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misogyny Nebraska Politics NEGOP

Nebraska Has A Right Wing Internet Troll Problem

Candidates like Amiee Melton win, sit on the Omaha City Council for a decade without a single accomplishment, and the shitposters chalk up another victory. But Nebraska loses. The talent and skill of good candidates is wasted, nothing changes in the political arena, Democratic voters squabble about why their candidate didn’t succeed–blaming one another–and Republican voters don’t even know their own political party thinks so poorly of them that they can lie to them endlessly with impunity. Let’s talk about that.

In the most recent election, the Omaha municipal, a hateful gang of Young Republicans focused all of their attention on Sara Kohen, a political newcomer, distinguished lawyer, mother, and Observant Jew. When Kohen tied eight-year incumbent Aimee Melton in the primary, they immediately went extremely negative and personal, attacking Kohen and her family, and lying to the electorate about her positions and her spouse’s positions (who was not running for office). Kohen’s positions were clearly articulated in local press and on her own social media posts, but that didn’t make any difference because the lies are more effective than anything else the Melton campaign could produce. Below is just a sample of the harassment and that these young shitposters sent Sara Kohen’s way.

The upshot is that Democrats and Independents put forward candidates who want to talk about policy, who focus on the issues that matter, and who care about improving the lives of constituents. And the Republican campaign machine is quite literally led by a small gang of 20 year old shitposters who believe that the issues don’t matter, and, truthfully, neither do the candidates. All they care about is winning.

The Douglas County Republican Party is effectively under the management of the Omaha Young Republicans. They have either worked for or volunteered for the campaigns of Congressman Don Bacon, Mayor Jean Stothert, City Councilmember Aimee Melton, City Councilmember Brinker Harding, and gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster. They look alike, they talk alike, and they like and retweet one another using their own accounts, the organization’s accounts, and the accounts of candidates whose campaigns they run.

There was no other candidate for City Council that they attacked with as many posts and as much vitriol, and they enlisted the same language and tactics that they used against Kara Eastman when she ran against Don Bacon last year. Not only did Tyler, Jacob, Kyle, and Bryce attack Kohen and her family over and over again on social media, they also explicitly directed other trolls to do the same, sending wave after wave of hate-filled misogyny at her.

But this was just a test to see what would work. Once they saw that the attacks motivated Republicans on Facebook and Twitter, they created mailers to send to Republican voters lying about Kohen. And they got a letter to the editor into the World-Herald with the same lies, got disgraced former City Councilmember Colleen Brennan to repeat the lies multiple times on her blog, and even managed a series of stories about their lies on KFAB, the conservative talk radio station that employed virulent white supremacist Chris Baker. The strategy is a powerful one because a lie is almost impossible to disprove, especially since mailers and television commercials are expensive and most Republican voters who got Melton’s lying mailers wouldn’t visit Kohen’s social media to look for the truth. Or, if they heard Melton lying on the radio, they likely didn’t tune in the next day to hear Kohen say it was a lie. Kohen isn’t a socialist or a radical. She caught flack from people on her Left because she refused to use certain phrases or talking points in her campaign. Her husband isn’t running for office and it’s blatantly sexist to insist that his positions are somehow her positions (leaving aside that everything said about him throughout the campaign was *also* a lie, including the absurd claim that he bullied students–scroll way down to see the “bullying” of white supremacist trolls who were not even his students).

What we know without a doubt is that lies work. In an extremely close race, they were able to convince enough Republicans that the moderate candidate was actually an extremist candidate who hates the police. Meanwhile their own candidate didn’t need to do much campaigning for herself, which is good because she has no ideas, comes across very badly in both print and video interviews, has accomplished nothing in eight years, is a science denier, supports conspiracy theories, and exists to do nothing more than to rubber stamp Mayor Stothert’s agenda.

But beyond the particular election, we should also note that the harassment and bullying works too. These young men intend to harm the women they bully, whether it’s Kohen or Eastman; they want them to feel bad, to suffer, because they have the gall to run for office. And their actions are public; this has the added “benefit” of showing other women what’s in store for them if they dare to run.

Running for office is difficult enough as it is. It takes nerves of steel in addition to time, money, and energy. For women who are also balancing the demands of work and family, it’s already daunting to consider. Seeing the harassment and the lies, the target that is being intentionally put on their families by these young men, will undoubtedly cause many extremely qualified women to choose not to run.

So in the end, candidates like Melton win, sit on the City Council for a decade without a single accomplishment, and the shitposters chalk up another victory. Since they think government is useless and campaigning is a game, the win is all that matters. But Nebraska loses. The talent and skill of good candidates is wasted, nothing changes in the political arena, Democratic voters squabble about why their candidate didn’t succeed–blaming one another–and Republican voters don’t even know their own political party thinks so poorly of them that they can lie to them endlessly with impunity.

For reference, this is the sum total of the “harassment”, “bullying”, and “stalking” by Sara’s partner Ari, which has nothing whatsoever to do with conservative students and has everything to do with the pride of place afforded to white nationalism by the Nebraska GOP: