When word got out about the attacks on Paris last week, most of us were thrown into a state of shock. It sits on a level of tragedy so steep that it threw us into an all-encompassing period of disbelief, mourning, and desire to find some shelter. Deep down, I knew it was only a matter of time before Paris was used as a jumping-off point for slapdash policies and fear-mongering about the dreaded “others,” but I still expected the weekend to be calmer than it actually was.
Most of all, I wasn’t expecting an innocent Sikh man to be Photoshopped into a suicide vest and framed as one of the Paris bombers, all because he said a few things about video games.
Yes, video games. Soon after the fact, VICE did some digging and discovered that the doctored photo of Veereen Jubbal originated from a member of an Internet-centric hate group known as GamerGate. Said member took an innocuous, positive selfie from Veerender’s Twitter feed, drew on the iPad to make it look like a Koran, edited in a suicide vest, then inserted a dildo into the bathtub for good measure. This editing happened way back in August, but as soon as the Paris attacks occurred, GamerGate’s members began tweeting and sharing it as if it were a legitimate photo of one of the attackers.
The international news outlets that then put the photo on the front of newspapers and stories should have taken a closer look: the outlet inlaid with the mirror is of the North American variety, and at least one of the doctored elements appears to be floating in midair. But the newsrooms weren’t the ones who made the image in the first place, and they weren’t the ones who shared it again and again whilst knowing the image was a lie. The outlets who shared it will doubtlessly print retractions and issue apologies, but the damage is done: Veerender’s smiling face is now associated with the Paris attacks for many people, and the fallout from this will likely follow him for the rest of his life.
Again, the thing that inspired GamerGate to put this young man’s life in danger was video games. Veerender came into the hate group’s crosshairs when he shared his thoughts on a revealed cover for a AAA game called Far Cry 4, expressing concerns that the image of a light-skinned man domineering a Himalayan over a religious statue looked racist. This, along with being a non-white individual himself, was enough of an offense for GamerGate to make him their life-long enemy, filling his feed with death threats, racial epithets and his face superimposed over images from the World Trade Center bombings.
This heinous behavior toward Veerender never ended, even after he left his account for a few months. See, once GamerGate decides you’re a target (especially if you’re a target that happens to be anything other than a straight, white male), they will do anything to make you feel unsafe and unwelcome. They will publish your address and phone number for the world to see (along with your parents and relatives, just to be thorough). They’ll make bomb threats in venues where you’re scheduled to speak publicly, stalk you in-person, send SWAT teams to your home under false pretenses of hostages being held… if there’s a way they can think of conceivably hurting you, they’ll try it. And then they’ll claim that the group itself wasn’t responsible, claiming it was just a sole instigator in one breath while filling your social media feeds with anti-Semitic images in the other.
“Terrorist” isn’t a word I use lightly, but to be clear, the group more than fits the bill. GamerGate doesn’t like people, especially women, attempting to critique their favorite pastime, and they will go to extraordinarily horrific places in order to silence differing opinions. Their goal is to scare people into fleeing from social media and games critique entirely: thanks to Twitter’s lackadaisical safety standards (many of the big-named abusers still have their accounts open, or just make new ones and continue harassing) and gaming media’s initial reticence to condemn these scumbags, they’re given free reign to threaten whoever they want with zero tangible consequences.
Again, just to be clear, this is all over video games. To these people, suggesting that a virtual toy’s portrayal of other cultures might not be great is enough to warrant all these actions.
Have I been targeted before? You bet! I’ve had my words taken out of context and shared by unpleasant individuals who have turned GamerGate into their own little business, their time to shine. It doesn’t matter if I block them: I’m on their “lists”, and if I condemn one dumb thing in a game or rush to the defense of another person under fire, they’ll find a way to screenshot my tweets and share them amongst their venomous followers.
But in all honesty, I have it easy. I can’t help but notice the abuse others around me receive from GamerGate tends to multiply when those attacked happen to have a different gender or skin color. I’ve seen snippets of what my marginalized geek friends have dealt with when GamerGate targeted them, and it is nothing short of despicable. It’s almost as if this group proclaiming to protect gamers mostly attempts to “protect” them by going after the same groups targeted by skinheads, transphobes and other assorted bigots!
But even I thought they would be above this. I can’t imagine a heart cruel enough to watch what happened in Paris and decide that this would be the perfect opportunity to get back at a brown guy who holds a different opinion on video games. I can’t imagine a human evil enough to aggressively share doctored images, knowing full well that said images are simultaneously endangering this young Sikh’s life and further encouraging blind hatred toward people of color. I can’t imagine a journalist so wholly irresponsible, callous and awful that he would use the opportunity to pull a snide “Now who’s calling who a terrorist?” remark.
I never had to imagine any of this, because it was occurring on my Twitter feed for the whole weekend.
I have spoken with Veerender in the past, before all this happened. You would have to search long and hard before you would find someone quite as sweet and inspiring as he is. He preaches on the benefits of a positive mind, how to love your physical appearance, and many other lessons that show an individual wise beyond his years. He loves to passionately argue for Sikh representation in gaming, and dismisses many of his haters with silly Sailor Moon gifs. In many ways, I aspire to be more like him: he embodies so many of the best traits an individual could have.
When this story broke, and when I was initially planning this article, I wasn’t much like him. Inconsolable with anger over this man’s life being endangered, I brainstormed a piece that likely would have flown past the 3,000 word mark, building a timeline that showcased every heinous action GamerGate was responsible for. I wanted to grab handfuls of their dreck and toss them into the word processor, showcasing example after example of how awful they truly are. I wanted to cast all their crimes into the light, and hoped that doing so would somehow make it difficult for them to keep at it without serious repercussions.
Ultimately, such an article would have been counterproductive. I would have subjected every poor reader to GamerGate’s bigoted tweets, and it’s not like other prominent hate groups simply crumble when someone points out that they are, indeed, a hate group (or, at this point in GamerGate’s life, terrorists). Others like VICE and Daily Beast have done a fine job of showing how awful the group is with in-depth, irrefutable proof.
Instead, I set out to explain what happened over the past few days and add my own voice to the crowd stating that what happened to Veerender wasn’t a light-hearted joke, or (as some GamerGaters like to think of it) an appropriate response to being called out for engaging in heinous actions. What happened to Veerender was terrorism, plain and simple, and the sooner social media platforms and governments take real action to curtail this brand of terrorism, the sooner people like Veerender will be much, much safer.
I will end with Veerender’s own words, taken straight from the press release he gave a few days ago.