Puerto Rican Cassandra Fairbanks Fights Back Against White Supremacist Slur [Opinion]

Kek must have been smiling that day when Cassandra Fairbanks and Mike Cernovich were caught red-handed in fragrante delicto, as it were, showcasing (and from the White House press room no less) the latest covert white power hand signal, according to the trolls at 4chan anyway. And what exactly was the nefarious sign by which they subversively signaled their neo-nazi inclinations? The “ok” hand gesture. Mike Cernovich’s fortuitous appearance with Cassie might seem merely coincidental to the uninitiated in the ways of Meme Magic, but for the Egyptian god of random Chaos (often portrayed in his 21st-century avatar of Pepe the Frog) nothing is merely coincidental.

Cernovich had been the guest when 60 Minutes decided to use his Pizzagate coverage as an excuse to expose the life cycle of a fake news story and how it spreads. Ironically, Cernovich is now tangential to a story that seems to expose how the mainstream media is occasionally party to the same sort of lax fact-checking and partisan blinders that breeds disinformation and propaganda. From a baseless tweet which was subsequently debunked to a story in the Independent UK shared some 40,000 plus times worldwide and coverage in Ha’aretz, another widely read and respected international outlet, this story shows how respected journalists wield a power that comes with certain responsibility.

Fusion’s Editor-in-Chief Dodai Stewart said in a statement to BuzzFeed that the company would defend Roller in the lawsuit, calling it a “publicity stunt and an attempt to intimidate reporters.” A publicity stunt? Cassandra in an interview remarked that she had to inform her daughter’s school not to let her out in recess due to fear from threats that were made when the baseless slur that she was a white supremacist spread worldwide. I would argue that knowingly (and after the ADL article and hundreds of tweets, it would be hard to feign ignorance) proferring harmful and malicious statements about a reporter that could (and did) result in death threats and could easily result in a nightmare for friends and family in both personal and professional spheres is in itself a form of “reporter intimidation.”

Buzzfeed writer Joe Bernstein refers to the case as indicative of “the new, far-right activist press against the mainstream media.” He goes on to speak of “the rise of a group of nakedly partisan writers who promote conspiracy theories, fabricate rape threats, and have connections to extreme online communities.” Let’s break this down bit by bit. First off, his article headline begins “Pro-Trump writer.” From the headline on, he’s announcing his bias and since it’s doubtful there are many, if any, “pro-Trump” readers at Buzzfeed, beginning thusly is a sure sign of his own “naked partisanship” as well as ideological dog-whistle to his readers. As for conspiracy theory promulgation, how about Emma Roller trying to claim the OK hand sign was a white pride symbol far after the ADL had debunked the hoax. As for “connections to extreme online communities,” would that include groups like AZ Antifa who threatened Cassandra and her daughter’s life?

The day after Cassandra was defamed by Emma Roller, the Anti-Defamation League published an article entitled, “No, the ‘OK’ Gesture Is Not a Hate Symbol.” In case it wasn’t blatantly clear from the get-go, ADL continues to explain who is responsible and their practicum behind initially spreading the hoax – 4chan, “an outsized cultural impact on the internet.” It has been responsible for everything from the “I can haz cheeseburger” cat meme to the concept of rickrolling,” as ADL reports was the source of the claim.

“The ‘OK’ hand gesture hoax originated in February 2017 when an anonymous 4channer announced ‘Operation O-KKK,’ telling other members that ‘we must flood Twitter and other social media websites…claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy.’ The user even provided a helpful graphic showing how the letters WP (for ‘white power’) could be traced within an ‘OK’ gesture. The originator and others also suggested useful hashtags to help spread the hoax, such as #PowerHandPrivilege and #NotOkay. ‘Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy,’ wrote the poster, ‘We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s***.'”

This wouldn’t be the first time that Bernstein took up arms against what he perceived to be racist or “alt-right” influence in the media. Bernstein’s article that led to the controversy that resulted in the cancellation of Million Dollar Extreme cites an anonymous source “with knowledge of the network’s operations” that alleges Sam and the show’s creators attempted to sneak swastikas and other coded racist symbols into the Adult Swim program. This claim is vehemently denied by Hyde. After the publication of the article, a reddit post appeared with what seemed to be a fairly clear warning to Hyde that he was gunning for him.

“I’ll make sure this show doesn’t get a Season 2. I’ll make sure all the contracts you’ve made are revoked. I’ll make sure this community of abhorrent, racist, and just downright offensive people is spread no further. I’ve had threats made against my life as well as my family’s. I’ve had more anti-semitic remarks thrown at me this week than all of my life. Your show reflects your racist and hateful beliefs. I am putting an end to this. According to your followers, I am nothing more than a ‘human toilet’ (not sure what I’m expecting from Trump supporters, anyway) for BuzzFeed. I am higher up than you think. This is the last you will hear from me on this platform.

  • J Bernstein

The claim that a Puerto Rican reporter, who is a former Bernie Sanders supporter and far left activist who even ran with Antifa for a time, is a white supremacist should be instantly laughable. The day after the article appeared alleging that the “OK” hand gesture that Cassandra and Cernovich were flashing was a white power code was nearly immediately debunked by the Anit-Defamation League. According to Cassandra in an interview June 3rd, she had never met, nor did she even personally know of, former New York Times writer and current Fusion senior reporter Emma Roller. Despite the ADL’s swift clarification and hundreds of Twitter users pointing out the fact that the gesture’s use as a white supremacy code had been debunked, Emma persisted “until the eve of this suit” as the libel suit asserts.

“The pen is a sword, not a shield” as Robert Barnes writes in the civil suit, and weaponized words like “white supremacist” have a way of sticking like the setae on a gecko’s toes. Perhaps the greatest irony here is the fact that hate speech can be speech that “incites violence” toward a person or group. As such, Cassandra herself seems to be victim of a hate crime of sorts.

[Featured Image by bigjom jom/Shutterstock]