A Cautionary Tale of Infiltration, Betrayal, and the Activist Community

or, “How a Troll Became a Stalker” (note: abuse trigger warning)

I’m writing this post today to tell you a story. It’s the story of a man who wanted to “infiltrate” a movement and manipulated many people so that he could “make his way” as the next Breitbart or James O’Keefe.

This is a difficult story to tell. It’s embarrassing. In fact, humiliating, for some of the people involved. For those who worked in politically-minded organizations, it could have been career-ending. For me, it’s been downright traumatizing. Over the course of eight months, however, I have been for the most part emotionally numb to the behavior, the accusations and the subsequent “hush up” whisper campaign. That changes today.

This is the story of how Jason Wade Taylor, alias Randy Hahn, attempted to “out” and silence the StopRush campaign. It’s also about the help he had along the way.

StopRush was created in early March, 2012 in a visceral reaction to Limbaugh’s hate and vitriol.  Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut because she stood up to Congress demanding that birth control be accessible and affordable to women of all ages. Over the course of 3 days, Mr. Limbaugh made over 46 attacks on Ms. Fluke, including implying that every birth control pill she ingested was symbolic of how many times she (the “slut”) got laid. A rash of crude Republicans joined in on this political narrative, ultimately driving the War on Women into a terrifying and harsh reality that – thankfully – led to a record-breaking number of women being elected into our Legislative branch on November 8th. Before this minor victory, there was outrage – massive, and unprecedented outrage at the way women are viewed in the world today.

In reaction, a number of groups were formed, seemingly out of nowhere, saying it was time for Rush Limbaugh to take leave of his radio days. I joined one of these groups on Facebook in early March. It was called “Join the Fight to Flush Rush” and from its humble beginnings, it today has 3000+ people  who have joined it.

I felt good about my involvement in StopRush. I was true to the boycott, too. In fact, because of StopRush, I’ve learned how to vote with my wallet in a number of ways. I’m a conscientious consumer. I have StopRush to thank for that.

Every time I contacted  a sponsor to speak about Rush Limbaugh, I reflected on the reasons I had joined the movement, and I spoke with sincerity about how their advertising reinforces a hateful culture of race-baiting and slut-shaming.

When I talked about these things, I spoke from experience. Part of my activity as a volunteer with StopRush was listening to Rush Limbaugh and broadcasting the names of his sponsors on social media.

Limbaugh himself often fueled my anger and I felt like was pushing back against a lifetime full of slut-shame. When I thought about the Fluke tirade, I envisioned the man who called me a slut, or a whore, or something similarly vile right before he put his fist in my face. I thought of  the men who raped me when I was 17, one who held me down while the other touched me and called me filthy names. Every time I looked at the birth control pill that I take for medical purposes (endometriosis) , I thought about the men and women who, if Rush Limbaugh owned the world, would point the finger at me and scream, “Look at that slut!”

I actually imagined, with fear, a world where that behavior was considered the norm one day.

As StopRush progressed, people began to use Twitter as contact point for companies. I thought this was a convenient and awesome way  to spread information about Limbaugh’s sponsors quickly and effectively. I had a rather large audience on Twitter, which I used mostly for business, and I chose to use it in an activist-related way.

Within weeks, my Twitter account was able to trend at the top of the hashtag #StopRush. Companies would respond directly to my Tweets about their advertising policies. Some of them even promised to pull their ads that very day! It was an amazing feeling to feel like I made a difference. I felt like a “real activist” and even began making phone calls and sending emails to a few companies each day. It was empowering. Change was happening. Rush Limbaugh was losing sponsors every single day.

There were plenty of people who didn’t like the onslaught of activists taking to social media to organize our boycotts and share information. Twitter is a fast-paced, passionate, surreal place. If you use it to communicate with a lot of people, be prepared to have disagreements several times a day. Be prepared for being trolled mercilessly.

On the activist level, Twitter is a place where anyone with an internet connection can have a voice in the public discussion. For the most part, this is a very good thing. No matter what your cause, if you’re interested in online activism, there will be some dark opposing force you’ll want to keep at bay. Typically, these are just trolls, who will namecall, ridicule, and generally dismiss everything you say.

Where there is anonymity, there is very little shame.

