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HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner your host on The Open Mind. When Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth joined me here in 2017, I asked him bluntly about the long term prospects for democracy, with the rise of what appears to be a new wave of totalitarianism, we might say fascism, how are we to grapple with this particular moment in our history. That’s the question we probed. And he cautioned that was premature. “I wouldn’t go that far. Let’s not call it totalitarianism yet, or fascism.” I mean those are the ultimate fears, but today’s guest is Shane Burley, and he’s crucially and masterfully documented those fears and their reality in his AK Press volume, “Fascism Today, What it is, and How to End It.” And presumably, he would disagree with Roth’s assessment. “No better volume exists to understand the nexus of alt-right bigotry and anti-fascist resistance in the United States than “Fascism Today” – bringing to bare years of in depth research and investigation into the resurgence from the far right,” that was praise from historian of fascism, Mark Bray. So today, Shane and I will examine the weaponization of the alt-right, hate and full blown Nazism, the ascension of an indisputably powerful populism, that is careening toward massive upheaval and perhaps a new anti-social order of hate fueled protests, elections, and governance. Shane, thank you for being here.
BURLEY: Thanks for having me on, Alexander.
HEFFNER: Is, is that how you see it potentially, a new anti-social, global order?
BURLEY: I think that, if we look at the rise of what we call kind of right populism in Europe, and the, you know, stateside with Trump, I think there’s a rise of something. I think I would, I might actually jump on board with the above quote saying, like, yeah, there was a time when it was a little hyperbolic to say that. We didn’t know what was going to happen. I mean there’s always been insurgent far-right movements. We call them insurrectionary white supremacist movements. They kind of skyrocket but they’re always the minority. They’re generally unpopular. What we have now is a little different from that. It’s the next step. I call it kind of step two. And we really haven’t seen anything like that since maybe the third era Klan of the 60’s, or even the secondary Klan of the 20’s, when millions of people were getting involved. This is much larger than something we’ve had before. And, so it has the potential to have that, as we head into the 2018, 2019.
HEFFNER: And you point out, Shane, that the ultimate conquest of fascism is not necessarily totalitarianism.
BURLEY: No, definitely not, I mean the, what fascism wants to do is, it wants to reinforce the hierarchies that are kind of implicit in society. The unequal things we get in capitalism that we’ve had historically with white supremacy, with patriarchy and sexism. They want to make those explicit, right, we want to bring back hierarchies, make inequality something that’s sanctified rather than something that we kind of push against. At the same time they want to bring back this essential idea of identity, you know, that white people are something that goes, traces back to, you know, centuries into Europe, that is something spiritual and biological. And so, when it’s kind of reifying those values, the counter to that in a lot of ways is to reify cosmopolitan left values, to really confront them and say like, no we’re not gonna accept that version of inequality. We’re not going to accept inequality to be sanctified in our culture. We’re not going to accept those kind of mono-racial state that they want to put in.
HEFFNER: In your research, what are the differing ideas about what fascism is, and what it isn’t?
BURLEY: Yeah, I, there’s a lot of competing narratives, [LAUGHTER] historically, and a lot of that comes from problems on the left of using the term inappropriately, or maybe jumping the gun on it. What fascism did not mean, is just a totalitarian state. There are lots of totalitarian states, or which are totalitarian. Stalinist governments are still totalitarian, k, open capitalist governments, there’s ones that are, you know, mono-racial and multi-racial. That’s not its defining feature. Its defining feature is what it says about the culture. It’s what it kind of values that underlie those decisions. They can make a lot of different political decisions. But when it comes back to the inequality and that identity, that’s really what ends up being the core of it.
HEFFNER: To test your hypothesis, how can you have a government that is totalitarian and not fascist? What does that look like?
BURLEY: Well, they’re like, look at something like the Soviet states. There’s a lot of problems there, there’s a certain type of, you know, party elite at the top. There’s definitely a lot of lying in the media, state run media, that’s dishonest, there’s heavy imprisonment rates. All those are problematic. Those are, I mean I don’t think anyone’s gonna defend those things. But, is their motivating factor the idea that human beings are unequal and that we have to drive out certain kinds of undesirables? That is a really different fundamental idea. And what we come back to is meta-politics. And that’s really what’s at play here. It’s the ideas that come before politics, what are the values that motivate politics down the line? And that’s really where fascism kind of enters, and that’s really where the alt-right’s entered, is that they want to challenge the basic assumptions of kind of post-enlightenment countries, the idea that human beings are created equal, the idea that everyone should have a voice in politics, that mass-politics is important, that an elite liberal, or at least, kind of a ruling case is not important. All those things are being challenged at the fundamental ideas of values. But with all the things that come before people makes those political choices.
