Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Radio Public, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.
A new series from The Intercept, “The Threat Within,” takes a deep dive into examining federal terrorism prosecutions in the United States since 9/11. This week on Intercepted: The Intercept’s Alice Speri discusses her investigation into the FBI’s creation of the term “black identity extremist” and explains why this label is so dangerous. Science fiction author Cory Doctorow walks us through the dystopian, yet highly plausible, futures in his new book “Radicalized.” Doctorow also breaks down the newly passed European Copyright Directive and its implications for the internet as we know it. Plus, Katie Alice Greer of the band Priests describes how history and mythology influenced their new record, “The Seduction of Kansas.”
Donald J. Trump [at press conference]: Obamacare is dead. Obamacare is in a total death spiral. The dead carcass of Obamacare.
[Scary music plays.]
DJT: The Republican Party will become the party of great healthcare. It’s good.
Steve McQueen as Steve Andrews: Now, this thing, it killed the doc.
John Benson as Sgt. Jim Bert: Well, what was it?
SM: It’s kind of like a mass. It keeps getting bigger and bigger.
DJT: The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of healthcare.
Movie Announcer: And this is the shocking result.
DJT: We are going to have a plan that’s so much better than Obamacare. The best healthcare package we’ve ever had. It’s much better than Obamacare. We’re going to have a phenomenal healthcare.
Movie Announcer: It’s indescribable. Nothing can stop it.
DJT [distorted]: The party of great healthcare.
Movie Announcer: How can it be stopped? Mob hysteria sweeps one city. Before long, the nation and then the world could fall before the blood-curdling threat of The Blob.
DJT: The windmills! Wee!
JS: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 89 of Intercepted.
Protesters: Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!
Protester: Oh my god! This car just ran down all of these people!
David Begnaud: Those who know him remember a child who used racial slurs and was fond of Hitler.
David Begnaud: He was formally charged in killing 11 people in what has been called the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Linzie Janis: He had shot two Middle Eastern men and needed a place to hide out.
Jeff Glor: The double murder at a Kentucky grocery store is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
Mireya Villarreal: Anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage girls on a commuter train before stabbing three good samaritans who were trying to stop him. He killed two of them.
JS: White supremacist violence in this country is on the rise. Hate crimes are increasing globally, and federal law enforcement here in the U.S. has come under fire for not taking this threat seriously. For decades, violence committed by ring-wing extremists has been characterized as ‘lone wolf’ attacks when in reality, the ideology that ties these crimes together points to a very clearly well-thought out ideology and coherent movement.
A new series from The Intercept, called “The Threat Within” takes a deep dive look into federal terrorism prosecutions in the United States since 9/11. That review found that anti-terrorism laws were applied to only 34 out of 268 right-wing extremists prosecuted for crimes that fit the Justice Department’s definition of terrorism.
Jim Axelrod: With no specific penalties on the books for domestic terrorism, mass killers like Timothy McVeigh face charges of using a weapon of mass destruction or Dylan Roof who faced murder and weapons charges.
JS: It seems clear from this assessment, that the understanding of what terrorism means to federal prosecutors in this country is foreign terrorism. Because since 9/11, those same terrorism laws were applied to more than 500 alleged international terrorists.
The number of people killed since 9/11 by so-called Muslim extremists is slightly higher than those killed by right-wing extremists, but the amount of violent acts in total committed by right-wing extremists is actually three-times higher. That’s according to the U.S. government own statistics.
Trevor Aaronson, the lead reporter on this Intercept project writes, “By almost exclusively charging international extremists as terrorists, the Justice Department inflates the perceived threat of those actors, compared to those with right-wing domestic ideologies.” Trevor added, “This double standard has had powerful consequences for how the FBI and other law enforcement agencies allocate counterterrorism resources, leading invariably to international threats being prioritized over domestic ones.”
While all of the media fear-mongering and debate over who gets labeled a terrorist continues on in our post 9/11 reality, a new fear has seemingly gripped the FBI.
The massive protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the murder of Michael Brown was the starting point for the FBI to decide that a new player was on the scene. Two men involved in the protests at that time were labelled something entirely new under the FBI’s counter-terrorism division. The public learned about what that term was when a secret FBI memo was revealed. That memo warned of a rising, “black identity extremist” movement.
Sheila Jackson Lee: The report under your jurisdiction — “black identity extremists.” It is interesting to me that you are opposing individuals who are opposing lethal force similar to the attack on Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King on COINTELPRO. But there seems to be no report dealing with the tiki torch parade in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Why is there an attack on black activists versus any reports dealing with the alt-right and the white nationalists? Can you answer that question quickly?
Jeff Sessions: I’m not aware —
SJL: Are you planning on investigating that?