As for #StopRush, there were many trolls on Twitter. Dozens of them, in fact. Nasty trolls who wanted to hear every defamatory, misogynist, racist word that Rush Limbaugh had to say. People who prided themselves on their ability to foster hate and shame. These trolls made Photoshops depicting our screen names and even researched information about volunteers’ dead family members.. These trolls called us fascists, “free speech Nazis”, and other incarnations of hate. We blocked them, but they didn’t go away. In fact, they often multiplied from day to day.

When StopRush was infiltrated, it was pretty much without warning. On April 27, 2012, I was incredibly excited to participate in a rally in Washington, DC, called “Unite Against the War on Women”. I wrote a series of Tweets talking about my experience with abuse, PTSD, and rape. I felt inspired by the #Ididnotreport hashtag. I also made the “mistake” of publicly Tweeting about an abortion I had over 10 years ago. The trolls rushed in to call me names.

I  made some flyers to share with StopRush and take to the rally. I was able to get over 1000 copies of the flier with the help of some friends in the StopRush group using a service called ChipIn. I had paid for the design of the flyer and written the content myself.

Excited as I was, my paper-thin feelings were hurt that same day: I logged into the StopRush group and found that all of the graphics and designs I had uploaded to the Facebook group had vanished without a trace.

When I inquired with the group about it, nobody had any idea what had happened. I was annoyed and upset, but I quickly recovered, and thought nothing about the deletion of these items until a few other things went  VERY wrong within the next 7 days.

On April 28, 2012, I was spotted and/or followed to the UAWOW rally. Within 24 hours, my entire ”online life” had changed. To my horror, I discovered several far, far right wing Tweeters were discussing my face, my body, my…everything. (Note: My previous Twitter name was Subculturestuff)

Trolls scoured my Tweets to find and make fun of my references to PTSD. My story of being raped was dissected and mocked. My image appeared on an extremist anti-abortion website, with the following display:

This image continues to float around and be used by various right-wingers to intimidate me to this day. (Most recently, it was used by Jason Wade Taylor to harass me with 20+ dummy aka sockpuppet accounts.)

I know this isn’t a big deal for some people, it’s a bad photo, so what? To a domestic violence survivor, with PTSD, this was simply terrifying. Up until a few months ago, I had a Civil Protective Order against an ex-boyfriend in Washington DC. This was a violent man who I had managed to ban from getting within 50 feet of me, based on the absolute FACT that he had promised to kill me one day. Suddenly I had a rabid “anti-fanclub” that seemed to be the kind of people who would point him my way. And somewhere out there, there were progressive people, who were secretly arming our “infiltrator” in a very personal way.

Having my name and my face out for the public to see could have been disastrous, but I was also heartbroken in some way that I couldn’t really fully express in public. I had participated in grassroots activism for the first time since 2001, and what I got in return amounted to public hate and shame. All of the things that I was fighting against: the slut-shaming, the sexual taunts and jeers — were happening to me. For simply working to fight against those things.

Within the next few days, several “troll” accounts and blog posts appeared – created soley for the purpose mocking and taunting me. I fought back as best I could: attempting to send cease and desist letters to those who crossed the line and could be identified. I filed DMCA notices and other paperwork meant to protect my face and name.

Unfortunately, when asking for a removal of my photo from a Tumblr blog, the DMCA request revealed what I’d meant to keep silent all along: my real, full name. My name was passed onto the people who had been “trolling” me, and the next thing I knew, they were posting my phone number and various addresses of places I’d once stayed.

Around May 4th, 2012, the server of StopRush’s website went down. Somebody with access to the database had sabotaged the site. I has already alerted the members of the group to my situation, and was informed that there were other very bad things that had been happening. A man named “Randy Hahn” (aka Jason Wade Taylor) had taken social security numbers and contact information, promising people that they could do StopRush as a job and get paid. There were worries of hacking and infiltration, but no direct evidence pointing to any one person. Randy seemed the most likely suspect because he’s promised people money, and then, he never paid.

I found this to be very alarming, so on May 9th, I did what I considered to be the most rational thing: I emailed the administrators of the StopRush website, and asked them to remove me from everything.

The truth is that online stalkers don’t just disappear. I blamed the members of the StopRush administration group for a wide number of things; not teaching volunteers how to protect their information, not using a good system to vet people, not being able to keep the nuts away… I regret the fact that I held them responsible for these things. In fact, Gila Jones and other StopRush members: I’m very, very sorry. This sort of thing made me feel crazy and I didn’t trust anyone online anymore. That wasn’t your fault. You’re not the ones who leaked things.

