Thursday, August 30, 2007

The hunting of Joe Stanley

Consider the following description of cyberstalking:
More commonly they will post defamatory or derogatory statements about their stalking target on web pages, message boards and in guest books designed to trigger a reaction or response from their victim, thereby initiating contact. In some cases, they have been known to create fake blogs in the name of the victim containing defamatory or pornographic content.

When prosecuted, many stalkers have unsuccessfully attempted to justify their behavior based on their use of public forums, as opposed to direct contact. Once they get a reaction from the victim, they will typically attempt to track or follow the victim's internet activity. Classic cyberstalking behavior includes the tracing of the victim's IP address in an attempt to verify their home or place of employment.

Stalking does not consist of single incidents, but is a continuous process. Similar to stalking off-line (physical stalking), cyberstalking can be a terrifying experience for victims, placing them at risk of psychological trauma, and possible physical harm. As Rokkers writes, "Stalking is a form of mental assault, in which the perpetrator repeatedly, unwantedly, and disruptively breaks into the life-world of the victim, with whom they have no relationship (or no longer have)....Moreover, the separated acts that make up the intrusion cannot by themselves cause the mental abuse, but do taken together (cumulative effect).[1]
Does any of that behavior sound familiar? Let's review some recent events in the Virginia blogosphere:
Unfortunately, Evans’ campaign manager and cowardly ODBA member Alton Foley spoon fed his fellow bloggers some reality-altering kool-aid. It is their fantasy that if they can bloody Reynolds on the net then they’ll beat him at the ballot box. Their first attack on Senator Reynolds was for “hiring” me and a rehash of their outrageous attacks upon me from the 2006 cycle.

What they don’t understand is that attacking the staff, much less a volunteer doesn’t push votes. That is process–inside baseball–and no one cares. When their attacks failed to take root they became harsher, continuing their attacks upon me and my business. They were very persistent and never let the facts get in their way.[2]
What kinds of attacks were launched against Joe Stanley? Was the group of ODBA bloggers who did it operating according to a common plan or scheme?
They have lied about and attacked my business associates, social acquaintances, and anyone even remotely connected with me. When that didn’t get them anywhere these jackals then attacked my deceased mother, and are now going after my minor-aged daughter. One member, a Portsmouth, Virginia police officer who has a daycare center operated out of his home, published my home address and phone number to the web while his cohorts made unspeakable accusations regarding my fitness as a parent.[3]
Attacking a child? Attacking someone's dead mother? Invading someone's privacy and posting their address online (the address where said child lives). Trying to have someone's child taken away from them?!?! This does not look good for the ODBA. While I do not condone what Joe Stanley did in response, I now understand that he was responding to a terrifying and systematic invasion of his privacy and a highly organized and coordinated campaign of cyberstalking. Small wonder that Joe lashed out.

But this is definitely not the first time we have seen this kind of behavior from the Right side of the blogosphere. Indeed, we saw a very similar campaign launched against a Republican blogger by other Republican bloggers. Consider the experience of Andrew Clem, a Republican blogger who supports Republican State Senator Emmett Hanger:
As a "relatively obscure blogger" (according to "Elle"), I find all this sudden (negative) attention from some of the pro-Sayre bloggers very strange. At the very least, this episode served to reveal the mean streak that underlies much of the present-day "conservative movement" behind the Scott Sayre candidacy. It was almost as if I had contrived the whole affair precisely to expose their "true colors."

