Happy Friday. We need to talk.
We end the week with breaking news that knocked my planned essay off the docket, but I believe is worth flagging. I’m referring to the arrest of Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old air national guardsman who allegedly leaked a trove of classified U.S. intelligence documents that revealed Ukraine military secrets and other information damaging to the U.S.
You can read more about the leaked documents here and the possible ramifications here and here.
But for this column, I’d like to focus on the active community of acolytes that Teixeira led online and the persona of authority—reinforced by a Christian fervor and his delight in racist memes—he adopted to justify his alleged crime.
Teixeira allegedly leaked the information over several months to a small, invitation-only clubhouse of teens and young men on Discord, an online platform popular with gamers. “United by their mutual love of guns, military gear and God,” as the Washington Post says in this must-read piece, Teixeira began impressing his followers with the occasional recreation of classified intelligence that he claimed to have garnered by virtue of an unnamed job in the military. Those posts became photos of authentic documents, and the trickle became a torrent.
Teixeira, referred to by the men as “OG,” became a dazzling and demanding father figure to his Discord squad. “He’s fit. He’s strong. He’s armed. He’s trained. Just about everything you can expect out of some sort of crazy movie,” one group member told the Post.
But Teixeira also embraced troubling elements of Christian (self-described) white supremacist organizing, even as one member tried to reassure reporters that it wasn’t “a fascist recruiting server.”
Well, maybe it was. One nugget from the piece:
“In a video seen by The Post, the man who the member said is OG stands at a shooting range, wearing safety glasses and ear coverings and holding a large rifle. He yells a series of racial and antisemitic slurs into the camera, then fires several rounds at a target.”
Teixeira also trafficked in textbook white supremacist conspiracies, specifically that race-related hate crimes are all government plots.
“He claimed, according to the members, that the government knew in advance that a white supremacist intended to go on a shooting rampage at a Buffalo supermarket in May 2022…[he] said federal law enforcement officials let the killings proceed so they could argue for increased funding.”
As news of his arrest spread, Jeff Sharlet, the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and a national authority on the politics of religion, offered analysis on Twitter.
“The kid [quoted in the Post story] didn’t want it to be fascist recruitment, even as he describes every textbook element of such recruitment, a perverse & precise case of conspiracism, ‘purity,’ violence, racism, & antisemitism, and masculine ‘fitness,'” he wrote.
Sharlet has it exactly right. While the full damage from the leaks remains to be seen, the societal rot that allowed Teixeira—who comfortably traffics in a racist interpretation of faith—to become an attractive figure to impressionable young men continues to fester.
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.
Trans performers at a crossroads
As school boards and lawmakers roll back trans rights, the trans creative class—authors, performers, and the like who have shaped the conversation around inclusion and acceptance—faces erasure. “The vast majority of Americans say they’ve never met a transgender person in real life. So all they know about what it means to be a transgender person is what they’ve learned from the media,” says Nick Adams, vice president of the GLAAD Media Institute.
Clarence Thomas in the hot seat
Where to begin? His relationship with longtime pal Harlan Crow, a billionaire and collector of Nazi “memorabilia,” has come under scrutiny after Thomas secretly accepted and failed to disclose decades of luxury vacations. Now, it appears that Crow bought properties from him and renovated them. Thomas has not reported any of this activity or income. That could be a serious problem.
The trouble with A.I.
Recently, the Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit that works to reduce existential risks to humanity, published a high-profile, open letter calling for a pause on A.I. development until the risks are assessed. Computer scientist and ethicist Timnit Gebru published an open letter of her own, arguing that it’s now too late. “Society should build technology that helps us, rather than simply adjusting to whatever technology comes our way,” she tells Politico.
Cheesesteaks are big in Lahore, and I’m here for it
That this story comes from Philadelphia magazine is even more delicious; it’s the incredible true tale of the luck, geopolitics, immigration trends, and unparalleled deliciousness that helped one of the great American sandwiches become a culinary sensation across Pakistan. Writer Kunwar Khuldune Shahid tracked down Mazhar Hussain, a Lahore, Pakistan-based chef who was shown a video of a sandwich he had never tasted before—a cheesy, meat-filled delight that comes from a magical place called Philadelphia. Hussain straightened his apron and got to work. “I saw the amount of meat and cheese being put in it and knew instantaneously that it is going to be a hit.”
Jennefer Witter, the CEO and founder of communications firm The Boreland Group, asks—once again—what’s in a name. More specifically, what’s in a white-sounding name? She and I both have one, and it can get awkward. She tells the story of an in-person meeting with an executive she'd only spoken to via phone previously. “I’m Jennefer,” she said, interrupting him as he talked to her white assistant. “He was visibly taken aback, assuming from our conversations that I was white.”
But it can also be a serious barrier to success.
She cites a wealth of valuable data, including a recent Nature study of 44,000 participants that showed that race perceptions drawn from names alone lead to “racial treatment effects” and biased ideas about income, achievement, and citizenship. It’s a gateway bias that derails a million dreams. "What is essential is for individuals to examine their own proclivities for bias—and name assumption is just the beginning—and educate themselves in anti-racist training and programs," she says.
"I think all white men should have a Black man as a slave or Black woman as a slave, you know. There’s nothing wrong with skin color. It’s just that they’re lower class than us white people."
—Leaked audio of Andrew Edwards, a conservative politician from Pembrokeshire county council in Wales. He is currently on leave and under investigation.