Lessons from the MAGA Hat Boy, Tribal Drummer, and Video Propaganda

I am going to use the MAGA boy/native drummer video controversy at the March for Life, in particular the recent “viral” eruption of online emotion and hot-take/instapundit-style reaction, as a teaching moment. That is because it was a learning moment—for me and many others. This also proves that I am willing to admit when I am wrong; henceforth, any and all claims to the contrary are hereby falsified permanently.

On a friend’s and co-worker’s social-media post, I uncharacteristically reacted too quickly to a selectively composed and selectively edited video snippet. The propaganda video, to which I shall not link here so as to not publicize it further, was shot from behind the drummer to his left, focused tightly on the drummer and a teenage boy standing in front of him, grinning at times. The boy wore a MAGA hat obtained at the protest, and appeared to be mockingly smiling at him, with no other context and no background information as to why this scene was occurring. At first, I fell for the notion that the boy was mocking and racially disrespecting the old man, and said so. That conclusion was too hasty and certain, as it turns out. It was wrong, and I apologize for making that error.

Internet-wide, the selectively shot and edited video snippet set off a frenzy of emotional insta-punditry, mainly (but not entirely!) from the left. It was a veritable online explosion of feelings-based reactionaries, devoid of patience to hold out for more context. The divisive propaganda technique thus worked. Even Hollywood celebrities who weren’t there, like Chris Evans, Alyssa Milano, and Jamie Lee Curtis, among others, made snap judgments (I’ve only seen a retraction or apology from Curtis).

Twitter was rampant with calls for doxxing and other harassment of these minor children, their school, and their parents. That behavior is known as cyber-bullying. It was a vicious, hate-filled mob mentality directed at those kids, and I found that to be truly far more repulsive, and far more immature, than those boys’ behavior or anything else that happened at the protest. Kudos to C. J. Pearson, a young activist, for collecting the tweets of these bullies and turning them over to legal counsel for the Covington students. Bullying, doxxing, and defamation are serious matters, and those who engage in such sinister behavior need to answer for it.

Yes, the Covington kids’ reactions weren’t perfect, and from that one misleading video, appeared extremely disrespectful in my eyes, as in many others. That was a mistaken and over-simplistic reaction on my part. But now that more information and longer videos from other angles has come out, there is a different, much more complicated story.

Aside from the old Indian drummer and the Catholic schoolboys, there was a third protest group involved—known as the “Black Hebrew Israelites”. Even the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is far from an unbiased, evenhanded or neutral authority on the topic of hate groups, classifies the “Black Hebrew Israelites” as a black-supremacy hate group. You didn’t see those guys in the early propaganda video. They were acting nastiest of all, screaming “crackers”, “faggot”, “incest kids”, and other insults at the boys, and insulting the American Indian guy too. This barrage of racial and sexual hate included the “n-word” directed at one of the Catholic-school boys who is black.

The boys did not all react well to this weird and awkward situation, but as a whole, attacked no one, practiced nonviolence, and showed remarkable composure for minor children under such circumstances. Given the racist and homosexually themed insults continually hurled at them by that so-called “Israelite” group, it casts the boys in a much more restrained and less immature light now. Still, where were their chaperones and in-charge adults? They dropped the ball in failing to keep some of the boys quieter, more restrained and stoic in their reactions.

The tribal drummer turns out to be a sort of actor himself with a history of mischaracterizing things, and some of his passive/benevolent peacemaker self-portrayal has been resoundingly refuted by others there and the content of the broader videos. By moving closer and closer to the boys until he was right in their faces, and afterward, falsely portraying the boys as “beasts” and the racial supremacists as “prey” in between whom he positioned, he is certainly no angel in this either. In fact, one reasonably can argue his actions were the most insidious because of their passive-aggressive, psychologically manipulative nature.

All three factions could have handled this situation better, as it now is obvious, and all three are responsible to some extent for its descent into incivility. They also could have handled it worse; nobody got violent, and on this day in particular, it is so important to acknowledge that. Above all else, MLK followed Jesus’ teachings about nonviolent struggle. Even as the “Black Hebrew Israelite” instigators were baitfishing, trying to goad the kids and the tribal guy into violence, they did not take the bait. That is the one blessing in it all, other than the lessons we can learn (below).

Several videos are now available online, days later, that show this. This article, from the (lower-case) libertarian-leaning site Reason, provides a summary analysis of an entire video of well over an hour. Moreover they offer a link to the full video so you can judge for yourself, if so inclined, without having to depend on this site, NY Times, nor any other filtered and biased media source (and they all are). Most “news” media, especially with national scope, targets particular audiences for its content, as they are revenue sources to which to pander, while posing as unbiased presenters for appearances’ sake.

Here’s the truth. We all have biases. Anyone who claims otherwise is spouting bullshit. That includes all media and all media members, and everyone who propagated that video, and everyone who commented on it on social media too hastily, including me.

Even media “facts” are not enough. One of life’s lessons is that facts are facts, but know this: facts can be selectively presented. All media do this, due to bias (agenda), as well as time and space constraints, and the rush to get some facts out before all are in. This phenomenon is not new to the Internet era; Don Henley sang about it in Dirty Laundry decades ago. The Internet simply makes it easier, faster-spreading, and far more error-prone.

Media, after all (including social media) exist first and foremost for profit: ad clicks and ratings generate revenue. Shock, titillation, (melo)drama, and audience outrage drive that. Understand this, and your perspective can become much more level-headed, analytical, and as such, mature. Facts can and should be accumulated from an ensemble of sources.

The common narrative among self-styled activists that silence is complicity, itself is oversimplified garbage. Silence also can mean one is waiting for more information and not rushing to hasty judgment. That’s a noble, honorable approach!

The best lesson in this episode (and almost all of us have been guilty at some point) therefore is a two-fold process that applies to me as well as you:

  1. WAIT. That’s right, wait, wait, wait…sometimes days or weeks if needed, until greatest volume of facts is available, before reacting. Leave hot takes to the undisciplined, impulsive zealots who offer them, while you stand aside from or above the fray. Then…
  2. Use facts, logic and reason—not emotion—to evaluate and react to incendiary events.


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