[Content Warning: Guns, Harassment, Bullying, Threats]
While leaving a restaurant with a friend recently, I noticed a group of 15-20 people walking down the street carrying flags. From a distance, they almost looked like Confederate flags. I live in Texas, so this was disappointing, but fairly unsurprising. As we looked closely, my friend noted that almost the entire group was armed. Some had smaller handguns, some had what appeared to be automatic or semi-automatic weapons, and others had rifles with scopes. Many of the guns had magazines or clips attached (I later learned that they make a point of carrying loaded weapons, stating: “There’s no reason to carry an unloaded weapon—it wouldn’t do any good.”). I looked at the flag and saw the words, “Open Carry Texas,” which search results told me is “an organization dedicated to the safe and legal carry of firearms openly in the State of Texas.” I’ve lived in Texas for over six years, but that doesn’t make the rampant conservatism and gun-obsession any less disgusting. I’ve also never been in such close proximity to so many guns, and I was triggered – I felt helpless and extremely anxious.
I tweeted about the event, despite the fact that I was visibly shaking & upset, and I tried to continue going about my evening out with my friend. In one of my tweets, I used the Twitter handle of the group that organized the rally, Open Carry Texas. I naively expected some semblance of professionalism out of the group’s official Twitter account as I voiced my opinion, but instead was met with the following:
The harassment shown above doesn’t include the Facebook post they made about me, or any of the harassers that they sent my way. For example, this guy who says I’m not part of his dating pool, but still seems oddly obsessed with me anyway. It doesn’t include the guy who said he’d continue to exercise his “right” to threaten me with or without police intervention, the guy who said he’d send Anonymous after me, the guy who told me to kill myself, the guy whose profile states he lives about 20 minutes from me and whose Twitter handle was literally “@ibuildbombs” (his profile has since gone private), or the ableist guy who likened liberalism to a mental disorder. And that list is hardly comprehensive either.
One thing you may have noticed is how much of the harassment leveled at me revolved around my gender and appearance. Mother Jones has an excellent piece about this group that focuses on the targeted sexism and misogyny of their bullying tactics. They tell the story of how Open Carry Texas publicized the phone number of a woman who called 911 on a open carry demonstration, yet “two other people called in with concerns about the demonstration that day—both men. No member of Open Carry Texas publicized their information.” Is it any wonder that women fear for their lives, given the mix of extreme misogyny and infatuation with firearms? It was only a couple of days ago that we saw how well those two mix.
Open Carry Texas was successful in obtaining that woman’s information, because Texas has something called the “Open Records Act,” which allows just about anyone to obtain various types of government information. One of the things they’re able to obtain is 911 records for calls like mine, which the group claims I made illegally. Even in Texas, local police have stated that people should report people or groups carrying guns saying “Let us determine what is lawful or unlawful.” However, that wouldn’t make my call any less easy to access.
Despite directives from the police, I was still concerned about my personal information being made public. I was concerned about the amount of ambiguity around what information authorities can and can’t give out as part of the Open Records Act. People assured me that as long as I didn’t list any identifying information in the audio of the call, I’d be safe. Given everything I’d endured so far, I decided to message the authorities on the matter to find out exactly what aspects of my information were safe. I told them, “The call audio in question does not include a name or phone number. Would the name or phone number be released along with the audio/transcript if it was obtained through Caller ID?” Their response was simply, “If it was asked for.”
For my harassers to obtain my number, all they had to do was fill out a few forms and ask for it. My initial feelings of fear and anxiety were founded – if calling 911 is in itself a dangerous act, where can I turn? Needless to say, I called my cell phone provider to change my number. I worked through the process of updating my friends and family with my new number, while trying to keep concerned friends & family assured that everything was going to be okay.
And everything has been okay. But the fact of the matter is, I shouldn’t have to worry about any of this. Women like me shouldn’t need to fear for their safety and privacy simply for daring to be a woman on the internet with opinions. We shouldn’t need to worry about whether making a legal 911 call will cause further negative ramifications. Because of this organized harassment campaign, I had to hand over the keys to my social media to a couple of friends, lock down my social media accounts, change my number, and ask my husband & friends to monitor the social media feeds of my harassers. None of that should have been necessary.
One silver lining of this ideal is that I found out how strong my support group is. Because of them, the bullying tactics Open Carry Texas used to try to scare me into silence haven’t worked. That’s not because of some superhuman mental fortitude I possess. Again, it’s only because of my support group. I worry about women who aren’t fortunate enough to have the support that I do, and decide voicing their opinion isn’t worth it. I could never blame anyone who is exposed to this kind of behavior for saying, “I’m done. Voicing my opinion isn’t worth the risk to my mental health and safety.” How many brilliant voices have we lost because online harassment and bullying are so acceptable?
If you’re being harassed or bullied, I encourage you to find and reach out to supportive groups online or in your area. Because this type of hatred and bigotry is so commonplace, you may be able to find resources (like I did) that you didn’t know were available to you. At the very least, a sense of community (like the one I’ve found through Skepchick) will provide you with friends to offer kind words and reassure you that everything is going to be okay. Together, we will not be silenced.
Featured Image by Lisa Roe.