JS: My colleague at The Intercept, Alice Speri, investigated the six instances where this label, “black identity extremist” was applied. That article is called “The Strange Tale of the FBI’s Fictional ‘Black Identity Extremism’ Movement.”
Here’s Alice Speri to talk about what she found.
Alice Speri: We know very little about when the FBI started using the “black identity extremism” term. We know very little about what it means actually and kind of, what it was based on. The first we, as the public, heard about it was in the fall of 2017 when an internal intelligence assessment was leaked to Foreign Policy.
Amy Goodman: The memo was dated August 3rd, 2017 only days before the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis killed an anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer, injured dozens more. But the report is not concerned with the violent threat of white supremacists. Instead, the memo reads “The FBI assesses it’s very likely black identity extremist perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.”
AS: In the FBI report, the FBI lists six examples of what they call “black identity extremists” and the earliest one they referred to is the case of Olajuwon Davis and Brandon Orlando Baldwin who were two Ferguson protesters. And in my story, I really went back to this case because even though it seems the FBI retroactively applied the label to them, that’s really where black identity extremism as an ideology was born on the heels of the Ferguson protests. And the reason why I say that is because in Ferguson, we really saw the beginning of this Black Lives Matter movement. That was a movement for police accountability to end police racism. It was a different kind of black activist movement from the ones the FBI had known earlier on. So up to that point, the FBI had actually talked about black separatists and surveilled a different kind of black activists, but they were now looking to expand their surveillance and their targeting to a much broader group of people.
Protesters chant: I said, indict, convict, send that killer cop to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell! I said, indict —
AS: So, Olajuwon Ali Davis and Brandon Orlando Baldwin were two young black men, who started going to the protests in Ferguson after Mike Brown was killed. They didn’t have a long history of activism. They were just protesters like many others that just took to the streets spontaneously. The FBI had informants on the ground in Ferguson and I actually was in Ferguson covering the protests while they were happening.
AS [in Ferguson]: The first night the National Guard has arrived in Ferguson. I’ve not actually seen any of them right now. There’s still police. We have no curfew tonight, but even so, police are attempting to disperse people —
AS: And there was at the time, a lot of fear and a lot of even, what people thought was paranoia, but now we know it was justified. Like a lot of, a lot of people suspicious that they were being watched and kind of aware that they could be under surveillance. And we know now, that that was absolutely the case.
So, shortly after the protest started, these two guys befriended essentially two FBI informants that were at the protests and that’s what set off a series of events that I, in my story, characterized as basically an entrapment of these two guys that were ultimately convicted of buying what they thought were bombs.
So, when the FBI report was revealed to the public in 2017, a lot of people had a lot of questions, including members of Congress. And they questioned both the FBI director and Jeff Sessions who at the time was attorney general. And there’s this memorable exchange between Congresswoman Karen Bass.
Karen Bass: Do you believe that there is a movement of African Americans that identify themselves as “black identity extremists?” And what does that movement do?
JS: Well, it’d be interesting to see the conclusions of that report, but I’m aware that there are groups that do have an extraordinary commitment to their racial identity and some have transformed themselves even into violent activists.
AS: Hearing that from Jeff Sessions, to me, summarize what’s so ironic about this whole black identity extremism notion because of course black identity extremism doesn’t exist. But on the other hand, we also have a very real white identity extremism that for years and decades, federal officials have you know, underlooked and underplayed.
KB: Is there a term or a report on white identity extremists? You mentioned you are familiar with black people who identify with their racial identity.
JS: Yes, but it’s not coming to me at this moment.
KB: Not coming to you?
JS: It’s um —
KB: Certainly a group such as the Ku Klux Klan.
JS: Yes, and then the skinhead movement, but there’s a racial identity white movements that have been identified.
AS: We absolutely have a white supremacist violence problem in this country, and we’re just now starting to talk about it a little bit more openly. So, the big question around the “black identity extremism” report is why is the FBI wasting resources going after a movement that doesn’t exist while we have all this real violence, these real threats that we’re just ignoring for the most part?
AS: The FBI’s response to questions about the “black identity extremism” report has being fairly unsatisfactory, I would say. Director Christopher Wray testified in Congress twice about it and really didn’t answer any questions. I mean, the FBI says that they don’t police ideology. And of course, they don’t police based on race. That’s the law. But they didn’t really offer a lot of clarification about where this label came from. Wray actually at some point said —
Christopher Wray: I’d have to look at the statistics that you saw. I can tell you that we have our, in our domestic terrorism program, that last time I looked, we have about 50% more white supremacists, what the category that we would call white supremacist investigations, than we do in the black identity extremist category.
