During the most recent presidential primary debate in Las Vegas, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) suggested that critiques of some of his most antagonistic online supporters are largely unfounded and unfair, proposing that some of the worst offenders might actually be Russian trolls on a mission to sow disunity in the field.
But the private Twitter account of a newly promoted campaign staffer indicates that despite his condemnation of online harassment, at least some of the Vermont senator’s most toxic support is coming from inside the house.
Using the account @perma_ben, Ben Mora, a regional field director for Sanders’ campaign based in Michigan, has attacked other Democrats in the field—as well as their family members, surrogates, journalists, and politically active celebrities—in deeply personal terms, mocking their physical appearance, gender, and sexuality, among other things.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mora has tweeted, “looks like her name: pained, chunky, [and] confused origin/purpose.” Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg “is what happens when the therapist botches the conversion,” and his husband, Chasten, Mora predicts, will be “busted for running a meth racket” in 10 years. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a frequent subject of Mora’s private account, is called a “dumb Okie,” “an adult diaper fetishist” who “looks like shit” and who lied about having Native American ancestry “to get into Harvard.”
The account, from which Mora tweeted as recently as Sunday morning, is the latest example of a small subset of Sanders’ extremely online loyalists whose support for his candidacy is paired with extreme hostility to his rivals, critics, and those seen as insufficiently supportive of Sanders’ platform of democratic socialism.
After this report was published, Mike Casca, the Sanders campaign’s communications director, told The Daily Beast that “we are running a multiracial, multigenerational campaign for justice where disgusting behavior and ugly personal attacks by our staff will not be tolerated.”
Mora, the Sanders campaign confirmed, has been fired.
For users familiar with the patois of Gay Lefty Twitter, many of Mora’s tweets come across as fairly run-of-the-mill gay shitposts: tweets dragging the Queer Eye guys as neoliberals, mocking would-be #activist gays for shirtless photos on Instagram, or creating a meme wherein Mora’s followers share how their iPhone suggests completing the sentence “Elizabeth Warren lied about….” (Mora’s answer: “lied about being fat.”)
“Imagine having sex with a Warren gay like taking someone’s virginity is kind of a big deal…” Mora tweeted on Oct. 22 of last year, in a representative example.
But some of Mora’s tweets went beyond jokes in poor taste, like calling for Hillary Clinton to be catapulted from the face of the earth, into the kind of language that Sanders himself has called “disgusting.”
“When Warren talks about how she knows she’s Native American because of her ‘high cheekbones’ where sis? Another lie. You look like shit,” Mora tweeted in October.
“Just got into a public screaming match with a gay staffer for the Democratic Party of Iowa who was trying to fuck me and let’s just say….. he cried and I’m not sorry,” Mora tweeted a few hours later. “This is if he had been a single modicum of hot I wouldn’t have protested at all but literally how dare you be a shill and also ugly with HORRIBLE BREATH.”
In another tweet, Mora likened Klobuchar’s face to “that optical illusion where it’s an old lady but also a young woman depending on how you look at it but with her it’s just two different old ladies.”
Buttigieg was “psychotic” for deploying to Afghanistan in 2009, Mora wrote in one tweet, adding in another that he could “never trust buttigieg because he combined the natural devious disposition inherent in gay men with a bloodthirsty careerist drive.”
A recent thread targeting former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went beyond insults, instead directing Mora’s followers to phonebank for the billionaire candidate in order to enter bad data and “totally sink” his campaign.
“Spread the word guys im not joking it could really fuck up his entire campaign if enough people do this ....u just didn’t hear it from your old pal Ben,” Mora tweeted, encouraging followers to mark all strong Bloomberg supporters as “deceased,” which, he claimed, prevent the campaign from being able to contact them in the future.
Some targets of Mora’s cruelest comments aren’t even rival candidates, but are instead family members, campaign surrogates, and reporters.
“Chasten Buttigieg has the vibes of a housewife whose slow burning repression is leading to an inevitable psychotic break, mark my words in 10 years he will go missing and then resurface in Ft Lauderdale after getting busted for running a meth racket w a bunch of Guatemalan twinks,” Mora tweeted three days later.
“Nate Silvers bullshit starts to make a lot more sense when you realize he is probably the ugliest gay man to ever live,” Mora tweeted last September.
