Though I had never met Mary before, I messaged her when I saw that some rightwing Walker support groups had published her home address and phone number on Facebook. She was a Facebook "friend" through activist channels, so I figured I would let her know her info was made public. She already knew. They've posted her private info five times since summer, and have relentlessly harassed her. What follows is a chilling story of bullying, implicit physical threat, and coordinated intimidation.
When I went to the prearranged coffeshop I expected to meet a fiery activist. You know the type: aggressive, full of fight, tough and determined, battle-scarred weary, but ready for the next round. Instead, waiting for me at a table was a sweet looking early middle-aged woman, nicely dressed, nice smile… someone I might expect to meet walking her Jack Russell Terrier at the dog park, or at my son's middle school parents' night. Her gentle demeanor could not hide the palpable worry in her eyes. She is a single woman living alone, and constant fear has plagued her since August.
Last summer, a couple of activist friends from Madison contacted Mary to see if she would help them administer their anti-Walker Facebook pages. They were being harassed by an amorphous group of rightwing Walker supporters, and needed someone to delete troll posts and unfriend trolls. It was really nothing, and not expecting any consequences for such mundane housekeeping chores, she agreed to help out. "If only I knew then what I know now," she exclaimed.
She began to delete the most childish posts on her friends' site, and she blocked the annoying parties. But this, for some reason, drew the ire of this ring of schoolyard bullies.
The trolls are pretty well organized. The various actors take on multiple identities, which is easy to do on Facebook if you enlist multiple email accounts. They are collectively responsible for such sites (which periodically go off line) as:
1) Walker Backers Watching Walker Stalkers which posts times and info about recall drive locations and urges people to go harass signature gatherers, and also posts private information about anti-Walker activists.
2) Recall Walker Worker Infobase which purports to be gathering data dossiers on recall workers and people who sign recalls with the implicit hope of intimidation, as well as orchestrating call-in campaigns complaining to businesses that allow recall petition gatherers anywhere near their business. (see my previous diary about them here).
3) Operation Burn Notice which openly declared felonious action and fraud in the form of gathering petitions in order to shred, burn and/or urinate on.
4) Occupy 99% which was a Trojan Horse page declaring "success" of the recall campaign which meant that recall work could stop. It seemed like a Leftie site, but its "donate" page linked to the extreme right. (taken down)
5) Knot My Wisconsin which is a page devoted to misinformation about the recalls, though its content has been gentled down lately as complaints against these rightwing sites are beginning to manifest.
Once you are in their malicious cross-hairs, some of them data-mine any information they can possibly get. Where do you live? Where do you work? Do you have outstanding complaints, tickets, arrests against you? What is your credit score? What is your house worth? Do you have other web pages? Do you have a business?
Within days of Mary's summer admin work, four different Facebook pages went up attacking her. The goons found an old resume and began to troll her side business of jewelry sales, registering constant false complaints and negative endorsements to dissuade online business. They began to post her home address and phone numbers throughout their sites. And they began to constantly call and spam her place of work, complaining about her behavior and the job she does.
Kristi Lacroix, the "teacher" in the new pro-Walker ad (she is a teacher, but at a charter school) posted on Mary's jewelry page: "'Geri Gems' has a Facebook page. Maybe it is time to post on it so that prospective customers can know who they are buying from." William Jenkins (assumed alias) then posted on the business page "This company runs a shady operation. If you like cheap ass jewelry from a disgusting slob of a person, this is a place for you. Suck a cock, whore." And the fun-loving lads in the rightwing circle-jerk Photoshopped Mary's face on the head of a fornicating pig, expressing that they were "feeling sorry for the other pig" and of course, posted it all over the internet. Dan Briski suggested that they "Definitely need to rattle her tree…" in context of her home address being posted, and Walker Backers Watching Walker Stalkers' Santo Ingrilli agreed, "yes we should rattle her cage a bit."
Last summer, this same cluster of Facebook fascists published residence information of another activist, a young woman from Madison, with the suggestion that "people should visit her." A few days after that, her apartment was broken in to. Madison police were sympathetic, but felt that cause and effect were too tenuous for charges or arrests. With no proof of connection, nothing has happened regarding the crime.
