Documentation. Witnesses. Facts. Truth. That's what they're afraid of.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

I Think I'm Paranoid

Soundtrack for this post...

Victoria Brownworth flagged a tweet by an organization called "Northeast Democrats" this morning.

The organization's timeline appears to make it look like a mainstream (read: non-Bernie) group. So there's a Hillary-supporting Twitter feed spouting some seriously awful stuff.

Victoria calls them out for the racism and misogyny, but also for being counterproductive.

It felt more like sabotage to me, so I decided to look a bit deeper, particularly in light of this story:

According to information released by House Democrats earlier this week, Abrams was one of more than 2,750 fake Twitter accounts created by employees at the Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” funded by the Russian government based in St. Petersburg. In addition to the Abrams account, several other popular conservative social media personalities — @LauraBaeley, SouthLoneStar, Ten_GOP — were all revealed to be troll accounts. All have been deactivated on Twitter.

I'm sure the number is much higher, but the point here to me is that the mainstream press is now writing stories the give background into some of who these fake accounts were supposed to be.

According to the Daily Beast, the agency developed a following around the Abrams account by offering humorous, seemingly non-political takes on pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian. The agency also furnished the fake account, which dates back to 2014, with a personal website, a Gmail account and even a GoFundMe page.
Once the Abrams account began to develop a following, the tone of its tweets shifted from pokes and prods at celebrities to divisive views on hot topics like immigration and segregation.

I started writing this piece looking to see if the Russians were involved in that Twitter account or in the creation of that meme. (SPOILER: They weren't; the truth is both way more interesting and way less interesting that that. Bear with me here.)
I began with the Twitter account that posted this, @Jon4Vermont. Its username is "New England Democrats," but "Jon4Vermont" refers to a guy who briefly launched a 2018 Senate campaign against Bernie Sanders. The account was opened in July, right when I find the first evidence of him running:

The man who wants to take Bernie Sanders' seat in the U.S. Senate has been at odds with Sanders for more than three decades — from 1980s homeless shelters to last year's presidential campaign.
Jon Svitavsky was a supporter of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid who feels it is his duty to run for office.
"Sanders can't continue to split the party," said Svitavsky, 59, of Bridport. "I don't understand why he's been coddled for so long."
Svitavsky is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the six-year term in the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sanders. In interviews and social media posts, he has slammed Vermont's junior senator as a "control freak," an "arrogant egomaniac," and an inspiring speaker who has failed to pass legislation.
"I see him as a straw man in the sense there’s all rhetoric and there’s nothing behind it," Svitavsky said.
Svitavsky, a longtime political activist who has never held elected office, launched his campaign through Facebook and Twitter. He has not yet filed candidate paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

So, OK, fringe candidate. But why was he really running against Sanders? Click through to the story for the specifics, but he had a beef with Sanders because he Svitavsky ran a homeless shelter that didn't allow drinkers and Sanders, as mayor of Burlington, funded the opening of a competing shelter that didn't believe that leaving people homeless because of addiction issues was OK. He then left in the mid-90s and tried and failed to open another shelter in 2015. So he had an axe to grind. Maybe Bernie wasn't fair to him; it's not clear. But I'm going to give Bernie the benefit of the doubt here because, well, Svitavsky has a history of being a racist:

Svitavsky is also active on his personal Facebook page, where in 2015 he called Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush a "psychopath" and Ben Carson an "Oreo Bozo," using a derogatory term for an African-American perceived to be acting like a white person. When asked about the post, Svitavsky said he had also used the term to describe former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice but did not consider the term to be racial. Svitavsky said he would probably choose different words today.

So, that's a pattern. But whatever, not where this is going... I'll get to that soon.

Before Svitavsky opened his campaign Twitter account, he had another, @jonsvit. He started it in 2011 and only posted 17 times. Three were in October 2011:

So, he sounded like the kind of guy who would actually SUPPORT Bernie.

He tweeted twice to raise money for the shelter in 2015, and then three times against Bernie in 2017, ending with this one as his campaign was launching:

His first few tweets on his campaign account were in early July, and were retweets of the Vermont Democratic Party, like this one:

He then retweeted a Barack Obama tweet from a few weeks earlier:

His next ten tweets were retweets about Burlington-area politics and commerce, like this one:
Then this one about his campaign launch:
His tweets for the rest of July were mostly anti-Sanders retweets, like this one:

The whole time, he never actually wrote a tweet. But once again, whatever.

NOW the interesting part begins. One more anti-Bernie retweet on August 1st:

... and then on the same day:

The next three tweets were of this article from the Burlington Free Press (a local version of USA Today) with the following insults against Svitavsky: "OFD dropped this fool! Svitavsky backs Michelle Bachman, believes vaccines 'very likely a contributor' to autism," "OFD Dropped this fool! 'I also hate the intolerance, at times of the gay rights movement'. - Jon Svitavsky," and "'Svitavsky's past encounters with law enforcement are also receiving scrutiny'."

