Nazis Need Online Platform Or World Will Become ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ Says Guy Who Never Read The Book
VanwaTech is a tiny tech startup in Vancouver, Washington, that hosts websites and provides tech support for such unsavory clients as neo-Nazi message board The Daily Stormer and QAnon hideaway 8kun. The company's founder is 23-year-old Nick Lim, who believes providing technical aid and comfort for white supremacists and conspiracy theorists is noble work. It's all about free speech, you know.
"There needs to be a me, right?" he says, while eating pho at a Vietnamese restaurant near his headquarters. "Once you get to the point where you look at whether content is safe or unsafe, as soon as you do that, you've opened a can of worms.
Fortunately, that Vietnamese restaurant where Lim dined bothered to confirm if its pho is "safe or unsafe," so he wasn't literally eating a can of worms. Lim is a self-described "entrepreneur with a maximalist view of free speech." It's a curious approach to the marketplace of ideas. When a one-hit wonder lost a record contract, no one rushed to offer Right Said Fred a platform on some larger free speech principle. At least actual white supremacists are committed to the ideology they espouse. Lim permits radical ideas to flourish like black mold and thinks he can remain above it all.
But Lim doesn't worry about the actual real life violence fomented on The Daily Stormer and 8kun. No, he's more concerned about the hypothetical dystopian future that's just around the corner.
Lim argues that the real political crisis facing the U.S. is not extremist violence but erosion of the First Amendment. He says that restrictions on online speech have already brought the U.S. to the verge of communist tyranny, that "we are one foot away from 1984." After a moment, though, he offers a sizable qualifier: "I never actually read the book, so I don't know all the themes of the book. But I have heard the concepts, and I've seen some things, and I thought, 'Whoa! That's sketchy as f---.' "
So, there's a lot to unpack here.
Lim seems like a reasonably intelligent person, but he's never read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Maybe that's because all his woke leftist teachers taught Beloved and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Or maybe if you spend so much time digging through garbage online, it's hard to find reading material that's not crap. Perhaps we can benefit from judicious gatekeepers.
It's almost encouraging that Lim is honest enough to admit he's never read Nineteen Eighty-Four. Republicans usually invoke the work as a blanket descriptor for everything they don't like about liberalism. If you're “forced" to acknowledge that trans people exist, you're now living in Oceania. Rod Dreher heavily quoted Orwell in his American Conservative article, "Totalitarian Trans War On Reality" (not the most subtle title but who are we to talk?): "The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."
Restrictions on online speech haven't “brought the US to the verge of communist tyranny," as it's not the government that has banned white supremacists and dangerous conspiracy mongers. Private companies have made that decision. Lim is choosing to host these extremist sites arguably because no one else will. He nourishes the black mold.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is too often used as a didactic smorgasbord. Big Brother and his cult of personality is just like the former White House squatter and his (significantly longer than) "two-minutes hate" rallies. Kellyanne Conway's “alternative facts" recalls “doublethink." Meanwhile, conservatives insist the “woke mob" seeks to make them “thought criminals." It's a shame, because Nineteen Eighty-Four isn't a political treatise. It's a compelling human story. Lim and others have strip-mined the novel for easy zingers. However, the one line that still resonates the most to me is: "I suppose we may as well say goodbye."
Lim claimed we are one foot — not a shot? — away from Nineteen Eighty-Four, but that presumes Orwell's work is exclusively predictive rather than reflective, not just of the past we've endured but the present in which we live. When Winston Smith dares to put his thoughts down in a diary, which is a crime, I think of how this also applied to my ancestors. And when the authorities burst into Winston and Julia's room, shattering their dreams, I think of Kentucky police killing Breonna Taylor in the home she shared with Kenneth Walker.
If Lim could see the world around, the one he's helping make less safe, he might consider how the Party from Nineteen Eighty-Four maintained power through lies, technology, isolation, and fear. Then he should look again at the sites he hosts. The most dreaded future is the one that's already here.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."