There’s a meme that says that Andy Ngô is a threat to our communities and provides kill lists to Atomwaffen. I am one of the people on that kill list. Here’s the whole story.
Andy Ngo memed this saying into existence when he posted a photo of some graffiti in Portland that contained this phrase. Since then, it has circulated widely on social media, even though many people don’t know the full story behind it. Andy, of course, complains about it and denies that he provided any such kill list to any such faux-German, satanic, neo-Nazi after-school terror club. There are elements of truth to all myths, so it’s high time that I provide a full recount of why and how this saying came to be, what elements of it are factual, what elements are not, and what it means for the people who have actually been victimized by Andy’s lies.
In May 2019, a little-known right-wing troll, Eoin Lenihan, aka ProgDad, sought to provide ideologically counterbalance to the incredible work by Becca Lewis in understanding the network effect of right-wing propagandists on YouTube. Lenihan did a graph analysis of his own using twitter accounts. In this analysis, he came to a conclusion that journalists and antifa were conspiring with each other. His basis for this was using following/followers data to identify strongly-connected nodes to self-described “antifa” accounts. In his research, he found that many journalists were connected deeply to antifascists activists like myself, and self-described antifa accounts like @NYCAntifa.
Lenihan’s methodology was deeply flawed. For starters, Twitter has a completely different interactivity model than YouTube. Second, Twitter graphs are highly dependent on account popularity. Users have very little control over who follows them, and this control diminishes the higher a users' follower count. If a bunch of “Antifa” accounts follow someone with 50k+ followers, that is a much different situation than if those same bunch of accounts followed someone with 50 followers.
Moreover, people who are activists tend to follow journalists who write about the things they advocate for, and journalists are likely to use activists as sources on a regular basis. This is hardly reflective of a conspiracy, but rather is the Twitter platform being used as intended.
By way of example, there are probably a few dozen journalists who regularly write quality pieces on the far-right. I know most of them, and I have been a source for many of them in the past. About once a week, I speak to someone in media to provide commentary or background sourcing for a piece they are writing. This is not because we are conspiring to overthrow the government. This is because they recognize me as a subject matter expert and I respect the work they do, so I am happy to talk.
When Lenihan first tweeted about his work, I raised these concerns and vehemently denied his allegations, including his allegation that I am, or can possibly be, a member of “ANTIFA,” an organization which does not exist. Lenihan drew some false conclusions about my work on First Vigil, due to a lack of understanding on his part about the American criminal justice system, which I corrected him on. He made a small correction on Twitter, and the matter was more or less dropped. His thread got very few retweets, and I was happy to put the matter behind me.
Until Andy Ngô decided to take it on. Ngô reproduced Lenihan’s conclusions absent context, and using his orders-of-magnitude larger platform, blasted the false allegations about me and about a dozen other activists and journalists to his followers. Soon after, Quillette, a publication for which Ngô was then an editor, ran a long-form piece authored by Lenihan and evidently edited by Ngô. Masquerading as journalism, Lenihan ran the same false allegations and failed to mention any of my on-the-record corrections or commentary, in contravention of standard journalistic practice.
When the Quillette piece landed, it started a bit of a drama tornado. Journalists were now forced to defend their reputations. The online fallout began to attract the attention of Andy’s neo-Nazi followers, who decided that they, too, should have some fun.
Soon, a short video was published to YouTube. The video featured the dozen or so activists and journalists that Ngô and Lenihan put on blast, including myself. The video took all of our twitter profiles, highlighting them one by one, and used thinly veiled threatening language and imagery. The video ended with a menacing quote by James Mason, Atomwaffen Division’s ideological forebear, and a logo of the neo-Nazi group.
The video was quickly removed for violating YouTube’s content standards, and the issue mostly faded away, except for the fact that anything to do with Atomwaffen Division (AWD), an organization responsible for at least five murders and which was the subject of an Emmy-winning PBS FRONTLINE documentary, catches the attention of pretty much everyone in the counter-Nazi scene. The noise surrounding the video led to the creation of a second video by the same creator, this one containing threats of bombings and other violence.
Atomwaffen Division has today been mostly eradicated through infiltration, criminal charges, and general incompetence. But the threat they posed to journalists and activists just a few months ago was very real. In one case, the journalist who produced the ProPublica documentary was swatted by AWD members. Police showed up to his house, removed him and his wife and put them in separate patrol cars, while the journalist had to explain that he was the target of a neo-Nazi terror organization. In another case, in November 2018 (before the kill list was created), I was contacted by law enforcement agencies of both the US and Germany, who informed me that a pair of AWD members had traveled from the US to Europe and had intentions to do “grievous bodily harm” to me.
For those of us on the kill list, we are accustomed to modeling such threats. Nobody lasts very long in the anti-Nazi game without becoming adept at assessing the risks to themselves and others. Most of us felt an obligation to defend our professional and personal honor, but otherwise prefer to let the issue die.
And then came “Andy Ngô is a threat to our communities and provides kill lists for Atomwaffen,” an ironic fourteen words. Now elevated to meme status, the kill lists have become something of a legend, one that we cannot make go away. Right-wing media, recognizing their complicity in making the list come to life, have even tried denying it exists. Many of us on the initial list agreed to not further promote the videos, but we have retained copies of it among ourselves for evidentiary purposes.
For my part, I have an obligation to report such threats to German authorities, despite my distaste for the police. Atomwaffen Division has been recently active in Germany and there is a growing risk of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-migrant violence in the country. This may have worked; months later, German authorities intercepted a suspected AWD member as he deplaned at Berlin’s Tegel Airport, denied him entry into the Schengen Area, and deported him.
So what is the truth? Did Andy Ngô in fact provide kill lists for Atomwaffen? This depends on one’s interpretation. Through journalistic malpractice, Andy Ngô defamed several people and caused material harm through his lies—the harm being the AWD kill list created by one of his apparent fans—and not by directly handing AWD a list of people to kill. As far as whether Andy Ngô is a threat to our communities? Well, the reader can decide for themselves.
As someone on the kill list, the meme is a bit problematic. While it does attack Ngô’s credibility as a journalist, it was created without the assent of anyone on the list, to my knowledge. Some of us don’t mind, it, but many of us would prefer it go away. Many of us would prefer Andy Ngô go away. Alas, either is unlikely to be the case. Any meme takes on a life of its own, and the kill list has become another threat in an array of threats we face for doing our work.
For my part, I take these threats very seriously, much as I take any attempts to impeach my integrity very seriously. But if I stayed hung up on every threat that comes my way, I’d never get anything done. That’s the point of the threats, obviously, so we have to find ways to move on. I’m not asking the meme to die, I’d just prefer the discussion of Andy Ngô’s many failures to simply evolve to encompass the full spectrum of what surrounds him. I simply don’t think that these fourteen words are the only ones that will describe Andy.
I did not reach out to Andy for comment on this post. Like The Post Millennial, this is a blog, not a journalistic institution. Unlike The Post Millennial, I don’t pretend otherwise.
This post has been updated to correct minor typos and spelling errors.
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