There’s a lot of mention here at Daily Kos of dog-whistles and coded language. At times, that seems to verge on the difficult-to-believe; does the far-right really read so much into single words as we on the Left like to imply? The answer, at least sometimes, is yes. Indeed, among segments of the online alt-right, there doesn’t always even need to be a word.
The New York Times article about Clinton’s speech tying Trump to the alt-right includes a response from alt-right Twitter user @LordoftheEdge, posting as )))Timothy Bryce(((.1 Yes, with those odd, outward-facing parentheses in triplicate. Those are almost certainly not a purely stylistic flourish. Rather, they’re likely intended to tip the hat to the in-crowd that he’s a proud anti-Semite.
To explain why, we have to go back a step, to sets of triple parentheses arranged in the normal facing around someone’s name. Now, if you’re a veteran of the earlier days of the Internet as I am (or merely the nicer parts of the one we have), then you likely have seen bundles of parentheses or curly braces used as a virtual hug for those in need. That’s not where we going with this.
Rather, triple parentheses are the creation of the alt-right blog Right Stuff2 and its podcast The Daily Shoah (yes, really; these people are sick fucks). There, the names of prominent Jews were passed through a voice filter when spoken, giving them an echoing quality. Rendered in print, that’s three parentheses; its creators have since assigned each layer of punctuation its own unique, and uniquely racist, meaning which I see no particular need to repeat here. For a time, there was even a Google Chrome extension that would helpfully highlight the names of 8000+ prominent Jews and Jewish allies in this manner—Google, rightly, canned it.
The idea, of course, is to make it easier to label, harass, belittle, and deride Jews. Or people who the alt-right deemed to be co-conspirators in the Jewish subjugation of … well, them, mostly. Jonathan Weisman, also of the New York Times, and a target of this form of harassment, explained how it works in an article earlier this year.3 Elaborating on what he wrote, it’s important to note that it’s very difficult to search for this form of coded communication and harassment in forum posts, blogs, or Twitter; search engines are designed to search for words, not punctuation. Which is, of course, part of the point.
Of course, it isn’t a very long intellectual leap to where this diary started. If the inward parentheses are a badge of Jewry, then the outward ones mark the name-bearer as part of the resistance to that plague, a noble warrior against the Jewish conspiracy. Or, in the terms that rational people use, a raging anti-Semite. The most public display of this particularly trope was Canadian Youtube vlogger Evalion, who sparked much alt-right discontent when YouTube banned her4 for violating its terms of service for being just unbelievably racist—her greatest hits included such titles as “Why Hitler Wasn’t Evil” and “How Feminists Supported Rape by Causing the Migrant Crisis”. She also baked Hitler a bunch of swastiki-adorned cupcakes for his birthday (to her credit, I suppose that means she’s a better baker than I am, but I didn’t dedicate my burned, would-be lemon-loaf to the architect of the Holocaust, so there’s that). Although that article stripped the styling from her handle, she wasn’t ever just “Evalion”; rather, she was )))evalion(((. To those in the know, the attitude of her content would hardly have been surprising. To everyone else, well, if they even saw the punctuation, it was easily written off as trade dress.
After the bit with the Google extension, there was (and likely still is) an effort to reclaim the triple-parentheses by Jews online, as well as efforts by sane people (Jewish or otherwise) to simply bandy it about in ways incompatible with the alt-right’s use. Sort of an ethically defensible version of cultural appropriation. It’s entirely possible that the same thing has happened with the outward-facing marks. Just because someone posts somewhere as )))JohnDoe((( doesn’t automatically mean they’re an anti-Semitic alt-right brigadier. Maybe they just thought it looked cool.
But especially if they’re carrying water for other alt-right tropes and codewords, it’s not unlikely that they’re trying to signal their membership in a community of hatred to their sympathizers, in a way that—they believed, anyway—would be opaque to the rest of us. But now it’s not.
And if you ever wonder whether seemingly innocuous phrases really do have the potential of being dog-whistles for the alt-right, just remember that sometimes they don’t even have to know the words to whistle their tune.
1 It is entirely possible that Timothy Bryce is the real name of this Twitter user, but I doubt it. The alt-right has a bizarre fascination with spoofed, often duplicative online identities, likely in an effort to remain relatively anonymous and to appear more numerous than they are (a sort of astroturfing-by-Twitter). In this case, Timothy Bryce is also the name of a minor character from the film version of American Psycho.
2 I will not directly link to any alt-right websites or sources. They don’t need the attention.
3 The Twitter user in that case only used two sets of parentheses. Three is “normal”, but the alt-right is unified by their hatreds and sense of persecution, not by their slavish dedication to orthography.
4 Yes, I’m citing the Daily Mail here. In general, that’s not what anyone should consider a reliable source; in this case, though, the story was pretty much right up their alley.