The social media platform Minds teamed up with Mythinformed and new media venture Subverse to present the Minds IRL conference last weekend.
Minds is a new social media platform created as a place where no users or speech would be banned. Mythinformed is a not-for-profit that hosts conferences with the mission of promoting “viewpoint diversity to limit the effects of authoritarian ideology.”
Subverse was founded by Tim Pool, a YouTuber and journalist who is something of a polarizing figure. He self-identifies as a liberal, and first made a splash live-streaming the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. Pool is one of a growing cadre of liberals who decry today’s leftism as inherently anti-liberal, and Minds and Mythinformed advocate for freedom of speech in all its forms.
Free speech absolutism was once the purview of the left. They decried censorship of art, political views (even those with which they thoroughly disagreed), music, and entertainment. Free speech advocacy was a cornerstone of a liberal ideology that supported individual over group rights and was most concerned with creating the conditions for a civil and equal society.
The Minds IRL conference was aimed at ending “racism, violence, and authoritarianism.” Pool said in a livestream that he “wanted to put together an event with people I thought were from different parts of the political spectrum.”
In the leftist arena, free speech activism has come to be almost synonymous with racism, primarily becaus the folks who lean right are currently advocating for free speech while the left proffers hate speech and compelled speech laws, and demands adherence to the new vocab, from pronouns to decolonizing language.
In this rich hellscape of contemporary discourse, Minds, Mythinformed, and Pool have been called racists, bigots, conservatives, and transphobes at one point or another, as have many of the conference panelists and speakers. The point of the conference in lots of ways seemed to be a way for them to say “Hey, we seemingly right-wing YouTubers actually have center-left political views and we are not racist.”
The Threatener’s Veto
Originally planned to be at the Broadway Theater of Pitman, New Jersey, about a 20-minute drive from Philadelphia, the venue received threats of violence and subsequently declined to host the event.
UPDATE!: We are receiving word that the theatre has decided to cancel the event! However, we are waiting on a public statement from the theatre confirming this so please keep up the pressure! The event itself has been moved and once we find out where, we will let everyone know https://t.co/xeXZqpuMAN
— No Hate NJ (@nohatenj) August 19, 2019
Organizers relocated the conference to the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, but didn’t release the details of the change until only a few hours before show time. Freelance writer Talia Lavin (The New Yorker, The New Republic) made sure to let everyone on Twitter know.
im here in philly for the “minds irl” conference, featuring andy ngo, tim pool, sargon of akkad and a fleet of other right wing youtubers. after a last minute venue change, it’s gonna be at a casino. pic.twitter.com/esNEX5kT6i
— Talia Lavin (@chick_in_kiev) August 31, 2019
In welcoming attendees, Mythinformed’s Dmitry K said the purpose of the conference was to “promote viewpoint diversity,” “opposition to authoritarianism,” and that they “won’t give into keyboard warriors.” A few speakers and panelists who were scheduled to attend did not show up due to fears over the threatened violence. These included Blair White, YouTuber @ArmouredSkeptic, YouTuber @Shoe0nhead, and Josephine Mathias. Although it was reported on Twitter that Pool declined to attend, he did not pull out of his own event.
The audience was full of piercings, graphic tees, and combat boots. There was a guy with a long beard wearing a short-sleeved button down adorned with lobsters, and matching lobster-embroidered shorts. One wonders if he was a Jordan B. Peterson fan.
There was a guy with a yellow colander on his head, and I asked him about it. Turns out he’s a Pastafarian, a new religion designed to spoof all the other religions simply by being an official religion with odd accoutrements.
Now It’s Brave to Listen to Other People
There seemed to be a feeling among attendees that they were taking a stand in being at the event, and listening to ideas. While the conference organizers were quick to say that panelists were from left and right on the political spectrum, there was some disagreement on just how far left and how far right that extended.
The main thrust of the conversations on all the panels, from “The Great Migration: A Discussion on Digital and Physical Immigration,” to “Nuance, Context, and the Future of Comedy Online,” focused on free speech. Free speech absolutism is a driving force behind much of the conversation, and it’s in reaction the recent phenomenon of speech restrictions on college campuses, hate speech laws, and compelled speech about LGBT politics and more.
