Maggie Orth is a writer who lives in Seattle.
This month in the District, a gunman shot up Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, threatening customers and workers and terrorizing an entire neighborhood. For months, Internet conspiracy theorists have accused Comet’s owners and leading figures of the Democratic Party of running a child pornography ring out of the restaurant, complete with satanic symbols and underground tunnels. And what did Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis do to earn such venom? He emailed with Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, about hosting a fundraiser.
This attack on liberal politics and an opposition party was not organized by some authoritarian state, the Republican Party or President-elect Donald Trump. No action was taken by any Orwellian Big Brother. Nor did a government generate the doublespeak that created the Comet Ping Pong lies. Instead, this political violence emerged from a self-organized pack of irate, fear-mongering, right-wing conspiracy theorists reacting to whispers about Clinton in fake news and on social media and the Web.
This is Little Brother — millions of irrational people spreading lies, sowing doubt and fomenting violence. Thanks to Little Brother, the government — Trump and his incoming administration, in this case — doesn’t have to directly threaten the political opposition or spread propaganda on its own. Leaders only need to find indirect ways to validate supporters’ most vile emotions and make lying acceptable, as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) did recently when he said it was all right for Trump to spread falsehoods. Little Brother and his NRA-protected guns can take it from there.
So what is Little Brother?
Like the pack of wild children in “Lord of the Flies,” Little Brother is unsupervised, isolated from civilization and potentially murderous. And thanks to the Internet, the vicious, dog-eat-dog world of Little Brother is impossible to escape.
Little Brother screams so loud, no one can think. When human beings experience anger and fear — the dominant emotions of Little Brother and his Internet clickbait — their IQs drop. People cannot use their rational minds when thousands of angry children are shouting at them online. That’s Little Brother.
Little Brother gossips and lies. In a dramatic historical shift, too much information on the Internet — rather than a lack of information — has become the prevailing form of censorship. People cannot easily assess facts while doubts, lies and bias-confirming opinions are constantly whispered in their ears. That’s Little Brother.
Little Brother cuts school. Learning history, assessing facts and analyzing data have no place in Little Brother’s world.
Little Brother goes by his gut and trusts his predisposed, angry instincts. He thinks science is a pack of lies.
Little Brother has too much time on his hands. He invents his own reality, a world of imaginary demons, secret tunnels, false-flag coverups and murder. In the case of Comet Ping Pong, Little Brother spent hours Photoshopping pictures, creating fake maps of tunnels and deceptive collages of stolen Facebook images.
Little Brother is like a gaming addict. He sits in a dark room, making fake news, driving traffic to his website. He watches the data and refines his lies, earning more money with every click. Like a gamer, he feeds off the emotional high of every small victory.
Little Brother is a bully. He waits for his gang leader, in this case Trump, to bad-mouth someone smaller and less powerful, and then pounces. When Trump criticized Carrier union president Chuck Jones this week, Little Brother bombarded Jones with threats and abuse.
And as we have seen with the Comet Ping Pong gunman, those threats are real.
Little Brother is armed. In state-sponsored fascism, armed citizen militias blend with police, forming an official means of destroying the political opposition and minority scapegoats. But thanks to Little Brother and gun rights advocates, there is no need for the government to organize violent action against its own citizens. Little Brother can take care of wrong-thinkers all by himself.
Little Brother is nobody’s responsibility. Whatever his bad behavior, he acts alone, and besides, he’s just a kid. No one can be blamed if he shoots up a pizza parlor, intimidates minorities or threatens to send people to the gas chamber. He’s an outlier. He’s not Fox News’s or Trump’s fault.
That’s Little Brother.
It won’t be easy to hold Little Brother accountable. Already, conservatives are creating false equivalences between liberal news and fake news. This month, in a disheartening interview, New York Times Public Editor Liz Spayd practically ceded this point to Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. This is unacceptable. Those who believe in liberal democracy must fight Little Brother’s lies and aggressions with everything we have. We cannot allow legitimate resistance to authoritarianism to be squashed by an armed mob of angry Little Brothers. We must fight back.