AS: And then later he admitted he didn’t know of any investigations of black identity extremists at all, which is really telling, I think. The other thing that I find ironic is that the FBI has long said that [it] has learned a lesson after COINTELPRO that that was a shameful chapter of its history. Comey has talked about it before Christopher Wray has talked about it more recently.
CW: I think I and everybody in the bureau recognizes the COINTELPRO problems, and that means different things to different people, as one of the darker moments in the FBI’s history. And it’s something we’re not proud of but it also is something that we’ve learned from. And during some of the same time period, there’s a lot that the FBI did that we can all be proud of.
AS: So, I think the FBI is kind of undersurface admitting to the mistakes of the past while at the same time doing things that are very similar. I don’t think they’ve actually come to terms with that history and learned a lesson here. What we’re seeing is really a repetition of their old ways.
Activists who are targeted are very much aware of that history. It’s not new which is not to say that it isn’t important to uncover as much as we can about it. You know, back in the 70s, the FBI had a racial intelligence office. Today, as far as I know, they don’t by that name, but we did some reporting recently that showed that the FBI actually has what they call a “race paper.” We have no idea what’s in it, but just the fact that they have a “race paper” is just extremely problematic. So, I think what’s fascinating about the story is that it reminded people, those that didn’t remember already, that there is a history to this and it’s ongoing and it’s very much part of a government push back against people that have questioned government policy for a long time and very legitimately.
There were only two prosecutions of so-called “black identity extremist.” One failed when a judge dismissed all charges against the man in question. And the only successful one was the prosecution of these two Ferguson protesters on what I would say was an entrapment case.
The Intercept’s analysis revealed that the Justice Department only applied anti-terrorism laws against 34 out of 268 right-wing extremists that it could’ve prosecuted for terrorism crimes and at the same time, which I think is also telling, they also targeted 17 environmental and animal rights activists with anti-terrorism laws. My colleague Alleen Brown wrote a really fascinating piece about this. One of the points here is for the longest time the FBI thought of environmental and animal rights activists as the greatest domestic terror threat, which is so ironic, you know, on the heels of Charlottesville and on the heels of the Pittsburgh massacre and so many other white supremacists violence that we’ve seen that they actually went after a movement that never killed anyone.
One of the big problems with the “black identity extremism” label, in addition to the fact that the ideology itself doesn’t exist, is that this threat assessment was carried out by the FBI’s counterterrorism division. So you’re immediately equating this notion of this black identity extremist as a domestic terrorist. You’ve painted these people as terrorists with all of the political implications of the term.
The second, and I think even most threatening aspect of this is that these assessment reports are created by the FBI and then handed out to police departments across the country with very little follow-up on how police actually use them. And we know a lot of police departments have problems with biased policing and discriminatory policing. We know that black people in particular are extraordinarily vulnerable to police violence. And if on top of that you create the idea that these people were protesting for very very legitimate reason, if you create this notion that they’re terrorists, you put their lives at risk. As one of the people I interviewed for the story, I think put it very well, is that when you create this idea that somebody is a terrorist and a threat to law enforcement, you authorized police to shoot first and ask questions later, which police already do with black people often enough. This puts lives at risk.
JS: Alice Speri is my colleague at The Intercept. She’s a fantastic reporter. Her story is “The Strange Tale of the FBI’s Fictional ‘Black Identity Extremism’ Movement.” That article is part of a larger investigative series published here at The Intercept called The Threat Within. I really encourage people to check that out on theintercept.com. Alice spoke to our assistant producer, Elise Swain.
Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard: A blade runner’s job is to hunt down replicants, manufactured humans you can’t tell from the real thing.
News Anchor [in Children of Men]: Day 1,000 of the siege of Seattle.
News Anchor [in Children of Men]: The Muslim community demands an end to the army’s occupation of mosques.
News Anchor [in Children of Men]: The Homeland Security bill is ratified. After eight years, British borders will remain closed.
Michaela Coel as airport stewardess: That’s reserved for members of our prime flight program. You’ve got to be a 4.2 or over to qualify.
Bryce Dallas Howard as Lacie Pound: Oh, I’m a 4.2.
MC: Uh uh. I’m afraid you’re actually a 4.183.
JS: These days it often feels like we’re living in the prelude to a not so distant dystopian science fiction future. My next guest Cory Doctorow says science fiction is a barometer for any given moment.
Cory Doctorow: Science fiction doesn’t predict the world, but the science fiction that’s popular in any moment gives you this incredible insight into what’s on the world’s mind, what it’s fears and aspirations are for technology.
JS: A science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger, Cory has a new book out. It’s called “Radicalized.” The book is broken up into four novellas taking the social, political, technological, and economic issues of our time and imagining them in a not so far off future, or reality.
