Seven years ago, I bought a busted house in the 7th Ward. It was just a shell. The backyard was a huge trash pile. But along with the property came a sweet truck: a Deuce and a half, otherwise known as an M35A2, a 1969 Vietnam-era 6×6 multi-fuel all-terrain troop transport. The guy I bought the house from was a survivalist, and the online prepper consensus was that this was the best vehicle to own for the zombie apocalypse, because it could run on anything, even old motor oil.
On some level, we knew what to expect after Trump won the presidency back in 2016: a sweeping rollback of civil liberties; an agenda of exclusivity rewarding the already over-privileged; normalization of obscenity, philandering, and buffoonery; a laundering of “truth” through aggressive media attacks and mixed messaging. However, there is a marked difference between the general malaise of unease, like a drop in barometric pressure, and the tension that descends when the bloodthirsty trolls come knocking at your door. Frankly, I did not expect the collapse between rabid nationalistic sentiment and personal safety to impact my private life just five months after inauguration.
TAKE EM DOWN
In April 2017, the controversy regarding the removal of four prominent Confederate monuments reached a fever pitch. Although the decision to remove them was announced publicly in 2015, that initiative was promptly blocked by three lawsuits claiming that the decision was in contravention of historic preservation and laws protecting military landmarks. After circulating for a year in the courts, a judge for the U.S. Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the city’s resolution, opening the door for the city to move forward with the operational phase of removal and issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to select a contractor. That process was delayed when several of the contractors who responded affirmatively to the RFP, and whose names and identities are therefore public record, received death threats in the mail from anonymous groups.
If they wanted to play the intimidation game, we could do it too—weirder and by our rules, with a BBQ smoke-out, queer karaoke, and Mad Max vehicles.
If they wanted to play the intimidation game, we could do it too—weirder and by our rules, with a BBQ smoke-out, queer karaoke, and Mad Max vehicles.
Perhaps due to the drawn-out timeline, the statue removal issue, at this point, had garnered national media attention and became symbolic of a larger struggle about legacy, both liberal and conservative. The city first removed the obelisk of the Battle of Liberty Place, the so-called “white power” monument, which celebrated the Crescent City White League riot against an integrated state government in 1874 during Reconstruction. This was the most egregiously offensive of the four monuments, since it celebrated segregation after the Civil War. It was frequently vandalized. The city removed it previously, but it was re-installed when David Duke sued for its return in 1993. The obelisk was a bonafide public nuisance. Despite this checkered history, the city showed no spine when they finally decided to remove it. On April 24 at 4 a.m., a masked crew removed the obelisk under cover of darkness, protected by NOPD snipers stationed in a nearby parking garage.
Around the same time, a handful of alt-right activists with coolers and Confederate flags staged a 24/7 stakeout at Jeff Davis and Canal to protest the removal of the Jefferson Davis monument. Their contingent was from out of state and didn’t know the local history of struggle surrounding Confederate monuments. They had no idea that the monuments had been a contentious issue for city leadership since at least as far back as the Marc Morial administration of the 1990s.
What they had, however, was guns. Lots of guns. In the space of a week, the camp grew from a handful of protesters to almost three dozen “monument supporters,” some of whom had large social media footprints, like “Black Rebel,” a self-described “Black Conservative Destroying Stereotypes” who dresses like a cowboy from Oklahoma (even though he is from New York). These so-called “monument defenders” came from different states to draw attention to the cause of protecting “Western heritage,” codespeak for preserving white supremacy.
Leftist activists, myself included, witnessed the growth of the encampment with alarm. The neo-Confederates antagonized people, threatening to run over those that disagreed with them, revving their engines, and following home several counter-protesters with trucks sporting stars-and-bars and out-of-state plates. There are limited grounds upon which to engage with a group of people who are intimidating others with trucks and guns, internet trolls incarnate high on Trumpism and hell-bent on stoking the fire of division and hate openly at a very public intersection. And it does seem like, on a lowest-common-denominator level, when there is a failure to communicate, a truck might just do the trick. A really BIG truck. Like the one that came with my house. Given that police were protecting armed protesters who were acting in defiance of a federal judge ruling in favor of the city’s resolution, we decided to organize a counter-protest to demonstrate resistance to their aggressive stance.
We settled on May Day for our action, the date holding a special historical significance as a holiday for the Communist Party, labor resistance organizing, and a rejection of the exploitative economic system of capitalism. The plan was a juicy punk cocktail—equal parts performance and politic. We decided to cover my military truck in banners and load it down with counter-protesters waving anarchist flags, arriving as an Antifa posse to swarm the Confederates and make them realize they were out-flanked.
