June 29, 2023 - 7:00am

This week, Breitbart published an article slamming Right-wing journalist and vocal Ron DeSantis supporter Pedro Gonzalez for sending “racist” and “antisemitic” private and group chat messages. 

The messages range from the obviously irreverent, such as: “Is Zuc [Mark Zuckerberg] trying to redpill me on the JQ [Jewish Question]?” to more serious ones, like, “My point is, the antisemitism stuff has gone too far […] I think Holocaust Denial is, in part, a rejection of the myth that Americans need to feel some guilt or responsibility to act because of that event. I don’t deny that Jews were killed by the Nazis, but that Americans should feel any sort of guilt or responsibility for that event.” (Breitbart framed the latter comment as “Holocaust denialism” — a serious charge.) 

While some Right-wing media personalities, such as Jonah Goldberg and Douglas Murray, have shared the story, what has emerged to readers as more disturbing than the content of Gonzalez’s messages is the cynical behaviour behind leaking these screenshots. Essentially, why were these messages offensive enough to screenshot and archive, but not so appalling that the leaker remained friendly with Gonzalez privately, and in a group chat, for the two-year period over which they were sent? It’s almost as if this person was less appalled by Gonzalez’s opinions and more determined to destroy his public image.

What happened to Gonzalez calls to mind a bizarre incident from 2020 when a student at Heritage High School in Virginia posted a four-year-old video of his classmate, Mimi Groves, using a racial slur upon her acceptance to the University of Tennessee. The video resulted in a widespread backlash against Groves, culminating in her removal from the University’s cheerleading team and her withdrawal from the university. But while most people agreed that using a racial slur was wrong, many wondered why her classmate decided to save the video and publish it years later. Was her classmate as “shocked” as he claimed, or was this the act of a petty, vindictive rival? 

In 2020, some on the Right concluded that such behaviour was just a Leftist tactic, and worse, that it had become accepted by the mainstream. Groves wasn’t the first person to be tried in the court of public opinion in this way, and she won’t be the last. But as the incident with Gonzalez shows, this isn’t just a Left-wing phenomenon. It’s a digital one.

UnHerd’s Mary Harrington has theorised that this is because we live an increasingly disembodied existence. Where disputes may have once been settled in person, they have since been replaced by online snipes like these. There are no physical, or even meaningful, in-person social outlets to vent our rage, and so we’re all forced into the role of virtual town gossip. 

The Internet has simultaneously torn down the boundaries of “public” and “private”, while still weaponising the expectation that there are right and wrong ways to behave. Yet it is possible that such cancellation tactics are running out of steam. The reaction to Gonzalez reveals as much: although he is a divisive figure in Right-wing circles, the DeSantis outrider has received an outpouring of support from across the Right. It’s not that Gonzalez’s defenders necessarily support his messages; instead, there’s a growing recognition that we need firmer boundaries between the public and private spheres. 

It doesn’t matter if Gonzalez “meant” what he said in those messages: what matters is that people deserve privacy. We may soon see a day when sharing direct messages is viewed in the same light as revenge porn. Just as the Internet records everyone’s inner monologue, at some point we have to realise that the irreverent or unpolitical ways in which we speak in private aren’t intended to be public.

Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit defaultfriend.substack.com.