It's easy to get into Confederate Facebook. Just go to a news article about a police shooting and scroll down to the comments. Most comment sections are linked to people's Facebook accounts, so you just have to find someone with a Confederate flag avatar expressing a racist opinion, click through to his or her profile, and select "Add Friend."
Everyone in Confederate Facebook seems to accept friend requests from strangers, which I guess can be chalked up to Southern hospitality. Facebook's friend recommendations will quickly turn into an endless, mesmerizing stream of folks with names like Prepper Jeff and Amanda Rebel. Just keep clicking "Add Friend" over and over, and before you know it your Timeline is full of racist Minions memes and pictures of Looney Toons who are somehow mad at Al Sharpton.
Predictably, many Confederate Facebook posts consist of proud displays of the Confederate flag—on tattoos, in wedding photos, flanked by flaming blue skulls, airbrushed onto truck windows, whatever. But then you can find people freaking out at the possibility that Obama might arrest them for posting racist stuff on Facebook, or getting mad that people are calling them racist.
I was beginning to feel stupefied and distressed, and my friends were complaining that all their recommended friends now had Confederate flag avatars as well. While some of the Confederate Facebookers were plum happy to have me on board—check out this weirdly adorable picture of a bowing horse someone sent me!—others, like the guy who told me to "run off and join ISIS," were not.
Just when I was about to unfriend them all and start drinking, I was invited to a private group of about 2,500 called "confederate pride, heritage not hate."
The group consisted of more of the same good ol' boy palaver about Southern Pride and Confederate Lives Matter, peppered with tirades from a handful of out-and-out Stormfront white supremacists and neo-Nazis. I added a few dozen of my friends, who promptly started trolling the shit out of the group.
It should go without saying that the folks who have built their identities around a 150-year-old treasonous cause to keep human beings in bondage are not very good at the internet. The group's creator had no idea how to lock the banner image at the top of the page, so friends of mine added their own.
Then there was a guy named Chris, whom we accused of being a Northerner in disguise.
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Chris got so riled up by the insinuation that he was from the North that not only did he post pictures of all of the (non-Northern) flags on his truck, he also posted his phone number and requested that an admin call him to vet his Southern bona fides.
Our friend Lowen dialed Chris to investigate. He claimed to be a guy named Roger who'd heard Chris was a Northerner who'd joined the group to troll. Understandably, Chris was upset about this, and claimed to have never left the state of Texas. "Roger" told Chris he'd heard that he had the state flag of "Maine or New York" on his truck, that he worked at Dunkin' Donuts, and that he'd voted for Obama "both times from a polling station in Brooklyn, New York." Chris was very upset that people were spreading these vicious rumors about him, and told "Roger" that his "friends in high places" would slap the trolls with prison time for their actions.
All of these shenanigans were too much to keep up with for the group's lone, overworked admin, who did not seem to know how to stop the banner from changing or ban the trolls, whose numbers were starting to rival those of the Rebels. So, in the style of Shock Doctrine, I swooped in and offered to clean up this manufactured crisis. The hapless admin fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
Once I was in charge of the group I decided to take it in a new direction. The Confederate flag, I felt, had become a toxic brand. And all this South-rising-again business was a sure loser with swing voters. A top-down rebranding was in order. After rigorous focus-group testing, I decided to align the group with LGBT rights, Michelle Obama, Judaism, miscegenation, and the victorious Juche ideology. And that is how "confederate pride, heritage not hate" became "LGBT Southerners for Michelle Obama and Judaism."
Juggler also gave the group a custom URL to reflect the new focus, which, per Facebook policy, can never be changed.
Sadly not everyone was happy about these alterations. Users demanded to know what the "quier stuff" was about and threatened to revoke their membership. So I made 50 of my friends administrators to help enforce the transition.
Things went smoothly for the first couple hours. While my friends and I gabbed about our shabbat plans and different-race partners, I thought I had finally found a place in Confederate Facebook where I fit in. Then the original admim returned and started undoing our work.
This kicked off a vicious power struggle among the group's dozens of admins, over the course of which the group and its purpose went through dozens of changes, not all of which were well received.
The group hemorrhaged followers throughout the day until, at last, Facebook took it down. I still have my dozens of Confederate Facebook friends, but even they are starting to drift away now that I have taken to posting "I'm an illegal immigrant" on all of their status updates, which ended in one guy threatening to report me to Homeland Security.
Yet somewhere online the South lives on in groups with names like "strait souther confederate nation," Southern Pride, Pride of the Southern Heritage, and probably thousands of combinations of the terms "Southern," "Confederate," "pride," "heritage," "NOT HATE," "DEFINITELY NOT RACIST," and "flag."
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Thanks to all who contributed to this piece.