From copyright right protections to radical privatization, Cory Doctorow offers a provocative analysis of the role that technology plays in our lives and what it means for our future. He also has a lot to say about the newly passed European Copyright Directive and its alarming implications on the internet as we know it.
Cory Doctorow, welcome to Intercepted.
CD: It’s sincerely a real pleasure. Thank you.
JS: Do you envision the world that you are creating in this book as something that’s happening in the near or distant future?
CD: The four novellas are not directly linked. They’re not all in the same future but they’re all pretty close by. Each one is not meant to be predictive. Like I hate the idea that science fiction writers are fortune tellers. As an activist, I have to believe that the future is contestable, right? If it was predictable, I just like wouldn’t bother getting out of bed. So, they’re meant to be interventions rather than predictions, things to make people angry or inspired or to take action. So, you know the first story “Unauthorized Bread,” it’s about a refugee in subsidized housing where all the appliances are designed to extract maximum revenue from her by making sure she only toast authorized bread in the toaster and so on.
Lameece Issaq [from audiobook]: The Boulangism cloud had burst and that meant there was no one answering Salima’s toaster when it asked if the bread she was about to toast had come from an authorized Boulangism baker which it had. In the absence of a reply, the paranoid little gadget would assume that Salima was in that class of nefarious fraudsters who bought a discounted Boulangism toaster and then tried to renege on her end of the bargain by inserting unauthorized bread with consequences ranging from kitchen fires to suboptimal toast.
CD: And if that wasn’t bad enough the hedge funds that own these appliance companies go under because of their financial engineering and then everything stops working.
LI: The toaster wasn’t the first appliance to go. That honor went to the dishwasher which stopped being able to validate third-party dishes the week before when Disher went under.
CD: And when they start jailbreaking things that gets good to them and they feel like they’re finally mastering their technology.
LI: She tried to search her fridge for “Boulangism hacks” and “Boulangism unlock codes” but appliances stuck together. Kitchenaid’s network filters gobbled up her queries and spat back snarky “no results” screens, even though Salima knew perfectly well that there was a whole underground economy devoted to unauthorized bread.
CD: But then that puts them in harm’s way because when the companies come back then they can detect them with their telemetry, with their analytics.
LI: “Do you think we’ll get in trouble? With a building, I mean? They own the appliances.” Salima shrugged. “They were getting a share of the money we spent before for the special bread and soap and so on. But with both companies bankrupt, they won’t be expecting any new money. Now, if the companies do ever come back from bankruptcy and still no one here is using their products,” Nadifa nodded, “that would definitely be trouble.”
CD: Once those companies come back from bankruptcy then these people are in harm’s way because the telemetry will detect their tinkering and that’s not fictionally, it is literally a felony under Section 12 of the DMCA punishable by a five-year prison sentence to remove copyright protection systems from digital devices.
And so, you know, it’s meant to make people think harder about the fact that now we have these tamper-resistant, illegal to tamper with systems in our cars, and in our pacemakers and voting machines and so on, and that this is spreading very quietly, but throughout every piece of technology that we use and making it off limits to security auditors as well. And then, there’s the story, Masque of the Red Death which takes its title from this famous Edgar Allan Poe story and it’s about a rich prepper who’s in his bunker with all of his friends.
JS: Wait, first explain the term “prepper.”
CD: “Preppers,” people who believe that the end of civilization is coming and they build these spider holes, you know, these sometimes they’re very luxurious and sometimes it’s a cavern in the basement. It’s a recurring motif in old science fiction. Heinlein loved to talk about people who had you know, bomb shelters that were lovingly equipped for the future and so on.
Stefan Rudnicki [from audiobook]: Before the event, Martin Mars spent a lot of time trying to game it out. Would the collapse be sudden catching him off guard and unprepared having to fight his way to his fortress as he escaped from Paradise Valley and into the Desert Hills? Or would there be some kind of sign, a steady uptick in civil disorder and failures from the official powers that counted down to the day giving him a chance to plan an orderly withdrawal to Fort Doom? This was important. If Martin spooked and ran for Fort Doom too early, he’d have to slink back to the city and his job after however many days he’d spent bunkered up. Not only would it be humiliating but it would cost him credibility with the 30 people he’d invited to survive the apocalypse with him. Once Fort Doom was buttoned up for the duration, he’d need to be a credible leader or he could lose control. Who the fuck knew what would happen next?
JS: What’s the ultimate fear that is driving the prepper?
