By Julian Shirley
Lately my nostalgia for 4chan /b/ during the years of 2007 through 2009 4chan has been sneaking up on me pretty hard, as I realize that almost nobody I speak to, with the exception of one or two online friends, experienced this culture. It really was something else during those years, it was a special time and place to be on the internet, nothing like the eventual form it would take, and hard to describe or put into a contemporary cultural context. The culture that exists on the 4chan’s now is vastly different. In fact, the original chan culture is notably antonymic to contemporary chan culture. I am going to try to explain why 4chan culture was so special to me at the time, why it feels so unrepeatable now and why I temporarily invested so much of my identity into a large group of people, a behavior which is generally speaking, personally atypical. To give context and attempt to portray the feeling of the cultural at the time, I will detail my participation in and observations of the Hal Turner raids of 2008.
Early chan /b/ front pages usually contained at least one thread which could be labeled as a “Raid”. A “Chan Raid” or an internet Raid in general, is when a large group of people from one forum, chat, website or other social network agree to converge on a digital target, such as another forum, chat, website or other social network at the same time, usually with intent on trolling, hacking, or otherwise attacking the specified target. Some of my fondest 4chan and 7chan memories were raiding, the most fond of them being our ongoing raids of the white supremacist “Hal Turner” and his internet and radio talk show. We launched a campaign against him consisting of a creative meshing of psychological warfare and ridiculous meme spouting. About fifty percent of the calls into his show were from us and fifty percent were legitimate calls from his racist fan base, a ratio which was very much intentional and enforced with care so as to increase his paranoia. Inevitably he became hyper paranoid which is when we eased off a little so that we could muse at his inevitable incorrectly assumed accusations of his loyal followers in which he insisted they were “4chan spies” and “were not fooling him for a second”.
Looking back it was rather masturbatory, juvenile and arguably even vaguely sadistic on our part but we were a group of mostly angst and anger filled teenagers and young adults that were also brilliant, talented and marginalized by society, so that was to be expected to some degree as we slowly realized we were not as powerless as we had been told.
We raided Turner as an exercise and test of our various skills and artistry, as a social experiment and because he stood for something we despised. We were not rebelling against his racism as you might guess, although most of us found it very distasteful, but the illogical and authoritarian platform all of his ideals and rhetoric was born from. We targeted him not because we were social justice warriors but because he was an idiot who was profoundly devoid of logic. His lower more base emotions presented themselves so transparently that it frankly disgusted us. His attitude, demeanor and pompous style was eerily similar to that of contemporary Donald Trump. Consistently exuding the shallow embarrassing insecurities and projectionist egotism you might expect from a spoiled middle class 6 year old child feeling threatened or entitled to something they felt they were missing.
The aggressive rhetoric President Trump uses when condemning an enemy as well as his over simplistic proposals for defeating his enemies are strikingly reminiscent of Turner to me, to the point where I sometimes confuse Trump for Turner in my mind briefly. The way Trump speaks aggressively before taking any real action or announcing any plans when asked about defeating formidable enemies such as MS-13 or North Korea is fairly close to verbatim the methods and rhetoric we heard from Turner at the time when he was dealing with anything he felt was threatening him. We were not an exception. When we first started he frequently boasted that he would “destroy us” and made claims we would end up paying the server bills that were financially destroying him as a result of our consistent denial of service attacks on his servers. Once we had doxed him thoroughly we discovered his history of abuse of animals and all sorts of awful things. He was truly was a deplorable, pathetic and hateful human that I had, and still have, very little sympathy or empathy for. In the end we returned his name and career to total irrelevance and obscurity. He was just done.
Towards the end of the raids some hackers managed to compromised his mail servers and some other sources and uncovered emails from and to Turner and his FBI handler, confirming that Turner was indeed an FBI informant, a position which is needless to say, frowned upon heavily to put it mildly by Turner’s Neo-Nazi community and the releasing of these emails undoubtedly led to Turner being shunned by the only community that supported him. Many people believe and assert that Turner was used by the FBI to stir up racial controversy and was effectively an FBI controlled pawn but I am skeptical of this. He was however, an active FBI CI.
Turner represented what we hated about the system that oppressed us, to most of us, who felt we could never easily assimilate to a system so transparently flawed. This sentiment and many of the more radical ideas that we had thought or felt quietly, had been quite militantly and systematically discouraged in our society, especially in the educational system most of us felt captive to. To hear other people say these things we had thought alone but which were never encouraged or validated and to unite behind them to destroy a man who represented and reflected not only our oppression but the majority held beliefs that seemed illogic to us felt very good. More importantly it helped nurture in me, and I can only assume many others, a self confidence which had been taken away by the relentless indoctrination and intellectual suppression of the educational system and our society in general.
Although we shared emphatic distaste for authority and rule, we were not anarchists nor were we nihilistic. Our culture’s core values were not written out neatly in the form of document or dogma but still were, to me, very clearly defined. They consisted of, at their core, a militant adoration and reverence for both logic and humor. We exalted these two values above all other morals in a way that scared the shit out of normies and had them all figuring us for nihilists and shock jockies. Which is unfortunately mainly what the culture eventually digressed into before the SJWism and hacktivism that popularized 4chan in the mainstream media, seeped in, causing our precious short lived cultural bubble to burst and leaking our culture, values and memetics into the ocean of mainstream internet cultures where they were thoroughly bastardized and diluted to impotence.
To be clear I am not bitter about these events. The fact that something so pure, self sustaining and artistically and philosophically inspirational existed for as long as this, did is amazing to me. It was a hive mind of people drawn together by a love of logic, intellectualism, humor, art, hacking and technology in general as well as a shared distaste, or even hate, for protocol, dogma, rules, and social constructs. I identified with these people in a very real way because I saw that they recognized our societies consistent and fallacious tendency to normalize and systematize the arbitrary social, political and emotional constructs that we knew in our hearts were just that, constructs.
Julian Shirley, also known as the songwriter/producer Juji, lives in Alameda, California, where he works in computer science and the arts. He is the son of author John Shirley
This article was originally posted on PasteBin
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