A new report in the U.K.’s Independent claims that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is well aware of what his army of online supporters — the so-called “Bernie Bros” — are doing online in his name, and that his senior staff are encouraging and, in some cases, even arming the “Bernie Bro” elite.
Sanders came under fire for his supporters’ online — and, increasingly, offline behavior — ahead of the Nevada caucuses, after his supporters deluged officers of the Nevada Culinary Union, which refused to endorse Sanders, with abusive, harassing, and even racist phone calls, emails, and social media messages, and after Sanders delegates disrupted the Nevada Democratic Party’s annual convention, throwing objects at speakers, and forcing the party to have them physically removed.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have all attacked Sanders over Bernie Bros’ behavior, calling on the candidate to distance himself from the online mobs that rage against the Vermont socialist’s detractors, and calling on his supporters to eschew violence.
Sanders, for his part, has resisted, claiming that he has no knowledge of what the Bernie Bros are up to, and that he abhors violence. When asked last week if he would disown supporters who engage in violence, Sanders reiterated that he condemns violence by any campaign, and cited several instances of violence against his own, including a shooting outside of his Las Vegas, Nevada, campaign office (which has yet to be connected to a political motive).
But the Independent reports that not only does Sanders know exactly what the Bernie Bros are doing online, some of his senior staff have been instrumental in targeting the Bernie Bros’ attacks.
“Bernie knows exactly what’s happening,” one Democratic activist claimed to the outlet. “And his campaign is in the loop about this coordinated viciousness.”
A “Sanders operative” refused to corroborate the report, but said that Sanders isn’t bothered by more “revolutionary” behavior: “That’s been the tone that is set by the campaign leadership. And broadly speaking, I don’t think the Senator has a problem with that.”
Indeed, Sanders has used rhetoric about “revolutions” before, and has notably toned down the use of the word “revolution” in his own speeches and social media missives, in order to suggest distance between himself and violence. But while that change may have come at the behest of his staff, they’re also apparently very aware of how well an aggressive online army works.
“There are people in this campaign who operate in a very uncivil way … they’re relentless,” gun control activist Frank Guttenberg, who has been targeted by both Trump and Sanders supporters, told the Independent. “I used to say the Bernie supporters were just like Trump’s supporters, but I was wrong — they’re worse,” he said. “They’re more confrontational and they’re more aggressive.”
“In particular, [Guttenberg] said three of the most frequent ringleaders from whom Sanders’ online mobs take their cues are national campaign co-chair and former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, national press secretary Briahna Gray, and speechwriter David Sirota,” according to the Independent.
Sirota is, himself, a well-known Twitter provacateur.
Sanders has deflected criticism over the Bernie Bros, occasionally claiming that the online abuse and harassment is the work of Russian bots and not Sanders supporters in the flesh.