CD: Yeah, I try to make it explicit. It’s that he sits down and he kind of reasons it out. He says, look the market is a thing that separates the worthy people from the unworthy people and as we’ve had better information systems, we’ve had things like a sort of mating that has made the worthy people even more worthy. No longer does the genetic sport who just has the mutation that makes them into a job creator have to settle for you know, a doe-eyed milkmaid. He can hunt out his equal somewhere in the world by finding them and then, and eventually like everyone else becomes kind of redundant, surplus to needs and we’ll use automation to get rid of them. But then he reasons, you know, if I were one of those people who were surplus to needs and I woke up one day and figured that that was what was going on, I’d go out and you know, start building guillotines on the lawns of people like me, right? And so, he’s kind of done the game theory here and said if I were surplus to requirements, I wouldn’t take it lying down. I won’t expect anyone else to do it. And so I’m waiting for them to come for me.
SR [from audiobook]: Martin knew that the event was coming. The fact was the world just didn’t need all those people anymore. And the market had revealed that fact, squeezing them into tinier, more uncomfortable places. He wouldn’t tolerate it if he was in their shoes. He’d be the first one to build a guillotine. And because he was Martin, it would be an awesome guillotine. So absolutely badass and over-engineered with a turbocharger and a self-sharpening blade because that was Martin all the way. It’s why Fort Doom was the incredible place it was.
CD: This guy’s got this whole Mad Max theory about how when civilization collapses, he’ll wait for the ‘poors’ to devour each other and then he’ll emerge and become a kind of, warlord with his group of excellent heavily-armed uber-mansion. And what he discovers is that we all have this shared microbial destiny and that the real heroes of the revolution of the ones who are getting the sanitation working not the ones hiding in the bunker, but he discovers that by getting cholera.
SR [from audiobook]: Martin felt his own guts clenched his own bowels turn to water. He had Cipro and other broad-spectrum, last-resort antibiotics, but he hadn’t replaced them yet this year and a bunch of them were expiring soon. He’d read that their efficacy would start to fall off a cliff when that happened. After a deliberate bioweapon attack, cholera was one of the fears that kept him up at night. He had lots of guns, but you can’t shoot germs.
JS: One of the elements that I really loved about Max Brooks, “World War Z” the book — the film was a terrible adaptation of that book — and you touch on this too and I find it such a rich point of inquiry that if you strip away all of the things that make unearned wealth the way that it is in our society, who are the most valuable people here? They’re the people that know how to work with their hands, with their physical labor.
And as you do here as well, it’s like, you know, you can be the wealthiest kingpin lawyer in the world but when the fucking apocalypse comes like you’re going to be hoping that those contractors that you hired to do stuff on your lawn are around to help you. I mean that is the reality of, we’re living in that kind of world now where it’s like it could break and a lot of people are going to be in deep shit. They don’t even know how to unclog their toilet.
CD: Yeah. I’m a big fan of this Anglo-Canadian science and political writer Leigh Phillips who wrote a great book called “Austerity, Ecology and the Collapse Porn Addict.” That’s about this kind of bright green communitarian or socialist future as distinct from the degrowth agenda. He’s like if your future starts with getting humanity down to 3 billion people, that’s a lot of corpses lying around. And you know, we know that any event that reduces the population of humanity to 3 billion will create such scars and trauma and disease and what have you and leave you with a skeleton crew too small to work the systems that it could be a tipping point into you know centuries of barbarism.
The only way to a green future is up and through, you know. Kim Stanley Robinson writes about this that we should get people into big cities away from natural habitats, into high-density environments where we can share you know, resources and so on. That’s the most efficient future we have. It’s trying to counter that pastoral kind of Tory-bougie version of the future that like someday we will attain a kind of paradise where we all wear leather aprons and work our small holdings and craft through the days. That’s a vacation but it’s not a future.
JS: There are those people that take to the extreme, that have their bunkers, that are collecting their medicines, and their Bitcoin and their weapons, etc. But even on just a slow growth level, the radical privatization agenda in this society where you have some communities that are going to have privatized fire fighting forces, private security, private access to water supply. That is the real world now and in a way it is — the preppers take it kind of, to the extreme — but it’s already seeping into every aspect of our life, right?
CD: You know, Larry Lessig, he talks about the world being influenced by like code, what’s technologically possible? Law, what’s legal? Norms, what’s lawful? And markets, what’s profitable? And if you think of like say The Mont Pelerin Society as having used those four tools to try and change us, one of the changes has been this normative shift, right? Through market and legal mechanisms we’ve arrived at a normative moment in which it can sound reasonable to say “What makes you say that you have the right to clean drinking water? If you can’t afford it, what entitles you to it?” It’s a kind of tautological thing. The thing that entitles you to it is affording it and if you can afford it, you know, you’re entitled to it.
