Fear and Loathing in a Very Strange Place

Fear and Loathing in a Very Strange Place March 6, 2023


Pinocchio, in color
An 1883 illustration for “Pinocchio,” by Enrico Mazzanti
(Wikimedia Commons public domain)


There is virtual certainty over at the Peterson Obsession Board that Stephen Smoot, going by the pseudonym of “Peter Pan,” is the author and proprietor of the invaluable Neville-Neville Land blog.

But I know for a fact that he is not.  Up until about two years ago (or thereabouts) I myself was unaware of the identity of the blog’s proprietor, although I suspected that it was someone in my circle of acquaintances.  At that point, “Peter Pan” identified Panself to me and, sure enough, it was somebody that I knew.

Over at the Obsession Board, though, a few of the folks are claiming that I claim that the actual person behind “Peter Pan” isn’t Stephen Smoot but, rather, a black Latter-day Saint in Alabama by the name of “Richard Nygren.”

I had never heard of any “Richard Nygren” until this allegation was first leveled, and I still know nothing about any such person.  Until this blog entry, I have never mentioned the name on this blog nor, to the best of my recollection, uttered it anywhere else.  If such a person exists, I know nothing about him except that he is definitely not the author or proprietor of Neville-Neville Land.  (His Scandinavian purported name, Richard Nygren, sounds about as likely to me for a black man in Alabama as Nordberg, the name that, presumably for slightly comic effect, was given to O. J. Simpson in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!)

Inspired, somehow, by my two recent blog entries about anti-Semitism on the FIRM Foundation blog (see here and here), the denizens of the Peterson Obsession Board have been whooping it up about the vast and devastating Smoot-Nygren Scandal.  (They apparently couldn’t care less about anti-Semitism.)

But the “scandal” seems to be entirely of their own making.  And, as of at least today, very literally so.

Because within just the past hour or two, “Richard Nygren” showed up with a pair of comments on my blog.

And this was immediately noticed and announced by an Obsession Board poster who goes by a pseudonym with the initials EWC.  He pronounced it very “convenient” for me and my supposed co-conspirators and obviously wanted his audience there to conclude that somebody had created a fake “Richard Nygren” in order to get us off the hook.  (They appear to have taken the bait.)

I think he’s half right.  The “Richard Nygren” posts are fake, and there is still no evidence of which I’m aware that a real Black Latter-day Saint apologist in Alabama named “Richard Nygren” even exists.  Moreover, I’m reasonably confident that I know who is behind today’s fraudulent posts:  It’s good old “EWC” himself.

Why would I come to that conclusion?  It’s pretty “inside-baseball,” but some might find it interesting.  So permit me to explain:

Two comments from “Peter Pan” appear on my spiffy Disqus moderator panel (first, “Has anyone seen Peter Pan?” and then, four minutes later, “Peter Pan, I’ve heard you’ve been spreading my name around?”).  But each was instantly marked “Shadow Banned” as soon as it appeared.  Not by me, but automatically.

What does that mean?  It means at least two interesting things:  First, it tells me, in this case, that the person posting as “Richard Nygren” had already been placed under a “shadow ban” under a prior pseudonym (or series of pseudonyms), but that he was carelessly using an account that Disqus already recognized.  Second, and even more significantly, “Shadow Banned” means that, while I can see his comments on my moderator panel, the only other person who can see his comments is the “Shadow Banned” poster himself.  That’s the point of a “Shadow Ban”:  The person who is under the ban thinks that he’s still able to post on a Disqus blog because he can see what he’s posted.  So, until he gets a clue, he continues to comment.  But nobody else except the moderator can see his comments.

(If I’m incorrect in this, I’ll welcome correction.)

What this obviously says is that it was “EWC” himself who posted as “Richard Nygren” and then scurried back to the Obsession Board to announce that “Richard Nygren” had just surfaced at Sic et Non.  Other than I myself, only “EWC” could have known that “Richard Nygren” had posted on my blog.  (I learned about the alleged “Mr. Nygren’s” post from “EWC’s” announcement of it on the Obsession Board, and then I found it on my own moderator panel – though I didn’t at first notice the “Shadow Banned” label.)

And then it was “EWC” who breathlessly announced that I had supposedly deleted “both” of “Richard Nygren’s” comments on my blog.  But only EWC and I are in the position to know that there were once two of them.  (And again, I learned this from EWC and had to go to my Disqus moderator panel to confirm it.)

But I’ve deleted nothing at all from “Richard Nygren.”  Those two posts never appeared at all – except to EWC and, eventually, to me on my moderator panel.  They were never deleted.  I expect that he imagined that they had been deleted, but that’s only because he had probably never noticed that, during a prior bout of trollish mischief-making on my blog, he had been shadow banned.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave,” wrote Sir Walter Scott, “when first we practice to deceive!”

Of course, there is now frothing indignation over at the Obsession Board about my dictatorial censorship, and so on and so forth, which is probably pretty gratifying to “EWC.”  He loves this kind of stuff.  He has a lengthy history of regaling his gullible audience there at the Obsession Board with claims to have been an actively serving but unbelieving bishop (perhaps, now, even an unbelieving stake president!) who traveled with me on one of my tours of Israel, where he witnessed at first-hand my buffoonish antics and brazen lies; of almost certainly fictional accounts of conversations with former BYU colleagues of mine who enthusiastically describe the great relief felt in my department and across the University when I retired (or, in some versions of this tale, when I was forced into retirement at the tender age of only sixty-eight), and etc. and etc.

In the course of their howls of protest, “EWC’s” marks have also discovered that I have supposedly banned a poster who went by “Chubby Steve” and that I’ve deleted his posts, too.  My reign of terror grows more oppressive every day!  But, as a matter of fact, although I was going to ban him shortly, I didn’t.  He hasn’t been banned.  He took the hint first, and stopped posting.  But he didn’t just stop there.  I look on my state-of-the-art Disqus moderator panel and there, under the heading of “Deleted,” are Chubby Steve’s posts, each of them bearing the label “This comment has been deleted by the user and can’t be changed.

In other words, for whatever reason, Chubby Steve deleted his own posts.



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