[Content Note: gaslighting, bullying, harassment]
Readers of this space know that Liss has written about the problems of the Sanders Stans--those Sanders supporters who seem determined to act like the worst MRA trolls in the name of revolution. For months, feminists, racial justice activists, and others critical of Sanders have been dealing with bullying behavior in our Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, our comment sections, our email, and almost any other place the bullies can reach us. (Including, sometimes, offline spaces as well.) There's been doxxing, harassment, sockpuppeting and ratfucking galore.
And in some cases, the targets aren't even people who are supporting Hillary Clinton. Racial justice advocates, in particular, have frequently been quite (justifiably) critical of Hillary Clinton. Yet they get called Clinton shills and met by a swarm of harassment for the mere act of also criticizing Bernie Sanders.
Frankly, the mainstream media has had only tepid interest in covering that story. Months ago, however, the term "Berniebro" was coined by Robinson Meyer, writing in The Atlantic, in order to describe a certain subset of young male Bernie supporters online, and the term has become synonymous with the harassers. Of late larger media is taking more notice; last week no less a than the BBC wrote about Sanders' fans bad online reputation. (I'm quite sure it isn't coincidental that well-known white men like Paul Krugman have been the targets of Berniebullying lately, but whatever.)
Predictably as clockwork, online Bernie supporters are there to mansplain that the Berniebro is all a myth, a racist and sexist one to boot:
The media’s false characterization of the average Sanders supporter as a white male “Bernie Bro” is misleading and offensive...The optics are pretty bad — well-heeled media outlets with brick-and-mortar offices in privileged neighborhoods like Manhattan (Mashable‘s office is located in the Flatiron District) and Washington, DC (The Atlantic is headquartered at the Watergate Hotel) are essentially erasing the contributions of women and people of color to the Bernie Sanders campaign to propagate their own narrative, rendering them as invisible people. This is one of the oldest forms of violence perpetuated by white people of privilege.
Now this is a pretty neat trick in several ways.
1. It sets up a strawperson that no-one is arguing (that the "average Sanders supporter" is the Berniebro) and then debunks it.
2. It centers the Sanders campaign and its supporters as the real victims here.
3. It erases the men of color and women of all races who have actually borne the brunt of this harassment, and who have been talking about it, mischaracterizing us as part of a well-heeled media with swank offices in rich neighborhoods.
4. It then invokes the historical erasure of marginalized people as a silencing technique so that we can't talk about the harassment of marginalized people.
Cool story, bro. Have you considered titling it Gaslight?
On Sunday, Glenn Greenwald decided to weigh in. Truly, when future grandmothers tell tales to children of Epic Mansplaining, this one's going to be the Odyssey of white male privilege. Here is his very first line:
The concoction of the “Bernie Bro” narrative by pro-Clinton journalists has been a potent political tactic – and a journalistic disgrace.
Pro-Clinton journalists. That's where this comes from. Not the bloggers and activists who have been talking about this since at least the last summer.
Here's a hint, Mr. Greenwald: the fact that you are only noticing these stories when big media finally picks it up does not mean it's an invention of big media. It just means you haven't been paying attention. That doesn't bode well for your ability to write meaningfully about the topic.
Greenwald claims that this conspiracy is designed to explain away Sanders support as motivated by sexism, "demonstrated by the fact that men, not women, support Sanders (his supporters are 'bros.')" He also claims the this media lie says that "Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive and misogynistic in their online behavior." He then grumbles:
...a crucial tactical prong of this innuendo is that any attempt to refute it is itself proof of insensitivity to sexism if not sexism itself (as the accusatory reactions to this article will instantly illustrate).
I'll come to the first claims in a moment, but the set-up here is really awesome. If we point out that it's pretty fucking sexist and racist for Greenwald to assume he knows better about online harassment than the people who have experienced it, then that's just PROOF that this is a made-up thing! It's not that we have actual experiences with harassment. It's because talking about sexism is a "tactical prong" of the anti-Sanders media conspiracy.
Glenn, that is not just gaslighting. That's Gaslighting 2: Edwardian Boogaloo.
But there's more. Greenwald generously allows that "pro-Clinton journalists" might get some abuse. But that's probably from a lot of Republicans, because he found a couple of examples of Republicans harassing pro-Clinton women. Okay! Has it not occurred to him that we get shit from Republicans AND ALSO from Sanders stans? That a major news outlet getting a few details mixed up means they haven't been following this too closely either, not that the individuals reporting this are too stupid or deceitful to sort out who's harassing us?
Never mind. He's too busy explaining that women of all races, men of color, and queers of various intersectional identities get a lot of online abuse anyway. Did you know that? What news! Such news. And somehow, that fact negates the particular bullying coming from Sanders stans. 'Splain me, O Muse:
There are countless articles documenting the extra-vitriolic abuse directed at women and minorities for many years before “the Sanders campaign” existed.Pretending that abusive or misogynistic behavior is unique to Sanders supporters is a blatant, manipulative scam, as anyone who ever used the internet before 2015 knows.
Except no one is pretending that, other than in Glenn Greenwald's imagination. What we are doing is explaining that a certain set of Sanders fans have been acting like jerks for a while, and they are still are acting in a way that is despicable, and adds yet another layer of shit to the crap we already get from racists, MRAs, queer-haters, and other online trolls and bullies. We're telling you it is worse than what we've experienced from previous Democratic campaigns, not that it is the only form of harassment out there. We're telling you that the Sanders campaign itself has helped contribute to this atmosphere, by invoking conspiracy theories about email servers and calling Planned parenthood's defenders just part of the Clinton "establishment," giving cover for its supporters to attack Sanders critics as insincere political operatives.
