• Rueben Vargas

The Accountability Deficit in American Leftism

Dedicated to the memory of Michael Brooks, who’s tireless and high-profile efforts to the cause of international solidarity inspired countless leftists like myself. Also special thanks to the brave people who spoke out in the face of shame and harassment. Solidarity to my brothers and sisters.

Author’s note: The following article contains details, images, and discussions of sexual harassment and abuse. Said content may be considered explicit and triggering. Read at your own discretion.

Screenshot from Meg Lay about her experience in the Bernie 2020 Campaign

At a rally in Long Island last October, Bernie Sanders challenged his followers by asking the following question: "Are you willing to fight for that person who you don't even know as much as you're willing to fight for yourself?” This question illustrated the guiding principle of solidarity that was at the heart of his campaign. It was the willingness to stand in shared humanity with someone you didn’t know-to provide for each other, to fight for each other, to care for each other. That commitment to solidarity informed his wildly popular platforms of Medicare for All, a livable minimum wage, the Green New Deal, and student loan debt forgiveness. Since his first presidential campaign in 2016, Bernie led a nascent leftist movement that inspired various other advocacy groups, volunteers, and politicians to follow in that same shared spirit of solidarity. The nation came to realize how the government should work to provide for the material interests and needs of its people. In the wake of the pandemic and Bernie’s capitulation to Joe Biden, it’s become clearer than ever that Bernie’s campaign was not operating on a basis of solidarity, but instead one on self-interest, self-promotion, and personal gain. That mercenary culture created a toxic environment of harassment and abuse that permeated every aspect of the campaign-from the volunteers up to the field organizers, state directors, and campaign management. What allowed this toxicity to thrive was a deficit of leadership from the highest levels of the campaign and an unwillingness from leftists to hold anyone accountable.

Screenshot of inappropriate DMs from David Silverstone

David Silverstone was a high profile Bernie supporter whose presence was so vast that at his height his Twitter account, @DavidAgStone, had almost 17 thousand followers on his Twitter page. Silverstone was so influential on Twitter that his pinned tweet as of July 14th was a screenshot from a Ted Cruz retweet in which Sen. Cruz decried how the “modern left” hated America using a Silverstone image titled “Mt Rushmore improved” which showed the monument blown to pieces. Silverstone’s tweets were a mix of creative profanity, righteous indignation towards centrists and conservatives, and leftist memes made him incredibly popular with most members of Left Twitter. On July 10th, Twitter user @karlmarxsbussy posted a screenshot of inappropriate DMs from Silverstone. More users posted their own DMs from him, and the thread became a litany of screenshots illustrating the sexual harassment and predation Silverstone engaged in-most of which ranged between April and July of this year. I’ve interviewed several Twitter users who’ve come out as victims of Silverstone’s predation. From both screenshots posted and DMs from my sources, several patterns emerged. Silverstone targeted leftist twitters users, many of whom were members of his meme group. Some of his victims were as young as fifteen, including Twitter user @taliaisjewish who tweeted screenshots of inappropriate DMs from Silverstone. Another example of him preying on minors includes a tweet from user @amy_men which she posts a video of her DMs from Silverstone. His inappropriate DMs had this cutesy, awkward affect that many of my sources speculate was an approach to make himself more appealing to the women he targeted. The content of his DMs towards his victims included gifs and images of hugging and closeness as he wrote how much he wanted to engage in that behavior towards them. A handful of his victims were previous victims of male abuse and harassment. One of my sources said she was approached by Silverstone after she posted publicly about her experience being stalked. Some of my sources shared the same story about how he would approach them in the context of the then-recent Tara Reade allegations, asking if they themselves would be willing to post as victims to support Reade’s claims against Biden. There’s also a screenshot floating around of Silverstone DMing a picture of his genitals to one of his victims. This behavior went on since April of this year, up until he posted his non-apology on his account on July 12th. Silverstone was able to prey on so many people for so long because other leftists on enabled his behavior and contributed to a culture of silence that discouraged his victims from speaking out sooner.

