Tara Dublin's run-in with Trump supporters—according to radio interviews, Twitter, and a first-person account she wrote for the website XOJane—was the sort of standard disaster we have come to expect from this election cycle.
Dublin is a devoted supporter of Hillary Clinton, a stance she claims has made her the target of Trump trolls determined to ruin her life, both online and off. Last month, her story of politically motivated harassment quickly went viral. It was yet another example of the extremes absurds to which voters have been moved in one of the most bitter and divisive presidential campaigns we've ever seen.
On Wednesday evening, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump get their last chance to duke it out on the debate stage, but it's a safe bet that in neighborhoods around the U.S., partisan warfare will rage on long after November 9. Dublin's story fits neatly into the narrative that paints Trump supporters as a horde of angry, sexist alt-right trolls. But "Trump trolls" are not the only warriors on the political battlefield. Like most things that go viral, Dublin's story is more complicated than any YouTube blurb might lead you to believe.
As Dublin tells it, it all started a few weeks ago as she was driving past the home of a Trump-supporting neighbor in Vancouver, Wash., a suburb of Portland. Enraged by the "Hillary for Prison" campaign sign on Jeremy Luciano's front lawn, she flipped him off. Luciano, she says, was overcome by rage. After he hopped into his car to tail her, Dublin flagged down an officer who turned out to be unsympathetic to her concerns. Dublin livestreamed the entire encounter on Facebook.
That Facebook Live video made it into the proverbial hands of the alt-right, where it went viral alongside commentary like "Tara Dublin is a Sexist liberal Narcissist." Dublin, a former local radio personality with 10,000 Twitter followers, began frantically tweeting out the details of her story under hashtags like #doxxed and #TeamTara. Since then, her life has been hell. Trump supporters, Dublin says, have threatened to rape her, kill her and to bomb her son's school.
"All of this because I gave the wrong guy the finger from my car," Dublin wrote in XOJane. "This is not a normal election, not a normal candidate, and not a normal fan base."
Dublin is right about one thing: This is not a normal election. The tone of political discourse in our country has devolved into playground-level mudslinging both on the debate stage and off. It's not just Trump fanatics out there with LULZ at the ready. This race has made trolls of supporters on all sides.
In this election, perhaps more than any other, the personal is political. In the final stretch of the election cycle, candidates' policy rhetoric has been all but replaced by personal jabs. We voters have come to view every twist in the race as a turn in our own personal narratives, our chosen candidates as extensions of ourselves. Every woman that comes out as a survivor of abuse by Trump is a #notokay mirror of our own sexual assault. Every negative media story about Trump is viewed by his supporters as a personal assault.
"There is no difference between the way I’m being treated right now … and the way my candidate, Hillary Clinton, is being treated," Dublin wrote. "Hillary and I are the same. They are doing to me what they do to her. They’re afraid of me, they’re afraid of my power, they’re afraid of my intellect, they’re afraid of my voice."
It is when we view the political opinions of others as personal attacks on ourselves that things tend to get nasty. The meme cycle only serves to further distort political discourse, turning it into into something twisted and ugly.
In reality, the day that Dublin's story went viral it wasn't the first time that she had lingered in front of Luciano's home.
After Dublin drove by Luciano's house, he finished packing up his car before he got into it and trailed her, calling 911 on the way. On the call, he told the operator that he wanted to get her license plate number and report it to the police for harassment.
Luciano, an active member of the local Republican party, recognized Dublin's car from his home security footage. Just a few days earlier, a woman in the same car had pulled up in front of his house, gotten out and started snapping photos. Dublin, Luciano's fiancé says, pointed to a Trump sign in the yard, yelled “I will be back," and threatened to “shame” her "all over social media."
"Ultimately I just wanted her to leave us the heck alone," Luciano told me. "I grew up a Democrat. I get the other side. It's okay to stand up for your candidate. It's not okay to attack in the name of them."
Shame them she did. After the middle finger incident, Dublin went on a social media rampage, urging people to share her video with tweets accessorized by hashtags like
#WhyWomenDontReport and #WhenTrumpFansAttack. Her retelling of the event is of a dramatic encounter with a crazed Trump fan who terrorized her for using the First Amendment to express her political beliefs. She tweeted out links to a local gossip site alleging that Luciano, who has changed his name and had a few encounters with the law, abuses steroids and, potentially, women.
Luciano told me that Dublin wasn't the first person to flip him off for his political beliefs. Both at rallies and in front of his home, he hears frequently from both Trump supporters and haters.
"A 65-year-old woman recently flipped me off," he said. "There is something in the water this election."
It certainly seems to be so. It's hard to imagine two different candidates so divisive that they inspire a car chase. This campaign cycle has seen so much violence, that Slate is keeping a running list of violent incidents at Trump rallies. On the flip side, reports are now suggesting that Clinton campaign staffers also hired people to attend Donald Trump's campaign rallies and incite violence. It is an unusually charged election environment, fueled by two wildly divisive candidates and bolstered by social media platforms that can give a neighborhood incident viral internet legs. We can only hope that when the lawn signs come down, the hostilities will too.
For both Dublin and Luciano, the other person's politics have become intensely violating personal attacks. Luciano's Trump support is so offensive to Dublin's beliefs that she feels victimized by them even as she threw the first one-fingered punch. And Luciano felt so harassed by Dublin's judgement of his politics that he got in his car and followed her in hopes of filing a restraining order.
Though we see videos like this every day, the story of Tara Dublin's viral video fame is the story of echo chamber politics in America. It's two sides yelling at each other without ever taking the time to listen. In 2016, everyone is a villain and everyone is also a victim. This is not political discourse. This is IRL political trolling.