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When Internet Trolls Run For Office

In September of 2016, journalist Olivia Nuzzi received a series of disturbing rape threats from a Trump supporter. Nuzzi, like most female journalists, was used to being on the receiving end of harassment, but this time was different – the online threats came from a GOP candidate for elected office.

Mike Kravitz, a candidate for a town council in New Jersey, started posting on Nuzzi’s Facebook page in late 2014, first propositioning her (gross) then later calling her an “Ugly. Stupid Cunt. :)” when she ignored him (double gross, equally predictable). One day, when Nuzzi posted an embarrassing piece about then-candidate Trump, he responded with: Krawitz's harassing comments

Fuck. You. Olivia, I. Hope. Somebody. Rapes. You. Today. :)”

“Hope. You. Get. Raped. By. A. Syrian. Refugee. :)”

A GOP candidate for public office felt comfortable expressing support for the rape of a female journalist in a public forum, in 2016. (Kravitz claims he was hacked; his distinctive writing style makes this seem implausible).

Nuzzi’s experience stuck with me, and I returned to it when the Daily Beast exposed New Hampshire State Rep. Robert Fisher (also of the GOP) as the secret founder of ‘Red Pill,’ the infamously misogynistic Reddit cesspool that serves as home base for “men’s rights activists,” rape apologists, and just plain rapists.

Fisher appears to have presided over the forum in its heyday and joined in on all the virulent sexism, writing that women had “sub-par intelligence” (only made “worth it” because of their bodies), stoking GamerGate harassment, joking about rape, saying “every woman wants to be attractive enough to be raped,” and writing a three-part screed entitled “All Women Lie About Rape” (noticing a pattern?).

According to the Daily Beast, “Fisher insisted that his online rants were a result of a bad breakup,” because apparently anti-feminists can blame women for literally anything, including a fully grown adult’s years of online rape apologia.

Under public pressure, Mike Kravitz dropped out of his race and Robert Fisher resigned from the New Hampshire legislature. But I’m left wondering: what do we do when the online trolls – the same people who tweet sexist garbage (and sometimes scary threats) at me and my friends, the same people who doxx sexual assault survivors, the people who call women liars while urging men to deceive us to get laid – run for office?

And, unsettlingly – what if these people aren’t really as fringe as we’d like to believe they are?

Fisher’s outrageous behavior was not as much of an outlier in the New Hampshire statehouse as you might think: in 2015 Republican State Rep. Josh Moore told a fellow, female Representative that she “should have no problem with a mans [sic] inclination to stare at [a breast] and grab it,” shortly before another Republican State Rep., Al Baldasaro, publicly denigrated her breasts. Both of them are still in office.

After Fisher was unmasked, the New Hampshire House held a hearing to determine if he should be sanctioned by his fellow legislators. The committee decided “no action” should be taken.

What if these aren’t exceptions, but only somewhat extreme examples of a dark undercurrent running throughout the GOP, throughout the country? Good Polite Republicans like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse have the courtesy to make their sexism subtext: they’ll condem Trump’s sexist tweets about female news anchors (while still opposing paid family leave and supporting attacks on maternity coverage). But maybe the right is dispensing with the pretext.

After all, when Trump can brag about sexually assaulting women and still be elected President, what’s to stop a Robert Fisher from anonymously encouraging it online? If Donald Trump can openly encourage violence against journalists, what’s to stop Mike Kravitz casually support raping a female journalist whose coverage he doesn’t like?

When men like Trump and Moore and Baldasaro are never held accountable for their open, vile, undeniable sexism, why shouldn’t the trolls come out of the woodwork and slap their hate on a campaign flier?

Reflecting on the Kravitz incident last September, Olivia Nuzzi wrote that “the comments have come alive – and they’re running for office.” I’m worried they’re already winning.

Image credit: Boston Magazine and the Daily Beast.

Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, where she writes about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice. Sejal is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national campaign to end gender-based violence in schools, where she has led several state and federal campaigns for student survivors' civil rights. In the past, Sejal led LGBT rights campaigns for the Center for American Progress. Today, she is a student at Harvard Law School and a frequent speaker on LGBTQ rights and civil rights in schools.

Sejal Singh is a law student and columnist at Feministing, writing about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice.

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