Rooting Out Racism in Right Field

Posted by Jordan Stoddard on

 

The other night I was skimming through the “Who to Follow” section of Twitter, checking out profiles of Michigan soccer personalities and following interesting and active accounts; trying to grow my brand, if you will. In my list of suggested contacts were the handles of several individuals whose profile pictures and names I recognized from their involvement in a local supporters group. As a rule of thumb, I like to take a look at the profile being recommended before I follow; just to make sure it’s active and relevant to Tuebor Football Company.

When I clicked on one particular profile, I was met with just what I expected: a handful of recent soccer tweets and retweets; same as the last guy. However, I was dissappointed to find that the media section of the profile publicly boasted a photo of this particular supporter proudly sporting a hate symbol on his shirt
. What I saw deeply disgusted me, and motivated me to see just how much of this garbage was public. I spent the rest of the night browsing public social media, and managed to easily amass a grim collection of evidence against two supporters.

When weighing my options about what to do with this cache of controversey, I couldn’t help but think back to the latest edition of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, where his main story concerned the topic of public shaming. Public shaming has become omnipresent in our news and social media; and thanks to the internet, putting someone on blast has never been easier. In the words of John Oliver, we're in a, “A Golden Age of Internet Shaming." In the story, he does a fantastic interview with the most slut-shamed woman of the 20th century, Monica Lewinsky. They discuss the ramifications of public shaming, and how misplaced outrage can ruin people’s lives. They make an excellent case against this kind of public outrage, and I totally agree that we all need to do a better job of policing our outrage with logic and humanity.

When prefacing the interview, however, Oliver does bring up some important exceptions, which I also endorse.

"You may be expecting me to say that all public shaming is bad, but I don’t actually think that. When it’s well-directed, a lot of good can come out of it. If someone is caught doing something racist or a powerful person is behaving badly, it can increase accountability.”

So with the encouragement of Mr. Oliver, and more importantly several resources for confronting racism and being an ally, I decided it’s important for me to speak up when I see hate in the Michigan soccer community. A powerful duo in the Lansing soccer community was just caught doing something racist, and I'm hoping this can increase accountability. So here it goes...


Tonight’s main story concerns the Assembly Line Supporters Group (ALSG), the independent supporters of one of Michigan’s professional soccer teams, Lansing Ignite FC. In the run-up to their inaugural USL League One campaign, the Assembly Line has quickly become one of the most active supporters groups in both their league and the state of Michigan. One way they’ve been engaging with the public is through a well-produced series of interviews with their members. The pieces serve as a way to introduce each member of the group to the community, humanize the organization, and inspire others to join. The interviews with Assembly Line President Eric Gibbs and his buddy Alex Hirschmann are great examples of the series. These two friends share a lot: similar roots, a love for soccer and the outdoors, even a passion for the same soccer teams, Minnesota United and Lansing Ignite. Unfortunately, what these interviews will not tell you is that they also share a history of hate speech and promoting hate symbols on social media.

Alex Hirschman's Twitter profile was the account I first stumbled across. This account is very bare, but even so, contained multiple uses of racial slurs, a like racist of material, and the celebration of a recognized hate symbol. Alex's profile also contains tweets to a suspended account with the handle @GibbsEric where they exchange comments on the trial of Trayvon Martin killer, George Zimmerman. This is what clued me in that Gibbs may also have a questionable history of public posts. Both The Assembly Line and Lansing Ignite have promoted Hirschman's profile through tweets and retweets of his interview, but seemingly no one stopped to actually look through the content he'd posted on the profile. Assembly Line SG, Lansing Ignite FC, and USL League One have all used photos of Hirschman and Gibbs in their promotional material. 


Assembly Line President, Eric Gibbs, is one of the most prominent voices of the Lansing supporters group. He runs the ALSG's social media, organizes events, and is even the creator and co-moderator of the r/LIFC subreddit. Starting in January 2019, the Lansing Ignite front office has used the account u/LansingIgnite to engage with the Reddit soccer community. In the past three months, u/LansingIgnite has regularly contributed to r/LIFC, the community created by Gibbs. In that time, presumably, no one from the team thought to verify that the creator of their subreddit was exhibiting behavior becoming of their SG President and unofficial club ambassador. If they had, they would've seen that Gibbs has a rich history of tasteless posts and conspiracy theories that could be damaging to the reputation of their club.

One click on his username u/Agent64943 and you're privy to all the posting that Eric has done on Reddit over the last few years. One of the subreddits that he's been most active in during that period is r/the_donald. If you're not familiar with it, this community sprang up in 2015 in support of "God-Emperor" candidate, Donald Trump. In the 3 years since, r/the_donald has become THE bastion of Reddit conspiracy theories and content that is racist, misogynistic, islamophobic, and antisemitic. There have been countless calls for the community to be banned, but no action has been taken, even in the wake the subreddit's support of the recent Christchurch, New Zealand shooter. Below are several examples of the most disgusting posts Gibbs made on r/the_donald. Particular attention should be paid to several posts he shared containing the comic Pepe the Frog, which was a recognized hate symbol when he disseminated it.  

Gibbs repeatedly posted conspiracy theories and called for harassment of public figures; below are several examples of this. He also has a large array of posts promoting the hashtag #SpiritCooking. This conspiracy theory stems from the leaked Podesta emails, and the idea that the Clintons and other prominent liberal figures regularly practice satanic rituals. Alt-Right conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich are mostly responsible for the perpetuation of this one, but Eric Gibbs did his fair share as well.

 

 

In one post, Gibbs leaks the private mobile number to encourage harassment of former Clinton staffer, and Kalamazoo native, Huma Abedin. He later removed the post after it was pointed out he could be banned for the action. Later, Gibbs made several posts encouraging members of r/the_donald to harrass liberal celebrities after the 2016 Election. His last post to the subreddit was 8 months ago, but he was very active in the comments as recent as the Mid-Terms, four months ago.

So with all that said, here’s what we know:

  • Assembly Line SG President Eric Gibbs and Alex Hirschman have a history of racist social media posts dating back to 2013. They are not guilty of any crime that I’m aware of, nor were they representing the club when they made the posts, but they may still be in violation of Lansing Ignite’s code of conduct.
  • Hirschman and Gibbs are both 2009 graduates of Portland High School, which means they were well into their twenties when they made these posts, beyond old enough to know better.
  • As far as I know they were never active members in Lansing United’s supporters group, The Ransom.
  • The Lansing Ignite front office and other Assembly Line members have frequently interacted with Gibbs and Hirschmann in person and on social media since they announced the club. This presumably created several opportunities for LIFC staff or other ALSG members to catch this and nip this in the bud, but they were missed.
  • This is only aimed two specific supporters, not the rest of the Lansing pro soccer community. I do not believe that the Assembly Line SG itself, nor Lansing Ignite FC, is racist, even if they did share this photo of Lansing’s own dollar store Alex Jones…Both groups aim to support an inclusive and diverse soccer community in Lansing. Yes, they collectively goofed, but they’re going to need encouragement to take a stand against racism in Michigan soccer. Please be professional and respectful when addressing this issue.