A Meltdown In The Progressive Twittersphere

Shoq, lies and audiotape. (Updated below)

In October 2011, Politico profiled “Obamabots,” online Obama partisans who were beginning to confront more ideological progressives, like Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher. The story focused on Imani Gandy (@angryblacklady) and the then-anonymous @shoq. United in their defense of the president, the two had “formed a transcontinental friendship,” spending the occasional scotch-infused late night trading political rants over Skype.

Today, the bloom is off the rose between Gandy and Shoq. Once transcontinental friends, they now tweet imprecations against each other across the Great Divide. Moreover, their friends in the progressive sphere have chosen sides. A river of anti-Shoq tweets has poured forth from the keyboard of John Cole — Gandy’s most prominent proponent and the proprietor of the popular Balloon-Juice blog. Cole, in turn, has taken extensive return fire from Shoq himself and from his friends and acolytes.

So what happened?

This past summer, Shoq was elaborately outed by a conservative tweeter @brooksbayne and a fellow conservative writing under the name Randy Hahn. Bayne and Hahn revealed that shoq’s name is Matt Edelstein, and also made some salacious allegations about Edelstein’s interactions with women — including some prominent progressive women. Shoq has since acknowledged that his name is Matt Edelstein and posted a picture of himself to his website; he is clearly aggrieved by and doesn’t accept the other allegations, but it can be difficult to parse which parts of them he flatly denies. (Randy Hahn’s own identity is a bit mysterious. Many of those involved in this story have concluded that his real name is Jason Wade Taylor; Hahn offers a hilariously unpersuasive denial of this identification in this chaotic, creepy, three-hour podcast.)

Also this summer, a Breitbart writer named Lee Stranahan (@Stranahan) began to pursue Shoq’s personal story as well.

At the heart of the confrontation between Edelstein and Gandy are some private emails among members of Edelstein’s “StopRush” project that Randy Hahn obtained without Edelstein’s consent. (One of those leaked emails can be seen in Brooks Bayne’s first post naming Shoq as Edelstein.) Edelstein and his friend Matt Osborne (@OsborneInk) have alleged that the source of these leaks is Heather Chase, a friend of Gandy’s, and that Chase and Gandy conspired to sell the emails to Hahn. On Sunday, Edelstein and Osborne were drawing attention to audio recordings, purportedly of Chase, which they believe prove their allegations.

Gandy and Cole have risen to Chase’s defense, claiming that harassment from Shoq and his cohorts has driven Chase into hiding, but they categorically deny any conspiracy to sell StopRush’s emails.

Gandy, in a long post explaining her view of the matter, writes:

“This is insanity. It is harassment. It’s misogyny. And it has to stop.
[…]
Look — this is not a partisan issue. This is not about politics. This is about unstable people using the internet to harass, stalk, and intimidate women and those who dare speak up on behalf of them. This is about men on both the right and left who are playing a dangerous game and endangering the lives of people in the process.”

Cole, for his part, claims to simply be defending his friends, without any insider knowledge of the merits of the dispute.

Chase has deleted and reinstated her twitter account, @HeatherEChase, at least once this week, and is now using it to tell her side of the story. She has also been in touch with Lee Stranahan, and related to him that she feels threatened by Randy Hahn (i.e. Jason Wade Taylor or “JWT”).

Also involved, somehow, is a woman named Jessica—a friend of Gandy’s who tweets as @vdaze—with whom Edelstein was apparently romantically involved and suffered a bad breakup. Jessica’s twitter account is protected, but recent entries on her blog are almost entirely devoted to making the case that Edelstein is verbally and emotionally abusive — claims that the conservatives writing about Edelstein have relished — and generally undermining his credibility.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated that Jessica (@vdaze) did not appear to have any connection to Gandy, Chase or Cole; this version has been updated to reflect that Jessica and Gandy are friends, as Gandy points out in the seventh update to her post here.

UPDATE 2: Since this story was published, both Lee Stranahan and Matt Edelstein have asked BuzzFeed to add further information to it, and Edelstein has asked BuzzFeed to correct one statement.

Stranahan asked via twitter that BuzzFeed mention his posts (here and here) regarding explicit threats that he says he received from Randy Hahn. Stranahan also says that he and Heather Chase have contacted the police and his local police are now pursuing the matter.

Edelstein, who believes that this story “doesn’t come close to telling the real story,” emailed BuzzFeed that he or Matt Osborne plan to publish their own summary or “index, as it were, of all the work done to refute this character assassination” at Edelstein’s blog or at Osborne’s. I’ve posted a link to it below.

In addition, although Edelstein has written that Heather Chase planned to sell his emails and recordings to his antagonists on the right (see, e.g., the tweets at the beginning of this story), he disputes that he has ever made the specific claim that Heather Chase is a “right-wing plant,” which a previous version of this story attributed to him and to Osborne. This version has been updated to remove the attribution of that specific claim to Edelstein and Osborne.

UPDATE 3: Here is Osborne’s summary.

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