In the surest sign yet that Twitter’s relevance is rapidly disappearing, last week it became the site of a particularly silly “kids these days” moral panic. It started as Twitter personality Yashar Ali decided to heat up his over 700,000 viewers Followers of the platform called out Leaders agreed with the now deceased terrorist.
People took it seriously. Several news outlets reacted with outrage. Even the White House fell for it. But there should have been more skepticism. After all, Ali was exposed in a Los Angeles magazine in 2021 as a shady character who makes money and gains status through untrustworthy social media content aimed at manipulating less savvy internet users. So it’s no surprise that the story was like this quickly debunked by technology journalists who pointed out that the trend was just a few trolls.
The biggest difference of opinion between the two religious radicals is which variant of right-wing religious oppression they prefer: Christian or Muslim?
Yes, the videos had received a significant number of views and comments, but only after People like Ali sent them a lot of hate traffic. As John Herrman from New York pointed out, this is more of a story about how Twitter works these days. The platform thrives on sparking outrage among an aging and increasingly disaffected population through false or misleading content. There are certainly a lot of problems with TikTok – there’s also a serious disinformation problem – but no, there’s no real reason for it I think it radicalizes the youth into sympathy with Islamic terrorists.
No, what’s frustrating is that while people were upset about a not-really-true story about young people and al-Qaeda, a much more serious story has yet to gain similar traction: Like the newly elected Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Der Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana has a habit of spewing America-hating rhetoric that sounds like it could have come straight from Osama bin Laden’s mouth.
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In a video recorded just weeks before his rise to his role as the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill, Johnson filmed a video for the World Prayer Network with radical homophobic pastor Jim Garlow. As Frederick Clarkson reported for Salon, Garlow is part of an apocalyptic Christian movement that wants to end secular democracy and replace it with “a utopian biblical kingdom where only God’s laws are enforced.” (Which of course sounds a lot like bin Laden’s hope for an Islamic caliphate.) Garlow asked Johnson if he felt it was finally “a time of judgment for our collective sins.”
To which Johnson replied: “The culture is so dark and corrupt that it seems almost unsalvageable.” As evidence, he cited how many young people identify as something other than heterosexual.
Johnson’s words echo those of bin Laden’s “Letter to America”: “We call on you to be a people of manners, principles, honor and purity; rejecting the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling and interest trading.”
It says a lot about the failure of our media that a few random attention-seekers on TikTok have caused more excitement than this long list of similarities between bin Laden and Johnson, a man who actually has the power to express his anti-American vision translate into action.
The similarities don’t end there. As Slate’s Fred Kaplan noted in his condemnation In the (perhaps exaggerated) TikTok videos, the “Letter to America” is “an attack on the modern secular world” in which Bin Laden calls for “total submission” to his version of Islam and “the rejection of all opinions and commands.” Theories and religions that contradict him. Bin Laden was particularly angry that Americans were “separating religion from their politics, thereby contradicting pure nature, which affirms the absolute authority of the Lord and your Creator.”
Johnson, like bin Laden, rejects American secularism and says it is a It is a “misnomer” to believe in the separation of church and state. Over the course of his career, he has been dedicated to imposing his brand of Christianity on all Americans, from funding exhibitions claiming that dinosaurs sailed on Noah’s Ark to passing laws banning sexual behavior that does not conform to his strict fundamentalist rules corresponds. He keeps insisting on it, despite words to the contrary, the Founding Fathers wanted religion to guide government policy. The biggest difference of opinion between the two religious radicals is which variant of right-wing religious oppression they prefer: Christian or Muslim?
One can, of course, point out that Bin Laden was a violent terrorist who financed a deadly attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, something Johnson did not do. But it is also true that Johnson has signaled sympathy for the other terrorist attack on American democracy, Donald Trump’s insurrection on January 6, 2021. Johnson was one of the leaders of Trump’s coup attempts and led the coalition of Republicans in the House of Representatives that The votes for President demanded Joe Biden be thrown out. This week he authorized the release of security footage from the Capitol riot so that MAGA propagandists can cherry-pick and distort the content to create a false narrative that boosts the insurrectionists.
Certainly January 6th was not as deadly as September 11th. But it is also true that Johnson has a far better chance than bin Laden of ending American democracy and replacing it with a theocratic government.
As Bulwark’s Tim Miller writesBy calling American culture “corrupt” and saying that God “must bring people to their knees,” Johnson is not just being hateful toward his fellow Americans. His rhetoric also reflects the way Trump refers to the majority of Americans who reject him as “the vermin and the enemy within.” Both are strongly reminiscent of how bin Laden spoke of Americans as a dissolute people who “sink further into this abyss from level to level until incest has spread among you.”
It says a lot about the failure of our media that a few random attention-seekers on TikTok have caused more excitement than this long list of similarities between bin Laden and Johnson, a man who actually has the power to express his anti-American vision translate into action. It’s just a lot easier to sell a story about wayward youth than to explain why the nerdy-looking politician with the good hair is actually plotting our collective destruction. “Kids Today” stories give older adults a chance to vent their fears of aging and mortality under the guise of self-righteousness. A story about how the second person in the presidential race wants an American apocalypse is just depressing.
However, there is reason to have compassion for the people who freaked out when they saw misleading headlines about “viral TikTok videos” purporting to celebrate bin Laden. As I have written extensively, there is no doubt that far-right propaganda and disinformation spread through social media are undermining our democracy. TikTok has absolutely become a place for fascist recruitment, as evidenced by the popularity of Andrew Tate and other far-right influencers on the platform. It’s just that in this particular case, the “Bin Laden was right” argument was so idiotic that even relatively gullible people saw through it.
Crucially, randos on TikTok are not the largest and most dangerous source of disinformation. These are the same people we have been dealing with for years: Trump and his right-wing followers like Johnson. They are the ones spreading a steady stream of lies to destabilize American democracy so they can seize power. Worse, they use official government powers to do so, such as the ability to hold hearings in the House of Representatives or release security video footage. A few stupid kids tentatively saying ignorant things that they soon regret are not a story. What matters is that an entire political party, the GOP, is trying to finish the job that Bin Laden started in decimating our democracy.
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