The “Bernie Bro” Phenomenon Is a Tactic, Not a FactPhoto by Stephen Maturen/Getty Politics Features Bernie Sanders
This past weekend, I was browsing Twitter late at night and decided to share an opinion with my followers. It was about Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington and former Democratic candidate for president who dropped out of the race last August. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, just something I had been thinking about for a long time. The moment came when I decided I had to speak out, consequences or harassment be damned. I was forced to delete the tweet later for reasons I’ll get into, but you can see the screenshot here:
Pretty innocuous, right? Sure, it doesn’t put Inslee in a glowing halo, but it was an educated view stated respectfully, and I stated very clearly that I didn’t want to have a big debate. The last time I checked, we were still allowed to have an opinion about the political process in America, and whether you agree with my belief about Inslee or not, you’d think that most people in this country would at least acknowledge my right to express it and not have to defend myself.
Bad news, folks: When it comes to Inslee’s Incels, you’d be wrong.
Almost immediately, I was attacked by a vicious swarm of his supporters. It was a mob numbering in the hundreds, and their vitriol left me frightened and confused. The rage tornado included outright threats, as well as hurtful nicknames. I don’t want to give any these individuals more notoriety than they deserve, but I do feel it’s important to show exactly what I was dealing with, and the kind of rhetoric these people use to attack journalists and others who dissent from the gospel of Inslee:
Along with the insidious threat, this person also started a hashtag that began to grow until it was parroted by thousands of others on the platform. In a panic, I sent my family to a hotel and began throwing books and coats and other items at my doors in an attempt to barricade myself inside. This felt all too real. For a day, too afraid to pass in front of a window, I subsisted on ketchup and old soy sauce packets that I could reach from the kitchen drawers without standing up.
Finally, the clamor on Twitter died down, and I wondered if it might be safe to resume a normal life. Then I checked my email inbox, and found hundreds of thousands of hateful messages waiting for me—the Inslee Incels had found my personal address. Here’s an example of one, coming from a man who called himself “Red Dalton”:
Just when I had started to feel courageous, my safety bubble burst again. I retreated to a corner, where I sat dribbling ketchup pathetically out of the corners of my mouth until another day had passed, at which point I courageously rose to write this post.
Now, if you’re like me, you might be asking a simple question: What does Jay Inslee himself think about this? Can he possibly support this ravening bloodthirsty mob? If anyone could control them, wouldn’t it be him?
Unfortunately, when I tweeted at him just seconds before publishing this piece, he didn’t even respond.
Inslee doesn’t care about my safety, and with total silence coming from the man who has inspired such an unseemly mass of followers, I don’t know where else to turn. So I’m afraid I must ask:
Does Jay Inslee have a supporter problem?
Hopefully you realized very early in the post above that all of this is complete fiction. The original tweet I posted about Inslee loving pollution was intentionally stupid, and the response threatening to kill me comes from a fake account I made. I did not get “thousands” of threatening emails; I got one, excerpted above, and it was also written by me from a fake account.
This is not even great commentary—it’s obvious and shallow and stupid. It would be utterly useless as a rhetorical tool, except for the fact that this is the exact same playbook used constantly to smear Bernie Sanders…and it’s not even that exaggerated. The most recent example comes from the Nevada Independent, which ran a piece titled “Culinary Union officials face profanity-laced attacks after scorecard says Sanders would ‘end’ their health care.” From the title, there’s a clear implication that the vile abuse comes from angry Sanders supporters, but as it turns out, that’s not the case even in the examples they cite:
Union officials also raised concerns about a commenter on a Nevada Independent article that referred to members of the Culinary Union, who hail from 178 countries and speak more than 40 different languages, as “illegals,” though a review of posts by the Independent suggests the commenter is a Trump supporter who opposes Medicare for all, not a Sanders supporter.
Now, what’s funny about this is that the original article did not include the fact that this man was a Trump supporter—that was left up to people on Twitter to discover. The writer, who is supposed to be a conscientious journalist, didn’t even bother to question her own presumptions, and when others did that for her, the “update” went at the bottom of the post:
Update 2-14-20 at 1:11 p.m. This article has been updated to add additional information about a commenter who referred to Culinary Union members as “illegals” and clarify that the commenter appears to be a Trump supporter, not a Sanders supporter.
And it shouldn’t have been a shock that he’s a Trump supporter, for the simple fact that Trump supporters are the people who say this kind of heinous shit all the time. It may come as a surprise to many journalists, but if you’re ranting and raving online about illegals, there is literally no chance that Bernie Sanders is your candidate.
So that’s one example, but what about the others?
Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline, for instance, has come under attack for her Nicaraguan heritage, and union spokeswoman Bethany Khan was accused of being paid off by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Democratic establishment types. In tweets, the union and its leadership have been referred to as “bitches,” “whore,” “fucking scab” and “evil, entitled assholes.”
Now, what evidence is there that these comments came from Sanders supporters, and not more Trump supporters, or supporters of other Democratic candidates who are trying to sow false narratives? In the one email excerpt the article provided, the text sounds absolutely nothing like a Sanders supporter beyond a couple hashtags tacked on at the end:
“This is your chance to fix your mistake before the millions and millions of Bernie Sanders supporters will find you and end your ability to earn a living,” the email says. “We will find you corrupt mother fuckers of that you can be sure and we will make sure you wallow in poverty and suffering.”
“Apologize and fix your mistake or else you will pay … I know tens of thousands of Bernie supporters and we will come after you fascist imbeciles,” it continues. “#Bernie2020 #NotMeUs.”
Ah yes, the famous Sanders platform of wanting to make people “wallow in poverty and suffering,” and not…lift them out of it. The Bernie Bro hunters need to internalize an unwavering truth: if you find an angry misogynist who wants people to suffer and thinks poverty and suffering are good? Folks, you’ve found yourself a Trump supporter.
The union claimed to have received hundreds of negative comments, and that much I believe—they played a dirty trick, and that pisses people off. All of these “controversies” start the same way, with a legitimately objectionable piece of idiocy, misinformation, or outright propaganda attacking Sanders on some flawed premise. In these cases, people have the right to complain, and they should also have the right not to have their legitimate complaints be lumped in with threats and other nasty language that nobody can prove came from actual Sanders supporters. And even if they could prove it, it wouldn’t say anything meaningful beyond the fact that a candidate with the largest online following in the Democratic race has a handful of people within his millions of supporters that go overboard. Which is a trait they have in common with supporters of literally any other candidate. If the idea is that Sanders supporters are somehow worse, it’s a combination of the self-fulfilling media narrative that inflates itself by repetition, and the fact that he simply has more followers than anyone else.
No other candidate receives this treatment, and in fact there’s a curious silence in the mainstream press—one that might be thawing, finally—about the heinous remarks made by Michael Bloomberg…an actual candidate. Instead, the coverage focuses largely on the emergence of Bloomberg’s own “fear the Bernie Bros” campaign.
Meanwhile, the rampant attacks-by-association using the anonymous words of alleged “Bernie Bros,” many of whom end up being obvious Trump supporters, continue apace. It’s easier to passively plunge ahead, sheep-like, by bolstering a narrative that’s pre-manufactured for ease of use among the plentiful dolts masquerading as journalists. It’s a simple paint-by-numbers that anyone can follow, no matter how painfully simple. There’s only one problem: it’s about as true as Jay Inslee’s abiding love for that sweet, sweet pollution.