On November 5, the conservative online site Townhall.com published an article by author and talk radio host Michael Brown about converting Jews to Christianity. The piece contained nine hyperlinks — mainly links back to Brown’s website and mainstream outlets — but one stuck out. It was a link to a post on the white nationalist website stormfront.org.
The Stormfront post, written by a user called “The Plague Doctor,” was about Jewish people in the “1960’s Hippie Counter Culture” and culminated in a list of Jewish artists at Woodstock. These artists were “luring White American youths away from the solid traditional family values they had been brought up in with the forbidden fruit of drugs, sex and rock n’ roll,” the post claimed.
This decision to cite Stormfront began to prompt criticism on Wednesday night, and David Marcus, a senior contributor to the conservative news site The Federalist, hit back, calling the critics “self-righteous” and trying to “police hyperlinks.” He defended the decision to link to Stormfront.
The argument essentially says that if there are facts on a website, no matter how racist, neo-Nazi, or dangerous its public goals may be, it’s fine to link to said website. This ignores the reality that those facts exist elsewhere on the internet, from more reputable and less racist sources. Marcus pivoted to a defense of his own arguments against racism later on, tweeting, “The color of a person’s skin tells me nothing about them. It is irrational to believe that it does. I’ll keep writing about it until that point is nailed into the head of everyone.”
Over the last year, white nationalist groups have taken a blasé reaction from prominent political and media figures to their hate speech as a green light to amplify their message and their public actions. President Donald Trump attacked “both sides” of the Charlotteville, Virginia rally. The White House delayed its decision to sign a unanimous resolution from Congress condemning white nationalists. The National Rifle Association is using white nationalist rhetoric in its own messaging about guns. Breitbart, former White House adviser Steve Bannon’s home yet again, thrives on pushing a racist agenda.
Given all this, linking to purveyors of hateful, racist viewpoints can help to normalize those views and embolden their proponents.
On Thursday morning, Marcus referred to an offensive post the Daily Stormer (another neo-Nazi website) published about him:
Townhall, for its part, decided to pull the plug on the article altogether. As of press time, the link on Townhall remains the same, with the title of the original article apparent in the URL. The content, however, has been replaced completely by a statement from Townhall and an “author’s note.”
“Townhall was informed that an earlier version of the piece, ‘Is It Time for a New Jesus Movement Among Jewish Millennials?’ cited a neo Nazi website,” Townhall’s statement says. “We’d like to apologize for this oversight. Our columnist, Michael Brown, would also like to share the following statement.”
Brown’s statement apologizes for his mistake:
While writing an article on the beliefs of Jewish millennials, I did a search for online articles referencing prominent Jews involved in the counterculture revolution of the 60s. I found one useful list in an article I then linked in my piece. Subsequently, it was pointed out to me that the article was posted a Neo-Nazi website. As a Jew myself, I found this shocking and regret that I failed to notice the actual website where the link was found, especially since the information I cited is readily available. My appreciation to those who pointed this out to me and I apologize for this embarrassing oversight.
Marcus also walked back his earlier defense of the use of the Stormfront link.
“In this context it was a mistake to use the link. But in general, linking to such sites is often appropriate,” Marcus told ThinkProgress via direct message on Twitter. “I was attacked by the Daily Stormer, this morning. And have shared it to show what vile rhetoric it is.”
Another site that picked up the article, the Christian Post, showed the original version with the Stormfront link Thursday morning, but by Thursday afternoon the post had been edited to remove that link and replace it with others that cite Jewish websites. An email to the Christian Post about their editorial practices was not returned to ThinkProgress by press time.