Saxby Chambliss, the Internet and nameless speech

It is painful to admit, because no one likes to trash his own neighborhood.

But when it comes to political discussion, there are times when you have to wonder whether the Internet has become the world’s largest bathroom stall.

At 2:39 p.m. on an otherwise quiet Tuesday last week, Republicans in the Senate turned away an attempt to permit homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss/AP

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss/AP

Forty-six minutes and 50 seconds later, on a blog dedicated to gay and lesbian issues and bearing the odd name of “Joe.My.God,” an untoward comment popped up in the middle of a discussion of the vote on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“All [gays] must die,” wrote the author who called himself “Jimmy.”

The deleted word was a common vulgarity not permitted in most newspapers, but neither the word nor the sentiment was unusual. We have some very angry people sitting at keyboards. Joe Jervis, the New Yorker behind the blog, says he gets dozens of that kind every day.

So Jervis says he can’t explain why he decided to look up the digitized fingerprint left by Jimmy and that particular message. But look it up he did.

The Internet Protocol address, a series of numbers assigned to all devices that link to the Web, indicated that the computer Jimmy used was registered to the U.S. Senate.

Jervis loosed his readers on a kind of treasure hunt. Cross-referencing the IP address with global positioning coordinates, Jervis and his friends linked the offending computer to “the neighborhood” of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ office, perhaps in Atlanta — but not necessarily.

Though Chambliss can’t be called a friend to gays when it comes to open military service or marriage, he handled the threatening slur with the appropriate degree of urgency.

“This office has not and will not tolerate any activity of the sort alleged,” a Chambliss spokeswoman declared within hours. The next day, Georgia’s senior senator confirmed that the slur originated within his office — and handed the matter over to the Senate sergeant-at-arms, a fellow named Terrance Gainer.

Aside from his duties as the chamber’s official doorkeeper, Gainer is the Senate’s top administrator. And chief law enforcement officer.

What no one is saying is that, by handing the investigation over to the sergeant-at-arms, Chambliss has tacitly admitted that Jimmy probably isn’t some empty-headed intern who can be silently packed off to his red-faced parents.

Jimmy is very likely an empty-headed, full-blown adult who is on Chambliss’ payroll or otherwise under the supervision of the U.S. senator. A person with responsibility.

Through the Internet, we have created a generation of young Americans who equate political speech with anonymity. I say that with the understanding that the Political Insider — and countless other blogs — accept nameless comments online.

Is anonymous speech protected? Of course. Does it have a firm place in American history? Yes. But even Thomas Jefferson was embarrassed when he was caught out.

One of the more discouraging moments in free speech occurred earlier this year, when a young YouTube videographer approached U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., on a Washington sidewalk to ask the congressman whether he supported President Barack Obama’s agenda. It was a fair question — but it was unfairly posed in anonymity.

“Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?” Etheridge demanded before — very wrongly — accosting the young fellow. But a part of me understood Etheridge’s frustration. We were both raised to believe that an honest man put his own name behind his words.

One of the better moments in free speech occurred last year when thousands of Americans turned out to argue about health care reform at town hall meetings across the country. Messages with faces and names behind them will always mean more than anonymous shots in the dark.

Albert L. May, an associate professor of journalism and public affairs at George Washington University, says concerns that the Internet will become a black hole of political libel are overblown. Mine included.

“The new media is more transparent than most people know,” May said. Internet anonymity is shrinking, not growing. Consider Facebook, he said, which has become the largest village on the Internet because it demands accountability from “friends.”

Corrosive speech on the Internet won’t disappear — but it will become more limited as the Jimmys of the world realize that the anonymity of the computer screen is an illusion, May said. Those darned IP addresses.

You can help speed things along. The next time you have the opportunity, resist the temptation to hide. Put your own name behind your own thought.

Personal responsibility can be quite liberating. Try it.

