Socialism Deferred: How DSA Failed in the Fight Against Sexual Violence & Racism
In September 2018, after a yearlong covert whisper campaign and an eight-month politically-motivated investigation failed to find cause to remove me from the DSA National Political Committee (NPC), a public smear campaign was launched in which I was falsely accused of rape. I was attacked with immediate public calls for my resignation via Twitter, ensuring that I’d be blacklisted and exiled from public life. Within a week, I lost my job at a progressive law firm and haven’t been able to work since. The false narrative was leveraged by members of DSA’s NPC to force me out of my elected position in DSA. All my political work collapsed.
I struggled for months to decide what to do. When falsely accused it is difficult to feel or perceive anything beyond the pain stemming from the injustice. These highly inflammatory smears were no small matter as they directly impacted my family, and all those who love me. In a desperate attempt to try to add credibility to a false and completely unsubstantiated rape narrative, an unsigned September 2018 letter used the true fact of my mother’s own rape as leverage (a secret I had only confided in three people) and then broadcast it via Twitter. This experience has been highly emotional for all of us as we endured the cruelty of these antagonists.
At the end of the day, I am a communist. I am duty-bound to take the high plane of struggle and put principle above my feelings so as to clarify for others the common political truths that we all face. The malicious opportunism of antagonists and even my own errors have instilled in me a greater appreciation for the clarifying power of the high line. I have learned the lesson well.
The political truth is that a crisis of governance has swept our society. In the case of sexual assault there are and have long been grave miscarriages of justice that have destroyed many, many lives. The rightful lack of public confidence in the existing justice process has brought us to a moment of transformation, but also one of confusion in which we are tempted to abandon the rule of law itself. If we take this path, then we are only left with extralegal vigilantism based on personal subjective opinions of guilt and retribution. That is not the path to justice.
Sexual violence is a core element of women’s oppression, which is a society-level problem that cannot be resolved by reckless vigilantism or opportunist railroading. That is precisely why I believe in revolution — not against the rule of law, but to fulfill its promise.
Socialism is the mode through which justice and liberation can be achieved. By rewarding extralegal vigilantism and the politically-motivated butchering of due process, DSA failed to uphold the promise of socialist justice and instead demonstrated a commitment to more of the same old dysfunction and injustice that characterize the status quo. Vigilantism and railroading are opportunist deviations from socialism’s revolutionary obligation to actually solve the social crisis and lead the class struggle to a new rule of law on a new basis.
This experience has strengthened my belief and commitment. I’ve come full circle, as it was my commitment to socialism as revolutionary class struggle which drew the ire of the very antagonists who mobilized this false accusation and smear in the first place.
Hostile forces continue to use false stories about me for their own agendas and as fodder for their public tweets and Facebook commentaries, such as March 22, 2018 tweets directed at Bhaskar Sunkara in a threaded discussion on the dissolution of the ISO’s cadre structure. In her tweets at Bhaskar Sunkara in March 2018 Allison Hrabar claimed “DSA failed to remove RL Stephens from leadership and I, am (sic) individual member, had to use my social clout to out him. He ended up quitting on his own.”
In the wake of members leaving the ISO in the fallout from the alleged mishandling of a sexual assault allegation, and in the buildup to DSA’s summer 2019 convention, I want to set the record straight.
- I did not quit on my own. I was defamed through a year-long covert whisper campaign by third-parties, and then investigated by DSA leadership on the basis of these false third-party whispers without a claimant and in full violation of DSA’s stated rules.
- When the sexual assault investigation and whisper campaign failed to produce any evidence of guilt, or even an actionable claim, third parties publicly accused me with the same false allegation that had been investigated and found to be not substantiated. I was then forced out of my elected position under threat of further public smearing for a crime I did not commit, and without a single opportunity to be heard or present evidence under a rules-based process.
- Unsatisfied with coercing me out of my elected position and fracturing the political work I was doing and representing, NPC members threatened me that if I didn’t confess then a letter would be released falsely accusing me with the same false narrative that failed to be substantiated in DSA’s investigation. I did not confess and told them I was innocent.
- I suggested establishing a formal forum managed by an independent organization where the woman who is the subject of this false allegation could personally make a claim and I could respond with evidence. It was agreed. Days later she backed out and I was told by NPC members that I had to confess first before a process could begin. I declined, then the same letter falsely accusing me that the NPC members previously threatened me with was published via Twitter in retaliation.
I am now forced to respond to this false accusation publicly, and I do not do so lightly. False accusation negatively impacts the legitimate struggle against sexual violence, which is why these matters should not be prosecuted via Twitter or politically-motivated kangaroo court.
The opportunity before us isn’t to find who to blame, but to instead choose to commit to a political line that can actually solve the problems so we can be free both as individuals and a society. The problems go beyond the specific personnel involved, even those who acted maliciously. However, given that this matter was pursued primarily through covert whispers and public smearing, it’s important to be specific so as not to confuse the matter by lumping everyone together.
From the very beginning, this matter was orchestrated by third-parties with their own agendas. The woman who is the subject of this false rumor, RM, was never involved in the DSA investigation. According to RM the rumor was initially weaponized by DSA members politically hostile to me — namely Jonny Allen and Alex Press of Jacobin Magazine. Press had already staked her career on the need to “weaponize” whisper campaigns in an October 17, 2017 Vox article titled “It’s time to ‘weaponize’ the whisper network.”
