On January 21, a Canadian online news outlet called the Tyee published a hit piece on Angelo Isidorou, a 24-year-old journalist for the Post Millennial, another online Canadian magazine. Isidorou had made himself a target by becoming a board member of the Non-Partisan Association, a municipal political party in Vancouver which, in spite of its name, is center-right. Isidorou’s sin, as captured on the Tyee’s front page, was that he had been photographed ‘flashing a symbol favored by hate groups’.
The symbol in question was the thumb-to-index-finger ‘OK’ sign, which according to the Tyee’s reporter is a ‘widely recognized white power signal’. ‘The uninitiated might mistake the gesture for the “OK” symbol,’ she writes, but it has been ‘appropriated’ by ‘white supremacists’ and is ‘listed as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League and was flashed by the suspected white supremacist who murdered 49 people at mosques in New Zealand’. The journalist said that Isidorou’s use of this white supremacist gesture compounded fears that the Non-Partisan Association would run candidates with ‘far-right extremist views’.
Anyone even vaguely familiar with the controversy over the ‘OK’ symbol will knowhow ridiculous this is. For one thing, the identification of that gesture with white supremacy was originally a hoax perpetrated by 4chan, the image board website, to troll social-justice warriors and liberal journalists. For another, Isidorou was photographed committing this sin in February 2017, before the hoax had gained any traction. It wasn’t listed as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League until 2019, the same year as the New Zealand massacre referred to by the reporter. To accuse someone of a hate crime made up by a bunch of sophomoric pranksters is one thing. But to accuse them of it before the prank had landed must be some kind of record as the most feeble grounds for canceling someone in the history of cancel culture.
And yet it worked. Not that Isidorou lost his job on the Post Millennial, where he presents a weekly podcast called —ironically enough — Cancel This. But he had to step down from the board of the Non-Partisan Association, watch while other left-wing websites repeated the charge and grit his teeth while the mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, issued a statement about ‘troubling reports of extremism within the Board of the Non-Partisan Association’.‘As alt-right extremism and openly racist politics have taken hold around the world, we in Vancouver cannot take this lightly,’ Stewart said. Not only was Isidorou mobbed on social media: a member of his family, who works as a special-needs teacher, was placed ‘under review’ after political activists contacted their workplace, notifying it that the employee might be radicalizing schoolchildren — after all, the employee was related to a goose-stepping Nazi.
This is a story about a Canadian journalist, but, of course, plenty of American reporters are being targeted for equally spurious reasons. Last month, science writer Donald G. McNeil Jr was forced to resign from the New York Times because he used the n-word in front of high school students during an educational field trip in 2019. Even though he used it when asking a student to clarify a story she was telling about a 12-year-old who was punished for using the same word — he asked whether she had used it to insult someone or whether she was quoting rap lyrics — he was judged to have crossed a line by the Times, which said in a statement ‘we do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent’.
The telling detail about this affair is that the paper had already investigated the incident two years ago and decided that a reprimand was a proportionate response. Unfortunately, there’s no statute of limitations on supposedly racist speech crimes and after the episode was dredged up again by the Daily Beast, a group of Times journalists demanded a second investigation. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of weeks later another journalist, Mike Pesca at Slate, was targeted by a woke mob — not for using the n-word, but for defending its use by ‘non-African American’ journalists if they needed to quote someone saying it, ‘in the name of clarity or factualness’. He expressed this view in an office chat room on Slack — he didn’t even say it on Slate’s site. Nevertheless, several of his colleagues expressed outrage that he’d dared to share this view with them and demanded his head. Sure enough, he was indefinitely suspended a few days later.
What’s happening, I think, is that North American journalism is in the grip of what the journalist Gavin Haynes calls a ‘purity spiral’. ‘A purity spiral occurs when a community becomes fixated on implementing a single value that has no upper limit, and no single agreed interpretation,’ he says. The value in this case is ‘anti-racism’, and left-wing journalists in Canada and the United States are locked in a competition to see who can demonstrate the most fanatical adherence to it. What better way to do this than to identify a sinner in their ranks and demand that he be expelled from the profession? The more threadbare the evidence of his guilt, the better it serves this purpose.
Luckily, not every victim of this moral feeding frenzy is prepared to take it lying down. Angelo Isidorou has filed a defamation suit against the Tyee. ‘I think when this sort of thing happens you need to have a conversation with yourself where you are at a fork in the road and you have to decide whether to walk away quietly or to fightback,’ he says. ‘I want to fight back.’
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s April 2021 US edition.