Monday, April 24, 2006
Malkin and 'themole'
While the AnnieAngel Experience has been exposed over at Sadly, No! and in comments here as a dubious and possibly pathological cyber-vaudeville act, featuring the sockpuppet stylings of Shoelimpy™ and the perilous pratfalls of Princess AA herself … several of us in the wincing-at-reality-based community have been investigating a parallel situation involving agents of disruption.
Or more accurately, a single agent of disruption, who goes by “themole”, and rather less frequently, “killthebitch”.
First things first. If you’ve followed the Malkinization of the Internets over the past couple of days, skip ahead to QUESTIONS. If not, here’s a handy-dandy timeline of recent events, adapted from the work done by Bas-O-Matic and elendil in comments to the previous post on this blog.
Tuesday, April 11: UC Santa Cruz anti-war group Students Against War (SAW) stages an “action” at a UCSC job fair to protest the presence of military recruiters. Campus police initially place the four recruiters in a room separated from the other job fair exhibitors, but “citing safety concerns,” according to the Santa Cruz News Sentinel, the military recruiters decide to leave the fair after a “tense hour-long standoff” with the protesters.
Later on Tuesday, popular right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin gets wind of the Sentinel’s “Breaking News” report and posts an item titled “UC SANTA CRUZ HATES OUR TROOPS”, timestamped APRIL 11, 2006 09:59 PM, which is critical of the “anti-war thugs” and “moonbats” who support them. She also posts contact information for UCSC officials, with the exhortation to her readers to “Take a stand.”
Wednesday, April 12: Malkin posts a second time (“SEDITIOUS SANTA CRUZ VS. AMERICA”, APRIL 12, 2006 09:52 AM) on the SAW action at the UCSC job fair. She describes the group’s action as activity that “used to be called sedition.” She also posts phone and email contact information for three UCSC student members of SAW, taken from a press release about the action that the group had posted on its website (SAW subsequently removed the contact information).
Malkin later updates the post, writing:
UPDATE: SAW has removed the contact information from its press release and is now lying about the fact that it made the info publicly available on the Internet. I am leaving it up. If you are contacting them, I do not condone death threats or foul language. As for SAW, my message is this: You are responsible for your individual actions. Other individuals are responsible for theirs. Grow up and take responsibility.April 12-17: The three SAW members whose contact info was posted on Malkin’s website begin receiving harassing emails and phone calls, some of which include death threats. According to SAW member David Zlutnick, who was one of the three members who had their contact information posted by Malkin on April 12, the group contacted Malkin by email during this period and asked her to take their contact info down, as it was not intended to be made public. Zlutnick claims to have copies of the emails sent to Malkin, which would call into question her April 18 claim that:
Oh, and for the record--not that the facts matter to the unhinged--not one of the three SAW students whose contact information is still publicly accessible across several websites has e-mailed me [*or phoned me or contacted me in any other way*] as of 12:30am EDT 4/18 [*as of 10:00am EDT*] to request that I remove anything.Monday, April 17: Malkin posts again on SAW (“MORE THUGGERY IN SANTA CRUZ”, APRIL 17, 2006 09:19 AM). This post contains a screenshot of the SAW press release with the contact info for the three students, making it the second time Malkin has posted the information – after the group says it had asked her to take it down, and after she essentially admitted that her own readers were issuing “death threats” and using “foul language” when contacting the three students.
Later on Monday, liberal blogger Ezra Klein posts a stinging rebuke of Malkin for posting the students’ personal contact info not once, but twice. Others, including this blog, weigh in at various times about the clear breach of ethics committed by Malkin in publishing contact info that was clearly meant for journalists who wished to follow up on the UCSC job fair story. Malkin defenders in the right blogosphere counter that the press release was made public when SAW posted it on its website, thus making the contact info “fair game” for Malkin to publish. Critics of Malkin reply that Malkin, as a longtime journalist, is surely aware that standard protocol (not to mention basic ethics) for press releases – even those in the public realm – does not allow for such wanton disregard for the intent of press contacts in distributing their personal details. As commenter Chris on the rightwing blog Protein Wisdom notes:
Every professional press release has contact information. But if I send out a release that is sure to get a lot of response, do you really think I intend for the general public to call me directly? I think a few people need to get their facts straight here. Malkin didn’t publish the release on her site. She published ONLY the contact info. It’s disingenuous at best to pretend that she didn’t expect her readers to deluge the students with calls and e-mails. To her, the press release was simply a source for her to get the contact information, much as Google or the phone book can be a source.In a post titled “THE MOONBATS STRIKE BACK” (APRIL 17, 2006 08:17 PM), Malkin runs several emails she claims have emanated from the “minions” of “unhinged lefty bloggers” criticizing her for posting the SAW members’ contact info. Several of the emails contain racist language aimed at Malkin’s Filipino ethnicity, and some suggest that Malkin may soon see her own personal info posted on the Internet.
