City Paper is not for tourists
On March 5, 2009, Why I Hate D.C. blogger M@ received the following anonymous comment on one of his blog posts: “you’re going to go down hard, little bitch boi,” it read; “brutal bone crushing pounding of your skull between my boot and the pavement. Hot blood spewing everywhere.”
Even by Internet standards, that’s pretty nasty—illegally so. What could M@ have possibly done to prompt a death threat? Something pretty nasty, actually. On Nov. 17, 2008, M@ wrote a blog post about a bizarre fantasy jog across the Memorial Bridge. Trapped between Washington and Virginia, M@ collides with several other runners. He regards them with an instinctive derision he compares to the primates behind the glass at the National Zoo:
“As I continue along the bridge, a young woman, too, comes straight at me and I think of Ralph Ellison and his Invisible Man and wonder why they cannot see my white skin gleaming under the towering lights,” he writes. “And she’s just my type: thin, pretty, white with brown hair. A feeling arises in me hitherto fore unknown. I want to rape her.”
He continues: “In my animal mind, I force her against the railing and push into her, afterward tossing her over the side, burying her in the cold and the wet and the deep—satiating, for now, my love for the city, my hatred.”
M@ accompanied the post with a diagram that included a photo of himself marked “me,” a male runner marked “random assclown,” and a female runner marked “cunt.”
The post was a success: 76 comments in two days. Some commenters praised M@’s writing style. Some chimed in with tirades against Hispanics. Most zeroed in on the rape thing. “Wait a minute…did you just say you wanted to RAPE her? What the fuck is wrong with you?” one anonymous commenter wrote. “Jesus Christ. Next time, stay in Virginia, please,” another offered.
In the seven months since M@’s initial post, the anonymous commentary on M@’s rape reference has become incessant—and increasingly violent. Now, a typical anonymous comment goes something like this: “M@sshole, when I find you, I’m going to cut a hole in your abdomen, and fuck it hard. And come in your new man-cunt. And scream in your face while I’m doing it. And shove my thumbs in your eye sockets to enjoy even more penetration into your disgusting carcass.”
Before he began blogging at Why I Hate D.C., rape commentary “wasn’t really my thing,” M@, a 33-year-old Arlington resident, insists. As criticism mounted, M@ defended himself by declaring that he finds rape “horrible,” posting resources for actual victims of rape, and citing literary precedent. “I was just making an analogy. I was trying to describe a thought that fled momentarily through my mind, like Vladimir Nabokov bringing us into the mind of the pedophile—into the mind of a monster,” he says.
When M@ stopped trying to explain himself, he began defending his First-Amendment rights another way—by littering his posts with rape jokes. “I didn’t intend to make light of rape at all as a violent crime. But after I got the hate mail, it turned into speech issue for me,” M@ says. In the months following, M@ worked rape into commentary about swine flu, WMATA, and inauguration bar hours. Readers responded to the motif by repeatedly threatening M@ with rape. One commenter began posting the threats under the handle ARNL, or “Anal Rape, No Lube.”
Why I Hate D.C. has always been a harsh place to air one’s innermost animal instincts. Launched in 2003, the site began as the personal ranting ground of blogger “James F.” When James relocated to Seattle, he bequeathed the blog to a series of foster haters, who have carved out an increasingly nasty online playground. Why I Hate D.C. is updated intermittently throughout the week by its four-blogger crew, but the comment threads are active constantly. One anonymous commenter posts upper-case scroll-down comments that spell out Op-Ed positions such as “I BLAME THE MEXICANS!” or “I BLAME THE JEWS!” A British commercial actor named Daniel Hoffmann-Gill harasses Why I Hate D.C.’s administrators for allowing free rein to nameless posters.
