FIGHTING THE FRONT
I'm pretty sure I know what Dr. King would think of a protest against an anti-immigrant political party, but if you asked me what he'd say after the thing devolved into a virtual conflagaration of mini-guns, cursing Frenchmen, and exploding pigs, well, there I'm somewhat at a loss.
The first night I arrived at the protest against the Second Life headquarters of Front National, the far right French political party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, it was ringed on all sides by protesters with signs to wave and statements to distribute. By the second night I came (this was late last week), the conflict had become more literal, for many Residents had armed themselves. Multi-colored explosions and constant gunfire shredded the air of Porcupine, a shopping island which FN had inexplicably picked for the site of their virtual world HQ, in December.
The server lag from so many people throwing up so much gunfire slows the battle to a slow motion firefight, but I manage to wade up to TonTonCarton Yue, who is strafing the FN building with a chaingun usually associated with an AC-130 gunship, than a political protest.
"Can I ask," I begin, "why are you shooting?"
"Because I hate Front National," Yue tells me simply.
"If you use violence, doesn't that reduce you to their level?"
"I don't know," Yue answers, after awhile. "I don't care. FN equals violence."
And having offered that axiom, he returns his aim to the enemy, and unleashes another barrage.
It didn't begin like this. After Front National took root, at least two groups, antiFN and SL Left Unity, rose to oppose them. They had placards and T-shirts, and billboards on the land of sympathetic neighbors, all making plain that FN's arrival in Second Life was distinctly unwelcome. For their part, Front National members-- mostly muscular young men dressed in white T-shirts with the FN logo-- stood inside their headquarters, impassively watching the outrage build outside.
"This nationalist idea that Front National is advocating is something that has spread all over Europa like a virus," Ichi Jaehun tells me. "It's [as if] the history of the 20th century has already been forgotten. It is time to say enough!"
Her concern is not alarmist. On a US spectrum, Front National is perhaps one or two notches to the right of Pat Buchanan, but unlike Buchanan (who garnered just half of one percent in the 2000 Presidential election), Le Pen's political base is far more substantial.
In France's 2002 election, Le Pen forced a runoff against President Jacques Chirac, and with his belligerent nationalism and calls to forcibly exile non-European immigrants from the country, garnered a popular vote of 18%. (An 18%, it's worth noting, who were evidently unconcerned or agreeable to Le Pen's grotesque dismissal of Nazi gas chambers as a mere "detail of history".)
Another Presidential election looms this June, and the fear is recent immigrant riots in Paris and other woes will bring more French to the flame-shaped banner of Front National. When they arrived in-world, an official press release boasted that FN was "the first political party in France and in Europe to open an official and permanent representation in Second Life"-- an evident move to position themselves as a technologically savvy, forward-thinking party of a new Europe. (Their version of Europe, that is.)
But the SL Left Unity group had press releases of their own. "We have acquired land next to the FN office," one announced, "and will be manning a protest there until FN go or are ejected. Wherever fascists are we will ensure they get no peace to corrupt and lie to decent people."
The announcement went on: "The whole idea of a 'race hate' group is in direct violation of Linden Lab's own Terms of Service, and if the rules are being read to say they aren’t in violation, then Lindens need to look at the rules again." (This is an apparent reference, by the way, not to the TOS, but Linden's Community Standards, which forbid "use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident's race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation". But while Front National may have run counter to those standards in the real world, it's uncertain if their SL chapter ever has.)
Besides such organized oppostion, at least some resistance was impromptu.
"I find the FN in type 'francais' in the Search mode and I was revolting by this," a French Resident named Zok Greene tells me in fractured but eager English, explaining why he'd joined the protest. "And more because it's the presidential election in France in Juin and Le Pen was 'presenté'... and why?!! You can't try to get vote like this, it's a game!"
It's unclear when the shooting started, or who fired the first shot (several witnesses claim FN security forces assaulted them with "push guns", weapons capable of flinging a Resident across the island like a ragdoll), but in the final days of last week, at least, the assault raged from both sides. It's also unclear if the anti-FN protest groups were involved in the escalating violence-- Officers with both antiFn and SLLU haven't replied to my Instant Message-- though by personal observation, at least a few members seemed to be. Since Porcupine is not a damage-enabled area, weapons there have about as much stopping power as pointing one's finger at the computer screen and saying Bang Bang. But get enough projectiles flying, and server lag is bound to ground anyone's use of the area to a halt. (Or in my case, cause the Second Life viewer to crash.)
And so it raged, a ponderous and dreamlike conflict of machine guns, sirens, police cars, "rez cages" (which can trap an unsuspecting avatar), explosions, and flickering holograms of marijuana leaves and kids' TV characters, and more. By California time, the battles often culminated at 2am, 3am, and even later into the small hours of the American clock, when Residents in Europe are most active. So amid the exchange of salvos, the chat log was choked over with pro and anti-Le Pen curses, most in French. And when the lag was not too overwhelming to stream audio, the whole fracas was accompanied by bursts of European techno.
One enterprising insurrectionist created a pig grenade, fixed it to a flying saucer, and sent several whirling into Front National headquarters, where they'd explode in a starburst of porcine shrapnel. A few native English speakers joined the fray, though at least one missed the point in either direction, unhelpfully shouting "The French stink! Get out of Second Life!" and the like amid the conflict.
And so, while America slept, the battle against extremism raged on thus in Europe.
By last weekend, whole sections of the FN office were gone, apparently lost to lag or sabotage, their banners and posters floating in mid-air. And FN members seemed notably absent, too. Frenchman Zok Greene pronounced himself satisfied with that turn of events.
"Would it have been better to debate their ideas
or even just ignore them?" I ask him. "Now they can claim they were 'suppressed'
and their free speech was infringed."
"No," Zok insists. "With this persons we can't debate or ignored. We can't because it's not acceptable."
By today, the headquarters of Front National has entirely disappeared from Porcupine; in its place, a tiny casino has sprung up overnight, and is already receiving customers.
In honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., a special
sun is made to arc across the grid of Second Life today. If you look close
enough, you'll see it's inset with the face of the man who was so untimely cut down,
when far too much of his work remained. In his country, the world beyond, and, perhaps, in worlds he never could have imagined.
And in this way, Dr. King literally shines down on an empty field, where once the forces of division made a bid to establish themselves. But I wonder what he'd make of the subsequent reaction, from high-minded words and protest, to decidedly violent uncivil disobedience. (Like intolerance, most physical attacks are also prohibited by Second Life's Community Standards.)
As for Front National, though they're gone from the land of Porcupine, they claim to be unphased.
"They're a bunch of losers," FN Officer Wolfram Hayek tells me grinning, when I ask about the protesters. "We're gonna tighten security and come back."