Wednesday, April 19: Malkin posts “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU” (APRIL 19, 2006 08:53 PM), in which she addresses a group of unnamed people – “You know who you all are” – which she claims has “plastered my family's private home address, phone numbers, and photos and maps of my neighborhood all over the Internet to further your manufactured outrage and pathetic coddling of a bunch of lying, anti-troops punks at UC Santa Cruz ...”
Dozens of conservative bloggers take Malkin’s “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU” post - which contains no links or other means by which the reader can confirm that her family’s private information has been “plastered … all over the Internet” – to mean that lefty bloggers (or even more generically, “the left” itself) has been posting this information on their blogs or other left-leaning websites. This despite the fact that Malkin’s post does not specify any individuals who are doing such a thing, let alone any members of “the Left”. Nor does a comprehensive (if not exhaustive) look at the many right wing blog posts condemning “lefties” of posting Malkin’s personal info turn up any solid proof that anybody in the left blogosphere is posting the information.
Thursday, April 20: Somebody calling him or herself “killthebitch” posts a comment to a post on this blog that links to the One People’s Project website, which gives Malkin’s contact information. The commenter also posts a link to a satellite map to Malkin’s house, hosted by Imageshack. I scrub the links out of the comment, but leave the comment up, minus the links.
Contact with Gavin M. and Brad R. of Sadly, No!, and with Auguste of Malkin(s)watch reveals that a commenter or commenters had also posted on their blogs almost word-for-word the same comment as the one I had scrubbed, with the same links. The Sadly, No! comment is deleted by Brad R., while the Malkin(s)watch comment, by “themole”, has been scrubbed of the links by Auguste.
Subsequent poking around reveals that “themole” has been posting essentially the same comment, complete with links to One People’s Project and the satellite map, in both liberal and conservative blog comment threads, since at least April 19 at 9:05am. Hat tip to shingles in comments for the idea to google “payback’s a bitch” + “the mole” …
So that’s the timeline. Now for the questions.
1. What is the One People’s Project?
From what I can tell, it’s an organization that tracks right wingers, paying special attention to racist extremists. The Project’s website posts personal information – phone numbers, addresses, email, etc. – of many of the people it tracks. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably aware that I find this to be a questionable tactic at best, because I’m not a fan of the vigilantism it has the potential to inspire.
I contacted Daryle Lamont Jenkins of the organization via email to find out more about “themole”/”killthebitch” and Michelle Malkin. I asked Jenkins whether Malkin’s info was posted on the Project’s website in response to her posting of the SAW info, specifically asking if it was a case of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” in his mind.
This Jenkins denied, emphasizing that One People’s Project had Malkin’s info up on its website long before she posted the SAW details: “It should be noted that this really wasn't a case of what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Our mission has always been to put out as much information as we can - any information - about people on the right, particularly the extremists. I will say however that we will not make a move that we don't see someone on the right do first, so that might be where the ‘good for the goose’ notion may come from.”
Here’s more of what Jenkins has to say about One People’s Project and l’Affaire Malkin: “The truth of the matter is we had her information on One People's Project for almost four years. In fact, if you were to google the link to the bio we did of her, and look at the cache, you will see that the date it was written was in 2004, which was the time we converted everything from html to php.
“When this thing happened with UC Santa Cruz, we figured it was no big deal since Malkin's info was on our site for some time, but we decided to be smart alecks about it, and make a link on our side bar to her bio. That day, the hits to her bio doubled, and now it has tripled. I saw some of the information on other sites and it is indeed from our site, as it was written by us.
I asked Jenkins about the mysterious “themole” showing up in comment threads all over the place. I informed him of speculation that - because this lone individual seemed to be the only one doing the “plastering” of Malkin’s private info all over the blogosphere – it would seem at least possible that “themole” might be an agent of Malkin’s herself … or at least sympathetic to her and the idea of helping her to play the “martyr”.
Jenkins replied: ”Now did Malkin have a hand in passing it all over the place? Maybe. We will have to cop to the fact that is has been on our site for a number of years, and Malkin's bio was the one with the most hits of all the bios on the site until recently when two white supremacists took the two top spots.
