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After New Zealand, we can't view white supremacist hate as "just trolling"

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18.03.2019

It might seem like a lifetime ago in today's political climate, but it was only six months ago that Zina Bash, a Republican operative who was sitting behind Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last September, flashed a white nationalist hand gesture. It was during the latter half of the week of Kavanaugh's hearing when Bash, with deliberation, looked directly at the camera, lifted her hand, and made the "OK" symbol — which white supremacists had been using as an identifier for more than a year at that point.

Most of the media, of course, did not report the moment that way. Instead, the dominant line of thinking was that Bash was making a joke -- a troll meant to prank liberals, and nothing more.

Earlier that week, a number of people from the fiercely anti-Trump corners of Twitter had taken screenshots of Bash resting her hand on her arm in what appeared to be the "OK" sign, and accused her of trying to subtly signal solidarity to white supremacists who were watching. The response from conservatives and many mainstream journalists was widespread accusations of paranoia. So the next day, Bash reacted to the criticism by deliberately and unmistakably flashing the sign.

One way to read that was that Bash was removing all doubt. But what most journalists chose to believe instead was that she was just kidding around. With white nationalism, like people who kid around do.

"No, a former Kavanaugh clerk didn’t flash a 'white power sign'," read the headline at Vox, with reporter Dylan Matthews noting that Bash's husband denied that's what she was doing. Matthews also implied that the association of the "OK" sign with white supremacists was "a prank" to lure leftists into claiming that "an innocuous hand gesture was a secret sign of deep, racist evil," and thereby making them sound crazy.

The Anti-Defamation League declared the episode a "hoax" perpetuated by 4chan and other online trolls to bait liberals into acting stupid. Like Vox, most media outlets left it at that, mocking snowflake leftists for being taken in by this "hoax."

Six months later, a white nationalist from Australia shot........

© Salon