And, you, Glenn Greenwald, are right there along with them now, claiming that instead of airing our frustration with this harassment, we're just furthering anti-Sanders media narrative. Thanks ever so much, buddy.
Here's the thing. Precisely because we've been dealing with this for years, social justice advocates have developed excellent troll-dar and bullshit detectors. When Liss Tweets about easily detectable white male Sanders stans claiming to be black women and ratfucking in our comment section, trust me: she knows whereof she speaks. The shenanigans are ridiculous and despicable.
And rather than assuming that we're lying if we don't give you a detailed description of every single incident, you might consider that we, of necessity, cannot do so. If you expect us to reveal how we combat trolls and stalkers, think again. Glenn Greenwald is right about one thing: harassment didn't start in 2015, and we're pretty sure it's not going to end when this presidential campaign is over. Expecting us to detail how we protect ourselves so that you can make some "objective" judgement about how bad things really are is some mightily privileged nonsense. So, yes, we ask you to trust us when we explain that we have had dealt with a ton of harassment from Sanders stans, and we are tired of it.
Trusting us, though, would mean trusting women's accounts of our own lived experiences. If you'd really like to demonstrate that you're totally not sexist, Mr. Greenwald, you might try that sometime. And while you're at it, you might try listening to the advocates for racial justice who are critical of both major candidates, who have endorsed neither, and who have gotten pushback from supporters on both sides...and still find the Berniebros to be the biggest bullies. That might force you revise this smug bit of wisdom from your Bernie Brodyssey:
If you spend your time praising Clinton and/or criticizing Sanders, of course you personally will experience more anger and vitriol from Sanders supporters than Clinton supporters.Conversely, if you spend your time praising Sanders, you will experience far more anger and vitriol from Clinton supporters.
In a word: nope. If you think that's all that has been going on, politics as usual, then you have really not been paying attention.
Now, for another part of the attempts to mansplain away the Berniebro: the claim that they represent the sum total, or even a majority, of Bernie Sanders' supporters. Maybe somebody, somewhere, has made that claim. I know I haven't.
I know plenty of people in offline life who support Bernie Sanders, and they are perfectly lovely. I know quite a few from exclusively online interactions who are also very nice. Not all of these lovely people are white, nor are they all male. Some of them are Shakers. Some of them are feminists, womanists, or engaged in other forms of social justice advocacy. Most of them have good, thoughtful, considered reasons to support Sanders and make their cases in thoughtful and considered ways. You don't need to prove their existence to me, nor do backflips to prove that these kind, lovely people are the majority of Sanders' supporters. I actually believe that.
But using these good, diverse, thoughtful people as a shield so you can dismiss the bullying is despicable. For the record, many of these good, kind diverse people are actually quite concerned about the harassers and do their best to push back against it. But someone like Greenwald mansplaining to us that #NotAllSandersSupporters are white male assholes is doing absolutely nothing to end the harassment. It's just adding to the problem.
Let me put it this way: if you served me a casserole that was 70% lentils and broccoli, 5% basil leaves, 15% cream sauce, and 10% hogshit, would that fact that it was 90% non-hogshit erase the hogshit's existence? What percentage, exactly, of hogshit is acceptable in a casserole?
Berniebro denialists, your casserole stinks.
But I know, I know. I'm just a hysterical feminist deeply involved in the CONSPIRACY between the mainstream media, the Clinton campaign, Wall Street, competing translations of Homer, and a shadowy cabal of pig lovers. It's all a plot to keep Bernie's revolution down. It's not like you can take my word for it that this online bullying is both real and a real problem.
So maybe take it from the Bernie Sanders campaign:
In fact, top Sanders campaign aides have quietly reached out to senior officials in the Clinton campaign and women like Walsh personally to apologize for Bro behavior. Online, aides are pushing their digital community to police itself and keep the Bros quiet. And some volunteer members of Sanders’s digital army are scrambling into action, reporting offenders and moderating bro-y posts.
Still, the Bros break through, and there’s real worry in corners of Sanders-world about it.
...Shortly after Monday night’s Iowa Democratic candidate town hall in Des Moines, Sanders’ director of rapid response, Mike Casca, tweeted a simple but urgent request to the Sanders’s digital cohort. Cool it, he begged. The tweet is now permanently pinned to the top of his feed.
“if you support @berniesanders, please follow the senator’s lead and be respectful when people disagree with you,” he implored.
So riddle me this, dudes. If the Berniebro doesn't exist, why is Bernie's campaign starting to get worried about them?
Here's the thing: I don't want to sink Sanders' campaign as some sort of nefarious Clinton-orchestrated trick. I don't think Liss or anyone else who's shared their experiences of being harassed does either.
We'd just like the harassment to stop. Please. And thank you.
Instead of another column telling us that Berniebros is a media myth or that Berniebullying is unimportant, try listening for a change. Believe me, that will actually help Sanders.
But even more importantly, no matter who wins this election, that will leave a powerful legacy of centering marginalized voices and then giving pushback against those who harass us. That's a goal worthy in and of itself, as anyone who truly supports progressive goals should agree.
So, Berniebro denialists: when you've heard, really heard what we're saying, grab a mop.
And start cleaning this damn shit up.