October 18, 2017 RM sent messages to @halajew in which RM claimed that she was “pressured” into allowing Allen and Press to initiate a whisper campaign against me and on her behalf. She acquiesced. RM also wrote that Alex Press pressured her to make a claim to DSA in order to get me “off the NPC” and that Alex Press had attempted to “guilt-trip” her into filing a claim with DSA. RM declined to file a claim. RM and her Twitter friend described Alex Press and her pressure tactics as “fucked up.” I was sent screenshots of RM’s October 2017 messages in December 2018.
I have no idea if RM’s accusations against Press are true, as RM was also making false allegations against me in the very same conversation. However, I do know that the DSA Steering Committee launched an investigation into the false rumor based solely on the third-party whisper campaign Alex Press had started and without RM’s involvement or even a claim from her. RM declined to participate in the DSA investigation when contacted for a statement. As there was no claimant and only third-party rumor, DSA’s investigation was a “weaponized” whisper campaign at the institutional level.
Beginning in December 2017, I was subjected to an investigation authorized by the DSA Steering Committee (Zac Echola, Chris Riddiough, Natalie Midiri, Jeremy Gong, Joe Schwartz), overseen by DSA’s National Director, Maria Svart, and conducted by Melissa Woods of the law firm Cohen & Weiss. On December 4th, 2017 DSA’s then Deputy Director, David Duhalde, told me I was under investigation by the DSA Steering Committee for sexual assault but he did not provide details of any kind despite my asking. A month later he left DSA staff to work at Our Revolution. Maria Svart emphasized that the investigation was to be confidential, though she did not abide by the confidentiality and within a month told of its existence to Bill Fletcher.
DSA Resolution 33 mandates that (1) an accuser must submit a written report, (2) the accused will be contacted within seven days to notify them that a report has been filed against them and (3) an investigation can be triggered if the accused denies the substance of the report. This convention-mandated process was never followed in my case. Instead, it was deliberately circumvented by the national staff and elected leadership of DSA.
The practical effect of deviating from DSA’s official rules governing grievances was to lower the burden of proof, thus allowing for anonymous hearsay and gossip to be given the weight of a law firm’s letterhead. Throughout the eight months of the investigation, I made numerous written requests for specific allegations in writing, and none were ever provided. I was never told who was accusing me or what specifically was being alleged. I was never charged.
The racial dynamics underpinning this matter were palpable. The investigation report concluded with findings such as calling a white person racist being labeled “hate speech.” Despite the bias, DSA’s investigation summary report concluded that “None of the allegations of sexual assault could be substantiated.”
The DSA investigation was politically-motivated on its face, authorized by political antagonists who were also its primary interviewees. These ulterior motives were flagrantly laid bare in the July 2018 summary report of the DSA investigation, which claimed that I was engaged in an attempt “to destabilize and destroy DSA, as it currently exists, and rebuild the organization to his liking.” This matter was actually a political vendetta masquerading as a criminal investigation.
Not only was the investigation politically-motivated in its content, but it was authorized in the wake of a very public political fight in which the vicious hostility I had been receiving was beginning to be observed and acknowledged by the broader DSA membership.
November 26th, 2017 Amber Frost wrote a Facebook post response to a Facebook post I wrote on the Democratic Party and realignment. I had argued that getting absorbed into the orthodoxy and defining coalition of the Party was the measure of success for an electoral reform struggle. In response, Amber falsely accused me of Trotskyism and suggested that my efforts were somehow just a vulgar ploy to get a book deal. In the ensuing thread, someone threatened to punch me on sight. A week later, I was brought up on the trumped up DSA investigation.
I had a vision of a socialism that confronted white nationalism and empire as a matter of first principle, that embraced class struggle as liberation and not reductive economism, that was not bound to DSA founder Michael Harrington’s limiting horizon of the “left wing of the possible.” I and my political partners believed that socialism was not about expanding entitlements for workers, but rather a global struggle to transcend bourgeois entitlement itself. I attempted to conduct political work with people across the country in furtherance of these basic principles. In response, DSA leadership routinely undermined our political work on false pretenses and accused me of attempting to destroy DSA before purging me for a crime I did not commit.
Whether you believe in my innocence or not, railroading and socially excommunicating someone for a crime on the presumption of their guilt and without a single chance to be heard should be cause for profound concern. It should also give everyone tremendous pause that this social excommunication and violation of due process in DSA were built on one of America’s founding myths: that Black men rape white women and it need not be determined by law, only punished as brutal public spectacle.
I can empathize with people who go along with these public spectacles. I can also empathize with those onlookers who are scared to ask questions or express reasonable doubts for fear of being purged themselves. However, what I’ve found is that this process, or lack thereof, is McCarthyism by another name, and it kills socialism.
What follows is a political summation and a timeline of the institutionalization of a whisper campaign, railroading, and subsequent public smearing.
