Leo Traynor, Anti-Semitism, and the Sticky Problem of Facts
When someone tells an extraordinary story, it is likely to be believed if it resonates with expectations and biases. Anti-Semitism exists (I outlined some of my own experiences here a while ago), and Twitter stalkers exist (indeed I’ve also had one of those). The extraordinary story that previously-unheard-of nice guy Leo Traynor told on his blog went viral overnight and has since been published by The Guardian and others [edit: see footnotes for additional notes on this].
Leo told us about three years of anti-semitic hate waged against him and his family, from threatening Twitter DMs to, eventually, dead flowers and ashes left on his doorstep. If you haven’t had a stalker, it’s hard to know the exact sort of blinding fear that such actions put into you, but as many internet users have some residual paranoia from hearing stalker or bully horror stories, it’s not hard to empathise with Leo Traynor. And indeed, the twist in the tale, that his stalker was the teenage son of a friend, served to cement that empathy. We all know that such teens exist, right? The papers are full of them. It could have happened to any of us (or any of us Jews, perhaps). But then BAM! Our empathy is subverted. Leo Traynor doesn’t beat the kid to a bloody pulp as I imagined myself doing. He doesn’t report a potentially dangerous fascist to the police. He forgives the kid over a tearful coffee and leaves him in the hands of his parents and a therapist. What an amazing guy.
So, an amazing act of forgiveness from a persecuted Jew. Traynor as Jesus, even. Too far? Definitely, but if the Traynor story isn’t a modern day parable I don’t know what is. And like the story of Jesus, if you (and I don’t mean me, because I failed to do this) dig a little, the facts aren’t there. The claims are there, but there isn’t any evidence to support them.
Why is it important? Several reasons, the most basic of which is ‘service to facts’, I guess. Y’know, that whole tell the truth ethics thing. For me, though, the story needs to be verified because it is a very nasty example of anti-semitism. The all-too-real, all-too-frightening anti-semitism that most Jews experience. The law declares it a religious hate crime, victims just know it as hate. Hate for your ‘blood’, hate for your cultural identity, hate for your history, your big nose, your family, your traditions. Religion is a small and sometimes irrelevant part of it. It is also one of the last acceptable forms of hate, brushed under the carpet, a lurking motive (as per the 9/11 stuff) that many, especially in Britain where there are few Jews, seem embarrassed to mention. Us Jews, still being victims, banging on about it. It’s not like it’s the holocaust again, right?
So, if (big if) Leo Traynor’s story isn’t true, and he invented anti-Semitic hate crime, I want a word with him. The word will be WHY? When the facts are out I’ll revisit that why if it’s necessary.
The other issue is that the story feeds neatly into growing paranoias about social media, online bullying, and privacy. These are real and genuine concerns but often distorted or exaggerated by the media for sales/scaremongering purposes, and faking a stalker, if that’s what happened, would be worse than the Daily Mail.
So, as the victim of anti-Semitic hate crime and also online (and offline) stalking, I have an interest in knowing if Leo Traynor’s story is true.
Alright, tricky bit here. Some excellent questions about Traynor have been raised by a blogger who also appears to be a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. I did ask him to clarify but he was vague. Although I personally don’t think that changes the validity of the questions, it is problematic to promote to such a site, and may inadvertently give credibility to his other theories, which we most definitely don’t want to do. I’m also very aware, having had dealings with it, that the 9/11 conspiracy movement is fuelled in part by anti-semitism, so to err on the side of caution I’m asking my own Traynor questions here. It is important to give credit to the original, though, so the link is here if you would like the context for yourself.
At the time of writing, Leo Traynor has set his Twitter account to private, so unfortunately we can’t see whatever he has to say about all this, but hopefully he’ll clarify soon. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, remember. So, here are my questions for Leo Traynor, preceded by quotes from his story. You may think it’s overkill. Perhaps it is, but I really need to know if there is a fascist stalker out there in Ireland or not:
My account was followed by a fairly innocuous looking one which I followed back and within 10 minutes I had received a Direct Message (DM) calling me a ‘Dirty f*cking Jewish scumbag‘. I blocked the account and reported it as spam. The following week it happened again in an identical manner. A new follower, I followed back, received a string of abusive DM’s, blocked and reported for spam. Two or three times a week. Sometimes two or three times a day. An almost daily cycle of blocking and reporting and intense verbal abuse.
Why did you continue to follow back new followers if this kept happening?
I didn’t mention it to my wife. Didn’t see the point of worrying her. But then she joined Twitter to see what it was like and grew to enjoy it.
If you’d been getting two or three abusive messages a week, why didn’t you warn your wife before she joined Twitter?
