5 min read

Terrorism kills us all

I've had a rough few weeks. Probably some of it has to do with travel. I just had to sleep sitting up in a chair in Terminal B of the Hartsfield-Jackson airport under fluorescent lights at 3AM. Some of it also has to do with labor organizing, which I can't get into here.

But the primary reason for feeling like shit is I covered the Robert Bowers trial in Pittsburgh. Really did not digest well.

Here's the link to that one. I haven't even been in the mood to promote it:

Pittsburgh Mass Shooting Trial Forced Discussion of Death Penalty, Guns, Hate

For those of you who just started reading my work in the last few years, I spent a lot of time on Gab in 2017 and 2018, when Bowers posted on there. It was a lot of time. Like, every day for over a year.

For example, I knew Bowers' PFP and handle at the time he killed those people. On that Saturday morning in October I said to myself, "Wait, that guy??" – just as Gab CEO Andrew Torba yanked down his account. He was a guy who I knew for his efforts to dox leftists. Nothing else about him interested me. He seemed like any basic racist nobody. He's still a nobody today.

One funny thing is my colleague Megan Squire and I also both mistakenly assumed Bowers was an Australian man before he committed those murders. He had the handle "@onedingo." No one has ever explained the significance of that handle. Why did he pick that number, that particular animal? It all feels meaningless now.

On Gab, Bowers also appeared in my mentions from time-to-time, and never to wish me well. He was one of many guys who used to send me harassing or threatening messages. There were so many dudes exactly like this that his threatening behavior didn't stand out to me in any meaningful way. Until it did.

Screenshot I grabbed off Bowers timeline a few months before he carried out his attack. He was trying to dox an antiracist activist here.

Exit wounds the size of adult human fists

The feds presented their case against Bowers hoping to get him the death penalty and it might eventually work due to the horror of what he did. (PS – I'm strongly, strongly against the death penalty, even for Bowers.) They showed some truly terrifying images during this trial, including the aforementioned exit wounds and people lying down face first in pools of blood. They also brought in witnesses who described Bowers calmly explaining why he felt he obligated to murder Jewish people after carrying out the attack. He talked about murder, like ... like you might talk about needing to buy a nail trimmer.  

And that is the part that "triggered" me, if I can borrow a phrase of mockery from the right. (I'm not easily "triggered," which is why I am usually able to do this work without feeling like shit.) His calmness triggered me. And the sound of the gunshots triggered me even more. Prosecutors played bodycam footage from outside of the synagogue with audio and it just sounded so dull and so unworthy of being the end of someone's life. Just hollow-sounding bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop as Bowers gunned down a group of worshippers who just happened to be setting up for services that morning.

Bowers took a selfie of himself doing a white power "OK" symbol and the FBI found it on his phone.

Taking it personally

On good days, I temporarily forget about the dangers posed by the radical right ideologies I cover. The FBI once called me to tell me about someone who was plotting to kill me. I had one of my sons in the car and we were outside of a batting cage when I got the call. I had to go through the conversation without showing any emotion or repeating any details so I didn't freak him out. There have been other moments like that. I usually just stuff them down inside.

On good days, I get my work done with part of my brain basically switched off. I joke with Hannah Gais about Ian Miles Cheong. Whatever gets us through the day. I haven't been able to do that since I came back from Pittsburgh and not only because Hannah is on vacation.

All of this really has to do with the fact that I interacted with this madman Bowers in the months before he carried out this attack. To be clear, he did not kill my family. This monster hated leftists for sure but it was innocent Jewish people that really animated him. I cannot imagine how much pain the survivors of that attack must feel.

But knowing what he was capable of doing those things and actually did them at the time he was also appearing on my Gab timeline really haunts me. I didn't expect it to bother me when I volunteered to cover the trial, which is why it lingers. It blindsided me.

Pittsburgh to Lebanon

I'm not actually going from Pittsburgh to Lebanon. It's the title of the Butthole Surfers song from Locust Abortion Technician. I generally listen to a lot of "psychedelic" music (maybe to escape from my brain) and that record is one of the only things batshit enough to meet my mood lately.

I'm going somewhere though. I'm going to Germany, Italy and India until July 18. During that time, I'm hoping to log off and reset my focus on this work. One important change that has happened recently on this beat is that many of the people I once covered have either lost influence or given up. That's a good thing! I'm humbled to have played a role in the marginalization of fascists.

But it's really time to find new reporting targets.

Writing to you now at this moment, I think a lot more of my focus should go to anti-LGBTQ+ and male supremacist figures in the coming years. Things could change. But that's where the energy is now and where the most damage is being done. Fighting for a white ethnostate may objectively be a lost cause, but they believe they can win a fight against sexual freedom. America has a fucked up relationship to sex and sexuality, so it makes sense to me.

It's a fight worth having because if we don't have sexual and romantic freedom, we really have nothing in this world.

Talk to you again in late July.