De-Platforming at Jacobin
I was recruited into DSA at a Brooklyn bar in December 2016 by Neal Meyer and Amber Frost. By May 2017, I had produced a popular podcast for Jacobin Magazine, written nationally-recognized work for Viewpoint Magazine, and given interviews that reached hundreds of thousands of people. I also began a job at Jacobin.
I wanted to be the “Fred Hampton Fellow,” as I was eager to platform socialist work that emphasized the liberation of oppressed people and revolutionary internationalism. To my disappointment, Bhaskar told me we couldn’t use Fred Hampton’s name because it may cause problems with the organizations who provide grants to Jacobin. I was instead deemed the “A. Philip Randolph Fellow.” Though I was wary of the political history it evoked, at the time I did not truly appreciate the political significance of the A. Philip Randolph title.
I had been recruited to DSA and Jacobin on the basis of my critiques of Black liberalism, but I was interested in more than just criticizing Black political trends. For example, in September 2017 an editor at the Washington Post, James Downie, got my email from Liz Bruenig and asked me to expand on a critique of the most recent Ta-Nehisi Coates article. I declined on the basis that I had already written my analysis months prior and that was enough for me. I wrote that I did not want to make “my name by tailing after Mr. Coates with critiques.”
I was interested in other subjects. Rather than simply critique other Black writers, I wanted to write and speak about socialism for the liberation of oppressed people.
In August 2017, I won election to DSA’s National Political Committee after I chose to leave the Jacobin-aligned Momentum leadership slate (Natalie Midiri, Jeremy Gong, Christian Bowe, Ella Mahony, Dustin Guastella, Chris Maisano, and others) due to political divergence, particularly over what I believed was chauvinism and racial tokenism. In a July 2017 phone call, Christian Bowe told me that they wanted me because I was good at talking and they weren’t. I underestimated just how powerful the general expectation was for me to be a Black skinned personification of other people’s talking points.
Even after I split from the Momentum faction, the racial dynamic remained in place. In the run up to the August 2017 DSA election an anonymous Twitter account, @ratancouch, criticized Momentum on racial grounds. I had nothing to do with the account and did not sponsor the attacks. Neal Meyer of DSA Momentum, who was also a Jacobin reading group coordinator, tweeted a demand for me to publicly condemn @ratancouch. I refused, responding, “It’s inappropriate to pressure me to denounce this person, especially when they’re drawing attention to hostile racial dynamics in this group.” It was an insult and reflective of a politics of tokenism that only sees Black people as either opportunists or attack dogs.
I underestimated the consequences of splitting from the political milieu that had gotten me a job at Jacobin, put me on podcasts, and circulated my articles. I underestimated the cost of opposing these forces politically.
If leaving the Jacobin-aligned Momentum slate made waves, my persistent efforts to spur political development beyond the narrow role for which I had been recruited to DSA/Jacobin truly rocked the boat. When I travelled to Charlottesville in the wake of Heather Heyer’s murder in August 2017, I observed first-hand the importance of security in the struggle against white nationalism.
So, as I helped the Charlottesville DSA members plan their meeting that week, I insisted that we have a security guard present so that people would feel safe in the wake of the attack. It turns out that the security guard was a local Black resident who had been present on the day of the attack and had fought the Nazis in the street. I interviewed him and members of DSA, recording and publishing their stories for my employer Jacobin.
I made a video from Charlottesville at my employer’s request. I was particularly moved by the stories I heard from Black residents who had not expected white southerners to risk their lives — and in the case of Heather Heyer, to die — in defense of Black people’s citizenship in the body politic including the right to self-defense.
I spoke about these reflections in the video for Jacobin, but it was taken down days later on political grounds. I never produced anything for Jacobin again. I was terminated from my job less than a month later for reasons Jacobin publisher Bhaskar Sunkara would in August 2018 call “factional.”
I do not resent Bhaskar Sunkara and I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me; I said as much when we discussed my termination from Jacobin at a Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung event in August 2018. Jacobin is a business, and Bhaskar is a businessman (or the “Puff Daddy of the left” as I affectionately christened him that night in August 2018). My open embrace of Black self-defense in the face of white nationalism in Charlottesville was bad for Jacobin’s business model, and I had no ill will towards Bhaskar for making a business decision on that basis.
What I discovered was that not only could I not name the fellowship after Fred Hampton, but Hampton’s revolutionary politics simply could not be platformed at all and were beneath discussion. He could be mentioned as a Black socialist on the day of his birth or his death, but new life could not be breathed into what he represented. In platforming self-defense and Black liberation during my time in Charlottesville, I had crossed the rubicon.
The factional antagonism that Bhaskar referenced as catalyzing my termination in August 2017 would only intensify as the antagonists sought more ways to silence me politically. The limits of a private business like Jacobin should not be imposed onto a democratic public organization like DSA, the factional antagonism muddled the line between the two as they sought to eliminate me in both domains.
The antagonism in DSA mystified deep political divergences, ensuring that the political contradictions would not be transparent to the broader membership. However, the divergences were clear to those who made themselves my antagonists — even if they often refused to frontally discuss them.
