I waited to publish this until I was out of the US, and doing so has the added advantage of it not surfacing until the frenzy has died down a bit. I’m writing this to explain why we did what we did, how we did it, and how we all (you included) might be able to act in such a way again.
I am the hat-stealer from HOPE XII. If you don’t have context, you may want to read the Unicorn Riot article or Motherboard article first (the Parallax article as of 2018-07-24 seems to misrepresent the events and their ordering).
This is both a narrative and an analysis of everything surrounding the event.
On Friday, the first day of HOPE, we had heard reports that there was someone in a MAGA hat who was being provocative during a Q&A after one of the talks. I hadn’t seen anything like this yet at the conference, but I decided to make extra effort to keep my eyes out for a personal CTF challenge.
I heard there’s a MAGA cap on some nazi fuck’s noggin here at HOPE, and while I’m not saying they should be aggressively confronted and have it stolen—
Wait, yes that is exactly what I’m saying. Fuck them.
Make no room for racists and fascists.
On Saturday morning, I was hanging out in the vendor area with some comrades when one of the HOPE group chats I was part of received a message with an attached photo:
This guy asking a question in Booth right now is a “nationalist” wearing a MAGA hat
He’s questioning why capn crunch is banned
He was confirmed by another member of the group as someone who claimed to be in Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally in the summer of ‘17. The spotter said he was there with a crew.
I texted the group.
On my way
I ran to the elevator, and as I took it up to the top floor, others ack’d that they were converging on the auditorium too.
When I entered Booth, I could see the nazi (henceforth White Hat) sitting in one of the front rows seemingly debating other audience members. It was mostly clear around him save a couple of listeners and his goons.
I saw one member of my squad in the back, and with no rush for acting, we waited for a few more. Others I’d never seen before joined us. We were obviously the anarchist sanitation team that was here to take out the trash, and they had our backs.
Someone in a Camo Hat with a gold fishhook on the brim was pacing and eyeing our group, possibly trying to listen in. He was obviously with White Hat. I called him out to the group, and he stepped back and returned to his friends.
The exact reason they were there wasn’t entirely clear. The hacker community has always had a libertarian faction, and libertarians tend to be just a hair away from outright white supremacy, so it was possible they were here as attendees. It was equally possible they were here as trolls, just here to wear offensive clothing and ask stupid questions. Maybe they were even more coordinated and were trying to goad us into confronting them.
The reason didn’t matter. They were wearing something whose very presence was offensive, something whose presence alone was meant to cause fear and aggravation, and it needed to be removed regardless of whether or not they were baiting us. If their trap is to either bait us into breaking the law or force racist symbols into our spaces, I’ll steal them every fucking time.
I asked what the plan was. This isn’t my city, my conference, my scene, and I was a little reluctant to act. I didn’t want to come in and wreck someone else’s home, but we were already spotted, and if we waited much longer whatever plan we hatched wouldn’t be able to rely on the element of surprise.
No one had an idea. I don’t blame anyone for this. This wasn’t a failing on our part because all of this came together from the initial spotting of the fash, to this moment was under 3 minutes (confirmed by the timestamps on texts in one group).
I went through series of actions, most I’d done before. This, like all antifascist action, needed to be handled delicately. I believe in a militant application of force against fascism and racism, but I also believe that diversity of tactics yields the best results. Decking him in the face was likely to cause more problems than it would solve, but also merely saying something was going to do nothing.
The goal was to intimidate them, make them feel that they cannot enter our spaces with impunity. The goal was to remove the symbol, to metaphorically decapitate their hate.
All I had to do was take the hat and vocally call out his bullshit. That would be enough.
The fallout I wanted was to galvanize the attendees, to have someone break the bystander effect and let the avalanche that had built up come crashing down on the fash, on 2600, on HOPE. I wanted to take the rage that was building up within us and give it the outlet it needed. I wanted action that would force everyone’s hands into dealing with this, one way or another. Either HOPE would side with us and boot them out, or they would show their true colors and let the community know that we should leave them behind and create new spaces for ourselves.
