Let me start off by saying I'm supporting Hillary Clinton, but I admire and respect the conversation Bernie Sanders has brought to the table.
It's this respect for the man and his message that makes me want to report on the negative influence of what I'm calling the “Bernie Sanders superfan.” I also would like to differentiate these people from his true supporters, whom I've met through attending conventions and voting in Nevada.
Having attended my precinct caucuses, the Clark County Convention and Nevada State Convention, I've observed firsthand the rhetoric and vitriol of a subset of Bernie Sanders supporters getting sharper, hotter, more urgent and nastier at each event. Around 90 to 95 percent of his supporters are calm, open, friendly across party lines and enthusiastic about the movement. They just want to bring Bernie's beliefs, perspective and passion to the national stage and perhaps to the White House.
This subset, which I call the Bernie Sanders superfan, lines up closer to Trump fanatics and the loudest members of the Tea Party, but with a socialist spin they believe will benefit them in some fuzzy, unclear way. These are the same people who show up to peace protests to overturn cars and break windows.
When the first protests erupted at the Nevada State Convention over the adoption of rules, I asked one screaming Sanders superfan which specific issue she had with what was being proposed. Her answer was nothing but high-volume gibberish about “the system” being “rigged,” “hijacked” and “totally f*cked.”
Looking only for answers, not conflict, I dug deeper and asked pointedly to a group that began to gather around me, “What exactly are you proposing to replace the rules? If you don't like the ones put forward, what issues do you have with those rules, and what do you propose in place of those rules?”
This time, I got a wall of noise thrown at me along with half a dozen clipboards holding petitions that had all sorts of official-looking pronouncements at the top. Before I could read their official position as stated on these petitions, one Sanders superfan took me aside to lay out his beef.
“Look, man," he said. "They have this voice vote bullsh*t. Every vote needs to be counted. It's all bullsh*t"
So, I asked him the logical next question, “You want a head count of approximately 3,500 people over every issue and rule?”
At that point, I'd clearly crossed the line. I went from being someone they might talk into their cause to a suspect, a traitor or worse, the press. Eyeing me nastily, he ended the discussion with, “Man, you don't belong here. You're part of the f*cking system.”
After Barbara Boxer was cursed and the police had to be called, this lone, frantic group of 30 to 40 people were the ones all over the news headlines because of their antics. At the end of the convention, no one paid attention to the other 1,600 Bernie supporters.
I'm sure these Bernie superfans thought their numbers were greater and that they had gained some momentum, but everyone around this core group was just there to watch the train wreck of their “protest” and take selfies. One friend of mine who was a delegate for Sanders looked back at them still shouting for a recount, and commented, “Truly embarrassing.”
To the national press, write this on the walls of your editing room: In every movement, you will have a fringe of disillusioned, disenfranchised people who will think this is their moment. They believe they can shine so brightly that they will burn down “the system” that's kept them oppressed and on the sidelines.
“It's not my fault I am where I am. Blame the system!” they will shout.
They will show up, scream and gnash their teeth. They will use polarizing language to try to frame their positions. They will threaten or engage in violence and property destruction because their cause alone is so urgent, so immediate.
This will happen on the Left, on the Right, at peace protests, at discussions on border security, at town hall meetings, at civil rights events and at energy, environmental and policy summits. Don't cover these fringe groups because they only use candidates' positions to further their own causes.
Don't stuff your headlines with dark innuendos by trying to tie the protesters to the candidate, the policy or the politics. Just because these people happen to be at political events, shouting and trying to kick over mailboxes, doesn't mean they should take up space in your headlines.
In this case specifically, don't paint the true fans of Bernie Sanders with the same brush you do his superfans. They aren't even fans at all.