Right-Wing Trolls: “We Want Bernie”
Shashank Tripathi, a Republican political consultant and sex column connoisseur who credits Adderall for his writing skills, unleashed an army of Twitter trolls on Senator Elizabeth Warren Saturday night.
At 7 p.m., the 2020 presidential candidate tweeted a video of herself with a crowd of supporters in Iowa with the caption “Democracy is restorative.” Hundreds—and then thousands—of tweets followed, most with a variation of the words, “We want Bernie.”
At first, some Democrats on Twitter assumed the effort was led by supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders. That assumption, it turned out, was wrong.
Less than an hour after Warren’s tweet had gone out, the account @ComfortablySmug, which is owned by Tripathi and has more than 110,000 followers, quote tweeted Warren’s tweet with the message: “Everyone reply to this with: We want Bernie.” From that point on, Warren’s feed was inundated.
Everyone reply to this with:
We want Bernie https://t.co/j7Fc0Vz0Jz
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) January 6, 2019
Tripathi, who owns the @ComfortablySmug account, was a hedge fund analyst in New York who also worked as the campaign manager for Republican Christopher R. Wright’s failed 2012 run for Congress in New York’s 12th congressional district. Tripathi also donated over $500 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign that year.
In 2010, Tripathi donated $1,000 to the congressional campaign of Dino LaVerghetta, who now serves in the Trump administration as Special Assistant to the President and Associate Counsel to the President. Before LaVerghetta joined the Trump administration, he represented corporations “in matters related to fraud, corruption, and bribery.” He lost his 2010 race, when he won just 1% of the vote as an independent candidate.
“Ratfuckery and Trollshit”
A cursory glance suggests that most of the accounts tweeting “We want Bernie!”—like this one—come from right wingers who agree with Tripathi’s politics. Another “We want Bernie” tweet from a user called @28Fearus was coupled with a cartoon of Pepe the Frog in a Sanders costume, and it clearly wasn’t from a Sanders supporter; Pepe is an icon among the pro-Trump, white supremacist alt-right, and 28 is alphanumeric code used to signify the neo-Nazi “Blood and Honor” organization.
But other “We want Bernie” tweets—like this one—did come from genuine Sanders supporters. Some of the tweets from actual Sanders supporters, though, may have been from users who saw the ostensibly pro-Bernie tweets and decided to join in.
“Maybe it’s the Hillary hair but I just don’t like her…nothing seems genuine,” one male Twitter user with a history of supporting candidates like Sanders and Cynthia Nixon wrote, piling on to the cascade of negative tweets.
Still, responses from Democrats who oppose Sanders showed that many were unaware that most of the accounts were Trump-supporters following Tripathi’s instructions. Many attributed all of the “We want Bernie” tweets to “Bernie Bros.”
One anti-Bernie user and Clinton 2016 supporter with a large following, @eclecticbrotha, warned his followers that @ComfortablySmug was a “right wing troll” and not to take the bait.
“Blocking everyone who tweets ‘We want Bernie’ at Liz Warren is a great way to inoculate yourself from the ratfuckery and trollshit,” he wrote.
“Ratfucking” is a term popularized in “All the President’s Men” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that refers to political dirty tricks. One figure often associated with the term is Roger Stone, who has engaged in electoral hijinks on behalf of both President Donald Trump and Richard Nixon. He is now under scrutiny in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion investigation. Russia used a bot army in 2016 to undermine Clinton’s campaign, using tactics similar to Tripathi’s.
”The Alt-Right Found a Wedge”
Before Russia, though, Republican operatives were already using “ratfucking” tactics against Clinton. In a May 2016 article titled “The Right Baits the Left to Turn Against Hillary Clinton,” the New York Times reported that PACs linked to the GOP were spending money targeting progressive and Democratic voters with social media posts critical of Clinton’s progressive credentials.