But only since M@ has joined the blogroll have the comments graduated from condescending self-promotion and satirical misfires to explicit threats of rape, beating, and murder. Since last November, M@ has received hundreds of threatened penetrations and skull-crushings. One comment baited M@ with a Google map of Trinidad, giving him two hours to meet for a personal confrontation. Another, after mining M@’s personal blog for intel, told M@ he knew where M@ lived and worked. M@’s father’s recent heart surgery is a constant source of ridicule. The collection of comments became more sinister when the actual death threats cropped up. “I interpreted those as death threats, because the person said, you know, I’m going to kill you,” says M@.
Despite what he describes as a “whole coterie of nasty commenters” operating in Why I Hate D.C.’s comment boards, M@ is convinced the worst threats are the work of a lone commenter. “I’ve been tracking the IP address with three different services, and over the seven-month period, the addresses were static and exactly the same,” he says. M@ says he has carried on extended comment-board conversations with his mystery commenter, attempting to bait her for any identifying information—or just figure out what she wants from him. “I’ve spent hours and hours and hours on this,” says M@, who describes the Why I Hate D.C. gig as “a volunteer position” (he recently lost his day job). When M@’s not tracking IP addresses or reading and re-reading old conversations, he’s conjuring visions of the commenter. “I’ve been online for a while. I’m good at forming mental pictures of people. And I believe it is a 28-year-old African American woman who is employed at Howard University,” M@ says. “I just have that feeling.”
Dave Stroup, who serves as the administrator of Why I Hate D.C., says that the reactions he’s received to M@’s posts have been overwhelmingly negative. “Some readers have been disturbed by his writing,” says Stroup. “I haven’t noticed any specific death threats, and I don’t really understand who would—nobody knows who he is.” Stroup, too, has his suspicions. “It’s just been a feeling of mine that he may be leaving anonymous comments himself, to rile other people up,” he says.
M@ admits that the anonymous Internet presence has, at times, intruded on his emotional life. “Yeah, it can be consuming,” he says. At one point, M@ says the commenter baited him into using a racial slur. “I would never use or publish the n-word. But this person has been psyching me out for seven months. This is at a point where I was trying get as much information as possible. So sometimes, when you play with someone, you’ll try to press some buttons. See what happens. The commenter may think that he or she got me. But I got them.”
Now, M@ deletes the worst threats from the comments section, but he dutifully records them in a file he keeps on hand “just in case.” The document spans months of on-line back-and-forth between M@ and the commenter. M@’s fellow Why I Hate D.C. bloggers have failed to take any serious interest in M@’s rogue commenters—“I just mentioned it casually, and they were like, oh, really, that’s weird”—M@ says he’s spoken to D.C. police officers who have assured him the threats are illegal. “I will defend anyone’s free speech, but death threats are the exception, and they are a federal felony,” says M@. “Some people, you know, they just take things way too literally. Honestly, it stresses me out.”
M@ says there’s evidence to suggest that he has gotten to the commenter, too—the threats have toned down substantially since M@ informed this person that he’s looked up the IP address. Now, M@ suspects the commenter has begun using a proxy server. “It’s so transparent,” M@ says.
Despite the incessant barrage of threats to his life, M@ has never considered abandoning the blog—though he has aired some threats of his own. On March 4 he warned, “no longer will I be publishing or even reading anonymous hate mail. That’s an automatic delete from this day forward.” Later, he threatened to file a police report and contact Howard University. His anonymous troll responded by tauntingly reposting the warnings over and over again on dozens of M@’s old posts. On May 29, M@ upped the stakes: “this blogger would no longer participate in the comments,” he wrote. “I will neither write nor read comments on this site. I will simply post. And unsolicited emails will not be read. I’m done arguing w/ morons. I’ve got better things to do.” He posted another comment on the blog three days later.
“God, it’s so hard to stop,” M@ says. “Other people are better at ignoring that stuff, but for some reason, I’m a more sensitive person.” With law enforcement unlikely to intervene in M@’s case, the blogger says he has no choice but to continue to monitor the situation himself. “There is a part of me that would just like to bitch-slap that person,” M@ says, “But mostly, I’m just curious. I really, really want to know who this person is.”
UPDATE: M@ removed from Why I Hate D.C.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery