About two weeks ago, some artistic genius in Nebraska transformed a campaign sign for Congressman Jeff Fortenberry into a campaign sign for Jeff "Fartenberry," swapping the "o" for an "a," giving him a pair of googly eyes, and making a slight tweak to his slogan: "Strong families. Strong communities. Strong
nation odor." A local professor liked a photo of the defecatory masterwork on Facebook—a seemingly innocuous gesture that, somehow, wound up getting him threatened by Fortenberry's chief of staff.
According to the Lincoln Journal Star, a campaign staffer for the Republican House rep first noticed that Ari Kohen, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska, had liked the photo posted by Seeing Red Nebraska, a local progressive blog. For whatever reason, he felt compelled to screenshot evidence of said like and send it straight to Fortenberry's office in Washington, D.C., where a man who appears to have zero goddamn chill—William “Reyn” Archer III, the Congressman's chief of staff—got hold of it, and proceeded to raise a Very Big Stink.
He called Kohen at his office and, when he didn't pick up, emailed the chair of Kohen's department, the dean of his college, and the chancellor of the university to complain about "the support one of your faculty has shown for political vandalism," the Journal Star reports. Eventually, he managed to get Kohen on the horn, subjecting him to a bizarre, nearly hour-long conversation about the evils of liking politically-bent fart content on Facebook.
"What you’re liking is vandalism," Archer told Kohen during the call, which you can listen to in part here.
"I’m liking a photo," Kohen said.
"What the photo represents is vandalism," Archer shot back.
"So your argument," Kohen said, "is anything that I like on Facebook represents endorsement, by me, of the thing—not the post—but the thing that is happening in the world?"
"Correct," Archer said.
Archer then threatened to go public with Kohen's like, warning him that his camp had a "First Amendment opportunity to put you out there in front of everybody." Kohen took that to mean he might feed the story to a bunch of right-wing bloggers or something, potentially leading to a flurry of conservative outrage online. So before that could happen, Kohen went public with his take on what went down—and filed a complaint against Archer with the Office of Congressional Ethics.
For his part, Archer has denied that he threatened Kohen, telling the Journal Star that the two had an "amicable" conversation. As if this whole fiasco hadn't escalated enough already, now Fortenberry himself has weighed in, telling the Journal Star that the sign is "disrespectful of civil discourse and free speech," and arguing that Kohen's like—his like, for Christ's sake—"sends a seriously wrong message" about vandalism.
Take a moment, if you will, and return your attention to the sign that started this whole debacle:
This. This is what triggered an alleged threat to unleash an army of right-wing trolls; this is what led to a whole-ass ethics complaint; this is what prompted a sitting US Congressman to accuse a college professor of sending out a "seriously wrong message" about vandalism. Fartenberry. May God help us all.
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