The Morning Jolt


Dear Congressman: Doxing Is Wrong, No Matter How Angry You Are

A police car parked outside of Ned Peppers Bar the day after the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, August 4, 2019. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Sorry to say it’s another grim one today. A member of Congress forgets the lessons about how public information can be exploited for malevolent purposes; a lot of public voices respond to Dayton and El Paso by throwing gasoline on the fire; a forgotten detail about Oklahoma City and the militia movement; and a Democratic presidential candidate calls it quits.

Think of This as a Public Service Announcement for Angry Members of Congress

If you were a congressman, a person could find your home address pretty easily by going through property records. You already have a publicly listed office in Washington and offices in your district. You have a home in the Washington suburbs and a home in your district. Your spouse’s and children’s names are mentioned in news coverage, and you’ve shared pictures of your family on Twitter. All of the information that politicians give out in interviews and on social media to humanize themselves, and show that they’re normal, “just like us,” is also sharing bits and pieces of information about where they and their families have been and are likely to return: which summer camp, which vacation spots, which restaurants, barbershops, coffee shops . . . Heck, in your speeches, you might overtly say that you always visit a particular constituent’s restaurant or barbershop or small business when you’re in town. If you were a congressman, you would frequently be inadvertently telling people where they can find you if they’re patient enough.

If you were a congressman, it would probably be a bad idea for your spouse to post a lot of pictures of your family on Instagram — pictures of your house, pictures of your children, pictures of your car, pictures of the family just hanging out and eating dinner.

You know those scenes in the movies, where the detective finds the stalker’s apartment, and an entire wall is covered with photos and information about the stalker’s target? There’s usually some line of dialogue like, “Good God, he’s been secretly watching her for months!” and it involved the stalker surreptitiously following the target and secretly taking photos with a long lens. Today, the stalker can gather enough photos to create a mosaic on the wall without ever getting up from a desk.

If you’re a congressman, the odds are good that there’s already a ton of information about you already out on the Internet that could enable those who would seek to harm you. We would think that no congressman would ever want to get a reputation for posting people’s employers and hometowns out of partisan spite, even if the information was in public Federal Elections Commission records. To do that would be like playing with matches around gasoline — not just the potential threat of harassment and violence to the named donors, but the potential for some nut to get outraged about it and start looking up personal information about the congressman in response. Because in an era where all kinds of personal information ends up on the Internet . . . it’s all out there; it’s just a question of knowing where to look. And we haven’t even gotten to the question of hacking and cybersecurity.

We would think that any congressman, no matter how angered he was that some of his constituents were donating to a political figure he opposed, would recognize the extraordinary dangers of inaugurating a new form of partisan warfare by “doxing” the other side’s donors.

We would think.

The Latest Developments in (sigh) All Three Shooting Investigations

Once again, we see that mass shooters may have ideologies, but they don’t fit a neat partisan template, and their views on particular political issues are less relevant than their key belief that they are justified in mass murder: “The 19-year-old gunman who used an assault-style rifle to shoot people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival last week had a “target list” made up of religious institutions and political groups of both parties, as well as federal buildings and courthouses, authorities said.”

In other news, the owner of 8chan contends the shooter did not upload his manifesto to 8chan but someone else did. The owner of 8chan contended the manifesto was posted to Instagram, a claim that Instagram denies; they say that the account connected to the gunman hadn’t been used in more than a year.

Elsewhere, an indication that my sense of “normal human behavior” is much narrower than other people: An ex-girlfriend of the Dayton gunman says “he showed her a video of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on their first date.”

Wait, that’s not the worst part. The worst part was that there was a second date. “Johnson says she met [the gunman] in a college psychology class this year and they dated for a couple of months until May.”

I don’t want to hear any more complaining from the self-proclaimed “incels.” If showing a massacre video on the first date isn’t a deal-breaker, then what is?

Meanwhile, on MSNBC, former FBI assistant director Frank Figluizzi theorized that the White House’s announcement that American flags would remain at half-staff until August 8 was somehow connected to neo-Nazis: “The numbers 88 are very significant in neo-Nazi and white supremacy movement. Why? Because the letter ‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and to them the numbers 88 together stand for ‘Heil Hitler.’ So we’re going to be raising the flag back up at dusk on 8/8.”

If August 8 is always going to be 8/8, and that number is important to neo-Nazis, what exactly are we supposed to do? Skip the date on the calendar?

(Putting aside the paranoia about the White House flag decisions, assuming that Figluizzi is right and that August 8 represents an important date for neo-Nazis . . . should we expect neo-Nazis to do something tomorrow?)

Elsewhere on MSNBC, Nicolle Wallace apologized for saying, on air, that President Trump intended to “exterminate Latinos.”

Last night I wrote that it feels like the country is standing on the edge of a precipice. Instead of backing away carefully, a lot of people want to lean over even further.

This current outburst of violence has me thinking about the Oklahoma City bombing — and how thankfully, the moral abomination of that act undermined most enthusiasm for the militia movement. It’s one thing when you’re publicly raging against the Internal Revenue Service; it’s another when you blow up a federal building with a day care center and contend all the children inside were acceptable collateral damage.

Last year I finished reading Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles’s Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed — and Why It Still Matters, probably one of the most unnerving books I’ve ever read. Before we go any further, I must emphasize that the book does not include any conspiracy theories or dispute that Timothy McVeigh didn’t have a central role in the terrorist plot. But the book lays out a really troubling and compelling array of evidence that McVeigh and Terry Nichols probably had additional co-conspirators who never saw the inside of a courtroom; at the very least, it seems that a lot of people in militia circles knew “something” was going to happen on the two-year anniversary of Waco. And there’s some evidence that those in law enforcement also strongly suspected “something” was going to happen on or around that date — but didn’t know specifically where or when.

Our President’s Passions

A noted yesterday, Trump delivered a pretty good prepared speech Monday morning, declaring that “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”

Of course, since that speech, he hasn’t said much more about racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. Trump has tweeted about the political leanings of the Dayton shooter, griped about how the New York Times changed its headline about him in response to reader pressure, that Beto O’Rourke isn’t respecting the victims and law enforcement in El Paso, and argued that California’s new law requiring the release of tax returns to appear on the ballot constitutes “presidential harassment.”

He will be going to Dayton and El Paso today to meet with first responders, law enforcement, and some of the victims of the terrible shootings. We will see if Trump returns to the topics of racism, bigotry, and white supremacy, or whether he’s said all he intends to say.

Trump doesn’t like white supremacy, and he’s capable of giving a speech that says all the right things and checks all the right boxes. But he’s not particularly angry about it, compared to all the things in life that do anger him.

ADDENDA: As discussed on yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch, former Alaska senator Mike Gravel is quitting the presidential race. In other news, Mike Gravel was running for president. In other, other news, Mike Gravel is still alive.

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