If they wanted to play the intimidation game, we could do it too—weirder and by our rules, with a BBQ smoke-out, queer karaoke, and Mad Max vehicles. It turned out better than we expected. We met at a staging point to prep and load up the truck—another crew had painted banners the night before. As they unfurled their handiwork on the sides of the truck, I got my first whiff of the shit-show we were about to step into. One banner said “SOLIDARITY FOREVER,” while the other said “FUCK OFF NAZI SCUM.” It was clear there was no soft-pedaling at this point, so I figured we might as well put the more inflammatory “FUCK OFF” banner on the right side of the truck, to make sure they would see it.
By the time we rolled over the bollards on Canal and Jeff Davis, there were already hundreds of people gathered there, and the pro take-down crowd let loose a roar. Volunteers were cooking and serving cake to the crowd, but the cops doused the grill. Some local musicians started rocking out, and cops pulled the plug on the PA. Then cops got on my ass about my sobriety, though all I had was a Pepsi. One thing the cops could not easily unplug was the crowd—there were maybe 50 neo-Confederate campers to our turnout of 300 counter-protesters and allies. We definitely outmatched them in voice as we chanted “Get the Fuck Out of New Orleans” in rounds.
As the back-and-forth banter between the protesters carried on for a couple hours, the mood shifted and a few isolated scuffles broke out. By that time, several news channels were on the scene reporting live. The National Lawyers Guild and the Independent Police Monitor were there. The police presence slowly escalated in the background. At about 10 p.m., police officers formed a secure cordon and evacuated the pro-monument campers from the foot of the monument. Once the pedestal of Jefferson Davis was clear, NOPD surrounded the monument with six large trucks, obstructing access to everyone, and formed two rings of police barricades. After watching the cops standing by passively for a week, that was about as successful as an outcome as anyone could’ve hoped for—the neo-Confederate alt-right camp was busted. I dropped off a few friends to bail out allies at OPP, and then drove off to a punk show happening at the Circle Bar, under the frozen gaze of General Robert E. Lee.
Overnight, outraged tweets and Facebook livestreams filtered through the alt-right social media networks, and the reaction was visceral. The alt-right are power freaks, and guns and trucks play a big part in that. Military hardware in our hands didn’t fit the alt-right’s narrative–that element was something they should have, not us. In their mind, we protesters were clearly paid for. Had Mayor Mitch Landrieu hired Antifa goonsquads to rough up the Confederate supporters? Why was Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni in the passenger seat of my truck? (He wasn’t—but to be fair, my clean-shaven friend bears an uncanny resemblance.) Did the city have a Deuce on loan from Tulane ROTC? If not ROTC, then what was the source of my truck? Who was this shadowy militant organization Antifa and what was their role in all this?
The speed of their spiraling conspiracy theories was dizzying. The concept of an actual grassroots protest made up of local residents was too much to swallow.
The Daily Stormer dubbed it the “Battle of New Orleans.” David Duke tweeted that “Antifa terrorists… attacked defenders of the monument with rocks and bottles.” One popular theory advanced by prominent white nationalist Jason Kessler, one of the lead organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, was that the police were on a “stand-down” order (meaning they were ordered not to engage). This fit the theory of a corrupt liberal deep state, and my truck was an “armored assault vehicle,” part of a “military convoy” and the start of a “New American Civil War.” American Warrior Revolution (a white nationalist Facebook page) issued a national call for soldiers to swarm New Orleans, saying “the monument protectors” were under attack. And Rickey Entwisle, a local anti-Mitch vigilante, was making a name for himself in alt-right circles by Facebook livestreaming all of it.
In the days after, as I watched the shitstorm unfurl online, it became obvious that my truck was the linchpin in the alt-right’s rabid, delirious online investigation. At first, I laughed with friends about the conspiracy theories, but it quickly turned to dread. I nervously reviewed the protest pictures and video footage online, and was relieved that neither my face nor name showed up in any of the things that were posted. Foolishly, I had left the truck out on the street for a couple of days after the action, with the banners still attached. My neighbor got an angry call one Monday morning from the Superintendent of McDonough 42, asking if he could please do something about the truck—they were having trouble explaining to their first graders what Nazis were, and why they should “FUCK OFF.” I apologized, and moved the truck out of sight into my yard.
I kept a low profile, changed all my online privacy settings, put a large camo tarp over the truck, and disappeared to a Florida sandbar for a couple weeks with my partner. But my fate was already sealed.