It’s this idea that we don’t have a shared destiny. And you know, that’s part of the point of the Masque of the Red Death is that giant mountains of corpses are a public health problem‚ like leaving aside all of the ethical questions about giant rounds of corpses — giant mountains of corpses will kill you dead by seeping into the water supply and by, you know, vectorizing all kinds of diseases that emerge in rotting flesh and so on. It is not nice to be surrounded by rotting corpses. And I think that you know, in the like kind of, late 20th century, early 21st century climate debate where we’ve arrived at, at least among some elites, is this belief that climate change is probably real but given enough mountaintops and harrier jets, you can just sort of build a you know, big fence around your high ground and just cross-breed your children by supersonic jet. All the dying poor people will be so far down the slope that you won’t even have to smell them. And this is just clearly wrong, right, just as like a factual matter, that’s not going to be a nice existence.
JS: I want to ask you about a couple of companies and get your read on the role they play in our life and our society. But also, like what you think their ultimate end game is. I want to start with Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
CD: I think you can draw like a little two by two grid-like venture capitalists like to draw and on one axis, you have how much of a control freak that company is and on the other one, you have how much they want to spy on you. So like, you know, Apple: total control freaks, but they don’t want to spy on you. They just want you to only like be trapped in there walled garden. Google: totally want to spy on you. Don’t care where you are because they figured out how to spy on you wherever you happen to be. Then you have like free and open-source software Ubuntu, GNU, Linux: don’t want to spy on you, don’t care how you do it, anywhere you want is fine with them. But then you know, in the worst quadrant is Facebook. Everything has to happen in their walled garden and they’re going to watch everything you do. I mean, they figured I watch you when you’re not in the walled garden, but Facebook’s goal is to consume the web, surround it, and close it and then spy on you even more effectively.
JS: What do you think about where Twitter is right now?
CD: So Twitter’s biggest sin is its engagement tools, the way that it does recommendations and engagement. It’s the same problem with the YouTube algorithm. There is like one reliable way to engage people and that’s to make them angry. Now that said, you know, as an activist tool, there’s things I like about Twitter. It is unlike Facebook. It’s linkable. So everything on Twitter can be seen even if you’re not a Twitter follower, everything public on Twitter. You don’t have to have a Twitter account. So you can link in and out of Twitter. Now Twitter has experimented with contracting that over time. The other thing about Twitter is that there are times when your adversaries will be stupid enough to pick fights with you that will allow you to play to their gallery and point out the mistakes in their argument, right? It’s not an entirely pleasant way to spend your day, but you know, I’ve been fighting on this new European copyright directive.
CNN: What you can watch online is likely about to change. That’s because of a sweeping overhaul of copyright rules just passed by the European Parliament.
CD: And the controversial clause is Article 13. And it moves online services copyright liability from the current regime, which is that your users get to post stuff and if it infringes copyright and someone tells you about it, you have to take it down to one where you are expected to know a priori what it whether or not something, a user posts is an infringement and block it. So it’s filters, right? You’re gonna have to put up content ID style filters for everything. These are very expensive. Google’s content ID filter which just filters video and just on behalf of a small clutch of rights holders cost a hundred million dollars to build and maintain over the last ten years. Doing this for all the photos, all the videos, all the rights holders, all the texts, all the audio, there’s really like five companies in the world that can afford it and they’re all American. So this snuffs at the European tech sector at the stroke of a pen.
But you know, there are lots of other problems with filters. So, there are no penalties built into the regulation for people who falsely claim copyright in order to ensure that some things can never be posted. So, whether that’s being a griefer and just going in and posting the collected works of Shakespeare to make sure no one can ever quote Shakespeare until someone at WordPress or at Twitter goes in and plucks all of those entries out one at a time. Or whether that’s you know, the king of Thailand who has previously used copyright claims to take down videos of demonstrators being brutalized by the Thai police. You could stop them before they ever started. You could just upload that and it would never show up. The European Union has said you must make sure that copyright violation doesn’t happen. You should make sure that you don’t accidentally block things that are copyright infringements. The difference between must and should is pretty obvious. And so, you’re going to get lots of weird situations like, you know, your kids first steps are video recorded while there’s a record playing in the background and the music means that you can’t upload the video. Or that demonstration where the police become violent the canonical photograph of it has a bus ad in the background and Corbis owns the stock art and so that photo could never be posted.
JS: How do you think that we’re going to be targeted in the future with ads? The reason I’m asking that, you know, one of the things that we discovered a few years ago — I mean, we at The Intercept — when we were looking at Wi-Fi sniffers and IMSI-catchers, New York City now has these kiosks in the subways and you can go and you can look, you know. They’re interactive, you know. You can if you can figure out where your train is and what’s going to be late and it’s you know, a map and all that stuff. But also you have this offer of you know a free Wi-Fi now everywhere. And when your device hops onto that Wi-Fi network, you’re giving quite a bit of information to that terminal and the question is where does that data go and what is it, you know, what can it be used for?
