Black author and poet, Theo Wilson, went undercover for nearly a year as a white supremacist online in an attempt to gain firsthand insight into their mindset.
Using the alias “Lucious25,” Wilson created a “ghost” persona — gaining the trust of other online white supremacists, joining in their conversations, and subscribing to their newsfeeds, Raw Story reports.
To further conceal his identity, he used John Carter as his profile avatar, the Confederate hero of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ science fiction series about death-defying adventures on Mars.
Wilson decided to take this drastic step after repeatedly receiving hate in the comments section of his YouTube videos about race and culture. He was regularly ambushed with racial slurs as trolls flooded his page, according to The Washington Post.
After participating in several debates with the trolls, Wilson noticed that they all echoed each other’s sentiments, hopping through a “dimensional doorway,” as he called it, from an alternative reality with completely different values and facts.
This combative digital climate sparked a curiosity that led to Wilson's undercover experiment.
Wilson spoke to The Washington Post about his experience living a secret life as an online racist troll.
“During his eight months as a racist troll, Wilson never revealed his true identity. When it was all over, Wilson said, he came to appreciate the way in which the far-right media bubble disables its participants — offering an endless stream of scapegoats for their problems but no credible solutions,” read The Washington Post’s profile on Wilson.
Wilson said he learned that many of the racists he engaged with still believe age-old genetic myths about black people being inferior beings.
“[T]here are still people who think black people are not fully human and that we are lagging in terms of evolution. The comments I’d read about our facial features being monkey-like and dark skin being proof of primitiveness were shocking,” he recounted.
Wilson noted that his experiment was made possible and successful by the fact that the digital era we live in allowed him to hide behind his fake identity without fear of being ousted.
“This experiment was completely a product of the digital age,” he explained. “Even when the reverse was done in the book ‘Black Like Me,’ there’s always that chance you could be discovered, but here that’s extremely unlikely unless someone is a hacker. The internet is sort of what a car is to road rage. The glass and steel create this bubble of perceived safety, which amplifies people’s rage, but keeps them from having to deal with the consequences of that rage. There is an honesty that is exposed in the process.”
“Racism is a comfy cage, and technology hasn’t provided the key for getting out. We need to have courageous, face-to-face conversations with difficult people outside of the security of our laptops,” he added.
Although the experiment served as a learning experience for Wilson and somewhat humanized this hateful community, he admitted that his hope for the future of humanity was far from restored.
“Just because this experience made me more compassionate doesn't mean I'm more hopeful,” Wilson said, according to The Washington Post. “My compassion comes from knowing these people are still so vulnerable to social programming. But the social forces that make racism commonplace aren't necessarily going away. Look at what happened in Charlottesville, for example. How did a brand-new generation of white guys get that hateful? They never joined their dad in a lynch mob. They never smelled the burning flesh of a Negro in a town square or lived in Jim Crow America. And yet, they still adopted those hateful attitudes. That doesn't make me hopeful at all.”
This is a heartbreaking reality to face; however, it has always been the case. Racism was never eradicated, it was just more subdued for a while. That is, until President Donald Trump came in and gave racists the green light to be upfront with their hate.
In addition to speaking with The Washington Post, Wilson held a TEDx talk in which he further discussed his experience. Hear more of what he had to say in the video below.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Reuters, JOSHUA ROBERTS