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Former Sanders Staffer Posts Attack Tweet Targeting 'Queer Eye' Star Jonathan Van Ness

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Feb 26, 2020
Jonathan Van Ness attends the 2018 Marie Claire's Fresh Faces Party at Poppy on Friday, April 27, 2018, in West Hollywood, Calif.
Jonathan Van Ness attends the 2018 Marie Claire's Fresh Faces Party at Poppy on Friday, April 27, 2018, in West Hollywood, Calif.   (Source:Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

A former Sanders staffer's anonymous, incendiary tweets got him sacked when they came to light, but the vitriol he posted continues to make waves. Case in point: A tweet that attacks "Queer Eye" cast member Jonathan van Ness with a crude joke about dying from AIDS.

"Jonathan van Ness trying to look hot while Daddy Ronald Reagan watches him die of AIDS," the post, dated Sept 29, 2019, read.

The "Bernie Bro" in question, Ben Mora, lost his job as the Sanders campaign's Michigan field director after a series of tweets attacking Sanders' political rivals came to light. Among other crude, vulgar, and downright Trumpian swipes Mora took were disparaging comments about Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar's appearances, and an off-the-rails post targeting Pete Buttigieg's husband, Chasten.

But for anyone who lived through the 1980s, Mora's tweet attacking Van Ness constituted a whole new low - one that's all the more shocking given that Mora is reportedly gay himself.

Mora's post hit social media shortly after Van Ness came out about his HIV+ status, media reports noted. The reference to Reagan evidently called back to comments Van Ness made, in a video in which the "Queer Eye" cast appeared, linking Ronald Reagan's avoidance of addressing the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s with the senator from Vermont's hair, which Van Ness said could use some gel."

Van Ness didn't take Mora's tweet lying down. Reposting Mora's comment at his own Twitter feed, Van Ness commented, "How many senior Bernie staffers saw these tweets for months and promoted their behavior? It's commonplace I endure this by extreme Bernie supporters daily."

Added Van Ness: "The change has to come from inside their campaign."

That's what happened - to an extent, anyway - when Mora was canned. But the tweets have given a black eye to the Sanders campaign. Buttigieg referenced Mora's online conduct, the Daily Beast reported, when, during a debate, he chided Sanders for his former staffer's misdeeds.

The Daily Beast noted that Buttigieg said to Sanders: "...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."

Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby broke the story of Mora's tweets, leading his article with the observation that Sanders has suggested Russian trolls are behind social media posts targeting his political opponents.

Bixby revealed:

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.

Specifically, Bixby wrote:

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.

Mora's trolling included Trump-level disparagements aimed at female candidates, as well as the remark that openly gay Democratic contender Pete Buttigieg "is what happens when the therapist botches the conversion" - evidently a reference to the debunked and dangerous practice of "conversion therapy," a quack method that claims to "cure": LGBTQ people and "turn" them straight.

Mora also took aim at Chasten Buttigieg, posting:

"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,"

The Sanders campaign responded to the Daily Beast story with this comment from communications director Mike Casca:

"...we are running a multiracial, multigenerational campaign for justice where disgusting behavior and ugly personal attacks by our staff will not be tolerated."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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