Berning for a New Day
Nevada state party chairwoman Roberta Lange complained to the press this week that in the wake of the convention there, she was receiving threats, and she shared a number of the texts she had received. The messages were ugly, misogynist, and kind of scary. Which made me wonder who would write that, and is this the mythical Bernie Bro made real?
So I reached out. Phone calls to three of the numbers cited yielded one call back. About a half hour after I’d left a message, I was talking with a very agitated young man who began the conversation by insisting that anything he was saying was anonymous.
I wasn’t sure at first if he was saying he just didn’t want his name used, or if he was connected to the Anonymous organization. In fact, those lines were a little blurred. He’s associated with Anonymous, but as he explained, it’s pretty loose. He was in contact with others on Reddit. That’s where he’d got Lange’s cell number.
So, I asked, did he write these ugly texts?
He launched in. He’s pissed off. Angry and frustrated and really just wanted to get a reaction out of Lange. He told me “She’s a bully, and she pushes people and argues, then backs out and calls foul.” He said that she doesn’t understand that her actions affect people. And not just in Nevada, but people all around the country. And not just her, but Hillary and Trump and the whole establishment.
Everything you do, he said, has consequences. “Everything you do has an effect on everyone.”
He wanted to make her understand what she’s doing by shutting the people down.
He was talking fast — pent up, fed up. Concerned about protecting his privacy in one moment, sharing details about his life in others. He’s in his mid-20’s, living on social security for a disability. The money and the help he’s getting are not enough, he said, and he’s so frustrated.
He told me that he has terrible seizures that make it hard for him to get a job. There was a deep well of desperation and hurt in his voice. He came close to crying, maybe he was crying, when he gasped, “and it’s not my fault!”
He said one time he almost got hit by a car, because of collapsing in the grips of a seizure. And now, he said, he is being thrown under the bus by the establishment. He framed it this way: He’s been taking punches again and again. Been taking it peacefully. But now, he’s tired of all the bullshit.
He said these texts were him punching back. That he’s tried to be nice, but that at some point, it’s time not to be nice anymore.
I asked him to talk more about the texts. He was obviously very distressed. But why would he write such scary texts, and say things that obviously Senator Bernie Sanders wouldn’t want said, in ways he’d never say them. Sexist name calling and statements that make it sound like he’s going to hurt Lange’s grandchildren.
First off, he said, it’s not about Bernie. It’s about trying and failing to make it on a very limited income. And he wasn’t threatening that he’d hurt her or her family, he said, it’s a metaphor. People were misunderstanding. He wanted to get her goat and to warn her. To warn her that her actions affect others, and will affect her. Will attack her.
He quoted JFK: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The line is from a speech by President Kennedy laying out his policy of economic engagement with Latin America, a policy the White House funded, even as they imposed a blockade on Cuba and attempted to overthrow its socialist government.
He told me again that he is just a twenty-something guy looking for help. He’d had dreams, when he was in high school, that he would go to college and graduate, then move to Japan and live as a writer there. But he hadn’t been able to do that. Again said he’s so frustrated. He sounded incredibly sad.
But still, he said, he’s a writer.
“It’s not me saying this,” he said of the texts, “it’s we the people.” And, he admitted, he goes about things sometimes in an odd way… saying when he gets angry he goes into a very narrow space. Expresses himself in ways that are too simple. But, he insisted, he’s trying to say something.
It’s not him threatening, he said, he makes up a character, it’s him telling them what’s coming, if they keep it up.
It’s a persona, he told me, an exaggerated self. It’s made up of everyone, all together. A personification of everyone who feels like revolt would be a good idea. The establishment, as he put it, ought to be more open to how the people are feeling, or things will inevitably go to a very violent place. Revolt and revolution. Agitation. That is the person they fear, he said.
Before we hung up, he made clear again that he didn’t want to be identified by name. I reminded him that I didn’t even know his name. I only had a phone number, and that was being widely published. He said the number wasn’t even a real phone number, more of a VOIP screen. He laughed, “I’m a sneaky bastard, aren’t I?”
I said I wasn’t working on a story specifically, and wasn’t rolling tape, but I had wanted to understand where he was coming from. I told him to write me if he wanted to talk more, and he shared his email address.
It was a unique enough name that I was able to search and find him easily. He pops up on a list associated with a political party affiliated with Anonymous. Street address, phone number. He shows up in some posts about his family.
And on Facebook.
His photos there include a picture of what I assume is his small bedroom — haphazardly painted baby blue over raw sheetrock. The walls are plastered with anime posters. Japanese books and dvds are stacked in a bookshelf.
The few personal images in his albums show a slight young man, bespeckled, and in most of them wearing a brown beard. One shows this young man standing next to his proud father, holding a high school diploma. It’s from a small town in the pacific northwest.
His profile picture does not show this young man though, it’s a portrait of Senator Bernie Sanders. And the posts are mainly pro-Bernie, pro-peace, pro-environment, anti-big business, anti-Hillary.
The top one is from a news analysis article. It reads: “Everyone telling Bernie Sanders to be realistic, sit down, watch his tone, and fall in line: What if a teacher or coach said this to your child.”