“Even with that, however, it was particularly quiet in regards to her information until this week. We will not take any of it down as doing so will go against our mission to document as much as we can, but we will stress that in no way will we encourage any criminal acts or violence to happen behind anything we put on our site.”
So. What we’ve learned so far: Malkin’s private info was on the One People’s Project website for “a number of years.” That site may be well known amongst a certain segment of the left – but I’d certainly never come across it, and I suspect the majority of liberal Net denizens were unaware of it, too.
One person who Jenkins believes certainly knew of One People’s Project well before the UCSC job fair action took place, is Michelle Malkin herself.
“When we saw her ‘I Am Not Afraid of You’ entry, we knew right away she was referring to us. She even emailed us yesterday [Friday, April 21] asking us to take the info down. We just assumed that there were some sites that were using the info that have since taken it down since we couldn't find it anywhere.”
2. Who is “themole”/”killthebitch”?
From what I can gather after conferring with Auguste of Malkin(s)watch and the Sadly, No! crew, the IP addresses of “the mole” and “killthebitch” originate from the same location in The Netherlands. The IP address of the commenter whose post was deleted by Brad R. on Sadly, No! (and who did not call itself “themole”) originated in Boston. Both “themole” and “killthebitch” posted homepages that linked to the same placeholder website owned by a UK firm.
With the identical IP addresses, homepages and essentially the same cut-and-pasted text, it can be strongly inferred that “themole” and “killthebitch” are the same person. Since this person commented as “killthebitch” on my blog (and only my blog as far as I can tell) rather late in the game, it seems plausible that he/she/it, after experimenting with posting the Malkin info across the blogosphere, decided to ratchet up the rancor towards Malkin by changing usernames to reflect a deep hate for her.
The Sadly, No! commenter seems to be a different individual, given the different IP address. It should be noted that the Sadly, No! commenter could be “themole”, posting from a different computer. It should also be noted that “themole” is not necessarily based in The Netherlands, but could be someone who routes through Ripe.net, the Dutch outfit that maintains the IP address, which, Gavin M. of Sadly, No! contends, seems to provide IP addresses for people not in The Netherlands.
If this is the case, and if the Sadly, No! commenter was really “themole” posting from a different computer, we might theorize that “themole” – who normally covers his/her tracks by routing through Ripe.net – slipped up when posting to Sadly, No! and is in fact in Boston.
But that’s just a theory.
Another comes from Chris Chittleborough, a commenter on Protein Wisdom. His take on “themole”: “Hey folks: it’s not just the left who are attacking MM. This pseudoNazi is trying to put MM’s personal details on lots of left wing blogs via comments, often as ‘themole’.”
I contacted Chittleborough to find out what he had on “themole”. He directed me to a website run by one Michael Crook, a racist gadfly who operated the defunct forsakethetrooops.info website that was the subject of several Malkin blog posts some time ago, as well as dozens of other websites that take extreme positions designed to win Crook negative attention from mainstream media. On the website Chittleborough directed me to (which Chittleborough also asked me not to link directly), Crook posts about the Malkin affair as “mcomike”. Commenting in the thread for that post is none other than “themole” … which leads Chittleborough to believe that “themole” may be connected to Michael Crook.
I am not sure if this is the case. For one, a quick hunt through Crook’s website did not reveal any more comments by “themole”. And as Bas-O-Matic theorizes, it seems likely that “themole” (or “killthebitch”) simply did a search on Technorati or elsewhere to discover which blogs were posting about the Malkin affair. With those links in hand, “themole” proceeded to hit dozens of blogs’ comment threads and post the same comment over and over again.
It seems plausible that “themole” came across Crook’s Malkin post the exact same way he or she accessed dozens of others, and posted the cut-and-paste job without regard to the content of Crook’s post (which is typically racist, sneering and altogether hateful) … as he or she was doing all over the blogosphere.
A final point with regards to “themole”. I have been unable to determine the origin of the satellite map to Malkin’s house that was consistently linked to by “themole” (who even made a point, on at least one blog comment thread, of linking to a second hosting site after the original Imageshack map was taken down). I believe that map was actually constructed by “themole” itself.
It may prove to be impossible to determine the identity or political allegiance of “themole”. He or she could be a liberal or conservative. There is no evidence that “themole” – despite the suggestive username – was an agent for Malkin (known to her or not). There is only the faint odor of fishiness from the fact that “themole” nearly single-handedly brought about the “plastering” of Malkin’s info across the Internet, thus “confirming” her cryptic reference in the “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU” post to a campaign to terrorize her and her family.