And the other thing we found when we were playing around with some toys that the smart people here built — engineers — that if you walk around and your phone is not connected to a Wi-Fi network, but it is seeking out a Wi-Fi connection, it is broadcasting the entire list. I mean, you know this but I’m just explaining — the entire list of every network you’ve ever been on. So it’s searching for a hotel in Tokyo, your grandma’s house in Vermont and your work, the cafe you’ve been at. It tells an enormous amount about you. When you look at the way Minority Report for instance took Philip K. Dick ideas, in the Minority Report film each person is targeted individually with like holographic advertisements catered to them specifically. It greets you by name. How do you see this stuff happening going forward?
CD: I don’t know how we’re going to get targeted but I have a theory about how we could fix it. You know, if firms were required to internalize even a small amount of the cost of breaches, they would be a lot more cautious about the data they collected and stored.
CBS: What could be one of the biggest data breaches ever to hit a major retailer. This morning, Home Depot is investigating whether its customers credit and debit cards were exposed. It’s not clear how many stores or shoppers could be involved but experts say it could be larger than the breach that affected 40 million shoppers at Target last year.
CD: Home Depot breached 80 million credit cards and paid 60 cents per breach in the class action settlement. They should have paid like a half of a percent of the total value of all the real estate holdings of 80 million people. Like there’s nothing inevitable about the way that we hoard this data. It’s a choice that was taken and it’s a choice that could be reversed and it’s a choice that exacts a high cost on the wide society and that cost could be reversed, could be pushed back onto the people who are exerting it. But we would need evidence-based policy for that to happen. And so I’m not saying OK, we can’t change it until we fix capitalism but I’m saying that part of the project of fixing capitalism is changing this and part of the project to changing this is fixing capitalism. They’re things that have to run in parallel and you’ll only get so far with other kinds of interventions until you fix the way that markets and inequality are functioning right now.
JS: I mean that that’s such a great challenge to all of us to end on. Cory Doctorow, I want to thank you so much for joining us.
CD: Jeremy, it really has been an absolute pleasure. What a treat to meet you and to come up here to The Intercept. Thank you.
JS: Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger. He is also the co-editor of Boing Boing. You can find that at boingboing.net. His latest book which contains four short stories is called “Radicalized.” You can follow Cory on Twitter at @doctorow.
JS: We’re gonna end today with some music from the Washington D.C. rock band Priests. They have a new record out this Friday, and it’s called “The Seduction of Kansas.”
You’re probably thinking, “Why Kansas? There’s nothing seductive about that place at all.” Sorry for those of you listening in Kansas.
Well, you’d be completely, totally wrong — especially if you said that to Priests front-person, Katie Alice Greer, who loosely based the title on journalist Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Here’s Frank:
Thomas Frank: What the book is about is an examination of populist, conservative culture. Conservatism has invented a fake populism, a way of looking at class that instead of talking about class as an economic phenomenon, it discusses class as a cultural phenomenon.
JS: For Greer, so much of our current discourse on labor rights, and social struggle around issues like a woman’s right to abortion, are deeply rooted in the history of Kansas itself.
And I should mention: Priests are a notably prophetic band, even unintentionally. Their last album “Nothing Feels Natural” was released exactly one week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, felt like a direct response to the shocking, nascent Trump presidency, despite the fact that many of the songs were written months, even years, in advance.
With that in mind, here is Katie Alice Greer as she looks back on that work two years now into the Trump presidency, and also how history and mythology influenced Priests’ new record, “The Seduction of Kansas.”
[“Jesus’ Son” by Priests plays.]
Katie Alice Greer: My name is Katie Alice Greer and I am the lyricist and front-person of the rock band Priests.
[“Jesus’ Son” by Priests plays.]
KAG: I have always had a fascination with politics. I’ve always had a fascination with power and how that is wielded.
I am from a suburb of metro Detroit. I moved to Washington D.C. to go to American University when I was 18 surrounded by so many people who were on a track to go work on the Hill. I thought: oh, maybe that’s how I want to be involved in politics. And I actually interned on the Hill both on the finance side and the congressional side. Being up close to how electoral politics works and how change happens with elected officials helped emphasize for me that the social change that I truly believe in is rooted in movements of people and people power. And eventually I graduated and decided well, I think I’d want to focus on making music.
[“Modern Love / No Weapon” by Priests plays.]