In one tweet accompanying professional photographs of Queer Eye stylist and Warren surrogate Jonathan Van Ness, Mora said that the streaming personality was “trying to look hot while Daddy Ronald Reagan watches him die of AIDS.” Van Ness, who once made a joke about Reagan’s use of pomade on the show, is openly HIV positive.
Mora, who joined the Sanders campaign last fall as an organizer in Iowa, locked the account roughly six months ago so that only followers—including at least one other person on the Sanders campaign payroll—could see what he tweeted. But the account, which features a photo of Mora as its avatar, links directly to his personal Instagram and shares its name as well, remains active, with more than 4,000 followers.
“The rise of Ben has been the greatest part of this election,” one recent follower responded on Friday.
Screenshots of the tweets were shared with The Daily Beast via one of Mora’s followers, who cited the “toxicity” of the posts as their motivation for doing so, expressing hope that their publication would help Sanders realize how deep the online harassment problem goes.
Some of Mora’s tweets were apparently so popular that Facebook users posted screenshots on Facebook—which, using Facebook’s optical character-recognition algorithm, surfaced even more tweets than were sent by Mora’s perturbed follower.
One extremely popular tweet implied that Sanders manifested Kylie Jenner’s hospitalization for flu-like symptoms in September by declaring that “billionaires should not exist.” In another, Mora lauds Monica Lewinsky as “the queen of staying alive” for not being another notch in the “Clinton Body Count,” a conservative meme presupposing that Bill and Hillary Clinton have orchestrated a decades-long murder spree which counts Jeffrey Epstein, Seth Rich, and Vince Foster among its victims.
Additional tweets were surfaced through the website Archive.org, including a selfie of Mora in an “Iowa for Bernie” T-shirt, holding a bundle of direct mailers from a day of canvassing.
“Spent the day cyber bullying women IRL,” Mora tweeted along with the photo.
As harsh as the tweets in Mora’s protected account are, there may have been even more in a since-suspended account that Mora implies that he may have once run. In a tweet sharing a tote bag with the customized motto “Let’s Get Buttigieg To Quit” in rainbow lettering, Mora tweeted that “someone took a joke I made on [@FagsAgainstPete] and made this tote bag lmao.”
The Twitter account @FagsAgainstPete delivered what it promised, sharing aggressively anti-Buttigieg content in often sexual and scatalogical terms. Users on Instagram tagged Mora in photos of memes that had been taken from the account, which was eventually suspended by Twitter after sharing a thread of photo collages comparing The View panelist Meghan McCain to The Muppets character Miss Piggy.
Mora did not respond to a request for comment about the content of the account, or whether he ran or helped run @FagsAgainstPete.
Representatives for the Sanders campaign also did not respond to requests for comment before this story was published.
Sanders has, whenever asked, condemned online harassment by his supporters, and declared that anyone doing so on his behalf is acting against his express wishes. But the Sanders campaign has still grappled with how to utilize the unparalleled energy and scale of his online support while discouraging followers whose enthusiasm manifests as harassment and abuse—and Sanders himself still appears reluctant to take the supporters at their own word.
“I saw some of those tweets regarding the Culinary Workers Union,” Sanders said in last week’s debate, asked about a campaign of abuse following the union’s criticism of his “Medicare for All” plan that prompted union officials to obtain personal security. “I have a 30-year, 100 percent pro-union voting record. You think I would support or anybody supports me would be attacking union leaders? It's not thinkable.”
For the rival campaigns whose candidates are targeted in Mora’s tweets, however, the behavior of some of Sanders’ online supporters is highly thinkable.
The Warren campaign declined to comment on Mora’s tweets, as did the Klobuchar and Bloomberg campaigns.
The Buttigieg campaign responded to the tweets by referring The Daily Beast to the candidate’s comments in last week’s debate, when the former mayor of South Bend told Sanders that “you have to accept some responsibility and ask yourself what it is about your campaign in particular that seems to be motivating this behavior more than others.”
Among Mora’s curated list of followers, however, the tweets are received with delight.
As one follower tweeted in October: “Really a shame you have to be on private with all these absolute hits.”
—with additional reporting by Adam Rawnsley