One video paid for by the American Crossroads PAC, which was started by GOP operative and George W. Bush aid Karl Rove, spliced in comments from Warren, leading viewers to believe she was criticizing Clinton.
“‘Powerful interests have tried to capture Washington and rig the system in their favor,’ intones Ms. Warren, as images of Mrs. Clinton with foreign leaders flash by,” the 2015 report reads.
Democrats should not fall for it this time, said Melissa Garriga, a progressive from Pascagoula, Mississippi who supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and serves as the deputy press secretary for Democratic Mississippi State Rep. Jeramey Anderson.
“The whole game for Republicans and alt-right political operatives comes down to two main objectives: misinformation and creating fake outrage,” she told Deep South Voice on Sunday. “As a supporter of Bernie Sanders, this is not just a problem we have with the right but it also makes for a difficult problem with discussions on the left. It leads to this myth of the Bernie voter vs. who they really are and how they think.”
Most Bernie supporters, she said, would support Warren if she were the nominee—just as most ultimately voted for Clinton. She decried what she sees as a media culture that “convinced many liberals that his supporters from 2016 were a crazy, cult-like group of bros who only bled, spoke, and voted Bernie.”
“The alt-right found a wedge and now an opportunity to spread misinformation and create outrage over a false narrative,” Garriga said, referring to Tripathi’s Saturday night tweet.
“Criticize Warren for Being White” and “For Being a Woman”
Tripathi was not the only right-winger on Twitter whose followers parroted his messages under Warren’s tweet. Emily Zanotti, a writer for the right wing Daily Wire, quote tweeted the same Warren tweet Tripathi did with her own message: “That’s a looooot of white people,” she wrote, referring to the crowd in front of Warren in the video. Afterwards, intermingled with the “We want Bernie” tweets were numerous tweets noting the whiteness of the crowd.
“She should have cancelled this,” one user wrote. “The crowd is too white.”
“You need some minorities in your crowd,” another added.
“In before the media talks about how the crowd’s overwhelmingly white,” yet another added.
In 2016, both Sanders and Trump were criticized for the whiteness of their crowds; both struggled to garner minority support relative to Clinton. Those criticisms, though, were not typically based on their crowds in Iowa, where Warren was at in her video. Iowa, after all, is about 90% white.
On New Year’s Eve, a user on the message board 4Chan—a hotbed where alt-right trolls plot internet mischief—urged members to go to comments sections on sites like the New York Times, Reddit, and Twitter and to “pose as a concerned Democrat and criticize Warren for being white” and “for being a woman.”
“Do whatever it takes to further divide the left and prevent them from unifying behind a candidate for 2020. If we can manufacture another Bernie/Hillary split, they’ll get crushed in the general election.”
Tripathi Unmasked in 2012 After Hurricane Sandy Lies
Tripathi’s @ComfortablySmug account had just about 6,000 followers when it first gained infamy in October 2012. While Hurricane Sandy was battering the Northeast Coast, the account tweeted out false information about the storm that was reported by the likes of CNN, Reuters, and the Weather Channel.
Buzzfeed’s Jack Steuf outed Tripathi as the man behind the troll account that same month.
That revealed the identity of the Comfortably Smug who was an avid reader, commenter, and one-time diarist at The New Yorker’s Sex Diary, too. In his 2008 diary, titled, “The Self-Obsessed, Emotionally Detached Hedge Fund Manager,” he wrote about excuses himself from his office to have phone sex with an ex in a bathroom, and taking pills like Ambien, Adderall, and Xanax.
In 2009, The New Yorker interviewed him anonymously, referring to him by his pseudonym.
“How do you have time to write so many comments?” they asked Tripathi.
“Lots of Adderall,” he said. “I squeeze it in during lunch, or if I’m running somewhere I check nymag.com on my phone in the cab. I’ll get five comments done in three minutes.”
Deep South Voice reached out to the Warren campaign, the Sanders campaign, and Tripathi for comment. This story will be updated if we get any responses.