Screenshot of Silverstone's statement in light of numerous accusations of sexual harassment

Silverstone’s clout on Twitter was considerable. While I never followed him, I noticed a lot of high-profile leftist accounts did. His aggressive posting style and callouts towards high profile targets such as Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz is what’s considered a house style among other leftist Twitter users. This is what gave him a following of up to 17 thousand other members on Twitter, and with those numbers he amassed a considerable amount of clout. Most of my sources divulged how he leveraged his status as a high-profile Bernie supporter and the influence he accumulated to approach female Twitter users like them and engage in his inappropriate behaviors towards them. He’d attempt to groom his victims by either praising them for being open leftists or being conciliatory towards their personal struggles. That kind of clout would therefore make his victims think twice about calling him out publicly. Add on top of that a patriarchal hierarchy that permeates every aspect of culture as we know it and you get the perfect environment for predators like Silverstone to stalk his prey. Worse yet was how other leftists on Twitter would rush to his defense. One such example is user @bernietovest, who has about 10 thousand followers and made tweets defending Silverstone against his behaviors. In said tweets she’s apologized for Silverstone’s behaviors and has even accused others of making false allegations. This all comes back to an ugly habit online leftists have of turning other online leftists into celebrities. In its most insidious form it allows men like Silverstone to harass and abuse victims with impunity. In its more presentable form it allows high profile politicians like Sanders, AOC, Talib, and Omar to capitulate towards the interests of the ruling class while being immune to valid criticism. These self-labeled progressive politicians align themselves with imperialistic, profiteering, and otherwise exploitative interests such as the CIA, international corporations, and corrupt politicians within the DNC.

I served as a Victory Captain for the Bernie 2020 campaign between December of 2019 up until the day of the California primary on March 3rd, 2020. It was the single most frustrating experience I’ve ever had in a leadership position, as I was responsible for hosting volunteer events in the Chino-Ontario area. It was me, another victory captain, a field organizer, and a handful of volunteers who canvassed the area without any real support by the state campaign. All the promotion and resources were diverted towards the Pomona area where a field office was eventually opened. This was less so because Pomona was a larger priority and more so because of the efforts of a field organizer who ran Pomona like a fiefdom and connived events from Chino into his turf. It was towards the end of my stint that I heard whispers of sexual harassment and abuse within the higher levels of the California campaign. Of field organizers, surrogates, and other employees engaging in inappropriate, harmful behaviors and using their status to cover for themselves and others. An anonymous source pointed me in the direction of two former high-level California for Bernie staffers who committed heinous acts against coworkers and volunteers, before, during, and following the end of the campaign. Within the past few months, several brave individuals came forward to accuse State Field Director Jorel Verella and Environmental Co-Chair Allen Hernandez of sexual harassment and abuse.

Mina Barragán's account of sexual abuse from Allen Hernandez

In a tweet thread posted April 21st, Meg Ley made an account of the inappropriate behavior that was directed at her by Bernie 2020 State Field Director Jorrel Verella. She included screenshots from a Facebook post about how the harassment began during an interview for a field organizer position on November 8th, 2019. Ley directly accused Verella of intimating a sexual relationship during the interview and continued to be inappropriate to her during her experience as a volunteer in San Diego. She also included screenshots of three people who approached her with similar accounts of inappropriate and hostile behavior from Verella. Ley also posted screenshots of Verella being openly dismissive and belittling towards her accusations-accusing her of being selfish and entitled. My personal experience as being a victory captain would suggest the exact opposite-that the paid staffers were often disdainful towards Bernie’s collectivist goals and those who would believe them while us, the volunteers were ride or die for Not Me, Us. A source also pointed me to former California for Bernie 2020 Environmental Co-Chair Allen Hernandez and three accounts of sexual harassment. The first from Ericka Flores, who posted publicly on her Facebook on July 22nd how Hernandez sexually harassed her and others for two years. The second was from Mina Barragán, who posted on July 26th a harrowing account of how Hernandez raped her. The third was Michèle Ninjafink, who on July 27th echoed Flores’ claims of belittment and harassment from Hernandez. Verella and Hernandez were monsters who, much like Silverstone, came into the Bernie 2020 campaign presenting themselves as committed to the mass movement while their true motives were to advance themselves at the expense of others. All three are sexual predators who contributed to a toxic environment which presented itself as a movement founded collectivist values and solidarity.

