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Clinton Super PAC Denies Role In Attack On Sanders Facebook Groups—But That Doesn’t Resolve Issue

A super political action committee tied to Hillary Clinton’s campaign claims a newly launched “digital task force,” developed to combat Bernie Sanders supporters, had nothing to do with a coordinated attack on Sanders Facebook groups. It also denies any role in the posting of pornography, including child pornography, which was allegedly posted to the pages of groups to trigger the shut down of group pages.

The Clinton super PAC announced the formation of “Barrier Breakers 2016,” following Clinton’s win in the New York primary. The project is the “brainchild” of well-known Clinton operative, David Brock, who founded the super PAC. It is overseen by the super PAC’s president, Brad Woodhouse, and it also involves “former reporters, bloggers, public affairs specialists, designers, Ready for Hillary alumni, and Hillary super fans who have led groups similar to those which the task force plans to organize.”

Clinton’s new “digital task force” has been characterized as a paid troll army. In fact, the super PAC is spending $1 million to engage with “Bernie Bros” online and “help” Clinton supporters, who fear “online harassment.” The team aims to stand up to “cyber-bullying and sexist attacks from swarms of anonymous attackers.” On top of that, it will “push out information to Sanders supporters” and encourage the very supporters, which the “task force” targets, to support Clinton.

On April 25, the night before one of the most critical primary days for the Sanders campaign, a coordinated attack occurred, where at least one person from a known group of Hillary supporters, Bros 4 Hillary, put up postings that would push Facebook to shut down a Sanders Facebook group page. This same individual boasted about his actions to fellow Clinton supporters, who praised him for being “fierce.” Multiple people urged others to engage in the same act to shut down freedom of expression in Sanders groups.

Worse, several Sanders supporters saw pornography posted in the groups to trigger a shut down. Multiple members of the groups insist they saw child pornography or bestiality, and some said they reported it to the FBI. Many believe what happened last night, ahead of primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware, was connected to Correct The Record’s new “task force.”

Salon reported the communications director for Correct The Record, Elizabeth Shappell, issued a statement strongly condemning “any form of online harassment, vile language, explicit content, or bullying.”

“Barrier Breakers 2016 had nothing to do with this incident, and anyone reporting otherwise is not reporting the truth. Barrier Breakers 2016 is currently engaging in only positive content supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign to be our next president,” Shappell said.

It is very difficult to confirm whether it is true that no “Barrier Breakers” had a role in what happened. It also is very hard to prove that any of these people have worked with Correct The Record. But it is remarkable that the official statement by Correct The Record does not specifically address what happened.

Yes, “explicit content” covers pornography, however, the fact that there appears to be strong evidence Clinton supporters are involved in posting pornography—potentially illegal pornography—to have Sanders Facebook group pages shut down is quite an attack on freedom of expression. It goes beyond offensive and demeaning messages directed at a person to triggering a response by a social media company that will possibly disrupt campaign organizing and result in censorship of a group of people.

The attack involves pornography. If the group pages are not shut down, the people visiting the pages may be turned off by the thought that this is acceptable to the Sanders campaign and its supporters. There has been a narrative manufactured that supporters are “Bernie Bros,” who cannot contain their misogynistic hatred for Clinton and unleash it regularly on social media. Perhaps, Clinton supporters think voters might believe “Bros” are the kind of people, who share pornography in these groups even as they support political revolution. Or, maybe there is no effort on the part of the small group of supporters to think any of this through.

Regardless, this cannot possibly be feminist or intersectional or even an act of love and kindness to take lewd images and put them in comments threads to sabotage and undermine support for the Sanders campaign.

A person, who was removed from the Bros 4 Hillary group, posted a “credible threat of violence.” Supporters applauded when the group was shut down over this “threat” because they believed the group deserved it, since they believed many supporters post “threats” of violence against Clinton all the time and get away with it. So, they deserved this.

Bros 4 Hillary, put out a press release stating ties to the person who had a Sanders Facebook group page shut down were severed.

“A former member by the name of Casey Champagne decided to engage in harassing behavior toward Facebook groups of Bernie Sanders and posted about it in the B4H Facebook group,” the group said. “This was not promoted or supported by the leadership of B4H, nor were we immediately aware of this conduct.”

“We removed the offending posts and member as soon as possible. While our leadership team of administrators tries to catch every questionable post and comment, with over 7,000 members and on a 24-hour posting cycle, some fall through the cracks. We rely on members to ‘flag and report’ harmful, offensive, or trolling behavior, and apologize to the groups that were affected. This member acted on his own authority, is not a part of our leadership team, and does not represent our ideals or our opinions,” the group added.

It is hard to believe this fell through the cracks and administrators missed this event. Numerous supporters from these groups were in an uproar during the period from 9 pm to midnight that Bernie Sanders Activists, Bernie Believers, Bernie Sanders Is My Hero, Bernie or Bust, Bernie Sanders for President, Bernie Sanders – Ideas Welcome, Bernie Sanders Revolutionaries, and Bay Area for Bernie were suspended by Facebook and inaccessible.

Why should anyone believe the Bros 4 Hillary person was a “rogue member”? If one reads the screen shots of comments in reaction to what Champagne did, it is clear this was a product of a toxic culture within the group that would reward this kind of action.

Sanders supporters have engaged in no such behavior. There have been no reports of Sanders supporters taking action to sabotage Facebook group pages and trigger the shut down of groups.

Finally, while it is impossible to confirm whether Correct The Record is telling the truth about no “Barrier Breakers” being involved or connected to what happened, it is not outlandish to suspect the super PAC had some role. The group has spread some of the most vile attacks and lies about Sanders and his campaign.

It promoted the idea that Sanders thought the Sandy Hook massacre and gun violence in general was a “laughing matter,” when the reason he laughed was because Clinton defended a lie about Vermont being somehow responsible for gun trafficking in New York. It has repeatedly accused Sanders of standing with the National Rifle Association (NRA). It pushed the lie that he has supported Minutemen vigilantes, who patrolled the Mexico border to shoot down immigrants. It has bolstered the “Bernie Bro” narrative as the Clinton campaign and its supporters target female politicians, who have endorsed Sanders. David Brock’s super PAC even started a rumor that the campaign was planning to bus in students to engage in election fraud and win the Iowa caucus.

Given the past conduct of this super PAC, and the manner in which it is explicitly undermining campaign finance regulations through its operations, it is justifiable if supporters demand more information from Correct the Record and the Clinton campaign itself on this “Barrier Breakers” task force, and whether there weren’t a few Clinton super fans, who crossed the line by posting pornography or threats of violence to shut down groups.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."