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153 comments Add your comment

Amy Morton

September 25th, 2010
3:22 pm

Always have. Always will. If I’m willing to publish it, then I’m willing to own it. I know that there are fellow bloggers who disagree and point to the value of anonymity, or even the need for it for individuals who might face consequences, at work for example, for certain opinions, but for me, if I’m reluctant to put my name to something, then it’s an internal red flag to me that maybe I shouldn’t post it.

Doug Craig

September 25th, 2010
3:25 pm

Maybe it is time to look at the Libertarian party
http://www.lpgeorgia.com
And our senate candidate http://www.donovanforsenate.com Chuck Donovan

Gary Scott Holt

September 25th, 2010
3:34 pm

Guilty as charged. At least until a few weeks ago……

Cloverhurst

September 25th, 2010
3:50 pm

This is crazy- Georgia republicans need to get over there gay issues.

Atlanta has the second largest gay population in the country and many of them would be open to voting for fiscal conservatives i.e folks like Mary Norwood- if we quit bashing them at every turn.

There’s no problem being against gay marrige and repeal of DADT but Senate staff posting comments like this on blogs is not only stupid but uncouth.

findog

September 25th, 2010
4:02 pm

As Glen Beck is fond of quoting:
First they came for my
And then the…
And then the Gays

Slippery slope from conformity to fascism to anarchy

SpaceyG

September 25th, 2010
4:17 pm

Now you got me wondering… which digital footprint I put out there is the greater – according to the Google?

Jan

September 25th, 2010
5:05 pm

Cloverhurst , the problem is – being against gay marriage is not “bashing gays at every turn”. Yet that is how it is described. Taking a stand against people who break the law – e.g. are in our country illegally – is not hating Mexicans.

Miss Peach

September 25th, 2010
5:13 pm

I believe senate staffers are on the government payroll. So, at taxpayer expense, we have a government employee using government property to make terroristic threats towards US citizens. Nice. Remember, though, Saxby Shameless questioned Max Cleland’s patriotism as he had only lost three limbs in Vietnam.

When Hell Freezes Over

September 25th, 2010
5:35 pm

Miss Peach:

How did Cmabliss “questioned Max Cleland’s patriotism”?

Exactly how did Cleland lose “three limbs in Vietnam”?

When Hell Freezes Over

September 25th, 2010
5:39 pm

Cloverhurst:

I didn’t know that conservatives, or Republicans, were “bashing them at every turn”.
Perhaps you can enlighten me?

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
5:42 pm

So why won’t our dear Senator denounce the sentiment expressed by his paid staffer?

Bobby

September 25th, 2010
5:44 pm

WHFO: Chambliss did in fact question Max Cleland’s patriotism when he ran against him. Cleland lost three limbs serving his country in the military just as I and my gay partner of 33 years did. Chambliss has never served one single day in the U.S. military. Like many during Vietnam he used his “college” deferment to exempt himself from serving. Yet he wants to continue the discrimination in the military as well in civilian life to against gay men and lesbian women fighting and who die in combat protecting the right of him and his office to discriminate against a group of Americans. I vote Democrat more often because Republicans offer no choice despite the fact I am a fiscal conservative. Too bad Barry Goldwater isn’t still serving in the Senate to set Chamblis and perhaps yourself “straight”.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
5:45 pm

Sorry all you anonymous political trolls, but i will not let you hijack the discussion from the subject at hand.

Jeff

September 25th, 2010
5:50 pm

The comment made on the Internet about homosexuals may not have been made by Chambliss but in my opinion it represents his views…On the otherhand, maybe he did make the comments himself.

Dave

September 25th, 2010
5:52 pm

Ah, I’m not quite ready to put my full name on a comment, though Jim, I appreciate what you are saying. That said, you and the AJC have my full name and Email address as do I suppose anyone with more computer savvy than I have also has. A related aside, it does bother me that there’s a ton of money going into anonymous, I think, 501 entities that can give whatever they want to give without disclosure.

