Emily Maxima lives in Maryland but I found her on Twitter under the name Original Syn (@emilymaxima)
She spent seven years working within the United States Intelligence Community (USIC), with a particular focus on network security. Though she has been exposed to multiple types of technology, machine learning is relatively new to her. Recently, however, she’s been developing a new program: “It’s mostly recycled code from YouTube,” she says.
Emily Maxima is an extraordinary woman and she is on the hunt for Nazis.
She calls her project Nemesis.
https://twitter.com/emilymaxima/status/909915938493001728p>Emily decided to take a stand after the horrific events of Charlottesville, the Nazi march which ended in the tragic murder of Heather Heyer by terrorist James Fields Junior.
A friend of Emily’s was in constant touch with her through Twitter in the lead up to the march – as a community organiser she was co-ordinating the response to what was an obvious and regimented period of preparation.
“It was obvious what they were doing from the get go,” Emily told me. “We picked up the crypto-fascist symbols, like eagles or skulls, embedded in every piece of literature they put out. Then there was the attendance list, to blow away any doubts: Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler, Baked Alaska, Based Stickman. Chris Cantwell too.”
Cantwell was the subject of a Vice documentary, in which he said: “I’m trying to make myself more capable of violence. I’m here to spread ideas, talk in the hopes that somebody will come along and do that. Somebody like Donald Trump who does not give his daughter to a Jew.” He then agreed with the reporter he was looking for a leader who is “a lot more racist than Donald Trump.”
The night before the Charlottesville horror, Emily’s friend was one of forty people counter-protesting around the statue of General Lee. “They used the tiki torches as weapons, you know?” Emily told me. “Cantwell maced the crowd too, one of them was wheelchair user.”
“I regret not being there to stand up against fascism,” Emily said. “But as a trans woman I need to take a stand. So…Nemesis.”
Three or four days after Charlottesville, Emily was questioning what she could do. “How can I contribute?” she asked herself and then serendipity drew her attention to a meme. The blue “Bureau of Memetic Warfare” logo of 4chan and Kekistan.
“I honed in on the dogwhistle language and thought to myself: are these guys Nazis or just disaffected men? But the patterns are clear. The Roman numerals 1488, the black sun.”
14 stands for the fourteen words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” A phrase coined by David Lane. 88 Can refer to HH, Heil Hitler, or to another of Lane’s works: the 88 precepts – an essay he wrote. 1488 refers to two longer works written by David Lane while he served an extremely long prison sentence for activities he did with Robert J Matthews and The Order. 1488 is a simplified code for general beliefs of many white power skinheads.
“So I’m thinking is it 4chan or is it neo-nazis? Is it more organised than we think? And that got me on to Robert Ray who writes for The Daily Stormer and the online recruitment of these white men. The process of radicalisation and how its stepping off the internet. It’s no longer atomised but part of a much larger movement,” Emily told me.
“If you look at it from an anti-terror background, it’s no different from D’aesh’s Spider Magazine. The white supremacists are doing the same things as IS,” she added.
So, Emily started to dig down and consulted a friend in Montreal, which led her to few failed experiments until she found herself playing with the concept of Convolutional Neural Network.
“It’s data science driven,” she explained. “The kind of cognitive technology Deep Mind uses. I’ve built around image analytics, where the technology looks for patterns and translates the picture into data. Once that’s done it can be trained to locate the pattern in the mathematical breakdown of any image.”
“Once you run the analytics, it outputs to a text file, and you dump that in the array and search for comparisons. If you think about Tensorflow, but having it trained to find Darth Vader…the world’s most famous villain can be recognised just on mathematical probability. It’s way beyond human shape recognition,” she told me.
“Now I’ve trained it to look for a black sun. Like all other Nazi symbolism it’s been co-opted from other cultures, so part of the challenge is to pick apart imagery which is genuine, and understand what makes it identifiable as Nazi.”
In the early stages of its development, Nemesis can’t yet determine concepts like this. But it can look for similar symbolism. And it’s learning all the time.
“In field tests I trained it with the incredibly cute puppy. It can do that, but what’s next is complicated,” Emily told me. “It’s not my intention for Nemesis to call out these indigenous uses, but to get detection right and catch as many Nazis as possible.”
“Reverse look ups will separate it all out as the engine develops. So we’re at proof of concept stage right now. I wouldn’t want people to think it’s finished yet.”
Emily is strong on ethics, something she carries over from her USIC career.
“Nemesis is not for sale to law enforcement or anyone else. It’s not for profit,” she told me. “This is purely for public betterment.”
“If we do set up a donations page, it’ll only be for hardware and tech. Or looking for donations of expertise from metadata and analytics people who would be willing to pitch in. Currently the team is me and a couple of other developers, who are all people of colour, but we’re going to need to expand the family.”
“It’s really important for us to make sure we are only finding bad guys so, if we can find a good programmer for the metadata, it will accelerate the whole process. But we also want people without tech knowledge to understand it.”
“A good place for the non-technical people to look and get around the idea of what we are doing is taking a look at Contrapoints on YouTube,” Emily said, referring to the popular YouTuber. Contrapoints is a trans woman from Baltimore, Emily’s home state.
So, how can we respond to the resurgence of the Nazis? Fire with fire? I asked.
“Creeping fascism is back,” Emily told me, “but violence is not the only way to respond. I want people to know that’s not our only option,” she said.
“Violent Nazism does sometimes require a violent response, so I don’t judge the more aggressive elements within Antifa. But that’s rare. We have no obligation to respond with violence at all. These Nazis, they’re not scary people. And they’re still not a majority. It’ll be okay as long as we say: I ain’t buying what you’re selling.”
“Hopefully Nemesis will inspire people to pick up on what they know, their own area of expertise, and build another piece of the non-violent response,” she added.
Her parting shot shows the spirit we all need to find collectively once again: “There’s nothing I would say to the Nazis themselves,” she told me. “They’re not worth my personal response.”
Emily Maxima represents hope in a darkening and confusing world, and Nemesis is one of those rare human acts which stands as a beacon of light.
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