Shortly after I wrote an article for Newsweek about how Donald Trump’s business interests could undermine national security should he be elected president, one of his supporters assaulted me. He used the internet to do it.
Throughout my adulthood, I have never made a secret of the fact that I have epilepsy. It’s better controlled now than it has been during other parts of my life, but not completely—my neurologist tells me I have intractable epilepsy, meaning treatment will never bring the condition fully under control. I know how people—particularly children—with seizures suffer when uninformed idiots suggest they should impose limits of their lives or quell their aspirations. So when Fox News blowhard and college dropout Sean Hannity practically drooled in delight this election season as he falsely proclaimed that Hillary Clinton suffered from seizures based on her acting goofy in a short video clip, it infuriated me. I knew how his message would be heard—people with seizures look ridiculous, they should be afraid of others laughing at them, they should listen to the voices telling them they can’t do what they want (even be president). And so I raged at Hannity in the pages of Newsweek, on cable television news shows and on Twitter.
A couple of weeks later, after my article about how Trump’s business interests would create a conflict of unprecedented proportions, I received a tweet from someone with the twitter handle “Mike's Deplorable AF.” Like many Trump supporters, he has chosen to identify himself as deplorable to mock the label once used by Clinton to describe the racists, neo-Nazis, homophobes and like who have crawled out of the sewer to cheer for the Republican nominee. Mike, however, is indeed deplorable.
In his tweet, which has since been deleted, Mike made mention of my seizures and included a small video. It contained images of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character that has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate symbol. I was carrying my iPad, looking at the still image on the video and, without thinking, touched the PLAY button.
The video was some sort of strobe light, with flashing circles and images of Pepe flying toward the screen. It’s what’s called epileptogenic—something that triggers seizures. Fortunately, since I was standing, I simply dropped my iPad to the ground the second I realized what Mike had done. It landed face down on the bathroom floor.
The deplorables are real. The deplorables are dangerous.
Because I have written critically about Trump, I have received innumerable death threats, sometimes just general invocations that I should die, sometimes more specific threats that I should be shot or “lynched,” as one Trump fan wrote. I have been called “kike,” “Jew” and “anti-American Zionist,” even though I’m Episcopalian with a Jewish father (as if that makes a difference). I have received video cartoons that look like they are from Nazi Germany of hook-nosed men dressed in Jewish garb rubbing their hands greedily over piles of money. I have been told to go back where I came from, whatever that means. I have been called “fag,” “pedo,” and once—in an email that made no sense—“nigger-lover.” One Trump fan mentioned he knew which schools my children attended, and correctly named them. Topping it off, some Trump fans have even gone after one of my sons online, although he knew enough to immediately block them.
My family has been through this before—it is sometimes a consequence of writing about controversial topics—but this is the first time we have discussed whether I should continue investigating an issue. All of them agreed I should stay on this story— since Trump won’t release much information about himself, digging up everything that can be found before the election is important for the country. But why is this even a discussion? We do not live in a third-world nation where journalists who report unpleasant realities are in danger. While I believe that most of these threats—except for Mike’s—are from internet blowhards, why does my family even have to wonder about this? And why am I convinced that, just by writing this article, Mike will get lots of new Twitter followers and praise from profoundly evil people?
I am far from the only journalist exposed to the bottom-feeders among Trump supporters who traffic in violence, threats, racism and anti-Semitism. In a tweet, Charles Blow, an African-American columnist for The New York Times who has been harshly critical of Trump both in the newspaper and on television, told me he is bombarded with racist fury through email. Katy Tur of NBC reported in an article in Marie Claire that she had to be escorted out of a Trump rally in December by Secret Service to protect her from raging Trump supporters who had sicced on her by their candidate. She was also the primary subject of a death threat two weeks later on Twitter.
“MAYBE A FEW JOURNALISTS DO NEED TO BE WHACKED,” the tweet from someone with the handle GuyScott33 read. “MAYBE THEN THEYD STOP BEI[N]G BIASED HACKS. KILL EM ALL STARTING W/ KATY TUR.”
There are more. According to The Daily Beast, Bethany Mandel, a conservative essayist who has written about her opposition to Trump, had been so violently attacked on social media that she felt compelled to purchase a gun for protection. Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, received an email telling him he would be sent to “a camp” when Trump wins. After she published an article in GQ about Melania Trump, Julia Ioffe, a Jewish journalist, received death threats by phone and email, and tweets showing vile images such as an anti-Semitic caricature of a Jewish man on his knees being shot in the back of the head; she filed a police report. Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor of The New York Times, tweeted a link to a Washington Post opinion piece that was harshly critical of the Trump phenomenon. The vicious attacks on Weisman, who is Jewish, came quickly.
“Get used to it you fucking kike,’’ tweeted one of the deplorables who goes by the handle “deplorable basket weave.” “You people will be made to pay for the violence and fraud you've committed against us.”
This is not an unavoidable consequence of a contentious political campaign. This is exceptional, a circumstance brought about by the gutter rants of Donald Trump and his refusal to condemn the racists, neo-Nazis and other deplorables who support him. That our country has reached this point, where the line between modern American political supporters and Hitler’s brownshirts is becoming thinner by the day, is unacceptable. That GOP candidates have stood by and allowed this ugliness to flourish without aggressively condemning their candidate for what he has set loose, simply because they are seeking re-election or fear losing their jobs at the mid-terms, will stain the Republican Party for decades.
I write this knowing that it will spur more vile and violent online attacks on me. I have warned my children and my wife to be extra careful. And now that I have revealed how easy it is to inflict an injury on me, until this election is over, I will not be pushing PLAY on any unsolicited video I receive. It’s simply too dangerous.