HEFFNER: But I’m confused. So tell me why the current Putin Russia is fascist. Or is it not?
BURLEY: I mean I think it’s debatable.
HEFFNER: Because you, you were saying pre-Putin Soviet era, maybe the Yeltsin?
BURLEY: Oh yeah.
HEFFNER: Cause I’m just saying, the way in which Putin exploits,
HEFFNER: Identity politics,
HEFFNER: In a way that is comparable to Trump.
BURLEY: Right, right, I mean I think we can say that it’s definitely a far right totalitarian regime. I don’t think that’s really in dispute. The question is, does he go as far to say, you know what, this is a politic about white people explicitly. And you know what, the non-white, they’re just simply not as equal. If that’s the, really the step that openly fascist governments take, and that’s really those are the steps that openly fascist politics take. Now there’s a mass-politic that they kind of ride a wave in. You know, Trump might be part of that, where you use dog-whistles. You talk about immigrants instead of people of color. Those are the kinds of things that you make the step into open politics. But until you’re there it’s more of the far, far right wing totalitarianism. And it hasn’t quite gotten there. I think the point is we don’t want it to get to that step.
BURLEY: We want to kind of kill it in utero.
HEFFNER: And I do want to ask you for your ideas on how to overt the second coming or third coming,
HEFFNER: Of that American fascism. But it was, occurred to me now, hearing you speak is kind of the battle of these fascists, or wanna be fascist leaders. I was thinking of Erdogan in the same spirit as a Putin. But yet, when Trump and Israel want to move the capitol of Israel, Erdogan says not so fast. So is he really in alignment with the Trump and Putin brand of white ethno-fascist identity?
BURLEY: I don’t,
BURLEY: And since there isn’t really perfect alignment, and you can’t expect there to be, you know?
HEFFNER: And, and then you kind of have to see, well who, who really is going to favor the, the liberal versus illiberal democracy?
BURLEY: I mean there really isn’t a prescription here that we know in advance exactly how this is going to turn out. I mean, so if we look at Europe, I think that’s a good analogy in a lot of ways. Their party politics are certainly different, you know, they have far-right parties that run for office, sometimes get in some seats. But in a lot of ways a lot of their movements do run similar, UKIP, the, the Front Naitonale in France almost winning really major elections there. So there’s a big turn. At the same time there’s a response that’s coming in. And it’s debatable whether that response is gonna win. If they’re able to really challenge the underlying assumptions of those parties, if they’re really able to say, you know what, no, we’re actually gonna confront anti-immigrant or islamophobic bigotry, we’re not just gonna kind of temper the rhetoric on that, then I think you’ll something that’s really successful, because they have to provide a real alternative. And that’s going to be the truth here. So if, for example, party leaders, Democrats or Republican are challenging Trump or they’re doing it in soft-pedaled ways, that’s not really gonna underlie the, it’s not gonna really confront the underlying Trumpism that’s really taken place, the populist anger that’s really happening in the American working class.
HEFFNER: So, a populist anger and uprising agaisnt, one of the definitions in your book, and let me point out for our viewers that you have this really illuminating glossary of key terms that is a, a preamble, in effect, to your book,
HEFFNER: Which, I think, would be so edifying to people to learn about how this identity is manifest today.
HEFFNER: One of them is globalism, and you describe here, it’s a right wing interpretation of the effects of globalization, usually indicating that the negative effects of multi-culturalism or cosmopolitanism, “for the anti-globalist, this could mean the destruction of ethnic identity, traditional, familial, or gender roles, the dominance of traditional authority or the church, the destruction of interpersonal relationships and so on.” Then you go on to differentiate it between the left wing anti-globalization,
HEFFNER: Because the and so on is the part I want to focus on,
HEFFNER: The and so on is, the economic conditions that have perpetuated inequity across American society today.
