A white supremacist who conducted a campaign of racial harassment against a Vermont Black woman lawmaker but won’t face any legal consequences.
Donovan admitted that Morris was a victim of racial harassment but said he found no legal basis for going after the white supremacist—citing the need to balance free speech rights with protecting victims from threatening messages. The harassment was so terrorizing that Morris, Vermont’s only Black lawmaker, resigned from the state legislature last year because of it.
“There were individuals in the community and throughout the state that we were finding were parts of white supremacist groups,” Morris said in October after she stepped down. “Because we were so progressive and because we have been working so hard on so many issues of equality, we just sort of fell asleep and didn’t pay attention to that.”
Donovan begged to differ.
“The online communications that were sent to Ms. Morris by Max Misch and others were clearly racist and extremely offensive. However, the First Amendment does not make speech sanctionable merely because its content is objectionable,” the DA said at a press conference held at a Jewish synagogue in Morris’ hometown of Bennington.
Striking this balance could explain part of the reason why prosecutors seldom go after racist trolls.
In December, a white nationalist named Evan James McCarty settled a lawsuit that Taylor Dumpson filed over an internet campaign to racially harass her after she became the first Black woman to serve as American University’s student government president in 2017.
McCarty agreed to apologize, do community service and publicly renounce white supremacy to settle the lawsuit. Additionally, he agreed to sit down with a therapist for “anti-hate training.”
In the Vermont case, Misch vowed on Twitter last summer to stalk Morris.
“Every time you attend a political rally at the Four Corners or another local venue and I’m aware of the event, I will troll the hell out of you and the other subversives there. Maybe I’ll bring a friend or three with me too,” he wrote.
Indeed, Misch showed up Monday at the prosecutor’s press conference that was also attended by Morris. He wore a Pepe the Frog t-shirt, which has become a symbol of the white supremacist alt-right movement.
Donovan said his office considered three criminal charges against Misch: disturbing the peace by use of the telephone or other electronic communications, criminal threatening and stalking.
“We did everything that we were told to do, reported everything, held nothing back and trusted in a system that, in the end, was insufficient and inept at addressing and repairing the harm done. In the end, we were told there was nothing to be done,” Morris said, adding that the criminal justice system was rooted in white supremacy.