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Unmasking the Far Right
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=59857"><span class="small">Robert Klemko, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Monday, 21 June 2021 08:31

Klemko writes: "In a flash, freelance journalist Laura Jedeed was surrounded by screaming men."

Laura Jedeed, an activist from Portland, Ore., was harassed after filming a group of President Donald Trump's supporters last year. (photo: Mason Trinca/WP)
Laura Jedeed, an activist from Portland, Ore., was harassed after filming a group of President Donald Trump's supporters last year. (photo: Mason Trinca/WP)

Unmasking the Far Right

By Robert Klemko, The Washington Post

21 June 21


n a flash, Laura Jedeed was surrounded by screaming men. The freelance journalist was filming a group of Trump supporters walking the streets of the District after the “Million MAGA March” on Nov. 14 when a man wearing an American flag gaiter mask approached her, stepped on her toes and began yelling.

“What’s up, you stupid b----?” the man shouted, his mask slipping down his face.

Jedeed yelled at the man to stop touching her. A crowd formed around her and another journalist, with unmasked men screaming at them from all directions. Jedeed kept her camera rolling, and when she got away from the crowd, she uploaded video of the incident to YouTube and Twitter, and it went viral.

Reaction was swift.

The man in the flag mask was quickly identified as Washington state resident Edward Jeremy Dawson by a local antifa group. Twitter users mining public records later released his address and phone number.

The video was amplified by Christian Exoo, a prominent anti-fascist activist who tweeted it out to his 50,000-plus followers. Exoo also included contact information for Dawson’s employer.

Two days later, Dawson lost his job as an ironworker, his employer citing his actions in D.C. His wife, Michelle, uploaded a tearful self-shot video to Twitter announcing his firing, and later that month she was asked to hand in her vest and badge at a Walmart in Battle Ground, Wash., where she worked as an online-order fulfiller. She thinks she was fired over her politics but acknowledges that she had missed a substantial amount of work because of back problems.

Anonymous abusive callers deluged the Dawsons’ cellphones, with some urging the couple to kill themselves, the Dawsons said.

The disclosure online of Dawson’s personal information — a phenomenon known as doxing — is part of a growing effort by left-wing activists to punish members of far-right groups accused of violent behavior by exposing them to their employers, family and friends. The doxing of Dawson highlights the effect the tactic can have — unemployment and personal upheaval followed by a new job that pays much less than his old one — but also the limits of the technique: Dawson is unrepentant for his role in galvanizing a mob to harass Jedeed and continues to espouse far-right views.

Indeed, some on the left, including Jedeed, who is a well-known activist in Portland, Ore., have qualms about the tactic and how effective it can be in the fight against extremism.

“From a practical perspective, I feel like being unemployable is going to push him in a more extreme direction,” Jedeed said. “On the other hand, you shouldn't be able to act like that and then have nothing happen to you.”

The tactic also has been employed by the far right to target not just their leftist opponents but also the families of mass shooting victims, who have been harassed by those claiming the attacks were fabricated.

Antifa activists say that hateful rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment but that that doesn’t mean those who advocate or use violence as part of their ideology shouldn’t be exposed, including to their employers. They argue that doxing is a nonviolent response to violence.

Conservatives typically portray militant antifascists as the far-left equivalent of violent armed groups on the hard right, but right-wing extremist attacks and plots greatly eclipse those from the far left and cause more deaths, a Washington Post analysis showed. The FBI regards far-right extremists as the most active and lethal domestic terror threat.

“Our focus is on protecting our communities by making it as hard as possible to be a Nazi,” said Exoo, a part-time library employee at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., who also teaches classes on public records and social media research to activists. “We can’t always change hearts, but at least organizing is going to be harder for [Dawson] in the future.”

Fervent supporters

The Dawsons consider themselves friends and followers of Joey Gibson, who founded Patriot Prayer in 2016.

The far-right group has rallied dozens of times in the Portland area and engaged in violent clashes with anti-fascist counterprotesters.

Michelle Dawson first attended a Patriot Prayer rally in 2019. “He talked a lot about freedom and God,” she said of Gibson. “I’ve seen his fire and I’ve seen that he had a voice and he wasn’t afraid to use it.”

In 2019, Michelle Dawson won a seat on the city council in Yacolt, Wash., just north of Portland, running on a gun rights platform. A high school dropout from Utah, she said she never had any interest in politics until after Donald Trump was elected president. She voted in a presidential election for the first time in 2020.

“I was the kind of person that didn’t talk about politics,” she said. “I felt like my vote didn’t matter.”

Her husband also dropped out of high school, in 11th grade, eventually landing a job as an ironworker in Ridgefield, Wash. He says he started abusing drugs and alcohol and soon became addicted to crystal meth. He was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance in 2007 and spent six years in a Washington state prison.

Dawson said he got clean in prison.

“I came out, got rid of every friend that ever had anything to do with it and started building,” he said. “Met my wife, got married, bought a home, bought trucks, toys. It’s totally changed my life.”

The couple joined Patriot Prayer and became regulars at gatherings, often with other far-right factions including the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters and hate groups such as Identity Evropa.

Dawson says he doesn’t consider himself a white nationalist and doesn’t see anything wrong with such beliefs.

“How is white nationalism racist?” he asked. “Is it racist to be proud of who you are? There’s nothing more racist than saying ‘Black lives matter,’ yet I’m the racist one when I say all lives matter?”

