Information operations · Information Warfare

How Deception Through The Selective Editing Of Context Spun Up The Lincoln Memorial Incident


I begin this analysis with an all too lengthy review of the incident which occurred on Saturday, 19 January 2019 in Washington DC in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  I will briefly talk about the main suspect of creating this cyclone of disinformation. Then I will discuss the information aspect where the selective editing of the context of that day sparked a violent reaction to the incident. Videos released beginning the next day began to reveal the gross misrepresentation of the initial releases.

The MAGA hat incident at the Lincoln Memorial raises an issue which roiled America.  I’ve had comments from around the world on this issue on my Facebook page.

There are three entities involved in this incident. The initial tweet only included two and misrepresented their meeting.

1st Entity. High School students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, and most pointedly a junior named Nick Sandmann, were widely vilified by the mainstream media in the US. The Twitterverse went wild. Multiple celebrities damned them. Some television shows condemned them.

When the whole context came out, it turns out the students were nonconfrontational, not at all racist, and were attempting to defuse the situation – but they were still aggressively and repeatedly confronted.

The reaction was not pretty.  Nathaniel Friedman (@freedarko), a writer for GQ Magazine who I just discovered has me blocked on Twitter, sent the following Tweet.

https://web.archive.org/web/20190121191620/https://twitter.com/freedarko/status/1087397919060197377

2nd Entity.  Leading the second group in this incident is Nathan Phillips, a Vietnam Era veteran, who was widely mischaracterized as a Vietnam Veteran.  Again, some kneejerk reactions elicited misguided admonitions void of situational awareness. An example:

Now see how it was first presented by MSNBC. Nathan Phillips, Native American Man Harassed By High Schoolers, Tells His Story | AM Joy | MSNBC YouTube

It turns out Phillips was in the US Marine Corps during the war but never deployed to Vietnam.  Phillips had another incident the next day when he tried to enter the National Cathedral in Washington DC and was escorted out. It appears he was seeking out the spotlight.

3rd Entity. The third group, the Black Hebrew Israelites, also known as Hebrew Israelites and also Black Israelites, are considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This group was insulting the students, harassing them, and attempting to agitate the students. They were saying homophobic, bigoted, and racist taunts, calling the kids all sorts of homophobic slurs, “crackers” and “incest babies.”

Surprisingly little has been made of this hateful group’s actions during this incident. To me, what is said here on camera is hate speech.  Most of their hatred is directed at the Covington Catholic High School students, who did not know why they were being attacked.

Main suspect – @2020fight

The account of @2020fight is now suspended by Twitter, they put out the initial tweet with all the absolutely false information, damning the kids, falsely accusing them, and not including the Black Israelites.

The initial tweet included these words: “This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protester at the Indigenous Peoples March”. Newsweek. The tweet was viewed 2.5 million times.

Supposedly the account was a “Talia” living in California. The profile pic was of a blogger in Brazil. CNN reported that “since the beginning of this year, the account had tweeted on average 130 times a day and had more than 40,000 followers.”

This sounds an awful lot like a Russian bot on Twitter, but we may never know for sure.

Will anyone fully investigate @2020fight?

One last question. Was this a crime?

Information Aspect.

Clearly, now in retrospect, whoever sent the initial message selected one particular image and severely edited the video portraying Covington student Nick Sandmann in the worst possible light.  He appeared to smirk, but now we know that was not the case.

  • Selective Editing. Whoever edited this picked the most “sneering” frame of Sandmann-Phillips. When viewed in context, Sandmann appeared to be embarrassed at being thrust into such a situation.
  • Context. A white student wearing a MAGA hat confronting a Native American was the only context offered. Only later was a video released that showed Phillips walking up to Sandmann as the Covington group respectfully parting to allow Phillips entry. We only saw video showing the Black Israelites racist, homophobic, and truly offensive slurs later.
  • Deception. The selected picture, the inflammatory words, and the shortened video all portrayed a picture which was the opposite of the truth on the ground, the reality.  Some might call this spin, but that is too gentle of a term when the outcome took on such a violent tone.

Therefore, I call this “Deception Through The Selective Editing Of Context“.

The picture, the video, the words, seemed to all be carefully chosen to elicit the maximum outrage, the most vocal (including all online forms), and the most inflammatory physical, visceral, and intellectual reaction possible.  One Twitter account with 40,000 subscribers hit the Twitterverse like a thunderclap.  It was ultimately read more than 2.5 million times before the account was suspended by Twitter. It resonated across Twitter, across Facebook, on Instagram, even into the White House.

