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In this edition, we look at the ways violent videos are making the jump from Twitter to politics, th͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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March 24, 2023


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David Weigel
David Weigel

In this edition, we look at the ways violent videos are making the jump from Twitter to politics, the ad wars in Florida’s biggest city, and a talk with a former GOP congressman who’s now thinking about a run for president.

David Weigel

The right’s new viral video fixation

A screengrab of a tweet from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Twitter/Benjy Sarlin


On Feb. 24, an account with a quarter of a million followers posted two videos of a Black man harassing Asian passersby in New York. Armour Cards, a Twitter user with fewer than 700 followers, responded with an undated video of the same man insulting a white man on a subway train, babbling about his “emaciated, attenuated, tenuous body.”

Armour Cards, who spoke with Semafor but chose to remain anonymous, was surprised by what happened next. The video had been recorded in 2019, “on the 1 train between 42nd and 50th St,” but was re-posted by thousands of users as evidence of anti-white harassment in today’s New York, sometimes in bluntly racist terms — garnering hundreds of thousands of views along the way.

“Congratulations Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi,” tweeted the managing editor of the conservative satire site The Babylon Bee while sharing the footage.

Armour Cards, a self-described “DeSantis conservative” who has a baseball signed by the Florida governor, was unsure what the authors of “White Fragility” and “How to Be An Anti-Racist” had to do with a disturbed man ranting on the subway, a year before the George Floyd protests made them household names.

But the broader arc of the video was unsurprising if you’ve been on Twitter lately. Contextless video clips of fights, anti-white harassment, and general urban decay appear to be flooding conservative corners of social media, where they’re shared with commentary blaming liberal prosecutors for an unchecked crime wave and progressives for racial division.

On Twitter, short footage can grab millions of views, sometimes helped along by accounts that have been restored under Elon Musk’s ownership after being banned under the previous regime for violating hate and harassment rules. Anti-hate groups are worried that the new social media environment is giving extremists a wedge into the mainstream political conversation, including with viral videos. The version of the subway video shared by the Babylon Bee editor, for example, came from an account almost exclusively devoted to curating similar clips alongside openly white supremacist commentary.

At least one prominent conservative user who has been harshly critical of the left’s take on crime and race is unnerved by what he sees as a steady stream of vaguely sourced rage-bait.

“Videos like this have been making it to everybody’s timeline,” said Ian Miles Cheong, a Malaysia-based journalist who covers culture and technology, referring to one recent viral clip as “garbage from four years ago.”

Cheong is a popular figure on the right for his own online commentary skewering left-wing activists, which includes sharing viral footage of violence and provocations. But he says he’s personally urged Musk, who sometimes interacts with him on Twitter, to identify inflammatory videos, limit their reach, and add more context via the site’s “Community Notes” feature.

“I think it’s something that they really need to cut down on,” he said. “I don’t want to watch fights every time that I log on to Twitter.”

Musk, who relishes weighing in on hot topics among the site’s “anti-woke” users, has so far been an active consumer. “Even though this clip is from 2005, it is still a super messed up thing to say,” he replied on Twitter this week, after a far-right commentator shared an old C-SPAN clip of a Black bookstore owner’s call for the “extermination” of white people. The embedded tweet that caught Musk’s eye, which called the rant evidence of a “coordinated plot” by the left, did not include the date.


In the 21st century, viral footage is political currency for both the left and right. Videos of brutal arrests or protester crackdowns have fueled reform campaigns in liberal cities; videos of shoplifting sprees and obnoxious protestors have fueled conservative calls for a crackdown on crime and a rejection of activist demands.

And if you want a story of panic about a context-free video going wildly wrong, remember what happened when the progressive Twitter-sphere got furious at a video of a Native American activist chanting at a teenager with a MAGA hat.

But there’s something especially familiar about the recent imagery on the right, which has popped up in different formats for many decades.

After President Obama’s election, brawls featuring Black teenagers were cited by some right-leaning media as signs of “race war” and civilizational collapse. “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering,” the late Rush Limbaugh famously declared while discussing a then-viral clip of a fight on a school bus that had been featured on Drudge Report.