HEFFNER: So, root cause of the current wave of Charlottesville like, Klan uprising.
BURLEY: Yeah, I mean the easy answer is, it’s the economy stupid. The problem is the economy is not really the motivating factor in a lot of these cases. It’s an, it’s an intersecting force. I mean one is is that we actually have economy and economic issues going back 40 years of neo-liberalism, that there’s a real instability, a permanent instability that’s happening in the economy. We’re talking about middle America, we’re talking about Appalachia, we’re talking about in the south. And so there’s a real angst and it’s coming at the same time that companies are going global, right. We’re talking about multi-nationals going across borders, trading across borders and suppressing wages both in this country and in other countries. At the same time they’re crushing labor unions, they’re crushing benefits of wages, contingency work forces are taking over, so we’re talking about a very tumultuous area.
But at the same time, people’s actual embedded racism is being challenged. The country is changing that’s just a fact. People’s values are changing. LGBT people are being, you know, that, that’s coming up front in people’s minds.
HEFFNER: That’s coming up front in people’s minds is,
HEFFNER: Important to me.
HEFFNER: Because while it’s not the, the determining factor in, in the people’s livelihoods and lives and their worth,
HEFFNER: It’s coming up on people’s minds. Just, I wanted to ask what you mean by that.
BURLEY: Well, I think about people, you know, I’m a millennial, I guess you’d say, or people younger than me,
BURLEY: People my age this isn’t an issue, right?
BURLEY: This is not something that’s really up for debate. And even, we’re talking about young conservatives even, it’s really not an issue that’s up for debate. But you’re asking someone over the age of 50, especially in those parts of the country, this is something that they’re actually struggling with,
HEFFNER: And if you’re asking,
BURLEY: And this is actually,
HEFFNER: People online, they’re really struggling with it. And that’s the,
HEFFNER: Key to your book.
BURLEY: Yeah, yeah, I mean there’s a certain id that was unleashed by a lot of these kind of 4chan, you know, 8chan web forums. You know, and places like Breitbart and right wing media really picked up on this and created the whole of financial media infrastructure out of it. And so what they were able to do was to tap into a very real anger and give it a certain anonymity, and just let it loose. And that really fueled what ended up happening with the alt-right because it basically merged with open white nationalism. I mean and that change is not something that we’ve had before. We didn’t have a media-infrastructure like this before. We didn’t have the internet. You know, you used to have to, if you were in a white-supremacist organization, you publish a paper, you try to get on mail lists and things like that, it costs a lot of money. But now you can start a WordPress blog for maybe $1,000 and some promotion. And we’re talking about very major influencers and conversations online.
HEFFNER: That’s why the idea of open web is disturbing. When Zuckerberg envisioned opening society, connecting us, opening us to what? Connecting us to what? And the reality of the internet experience today is it’s opening us, or people, up to some incredibly malevolent forces that are anti-social, anti-semitic. You write about timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing and the way in which the, the alt-right, the openly nationalistic folks who were sympathizing with McVeigh, how, how they operated,
HEFFNER: Doesn’t today’s media give the, the extremists more opportunity to organize than in the mid-90’s? I mean,
BURLEY: Oh, without question. Infinitely more. I mean it’s not even a …
HEFFNER: It’s a different world.
BURLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Also the constituencies are different. I mean this used to be, you know, largely lower working class rural areas that were hit very hard, and then urban areas, we’re talking about things like skinhead gangs. It was a much different culture. The alt-right no so much, upper middle class kids, universities, well to do parents, that are basically having these kind of traditional white-supremacist narratives reinforced online. And so it’s given them an infinitely better ability to organize, to be able to publish material, to be able to get really serious about their ideas in a way, to really argue for these ideas, to really argue that anti-semitism was a conscious, smart choice, that white people should be rid of people of color and that kind of thing. This is something that’s come forward in a way that we haven’t quite seen in the, at least in the last 60 years, not to this degree, and not this openly.
HEFFNER: In effect it’s like the eugenics movement bought the internet.
HEFFNER: Oh, [LAUGHTER] absolutely, you know, and then was fueled by, you know, venture capital. Because, you know this makes a lot of money. Breitbart, clickbait makes a lot of money. And it’s not to say that Breitbart really is the open white-nationalism. It’s not so much. It just kind of panders to that crowd. It kind of helps lead people n that direction.