When I watched the original video, I knew something was not right.  I saw Sandmann’s lips change from firm into what I thought was an embarrassed smile and back to firm.  His facial expression looked like he was in a situation in which he did not know how to act or react. In other words, he was a normal 17-year-old in a very, very stressful situation, a drumstick whisking past his face, mere inches away, and a native American chanting indecipherable words at him.

What we did not see was the truth, reality, and the prologue to this micro-clip of the situation.

The media has been eating crow for the past two or three days, since more videos emerged and the truth emerged.  I have heard lawsuits are being threatened. I see news shows taking great pains to show the original content and comparing it to what was later discovered.  Part of me thinks this is to avoid possible litigation. Part of me hopes they are sincere.  But all of me hopes they have learned and will inculcate at least one lesson: First, you must always remain a professional – do your job.

I know there will be more incidents like this where disinformation, propaganda, misinformation, and fake news will pass at the speed of light. I also know that the truth will lag behind. This is life, this is reality, this is the 21st-century’s information environment. Welcome to the new world.

3 thoughts on “How Deception Through The Selective Editing Of Context Spun Up The Lincoln Memorial Incident

  1. Thank you for your analysis. What Debra Haaland tweeted is key to understanding the situation: “The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking.” It seems that the reflexive response to indicate racism is a trigger point of the less intelligent parts of the left-wing, which can be usefully exploited as the news-media did during the blown-up incidents with police/citizen interactions involving members of different racial categories. Are you suggesting that foreign agents are exploiting this fault line, still with this twitter handle @2020fight? As you said, more evidence is needed. It’s clear that propaganda outlets from Iran/Hezbollah/PLA and Russia/Belorussia/China both play a role in exploiting the more rabid elements of both political wings.
    I am starting to develop a new political theory of discourse, based on intelligence strata: there seem to be parallel left-wing right-wing outrage machines built on exploiting the political ideas of the less intelligent and/or the more emotionally volatile. That is to say, stupid left-wing ideas are just as stupid as stupid right-wing ideas. No one can seriously argue, that a person different philosophy about how the polis should institute laws (politics), is inherently stupid for holding such views, if they are based on our common-law developed ideas of human rights. However, there does seem to be a common strata uniting the more “idiot” forms of political ideas (that one can barely call an ideology, because it’s not a complete system). The media figures who indulge this “idiot” wing are often themselves not “idiots”, but often intelligent people. These very same people are often conflicted about their role in “rabble-rousing”, seeing it as a necessary evil of democracy, or of their political ideology being made ascendant. Taken to far however, the intelligentsia begin to forget that the rabble-rousing is not to be implemented seriously, and serious policy suggestions, usually involving compromise and shades of contradictory information, are overshadowed. —— I believe that the foreign (and even domestic) involvement in the hysterics of American politics, which has increased since the internet made foreign propaganda cheap, has served to break down the problem-solving capacity of the citizenry/government of the USA. Do you believe this is their operating plan?

  2. In 2016 Russian trolls attacked and undermined Clinton, therefore it was viewed they were supporting the right. I don’t necessarily buy into that, but I can work with that as a theory.

    It’s possible that the trolls are working all sides in the US, exploiting existing schisms in our society.

    I believe it’s critically important to identify the person or persons behind @2020fight. Look what one account can do and cheaply.

    Can there be a high technology approach to solving this problem? Perhaps. Twitter suspended @2020fight as soon as it became apparent that the tweet was disinformation. At the same time, @2020fight was tweeting 130 times a day, that should tip off Twitter that something is going on. Using Semantic Analysis it is easily possible to identify extremists of anything. There are also clusters of bad guys. Identify one or several, identify their followers and look for similar appearances and actions. We can demand industry do this.

    We must also combine this with a low technology approach. Using a legal approach, we can outlaw troll-like behavior (good luck defining that, however) as a national security threat (which it is). We also need an education program, so that 2.5 million viewers identify radical, extremist, or malicious behavior. We can share information that the High Tech approach uncovers with others, around the world. We can name and shame offenders. There are so many things we should and could be doing.

  3. As far as I am concerned the only positive is that they were all using their first amendment rights. Every single “entity” is at fault and none are innocent or sweet. Just a bunch of assholes of different ages.

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