"I maybe did not turn the most delicate phrase when I said that conservative students should be drowned."
Screenshot via Fox News
If we lived in a better world, this article wouldn't exist. In that better world, one man's troll about drowning conservative college students wouldn't have been on FOX & Friends, and even if it was, FOX & Friends wouldn't matter that much because the morning show's biggest fan, Donald John Trump, wouldn't be the president. If we lived in a better world, I might find myself reporting about all the important policy getting crafted in Washington, the bills and the laws and the senators or some shit.
Instead, I'm writing about Jesse Farrar, occasional contributor to Deadspin and VICE Sports among other sites, who made an ill-advised joke on Twitter that got blown really, really out of proportion. Farrar's story is a good illustration of what happens when an inane internet comment is combined with incredible bad faith and a toxic media ecosystem.
Let me recap the events of the past 48 hours, which will take some doing: First Charlie Kirk, the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, an aggressive right-wing nonprofit that promotes conservatism on campus, tweeted this:
In response, Jesse Farrar, a freelance writer, podcaster, and leftist Twitter personality, replied with an obvious joke:
"Interesting, @BronzeHammer seems to call for the death of conservative students via water boarding suffocation," Kirk (who did not respond to my request for comment) shot back. "Im sure he is joking, but imagine if conservatives made a joke like that against liberals?"
Farrar continued his trolling, responding, "I am not joking."
It would have died on Twitter, but then the conservative Independent Journal Review ran an article headlined, "Writer Calls for Conservative Students' Heads to Be Held 'Under Water Until They Stop Breathing.'" In the course of reporting that article, IJR reached out to Deadspin editor Barry Petchesky for comment (Farrar is not a full-time Deadspin employee). Petchesky responded with the following note:
Then, Friday morning, Kirk made an appearance on FOX & Friends to discuss Farrar's distinctly un-newsworthy tweet.
"I hate playing the victim, but this is beyond the pale," Kirk told FOX & Friends's Pete Hegseth. "This is a small indictment of what’s going on in the left today that they don’t want to have any sort of discourse, they’d rather just delete us. They’d rather just have us wiped off the face of the earth."
A newfound object of vitriol from conservatives all around the internet, Farrar received a deluge of death threats and harassment. One Twitter user replied to a picture he tweeted of his dog by saying, "I'd like to drown that dog." Another man messaged him his home address, daring Farrar to try to drown him. "I will beat that ass until all your liberal snowflake friends can't even recognize you," the man threatened.
So many people reported Farrar's tweet, his account is now restricted (meaning he can't tweet) for the next seven days. I called up Farrar to ask about his newfound infamy, and whether or not he has any regrets:
VICE: Can you tell me about the Twitter interaction with Charlie Kirk yesterday that led to this madness?
Jesse Farrar: It's a mythical idea to begin with, that colleges are a bastion of left-wing thought. Even if that were true, the idea that they were like, "Oh that guy has an American flag on his shirt, he gets an F now" is just so dumb. I was just sitting around, and I think I probably phrased it pretty badly—um, I think that's fair to say. I maybe did not turn the most delicate phrase when I said that conservative students should be drowned. Well, I said their heads should be held underwater until they stop breathing, which, not to split hairs, but it's not exactly the same thing.
I didn't say I was going to do it, which seems to be a big misconception. I don't have access to that much water or college campuses. It would be a logistical nightmare for me to pull that off.
IJR was the first place to write about your tweet. But then FOX & Friends picked it up. Did they ask you to be on the show?
Nah. One guy asked from a campus college magazine [asked me for comment], and I told him I was the president of VICE, but he didn't print that. Also, that's not true. Nobody has asked me anything or said anything to me at all. It's very strange. Either it's the death threats, or it's my friends saying, "Wow, that sucks." But it's not really anything in the middle.
It's kind of ironic that you're getting threats for making a death threat joke.
I would say so.
Has this sort of thing ever happened to you before?
I said something about Hillary Clinton a while back that people got mad at, and that was different people. A lot of the alt-right guys ended up following me for making fun of Hillary Clinton, and then I had to block them because I don't want that going on either. I think if you just pick a day of the week, you'll have like a different faction of people who are either mad at you or super happy that you said something about somebody they hate online. You know, because it all coalesces around hate.
Do you think that conservatives just don't get irony, or do you think they're intentionally misreading you?
Some from column A, some from column B. Charlie Kirk is probably savvy enough to understand the difference. I think he probably saw my blue checkmark and thought, OK, this a springboard for me. And he got on TV out of it. So it worked for him.
Do you have any regrets on how that went down? Do you wish you would have just said, "Yeah I'm joking," or was it too annoying of an admission to explain the joke?
I don't think it matters to say, "I'm just kidding." I don't think it would have made a difference. Everyone has already gotten what they wanted to get from it to begin with. That was what was funny about it to me, is that they have this misconception, they have this victim fantasy, that everybody is coming for conservative white people, and of course the truth is it's exactly the opposite.
Is there anything else that you want to say?
I love Donald Trump now, and I think he rocks, and is really good, and I think conservative people are good as well.
Does that mean that you think all libs should get drowned now?
Yeah, that's what I think now. If you're on college campuses and you're a liberal guy, you should hold your head underwater for a while. I'm going on a campus tour, and anybody on either side of the aisle, you gotta watch out for me.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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