And that said, I’ve just gone online today and had the thought, I wonder what will be the latest on Nathan Deal. Sure enough, another mini-scandal, money every month to a company he and contributors own for the “fixed costs” of an airplane and a helicopter to the tune of $135K over the last couple of years. I’m not really a fan of Roy; but, how can anyone vote for a guy that is so clearly in financial trouble and doesn’t seem to see that playing financial games is not exactly appropriate political conduct?

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
5:53 pm

Must disagree with Mr. Galloway. Either Saxby agrees with his staffer who believes that “all f*****s must die” but believes that such sentiments must never be uttered in public or he does not agree with the sentiment. If he does not agree with the sentiment, then out of respect to the hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Georgians, he must denounce it.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
5:54 pm

Sorry, Dave, but you should talk about Nathan Deal on another thread.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
5:56 pm

Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Georgians are sick and damn tired of their lives being restricted by the state and subjected to political attack and scrutiny.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
5:58 pm

The fact that we have to go to the legislature and congress and bend and scrape to ask to be treated just like other americans is bad enough.

Dave

September 25th, 2010
5:58 pm

Jamie, you are right; but, I couldn’t find one and felt compelled to say something about it, sorry.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
5:59 pm

But to have people in Saxby Chambliss’s office spit in our faces on the very day we come hat in hand to his institution is in my mind an open declaration of warfare against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Georgians.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:01 pm

I accept your apology, Dave. Please think of us when you decide who will represent the Great State of Georgia.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:04 pm

What say you, Saxby Chambliss?

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:06 pm

I’m a proud native of Griffin, Georgia, and a member of the State Bar of Georgia, and I’m sick and tired of being treated like a second class citizen around here.

Dave

September 25th, 2010
6:06 pm

Here we are off subject; but, Jaimie, I don’t think Roy will do much for non-straight people in the state, there isn’t much of an upside in it for him. Back on subject, Chambliss won’t see much of a downside from the scandal and he, from a political point of view is doing the right thing – “‘horrors’ that is bad, I’ve turned it over to the cops” (who will take a long time to identify whomever, a time past the election.)

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:09 pm

I went to Saxby Chambliss’s office in April of 2008 and asked him to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Is that what his staffer thought when I, a transexual Georgian, sat down in his office in the Russell Building?

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:11 pm

At least Roy Barnes did not campaign in his primary to out-hate Karen Handel on the subject of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people adopting children.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:24 pm

I don’t know about you, but when someone comes up to me a tells me myself and all others like me should die, that in my mind is a radical act. An act of a radical homophobe and transphobe.

td

September 25th, 2010
6:25 pm

Do we not have freedom of speech in this country? You are an attorney Jamie, you tell me if what he said is liable? If it is not then it is his/her opinion and should be protected by freedom of speech. I do not like it when I am called a “Georgia hick” or “Baptist Bigot” but the people name calling has the right to freedom of speech and I will defend their right to say it with all my heart and soul because that is what makes this country great. Is it about time for all of to get over our over sensitive side and this political correctness BS and grow some thicker skin?

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:27 pm

I don’t care who you are, Republican, Democrat or Tea Party. When you start to treat people like that, you are no longer fit to hold public office.

Brad

September 25th, 2010
6:27 pm

TD: Not when they tell you “to die”.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:28 pm

tb, you don’t even have the nerve to put your real name by your views, so you are just another political troll, aroused by other people’s misery.

Brad

September 25th, 2010
6:30 pm

@ Hell Freezes “Exactly how did Cleland lose “three limbs in Vietnam”?”

A grenade, numb-nut.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:31 pm

What he said was not libel, td. It a wish for all f*****s to die. That is not illegal, but it is not fitting of the office of a Representative of the Great State of Georgia to U.S. Congress, no matter what you think of the institution.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:33 pm

I was raised Southern Baptist myself. I was not brought up to wish that of a Southern Baptist or anyone else for that matter. That is not what Mr. Hamby tought me in Sunday School at the First Baptist Church of Thomaston.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:34 pm

Brad whoeveryouare, you are interrupting a discussion of this article.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:36 pm

How many of you know a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Georgian but are silent in the face of this kind of bigotry?