The Dawsons also became fervent supporters of Trump and were drawn to D.C. in November because they believed the falsehood then gathering strength on the right that Trump had won the election.

“I like everything that Trump stood for,” said Michelle Dawson. “I loved how he loved our country.”

Her husband said he also arrived in D.C. still mourning a friend, Aaron Danielson, 39, who was shot and killed after a pro-Trump caravan ride through Portland by Michael Reinoehl, an anti-fascist demonstrator, who was himself shot and killed by a federal fugitive task force days later.

“So yeah,” Dawson said, “I had a little anger with me going to D.C.”

The MAGA march was over and Dawson, who said he had been drinking, and a group of about 20 others were wandering around downtown when someone saw Jedeed filming and shouted that she was an “antifa journalist.”

The 34-year-old had spent the day covering the march and was a known figure at such events. “I’m fascinated by the way Trump has transformed the right,” Jedeed said.

She had been writing about the allure of Patriot Prayer in particular for several years and had earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Reed College for a thesis titled “Making Monsters: Right-Wing Creation of the Liberal Enemy.”

Jedeed had grown up in a family steeped in a deeply conservative vein of libertarianism known as objectivism, a philosophy developed by the late author Ayn Rand.

She joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and served with the 82nd Airborne Division in signals operation and analysis, including two tours in Afghanistan. But she became disillusioned with the war and said her beliefs gradually moved left.

“I was a big believer in the war on terrorism,” Jedeed said. “I thought bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed people would be cool, but it was pretty hard to escape the fact that the Afghans did not want us there. . . . And you think, ‘We’re not the good guys here.’ ”

Jedeed’s time in the military, she thinks, has given her the ability to remain calm in moments of high tension, and that’s how she reacted to those attempting to intimidate her in Washington.

Dawson says that when he approached Jedeed and stepped on her foot, he was “being pushed from behind.” There is, however, no one behind him at that moment, according to the footage of the incident.

Dawson led the group of hecklers in chants of ‘F--- antifa!’ and repeatedly bumped into Jedeed. “How does it feel to be a Nazi fascist?” he yelled at her.

“This was as bad as it’s ever been,” said Jedeed, who has been involved in other confrontations with far-right activists. “I’ve studied the way they make propaganda and I know that the only way out is to be as calm and assertive as possible and not rise to the bait.”

After multiple men berated Jedeed and one slapped away her camera, Jedeed asked, “Do you realize how bad you look right now?”

The mood suddenly shifted. A few moments later, Dawson offered to lead Jedeed out of the fracas.

“So I kind of knew at that point in time that I needed to defuse the situation,” Dawson said. “I was pushing Proud Boys and patriots out of the way to get her to safety. I mean, I wasn’t harassing anyone. I just wanted to make her feel just a little bit scared.”

Jedeed recalled, “He actually leads me out of the cluster — after initiating it. I'm so glad he did it, but I’m not really willing to give him a lot of credit for it, because he created that.”

She said she stayed up all night in her hotel room with the door locked and chained, sleepless over the possibility that the men who surrounded her might locate her, because they were all staying in the same hotel and had seen each other that morning.

“I still have dreams where they find me,” Jedeed said.

No regrets

The work of learning Dawson’s identity had been done months in advance by Rose City Antifa, whose anonymous members organize against far-right groups and work to identify frequent far-right rally attendees in and around Portland before they’ve committed a crime.

“Our decision to identify people has less to do with our desire for them to experience tons and tons of immediate consequences, and more to do with tracking their behavior,” said a representative of the group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing security issues.

Doxing is having an effect on some far-right groups, particularly less committed members who may have drifted into the far right, said Daniel Martinez HoSang, a Yale University associate professor and co-author of the 2019 book “Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity.”

“There seems to be a visceral pleasure that brings people into these groups, and that is really interrupted when people have to deal with the repercussions at home and at work,” he said. “They’re not ideologically hardcore about this stuff. They get wrapped up in this story that’s quite divorced from their day-to-day lives.”

Doxing works, Dawson said. He guesses that 60 percent of his friends in the movement have been doxed and that some have had to move and change jobs.

The targets of doxing are increasingly responding in the courts, alleging they were harassed by doxers.

Exoo, for instance, is being sued by a handful of people he has doxed, including Daniel D’Ambly, a New Jersey man who faced death threats and lost his job as a printing employee at the New York Daily News after Exoo exposed his affiliation with the New Jersey European Heritage Foundation, a white supremacist organization, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The suit accuses Exoo and Twitter of interference with commerce by threats or violence. Exoo has filed a motion to dismiss the suit.

The Dawsons installed a security system at their home, moved their firearms to spots with easier access, deactivated their social media accounts and stopped answering their phones. When Dawson’s wife left the house to attend rallies, she wore a bulletproof vest.

“I was terrified for my life,” she said.

“It’s just not fun. And it’s not right,” Dawson said. “It should be illegal.”

The couple said their children had mixed reactions to the video. Dawson’s 19-year-old daughter didn’t see what the big deal was, Dawson said. Michelle Dawson said her 18-year-old daughter was disgusted with her: “But she’s 18, so she’s all, ‘Orange man is bad. George Floyd shouldn’t have died. Blah, blah, blah.’ She hates what I do.”

The Dawsons asked that their children not be contacted directly.

Dawson said he is upfront with potential employers about his online reputation and has struggled to find work. His current job pays considerably less than his old one, he said.

But he said he has no regrets and would do only one thing differently.

“I’d do it all again,” he said, “but with the mask on.” your social media marketing partner