Politics & Policy

The Corner

The Resistance’s Bizarre Attacks on Ajit Pai

Noah Rothman has an excellent essay over at Commentary on “The Torment of Ajit Pai.” He writes:

The so-called “Resistance” latched onto the net-neutrality issue early in the Trump presidency and went about expressing their opposition to the repeal of this regulation in the most contemptible fashion imaginable. HBO host John Oliver was among the first figures of mainstream cultural relevance to organize a campaign against this regulation, which he dubbed “Go FCC Yourself.” He encouraged his followers to bombard the FCC’s website with comments supporting the regulation, and that is precisely what they did. Those comments were peppered with claims that Pai was a pedophile, a “dirty, sneaky Indian” who should self-deport, and reminders that anonymous online hordes maintain the “power to murder Ajit Pai and his family.” Oliver was eventually compelled to release a video urging his followers to dial back the racism and death threats.

This episode would prove to be just the beginning of Pai’s ordeal. By May of last year, Pai’s tormentors began a campaign to ensure that the FCC chairman could enjoy no peace — not even in his own home. “Resistance” groups began distributing fliers and door hangers around Pai’s Arlington, Virginia neighborhood, featuring a black-and-white photo of Pai with his vital stats (height, weight, age, and professional background) and accusing him of selling the Internet out to corporations. “Have you seen this man?” the fliers read.

These demonstrators didn’t stop there. They began organizing “vigils” in Pai’s driveway — a tactic that net neutrality activists deployed in 2014 against then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. They “come up to our front windows and take photographs of the inside of the house,” Pai told the Wall Street Journal. “My kids are 5 and 3. It’s not pleasant.”

Things got worse for Pai, but you get the picture. Rothman is right that this whole spectacle is a national disgrace. If the partisan forces went the other way, the demonization and intimidation of Pai would fuel a thousand op-eds and MSNBC jeremiads about the inherent violence and fascism of the Right.

The thing I still don’t really understand is why the topic of net neutrality arouses this kind of passion in the first place. I could understand why troubled individuals in a state of crisis — say, stricken by cancer — or parents of sick children in need of some experimental treatment would go to such lengths to harass the head of the FDA. But the FCC? I mean, I could see — though not condone — someone threatening to murder an official’s family if they believed it would save their child’s life. But contemplating murder to prevent a phone company from charging less to bundle Netflix with your subscription? That’s just bizarre.

We hear a lot about how Donald Trump’s rhetoric encourages incivility, bigotry, and even violence. It seems to me the press has done a terrible job holding politicians and activists to account for letting an obscure argument about Internet policy lead to such insanity.

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