That kind of race-baiting language has been returning again around the current wave of videos, pictures, and anecdotes now crashing through social media. Watching them take off in real time, each viral incident is a nexus where large extremist accounts try to win over more mainstream conservatives in replies and quote tweets.

Take a clip that went viral this week showcasing a weekend brawl between teenagers at the Stonestown Galleria, a mall not far from San Francisco State University.

Stew Peters, a far right commentator, garnered over 2 million views with a tweet promoting the footage as part of a “war on Whites” that parents should respond to by “packin’ HEAT!”

By the end of the evening, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah had shared Peters’ video to his own followers while endorsing “attempted murder” charges for violent teens, who he called criminals “without civilization” who proved “why we can’t turn our backs on the Second Amendment.”

Many conservatives see videos of individual incidents as a counter to progressive denial about anti-social behavior and unsafe public spaces after the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea that cities are devolving into war zones is potent on the right; a popular reaction to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s expected indictment of Donald Trump was that the Democrat was distracted by anti-GOP politics as he let crime rage across his city.

This type of footage has also long been standard fare on local news. Videos, like the San Francisco brawl get media attention, and promises of help, from city leaders — who are often Democrats.

But the trend comes as farther out fringes of the right, including some figures with major followings, are using their reach to call for open prejudice toward Black Americans. These two streams are now constantly linking up on social media. It would be wrong to pretend not to see what’s going on.


Twitter does not have an active press department, but has rebutted accusations that hate speech is becoming more common on the site, citing an independent study they commissioned.


  • McKay Coppins talked to contemporary and future conservative influencers in 2012 about why similar isolated videos were worth covering, back when cable news played a larger role in the conversation. One top defender of the practice: Tucker Carlson.
JAX First

Donna Deegan for Mayor, “Running for You.” Jacksonville held its mayoral primary on Tuesday, and Deegan, a Democrat, got the most votes in a five-way jungle race — two Democrats, three Republicans. Deegan stayed positive, reintroducing herself as a TV news anchor who turned her three bouts with breast cancer into a second act leading a foundation to help women with the disease.

JAX First, “Murder Capital.” One advantage for Deegan this week was GOP infighting, which saw this PAC supporting fifth-place finisher LeAnna Cumber fire away at top GOP finisher Daniel Davis. The strategy: Portray Davis, the local Chamber of Commerce president, as a “liberal” who made it easier “for criminals to cover up sexual assaults against children.”

Janet for Justice, “Anna.” Democrats learned last year how to make effective abortion advertising like this spot for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz. In it, a woman describes terminating a pregnancy that was going to fail. “Someone you love might struggle with a pregnancy like I did,” she says. Messages like these have helped Democrats change the conversation when conservatives accuse them of trying to make elective abortions too easy.


The week that Donald Trump predicted he’d be arrested was also, polling-wise, the best of his entire 2024 campaign. Monmouth’s first heat test was conducted right after the GOP’s disappointing midterm, when Trump was absorbing blame for endorsing weak candidates. The ex-president was losing self-identified “conservatives” then, and wins them easily now — a 35-point swing, compared to a smaller 5-point gain with moderate voters.

The idea of arresting and prosecuting Donald Trump isn’t as wild or unpopular as his defenders make it sound. In this poll, 85% of Americans agree that Trump should face trial if he “broke the law,” and 88% agree that Trump is not “above the law.” Trump’s on the firmest ground when they’re asked about why he’s facing legal scrutiny at all — one of the points Republicans have fixated on, as they suggest that every probe into Trump has been a politically convenient distraction. Four-out-of-five Republicans call the indictment threat in New York “politically motivated,” and 83% go further, agreeing that “the elite class” is targeting Trump to get him out of the 2024 race.


White House. GOP strategist Jeff Roe signed up with Never Back Down, a super PAC gearing up to support a potential Ron DeSantis presidential bid. It might have been the best news DeSantis got during a week in which Donald Trump’s all-caps Truth Social post about his pending indictment drove coverage, Piers Morgan had to push the governor back from his skeptical statement about military aid for Ukraine, and the firm putting together DeSantis’ book tour events bolted.