HEFFNER: What percent of that eugenics movement is authentic? What percent of it is profiteering off of bots and trolls?
BURLEY: I mean I think the people at, like I talk about open alt-right figures, Richard Spencer and the national policy institute, places that ague things like race and IQ connections, those people are incredibly sincere and there’s a lot of them. I think,
HEFFNER: They’re sincere in their conviction that white people are superior?
BURLEY: Oh, without question. And this is not a new,
HEFFNER: I just want the audience to…
BURLEY: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, absolutely, or in some cases that we need mass-genocide that we rid ourselves of non-white people. I mean that’s an open argument that’s being made, debated on these websites. There’s essays that try and, you know, cite sources that use great footnoting to try and argue this. I, and so, yeah, this is the kind of things that’s incredibly sincere and is creating a movement that people are really committed to what is essentially a revolutionary politic. It doesn’t, [LAUGHTER] it’s not just gonna take place in the voting booth. It’s something that would really have to unseat the entire, you know, American government, and states to reinforce their vision. And there’s a certain. The Breitbart medias of the world. And I think in a lot of ways, you know, someone like Steve Bannon is a true believer, but at the same time these whole infrastructures really are built on creating kind of a tabloid journalism in the same way that, you know, we used to accuse FOX news of doing it, Breitbart does it better.
HEFFNER: Well now, you say in the title of your book, “Fascism Today: What It Is and How To End It.”
BURLEY: Right, right.
HEFFNER: So it sounds like there is a seamless and unstoppable flow of what has been proven, proven, some mis and disinformation. But now, what is proven in your book and other accounts of bigotry.
BURLEY: Well, I think the first thing is that, is that we really do have to step outside our comfort zone a little bit on this. We can’t expect well-reasoned debates to work on this. They work outside of our frame of reference. You know, when you’re arguing something like human inequality, I believe human beings are simply not created equal, that’s not something that’s just a part, issue of normal debate, you know. You know it’s not like I present argument, you present argument and we walk away from it. Instead, it’s really a competing worldview that kind of goes far, far past just simple arguments. And so in a lot of ways, what needs to happen, is communities need to have concerted efforts to refuse these people, refuse them access to platforms, to refuse them access them to community spaces, basically to, to, to challenge them directly. It really does have to be somewhat of an organized battle in that way.
HEFFNER: Does that apply to Charles Murray?
BURLEY: I think that Charles Murray has, was Breitbart before Breitbart was clickbait. Charles Murray openly advocated pseudoscience eugenic arguments that really does present black Africans as being less, natively smart than white people. That right there is a genocidal argument. It’s saying that one group of people has less worth and is more disposable, and more than that, that the crimes and the persecutions that they face in a lot of ways is because of their innate unintelligence.
HEFFNER: But he’s not unwilling to understand that context.
BURLEY: I mean he is certainly willing to soft pedal his language and nod along with people, and you know, and, and,
HEFFNER: Is there malice there?
BURLEY: Oh, absolutely, absolutely,
HEFFNER: What leads you to think that.
BURLEY: Well, I mean, for one, look at the, at “The Bell Curve” itself. And if you look at the research, when you go through he’s citing things like Pioneer Fund studies. And the Pioneer Fund maybe sounds like a nice academic think tank, you know, but what they’ve done is they’ve funded the neo-Nazi movement for decades. And what, specifically to try and prove that specifically black people are genetically inferior to white people and Asians, and that they should be treated different and they should be suspect, especially, black men, because they’re criminals, they, they have no sexual control, they’re after white women, all of that. And so what Charles Murray does essentially, is to legitimize those arguments, put an academic veneer off it, make a killing off of it, and then sell it back to the universities.
HEFFNER: When it comes down to the fact that we do have the wild west of the internet online, and we need to have some measures that acknowledge actors that are clearly malicious because of the way they’re articulating their message,
HEFFNER: And that is denigrating a race, a religion, a people, shouldn’t those be the targets of an intervention agaisnt contemporary bigotry.