According to fall 2017 message board posts by Jacobin Magazine staff writer Luke Savage, he was told that I was not to be interviewed because my politics were off message. He wrote, “and, uh, someone in the Jacobin/DSA orbit recently messaged me for basically no reason to be like ‘DO NOT interview RL for that thing you’re doing he’s a crank.’ That was the first time I became aware of his being genuinely controversial.”
The false allegation was catalyzed and institutionalized by political antagonists who sought to render my politics beneath discussion and to eject me from public consideration. But what was I doing and representing that triggered such aggression from antagonists?
Political Conflict in DSA
To understand the antagonism, you have to know the nature of the political conflict — which is often intentionally suppressed by personalizing matters and then controversializing the individual rather than frontally engaging the political divergence itself. For example, DSA leadership’s investigation accused me of trying to destroy the organization and reshape it to my liking. Not only was I not attempting to destroy DSA, but I was not operating as an individual either. I had been democratically-elected to carry out certain political lines, and I was duty-bound to uphold those politics regardless of what it cost me. It cost me quite a lot.
But while the antagonism I experienced was particularly sharp, that antagonism resided along some of the key political fault lines in the organization as a whole and was not limited to me alone. Attempting to conduct open and transparent political engagement on a democratic basis in DSA was difficult for many people. For me personally, part of the contradiction was racial, and the other aspect was ideological.
1. Racial Tokenism vs. Black Liberation
The dynamics of tokenism were not limited to Momentum, but characterized DSA more generally. In these conditions, oppressed peoples are objects rather than subjects of socialist struggle, meaning a politics of emancipation cannot emerge. The tokenism has two distinct animating logics. On the one hand is cynical chauvinism, on the other is a sort of aimless yet well-meaning demand for the representation of various identities — both approaches are reductive and offer no resolution. I made it my priority to combat these dynamics so as to create a democratic pathway to a socialism of liberation.
I did not want to be a racial token, and it was my unwillingness to play such a role that was at the root of some of the antagonism in DSA. I was not interested in simply criticizing other Black people, I wanted to struggle for political unity with other Black socialists.
For example, though I disagreed with some of the analysis and objectives put forward by the Afro Socialists Caucus proposal, I signed their July 2017 petition to create the caucus because I supported their efforts to open up a political front where issues like reparations could be discussed and debated on principle. In November 2018 the leader of the Afro Socialist caucus, Bianca Cunningham, told me that she was informed by an unnamed DSA member that I was “coming” for her. I told her that this lie was just the latest attempt to pit Black people against one another arbitrarily in DSA, something I’d previously experienced in the organization and was a standard mechanism of racial control.
One of the great crises facing Black people in this country is that so much of what constitutes so-called Black politics is not democratically-determined but is instead brokered. I believed that DSA was an opportunity to create a more radical, more democratic entry point.
Much of my work as a DSA leader involved reaching out to Black political leaders across the country, and recruiting them to DSA because I believed, and continue to believe, that socialism is the path to political liberation. For example, during the April 2018 NPC meeting in Atlanta I took the time to reach out to Kamau Franklin of Community Movement Builders. I appeared on his local Black radio show, Renegade Culture, and openly recruited the audience to DSA. Kamau joined DSA following my efforts. I prioritized engaging Black leaders across different political traditions, always from the position that a socialist society was the key to fulfilling Black liberation.
I often observed in DSA that efforts to attend to the particularities of racial subjugation were dismissed as pure opportunism, or a distraction from so-called “class-based” work that would disproportionately impact racially oppressed people. I rejected that analysis, and instead worked to develop relationships with Black political leaders that could advance a Black liberation political line.
My commitment to Black liberation politics motivated my support of self-defense as a right and expression of full citizenship in Charlottesville. This position drew alarmist responses from Momentum/Jacobin affiliated members of DSA, from tweets to an NPC email. I was undeterred, as I believed then as I do now that Black liberation is not solely for Black people, and that all people have a part to play in the struggle for a free society. The interracial solidarity in Charlottesville was a poignant example, and was an opportunity for DSA to advance a liberation-oriented articulation of socialism rather than an economistic one.
2. Empire vs. Freedom
One of the main sticking points in the internal DSA political conflict was over the question of empire. My first proposal as a member of the NPC in 2017 was an attempt to organize solidarity trips to socialist liberation struggles in Latin America. It was a chance to go see the crisis in Venezuela, or to learn from a Black reparations movement in Honduras among other opportunities and then do an exchange where they came to the U.S. to tour DSA chapters around the country. I was the primary author and proponent of the NPC statement in support of Palestinian political prisoner Ahed Tamimi.
I attempted to build an Anti-War Think Tank in order to advance non-sectarian anti-imperialist principles that could generate mass support. I wrote an article opposing backchannel attempts, particularly by Jason Schulmann, to steer DSA’s NPC toward drafting a statement lending official support to military operations in Syria. Despite my position on Syria drawing a near constant stream of confrontational and irate internet messages, I also published an article by a DSA member who supported continued operations in Syria because I believe that these questions of empire need to be handled in a non-sectarian manner.
These efforts to confront empire were met with varying degrees of hostility. At the April 2018 NPC meeting in Atlanta, NPC member and Jacobin Magazine employee Ella Mahony told me that one of the participants in the Think Tank, professional journalist and DSA member Ben Norton, was a “Stalinist” (a baseless, false allegation) and I was not to work with him. With the exception of the Tamimi letter, these efforts to confront empire were consistently undermined or outright sabotaged through bureaucratic obstructionism on false pretenses.