Several of those blogs made the perplexing suggestion that I might be associated with Waldo Jaquith in some way, or perhaps even a closet Democrat. These included "Elle", the notorious "General Grievous' Dog", and Carl Kilo, notwithstanding the fact that I came to Carl's defense in a dustup with the "Richmond Democrat" blogger in March (scroll down to third item). Such a bizarre speculation about partisan intrigues calls attention to the troubling paranoia that has afflicted the right wing in America at various times over the course of history, most notably the Red Scare of the McCarthy Era. For more on that theme, see the second item on my October 30 blog post, referencing Professor Richard Hofstadter about the "paranoid style" of "pseudo-conservatives." It is extremely relevant to the current situation.[4]
Indeed, Dr. Clem's experience is extremely relevant to the current chain of events. As those of us who bother to follow the saga of the Virginia political blogosphere know, Dr. Clem was subjected to a long, drawn out, systematic smear campaign for supporting Hanger versus his challenger, Scott Sayre. When Hanger won, the harassment continued with revenge as its goal:
"Spank That Donkey" and "General Grievous' Dog" are on a rampage once again, showing that hopes for party unity any time soon is out of the question. "STD" just cannot let go of Scott Sayre's defeat, and evidently has learned nothing at all from the voters' emphatic rejection of the nasty mudslinging against Sen. Hanger and his supporters. Since last week, I noticed that "GGD" has metamorphasized from a right-wing political porn fest into the ersatz-liberal "Teddy's Dog," a play on the pro-Hanger "Teddy's Truth" blog (as in Teddy Roosevelt), but referring instead to Teddy Kennedy. The blogroll includes various Democrats, leftists, and me (very funny), and it briefly included bogus material suggesting that I was its creator (not funny at all). That was removed after I complained to Blogger about the fraudulent identity content, but this case is not closed yet . . . [5]
Scroll back up to the definition of cyberstalking: "In some cases, they have been known to create fake blogs in the name of the victim . . ." So we see here a case where classic cyberstalking tactics were employed by a group of Republican bloggers against another Republican blogger.

Something I find curious, and something I intend to look into later today, is the degree of overlap between the "Bloggers 4 Sayre" and the ODBA bloggers who "hunted" Joe Stanley. One name that leapt off the page at me was that of Alton Foley, an early and vocal supporter of Sayre:
Alton Foley, one of the pro-Sayre bloggers with an open identity, took the time to post a comment on my blog (a rare event), but violated my cardinal rule of using polite language. It's too bad, as he seems like an interesting character, from having read his blog off and on. For the record, the fact that I aspire to high standards does not mean that I am an "elitist," or that I look on others with disdain. To each his own. Furthermore, I do not have contempt for Republicans who are working for Sayre. As I wrote on April 19,"
I should state that I have no problem with those in the Republican ranks who are working to elect the political novice Scott Sayre, just as I have no problem with those who sincerely object to the Bush administration's policy in Iraq.
But I'm afraid Alton went way outside the norms of propriety in accusing me of "Chutzpah Squared" and "hypocrisy," even casting doubt on my academic credentials. He also revealed the contents of a personal e-mail message in his blog post, which is very bad form, to put it mildly. As for my application to join the Old Dominion Blog Alliance earlier this year, I never raised a peep about the unusual rejection, in stark contrast to other bloggers I know who have protested loudly about getting excluded from this or that blog roll or aggregator. "Sour grapes"? Not me.[6]
The posts that Dr. Clem wrote documenting his experiences with the "Bloggers 4 Sayre" are a fascinating account of a cyberstalking in progress. Dr. Clem is a skillful and literate writer and he maintained his poise throughout the bruising process.

Terry Rea also has an excellent post up about the Joe Stanley-ODBA flap up today. Terry has an important message for those ODBA members not directly involved in the cyberstalking of Joe Stanley:
It is also worth considering that if your good name is connected with a bunch of crackpots, because you continue to be a member of their trouble-making blogging team -- after it has gone too far -- then you are probably running a risk you should think about.[7]
Sage advice indeed, Terry. Dr. Clem's account shows that a disturbing pattern of behavior has emerged among certain Republican bloggers, behavior that calls for additional investigation. The ODBA may come to rue the day they decided to hunt Joe Stanley. If you are a member of the ODBA, that "whoosh-whoosh-whoosh" sound you hear is the boomerang coming back.

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