I first got word from my neighbor, who saw a couple of odd white dudes scoping out my yard and taking pictures. Not normal for the 7th Ward. As it turns out, that local vigilante livestreamer Rickey Entwistle was to be the one who doxxed me. In case you don’t know what “doxxing” means, it is when your online identity gets connected to your offline identity and smeared in front of a rabid online mob. Everything about you—your proper name, birthdate, address, phone number, place of employment, Facebook, Instagram feed, LinkedIn profile—suddenly lands in the crosshairs of a crowd that is deeply unsympathetic with who you are. And their mission is to destroy you.
I watched Rickey’s livestream in shock. He showed his followers print-outs of my truck (in my yard), mentioned that I had worked for the Landrieu administration (which is true, but not at that time), searched my Instagram for photos to make me look like a person of questionable moral values, and asked his followers for any documentation that would demonstrate criminal intent, at one point adding, “So I hope Justin can get it figured out guys, because uh… about to become a lot of stuff come crashing down, and it’s not gonna be on us. I’ll tell you that.”
I sought counsel. Should I file suit on cyberstalking charges? The lawyers I talked with said there wasn’t yet sufficient basis to move ahead with a case. I could file a restraining order against Rickey, but I was more concerned about the network of people he was peppering with bad information about me. What could I do legally to protect myself? As it turns out, not much. The threat felt very real, but you can’t press charges on fear or suspicion. Something shitty has to happen first, then it’s a crime. Identity is also a fairly intangible asset. How are you going to quantify the threat when it is hard to even describe what is being damaged? None of the movement lawyers in town had time to handle my case. I felt pretty isolated.
I tuned into the “Battle of New Orleans” radio show on WGSO, hosted by Mark Cvitanovic, AKA “Goyim.” Rickey was on the show claiming that I was the missing link between Antifa and Mitch Landrieu. His obsession with me was a means to an end. He was looking for bigger fish to fry—he wanted to take down the mayor. I knew then that Rickey wasn’t coming after me. But what if one of the Confederate wildcats listening in, feeling drunk on vendetta rage, decided to do a drive-by? Maybe some online vigilante had placed a bounty on me via the dark web. Or maybe some psycho would make it real twisted and personal and shoot my dog.
One of the true problems with paranoia is that you cannot see your way clear of bad outcomes. Especially when you have a vindictive, shadowy internet enemy who holds grudges, lives nearby, has a lot of time on their hands, and plenty of guns at their disposal. So I bought security cameras. At least there would be a record of what happened when they found my body.
EYE OF THE STORM
I skipped town again and went to hang out in the high desert. When I got back, Hurricane Harvey was swirling in the Gulf of Mexico and about to make landfall in Texas. The year before, I spent a week driving the Deuce through the floodwaters in Livingston Parish, delivering water and ferrying supplies to communities stranded along the Amite and Comite Rivers. It was the first time I used the Deuce for its intended purpose as a high-water rescue vehicle. That amazing experience led me to work with a group of dedicated volunteers who came to be known as the Cajun Navy. The Cajun Navy was mobilizing again for Harvey, and so I jumped on the walkie-talkie app Zello, which was being used to coordinate rescue teams. I introduced myself, and asked if anyone had contacts in Beaumont or Orange, since the Sabine River flood gauges were rising and it looked like it was going to hit those communities pretty hard. Guess who else was there on the channel?
Rickey Entwisle. He messaged me directly. He said he had the fire marshal’s number in Beaumont and that I should call him.
Rickey apologized for putting my personal information out there publicly in a negative light. It is my belief that my willingness to help others in distress caused Rickey to form a different opinion of who I am and what motivates me. We talked for almost an hour. By the end of the phone call, the tenor had eased considerably—and he expressed a desire to work together on relief with my truck if Harvey decided to spin eastward towards metro New Orleans. Maybe we could even get a beer sometime.
TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION?
In the early days of September, after Hurricane Harvey had churned north for the second time, Rickey and I texted each other regarding our on-the-ground experiences with the Cajun Navy.
Rickey opened by saying, “What’s up man. Seeing if ya made it out there or not.”
“Yeah I made it alright,” I replied. “Only could get to Vidor tho & lucky I made it back!”
After some back-and-forth regarding recovery work and media response, Rickey wrote to me that he was going to “set up a non profit organization so we can help when this stuff happens.” He asked if I wanted to join. This wasn’t the move I anticipated—now my enemy wants to be my friend, or more accurately, he wants me to be his lieutenant equipped with a badass truck. I politely deferred.