I didn’t want to lead, but moreover I didn’t want to make too much of a plan only to have it go awry and for nothing to happen. I acted on impluse.
I walked to the front, in full view of Camo Hat, who was doing an atrocious job of playing lookout and security for their group. I came up behind them, shuffling between chairs, and I snatched White Hat’s MAGA cap right off his nazi head.
“Hey, give that back!” he yelled.
“Fuck off nazi! Get the fuck out of here. You’re not wanted.” I yelled back as I headed toward the exit.
Some woman yelled at me “Give him back his hat. Why don’t you just have a debate with him?”
“Fuck no. I don’t fucking debate nazis.”
I’d made a mistake and didn’t know where the stairwell was before I acted. The elevators were too slow, and I wanted to avoid being caught waiting, or worse be caught in one with no room to fight if it came to that.
I gambled wrong and I ended up cornered by event security, presumably all volunteers, asking what was happening and nazi sympathizers who were berating me for taking action.
This actually worked out well in that in the heat of the moment, they weren’t able to keep their calm and made statements that they otherwise might not have if they’d had the time to give a well crafted, PR friendly response.
I was told that using my hands instead of my words to handle this was something I should have learned not to do in 3rd grade. I was told that taking a nazi’s hat was just as bad as tearing off a woman’s clothes if I didn’t like how she was dressed. I explicitly asked if a nazi symbols or other fascist propaganda was allowed at HOPE, and I was told “yes.”
One member of security appeared overly concerned with actually getting the hat back. He appeared to be on the side of White Hat & co. Camo Hat was taking pictures and/or video of me, and some lefties were attempting to block his efforts. Behind him, White Hat was on the phone with the police reporting an incident of assault.
The discussion between us and security / event staff was going in circles, stalemated. We weren’t going to back down that white supremacist symbology was inappropriate for HOPE, and they weren’t going to stop defending it.
I was going to get booted from the conference for not giving the hat back, and I didn’t care. What I did care about was making a get away in the event cops responded to the call. I gave the hat back as a distraction, and said I was leaving the con. I was escorted out by staff and a couple of members of the squad.
In the lobby, the member of staff who appeared to have seniority told me cops were outside on the right and to turn left when I exited. This seemed odd because of how staunchly he was defending the nazis’ actions.
I instead left through the side exit and started walking east down West 33rd Street.
I didn’t know where the cops were coming from or how much they knew about the suspect. If I started running, I might give myself away or run right into a pair as they rounded a corned. I kept an eye behind me to confirm the suspicion that White Hat was following me. Someone I didn’t recognize, but seemed to not be part of the fash ran up to me.
“You know you’re being followed, right?”
He ducked back again to help block my tail as I turned right around the first corner. I checked that there were no cops, and sprinted across the street. Going down West 32nd Street, I kept and eye for a doorway or gap where I sneak through back to 33rd Street and start heading north. I hustled through the lobby and restaurant, then fell back to a quick walk down the street.
Two blocks later, I pulled my phone out, set my Twitter to private, and removed the
@ HOPE line from my display name.
Tucked away somewhere I thought was private enough to hide out, a comrade arrived with my bag, and we jumped on our phones to check in with the others. One of Chelsea Manning’s friends contacted me saying a HOPE staffer had said that the fash had staged an incident. To me this seemed like they were spreading misinformation to save face, and regardless were going to use this incident as additional grounds to disrupt her talk. One of my chat groups had said that they had heard that the fash were going to do something during Chelsea’s talk, so I relayed this information to her friend then pulled them into one of the chat groups.
My comrade left to help run security knowing they had enough time to make it back for Chelsea’s talk, and I started alerting everyone I knew that we needed people to run interference on disruptors during it. Nearly everyone I knew at HOPE started making their way to Vaughn, the main auditorium, to help as they could.