Goobers

September 25th, 2010
6:37 pm

I may have stepped on a few closed minds with the truth. Yes, i have (early and often) suggested here Jawja Sen Suxby Shameless posted the attack, and now in his lowly chickenhawk fashion is trying to get a staffer to take the fall, as well as thanking his lucky stars for the Bishop Eddie Long story.

When Hell Freezes Over

September 25th, 2010
6:39 pm

Brad:

They aren’t numb . . . and the grenade was detonated while he was exiting a chopper, I believe.

Thanks for your barely civil response. JO.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:41 pm

Meanwhile, Heterosexual Georgia Judges and Legislators in positions of make wanton overtures to their female co-workers. How long have the women of Georgia suffered under their staggering hypocrisy?

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:42 pm

Men like When Hell Freezes Over continue to ignore the truth of these matters at their peril.

Goobers

September 25th, 2010
6:47 pm

Not one thing i have ever posted am i ashamed of, nor is any untrue, but when one has views far outside the mainstream anonymity is no sin. For example, growing up in the rural Bible Belt i spent Sunday’s at church hearing fantasies and lies. Being somewhat rational, i realized that this was a fantastic charade, but it would have been quite dangerous to say the truth. Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, etc, faded into myth but the Great Spirit in the sky held a grip over the unthinking herd and made it unsafe to hold other views. The same with same-sex attraction; up until recently (and it is still not safe) you could easily be ostracized, fired, beaten, killed, arrested in your own house and bed with your partner. So, sometimes, as with the Lone Ranger, anonymity is best, especially on the internet

td

September 25th, 2010
6:50 pm

Jamie Roberts, I have a few gay friends and they are not this sensitive. I will tell them the same thing I told you a few minutes ago. If we want to be a great nation again, then freedom of speech is the cornerstone and we must protect this freedom at any and all cost. How many times did Cynthia McKinney or Maxine Waters have called GWB a criminal, Nazi or something totally offensive? Should they have been removed from office for their words? Although I personally think some of their statements teetered on treason, I will defend their right to say it.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:54 pm

Cynthia McKinney and Maxine Waters would never, ever tell you or anyone else to go die, td. If they did, then they would not be entitled to hold office either. No one is trying to censor Saxby Chambliss’s staffers. But when they wish death upon their fellow Americans, they must immediately resign their office in shame out of their own sense of dignity and for the dignity of their office.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
6:57 pm

td, if your gay friends saw you defending the actions of a staffer of Saxby Chambliss’s in this manner without denouncing the wrongness of their actions, they would agree with me.

Goobers

September 25th, 2010
6:58 pm

They are just being good Christians. The Bible clearly commands Christians to kill homosexuals.

td

September 25th, 2010
6:59 pm

Jamie Roberts, I am personally offended by Goobers above post, calling my religious beliefs fantasies and calling myself part of the “unthinking herd”. Personally, I think we should find out who he is and have him thrown in jail or tarred and feathered for such comments, but the freedom loving part of me overrides my personal feelings and I will stand up and fight for his right to the freedom to say what he has said.

td

September 25th, 2010
7:04 pm

Jamie Roberts, I am defending the actions of the staffer, Goobers, Cynthia, Maxine or any other person the right to stand up and say whatever they want to say. If it is personally libel then the person can take action, but if it is not then they have the right to say it.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
7:04 pm

No one is arguing that he should not have the freedom to say it, td. What I’m saying is that saying those things as a staffer of the United States Congress should have consequences because wishing death on your constituents is wrong in and of itself.

Jamie Roberts

September 25th, 2010
7:07 pm

That person should be fired, and Sentator Chambliss should say that he has lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender constituents that he knows were deeply hurt but the comments, and that he does not wish for us to die, but to continue to be hardworking, taxpaying citizens who are entitled to all the benefits of that citizenship