This weekend in Portland, Oregon, Jeremy Christian murdered Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namaki Meche, and wounded Micah David-Cole Fletcher. Christian had been shouting hate speech at two women (one of whom was wearing a hijab) and the three men wanted him to stop, leading to this outburst of senseless violence. Christian is now being held without bail on two counts of attempted murder, two counts of intimidation in the second degree, and one count of possession of a restricted weapon as a felon.
These facts have been circulating in the 48 hours since the murders took place, and chances are if you’re reading this, you know them too. You also probably know that Christian was a white supremacist, a “free speech” advocate, and an antifa (short for anti-fascist). He also claimed to support Donald Trump throughout the fall, but ended up not voting for him. But one other thing about him needs to be made clear: before turning to Trump, he was a BernieBro. And as long as Bernie does not definitively denounce him for his actions, worse violence may follow.
When Bernie Sanders first entered the race, I was turned off not by his policies, which I by and large agreed with, but the vitriol of his supporters. Many of them seemed to gravitate towards him as a reaction against Hillary Clinton. Several people I knew from college went off the deep end with their Sanders support, leading to an utter disdain for the “establishment,” a lot of insults thrown my way saying I’m a “neoliberal” and eventually, the silence of many Clinton supporters, who were forced to retreat to secret Facebook groups lest they should be on the receiving end of such vitriol. And Sanders rarely, if ever, admonished them for it.
Last May, when Nevada held it state convention, Sanders supporters disrupted the proceedings. 64 of his potential delegates were kept from being seated, many of whom were either missing information or hadn’t registered as Democrats. During this hoopla, they yelled insults at the state’s chairwoman, Roberta Lange (who had endorsed Sanders), and called California Senator Barbara Boxer a bitch. Lange also received several threatening voicemails on her phone with harsh language.
In the wake of this riot, Sanders released a vaguely worded statement claiming that while he “condemned” violence, he dismissed the claims from Nevada Democratic leaders that his supporters had a “penchant for violence,” calling it “nonsense.” He also managed to add a few words about the choice the Democratic Party had between taking on Wall Street or maintaining the establishment. Typical Sanders move: whenever the conversation gets tough, stick to the stump speech that young people may take to, but that his Senate and House colleagues are sick to death of.
Now, nearly a year later, an actual act of violence occurs from the hand of a disgruntled Sanders supporter. He clearly does not represent everyone who voted for him, nor should his supporters be forced to bear the burden of the actions that he committed alone. But because Sanders has never has never properly admonished these fringe lunatics, they are acting with his tacit consent.
Take a look at Christian’s Facebook posts from 2016:
It’s no surprise that the author of the article in question, HA Goodman, is a renowned Clinton-hating propagandist who played straight to crazies like Christian.
And now here is, threatening to kill Hillary Clinton. Please find me a single Obama supporter in 2008 who said they wanted to kill her. Hint: there aren’t any.
Again, another death threat.
This photo comes from John D. Stone, another nut-job who, like HA Goodman, has taken to believing that the DNC murdered Seth Rich.
Mind you, this is not to say that Bernie Sanders himself is the direct cause of this political violence. No candidate can control the temperaments of their supporters. But the consequences for not speaking out as soon as they commit violent acts or say hateful things can be dire.
Hillary learned this the hard way in 2008. As an adviser to her campaign, former Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro said that “if Obama were a white man, he wouldn’t be in this position.” Ferraro stepped down from the campaign, but refused to apologize, and Clinton did not denounce her forcefully enough, merely calling her remarks “regrettable.” While Ferraro’s hateful remarks did not cost Clinton to lose the nomination, they only added to her campaign’s negative baggage of perceived racism as she ran against the first black nominee of either party.
However, she learned from her mistakes and for all her ’16 campaign’s faults, she still was the favored candidate of voters of color around the country, which is a huge reason why she beat Bernie Sanders for the nomination. Here she is, condemning the violence in Portland about 24 hours following the attack:
No one should have to endure this racist abuse.
No one should have to give their life to stop it.https://t.co/CpmQcHI8gi
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) May 27, 2017
By contrast, here is Senator Sanders’ statement, released more than 72 hours later, on Memorial Day:
My condolences go to the families of the incredibly brave men who stood up for what America is supposed to be about. They are true heroes. https://t.co/Im87R3BAH9
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 29, 2017
Maybe it’s too much to ask for more when you only have 140 characters, but while it is right to acknowledge the victims’ heroism in standing up to hate, it does not excuse the fact that Sanders still does not properly condemn the violence in question, performed by a psychopath who threatened to kill Sanders’ opponent. Throughout this last year, his supporters have grown nastier in their rhetoric, and they show no signs of slowing down as they fester in the swamps of Reddit, YouTube, 4Chan and Patreon. As long as he stays silent about their actions, he will ensure that they continue to act viciously towards anyone who disagrees with them.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.