If you’re a white man who believes that minorities and women are seizing too much of the power once reserved for other white men, Leslie Jones is the most dangerous woman on the internet.
Jones’ star has been growing in recent years, exponentially so after she was brought aboard as a featured player on Saturday Night Live and joined a trio of fellow comediennes in the cast of this year’s Ghostbusters remake.
That movie—or rather, the first trailer for that movie—caught the attention of so-called men’s rights activists, whose delicate sensibilities couldn’t allow for the idea of women remaking a beloved movie that originally starred men.
And because Jones was the most accessible star in that cast—active and responsive on Twitter, unafraid to engage with fans and critics alike—they set their crosshairs on her. The rhetoric quickly descended into MRA’s unique brand of racism and sexism.
Leading the swarm was Milo Yiannopolous. Ostensibly the tech editor at alt-right fringe site Breitbart, Yiannopolous has ascended to the pinnacle of hate twitter, that collection of shallow, humorless trolls who feed off of other people’s faith in humanity until there’s none left.
Ok I have been called Apes, sent pics of their asses,even got a pic with semen on my face. I'm tryin to figure out what human means. I'm out
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 18, 2016
Jones’ departure from the social platform jumpstarted the on-again off-again debate about Twitter’s responsibility to crack down on hate mongers like Yianoppolous. Citing free speech concerns, the company had resisted calls to impose permanent bans on problem users — but Twitter finally brought down the hammer on Yianoppolous and his ilk, banning him permanently last month.
For a few weeks, it seemed order had been restored. Yianoppolous acolytes continued to besiege Jones, but she returned to Twitter just in time to provide the internet’s best coverage of the Rio Olympics.
And then, on Wednesday, Leslie Jones’ website was hacked. Vandals replaced her professional headshots and upcoming comedy appearances with racist imagery, explicit and private photos of the actress, and copies of her driver’s license and passport.
On Snapchat, where Milo Yiannopolous has sought refuge after being permanently banned from Twitter, he posted a message hours after news of the hack first broke.
The Inciting Of Violence
Of course, Yiannopolous stopped well short of taking credit for the hack. Publicly, he offered an offensively disingenuous statement of sympathy for Jones.
“I know we had our differences after my review of Ghostbusters,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “But I wish her all the best during what must be a very traumatic experience.”
Of course, his words ring hollow. It’s not simply that Yiannopolous couldn’t possibly care less about Jones’s well-being — it’s that he himself is the well from which so many of Jones’ recent traumatic experiences have been drawn.
Careful never to explicitly call for his minions to do anything illegal, Yiannopolous instead leaves it up to his audience to decode and interpret his racist and misogynistic rhetoric and his assurances that equal rights for minorities somehow means fewer rights for white men.
If that brand of dog-whistling sounds at all familiar, it’s because we have spent the last year listening to Donald Trump, the grand wizard of alt-right dog whistling. In campaign speeches and on debate stages, Trump expends his energy appealing to the same audience that Yianoppolous does, and similarly shirking any responsibility when that audience turns around and attacks the people whom Trump and Yianoppolous insists are dangerous.
The parallels between the two men has outgrown their shared bigotry. Earlier this month, Trump announced that he was replacing GOP operative Paul Manafort as the head of his campaign with Steve Bannon, the CEO of Breitbart News and, by extension, Milo Yiannopolous’s boss.
To many observers, Bannon’s hiring was an act of desperation from a flailing campaign collapsing in the polls under the weight of Trump’s catastrophic mouth. But it was also a kind of streamlining, an end to the charade that Trump’s base of supporters is anything other than the very same audience that Bannon’s brand of xenophobia and hatred caters to.
On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security’s New York office announced they had launched an investigation into the Leslie Jones case. Aside from any hate crime charges, the hacker in this case will likely face an indictment under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the same act that sent Ryan Collins to prison for his role in phishing his way into the private accounts of more than 100 people, many of them celebrities, in 2014.
But apprehending and punishing the hacker responsible for the Leslie Jones attack won’t actually hold anyone of real consequence to account — just like how arresting an attendee at a Trump rally for violently attacking the nearest minority hasn’t put an end to violence towards minorities at Trump rallies. And that’s because, so long as they can continue operating without consequence, neither Milo Yiannopolous nor Donald Trump have any interest in reining in their supporters.