By Jesselyn Cook and Nick Robins-Early
Around the time news broke on Monday afternoon that the New York City Police Department would disband plainclothes anti-crime units that had been tied to several high-profile police shootings, someone calling themselves “ltdad613” started a thread on Thee Rant, a police message board that purports to host current and former NYPD employees. “I wouldn’t want to be a [Commanding Officer] for the next few compstats,” ltdad613 wrote. “This is right from [New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio]. I feel for anybody still on the job.”
Elsewhere, the posts on Thee Rant were much darker. In one Monday thread, “dominop” wrote that “A Firing squad would be a good cure for ANTIFA!!!” Other users chimed in to say snipers or napalm might be more fitting.
Thee Rant is just one node in a wider web of right-wing police media. On similar message boards, in Facebook groups and on news sites such as Law Enforcement Today — a sort of Breitbart-like outlet written by and for police — there is a fervent narrative that police are under nonstop siege, and that antifa in particular is a constant threat.
This police media ecosystem is not necessarily a broad representation of what most cops believe. But inside this echo chamber, which has thousands of users and readers, extremist views dictate the narrative. Wild misinformation and bigotry are rampant, with people who claim to be current and former officers posting debunked falsehoods and racist stereotypes about protesters.
Intense public focus on police behavior in recent weeks, following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has led to the termination of several law enforcement officers who posted conspiratorial or racist messages on their personal social media pages. When these posts are singled out for scrutiny and have a real officer’s name attached, opprobrium comes quickly, but most of those posts would be right at home in right-wing police media.
“What I think we have here is a market for this kind of racist and divisive garbage across the internet, and unfortunately police are participating in that wave that is witnessed across various professions,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “It pains me as a former NYPD officer to see this,” he said. “These posts are devastating.”
Levin doesn’t think people should assume that “cops en masse subscribe to this,” but he does see dangerous potential, because online echo chambers tend to “self-accelerate” bigoted beliefs. For “police in particular, who so often have to hold their tongue and try to restrain themselves,” he said, “online it becomes even more [of an] accelerant.”
The Extreme Views Of ‘Law Enforcement Today’
Law Enforcement Today claims to be the largest law enforcement-owned and -operated media company in America. It has repeatedly promoted far-right conspiracy theorists and authoritarian policies, particularly during the recent mass demonstrations against police violence.
Founded by Robert Greenberg, a Florida police captain who has called his outlet “a platform for the voice of law enforcement,” LET has more than 800,000 followers on Facebook and runs a syndicated radio show. Much of its content is provided by former or current police officers, and it offers paid memberships of $75 a year to gain access to “the patriotic content that the social media giants don’t want you to see.”
The site’s articles often bear only a passing resemblance to reality. Earlier this month, Law Enforcement Today published an article calling for the arrest of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, accusing him of aiding and abetting “antifa” terrorists. The post cited numerous far-right media activists, including anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer, and suggested that Democratic officials including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) are antifa sympathizers. It also baselessly attacked Tlaib and Omar, who are Muslim, as “arguably anti-Semites and ISIS supporters (if not in words, in actions).”
“Law Enforcement Today supports Laura [Loomer]’s demand that Dorsey be arrested and prosecuted for promoting an insurrection against the United States,” the article says. It also suggests that politicians such as Omar who have expressed support for the current protests against police brutality and systemic injustice should be arrested as well.
The article is published under the pseudonym “Sgt. A. Merica” and claims to be “written by several staff writers, including retired and wounded law enforcement officers.” Law Enforcement Today says it verifies the identity and background of its authors before publishing.
When it isn’t stirring fear of antifa, much of the site’s coverage focuses on law enforcement officers who have been harmed in the line of duty. It also regularly criticizes elected officials who are seeking to curb police powers, part of what the site calls a “war on law enforcement.” The consistent message is that police are perpetually under attack, and that the government — with the exception of President Donald Trump — does not have their back.