The free speech diehards make it a point to have the difficult and fraught gender identity conversations, and brought many of the prevailing issues in feminism to the conference. Melissa Chen (Spectator US, Aereo), moderated the all-woman panel with with Aydin Paladin (YouTube), Meghan Murphy (Feminist Current), Alice Vaughan (Two Girls One Mic, Offensive Crayons), and Karen Straughan (GirlWritesWhat) on “How Prohibition Amplifies Problems.”
Chen opened the panel by introducing her guests, noting that they are the perfect individuals to talk about prohibition: “Meghan is banned from Twitter, Alice banned from Amazon and often from Facebook, and Karen banned from polite society in general.” Chen invoked an Arab proverb, “That which is prohibited is often wanted,” and said “the human condition is anti-authoritarian at heart.” Numerous self-identifying anti-authoritarians applauded this.
The conversation began with online prohibitions, with Vaughan saying of machine learning, for everything from consumer sites to social media platforms, that “algorithms are in charge and they’re perfect but the reviews process lacks transparency… We need to get better at systems like that.”
Feminists Only Get a Voice When They Say Leftist Things
It quickly moved into the sex industry, porn, and exploitation. Murphy was the only panelist who spoke about prostitution as not quite a net boon for women, their agency, and equality: “In terms of the sex industry I find the conversation about prohibition… and legalization lacking in nuance… When we’re taking about things like pornography I don’t see porn as free speech… It’s not only imagery but it’s things that are actually happening… things that are being done to women and men, mostly women… We’re often talking about exploitation were talking about violence… and what I want to talk about is the impact on people who are actually watching it… Porn has an extremely negative impact on our sex lives… and ourselves”
She noted further that “feminists like myself are extremely misrepresented” in this conversation. Many of the feminists who oppose the way prostitution and porn are contemporarily discussed also oppose the concept that biological sex is a mutable construct. This means the progressive left has been able to offload these thinkers and their ideas to the realm of bigotry, and completely ignore their concerns. Nuance dissipates as divergent opinions are excluded from the conversation.
As the dialogue moved to cover hate speech, Karen Straughan referenced an old T-shirt that was, at one point, under penalty of being banned at the Canada border. It said, basically, “I hate” and then a long list of ethnic slurs, finishing with “but n-gg-rs are okay.” The crowd laughed at the joke that a person could advertise hate of individuals based on their ethnicity or race, but then in claiming to like another racial group, continue to use a slur to describe them, thereby appearing to both negate both the initial racist sentiments and the tolerant ones.
Lavin had been hanging out in the press room talking to speakers, taking photos, and tweeting about the event. She walked back into the main room from the press area at exactly this moment and reported that she heard the crowd laughing at racial slurs.
i walked out of the press room to hear “chinks, wops, gooks, spics… but n******s are okay.” uproarious laughter. here’s video of immediately after bc i didnt catch that moment on film. arguments against hate speech bans pic.twitter.com/zOh1HW69Tr
— Talia Lavin (@chick_in_kiev) August 31, 2019
She missed the moment, but tweeted that a crowd of racists were cheering about their shared hate. Lavin assumed that she understood what she heard and reported it without without further investigation.
Absolutists About Freedom of Speech
Staughan went on to talk about her son’s wish to buy and wear a new hat to school, and his fear that wearing the hat would get him suspended. She assured that crowd that it wasn’t a MAGA hat, but one that read “I’m not gay but twenty bucks is twenty bucks.” She told him, “You go ahead and get suspended, honey.” The crowd died laughing at this, too.
Her point was that freedom of speech is an absolute, and no speech, no matter how offensive, should be banned. Every panel carried this message in one form or another.
Lavin got some Twitter glory for her inaccurate reporting, and the conference took the heat. This exemplifies, in a very pure way, what is going on in culture. A conference was held to discuss and advocate for free speech and the takeaway by a left-leaning reporter was that free speech advocacy is equal to racism. Nuance is for sure lacking all over the place.
Panelists included many controversial figures. Sargon of Akkad, who has instigated social media mobbings, such as creating a petition for a college to remove a course he didn’t like, spoke on a panel about “Changing Minds: How to Admit You’re Wrong.” Andy Ngo, who has been attacked and milk-shaked by Antifa, spoke about “The Effects of Political Violence” with Minds co-founder Bill Ottman and Pool.
