If extremists thought they could keep their political activity separate from their “ordinary” day-to-day lives, counting on distance and crowds for effective anonymity, think again.
Thanks to social media and online forums, as well as photo and video records from ubiquitous smartphones, participants in extremist events are often easily identified.
In many cases, they are losing their jobs, as well as family and friends, as a result.
After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned violent last weekend, social-media users have been going through images of the event with a fine-tuned comb, “outing” participants to the Internet at large.
One attendee, Cole White, resigned from his job at Top Dog, a hot dog restaurant in Berkeley, California, after his name and image were posted by @YesYoureRacist — a Twitter account specializing in shaming racists on social media. The restaurant posted a sign reading: “The actions of those in Charlottesville are not supported by Top Dog. We believe in individual freedom and voluntary association for everyone.”
Another participant, Peter Cvjetanovic, a college student at the University of Nevada, Reno, was identified after a photo of him screaming angrily went viral, leading to calls for his expulsion. Cvjetanovic is also employed by UNR, but told the local NBC affiliate he expects to lose his job in the near future; he is also receiving death threats.
So far, the university is standing firm, with president Marc Johnson explaining: “There is no constitutional or legal reason to expel him from our university or to terminate his employment.” Cvjetanovic told local NBC affiliate KTVN: “We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren't all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.”
A third man, Nigel Krofta, was identified from photos showing him standing next to James Alex Fields Jr., the driver in the fatal attack. He subsequently lost his job at an equipment-supply company. Krofta told CBS News he was unconcerned: “"I'm running in my head, how am I gonna get money now? But, it don't phase me. Nothing phases me.”
The family of a fourth participant, Jeff Tefft, published an open letter denouncing their son’s views and cutting off all contact with him until he renounces them. In a letter posted on a local newspaper in Inforum, Tefft’s father Pearce wrote: “I, along with all of his siblings and his entire family, wish to loudly repudiate my son’s vile, hateful and racist rhetoric and actions. We do not know specifically where he learned these beliefs. He did not learn them at home…”
Critics argue that “naming and shaming” white supremacists online may be counterproductive, as they thrive on attention and in many cases, appear unworried about the ramifications for their personal and professional lives.