My most recently published story, a bit of neouromil that appears in Neil Clarke’s cyborg anthology Upgraded, contains the following passage:
Monahan had inventoried Sabrie’s weak spots as if he’d been pulling the legs off a spider. … Not into performance rage, doesn’t waste any capital getting bent out of shape over random acts of microaggression. Smart enough to save herself for the big stuff. Which is why she still gets to soapbox on the prime feeds while the rest of the rabies brigade fights for space on the public microblogs.
A couple of phrases— “performance rage”, “rabies brigade”— were consciously inspired by my 2012 dust-up with an online shapeshifter who, at that point in her career anyway, went by the names “AcrackedMoon” and “Requires Hate”. At the time I got a fair bit of blowback for my use of the phrase “rabid animal” to describe her; Cat Valente equated my use of that term with a death threat, slung against a woman who was, she told me, “vibrantly engaging” with the SFF community. (There is an irony to this; its magnitude will be old news to most of those assembled here today.)
RequiresHate and Me, Together Again.
Funny story. The piece immediately preceding mine in that same anthology was penned by a bright new up-and-comer named Benjanun Sriduangkaew: lauded in progressive SF circles, Campbell Award nominee, by her own admission a newcomer to the field who hadn’t even dipped a toe into the genre prior to 2011. Bright of eye, bushy of tail, her biggest flaw seemed to be a disposition so sugary sweet it would rot your pancreas from thirty paces.
Turns out Benjanun Sriduangkaew and CrackedMoon/RequiresHate are the same person. So are Winterfox, pyrofennec, and Christ knows how many other online personae.
Benjanun-This-Week has been very busy over a number of years, wearing a number of guises. She has stalked, harassed, and threatened. Some of her actions have proven actionable, to the point that authorities are now apparently involved. She drove at least one person to attempt suicide, has induced PTSD symptoms in a number of others. She has told people who disagree with her that they should be raped by dogs, dismembered, and/or have acid thrown in their faces. She habitually deleted these comments shortly after making them, then gaslighted her targets (fortunately there are archives, and screenshots).
She got caught last month— outed by an advocate in a self-declared act of damage control— and has since “apologized”. Apparently all that prior nastiness was just youthful indiscretion during the thirteen years when she was nineteen, and is now ancient history. She feels much better now. She’s learned a lot about love. So if you’ll just believe her good intentions and let her get on with her career, we can all let bygones be bygones. Also I have some farmland to sell you on the Sea of Storms.
The initial outing raised a bit of a storm in its own right, but it was only the opening act. The curtain on the main event went up November 6, when engineer and author Laura J. Mixon posted a comprehensive report— amazingly comprehensive, given RH’s tendency to cover her own tracks— drawing together records from as many varied incarnations as we know of to date. Mixon presents timelines, quotes, links, demographic breakdowns of RH’s targets. Bar graphs and pie charts and tables. It’s a trove, and it’s indispensable, and it contains a wealth of links to a variety of other sources. (For that reason, I’ll be relatively sparse with my own linkage in this post. Just go to Mixon’s page and follow the spiderweb of cracks proliferating across the internet. If I make a claim here that isn’t link-supported, you’ll probably find the documentation over at Mixon’s place.)
Mixon offered her comments section as a safe place for people to speak about their own experiences with the Winterfox Colony Creature. My own case was cited a couple of times (as one of the few honest reflections of RH’s true nature, since she couldn’t employ her usual strategy of deleting her comments and then denying she’d ever made them). I haven’t posted there myself. Partly this is because Mixon wanted to maintain an environment free of angry epithets and name-calling, even when directed at RequiresHate, and I’m not in the mood to practice such charitable restraint. More importantly, though, I don’t think it’s really my place to speak there because I’m not one of RH’s victims. I was a minor target for a while, but only because I spoke out in defense of a colleague. RH didn’t even know who I was until I mentioned her on my own blog. I was, as they say, asking for it.
The blowback pissed me off, at the time. I readily admit that much. It pissed me off to see Valente blatantly misrepresent what I’d said, it pissed me off to get a lecture on the power imbalance between Powerful White Authors and Poor Vulnerable Fans in a world where five minutes with Google reveals my home address to any anonymous darling who wants to take a rusty meathook to my scrotum. (Being called a racist by someone who publicly rhapsodizes about “killing all white people”, on the other hand, was just funny.) Caitlin will attest that I wasn’t very nice to be around sometimes.
