A self-described white nationalist wearing a Pepe the Frog shirt burst into a press conference in Vermont on Tuesday right as the black, female lawmaker he harassed took the podium.
The lawmaker, Kiah Morris, was the only black female in Vermont’s state Legislature. But she resigned from her role last year, in part, due to racist comments sent to her online. During the press conference Monday, however, the state’s attorney general announced that her harassers — including the man who stormed the room, Max Misch — wouldn’t be prosecuted because the First Amendment protects him.
"The online communications that were sent to Ms. Morris by Max Misch and others were clearly racist and extremely offensive," Attorney General T.J. Donovan said at a news conference announcing the findings of the state probe into Morris’ harassment. "However, the First Amendment does not make speech sanctionable merely because its content is objectionable."
When Misch arrived at the press conference, Morris reportedly stopped talking and grimaced. When the audience noticed Misch, they immediately swarmed and cloaked him from Morris’ view.
Misch has admitted that he enjoyed “trolling” Morris by tweeting racist images at her, including caricatures of black people talking about representing white voters.
"Every time you attend a political rally at the Four Corners or another local venue and I'm aware of the event, I will troll the hell out of you and the other subversives there,” he tweeted at her last summer. “Maybe I'll bring a friend or three with me too."
Days after winning her primary for a third term in the Vermont legislature in August, then-Rep. Morris announced that she would withdraw her candidacy. Just one month later, she announced that she would resign altogether. She cited her husband’s recovery from open-heart surgery as a reason but also said she had faced “continued harassment,” which influenced her decision.
The Morris family contacted police at least 16 times in the last two years, and she won a protective “no-stalking” order specifically against Misch in 2016, which lasted a year.
Their complaints included incidents of children knocking on the doors and windows at night to suspicious cars being parked near their home. A few months after the 2016 election, an unknown person entered the Morris home and took about 100 of Kiah’s husband’s neckties. Many of them were found across the street, strewn about a cemetery. No arrests were made.
"All of the accounts of what happened to me and my family over the years are enormous in scale and historically rooted in a legacy of white supremacy, misogyny and inequity," Morris said Monday. "We did everything that we were told to do, reported everything, held nothing back and trusted in a system that, in the end, was insufficient and inept at addressing and repairing the harm done.
Cover image: Kiah Morris speaks at a new conference Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Bennington, Vt., about the attorney general's investigation into racial threats against her. Morris, who became Vermont's first black female legislator in 2014, resigned in 2018 after receiving racial threats and harassment. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)