A generation from now, will American history textbooks place greater emphasis on January 6, 2021, or January 8, 2021? The first was the date of the capitol riots or so-called “insurrection,” the latter that of the deplatforming of then-President Donald Trump from Twitter and Facebook, along with the complete disabling of Parler.
The historiographical battle lines are being drawn as we speak. In one camp sits the school of thought that traces a line from the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, or the Atlanta Summer Olympics of 1996, straight through to far-right domestic terrorism on January 6. The other camp tracks the incremental growth of cancel culture, which started as a fringe phenomenon of America’s most liberal universities and colleges, and whose iceberg tip emerged on the horizon when Twitter removed the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story from its platform, before the great scuttle of January 8, when Trump, Giuliani, Parler, and others sank into the depths and were digitally disappeared.
The answer to the question of whether January 6 or January 8 becomes the footnote within the larger metanarrative of America’s national consciousness, and thus our self-understanding as a people, may hinge upon the success or failure of RightForge, or companies like it. The co-founders of RightForge, along with Sean Patrick Tario, Martín Avila and Aron Wagner have been skeptics of Big Tech’s dominance of America’s economy and media landscape for some time. Avila and Wagner, whom I interviewed for this article, are both autodidacts of sorts. Avila, a self-taught computer programmer, started a website development company in high school and has since moved seamlessly in and between the worlds of tech and politics—particularly where the two intersect. He worked for the Ron Paul Presidential Campaign of 2008 as well as the successful election of Senator Mike Lee. Aron Wagner is an Iraq war veteran and published author who has written books on the tech industry. Neither is a college graduate, which tells me not that they are uneducated but that both men are willing to buck conventional wisdom in pursuit of their individual definitions of success.
Martín is the more talkative of the two, but both of them made clear to me their intimate familiarity and comfort with the language of American liberty and the constitutional tradition. In our hour-long interview the pair reiterated time and again that the internet was both erected upon the philosophical edifice of our founding fathers and, for that edifice to survive, would have to be rebuilt from the ground up—effectively from scratch.
Avila was in D.C. on the day of the riots. “What happened that day was deeply troubling,” Avila readily acknowledged, “but the gravity of the other problem,” Big Tech’s ease at deplatforming ideological nonconformists, “is much bigger in my mind.”
The idea behind RightForge is “elegant in its simplicity, but enormous in its impact and scope,” Avila and Wagner explained to me. The internet is so immersed in our everyday lives that it has become the proverbial water we fish swim in. What Amazon, Google, and Apple did to Trump and Parler is, in effect, to draw attention to the wizard(s) behind the curtain–the stuff of which the water in the fishbowl is made. Websites and applications rely on separate components and providers in order to function: from the servers in the data centers, both of which actually occupy physical spaces in the U.S. and around the globe; to the code and applications that live on those servers; to the URL that directs people to those servers and applications; and the ISPs that connect everything together. If any one of these providers decides to cancel you—the way Trump was cancelled, Parler was cancelled, or Ryan T. Anderson, author of When Harry Became Sally,was cancelled—your life on the world wide web is effectively finished.
This is where RightForge comes in. RightForge owns and operates the hard infrastructure of the web, the “backbone,” to use Avila’s words, that will support and expand what will become essentially a second internet, an internet free from interference and censorship by the self-appointed woke internet custodians of the truth of the Big Tech world. RightForge offers “migration services,” which means the technology to migrate your company’s web presence off of established platforms before they can deplatform you. Alternatively, RightForge also provides what are in essence insurance policies against cancel culture: website cloning and data backup, refreshed at intervals of the client’s choosing, in the event the company in question is deplatformed.
In the emerging parlance of RightForge executive-speak, the company can “re-platform” its clients at the drop of a hat using alternative servers, cloud computing, coding, etc., copied from the ones provided by Amazon, Google, and others. Just say the word, and the cloned website will re-emerge from the abyss of digital oblivion to which Big Tech had condemned it. What they offer is “mission critical infrastructure” that is impervious to cancellation. When I asked Avila and Wagner what would have happened to Parler had RightForge existed at the time and Parler chosen to avail themselves of their services, Avila and Wagner provided me with something of an epiphany for a tech greenhorn like myself: “If Parler had been built off of our infrastructure from the beginning, it would have only had a problem with Google and Apple on the app store but would have stayed alive as a website.” In other words, no dead link when you click.
I told Avila and Wagner that I had no idea what Parler was until I heard of its cancellation, and that when I clicked on the link to the website and nothing happened the feeling was eerie, almost dread-inducing. As Avila pointed out to me, this simultaneously tyrannical and oafish move, coordinated by Apple, Google, and Amazon, was not conjured out of thin air. Such a move is a quotidian occurrence in Chinese cyberspace, where Google, Apple, and others happily do business. Avila agreed when I averred that what happened to Trump and Parler was unprecedented in the annals of American democracy.
“But why,” I asked, “if Google, Amazon, and others are profiting off of data, even data from conservatives, would they cancel someone they’re making a buck off of? Aren’t they worried at least about losing money?”
“They’ve grown so big and so powerful that they are able to walk away from certain markets” if they decide the “circumstances” warrant. According to Avila, the groupthink and ideological monoculture of the tech bubble has reached astronomical heights of arrogance. “They didn’t think we’d be having these discussions after they did what they did….They don’t respect or understand freedom, or what it means to be somebody in Iowa or Missouri who wants to express themselves….As smart as they are, they don’t understand the world. They think they run the world but they don’t.”
In one of his few interjections in our interview, Wagner explained to me that he actually thinks the days of Big Tech are numbered and that a whole new internet, a second internet, is on the cusp of arrival. “Right now, we’re talking about the old internet. But who knows what the future will look like. Tesla wasn’t around that long ago, and it reshaped the auto industry.” He also mentions SpaceX and makes clear that instead of an internet dominated by “shadow algorithms” which attempt to herd and divide us like cattle, the second internet will be “simpler, cleaner, and freer…with the ability of entrepreneurs to freely engage in and build the future.” That, he said “is the internet that will win out in the end.” The internet today will go the way of Sears, or RadioShack, or Borders, from hegemons of the market to the ash heap of history.
“We’re all staring down the barrel of the same gun,” Avila explains to me. The “we” being conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals who value the “Bill of Rights, the Declaration of the Independence, and the Constitution,” and want the political culture that created the internet to be the same one that sustains it instead of giving life to a Frankenstein-world in which the creature, run by woke elites, devours its creators. Perhaps someday, in the not-too-distant future, the second internet will punch so far above its current weight that the first one will be felled, and then textbooks will speak of how American consumers, along with the inherent dynamism of market forces guided by patriots zealous for their freedom, caused a new birth of liberty in our land.