BURLEY: I mean I think those are the targets of, of intervention. I think Charles Murray is. One of the things that defines the alternative right is its use of pseudo-academia. You know, this isn’t just Charles Murray. It’s American renaissance. It’s a long list of, of academics and researchers that try and back up those claims. So yes, Charles Murray is maybe the most public example, you know, the recent campus Anti-Fascist Network protest of him, but he is, comes in a long lien of people that makes those arguments, that people like Andrew Anglin, “The Daily Stormer” basically weaponized. And so I don’t think it’s good enough to just go over the sharp, you know, tip of the spear on this. You really have to go at the underlying arguments, because what they’re doing is attempting to transform the culture, to get people to think differently, and to think that this kind of targeting of people of color is all right.
HEFFNER: Well, the most damaging thing to my mind has been Google’s indexing of publications that are blatantly anti-semitic or blatantly racist, or blatantly bigoted,
HEFFNER: That’s, that is target number one.
BURLEY: Well in it’s, it’s, what they’ve really worked hard is to mimic academia, mimic journalism, to do these things in kind of a parody form. But they deal with them really well. I mean “The Daily Stormer” for example, you know, an open neo-Nazi website that used to have a banner said the, “the number one pro-genocide website on the internet.” We get hundreds of thousands of pages. You know, these were not small, you know, publications. “The Daily Shoah” for example, named after the holocaust, haha, isn’t that funny, 100,000, listeners every couple weeks. I mean these are really really huge things. And yeah, since Charlottesville, we were seeing mass-platforms denial. You know their, their web hosting’s gone, their podcast hosting’s gone, they’re even kicked off tinder, [LAUGHTER] you know, they’re being, you know, kind of booted off of these spheres. What they have done is, they’ve used web 2.0 platforms to essentially be on the same you know, infrastructure that regular, journalists, politicians, and so on, are on.
HEFFNER: What is the most effective way to boot, to use your words,
HEFFNER: To boot them off the sphere?
BURLEY: To stand up to them. I mean if they’re, for example, you know, I’m out in Portland for example, we’re having these, they have these quote unquote free speech rallies, right? You know, obviously if you were to ever read into these alt-right publications, free speech is as far [LAUGHTER] from what they want as they can get. But it’s a really great talking point for them. And what becomes, happens in those situations, is the community comes out in force and just disallows it to go on. We’re not talking about a few radicals in black masks. We’re talking about 4,000 people in the city descending on the rally and basically making it untenable. Basically in, in Boston, shortly after Charlottesville there was gonna be a rally, about 150 proud boys and other alt-right people. 40,000 people came out, you know. This is, you know, your grandma, this is your neighbor. [LAUGHTER] Everyone’s coming out in refusal, and that mass action, that mass confrontation, that’s really why this has shut this down,
BURLEY: And it’s, and it’s done it historically and for decades.
HEFFNER: Well, there’s no historical precedent right now for the masses to shut down the indexing though. That, that’s the, that is the central dilemma right now.
HEFFNER: I mean I, I disagree with you,
HEFFNER: About the most effective response to an alt-right speaker depending upon whether or not, if they’re engaged in overt political violence they shouldn’t be there,
HEFFNER: You know it’s,
BURLEY: But I,
HEFFNER: About the, the point,
BURLEY: I think we should be clear, is that,
HEFFNER: You can’t stand up to a search algorithm. One person and millions of people have not proven effective yet in responding to the alt-right flurry of activity in the, in the indexing,
BURLEY: All of Google,
HEFFNER: Search results.
BURLEY: So, so, I mean Google is one thing, but let’s talk about the mass platforms denial. We’re talking about cloud-fire, we’re talking about iTunes, Stitcher, we’re talking about every, almost every web, web publishing platforms.
HEFFNER: And that’s a positive development.
BURLEY: I mean but, but it’s so massive that they actually aren’t on the same playing field anymore. I mean it’s been so demonstrable at this point that they’re not able to reach out their message, that they’re starting to have a shrink and a little bit of retreat, at least in that public messaging. That’s part of what’s moving them out into the streets more.
HEFFNER: As far as I know,
BURLEY: So I think it,
HEFFNER: There’s not a fool proof way that Google has disallowed them, has, has uninvited them, that sporadically, these sites still come up on,
BURLEY: Sure, sure, sure. And I think that’s also an issue of, of the fact that we have something like Google that dominates communication. One single company has the ability of setting that trend. But I think what, what’s happening too is that this mass platform denial hasn’t happened in a vacuum. It hasn’t actually happened just because of the alt-right’s own behavior. Organized activists put campaigns on and pressured companies to do what was right and kick people who were advocating for violence off of there. That’s the same thing that has to happen here. It has to be part of an organized, concerted strategy of organizations doing the work.
