The Subtweet Heard Round The World


As of the time of this writing, my second-most-popular tweet of all time is a subtweet just barely over a day old.

I dropped my wife off at work, came home, saw something vile, sent this tweet into the void, and took our dog for a walk

And then it skyrocketed.

The broader context of the tweet is a week of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim hysteria in the United States. Inherited wealth-holder, walking toupee stand, and GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was particularly odious in that regard, and when asked by reporters said he would support a registry and database of Muslims multiple times on Thursday. (He walked this back, to some degree, though the denials are rather unconvincing).

The Holocaust Museum has been following the crisis in Syria, as part of their mission to work against and document future crimes against humanity. Thursday night, the Holocaust museum released this statement:

WASHINGTON, DC—Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis. While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.

The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group. It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.

The statement was mostly heralded as important and vital, especially given the weight of the institution behind it.

But this is the reaction to it that I saw first:

I quoted-tweeted my response, and TJ Mitch Johnson fired back with this:

So I sent the subtweet. The account, Chief of Staff TJ Mitch Johnson, purports to be (from the accounts bio) “Chief of Staff, The Honorable Rep Steven Smith, Republican Representative of Georgia’s 15th Congressional District.”

Georgia has no 15th district, which means it’s not represented by any Steven Smith, so there’s no real staff for TJ Mitch Johnson to be chief of. (There is, of course, a Twitter account for this Steven Smith).  I know this. I’ve encountered Johnson a few times before, include Thursday night, when Johnson tweeted at my employers urging them to fire me. A fake chief of staff for a fake representative from a fake district reads very clearly as a parody account, as BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski and Washington Examiner reporter T Becket Adams both noted in replies. That’s fair. Johnson frequently attacks media figures and big online personalities, trying to draw them into internet fights.

But I think this is a different beast than, say, not knowing that the Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report is a satirical character. Johnson is adamantly pro-Trump in his tweets, once finding my account after I compared the F-35 to the Trump slogan “Make America Great Again” to tell me that Bernie Sanders was a bigger supporter of the F-35 than Trump is (weirdly, at least half-true).

Johnson’s feed is filled with counter-attacks in defense of Trump, and provocations aimed at both Trump’s presumed weaker GOP rivals and the GOP establishment itself. This is less a sarcastic portrayal of what Trump fanboys might like than a very aggressive work by an anonymous Trump partisan.

So Johnson is, without a doubt in my mind, a Trump supporter.

But I used the plural in my tweet.

After walking the dog, I searched Twitter to see if Johnson’s attack resonated with any other part of the Trump base, and I found a few, scattered tweets. Most are from accounts with less than 300 followers, which is a threshold below which I don’t think we need to always publicly shame. So there are a few supporters who think this, but not many, and I haven’t yet seen evidence that attacking the Holocaust Museum on Twitter is part of anyone but Johnson’s game plan.

As the day wore on, there were (from what I could tell) no more direct attacks on the Museum by Trump supporters. There were, however, a couple of wildly ineffective defenses of Trump, which casually invoke internment camps:

and mass murder:

I also attracted attacks from a couple Neo-Nazis and white nationalists, who I’ve subsequently blocked on Twitter and don’t really feel a strong obligation to directly quote.

Whatever political savvy there is in not directly attacking the Holocaust Museum, it clearly doesn’t extend to not advocating internment camps and mass killings. As a journalist myself, I’d be hesitant to use my tweet as the basis for any “Trump Supporters Attack Holocaust Museum” story, but I think there’s definitely stories to be written in how White Nationalists have attached themselves to Trump as their candidate.

In fact, several have. Here’s that story at the New Yorker, The National Review, Salon, Slate, NPR, and by the hate-group watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center.



About kdatherton

Unpaid thoughts
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