Jewish writers and other public figures have gotten used to seeing their names pop up in forums and Twitter mentions with three parentheses around their name. Yair Rosenberg, a senior writer at the Jewish magazine Tablet, might see something like this: (((Yair Rosenberg))) or (((Rosenberg))). Rosenberg has known for years that those parentheses are a secret code used by neo-Nazis to call out that Rosenberg is Jewish—a signal that he's being watched or at least noticed by people who hate him.
"They want Jews to know they're going after them," Rosenberg told me. "It's a signal to Jews and it's a signal to people in their own group. It's not that they want it to be a secret, but they don't want to explain it to people. It's a wink and a nod to other neo-Nazis and to Jews."
Rosenberg says the parentheses show up in seemingly innocuous Reddit posts, on alt-right blogs, in emails from readers, and all the time in his Twitter mentions.
(((Echoes))), as the signaling method is called, got a lot of attention Thursday when Mic.com reported that neo-Nazis are using a Google Chrome extension called Coincidence Detector that automatically adds parentheses around a specific list of about 100 Jewish names. Mic traced the origins of (((Echoes))) to at least as far back as 2014.
Thursday evening, Rosenberg and other prominent Jewish writers started taking back that signal in an effort to raise awareness about what neo-Nazis are doing, to declare publicly that they are indeed Jewish, and to troll the increasingly prominent alt-right. Rosenberg's Twitter name is now (((Yair Rosenberg))); Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg's name is now (((Goldberg))); Foreign Policy fellow Jamie Kirchick is (((Jamie Kirchick))) and so on.
Thanks to everyone participating in this act of (((cultural appropriation))). Since the culture in question is Nazi, it's permissible.
— (((Goldberg))) (@JeffreyGoldberg) June 3, 2016
After Rosenberg and Goldberg tweeted about changing their names, dozens of other people on Twitter followed suit. Now, a lot of non-Jews have started adding parentheses around their names as an act of solidarity (and to confuse and mock Neo-Nazis). Rosenberg has a long history of trolling the alt-right, and he says he thinks that mocking these people is better than engaging with them directly.
"A lot of times my strategy for dealing with trolls is to just ignore it, but sometimes you can mess with them back and make fun of them and in doing that, you raise awareness," Rosenberg said. "If you mock them publicly, you make people laugh at them, and that annoys them, but at the same time you're making people aware that this is out there."
"If you just scream about something and get angry, the only people who see it is people who already agree with you," he added. "No doubt it's concerning [that neo-Nazis are doing this], but our parentheses are a fun way to mess with the Nazis and not be super negative about it or depress people."