The White House is hosting a social media summit on Thursday, and invited some of the internet’s loudest conservative trolls and racist carnival barkers to attend ― but if you’ve been paying any attention, the circus has already begun.
Politico reported Wednesday that Ben Garrison, a fringe conservative cartoonist, had been uninvited from the event after reporters dug up his anti-Semitic cartoon depicting the Rothschild family and billionaire investor George Soros ― all Jews ― as puppet masters. Critics called out event organizers for including Garrison in the first place. What did it say about the White House that an outspoken racist was invited to represent conservative social media?
“Garrison’s vile, antisemitic images deserve contempt and condemnation, and certainly do not warrant a friendly welcome and celebration by the President,” tweeted Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.).
Garrison’s ban is ironic given the context of this event. The White House’s social media summit and its guest list were developed based on the idea that conservatives are being unfairly banned or otherwise silenced by the social media networks they use. There’s no evidence that Twitter, Instagram or Facebook unfairly target conservatives for their political beliefs, though plenty of right-wingers have been penalized for breaking those sites’ terms of service. But given the opportunity to thumb its nose at such terms, the White House banned one prominent conservative voice anyway.
That said, the other names on the bill suggest that the “robust conversations” about social media promised by the president at the summit will be no more enlightening than one of Garrison’s cartoons. Media Matters characterized the guest list as a who’s who of extremism, pointing out that some attendees have direct ties to white nationalists:
Individuals and organizations that have said they were invited to the summit or have been confirmed to attend include conservative radio host Bill Mitchell, a right-wing meme maker known online as Carpe Donktum, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, right-wing propaganda YouTube channel Prager University, pro-Trump cartoonist Ben Garrison, Human Events publisher Will Chamberlain, Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell, conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, Students for Trump co-founder Ryan Fournier, right-wing personality Ali Akbar (also known as Ali Alexander), discredited “citizen journalist” James O’Keefe, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
Charlie Kirk leads a college Republican group that has a white supremacy problem in its top ranks. “Carpe Donktum” has met with white nationalist Stefan Molyneaux, and was previously suspended from Twitter over an altered video depicting President Donald Trump shooting CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Ali Akbar (aka Ali Alexander) has led numerous racist smear campaigns against Rep. Ilhan Omar with other career racists like Laura Loomer. Rep. Matt Gaetz has repeatedly fielded complaints for racism and threats that he’s tweeted. The list goes on.
These voices aren’t known for coming to level-headed conclusions after polite discussion and debate. Rather, they’re some of the internet’s most powerful trolls, with millions of followers between them, and their critics say they want free rein to harass people online.
“They’re advocating for a particular kind of social media system where they are allowed to harass, defame [and] post indecent content, and not be censured for it, and not be moderated in any way,” Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard University, told The Washington Post. “They want the benefits of social media with none of the civility.”
Meanwhile, the White House did not invite representatives from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Google. In reality, the summit was never about making changes to the social media landscape, but rather about giving Trump an opportunity to fire up his online base for the upcoming election, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s all about 2020,” Paul Gallant, a policy analyst for investment bank Cowen Inc., told the Journal. Gallant said the event allows Trump to tell “the base that the media and internet companies are against us” and pressure “Facebook, Twitter, and Google to tilt content in Trump’s direction.”