HEFFNER: There are a couple groups in particular, Sleeping Giants Indivisible, that have championed those values in response to the resurgence of hate, in particular Sleeping Giants.
BURLEY: Sure. Sure, but I think there’s also, there’s also groups that have gotten less coverage, that have been doing it for years. You know, there’s been a lot of, you know, coverage of Antifa, whatever, [LAUGHTER] you know, what different media outlets seem to think that means. But a lot of those organizations,
HEFFNER: We need to,
BURLEY: Have been doing that.
HEFFNER: We need to discuss this. We just have very limited time now, but anti-fa,
HEFFNER: They’ve been marginalized as an effective vehicle to countering Trump’s agenda,
HEFFNER: Because the images of them showing up at some of these rallies are just as disturbing to folks as the Tiki torchers. That is, that is,
HEFFNER: That is the reality, especially when they’re dressed,
HEFFNER: In all black. So, how, how do you move beyond the antifa concept that, in the opinions of most Americans, they’re either unknown or unfavorable?
BURLEY: I would actually challenge that a little bit. I think the opinions of most Americans, it’s not necessarily unfavorable, and we’re seeing that, because,
HEFFNER: More unknown.
BURLEY: Yeah. It could be unknown, you know. Antifa, the word, tends to mean that militant-anti-fascist tradition, ones where people who are protesting anti-fascism, or fascist groups, are willing to confront them directly and disallow space. They’re not really unwilling to take that next step, right, of confrontation. And that really comes out of, you know, interwar period when people were facing real, lived violence, or them going up into the 70’s and the 80’s in UK and Germany when we’re seeing the rise of fascist parties that were actually targeting people of color, especially immigrants. And so there was actually a real, relevant need for that. And so, yeah, right wing media loves to pick up on a person in a mask. It sure does look scary in those photos. But the reality is is that those are the people defending undocumented people at protests, or defending women and LGBT people who are under attack from far-right groups. And so I, you know, I think it’s important to not, to not just double back and say, oh, well we need, really need to just change the image of that. Some of that has really been built out of the necessity of the threat that a lot of these groups pose.
HEFFNER: Shane, I would contend you have to change not the imagery,
HEFFNER: The lexicon, the vocabulary, the strategy. Anti-law and order works. Anti-fascists, or at least the way antifa is going, doesn’t work. I’ll give you the last word to quote maybe your favorite FOX news personality.
BURLEY: [LAUGHTER] I think 40,000 people in Boston would disagree with you. I think the tens of thousands of people coming out in protest that completely overwhelm the alt-right, and completely overwhelm the far right wing kind of sympathizers, would completely disagree with that.
HEFFNER: Did Mayor Walsh give the same opportunity that the Virginia authorities did in terms of permits? Were they, because it,
HEFFNER: It’s not just about the protesters. It’s about the mayors and the elected officials saying that this is not use of, proper use of public funds or public security apparatus. And just simply not grant a permit to a politically violent group.
BURLEY: I mean I think the issue of something like, permits avoids what the really core issue is. Permits or no permits, these groups come out and they will be opposed when they come out, right? And so whether or not we’re appealing to liberal politicians that are gonna participate in that, I think is, is almost like a tangential issue.
HEFFNER: The Bostonians were saying though, that those KKK folks, they don’t believe in law and order. That’s my point. I, I,
BURLEY: I, I mean I think in the broader sense, I think what they’re saying is, they don’t believe in values of inequality,
BURLEY: And democracy.
HEFFNER: If you think that law and order is intended or designed to enshrine those values, we’ll have to continue that,
HEFFNER: The next time Shane. Thanks for coming here from Portland.
BURLEY: Alright. Thanks for having me on.
HEFFNER: And thanks to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time for a thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas. Until then, keep an open mind. Please visit The Open Mind website at Thirteen.org/OpenMind to view this program online or to access over 1,500 other interviews. And do check us out on Twitter and Facebook, @OpenMindTV for updates on future programing.