3. Sectarianism vs. Democratic Struggle
As an NPC leader, I conducted political work that was openly communist and a direct challenge to chauvinism, economism, and empire. I also emphasized an approach to political organizing that prioritized creating movements and not activists. I forged connections with movement organizations that were independent of the Democratic Party, particularly Put People First PA due to their innovative movement work among poor people and building toward universal healthcare. I hosted web discussions with such groups that any DSA member could join.
I also appeared at events with other socialist organizations, such as a December 2017 forum with Philly Socialists and Black political leaders Kali Akuno and Eugene Puryear. However, the increasing factionalism threatened to derail the event. Two weeks before the event was to be held, the Philadelphia DSA Steering Committee wrote a letter to the DSA National Steering Committee demanding that I be censored for appearing at an event with Philly Socialists without first getting their permission. It was a strange sectarian attack. The signatories were: Melissa Naschek, Scott Jenkins, Jarek Ervin, Adam Goldman, Dustin Guastella, Diane Isser, Alex Nagle, Paul Prescod, Jedidiah Slaboda. Nearly all of the letter’s signatories had direct ties to Natalie Midiri of the DSA National Steering Committee, who was also an active leader in the Philadelphia DSA.
I wrote positions on a number of political questions, as was my duty as a duly elected political leader of DSA.
I wrote another article criticizing economistic “class-based politics” that failed to understand the integral relationship between the economic and political components of class struggle — particularly as it related to the oppression of women. I wrote a dissenting opinion on how to build a Medicare for All program. I hosted an NPC blog discussion on labor questions, where I argued against the tendency to view existing union leadership as the primary contradiction and instead proposed alternative approaches to questions of labor and productivity. I also wrote an article defending Medicare for All as the beginning of a healthcare struggle, while criticizing politics which considered the program to be an end to itself. In November 2017 I gave a speech at Harvard Law School which, highlighting today’s era of political crisis, was critical of DSA’s historical advocacy of the “left-wing of the possible”.
I wrote these positions and invited other DSA members to do the same because I was genuinely interested in working through political resolutions of these matters in a transparent way that allowed ideological divergence to manifest. I believed that transparent debate was the foundation of democratic struggle, and the lifeblood of socialism among the people.
As I learned about de-platforming and ideological repression through my experiences, I committed myself to shaping a different culture that was non-sectarian and could model the proper handling of political contradiction. When I was first elected to the NPC in August 2017, I did not understand the horrible consequences for political movements if contradictions are mishandled. I spent Fall 2017 correcting my errors, reading and studying how to conduct democratic struggle on principle. I took my new understanding of democratic struggle into my work as Editor-in-Chief of the DSA national blog in spring 2018.
As a member of the NPC, I prioritized working to ensure that DSA’s communication platforms were open and non-sectarian, a crucial step in our mandate to ensure the democratic determination of socialist politics in our organization. I became the Editor-In-Chief of DSA’s national blog as my NPC committee assignment.
I established an editorial standard which rejected censorship and encouraged the open exchange of political ideas, even in the face of a nationwide petition sponsored by DSA Refoundation (among others) demanding the removal of a Daniel Adkins post that the previous committee had published. I did not agree with Adkins’ argument, and had written critically of it months prior, because it praised U.S. global supremacy and identified China as a threat to that order. My criticism had drawn the ire of the outgoing blog committee chair, Barbara Joye, who told me that I had to “submit an apology to DSA member Daniel Adkins and to the blog committee.” I did not apologize, but when I became Editor-In-Chief I wrote an editorial which refused to comply with the public petition to censor Daniel Adkins and remove his article. Instead, I defended the right of Daniel Adkins to speak and I encouraged the petitioners to write a critique of the position rather than call for censorship.
By refusing to censor Daniel Adkins, I wanted to demonstrate the importance of taking the high line of struggle, even as I was afforded no such treatment by those who made themselves my political antagonists.
Defamation as Political Execution
1. Railroading through Procedural Violations
The DSA investigation report was almost entirely unexamined hearsay, false statements, baseless speculation, and political grudges. When it turned out that I was being prosecuted on such frivolous grounds and for obvious ulterior motives, I moved to make the investigation report available to the membership of DSA. It was published as part of the July 2018 NPC meeting notes.
The persistent refusal of DSA staff and elected leadership to inform me of basic details and to adhere to DSA’s stated rules is indicative of the lack of merit to these claims as well as the ulterior motives animating their mobilization. If there were actually a problem, then it would be simple to write down the specific issues and inform the accused of the details and their merits so as to allow the person to respond with evidence. However, in this instance there was no merit to the claims, and in the case of sexual assault there wasn’t even a claimant.
The DSA Steering Committee and National Director bypassed DSA’s rules because the claims were so baseless that they couldn’t bear the minimum procedural standard of Resolution 33, had it been followed.
Despite the investigation process being transparently unfair, I never once attempted to obstruct this matter. I asked repeatedly for the details and the rules of evidence so that I could respond in an appropriate way.