But any sort of speculation into the purpose of the trolling by “themole” must be considered in light of a pair of facts in Malkin’s favor. First, the One People’s Project did move its page containing Malkin’s personal info to its front page via a blurb and link before Malkin posted “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU”. Indeed, Jenkins believes that post was directed at the Project.
Second, “themole” began posting Malkin’s info on blog comment threads several hours before Malkin posted “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU”. Though the bulk of the “plastering” of Malkin’s info was done after her post, it remains true that a campaign to do so – by one individual – had begun before she complained of it.
That said, we can still reach some conclusions that don’t work nearly so well in Malkin’s favor – or her rightwing defenders.
Criticism of Malkin for posting the SAW students’ contact info – particularly the second time, after she was aware of death threats being received by the students – has been amply documented. We don’t need to revisit it here, other than to say again that Malkin was wrong to do so, and what’s more, had to know she was wrong to do so from her training as a professional journalist.
What concerns me more at the moment is the utter dishonesty of the response to Malkin’s “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU” post. Malkin carefully worded that post – and left out any details for readers to follow up on her claims – to make herself out to be the victim of a widespread campaign (her private info was “plastered” across the Internet, remember) to terrorize her and her family … without saying anything concrete that could prove embarrassing later, i.e. that all of this was the work of a single website moving already existing information to front-page prominence and another unaffiliated individual trolling blog comment threads.
Malkin is quite good at directing her readers to conclusions, without explicitly taking them by the back of the head and rubbing their noses in what she wants them to conclude. She used the same basic technique in the original blog entry that included the SAW contact details. She never said outright, “Go harass these people.” But by calling them seditionists and thugs earlier in the post, she might as well have.
And just as her Pavlovian readers responded predictably to the posting of the SAW contact info, so did her defenders in the right blogosphere respond predictably to her claim of being terrorized by a widespread campaign to harass her. A look at righty blogs referencing the “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU” post reveals dozens of knee-jerk, unsupported condemnations of “lefties” and “the left” for its supposed “campaign” to attack Malkin, plus hundreds of examples of the same sort of talk in comment threads.
But the fact is, there was never a campaign by the left, or even any significant number of lefties to publish Malkin’s private info. Not in comment threads, much less in front page blog posts. The entire campaign was almost entirely conducted by a single, hit-and-run troll called “themole” in comment threads.
And not only was the left not interested in posting Malkin’s details, many lefty bloggers immediately scrubbed or deleted comments that contained them, as soon as they were discovered.
But “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU” and the work of “themole” served a purpose (the only question is whether “themole” intended to serve this purpose or not). By the night of April 19, after a week of sustaining damage from various quarters that were critical of her posting the SAW info, Malkin was back in the victim’s seat. The waters surrounding her original breach of ethics were significantly muddied. Her proxies across the right blogosphere had the ammo to fight back against her critics, and even go on the attack against “the lefties” who were so clearly much worse in their tactics – going so far as to post a satellite map, whereas Malkin had only posted cell phone numbers and email addresses.
Mission accomplished, as they say. And it’s not like we haven’t seen this same game played out before on a grander scale, involving far more important stakes. The right’s Rovian playbook has as its basic formation precisely this sort of thing. From the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth nonsense in the 2004 presidential campaign season to the blogswarm over the CBS memos about President Bush’s TANG service, we have witnessed forms of this latest Malkin affair writ large many times in the past.
It begins with a small group or even an individual with a dubious background making allegations or “exposing” some secret. The rightwing media machine, including the blogosphere, “plasters” this shocking information all across the land, creating an angry din that outshouts any attempt to objectively investigate whether there is any “there” there to the scandal in question. The rightwing slant becomes the conventional wisdom, or at the very least muddies the waters enough to throw whatever the truth might be into serious doubt in the minds of many.
On the national level, elections are won and lost, and power is consolidated and ripped away, thanks in no small part to the collective weight of these deceitful campaigns, big and little.
My purpose in examining such a blip in the blogosphere as the most recent l’Affaire Malkin has been to dig down into one such little campaign – to find out how it came about, how it was sparked by the deliberate actions of a very tiny group of agents … then built up momentum on the predictable reactions of uncoordinated rightwing mouthpieces swarming to further the storyline along without ever questioning what proved to be its basic false premise.
Perhaps it’s been a waste of my time to spend so much of it on something that is on the face of it quite trivial. But I like to think that this sort of work has some value in preparing for the larger campaigns of deceit that are being hatched and conducted even as we speak … that involve huge issues like war with Iran, immigration policy, voting mechanisms and the environment, to name just a few.