According to the Free Press article, those things are true:
Svitavsky also has posted online about vaccines, which he believes are "very likely a contributor" to autism, contrary to statements from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention that studies have shown no link between vaccines and autism.
"I'm not anti-vaccine at all, but I think that it's wise to check what the preservative is in your vaccine," Svitavsky said, citing research done by his wife.
In 2015, Svitavsky defended the conservative evangelical leader Franklin Graham against what Svitavsky called the "in your face" gay rights movement.
Svitavsky said Wednesday that he opposes Graham but finds the gay rights movement "very, very intolerant."
In another post in 2011, Svitavsky suggested that Satan was the leader of the Republican Party. Svitavsky, who is a Christian, said he stands by the statement.
"The truth is being twisted at great harm to the name of Christ and Christianity," Svitavsky said.
Svitavsky's past encounters with law enforcement are also receiving scrutiny. Svitavsky had a number of interactions with the Bristol Police Department in 2014 and early 2015, according to records provided by Chief Kevin Gibbs.
"He seemed to have an ongoing issue with keeping his license valid and would drive," Gibbs said. Svitavsky was ticketed for driving with his license suspended, for driving without registration, and for driving without liability insurance, according to police records. The records were first reported Wednesday by Seven Days.

If Jon was gone, who was running his account? The next tweet, on August 2nd, gives us an idea:

What is OFD? Per the Free Press article, it's the organization that recruited Svitavsky into the race:

Svitavsky said he was asked to run for the Senate seat after being contacted by a group called Organizing for Democrats, led by a North Carolina man named David Moore who noticed Svitavsky's posts on Facebook.
The group continues to advise Svitavsky and runs his campaign Twitter account, which posts frequent criticism of Sanders.
"No-Show Bernard Sanders supporters have killed or injured 8 people in June," an apparent reference to the former Sanders campaign volunteer suspected of shooting a Republican member of Congress and four others.
Another post claims that Svitavsky's interim campaign manager is the "Architect of the 2016 Southern Firewall," a reference to Clinton's presidential campaign strategy. The person running the account did not respond to a Twitter post asking for an interview.

OFD also created that Warren Pocahontas meme that was posted by @Jon4Vermont.

In the August 3rd tweet, Tracie Flowers, who claims to be OFD's "Comms Director," includes a Facebook post that she had written on the same day. In that post, she accused Svitavsky of being a secret Trump supporter, and then of being a secret Bernie supporter. That post has now been deleted from Facebook. Tracie has a Facebook profile that is still live, but she has not posted since August 3rd. This was her second to last post, which was probably an allusion to the ending of their relationship with Svitavsky:

It appears that OFD is, in fact, continuing to run Svitavsky's Twitter feed, and they're vicious:

As I've been writing this, they also doubled down on their racist and misogynistic attacks on Elizabeth Warren:

It's either David Moore or Tracie Flowers, or both, who is keeping Svitavsky's feed going. But why? The feed is a mix of anodyne Hillary support (a lot of retweets of pro-Hillary Twitter stars like Peter Daou and Sally Albright). Their Facebook page is pretty much the same stuff, including the Pocahontas references.

Flowers has a history of invective against Bernie -- this is back in January 2016, even before the Democratic primaries got bitter:

She posted that in response to Bernie coming to visit her Congressional district in North Carolina. And her anti-Bernie posts go way back into the summer of 2015.

But she's probably not behind the Elizabeth Warren post that kicked this all off:

According to an independent Vermont newspaper, Svitavsky is still in the race. Svitavsky says David Moore, a North Carolina man who claimed to represent a group called "Organizing for Democrats," approached him about managing the campaign. "He did do a hell of a job of attracting national attention for my campaign," Svitavsky says. "He arranged a lot of interviews. But I think he was playing me." During a face-to-face meeting about two weeks ago, according to Svitavsky, Moore laid out a plan for a "dirty campaign." The Twitter account, presumably authored by Moore, bears that out; it refers to Sanders as a "commie," a fraudster, even a pedophile. "I told him, 'I'm Andy Griffith. I want to run a clean campaign," Svitavsky says. The last straw came when Moore sent a contract for his services. "He wanted complete control over me and my campaign," Svitavsky claims. He refused to sign. That's when Moore apparently terminated the Twitter account. 

Svitavsky said he fired Moore because he was in favor of posting crazy stuff on social media, but Moore said he stopped working with Svitavsky because HE was already posting crazy stuff on social media:

Moore said Svitavsky refused to delete a "wide range of problematic social media posts."
"His social media presence is probably worse than Donald Trump's," Moore said. "He wouldn’t take advice."
Anyway, who is Moore? Not much of anyone. Really all there is of substance about him online is a comment on this post, written in 2015. He called himself "Chair, North Carolina; Organizing For Democrats – Hillary Clinton 2016."

At the end of the day, the story is about the nature of the internet in our political system today. A random racist dude in North Carolina manufactured some level of self-importance and somehow got a random racist dude in Vermont to challenge the 2016 Democratic Presidential runner-up for his Senate seat, with the help of a random woman with a made-up job.

So, it appears this time it wasn't the Russians, and was in fact some dude on a computer in a basement. And 2017 has seriously driven me nuts.


  1. Convoluted doesn't begin to describe it ...

    1. There's so much more. I hope I can find time to write about it.