On March 9th, 2018, though I had received no formal complaint, I was informed that an attorney from Cohen & Weiss, Melissa Woods, had been hired. I spoke with Melissa Woods within days of her hiring, and told her that I would not participate in the investigation without specific charges and a clear articulation of the rules governing the process. Woods told me that the process was at the discretion of the organization. I emailed Maria Svart to request the rules and specific allegations, in accordance with Resolution 33, but was denied. As no claims nor legal standards were ever provided, I did not sit for an interview.
Melissa Woods was not a neutral investigator. No good faith investigation or fact finding occurred, which is born out in her biased report. Woods functioned more as a prosecutor on behalf of her employer, the DSA Steering Committee, who themselves also turned out to be her primary anonymous interviewees.
At the April 2018 NPC meeting, I moved to be presented with the specific allegations, the scope of the investigation, who managed it, and the rules governing the process. The motion carried, but I never received anything more than a vague overview. I was never presented with a specific complaint detailing any assertions, meaning the process was occurring in deliberate violation of Resolution 33 and was instead proceeding on an ad hoc basis intentionally designed to keep me in the dark.
Because this matter was a weaponized whisper campaign, the third-parties driving the defamation were not deterred by the lack of evidence in the DSA investigation report. Facts never seemed to get in the way of their efforts to smear me.
In September 2018 tweets Allison Hrabar claimed to have been the one who contacted DSA staff with this false rumor. In her fall 2017 messages to DSA staff (which she posted to Twitter in September 2018), Hrabar justified herself on the basis of a separate false claim that I had threatened a woman. I had in fact done no such thing, and DSA staff told her as much. In August 2017 Brandon Payton-Carillo, a Black rival running for the NPC circulated a false accusation that I threatened his white wife. I had attempted to report her to DSA for sabotaging democratically-determined chapter work, but was told by Maria Svart that no grievance process existed. In retaliation, Payton-Carillo falsely accused me of threatening his wife. Payton-Carillo had to write a public apology and was publicly condemned by the former NPC.
At the first NPC meeting in October 2017, I complained that Payton-Carillo’s false rumor was continuing to be circulated and that spreading such an explosive false rumor set the conditions for a racial railroading. In response, at least one anonymous NPC member claimed in the DSA investigation report that my objection to the racial abuse I was enduring was actually just an example of me harassing them with “hate speech.”
In September 2018, unsatisfied that the institutionalized weaponization of the whisper campaign failed to find cause to remove me, a public smear campaign was launched. Allison Hrabar was the chief prevaricator of this public defamation. Hrabar’s tweets scandalized me outside of any forum, fracturing my political support and making a public spectacle of this false allegation. Hrabar, at the time a paralegal for the Department of Justice, had been the one to draft and propose Resolution 33 and thus she knowingly broke procedure to engage in extralegal vigilantism.
In DSA false allegation and false rumor-mongering are common; Allison Hrabar’s ill-considered loose cannon approach makes her particularly susceptible to such manipulations (and it’s that same self-righteous recklessness that caused her to get caught incriminating herself on camera in a sting at her former DOJ job).
Hrabar herself had helped craft and pass the Resolution 33 grievance process, making her deliberate violation of the resolution that much worse. Hrabar’s actions prove that she was never committed to the substance of the resolution, as demonstrated in her September 2018 tweets.
In September 2018 tweets Hrabar also admitted to interfering in my April 1st, 2018 speaking appearance with Kali Akuno and the Seattle Communists on the basis of this false rumor. The investigation began before Hrabar spread this false rumor in a deliberate effort to sabotage my work, but the investigative process didn’t matter to Hrabar. At no point was Allison Hrabar ever committed to democratic procedure. Instead, she continued to defame and railroad me, both before and after the DSA investigation concluded. The fix was in.
2. Railroading through Coercion & Public Spectacle
DSA’s national leadership body responded to the September 2018 defamation by participating in the campaign. Individual members of DSA’s National Political Committee publicly called for my resignation, while privately preparing a motion to demand my resignation as a full body.
The false narrative made public by Allison Hrabar and outside of the investigation was used directly and deliberately as leverage by members of the NPC who claimed to have been in contact with RM — including Ravi Ahmad, Zac Echola, and Allie Cohn — to pressure me to resign my elected position in DSA. Ravi, Zac, and Allie’s involvement was particularly painful as we’d won the election as a slate and worked closely together. They made their public call without talking with me first and precluding any opportunity for me to respond.
Jacobin Magazine employee and NPC member Ella Mahony, in a September 8 2018 email pushing for my resignation, wrote “I am glad to see multiple members of this body calling for RL’s resignation, though speechless at the timing considering that the only thing that’s changed is the report is now public and accusers are now speaking publicly rather than privately.” That much was true. There was still no evidence of any wrongdoing, but Mahony and others took advantage of the public pressure generated from the public defamation to bypass fair process and punish me without regard to rules or evidence. Mahony’s email, and the actions of the broader NPC, embodied the definition of a railroading.
