear a man a child.” I called for him to be banned
for abusive behavior, but when that call was rejected I settled for
joining in on pointing out all the reasons he was wrong, none of
which had any effect as this is the Internet.
The grounds on which he was not banned
were stated by one of the LCAFS board members: “That's not how we
roll here. In this group, the freedom of speech is incredibly
important, and we are not in the business of kicking people out just
because the words they say ruffle some feathers. Now, if a member
crosses a line and begins advocating violence, threatening others,
directly harassing others, etc- then that is an offense that we would
consider removing a person for.”
The idea that transmisogynist language
is merely “ruffl[ing] some feathers” but is not itself abusive,
and the idea that it is not itself “cross[ing] a line” imply that
transmisogynist language is not a problem or not harmful. The
problem with a policy that only direct harassment is worthy of
removing someone from the group is that it creates a hostile
environment for people who are part of the targeted group. I'll talk
about the problem with the “free speech” argument momentarily
The issue of this toxic member came to
a head this May, when he posted a link to a YouTube video by a
notorious white supremacist organization (Southern Poverty Law Center page about
) about supposed racial IQ differences; he claimed it was part of an earlier
discussion and called it “controversial” and was “sure it will
generate some discussion”. Several people briefly discussed its
merits, including one who pointed out that that group is “a
nasty pool of hate and misinformation” and another who wrote a
lengthy apology for the statistical merits of discussion supposed
racial differences in IQ.
White supremacist propaganda has no
place in civil society. Free speech does not mean a free-for-all; it
relies on rules. Fraud is banned; nobody would dare use a “free
speech” defense for scam artists. Credible threats are banned.
Speech or ideas delivered in a disruptive manner is generally banned
(although sometimes necessary, but then it's not on "free speech" grounds). Similarly, many ideas which have
been discredited are not given a platform; universities are not in
the habit of inviting speakers to seriously discuss perpetual motion
devices, Cartesian vortices, or phrenology. The phrase “sifting
and winnowing” implies that some ideas deserve to be discarded.
The argument that there are racial
differences in IQ is technically true on the surface level, but white
supremacists use this statistical trivia to imply that there are
inherit genetic differences between races; this conclusion has been
debunked repeatedly (see https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/The_Bell_Curve
In short, IQ is measured according to culturally-biased tests which
effectively measure socioeconomic status, not any kind of 'inherent'
The racial IQ argument is still used,
despite the fact that it's useless, because those who spread it are
not trying to make rational, logical arguments. White supremacists
do not argue in good faith. They misportray themselves in order to
manipulate people into believing things that are not true. They
skirt the edges of the rules of civil debate, breaking rules in
spirit while carefully abiding by them in letter. They gradually
gain control of the discourse through these and other techniques such
as gaslighting, or even seize editorial control if possible. Their
target audience is not people who understand the arguments or
situation, but people who are new to the ideas or confused. They use
the techniques of cults and abusers (side note: these are also the
techniques of contemporary right-wing authoritarian regimes like the
ones in Turkey, India, and the United States).
After several days of discussion of whether or not this person should be removed from the group, with all except me agreeing that he should not be, he returned stated that his reason for posting the video had been taken completely the wrong way. "Every single one of you have missed the point," he said. However, if you think that this was a prelude to him distancing himself from the video and clarifying that he only posted it for discussion purposes, I'm afraid you're in for a disappointment. "If IQ is genetic, we can identify the genes and use genetic engineering to make children smart, regardless of race." It went downhill from there.
After the LCAFS leaders again refused to ban him, I
snapped and made a somewhat regrettable comment attacking the person, the leadership of the Freethought Society, the other
members, and the organization as a whole. In response, I was
banned. I was informed that the reason I was banned was that my
comment was borderline abusive.
Let's go back and check the scoreboard.
The transphobic white supremacist was
not banned or told to stop his abusive behavior. I, however, was
banned for being rude. What else is there to conclude but that the
LCAFS leadership considers rudeness directed at them as being worse
than transmisogyny and white supremacism?
E-mail responses from one of the LCAFS
leaders highlighted that their reasoning was that I was not able to
“conduct [my]self in a reasoned and measured way” and that “the
manner in which [I] expressed [my]self via email crossed the line
into abusive language”. Has there ever been a better example of
middle-class white obsession with form over function? Or of
privilege so extreme that there are no real-world consequences, and so
everything is regarded as purely academic and aesthetic?
I was told that “We don't have a list
of topics that are off-topic, nor do we have an intention of
developing such a list and policing it”; I see no reason why
transmisogynist and eugenicist statements should not be considered
abusive under the same policy by which I was removed (which, for what
it's worth, I have never seen; in all my years in LCAFS, I never even
knew there were bylaws. I cannot recall there ever being elections
to the board. It is not a democratic organization).
Unwilling to let the matter rest, I
attended LCAFS's monthly “Think And Drink” social gathering at a
local restaurant in July. One of the founding leaders of LCAFS
graciously allowed me to address the group, where I reiterated the
necessity of removing this toxic and abusive racist from their
organization. The only response I received was that another one of their leaders, the one who had kicked
me off of the discussion list, refused to tell me whether the person
in question had been banned from the group, and threatened to have
management remove me from the restaurant. Instead, I had a lengthy
side conversation with the other leader, where we completely spoke
past each other- I again repeated the importance of removing the
person in question, while he focused entirely on my behavior. He
also decided to tell a story about “racism” against him, a white
man, when he was a child; needless to say, I was not swayed by his
story of a Native American neighbor telling his child not to play
with him because he was white.
He concluded by telling me to drop it.
However, white supremacism and transmisogyny have no place in
society, and especially not in organizations which claim to be progressive.
Individuals and groups trying to spread those kinds of hate work by
worming their way into the discourse, presenting lies as fact, and
trying to sway people who are new to these discussions. They cannot
be allowed to have access to any potential recruiting ground. They
do not have a right to equal access to forums, because their strategy
is to poison the well.
The La Crosse Area Freethought Society
must remove this toxic and abusive person. Until they do, all people
and organizations should be wary of LCAFS. I also urge all readers
to be more vigilant about unsalvageably toxic individuals and
manipulative techniques, both in your organizations and in your