in Kulturkampf

Is the World’s Longest-Running Performance Art Piece Finally Ending?

Neal Rauhauser (pictured) is really into performance art — ultimate, endurance performance art. He has spent much of the last two years perpetrating a merry prank that right wing bloggers have taken all too seriously. Indeed, Rauhauser’s epic comedy routine has consistently driven them to distraction ever since he earned their attention and enmity during the “Twittergate” nontroversy of 2010. Reviewing that affair today, it seems like nothing has changed at all. Here is how Adrian Chen reported on their obsession with Rauhauser at Gawker back then, when their paranoia was already palpable:

“Democratic campaign funds are being used to front this,” Twittergate’s lead theorist, Greg W. Howard, told me over the phone. “Follow the evidence and let it lead you where it may. The links between these people are very clear.”

Indeed, all kinds of people can be “linked” to Neal Rauhauser. He is an activist who talks to a lot of other activists a lot of the time. Right wing bloggers have gone so far as to infiltrate progressive groups, purloin images of emails, and publish them to connect as many people as possible to Rauhauser. The net always grows larger. Even progressives who personally loathe him are accused of being his accomplices in a vast criminal conspiracy.

No one in the wingnutosphere ever seems to ask whether having “Dem strategist” in his Twitter bio actually makes Rauhauser important. It does not. The only people who think of him as an important person are right wing bloggers. Rauhauser has taken great delight in whipping up their hysteria, antagonizing people who write about him so they will keep doing it, forever embellishing his own importance with patently ridiculous statements.

Everything he says about his own access and stature in progressive circles should be understood as Borat-style comedy. But like most of Sacha Baron Cohen’s cinematic victims, the right wing bloggers are too invested in their own premise, repeating every ridiculous thing Rauhauser says about himself as a BREAKING! revelation. Again, Chen untangled this all the way back at the beginning, with the “Beandogs” of Twittergate:

What’s clear is that at some point Rauhauser noticed that he and the Beandogs shared an enemy in Howard and started encouraging them on Twitter. The Beandogs in turn began pretending that Rauhauser was their leader, intimating that they were being paid by George Soros and generally playing on the Tea Party’s paranoia. Both the Beandogs and Rauhauser deny there’s any collusion, just mutual admiration between Tea Party tormentors.

Not getting the joke, they vowed their revenge, and over the last two years one right wing blogger after another has “EXPOSED!” Rauhauser. That was easy; his personal life is a mess. He has responded by tweeting about their homes, contacting their employers, and informing their communities about their activities and ties. Meanwhile, he has drawn visibly closer to other longtime objects of right wing obsession such as Brett Kimberlin. These escalations are part of the act, made in response to their escalations, like an improv comedian bantering with hecklers in the audience.

Why don’t right wing bloggers get the joke? I refer the reader to that 2009 academic study which found many conservative viewers do not get the humorous premise of Stephen Colbert’s show. The intense rationalizations of the right wing belief system can result in terminal irony deficiency; examples abound. Ultimately, however, this is a story of egos and personal animus. Rauhauser drew the ire of Andrew Breitbart, too, and since the untimely death of that infamous fabricator, he has become the object of a near-religious crusade by the blogging heirs of the Breitbart empire. They would rather “get him” than get the joke.

To people who actually know Rauhauser, the premise that he is some kind of evil mastermind has been downright hilarious. To many progressives not in the know, however, it has been alarming and annoying to discover their names linked to him in right wing blogs that also link him to SWAT calls, Brett Kimberlin, and wild accusations of criminality.

It’s worth noting that Rauhauser was among the first suspects that right wing bloggers named in their SWAT-calls scandal. But as anyone who has talked to him for fifteen seconds can tell you, his voice is not the one that called 911 operators to send police responders to the quiet homes of right wing bloggers. (To my ear, there is a much more likely suspect in that case.) Nevertheless, he has been happy to let them speculate.

Neal Rauhauser has been playing this game all by himself for two years. That’s impressive; even The Mahabharata is generally performed in eleven hours, and there have now been two runs of the Tour de France since Twittergate. Lately, however, Rauhauser’s closest friends say he has grown tired of the whole business. He has been in poor health and dire economic straits for years, and reportedly wishes to become an anonymous citizen again.

Most progressives have tired of the show, too. The only people who never get tired of Neal Rauhauser’s act are right wing bloggers. If the curtain is finally dropping on this marathon performance, I expect they will rush the stage, riot in the aisles, and burn down the theatre — but they will be all alone in there, because everybody else has already left the building.

The joke is on them, as it always was.

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