On Tuesday, the New York Times editorial board announced the hiring of Quinn Norton, a technology reporter and commentator who has written in praise of a German Nazi, defended the reputation of neo-Nazi hacker Weev, and used racial and homophobic slurs on social media.
After reporters and activists dug up Norton’s older work, a Times spokesperson told HuffPost, “We are very concerned about the tweets that are circulating today and are looking into the matter.” After several hours of silence—she was apparently at a movie—Norton addressed the burgeoning controversy by seemingly indicating that she would not be taking the job as the paper’s lead opinion writer on the power, culture, and consequences of technology after all, making sure to scold the hoi polloi while she was at it.
(Attempts to reach Norton for comment were unsuccessful.)
What is this even about? Where to start. In 2013, Norton published an essay on Medium that opened thusly: “John Rabe is my personal patron saint of moral complexity.” Rabe was a German and a proud member of the Nazi Party; the essay is about the moral complexity of life, or something. The lesson that Norton takes from Rabe’s life is, “The best you can do is be quiet in the face of the terrible contradictions, and try to figure out what the next right thing is.” That may not be the lesson that most people take from the Holocaust, and she would surely say that this is a caricature of an irreducibly complex point, but here we are.
The next year, Norton defended her friend Weev, née Andrew Auernheimer, as “just an asshole” after he revealed his new swastika tattoo in a blog post for The Daily Stormer, a prominent white-supremacist website. In addition to showing off his new ink, that post, written following Auernheimer’s release from prison, enumerated some of his racist ideas:
I’ve been a long-time critic of Judaism, black culture, immigration to Western nations, and the media’s constant stream of anti-white propaganda. Judge Wigenton was as black as they come. The prosecutor, Zach Intrater, was a Brooklyn Jew from an old money New York family.
The whole time a yarmulke-covered audience of Jewry stared at me from the pews of the courtroom. My prosecutor invited his whole synagogue to spectate.
They took control of our systems of finance and law. They hyperinflated our currency. They corrupted our daughters and demanded they subject themselves to sex work to feed their families. These are a people that have made themselves a problem in every nation they occupy, including ours. What’s saddest is that we are the enablers of this problem. The Jews abused our compassion to build an empire of wickedness the likes the world has never seen.
(You get the idea.)
People were upset, understandably enough, especially given that Auernheimer’s public persona up that point had largely been that of the puckish Internet troll, thanks in no small part thanks to pieces like one Norton had written a few months earlier. (“He is a witch for this century, a perfect reprobate bearer of our sins and our ignorance.”)
In defending his Daily Stormer post, Norton was dismissive of her friend’s critics, even arguing, somewhat bafflingly, that people who eat meat are more destructive than white pride.
(Auernheimer currently works as systems administrator for The Daily Stormer, handling contributions donated to the site and its founder, Andrew Anglin, largely via Bitcoin.)
For her own part, Norton’s views on white supremacist and fascist ideologies are somewhat muddled. She has conceded, for example, that she has been friends with “various neo-Nazis in my time,” but also made clear that “I have never agreed with them.” Spending so much time with her neo-Nazi friends appears, one way or the other, to have rubbed off:
Norton appears to have been in contact with Auernheimer at least as recently as November 2017. Every time she talks to her friend, she wrote, she reminds him that his commitment to Nazism is “dumb.”
To be fair, Norton’s new (or would-be new?) colleagues are not much more sophisticated in their analysis of social phenomena like white supremacy, fascism, and capitalism, much less the material connections between them; the function of institutions like the New York Times editorial board and the Opinion section being not so much to interrogate the status quo as to bolster it, there’s probably even something to be said for it representing the true diversity of elite American political opinion by hiring an outright Nazi sympathizer, even if one who feels compelled to lightly chastise them when they express their outré opinions.
In any case, we applaud the New York Times for its (temporary?) commitment to exploring the rich ideological diversity of the American right and look forward to a column gently disapproving of both neo-Nazis killing people and disruptive student protests against such killings, whether or not it’s written by the person who tweeted this:
Update, 10:25 p.m.: In a statement, editorial page editor James Bennet confirmed that Norton would not be working at the Times: “Despite our review of Quinn Norton’s work and our conversations with her previous employers, this was new information to us. Based on it, we’ve decided to go our separate ways.”