A Good Neighbor Policy

internet trollIn February 2011, in response to my column about the growing acceptance of homosexuality in America, the following was posted on the Jacksonville, Illinois, Journal-Courier’s website, from someone who called me “a doddering old man”: “This is Hochie’s most disgusting level of puke. It’s getting harder and harder to spoon down a breakfast while reading this vile vomit.”

This person named himself “Facebook User”, and went on to offer this warning: “I’ll be back next week and the next and the next. . . . I would love to go a few rounds with him in a boxing ring or a classroom. Something about taking a bite out of an unapologetic gay-loving, Christian-hating conservative-loathing hypocritical libtard just gets my juices flowing.”

Behind the name Facebook User, this someone had been commenting in this manner every week. After a bit of internet sleuthing, I found out Facebook User’s real name, Darrell G. Holmquist. He had been hiding not only his name, but his location. He lives in New Lenox, on I-80 near Joliet, 200 miles north of here.

Many people told me that the proper response to an internet bully is “don’t feed the troll”.  Nobody who is capable of a discussion, who wants an exchange, who seeks to learn about ideas or people, begins that way. But I tried. I suggested that Mr. Holmquist “might be friendly, respectful to others, and nice to his pets” at home, so it would be better to also act like an adult in the Journal-Courier’s site for discussion.

No such luck. Apparently preferring my “vile vomit” to his breakfast, he kept going with the following: meathead, hyper-leftie, trash heap, outlandishly stupid, White, hyper-leftist ivory tower socialist, diseased mind, lunatic.

Mr. Holmquist and his colleagues of internet invective are like the guy who comes into a crowded room and farts. He contributes something, but it stinks. Only ten-year-olds think it’s clever.

I stopped reading his comments, and unfortunately, also the comments of local people who had something to say. People have told me that he keeps writing. Here are some recent contributions: moron, clown, dim-witted, sick, insane.

Ranters are frightened of seeing black people everywhere, of the gay people in their extended families, of the idea of women’s equality, of science and education. But they lack the courage to face either their fears or their neighbors. Hiding behind internet anonymity, they try to use their anger to prevent the rest of us from discussing politics like friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens. They want us to shout back at them, instead of talking amongst ourselves. They are diabolical, but they’re not insane.

steve hochstadtThey hope they can scare people away from being personal, from revealing uncertainty, from being thoughtful and honest. Name-calling, hatred, and vilification can prevent people from expressing what they really believe.

The legions of haters, some in it for the money, some from ignorance, some out of genuine hatred for people who disagree with them, pretend to know something that isn’t true. My town, Jacksonville, and your town and all the other American towns are not like that. Many people in our towns firmly believe in conservative or liberal ideas, and thus also believe many of their neighbors, acquaintances, public figures are profoundly wrong about America.

But we don’t call each other a moron.

It is a genuine puzzle to us that our neighbors, whom we know to be friendly, honorable, intelligent, and public-spirited, don’t share our political beliefs. We live with that puzzle. It proves one thing: those people who deride the other side, who deny them intelligence, compassion, logic, and Americanness, aren’t talking about our neighbors.

I am not hoping to shame Mr. Holmquist here and I certainly don’t believe discussing what he does will stop him. He is having too much fun being exactly himself.

Steve HochstadtBut I think it’s important to see the disruptive influences on our community for who and what they are, to name them, even if they might retaliate. They force us to make a choice, maybe as important as whom we vote for: will we let them stink up our community?

I don’t think so. They’ll never persuade us that our neighbor with the wrong political sign in their yard is an alien invader. What a stupid idea.

Goodbye, Mr. Holmquist.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives 

Published by the LA Progressive on February 28, 2012
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About Steve Hochstadt

Steve Hochstadt is professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and author of Sources of the Holocaust (2004) and Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich (2012), both from Palgrave Macmillan. He writes a weekly column for the Jacksonville (IL) Journal-Courier and blogs for the History News Network. "His latest work is presented at www.stevehochstadt.com."