Still, anger isn’t injury. I wasn’t victimized, wasn’t driven from the field. If the righteous outrage of RH’s minions cost me any sales, I didn’t notice it. On balance it may have even been a good thing; at the very least, episodes like that show you who your friends are. (Richard Morgan, for one: a truly honorable dude who dived into the muck and engaged RH on her own blog, something I never had the stomach for.) (You also learn about the fair-weather opportunists in your life; turns out there were a few of those, too.)
I was targeted, but I wasn’t a primary target. And that’s the curious thing: not even Scott Bakker was a primary target, not when you came right down to it. What both of us probably were, it turns out, was camouflage. We privileged white dudes provided cover so that RequiresHate could go after her real victims: Minorities. People of Color. Aspiring writers. People who, to put not too fine a point on it, might be considered competitors of one Benjanun Sriduangkaew.
It is at this point one has to stand back and emit an appreciative whistle for the sheer sick sociopathic brilliance of Benjanun’s Long Con.
Go, if you haven’t already. Look at Mixon’s figures. See for yourself. The fact that RH occasionally went after the Bakkers and Bacigalupis of the world let her claim that she was Speaking Truth To Power, but in fact People of Color were four times more likely to be targeted than us privileged white boys. Four times more likely to be hounded across every social media site they appeared at over months, sometimes years. More likely to be told that they should have acid thrown in their faces, or raped by dogs, or have their hands cut off. A lot more likely to be considered insufficiently Asian, or “white on the inside”. (Although to be fair, arguing that Paolo Bacigalupi should be flayed, dismembered, immersed in acid, set alight, and forced to eat his own genitals goes to show that RH wasn’t exactly phoning in her assault on the big names, either).
Now go read the comments below the report (461 as I write this). Read the first-hand testimonials of people hounded relentlessly for the crime of liking a book that RH didn’t. Read about the blackmail and the death threats. Read the stories of those who left fandom entirely, abandoned their own authorial aspirations, dared not speak out for fear of catching the baleful Eye of a CrackedMoon. People who could barely even see the word “Requires” on a computer screen without feeling sick to their stomach.
Those are your targets.
It’s been suggested that if RH really is a sociopath, she can’t be held accountable for her behavior because it’s hardwired. This is factually wrong. Sociopaths are not compelled to do horrible things. They’re simply not constrained from doing those things by anything we’d recognize as a conscience. They can choose to hurt the innocent, or not to; the fundamental difference between them and us is, if they choose the former it won’t really bother them.
As I mentioned above, I caught some flack back in 2012 for referring to RH as a “rabid animal”. I intended it as a precise echo of the sort of invective RH was slinging at others for no good reason (in fact the very next sentence was “See what I did there,” followed by an explicit rumination on dehumanising terminology)— but in hindsight I do regret my use of the term. Rabies victims truly do have no choice; their foamy-mouthed aggression is compelled by their affliction. RH is clearly not in that camp. I apologize to all rabid animals for the comparison.
Anyway. The news has spread like Ebolaphobia. It’s on too many blogs to link to. It’s all over the Westeros boards. It’s also being discussed behind the scenes, in online writers communities where the shell-shocked share their stories behind closed doors— because even now, they don’t feel safe speaking openly.
Requires Hate still has friends, you see. Her legions have thinned somewhat as former allies scramble to cover their asses but she still has supporters, even if they might not all describe themselves as such. Some grumble at ground level, some huddle all the way up in the hallowed halls of Tor.com
(where apparently they helped to blacklist and exclude authors of whom RH disapproved). [Editorial clarification: it’s been pointed out that this might be construed as an indictment of Tor.com as an entity entire. I’d like to make it super clear that I’m only talking about someone affiliated with Tor.com, not any kind of corporate policy. I have no reason to believe that Tor.com blacklisted anyone; we’re talking a standard bad-apple scenario here. Again, check out Mixon’s post for details, and apologies if I wasn’t clear on that point.) The usual outgroup rhetoric continues, oddly oblivious to the recent stark evidence of where such groupthink leads; Mixon’s analysis has even been questioned on the grounds that it was performed by a privileged white woman. Apologists still mill about, decapitated since RH went to ground but still sparking fitfully with the same reflex-arc clichés.
