From Iceland — Meet The Ninja Team

Meet The Ninja Team

Published September 18, 2015

Meet The Ninja Team
Photo by
Axel Sigurðarson

As Bryndís’s Facebook event snowballed, the “Kæra Eygló” initiative received a wave of attention from various groups. Along with heightened positive interest from concerned and energised Icelanders—and the worldwide media—the page also caught the attention of various online anti-immigration/refugee/Muslim groups, who launched a relentless attack on the page, spamming it page with inflammatory comments, memes and videos. Meanwhile, Bryndís was inundiated with interview requests and queries from all over the world, far surpassing her capacity to respond in a measured and timely fashion.

She determined that she would never be able to do this all by herself, opting to post a simple call for help in dealing with the growing shitstorm. Almost immediately, her request was enthusiastically met by a plethora of volunteers from all walks of life; old friends and complete strangers alike, all eager to offer a helping hand, all enthusiastic to make a difference. The haphazard team assembled and got right to work, managing media requests, translating documents and moderating the debate, keeping the trolls at bay by way of counter-argument or deletion.

We spoke with five of them about what their duties entail, what they have learned so far, and their motivations for joining in.

Jóhann Hjalti Þorsteinsson, ninja, photo by Axel Sigurðarson

Jóhann Hjalti, 39

Administrative aid & driver for the EU delegation

“I’ve known Bryndís since we were in university together. I saw her initiating the event on Facebook, and I just jumped on board, inviting all my Facebook friends—500 people or so. I joined when we had less than 500 people in the group, and I saw how it mushroomed quickly. I started to notice that some of the discussion threads were both full of misconceptions, and also at some points, racist. I got involved in these discussions, and when Bryndís asked for assistance in ‘keeping it clean’, I volunteered.”

“I have been deleting posts that didn’t fit with what we’re doing. It was mainly foreigners telling us how we were damaging our country and so forth. We found threads on racist groups where they were organising to come and attack the event. We started by answered them with counter-arguments, unless they were simply too racist to be reckoned with. In general, we were just trying to keep this clean, to allow people to make their pledges of support.”

“The difficulty was that we started this as a Facebook ‘event.’ The admin tools for events are quite limited, so we couldn’t block people unless they’d made an original post. But we had eight or nine people working at it, and discussing it among ourselves, to keep a ‘party line’.”

“I wish in hindsight that I had screen-captured some of the negative comments I was deleting—like the footage of the Hungarian camerawoman that’s been online this week , where she tripped and kicked refugees. Some people really don’t look at refugees as human beings.”

Andri Einarsson, ninja, photo by Axel Sigurðarson

Andri Einarsson, 33

Bouncer & model

“I joined the event early, kind of as soon as it happened, and saw the interactions between Bryndís and that first guy who said he was willing to house refugees. I got involved when Bryndis asked for help on Facebook, with administrating the event, due to racist posting and spam. It got pretty overwhelming for her right away I think – it went from 50 to 10000 people overnight, and the media attention was just as sudden.”

“A lot of it was people warning us about ‘evil muslims’ and telling us what our country would be like if we let them in, and posting anti-Muslim stuff in general. We were spending a lot of time on it—looking at the event all day, on and off. We had a group chat going in real time where we’d discuss what we were deleting. We didn’t want to censor the debate too much—ideally, we didn’t want to censor it at all, but it became necessary to do so.”

“I think it was the generosity that was inspiring to people. As for the negative side… some people just have very strong feelings about immigration generally. It turned out that many commenters also had very strong feelings about Iceland – like they have a strange picture of it in their heads, and they don’t want it ‘ruined’.”

“But I think a lot of these people need to find something better to do than spreading racist propaganda—and thinking they know better than us how Iceland should be.”

Dagbjört Hákonardóttir, ninja, photo by Axel Sigurðarson

Dagbjört Hákonardóttir, 31

Lawyer for the Reykjavík Citizen’s Ombudsman

“I was an attendee on the event during the first wee hours. I felt proud of Bryndís, who I knew from high school. She asked for help, I gave a shout out, and here I am.”

“We’ve been battling with the racists of this world—taking down ridiculous, offensive statements. We started seeing a pattern, and realised we were being targeted by global groups, who were gaining on us. But we saw them coming, and we took them out.”

