Liberal activists are turning to a new weapon in their war against conservatives: putting them in the spotlight by labeling them as Nazi sympathizers and members of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Known as “doxxing,” the practice entails publishing online personally identifiable information, even if -- or especially if -- it is slanderous or fallacious, about opponents. As increasingly practiced by some progressives, doxxing targets both right-wing extremists and moderate, mainstream conservatives.
Dana Cory, who was part of a protest in California against a right-wing rally planned in the area, summed doxxing up with a song she sang (to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It") to a cheering crowd of kindred spirits:
“You’re a Nazi and you’re fired, it’s your fault,” she sang. “You were spotted in a mob, now you lost your freaking job. You’re a Nazi and you’re fired, it’s your fault.”
“Dox a Nazi all day, every day,” she said, according to the New York Times.
Doxxing is not new. It was practiced mainly by hackers who somehow got their hands on documents belonging to a rival or adversary and then posted them online. Doxxing catapulted onto a bigger stage thanks to websites such as 4Chan and Reddit, the Times reports.
The recent counterprotest in Charlottesville, Va., held in opposition to a rally against the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, generated a doxxing frenzy, as many liberals zeroed in on individuals in videos and pictures of the event, blasting them as Nazi or Ku Klux Klan sympathizers.
“Originally it was little black-hat hacker crews who were at war with each other — they would take docs, like documents, from a competing group and then claim they had ‘dox’ on them,” the Times quoted Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University, as saying. “There was this idea that you were veiled and then uncovered.”
But doxxing has been used against people who were erroneously described as having been at neo-Nazi events, or who were at right-wing gatherings that condemned Nazis and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Marla Wilson, 35, of San Francisco, said to the Times: “Some of what is happening now will make these white supremacists realize why their grandparents wore hoods. At least then there was shame.”
If those who practice doxxing think they are waging a war against hate, some who are trying to combat it in other ways say that the public shaming is doing just the opposite.
Tony McAleer, a former white supremacist leader who devotes himself to helping neo-Nazis who want to leave their alliances to hate groups behind, says that the permanent nature of Internet postings makes it virtually impossible to shift gears and lead a new life.
“For us, it slows things down. We try to integrate people back to humanity,” McAleer said to the Times. “If isolation and shame is the driver for people joining these types of groups, doxxing certainly isn’t the answer.”
Added Coleman: “For a long time it was only a certain quarter of people on the Internet who would be willing to do this. It was very much hinged on certain geek cultures, but there was an extraordinary quality to the Charlottesville protest. It was such a strong public display I think it just opened the gates.”