But not only are these people mean, they are mean crazy.
Delusional people often engage in paranoid over-coded narratives - attributing truth to the flimsiest circumstance, and projecting conspiracy in mundane contexts. Think Ted Kaczynski. For instance, Mary once lived, for two weeks, on a Silver Knoll Court. Their "discovery" of this exciting fact led to their conclusion that Mary was "aka Robert Knoll", a very visible anti-Walker activist. This makes sense in their world of fraud, since they have multiple malicious identities. Though Mary has never done anything more than delete some troll posts off of a friend's Facebook page, they attribute all of Robert Knoll's political activity to her. So even when she does nothing, and tries to get away from their unwarranted attentions, they have invented a system that perpetuates their hostility towards her. And their terrorism continues to this day.
When she went to the police, the police laughed cynically; not because they didn't believe her, but because they knew they couldn't do anything about it. When she went to the DA in September at the prompting of a friend with some connections, they assigned an "internet crime" case-worker, though this woman has said that she "doesn't get involved in politics" and doesn't seem willing to connect the ongoing harassment with a concerted political campaign of intimidation and silencing. The implicit crime of Operation Burn Notice didn't bother her, because those were "partisan politics." So far, nothing has happened.
I had assumed that these domestic terrorists were local beer-and brat Brietbart wannabes. Think again. While some of them, such as Lauren Stephens who runs the Recall Walker Workers Infobase clearly are local (she is a tea bagger nightmare running for Congress in 2012 in Wisconsin's conservative sixth district) it seems that some are paid operatives ranging as far away as Arizona. In a recent exposé titled "The 'brains' behind 'Operation Burn Notice' revealed?" blogger Bill Schmalfedt has done an excellent job untangling some of the threads woven around Aaron Burr, one of the more aggressive misogynists. The whole article is well worth the read. In it, Aaron Burr states:
I'm smacking seriously stupid people around on the net and it's boring the Hell out of me. I'm just a hired gun for this brouhaha. I could care less what Wisconsin does.
When asked who is paying him, and how much, Burr replies:
I wish I could divulge the name of the client who hired me, but due to the confidentiality clause in the contract, I simply cannot. However, it ain't the tea party, the GOP, Scott Walker or anybody you've ever heard of. It's just some random guy. He liked my writing style and wanted to have some fun. Simple as that. Haven't you ever ghosted an article?
Meanwhile, they've targeted Mary, this nice, unassuming woman sitting across from me, who has grown more and more visibly upset. Tears well up in her eyes. She chokes back a sob, and exclaims, "I am a nice person! I've never done anything to these people. Why are they doing this to me?" She begins to cry.
There is a bit of an embarrassed silence between us. I suggest she get a lawyer and take it through civil process. She has no money. She's afraid that they are compromising her new job. She's afraid of getting fired. She's afraid she'll meet some jerk on her walk home. She's afraid that her house will be broken into. She's afraid that her reputation will be irreparably damaged. She's afraid that her side business will be ruined by false testimonials. And she is plainly and simply hurt that people would do this to anyone.
After drying her eyes, she expresses relief at being able to talk to someone who takes this issue seriously. People often blame her for "using her real name" (which she never openly did) or for helping her activist friends in the first place (which never dawned on her would bear such consequence).
Finally, I asked her what she is doing to fight back. Sitting up straighter, with a bit more steel in her voice, she replied "I've been going out to get a lot of recall signatures. I've gotten just under 500 on my own!"
I've gotta say, I've been doing some good recall gathering, and have nothing close to 500 signatures! "This is all a distraction," she says, more fight rising. "They want to distract us from the recall. Nothing will keep me from gathering signatures!"
Go for it, Mary… Power comes to us in many forms.
My hope with this story, Kossacks, is that we can find her legal representation. I'm hoping we can continue to shine a light on the brownshirt thuggishness of such mean-spirited violence. I'm hoping that even a single woman living alone is able to express her left-leaning centrist political opinions without her life being turned upside down. I'm hoping someone opens up a can of wompass on these jackboot mercenaries, and that, in the best of all possible worlds, they might learn what it is to be human.