Some would have us draw a distinction between RH’s abuses and her “legitimate” literary critiques, as if somehow there might remain a kernel of edible corn buried in all the shit. They don’t seem bothered by the fact that said “reviews” were often based on publisher’s blurbs, or quotes mined and presented out of context; I guess they’re also cool with the fact that RH bragged openly about not having read the books she critiqued. It’s increasingly evident that book reviews for their own sake were never part of the plan anyway; they were just another bile-delivery platform, another iteration of patterned abuse extending back years before she ever discovered the joys of hacking social-justice paradigms for fun and profit— repurposed, now, to take out the competition. Perhaps a valid insight did slip through every now and then; as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Others opine that RH, wearing her saccharine new Benjanun costume, should continue to get her stories published based solely on their literary merit. (Let’s put aside for the moment that “merit” exists at least partly in relation to other work in the same field, a metric which might be compromised after said field has been burned to the ground in a campaign to eliminate potential competitors.) I’ll admit that there is sometimes a case to be made for separating the art from the artist. This is not one of those times. This is not a case of a brilliant writer who happens to be an abusive shitstain in some unrelated aspect of their personal life; this is someone being an abusive shitstain as a deliberate strategy to further her writing career. Arguing that that career should be decoupled from past abuses is like catching the guy who stole your car, then letting him keep it because you like the way he drives.
Still others mourn the enablers, revile RH but sympathize with the eager minions she recruited in her campaign of abuse and intimidation. Not their fault, we’re told; RH merely hacked the progressive paradigm of “punching up”, turned it to evil instead of good. And after all, she made some good points.
I fell for this myself, briefly: back in 2012, when a couple of ‘crawl regulars ran the “some good points” argument up the flagpole. So I dialed back my rhetoric, asked you all to do the same, even tried to engage RH directly until she sprang the trap. But even I figured it out after a day or two, and I live in a nerdly bubble way over in the Science-is-Cool wing of the SFF mansion (which might be a problem; maybe I should get out more). I hardly ever stray across the quad to Social Commentary, where everyone’s presumably way more familiar with these moves.
“Punching up”? The premise, to me, seems corrupt at its heart. If someone walks into a pub and swings a crowbar at the first person they see, it doesn’t matter which one of them is a poor queer WoC and which is a rich straight white dude. It doesn’t matter whether the assailant is punching up, out, or down; they’ve got no claim to outrage if the target punches back. (Note this only applies if the targeting algorithm lights up indiscriminately, based solely on demographic profile. If you’re targeting the specific rich straight white dude who assaulted you the day before, I won’t get in your way.)
Apparently, RH was adept at positioning herself “below” pretty much anyone she wanted to punch. She’d deride a target as being white, and therefore privileged/punchable. If the target turned out to be Asian, RH would redefine herself as “Asian-Asian” and her target as “white inside”. (I’m not joking. I know it sounds like I am. Read Mixon’s post.) It’s a fundamental weakness in the concept— you can always punch up if you win the race to the bottom— and I’m not sure how much sympathy I should have for people who fall for something like that. If you buy into the cult of some Nigerian Prince you met on the Internet, maybe you shouldn’t expect much support when you end up with egg on your face and a zero credibility balance— especially if you got that way by abusing people who didn’t deserve it, or by being complicit in their abuse.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve read endless lamentations about the sundering effect that Requires Hate has had on the “SFF community”. I wonder if there ever was such a thing; I don’t see a “community” so much as a bunch of squabbling tribes forced to share the same watering hole. That’s how she did it, for crying out loud: by exploiting those pre-existing fracture lines, by setting different tribes at each other’s throats. If SFF were truly a community, would one sociopathic pissant have been able to wreak such havoc?
Blame Benjanun Sriduangkaew, by all means. She deserves it. But she didn’t do it alone. She’s not a sorcerer, she didn’t use any Jedi mind tricks to enlist her troops. They had a choice. Even those she tricked into confiding their vilest thoughts, then blackmailed by threatening to betray those confidences— she couldn’t take that power by force. She could only encourage them to give it to her. They chose fealty— either to a sociopathic troll, or to an ideology whose tires they really should have kicked a few more times before taking ownership.
So I have a question for the person who claimed to like RH’s reviews, only to jump onto the Garment-Rending bandwagon when the jig went up. I have something to ask the self-proclaimed progressive who chummed around with RH’s shock troops even while admitting— in private, with no one else around— that yes, maybe RH goes too far, but her friends follow me on twitter. I have a question for the outspoken social justice advocate who didn’t speak out when the lies spread across a site with their own name on the masthead, because they didn’t want to “fan the flames”. I’d like to ask all those self-proclaimed champions of the disenfranchised, all those defenders of up-punching, all those opportunists who are so busy now disavowing the whirlwind they helped sow:
Where were you, when RequiresHate called Cindy Pon a “stupid fuck” and a rape apologist? Where were you when she made Rachel Brown’s life a living hell? Where were you just last year, when she and her buddies went after a rape survivor for the crime of saying that recovery was a good thing?
Where were all you people?
Edmund Burke once said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I think that begs a question.
If you do nothing, what makes you any good?