“I really appreciate you talking with me man,” he wrote back. “And I hope you know that I don’t have any anything against you. I’d actually like to grab a coffee or a hookah sometime if you’re cool with that.”
Rickey no longer seemed like a threat. The doxxing was three months ago, and nothing concretely bad had happened since. Now Rickey wanted to be my friend. Even more than that—he wanted to smoke hookah with me. Was this real?
Why would I meet up with him? And why was I tempted by the offer?
On the upside, meeting Rickey in person could actually achieve a few things: it would humanize both of us to one another, with the added personal benefit of removing the threat of an unknown online antagonist. Beyond that, if the conversation went well, I thought it could be a good way to familiarize myself with what motivates people who identify with the alt-right. Given the increasingly static nature of our polarized political environment, I thought I might learn if and how one might engage in dialogue with someone holding a hardened political perspective that is radically different than my own.
Two hours later he sent me a gruesome picture of the Las Vegas Shooter with his head blown off. “Bro, I got pics from my source of the crime scene,” Rickey entreated. “False flag staged out the ass.”
I threw my phone. I did not need to see that. Why would you send a revolting picture like that to a tentative friend who you recently threatened with violence? And in case you’re wondering: “false flag” is a common conspiracy framework active among the alt-right, where specific events are staged for media attention and to manipulate public reaction and opinion, in this case presumably in favor of gun control. Needless to say, I did not respond. Conversation over.
I tried to put it all behind me. After a few “sup up man” texts, Rickey seemed to give up as well. Did he realize he crossed a line? Maybe he was intentionally triggering me? Was he trying to set up a trap? Bottom line: I didn’t care.
In October, my stepfather had a fatal stroke, so there were more important family matters to attend to. I was glad to stop thinking about all this nonsense. I was still in Boston in November when I got a text from an unknown number saying “Happy Thanksgiving to you!!”
Everything about you—your proper name, birthdate, address, phone number, place of employment, Facebook, Instagram feed, LinkedIn profile—suddenly lands in the crosshairs of a crowd that is deeply unsympathetic with who you are. And their mission is to destroy you.
I was in a good mood by that point, so I responded with, “Happy Thanksgiving back atcha! Who b dis?” Then comes back, “Dis b Rickey Entwisle…when ya down to grab some coffee man?”
A month later I get another text, “Merry Christmas!!” Rickey again. The dude is persistent. While still wary, I was intrigued. Besides, I wanted the holiday greeting texts to end, and I felt like this guy was not going to go away until we met face-to-face.
After the New Year, I sent a message to Rickey, “Been busy w holiday stuff man, you watching the Saints game today? We could meetup for a beer.”
Seemed like a logical set up. I wanted there to be some distraction in case the conversation went badly. Sure enough, Rickey writes back “Where ya planning on going?”
“Someplace chill like Liuzzas by the track?”
“Yeah that’s cool,” he replied. “I just have to get ready.”
Shit. I guess it’s real now. “I’ll head over to Liuzzas and try and get us a seat at the bar, they got free food too,” I added as an additional enticement. Liuzza’s is genuinely one of my favorite old-neighborhood spots in the city, and it felt comfortable with the general revelry of a Saints playoff game going on in the background.
I didn’t recognize him when I saw him in person—his photos online must’ve been outdated, or maybe he had gained weight suddenly. He had a clean-shaved head that was sweating profusely. It wasn’t that hot outside, maybe it was anxiety? I didn’t ask. We both wore gray hoodies.
The conversation was sometimes stiff, but eventually turned congenial, and the neutral atmosphere within the bar was perfect. I knew no one there that day and neither did he. Our conversation lasted for a couple hours as we meandered across a dozen subjects. We both expressed a strong desire to see greater accountability among elected officials. If there is one shared value that informs both of our politics, that would be it, albeit with very different conclusions. What is good about someone who believes in accountability is that they still have some basis in fact and reality, but their assemblage of these pieces and what motivates them can go off the deep end (whether on the right or the left). We talked about the raw desire to investigate and uncover what is really going on, which is what led him to doxx me.
Turns out, Rickey got doxxed not long after me. One night while driving for Uber, he dropped off a passenger at Big Daddy’s in the Marigny. They recognized him from online media I guess, and then they commented in their review that Rickey was a racist. He lost his contract to drive for Uber as a result.
For more information on Justin Kray’s Hurricane Harvey relief, check out medium.com/@justinkray.
photos BEAU PATRICK COULON; Illustration JANE BEAUDOIN.