Mahony then justified her call for my resignation on the basis of new and completely false accusations against myself and another DSA member: “I echo this call. RL’s behavior cannot ensure a fair process for accusers, not to mention the many times he has demanded to know the identity of individual accusers. Considering that Allison Hrabar has already had her contact information doxxed, by the same Ben Norton that RL lobbied to have working on political education, it’s clear that the organization cannot have a modicum of trust with victims of harassment as long as RL is in leadership.”
Ella was self-identified as politically hostile to Ben Norton, so she made a baseless accusation of illegal activity against him and bootstrapped me to it. Mahony’s wild claims were not substantiated in any way, and yet I was somehow presumed guilty all the same — a pattern in DSA. More troublingly, Ella Mahony’s remarks displayed a total ignorance of the basic tenets of due process, as well as the conscious disregard of procedure in order to opportunistically legitimize sensationalized false public smears outside of a proper forum.
I do not expect members of DSA to have a command of U.S. constitutional law and criminal procedure, as I do after having graduated from law school in 2014, nor do I expect the same exact procedural burden to exist in DSA as that which applies to our government. However, the basic spirit of the rule of law and the rights of citizenship, particularly when criminal allegations are made, must be honored in a socialist organization where justice (racial and otherwise) is supposed to be the standard and not the exception.
These are complicated matters arising in pressure-packed situations, and so I can empathize with those who violated the rules and process out of confusion or even ignorance. However, most of this rule-breaking was deliberate and malicious, as whenever I sought to be treated with basic dignity in the face of concerted hostility, politically-motivated antagonists like Ella Mahony would twist my reasonable insistence on basic fairness into something nefarious. The fix was in.
After the investigation failed to trump up a way to push me out, DSA’s rules were bypassed again through public railroading as racialized spectacle via Twitter. Given the months of illegal and politically-motivated investigation and defamation as well as the radioactive nature of the false accusation, I did not believe that I’d ever receive fair treatment in DSA because what was happening was a purge and railroading, not a justice process.
I and my partner, Kate Siegfried, sat at the kitchen table late the night of September 9th and made the decision to resign. I felt that there was no hope for socialism through DSA, and to continue to hold onto the NPC position in these circumstances was pointless.
Unsatisfied with my resignation, the defamation campaign continued with no purpose other than to publicly scandalize me. Within an hour of my resignation, members of the NPC (Ravi Ahmad, Zac Echola, Allie Cohn) contacted me with the threat that a letter accusing me of rape would be published if I didn’t confess. I refused to confess because, even though I didn’t know any details of the accusation, I knew I didn’t rape RM. I never coerced her in any way, ever.
In a phone call with Ravi Ahmad the night of September 9th, Ahmad mentioned that RM “didn’t want to go public” so I suggested that a formal independent process should be set up in which the RM could make her accusation and I could respond. Ravi Ahmad called RM, who agreed to the process. RM then sent me a letter with Ahmad cc’d, which Ahmad confirmed in writing was the same letter they’d previously threatened to release if I didn’t confess.
Ravi Ahmad, Allie Cohn, and Zac Echola returned days later saying that RM was now insisting that no process could begin unless I first confessed. I again told them I didn’t rape RM. Allie Cohn called my partner, Kate Siegfried, seeking to get me to confess. Kate was disturbed by these efforts to coerce me yet again, having been by my side through the nearly year-long routine violations of due process as well as having herself seen the details corroborating my innocence.
After this second attempt to pressure me into a confession failed, on September 16, 2018 Allison Hrabar published an unsigned letter via Twitter allegedly on RM’s behalf. Then, I received an email copy of the letter from Allison Hrabar, which cc’d Ravi Ahmad, Allie Cohn, and Zac Echola.
This part is difficult for me to write.
I did not know RM well, as we had met once in July 2016 for a total of thirty minutes. She reached out to me a few times starting in October of that year, but we played phone tag before falling out of touch in December 2016. When we next spoke on the phone in February 2017, we were both moving forward to new opportunities in our lives. She also told me she had a crush on me. I hadn’t thought of her in an intimate way before her confession, but I trusted her implicitly. My trust was misplaced.
The September 2018 letter mentioned that I disclosed my mother’s trauma in response to RM’s story as we shared an intimate conversation about sexual violence and consent in March 2017. RM was the first person I ever told. Not even my younger brother knew. What I believed was a moment of intimate communication with RM was later used as a weapon in the September 2018 letter that Hrabar published.
When Allison Hrabar published the letter attributed to RM, she publicly broadcast my mother’s rape via Twitter. This public disclosure forced me to show the letter to my mother, and now she’s had to prepare to go on the record about the incident. My mother never consented for her assault to be published online. She was violated by that letter, and I am ashamed that my misplaced trust played a role in this unconscionable violation.
In hindsight, I now realize I had been fooled into disclosing something precious to RM through a false intimacy. I later discovered that RM routinely shared intense stories of victimization with many people, and she would continue to share them with me and seek my emotional support in the months that followed our March 2017 meet up. Because RM’s stories were so extreme, I didn’t know what was real but at the time I supported her all the same.
Do We Answer Lynching with Lynching?
I do not know what motivated RM to participate in this smearing. What I do know is that I didn’t rape her, nor did I coerce her in any way ever. I have extensive documentation that corroborates my innocence. I also know that the various conflicting narratives circulated in her name, such as the narrative in RM’s October 2017 messages to @halaljew and the fundamentally different narrative of the September 2018 letter, are all false and riddled with whole-cloth fabrications that simply never occurred.