“The first point of the event was to address our minister of welfare. We wanted to have a voice on our immigration and refugee policies. But it turns out, maybe we were targeting the wrong person—so the next thing to do is put pressure on our Prime Minister.”

“I don’t know if the message has been listened to yet by the government. I think in their mind we’re a pressure group who doesn’t understand the whole problem… I think they should have made a public statement on this by now, but they want it to just go away.”

“We have heard nothing about the committee on refugees meeting to discuss this. We are desperate for information from the government. We want numbers—minimum numbers. Our foreign minister has said he’s not in a ‘peeing contest’ about numbers.”

“But this is obviously a major humanitarian scandal taking place in Europe. This is not primarily a refugee problem—it’s a humanitarian problem. I see no problems in accepting hundreds of mostly well-educated Syrians who want to live a peaceful life and join the workforce here. These people want to contribute. It doesn’t feel like something we should have to explain, but apparently we do.”

“I have been working with less fortunate citizens of Reykjavik and Iceland for the last years, and I know we have homeland problems… I love working with the less fortunate and take pride in doing so, but this is on a whole other level. It’s typical of this government to put the poor and the disabled up against this group of people. As if they’d see refugees taking their resources. It is simply not the case.”

Salka Guðmundsdóttir, ninja, photo by Axel Sigurðarson

Salka Guðmundsdottir, 34

Playwright & translator

“I was already emotional about the state of events, like many others, and I was wondering what I could do to help, so I thought, “fantastic!”, when I saw Bryndís initiate this. It was something that just needed to happen—people were out there, just waiting for someone to take the initiative.”

“Then the white power people started invading. So I got in touch and offered to help, if she needed people to patrol the site, and to answer the media. It was not a project for one person to cope with, and it was so important for this to be an active presence, and not fizzle out. It was important to get it out there into the media. It would have been easy to just say we couldn’t deal with it. But Bryndís pointed out that every single article we could get might spark an initiative somewhere else and spur someone into action.”

“It has been reported all over the world—France, Italy, Peru, Australia, New Zealand… it seems to have covered most of the continents. But I wasn’t surprised! I saw people jumping at the chance. They had a longing to help and they were looking for an outlet… it was just going to become something big. We’ve seen similar initiatives such as people driving from Austria to pick people up in their cars… in Denmark they are openly defying the government, and it’s unfolding as we speak. The brilliant thing about this happening via social media is that people are organising to try and press the authorities, in large numbers.”

“Doing this did take over everything, for three or four days—we didn’t do much else! But there were quite a lot of us. We had people from Australia and the US to patrol the event while we slept! These things happen really quickly, it’s important to grab the chance when it comes along and capture the moment.”

“It’s been really nice networking and organising and planning activism with people you weren’t necessarily aware of before.”

Óskar Hallgrímsson, ninja, photo by Axel Sigurðarson

Óskar Hallgrímsson, 33

Photographer & graphic designer

“I got involved because Bryndís asked me to come and help her with some design issues. She wanted it to look nice to take it to the government. But five hours later everything became viral and I came fully aboard.”

“We formed the group to monitor the page. While she was doing interviews there a lot of attention on the group—people coming there to harass and say racist things, along with the positive attention. We were explaining how the pressure could influence the government.”

“I think they government have heard our message. They wouldn’t have made the parliamentary committee as quickly and as rigorously otherwise, and we did get a response from the minister that we were addressing. But we have no results to show yet. I am hopeful that we’re going to, at least, take more than 50 people—maybe in the hundreds. I personally think we have the capability of taking thousands. I’m no expert on infrastructure, but this is an issue of shelter, for me—not immigration. And we can provide that shelter.”

“The project took over life for a while there! From morning until night, the whole week, we monitored the page. We were maybe eight or ten people. I care a lot about the project, so I stayed for as long as I possibly could. It was one thing to monitor the page against racists—to be a ninja and take them out one by one—but then we also had people who were on the ground in Syria, Greece and Turkey who contacted us. It’s one thing to watch this crisis through the media, but we had direct contact. One guy posted a picture of himself and his kids on the page, and said “We have no money and no plan, can you help us?” He was just scared and just needed help. It put a whole new perspective on this, to talk to another human—just some guy who was actually there in this terrible situation.”

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