Senate. Wealthy candidates, including some who’d lost their most recent campaigns against Trump-endorsed challengers, are getting loving looks from the GOP’s Senate campaign committee. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is earning the most attention for his potential challenge to Sen. Joe Manchin, who’d endorsed Justice for his current job during the brief time when one of the state’s wealthiest men was a Democrat. But Politico’s Ally Mutnick reports that self-funders are on the GOP radar in Arizona, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.


Photo: Flickr/Hudson Institute

When Donald Trump got to Washington, Mike Rogers was long gone. The former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee retired from Congress after seven terms, in 2014, becoming a CNN commentator and launching Leadership to Ensure the American Dream, or LEAD.

He may want back in. Rogers, 59, spoke at last weekend’s Vision ’24 summit in South Carolina, alongside Republicans who are running for president or putting campaigns together. Rogers was thinking about it, too, telling Semafor that “in late spring or early summer” he’d sit down with his wife and decide whether to do something “crazy.”

Americana: There’s an open Senate seat in Michigan. There’s an open House seat that resembles the one you represented. When you look at 2024, are you looking at either of those races?

Mike Rogers: Right now, I’ve been traveling across the country, trying to change the narrative — trying to get out of the politics of sugar highs and slapping your opponent in the face. What we’ve found in these early primary states is that people are craving solutions. They don’t want to be just mad anymore. It’s easy just to be mad, right? They really do want solutions.

Americana: Are you ruling out those other races?

Mike Rogers: You’d never say never. I have very little interest in going back to the House. Michigan is my home state. It’s a great state. But, you know, the party is a little bit at odds with each other. We’ve got to heal those wounds. Being focused on why the people in your own party should be chased out is not a recipe for a win. Politics is about addition, not subtraction.

Americana: There’s some worry among Republicans who don’t want Trump back that a larger field makes it easier for him to win. Larry Hogan says he passed on the race for that reason. What’s your view of that? As you decide whether to run, how do you factor in the risk of nominating Trump again?

Mike Rogers: I think the Republican Party needs voices of reason, solutions, hope, and optimism. I think the Trump and Trump-light lane is very crowded. I don’t see a lot of folks offering a vision of real solutions to real problems so we can get our act together in our competition against China.

I’ve just found something different than I see in the national polling. Every pundit sits in the chair and says, no, no, can’t be done with this, here’s 10 reasons why the people of Idaho won’t support this. Guess what? Idaho doesn’t count until later in the process.  What counts in the early part of the process are these early primary states, and you can fundamentally change a race if you win, place, or show in early states.

Americana: Do you favor some baseline federal limit on abortion?

Mike Rogers: I’m pro-life. I have voted pro-life, I continue to be pro-life. But it’s an issue that will have to be dealt with in each State Capitol. So I think you’re going to see a lot more ballot proposals on this, and I think Americans are going to have to find their measure about where they’re at on this issue. The right to life community’s going to have to get out and educate people on where they are, and what they want to do. I think it’s up to that community to talk about where abortion should be in each and every state. They’ve had a lot of setbacks across the country.

Americana: You support continuing to fund Ukraine’s defense against Russia. What do you see as the risk of what Ron DeSantis said a little while ago, that this was a territorial dispute?

Mike Rogers: It sends a very clear message to China that they get the green light to go do what they want to do around the world, because the United States just has ceded its leadership role. It tells Vladimir Putin that if he wants to out-last Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, he can do that. If we cut off the ability for the Ukrainian folks to defend themselves – which is really an important difference, this is not about American troops. If he has Ukraine, guess what? He’s also talked about Moldova. He’s also talked about Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia over the last 20 years, thinking that those should also be part of Russia.

Guess what that means, if he starts poking around a country that can invoke Article Five of NATO? That’s why these dominoes could fall. If we don’t take a small and important and decisive strategic step now, you’re gonna pay a huge and ugly price later. My argument is, that’s what US leadership is all about. And again, I just really don’t hear that kind of messaging coming out of the Republican Party.


… 11 days until Chicago’s mayoral runoff and Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court election

… 53 days until primaries in Kentucky

… 226 days until elections in Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Virginia

… 592 days until the 2024 presidential election

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