There are a number of false assertions made in the October 2017 narrative that contradict documents and other records. These falsifiable assertions were altered or removed altogether from the September 2018 letter.
People do make false rape accusations, that’s a fact. The most common reason for adults to make a false accusation is in circumstances of infidelity, the exact situation here. Infidelity was the only thing ever at issue between myself and RM. RM acknowledged her boyfriend’s prior suspicion of her infidelity during her October 2017 Twitter messages to Sam. The issue of her infidelity was present but largely misrepresented in the September 2018 letter.
Despite RM making false statements which were at the heart of this defamation campaign, I remain steadfast in the belief that RM herself is not the true problem here. The problem is ultimately political.
Because this investigation and false accusation were political attacks, I have to respond politically. Personally, this situation has been the cause of tremendous damage for me as well as all those who love me. I have taken time away in order to gain clarity, and I pledged to speak only when I could see beyond the limitations of my own suffering and sense of injustice.
First, to the members of DSA who have supported me, this convention is your chance to save your organization and to set a new course towards socialism. That can only happen if an open, democratic ideological struggle takes place at the convention through resolutions to set guiding principles for the organization. You cannot vote for individuals who share your politics and simply hope for the best. Leadership must be established on ideological line and not simply personnel, to do otherwise is to make that person into a target without giving them the required tools to successfully carry out democratic struggle. I received the 3rd most votes in the 2017 DSA election and represented a sea change in the organization. I did my best not only to uphold the political principles that I was elected to pursue, but also to dedicate myself to developing new analysis in order to correct my errors and clarify line. I did not quit on you or on the mandate you gave me, however, through covert and underhanded means your votes were nullified and your politics went unrealized.
Without a frontal ideological struggle at your convention, backchannel forces both in DSA and even beyond the organization will continue to privately manage the DSA’s politics through de-platforming, railroading, bureaucratic intransigence, and other undemocratic means. DSA is special because it has a nominally democratic process for determining its political course — use it.
Second, I’m moving on with my life. I remain committed to socialism as class struggle towards a liberated society, and my faith has not been shaken. The pain I feel is eased with each step forward, but I recognize that I cannot move on by myself. I’m grateful to each of the people who have stood with me in the last few months. I’m thankful for my partner, my family, and my closest political partners for their continued support. I look forward to continuing to work together, and to a shared victory. Because of them, I still have a role to play in the broader struggle to come.
Finally, I have no interest in publicly attacking this coerced woman, RM. However, Allison Hrabar’s public distribution of the September 2018 letter, though unsigned, pushed both RM’s identity and my name into the public sphere outside of any legal forum and its protection. RM’s name is not a secret, but I have used her initials (RM) throughout this piece because she was used by various elements with ulterior motives as a tool in a process that was never in her control and barely included her.
The last time I communicated with RM was in October 2017, as she was in the midst of a Twitter spat with fans of the show Cumtown over the comedian Nick Mullen. She wrote to me demanding that I “do something about it,” as she believed that Cumtown fans would listen to me. I told her I couldn’t help her and that I didn’t believe I had the influence she assumed I possessed. I did encourage her to keep her head up as she seemed to be having a rough time. I wish her health and wellness now as I did then.
What DSA pursued wasn’t justice, which is impossible to achieve through a “weaponized” whisper campaign that precludes fair process and the opportunity to be heard. Justice demonstrates how specific actions violate a social standard, so as to correct the conduct of the individual and to educate the social whole as to what’s right. No such outcome happens when railroading someone, especially when that person is innocent — as I am.
If justice is not at issue, then all that remains is public shaming. Nothing positive comes from unleashing the same shame campaign onto RM that was done to me. Should she too be fired? Should she too be driven from public life? The public exposure of this false narrative could make it into a symbol of the men’s rights activists who can point to it as the reason not to believe any woman. There are real consequences to turning these matters into public spectacles.
As I’ve discussed this matter with people close to me, we’ve all wrestled with the anger over how people can get away with such flagrant injustice. Sometimes the anger at the opportunistic mobilization of this false accusation manifests as dismissals of other claims of sexual assault. We’ve all struggled tremendously against that impulse. However, in principle and despite the tremendous pain I feel having been publicly attacked with false accusation, I remain supportive of the efforts to overcome sexual violence, especially the initial struggle of Me Too to demonstrate how people can use structural power to coerce subordinates into sex.
With that in mind, I am now making perhaps the most difficult decision of my life thus far: at this time I choose not to publish the messages RM sent to @halaljew, the text messages RM wrote me, the tweets, bank statement, snapchat messages RM sent me, and other documents and corroborating evidence that demonstrate how the various conflicting narratives — including the September 2018 letter — being circulated in RM’s name are all false. This decision has not been easy for me, as I am 100% innocent of these false allegations. However, I cannot respond to lynching with lynching, as a matter of political principle. I am resolute in my belief that socialism in our time will not be founded by reckless vigilantism, public humiliation, or spectacle.
I refuse to become my enemies as I overcome them.