On the January 22, the era of social justice ascendancy on the web came to a battered, exhausted halt. Gregory Alan Elliott, a Toronto artist who was dragged through the Canadian criminal justice system for the “crime” of disagreeing with feminists on Twitter, was declared innocent.
His acquittal marked the climax of nearly two years of setbacks for social justice warriors on the web, whose ability to quash dissent and ruin their opponents once seemed unchallengeable. Twitter, once dominated by the activists of the regressive left, rang out in celebration at the victory for free speech.
Elliott’s trial stretched from the darkest days of SJW ascendancy on social media to the rise of the cultural libertarians. For feminists and the regressive left, it represented a major goal, which has for the moment been placed beyond their reach: the goal of redefining political disagreement as criminal harassment.
In their case against Elliott, feminist activists Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly claimed that Elliott, who challenged them on a number of issues on Twitter, made them feel “unsafe.” It seems nonsensical now, but the fact that Elliott was arrested and put on trial (for three years!) is a testament to how close the regressive left were to achieving their dystopian objective.
Despite their loss, it would be foolish to pretend that the social justice warriors did no damage. Marauding armies may eventually be defeated, but they still leave a trail of destruction in their wake. Elliott was neither the first, nor the only person that social justice warriors tried to punish for political opinions or offhand remarks.
From the resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich over his support for traditional marriage, to the online lynching of Justine Sacco for politically incorrect jokes, the advance of the regressive left on the internet was marked by a trail of victims. For a while, everyone on social media lived in fear of the left’s ability to ruin careers and wreck lives.
As for Elliott, his victory is a bittersweet one. To pay his legal bills, he was forced to cash in his pension early, costing him close to 50 percent in taxes. His son Clayton also informs me that he is also heavily in debt: “Our dad’s credit rating was impeccable his whole life. He worked hard and never had debt. Now, he’s up to his eyes in it. His financial situation is better than it was as of July 14 2015, but still nowhere near where he was when this all began.”
The damage, of course, was more than just financial. They say time heals all wounds, but for the Elliotts, time is the wound. For three years, the trial has consumed the life of Elliott, as well as his tireless son Clayton, who has acted as his line of communication to the outside world.
“This was a devastating experience,” says Clayton. “He’s got a will to never give up, but this thing would’ve done serious, maybe life-ending damage had it not been for his support network. Other people with much less or no support may have been destroyed by this.”
Despite the damage, it would be an exaggeration to call the victory Pyrrhic. For cultural libertarians, who represent the rising tide of resistance to the regressive left, the closing days of the trial were an opportunity to demonstrate their growing power.
In a storm of tweets, articles, and livestreams, the allies of free speech on the web drowned out the attempts of the regressive left’s once-mighty media machine to paint Elliott as a villain. The “Freedom of Tweets” livestream, supported by Breitbart Tech, helped raise close to $70,000 for Elliott, almost the full cost of his legal fees. Cultural libertarians were sending an important message to SJWs: anything you can destroy, we can rebuild.
“The fundraiser kept him in the game for the home stretch,” says Clayton. “Not only did it give him a financial boost, it gave him a huge boost of morale. Both were much needed.”
For cultural libertarians the trial was the Stalingrad — or Kobani, to use a more modern metaphor — of the online culture wars. Just as in Captain Picard’s iconic speech against the Borg of Star Trek, defenders of liberty on the internet drew a line in the sand around Gregory Alan Elliott.
The tide has turned decisively against SJWs on the internet. They are outnumbered on social media and are even losing their purchase with the establishment, who are increasingly concerned by the antics of their regressive cousins on university campuses.
Still, I wouldn’t say this is the beginning of the end — just the end of the beginning. Fear of the populist right in Europe is leading to a new dawn of authoritarianism in Europe, with Facebook cracking down on criticism of migration. In the Netherlands, police are even visiting the homes of citizens who criticise mass migration online. SJWs can hardly take credit for the handiwork of European political elites, but they are no doubt celebrating. For those who do not tire of the fight for free speech on the web, new fronts will not be hard to find.
The menace of social justice warriors, however, is unlikely to return for the forseeable future. Their attempts to ruin lives, from Sir. Tim Hunt to Gregory Alan Elliott, now meet with determined, defiant resistance. Their morale declines, moderate members desert their ranks, and allies in the media establishment grow cold.
For those who remember the dark days of their ascendency, it’s a time for celebration. Yet cultural libertarians – especially those of you just joining the fight – should remember that the flags of freedom fly over a scorched battlefield. Culture wars aren’t called “wars” without reason. For many, they have come at great personal cost. Remember the victims of the culture wars, and don’t let recent victories lull you into apathy.
Breitbart, and now Breitbart Tech, have been at the centre of resistance to the regressive left on the web. From GamerGate to Gregory Alan Elliott, we’ve reported, commented on, and encouraged the resistance against the totalitarians of our times. Throughout this, we’ve always encouraged our allies to fight their battles with mirth and irreverence, not with dour victimhood. Against humourless authoritarians, keks and mischief should remain our primary weapons, for tyrants hate the sound of laughter, and miserable armies do not win battles.
Yet on rare occasions, we should take a moment to remember all that has been lost in these culture wars of ours. The Elliotts, the Eichs, even the Pax Dickinsons. Their ordeals represent an ever-present warning of the world that social justice warriors wanted to create. Let’s keep mocking the regressive left — for there is much there to mock — but we should also remember the damage that has been caused. After a war, even the strongest warriors rarely lack scars.