The Attacks on Bernie Sanders Supporters Are Going From the Ridiculous to the Deranged

Rival campaigns and hostile journalists are scraping the bottom of the barrel with their latest attacks on Bernie Sanders supporters. Now, apparently, getting owned on Twitter is “harassment,” and when a nurses’ union donates to Bernie, it’s “dark money.”

Democratic presidential candidate and US senator Bernie Sanders speaks to the crowd at a campaign rally on July 26, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. Mario Tama / Getty

Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, two unelectable candidates apparently trying their best to outdo each other in alienating progressive voters, have recently tarred activists trying to make America a better place as “dark money” or super PACs. Meanwhile, an anti–Bernie Sanders PAC is giving the most absurd possible justification for its founders’ anonymity: people will be mean to them on the internet!

Last month, Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel tweeted a donor appeal in which Mayor Pete’s campaign referred to the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group pushing for action on climate change, and the Center for Popular Democracy, which works on economic justice issues, as “dark money groups.”

The Sunrise Movement is one of the most impressive of many vigorous climate action groups to emerge over the last couple years, bearing significant responsibility for the prominence of the Green New Deal in our discourse and even as a Democratic talking point.

Some investigative journalists have raised legitimate questions about the Sunrise Movement’s funding, as is the case with many PACs. But it says a lot about Mayor Pete’s politics that, with all the money he takes from serious 1-percenters, he goes out of his way to insult young people pressing for policy action affecting the survival of the human species, and to surreally imply that when it comes to money in politics, climate activist are the problem.

The Sunrise Movement responded by noting that Mayor Pete had sought their support and was only attacking the group now that they’d endorsed someone else (Bernie Sanders). “Don’t be that guy who responds to rejection with insults,” the group tweeted.

Not long afterward, Elizabeth Warren became that guy, too, claiming in the most recent debate that she and Amy Klobuchar were the only candidates who were not billionaires or “backed by PACS that can do unlimited spending.” In making that claim, she was taking a dig at National Nurses United, which backed Sanders although she had sought their endorsement. Like Pete, she doesn’t take rejection well.

It is true that Bernie Sanders is backed by a couple of PACs. In addition to his endorsement by the Sunrise Movement, he is supported by Our Revolution, which was founded to help social democratic candidates. He has, according to Open Secrets, received at least $20, 906 from National Nurses United, a major nurses’ union that advocates for single-payer health care as well as for better pay and working conditions for nurses, and better patient care for all.

While it’s true that these groups are exempt from certain rules on political spending, it’s bizarre for Elizabeth Warren to equate those fighting for the interests of the working class with the political machinations of billionaires. This is typical right-wing populism, straight out of the conservative anti-union playbook, blurring distinctions between power built by the working class through organizing, and power wielded by the superrich through money. (According to PolitiFact, Elizabeth Warren is backed by a group that operates under rules similar to a super PAC, but anyway.)

Meanwhile, there is some actual “dark money” hoping to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the nomination. The Beat Bernie 2020 PAC, launched Thursday, keeps its donor list anonymous “due to a credible fear of threats and backlash from ardent Bernie supporters, a tactic they have become famous for using ruthlessly on Twitter.”

Charmingly, by evoking the stereotype of the harassing Bernie Bro, the Beat Bernie PAC is deploying feminism — in its cringiest, most victimhood-seeking form — to justify keeping their maneuverings secret.

In all the hubbub over online harassment by Bernie supporters, some key facts get lost. One is that many of Sanders’s most pugilistic and verbally merciless supporters — including some that have been asked by the campaign to tone down their attacks on Bernie opponents — are women, making Bernie Bro–ism the latest field of endeavor in which the achievements of women are systematically overlooked.

Another often-overlooked fact is that discussion of rude Bernie Bros seems to consistently blur the distinction between violence and harassment, on the one hand, and criticism, on the other. Take a look at the quote above from Beat Bernie 2020: like most people attempting to perpetuate the Bernie Bro smear, their invocation of “threats and backlash” equates “threats” with “backlash,” when, obviously, threats made to anyone are unacceptable, while backlash is simply criticism.

These people are so afraid that an online Bernie voter might accuse them of wanting to deprive her kid of insulin (or so they claim) that they remain anonymous, and they add to the insult by implying that Bernie supporters are an undisciplined gang of violent, thuggish men.