The hard truth is that the campaign turned toxic because there was a deficit in leadership all the way at the top. Bernie insisted repeatedly how it was more than a campaign but a mass movement where he was the organizer-in-chief. For being an organizer-in-chief, he habitually looked the other way when bad actors came to interlope. Reporter Fiorella Isabel posted on April 18th a tweet thread filled with evidence on how the entire campaign was run behind the scenes by high paid consultants whose motives were entirely mercenary. That mindset metastasized within the campaign into a toxic environment which allowed monsters like Hernandez, Silverstone, Verella, and who knows else to come in and engage in their sick behaviors with total impunity. Since ending the campaign, Bernie has completely capitulated towards the avaricious and craven interests of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. The direct result of this is the DNC unanimously rejecting marijuana legalization and Medicare for all from their platform. This capitulation extended to The Squad, the group of progressive female politicians who were inspired by him. There was this golden opportunity for AOC and the rest of The Squad to mobilize the Bernie movement as leverage against Nancy Pelosi to provide necessary pandemic relief and crack down on police brutalization. Their failure to act is utter negligence, as now most Americans are perilously close to being foreclosed upon while Trump is sending federal troops to act as gestapo in major cities across the nation. The corruption of the campaign and the toxic environment that followed all happened under Bernie’s watch, and his refusal to lead both during and since is why there’s no cohesive opposition to the organized chaos that we live under today.

American Leftism is implicated in all this because lack of leadership can only exist if there’s a lack of accountability. Silverstone’s victims were afraid to speak out to their comrades because they’d sooner carry water for an abuser than uplift the voices of the victims. Ley, Hernandez, and Barragán waited months to speak publicly about the abusive they suffered within the campaign because leftists were all to happy to apologize and provide cover for what they saw as the last chance of a nationwide collectivist movement. Bad actors were able to sabotage the campaign from within because of who Sanders decided to hire. Sanders’ refusal to lead the revolution was enabled because we wouldn’t challenge him. The so-called progressive movement he inspired now refuses to lead and oppose the Democratic Party as it continues to impose austerity in the middle of our current crisis. We all saw in real time how Bernie’s campaign was rotting from the inside and we as leftists allowed for it to happen. Without any pushback, Bernie would align himself with the corrupt interests of the Democratic Party. What was supposed to be a mass movement built on solidarity turned into one of the most unsafe and abusive environments out there. Our unwillingness to keep ourselves and our leaders accountable is why we as leftists have no influence over the political process.

We are past the point of depending on electoral politics in America. Our elected leaders have enabled the current crisis by acting in the interests of capital and empire. More stories of victimization from within the Bernie campaign will come out. More people will speak out of the harassment they experienced from high profile supporters. What little hope we have in the middle of all this chaos is all thanks to nationwide acts of open defiance and civil disobedience. We are on the cusp of another nationwide crisis with mass evictions coming around the corner. We must lead ourselves and let those in desperate situations know that we’ll catch them when we fall. Or we’ll leave them by the wayside at our own peril. We as leftists should have nothing but mistrust, disdain, and scorn for Sanders, AOC, Talib, Omar, and the rest of the murder’s row of progressives who are committed to hollow performative acts instead of fighting on behalf of their consituents. It’s time we’re taken seriously and have zero tolerance for anyone who’d violate our shared causes of solidarity and fellowship. We should only hope that our comrades would hold us accountable and committed to these causes as our country descends into further chaos.