She received a DM stating ‘Your husband is scum. A rotten b*stard and you’re a wh*re.‘ She laughed it off.
Can you post a statement from your wife confirming this?
We got to the point of not accepting new followers at all and then one day my wife received a torrent of abuse via DM and on the timeline that was so vile she’s never been on Twitter since – which is a real shame as she has so much to share and is far more interesting than I am.
Can you confirm that your wife had the same habit of following back those who follow her? Also is her account still active? If so, can you link to it so we can see the ‘on the timeline’ public abuse she suffered?
I received a parcel at my home address. Nothing unusual there – I get a lots of post. I ripped it open and there was a tupperware lunchbox inside full of ashes. There was a note included ‘Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz‘ I was physically sick.
Do you have a photograph (of the box and the note, not the sick…)?
Two days later I opened my front door and there was a bunch of dead flowers with my wife’s old Twitter username on it. Then that night I recieved a DM. ‘You’ll get home some day & ur b**ches throat will be cut & ur son will be gone.‘
Do you have a photo of the flowers or a screen shot of this (or any other) DM?
I got on to the authorities again but, polite and sympathetic as they were, there didn’t seem much that could be done.
Which authorities? If you could tell us which station you reported this to we can confirm whether a police report was received and ask why they did not take any action. It’s VERY important that the police investigate threats like these.
My Twitter account was deactivated
How long was it deactivated for? My understanding is that Twitter deletes deactivated accounts after a while.
It transpired that the abuse had emanated from three separate IP addresses in different corners of Ireland. Two of them were public wifi locations but the third….
The third location was the interesting one.
The third location was a friends house.
As IP addresses are not house-specific, can you confirm how the address was found? The one you link to in your blog states that additional ‘breadcrumb trail’ data is required, for example tracking via a user’s forum activity etc. How did your friend arrive at the home address, in detail?
I showed The Troll’s mother and father screengrabs and printouts of his handiwork.
I showed them pictures of ashes and dead flowers.
Can we see them?
Those are my questions. Part of me wants the story to be true because damn you forever if you made up something so awful, but equally it would be comforting to know that there really isn’t a teenage Nazi lurking somewhere in Ireland ready to wage a three-year hate campaign if his parents take their eye off the ball. So, let’s see the evidence, and put this thing to rest.
Edited to add: I wrote this in haste so really should have included a personal message to Leo, if you read this, which is that I’m very sorry for any additional stress that these questions will cause, and that I hope you understand that anti-semitism, police inaction and online stalking are issues which have wider implications, rather than this being some amateur ‘sleuthing’ for the sake of it.
Edit 2: I’ve been asked to include a comment I wrote on Rebecca’s follow-up story which outlines my concerns about the Guardian’s lack of fact checking (which I’ve talked about on Twitter a bit but clearly didn’t include enough of here). Also, had the Guardian not reprinted the article I wouldn’t have seen the Guardian Watch blog which had reprinted the original set of questions and confirmed to me that at least two other people had issues with the story. As I mentioned at the time on Twitter, I wrote the piece very quickly as the original link was spreading fast and people wanted a neutral one. So it may not have been the best-written piece in the world, more than happy to acknowledge it could have had more detail. My comment from 2nd October is below:
I’ve had far more people say they too have unanswered questions about the story than have said they don’t think it’s OK to question it, but it’s absolutely the case that had it not been in the Guardian, I wouldn’t have written my post. What someone puts on their blog, viral or not, can easily be contained there, and the story has a comments section. But once it’s on the Guardian and other mainstream media, titles which have a readership and weight of authority that no blog does and therefore a huge responsibility to fact-check, it’s a different issue. Martin Robbins and others (including Gimpy) have complained publicly many times that Comment is Free is not fact-checked (neither are Guardian opinion columns I believe), even when they make factual claims, although I do not know if Leo’s was an exception to that.
As I stated in my article, I am extremely sorry for any additional hurt asking questions may cause, but I think when it comes to extreme anti-Semitism, fears of social networking, police inaction, and the possibility of a perpetrator still being at large, it is important to verify the story.
The other very important motive here is that the original blog post asking questions was on a website which many people did not want to promote, though they did want to share the questions. I wanted to provide a platform to enable that. I didn’t include many of the original guy’s questions that I didn’t think merited attention.
If I was the only one asking questions I would have just tweeted them.
I also notice that I’ve received abuse merely for asking these questions. I would say that if that’s your tactic for defending the story, you’re not helping change my mind about questioning victims.
I think it’s far far more likely that Leo’s story is entirely or partially true than that he simply made it up, but for the reasons given I think there’s a responsibility to provide evidence along with Guardian copy.