KAG: We’ve been a band for about eight years and our original voice in writing songs was very deliberately critical of the liberal establishment in place. A lot of times people were confused. We have a song called “And Breeding” and one of the last lines is “Barack Obama killed something in me. I’m going to get him for it.”
[“And Breeding” by Priests plays.]
KAG: People were like, that’s weird. He’s the best which people still say nowadays. I get it. He was a much preferred alternative to Trump but a through-line that a lot of people are missing in that is that the liberalism that has been in place for so many decades, whoever is president, has all been a building block to where we are right now. Like these things are all very connected. Sometimes when we do “And Breeding,” you know, depending on the day, I’ll sing “Barack Obama killed something in me” or “Fuck Donald Trump and his white supremacy.” I’m still not happy with a lot of what Obama did but there’s something that feels really cathartic about yelling “Fuck Donald Trump” into a microphone on stage. I recommend everyone try it at some point.
Trump being an office doesn’t change the fact that I am deeply critical of a lot of liberal policies and am hoping that we can find ways when Trump is out of office not to go back to liberalism, business as usual but to create something new that seems to be the only way forward is kind of moving into that unknown space.
[“Pink White House” by Priests plays.]
KAG: “Pink White House” is a song on our last record what was meant to be sort of a fun meditation on this bizarre romanticized mythology we have in this country of the beauty of choice. One of my favorite songs is Devo’s “Freedom of Choice” sort of about a similar idea, satirizing being able to have anything you want.
[“Freedom of Choice” by Devo plays.]
KAG: I’ve never seen someone in Congress at this point, who I was actually like “Wow, this is someone who’s kind of like me,” like and watching some of the newer leaders who have been elected especially in this past cycle like Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s my age. I worked my way through college. I wasn’t a bartender. I was a cocktail waitress at a place in D.C. where like, you know, lots of people who had a lot of power were coming into like unwind after work. So, I know what that feels like and feeling like this has nothing to do with what I want to do with my time. But like this is what I have to do, you know, can you or can you not start the change from within the system or do you have to just completely destroy the system and build a new one? Like I saw Ocasio-Cortez is friends with another band that were friends with, Algiers, and it was like that’s crazy to me that you know, someone in Congress knows about bands that we’re friends with. It seems stupid but it’s like, it does make you feel like oh, right, this was ostensibly what our government and representational democracy was supposed to be about having people who understand the world as you understand it, legislating new policies that will be good for the world around you.
[“The Seduction of Kansas” by Priests plays.]
KAG: Our new album is called “The Seduction of Kansas.” The title track is largely inspired by a Tom Frank book from the early 2000s called “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”
[“The Seduction of Kansas” by Priests plays.]
KAG: And all the fast food chains and different little details I’m throwing out in there are mostly things that were actually born in Kansas. The Koch brothers are also from Kansas. I think one thing that stuck out to me reading that book was how Kansas you know, turn of the last century was really a breeding ground for a lot more leftist socialist movements and then in the 1980s, the Summer of Mercy was a radicalizing stadium event, I think for people who just hated abortion and women’s reproductive rights. And it’s become very conservative in a lot of ways.
Newscaster: If the scorecard was sheer numbers in attendance, the pro-lifers were the hands-down winners in this weekend’s abortion rally Super Bowl in Wichita, Kansas. Those here hope this marks the end of legalized unrestricted abortion in America. The Summer of Mercy campaign could indeed turn the tide in the abortion battle in America, but the real test will come this fall in Washington D.C. at the U.S. Supreme Court. Reporting from Wichita, Kansas, I’m —
KAG: I have always been really fascinated in perceptions of things, so American mythology, let’s call it. Even this idea of “Make America Great” like that slogan itself has so much meaning imbued in it suggesting that this country was great at some point for people. That’s a very specific group of people like white, male Christians when you really get down to it. Why do we gravitate towards these certain narratives? What is convenient to leave out? The songs are just little short stories and character sketches reflecting on that.
[“The Seduction of Kansas” by Priests plays.]
KAG: I try to not think too much about being an artist under the Trump presidency versus being an artist before. It all still feels like a continuation of the same work, asking the same questions. Like I think art is about the antithesis of passivity and we need that right now more than ever. I think just trying to keep eyes on the horizon and moving forward and figuring out what is the actual work that needs to be done? And for us, that work is making music that we care about and carving out the world that we want to live in with the people that we want to live with.
[“Good Time Charlie” by Priests plays.]
JS: That was Katie Alice Greer of the band, Priests. Their new record, “The Seduction of Kansas” is out on Friday. She spoke to our producer Jack D’Isidoro.
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, you can log onto TheIntercept.com/join to join the more than 3,000 other people who have already come on board as sustaining members. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.