They were sharing photos and I was bouncing them around to groups and individuals. We shared notes and dox, and placed people strategically to keep them from rushing the stage and getting to the mic during Q&A. We were taking notes on which staff members were being overly friendly with the fash. We had people next to them, behind them. We had their phones’ PIN codes, the names of who they were talking to. We could read their messages.
Antifa is everywhere.
Chelsea’s team was looped in and had event staff ready to pull the plug on the mic if any got to it. Save Steve Rambam, no one was able to troll or antagonize her.
We were mostly successful.
In the evening, we were too many to fit in any one flat or bar, so we broke out in to groups around the city to debrief and discuss future actions.
What now? What did we learn?
Some of this has been publicly said by others. Some was said by the discussion groups that evening. Don’t assume I’m taking credit for these ideas on my own.
I have little faith that HOPE is salvageable. In retrospect, their Code of Conduct feels like polishing a turd, especially given their history, and more recently the fact that they allowed a speaker to include the phrase “probably has your nudes” in their bio, as noticed by
@lex_is. Their deriding tone against SJWs and their chummy nature with the white supremacists in attendance shows that they only care about appearances.
That said, I do believe that communities can change. I believe that if 2600 and HOPE truly care about human rights and social justice that they could root out the racists, sexists, and apologists from their ranks. I believe that they could engage with minority communities to come up with a better policy on how to handle CoC violations (both actual and potential) in a more effective way. I believe they could vet their speakers better. I believe that with the right training, event staff could handle the worst the trolls could muster.
I believe they could do better and that the next HOPE could be worth attending.
But honestly, I’m not holding my breath on this one.
(Especially given the leaked chats full of nazi, insensitive, and anti-SJW rhetoric.)
This is where the community comes in. There will be other conferences and gatherings, and it’s up to us to approach others events and use HOPE’s mistakes as way to learn. Talk to organizers and ask them if they have a plan for trolls. Ask them about their policy on racists symbols and “dog whistles”. If they don’t have one, help them develop one. Make sure they have trained staff who are on board with creating spaces for safe collaboration.
If you are an organizer, come up with a plan. Make it transparent. Make it clear that you will protect the community from malice. Tell us how you will help keep us safe, and how we can work with you.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. This is what the fash do, and we need to acknowledge that all future events are vulnerable to this same kind of exploit.
Even if event staff in the future have a plan for what to do during these situations, trolls will still try and will still succeed in getting into the conferences. They will try to hog the mic and ask disruptive questions. They will try to intimidate people. They will bring Gadsden flags and generally be assholes.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and the best thing you can do is call them out, immediately. When they get on the mic, boo them. Bring it to staff attention. If you can, get some comrades together and intervene. Block whatever it is they are trying to do. Disrupt their attempts at disruption. Document their behavior.
It wasn’t obvious from other attendees, but one of the reasons there wasn’t more disruption was that we were running out own security along side HOPE’s brownshirts. We had members escorting speakers and doing surveillance. We followed them, watched them, and communicated their movements so we could protect other people.
This isn’t what we wanted to do. This was supposed to a weekend of hacking and learning, but instead many attendees were doing HOPE’s job for them.
This bring me to the next point. CoC’s need to be robust against intentional, malicious abuse. The key point here that was noted by journalists and attendees covering this was that they couldn’t film harm happening because the filming itself was against the CoC. CoC’s should have a provision that filming or recording attendees who are causing harm is acceptable on the condition that the media is only given to mediators and not published. Having hard evidence prevents the he/she/they said argument from blocking resolution.
CoC’s also need to understand that while pushing someone or stealing their property may be violence, so too are misogyny, racism, and transphobia. There is nothing peaceful about ideologies that fundamentally believe some people are sub-human and aim to remove them from our society. Wearing a hate symbol is violence. Hate symbols exclude, and they block “free speech”.
Steal hats. Tear down flags. Smash fascism.
I’m going to end with a tweet from
@JairusKahn because this wasn’t random. We were targeted, and it’s obvious why.
But the reason why this all happened isn’t because Nazis think
#hopeconfis a safe space. It’s because HOPE is where the people fighting Nazis are sharpening their swords.