Nobody could have anticipated that 8 months later, the same stalker would start drunkenly leaving death threat messages on answering machines or issuing threats like the one below. (These sorts of threats and retweets were very, very common at last count, before banned, Jason Taylor had 30+ accounts that he used to send messages like these out to the Twitterverse.)

Even though I ended up steering clear of the StopRush hashtag, a small army of trolls had begun to cluster around my everyday interactions. One of these trolls was “Randy Hahn”, who was later revealed to be a con-man by the name of Jason Wade Taylor.

I don’t know how they got the address, but every few weeks, a threatening tweet would appear out of the blue, presumably meant to silence me in some way. This Tweet would include a prior address, a partial phone number I’d once had, and sometimes an image like the one below: The House of Ruth domestic violence shelter, a place where I had once been forced to stay.

While I was trying to escape StopRush, a person by the name of Jason Wade Taylor, alias “Randy Hahn” was attempting to “destroy” it. “Randy Hahn” was outed as “Jason Wade Taylor” months ago, but the story only recently came together in some sort of final way. People who leaked information to Jason denied it initially for months but after a slew of public death threats, a few key members of Team Uterati admitted the reason they chose to leak things.

Apparently Jason Taylor managed to convince a member of #TeamUterati/POWRPAC (who also was a member of StopRush) to hand over some private emails containing a recording of @Shoq, aka Matt Edelstein, and himself. I’m not sure what other information they had or what they leaked.

Imani Gandy and her website administrator, Heather Chase, felt that this was the best decision to make. The story has changed or expanded a few times, so it’s difficult to really know what thought process went into aiding Jason Taylor in his scam and harassment campaign. They may have been acting with malicious intent because of a “romance gone wrong” involving Shoq and a few of the women on their “team” – or, they may have been operating under the assumption that their POWRPAC would get paid.  Honestly, anything seems plausible to me now that they have officially admitted to be the source of the leak. Either way, the prior response from them had pretty much been a consistent denial and a steady stream of mocking “the conspiracy” and laughing off “the StopRush troll” as nothing too serious. In fact, many mentions of Randy Hahn included mocking of @Shoq and responses included a hashtag they had crafted just for him – #AbusiveFuck tweets.

As depressing as it’s going to sound, this story is also about hypocrisy in its very core form. While #TeamUterati “worked” to further “women’s rights” and decry slutshaming on a public level, none of the “Team Uterati” women seemed to think twice about aiding and abetting Jason Wade Taylor in his “war”. The women targeted in his ruse included Karoli, myself, and Julie .

We’re women too. We’re feminists too. What happened to us MATTERS TOO, even if we don’t happen to own a PAC or appear on television at the DNC.

We’ve been subjected to many hateful, harassing, and menacing messages, phone calls, and tweets. People have called Karoli and Julie the “c word” and the “b word” many times on twitter for the whole world to see. Because of this “scandal”. They’ve talked about how we look and insinuated that by being “friends with Shoq”, we’re also romantically involved with him.

This is, in fact, slut-shaming in its most simple form. A common theme of slutshaming is “If you don’t agree with me, I’m going to call you some offensive names and insinuate you’re making decisions because you’re a woman… who makes her decisions based on the will of a man…” The women of StopRush who were harassed were also met with contempt from fellow progressives who were mostly women, and mostly people who would consider themselves members of #TeamUterati.

Jason Wade Taylor did not demolish StopRush, but he did clearly reveal the failings of a small activist team.

Law enforcement continues to dig at leads on bomb threats and death threats. (Yes, a few of us still receive threatening phone calls in the dead of night.) Team Uterati swims in a vacuous denial that they’ve alienated, hurt, and, in fact, outright insulted, several members of the feminist and progressive community. I have hope that somehow everyone will make amends in the community. I hope, but clearly it would be amiss to expect anything aside from the usual chest-thumping in response to this posting.

StopRush lives on. Over 3000 members strong on Facebook alone, it appears that no matter how hard the right attempted to “destroy” StopRush, the will of everyday people like you and me has taken over.

Perhaps with this lesson learned, we can help keep progressives from destroying each other with similar brand of vitriol, hate, and spin.

Anything is possible. I aim for hope and change.

Other screenshots of Twitter stalking are available at my Twitpic dating back to March, 2012

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