Whether true or not, Bernie Sanders‘ supporters have been repeatedly accused of cyberbullying, an alleged offense that has been condemned by everyone from fellow senators to the candidate himself. But in a twist of fate, a loyal member of Sanders’ campaign on Tuesday became the subject of the same kind of social media venom that has been associated with the Vermont senator’s supporters.
It all began innocently enough with a tweet posted by Kamala Harris on Monday night that made an appeal for free coronavirus treatment and testing. The tweet came as millions of Americans who have lost their jobs were bracing for a recession as government officials warn the worst effects from the COVID-19 pandemic could be yet to come.
However, one likely unintended consequence of that tweet was how quickly people suggested that Harris’ tweet must have meant that she was against free healthcare except in the cases of the coronavirus. Others wondered if her tweet included treatment for cancer.
For her part, Briahna Joy Gray, Sanders’ national press secretary, responded to Harris’ tweet a little more than an hour after it was posted with the following question: “This is a good start, but is it ok to die from cancer or diabetes becuase [sic] you’re poor?”
That response was met Tuesday morning by some words of advice from Tiffany Cross, the managing editor of political newsletter The-Beat DC, who cautioned Gray against “Trolling someone who isn’t even an opponent” — Harris suspended her presidential campaign in December — in an effort that is not “uplifting the candidate.”
However, what Cross may not have known was that her tweet seemed to open the floodgate of criticism at Gray over the tweet, with many accusing her of being insensitive to the fact that Harris’ mother died of cancer. That is not to mention that Harris as a presidential candidate called for Medicare for all, a healthcare policy that would address the concerns in her initial tweet also. (Sanders also champions Medicare for all, but the two plans differ as Harris would allow for private insurers to continue operating whereas Sanders’ policy would not.)
After Cross’ tweet prompted one in the affirmative from MSNBC anchor Joy Reid, others soon followed in no uncertain terms.
But then things got a bit more personal after Zerlina Maxwell, a writer, political pundit and senior director of programming at Sirius XM satellite radio, tweeted that Gray’s tweet was “disrespectful.” Cross responded to Maxwell with a metaphor about Gray.
“This young lady continuously proves that she is simply the haystack,” Cross tweeted in part. “And never the needle.”
Gray, noticing her Twitter mentions blowing up, acknowledged those saying they were offended but then also doubled down on the sentiment expressed in her tweet. Her “closest cousin” died of brain cancer, Gray tweeted. “He was 33. It’s a horrible enough thing without money coming into the equation.” In another subsequent tweet, Gray lamented, “We all shouldn’t have to prostrate our darkest moments to these people to make the case for health equality.” She also quote-tweeted Maxwell and wrote, “I wish folks were this angry about people dying because they’re poor.”
Glenn Greenwald, a journalist at the Intercept, then tweeted that Gray has been issued “Stern warnings” for sharing her opinions, though it was not immediately clear if the reported warnings (and job threats) came before or after her tweets on Monday and Tuesday. Gray responded with the tweet equivalent of a shrug.
Gray was one of the people who Jason Johnson — the Morgan State University journalism professor and former political pundit for MSNBC — was referring to that prompted his firing from the Root for his “people from the island of misfit Black girls” comment about Black women associated with Sanders’ campaign.
Sanders condemned “online bullying” last month after a labor union in Nevada accused his supporters of attacking them on social media for deciding against endorsing a presidential candidate in a state where Joe Biden won the primary decisively. Weeks later and a day after ending her own presidential campaign earlier this month, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren accused Sanders’ supporters of “online bullying and sort of online nastiness.”