Making a Controversy
Lavin’s biases continued to lead to inaccuracies. The security at the casino was heavy, seeing as it was a casino, and that’s how they roll. Despite that, Lavin claimed to have been chased by racists out of the venue.
I’m safe and fine! I must admit “being chased by racists through a casino” wasn’t on my life bingo card but life is a rich tapestry
— Talia Lavin (@chick_in_kiev) August 31, 2019
Mythinformed reported that their team said a cordial goodbye to Lavin and her guest.
Our registration team said goodbye to this person and her +1 as they casually walked out of the casino and into the parking lot. No one was following them or chasing them. It’s clear this person didn’t have any actual outrage to report on, so she made it up. Who does this? https://t.co/kGVIf3ol1c
— Mythinformed (@MythinformedMKE) September 1, 2019
Reporters from The Post Millennial spoke to security, and discovered that their account did not mesh with Lavin’s. In fact, the first any of the press heard of this was when Lavin posted it on Twitter.
she's still at it https://t.co/cAl7aDvAon
— Jonathan Kay (@jonkay) August 31, 2019
I reached out to Lavin on Twitter, but as of writing, have not heard back.
Philly is not afraid of protests. Way back at the turn of the century, the city saw protests for gay rights and gay marriage, to free Mumia abu Jamal, and so many others. I participated in many of these. The Republican National Convention was protested, the Democratic National Convention was protested.
This is no Portland, because most of the anarchists have day jobs, but the activists here are dedicated to speaking their mind, much like the notorious Philly sports fans. Despite the threats, the activists stayed away from the venue, instead expending their energy to protest a much smaller group of attendees at the after party, at a literal mom and pop brewing company in Pitman, New Jersey.
Antifa party-poopers showed up to Pitman, NJ to annoy speakers at the #MindsIRL after party.
Great way to spend your Saturday night, guys! 😂 pic.twitter.com/zgX4FiP8hg
— ROBERTO WAKERELL-CRUZ ⚾️ (@Robertopedia) September 1, 2019
Or You Could Try Actually Talking to People
While the protesters were gathering in Pitman, to protest about 60 people drinking craft beer, Daryl Davis, an anti-racism activist who has personally converted more than 200 Ku Klux Klan members away from their racist views, was the final speaker at Minds IRL. Lavin left well before Davis’s panel.
Davis was a last-minute addition to the list of speakers, and was brought on board after the protesters threatened the original venue. Davis spoke about how Black Lives Matter “lacks centralization,” and that someone once said to him “I hear you’re the first black member of the KKK.” His response to that was, “If there were black members of the KKK there wouldn’t be a KKK, it would be the O-KKK.”
“People don’t bother to read the backstory,” he said. “You all have to answer this question: ‘Do I wanna sit back and see what my country becomes or do I want to stand up and make my country become what I want to see? Any American city is your city, so whatever problems Charlottesville has, you have.” Davis’ philosophy is to reach out to individuals one by one, and said that what is lost in this conversation is that people are not their groups.
There was a heckler at the mention of Heather Heyer. Heyer died when a man intentionally plowed his car into a crowd at a 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. “She died of a heart attack,” the heckler shouted. It was not a pretty moment.
The account that first reported the canceling of the original venue followed up by letting everyone know where the after event would be, and signal boosting Lavin’s reporting.
Here are some of the attendees so happy to spread their racism. Truly a meeting of the minds today in Philly. Tonight they will be a Human Village Brewing in Pitman, NJ https://t.co/reEBux9SFn
— No Hate NJ (@nohatenj) August 31, 2019
This was the first Minds IRL conference, and the kerfuffle it caused is enough to make the organizers either rethink the undertaking altogether or definitely make sure to go ahead and plan another one. As free speech absolutists continue to battle against the idea that they are racist and bigoted, the notoriety of being protested boosts their message and broadens the reach.
That the event was protested is evidence that this kind of thing is useful for public discourse, and strengthens the case for its relevancy. For many free speech absolutists, being told we shouldn’t speak is exactly what makes us open our mouths.