Wingnut bloggers rally behind a violent call for revolution

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, June 27, 2011 13:40 EDT
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Ugh. I debated writing this post because I really dislike writing about "men's rights activists", because their comically large and unjustified egos cause them to crave attention, and I don't like feeding trolls.  Also, attracting the attention of a group that supports the interests of men who have a tendency to develop unhealthy obsessions with women means being the target of said unhealthy obsession.  But since they're in a feeding frenzy of sick obsessions and a couple of people concerned about me have contacted me about it, I'm going to quickly post about the latest MRA obsession and how it demonstrates exactly how fucked up the online anti-feminist community really is.  

The story begins with a man named Thomas Ball, who committed suicide in the most horrific way, by setting himself on fire in front of a New Hampshire courthouse. He sent a 15-page suicide note/manifesto to the newspaper, and it turns out that he was protesting the enforcement of laws against domestic violence.  Despite the deep wrongness of his cause—I mean, he literally says that men who beat their wives should have full rights to live with the women they abuse and the state shouldn't be able to keep said men away from their victims—a number of anti-feminist types have declared him a hero and a martyr for their cause.  Ball also characterized himself as a Tea Partier and his act as an act of violent protest against the state, and calls for insurrection and revolt.  This has caused his base of support to expand dramatically, and you're seeing Glenn Reynolds and his wife supporting this act of violence.  David at Man Boobz covered the response from the "men's rights" folks, and again the general tenor is support for setting yourself on fire and sending threatening letters calling for more violence, and many of Ball's supporters suggest even more violence. 

I was annoyed by all this and suggested in the comments at Man Boobz that there might be a more personal reason for this guy's suicide, and pointed out that suicide and threats of suicide are common tactics used by abusers to hurt their victims. Abusers dramatically self-destruct all the time in their desperation to control and hurt the objects of their obsession.  There was just recently a big story about this, in fact: Jason Valdez of Utah, who had a long criminal record that included domestic violence, held a woman hostage in a hotel room for 16 hours and kept updates about the situation on Facebook. He eventually committed suicide.  In response to the MRAs who complained that setting yourself on fire isn't threatening enough, I pointed out in Man Boobz's comments that setting yourself on fire is an extremely effective way to hurt your ex-wife, if that's your goal, and perhaps MRAs could consider that aspect of this.  Again: abusers aren't rational people.  Abuse is irrational, in fact, since it basically shuts you off from having a happy life full of joy and love, and causes people who want to love you to fear you instead. 

Well, now all sorts of wingnuts are flipping out and calling me "evil", and even, flatteringly, comparing me to the whore of Babylon. Apparently, I'm supposed to pretend that suicide isn't a disruptive, selfish act in many cases (especially when the suicide victim commits it in a public and destructive way), and that people who do it, while yes victims of their own mental health problems, are also thinking that they're going to make everyone pay for not indulging them.  In fact, not only is this true in Ball's case, but he spelled it out in his suicide note.  The "make the bastards suffer" theme of his note is the reason that wingnuts are supporting him.  I will point out that said wingnuts are striking this pose while not reconsidering their attitudes towards suicide bombers, so long as said bombers are Muslim. 

To be very clear, I feel bad that Thomas Ball killed himself.  I suspect that the MRAs who are obsessing over him are doing so in large part because they feel guilty, and they should. Ball killed himself in a fit of obsession over a divorce that happened ten years ago, but which he continued to fight and bemoan, and his obsession was clearly fueled by his engagement with the online anti-feminist community.  It's conceivable that he wouldn't have killed himself if he hadn't had a steady diet of internet rantings from self-pitying fools who want the government to stop taking rape and domestic violence seriously as crimes.  If the people who are making a martyr of Ball had any self-awareness, they would reflect on how their hatreds and obsessions can drive mentally ill people to the brink and cause acts of violence like Ball's. 

But instead they're taking umbrage at my suggestion that Ball may have been abusive to his family.  The problem with that is that Ball admitted as much in his suicide note. To quote:

My story starts with the infamous slapping incident of April 2001. While putting my four year old daughter to bed, she began licking my hand. After giving her three verbal warnings I slapped her. She got a cut lip. My wife asked me to leave to calm things down.

He was arrested and charged for beating his daughter, which I suspect he's strongly downplaying here in a note that's full of self-pitying and minimizing. His wife divorced him, which he then—again, according to his own words—fought for 10 years, though he characterizes his routine appearances in court as something that just happened to him, like the weather or something.  He set himself on fire in part to avoid a contempt of court hearing, which was part of what sounds like a long series of court battles due to Ball refusing to pay child support.  In other words, a typical MRA story, except that this one ends in an act of threatening self-immolation.  

The entire letter is worth reading, because it's a snapshot into the way that right wing propaganda and the online anti-feminist community (which anti-domestic violence activists have nicknamed the "abuser lobby") can work on the mind of a mentally ill person and send them over the edge.  But here's a sample of the letter, which Dr. Helen characterized asb "not the ramblings of a madman, it is the mission of a warrior in some sense".

When then a man is arrested for domestic violence, one of two things can happen. If they are only dating and have separate apartments, then he can head home. But if they are living together, then this fellow has a real problem. Bail conditions and then a possible protective or restraining order prevent him from being with her. So he needs to find a new place to live, at least until the charges are resolved. The King of his Castle is no longer allowed into his castle.

He goes on to argue that enforcing domestic violence laws instead of allowing abusers unfettered access to their victims is bad for the victims, and he cites the usual "breaking up the family" kind of logic that most conservatives outside of Phyllis Schlafly were ashamed to use even just a few years ago. He claims that arresting men for beating their wives and children has somehow left 72 million people homeless because that's what he believes happens when you get divorced.  (Though the fact that he wouldn't pay his child support undermines his insistence that he's only thinking of women's well-being when he insists that they should be forced to allow their abusers back into their homes.)  He argues that men who voted for the Violence Against Women Act emasculated themselves.  He compares arresting abusers for domestic violence to the Holocaust.  He then calls for violent revolution, demands that people start burning down police stations and court houses, and includes instructions for bomb-making.

This is the man that online anti-feminists are treating like a hero.  And this is the man whose heroic status is so obvious to them that they're calling me "evil" and the "beast of Babylon" for criticizing. 

There is good news here. Most of these idiots are all talk.  They may admire Ball for setting himself on fire and causing so much pain and anguish in his community, but most of them are too comfortable and too lazy to actually act on their violent fantasies.  That said, Ball's death should be a reminder of how serious the situation is with regards to the ramped-up ugliness in right wing rhetoric.  Ball luckily didn't hurt anyone but himself, but his is just another story in what is a growing list of acts of violence and domestic terrorism from the unhinged element on the right.  That he's being so eagerly supported by so many bloggers should concern us; what if the next guy they decide to rally behind hurts more than himself?

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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