At the Intersection of Weight Loss and Politics

This is the story of how I became a certified rabblerouser and teabag-ass-kicker. It started on Weight Watchers. Yep. You read me right. Weight Watchers, the ubiquitous, wholesome, Jennifer-Hudson-endorsed weight loss program.

OK, just to let you know, this whole story may come off sounding a little silly, but I would like you to look deeper, because I believe that what I”m going to post about here is a microcosm of what has been going on in this country for the last almost 10 years, and it will illustrate just exactly how deep the divide has become and just how ugly things have become in America.

As I said, my life as a political pundit started on Weight Watchers.

I have been a paying member of Weight Watchers on and off the program for almost 10 years, well, because it works. As part of the total Weight Watchers experience, they offer an online food tracker, recipes, and a free message board, where you can sign up and post messages called “threads,” which end up being conversations about pretty much whatever you want to talk about and find like-minded friends to support you while you’re trying to lose the weight. Any of you who have ever been on any kind of diet know that losing weight is almost a full-time job. It takes up a whole lot of space in your head, from what you’re going to eat for lunch to what you can use to cut calories and still be full after a meal, so I spent quite a bit of time posting on the message boards. We were all obsessed with the same thing – food, and that made us kindred spirits, all trying to find our way into those size 8’s.

I loved the message boards. I found a group of wonderful friends on the 100 Pounds to Lose board and we ended up having a weekend meetup party in Chicago. It was all about the fun, the recipes, and the friends.

I still remember the day my life on Weight Watchers changed. It was March 2003. George W. Bush had just invaded Iraq. I was horrified and angry. Of course I had supported Al Gore for president, and I was devastated when Mr. Gore capitulated so soon after the fraudulent election results in Ohio and Florida. I loathed George Bush and everything he stood for, but when that unbelievable and unthinkable tragedy of 9/11 unfolded before our shocked and disbelieving eyes, all our differences were forgotten — we were all Americans and we needed to stand together. So I put aside my loathing of George W. Bush, and took my place behind him as an American citizen. I supported the war in Afghanistan, because that’s where the terrorists were. I decided to give GWB the benefit of the doubt, and I put my liberal Democratic mistrust and dislike aside.

But then, on March 19th, Bush invaded Iraq with “Shock and Awe.” I found a topic “thread” on Weight Watchers titled “Give Peace A Chance,” where a group of us coalesced around our opposition to what we believed was the unjustified and even criminal attack on a country that was no threat to us. That was the day that cemented my existence as a political animal and a rabblerouser.

The rightwing attacks on our thread and on us started immediately and did not stop. A gang of rightwingers swarmed our thread every day. We were called traitors. We were called un-American. We were accused of being Muslim-lovers and we were asked why we hated America. It was ugly. And it got worse with every passing day. This same group of rightwingers tried to disrupt our thread in any way they could think of, from posting insults to posting stuff from the Drudge Report, from Michael Savage, from Glenn Beck and Neal Boortz. One of them, who called herself “Brynn Kendall,” would post huge portions of the transcripts of the Rush Limbaugh show on our thread. Posts are limited to 2000 words, so “Brynn” would post 10, 12 posts of Rush transcripts in a row, which disrupted any conversation we were trying to have with each other. They posted insults. Constant hatred. They posted wishes that terrorists would kill me and my family. I was urged to kill myself and rid the world of my horrible liberal presence.

And it continued to escalate. This group of rightwingers formed their own group, and began to act in concert against those of us who posted on what we called “GPAC” (Give Peace A Chance). Our only recourse against this constant onslaught was to use the “report this post” feature, and the “Community Team” (moderators) would (maybe) remove the post, 1) when they got around to it, and 2) if they believed it was offensive enough to merit its removal. It always seemed that the it was mostly the posts from the liberals on the thread that were removed – not the provocative and insulting posts to which we were responding. The second punishment was to remove the entire thread. Our thread would be removed regularly, because that’s where the trouble was. The “ultimate” punishment was being “banned.” If you were banned, you could not post again under that particular username. That wasn’t really any kind of big deal, as it took somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes or less to create another username and be back on the boards. I probably went through at least 2 dozen usernames during that period, as I was constantly being banned – I mostly got banned for complaining and reporting posts, and to be honest, I didn’t hold back from calling a moron a moron at every opportunity presented (and there were so very many of those opportunities!!). There were several occasions when I had 2 or 3 usernames banned within a single hour. This went on every day, day after day after day.

And it continued to escalate. The rightwingers constantly monitored our thread, and would report anything and everything they found “offensive” – which was basically every single word any of us posted. That wasn’t the worst of it. Reader, you know that I’m one opinionated, pissed off bitch, and I don’t hold back. If I think you’re a moron, I’ll come right out and call you a moron, and I’ll tell you exactly why I know you’re a moron, and I’ll back it up with facts that prove you’re a moron. Thus, I became a lightning rod on GPAC – a focus for the hatred of this group of women. They hated me, and they hated me hard.

The most insidious thing that started to happen is that these women would pick up any little personal detail any of us (and particularly me) let slip on the thread, and they used those details to try and find our real identities. One day, one of them, Lisa, got lucky – she put together several random details of my life and plugged them into a Google search – and she found the only site on the web where those things came together: on a website created by a friend of mine with whom I had acted in a commercial in 1997. He innocently posted my name and my picture on his website, and that’s where Lisa found it.

The next thing I knew, Lisa had posted my full name on the rightwing thread on the message board. She had also shared my name with the rest of the group, who, by using my name and other information, like the fact that I live in Los Angeles, were able to find the name and telephone number of my employer. The next thing I knew, my full name and the name and telephone number of my employer were posted on the rightwing thread – along with the exhortation that everyone should call my employer and tell them that I ought to be fired because I <insert whatever reason you could make up here>.

At this point, I was extremely upset; first of all, I was shocked that the wingnuts would go to such extremes to make me shut up or make me quit posting. And I was well and truly pissed off. Who wouldn’t be, right? So I contacted one of the supervisors of the message boards and begged for her help. I asked her to ban Lisa and the others permanently from the message boards, because what they were doing went far beyond the bounds of simple name-calling and stepped into what I considered criminal stalking. The supervisor refused to do that.

In the meantime, more details from all our lives began to appear on the rightwing thread. One of my friends not only had her full name posted, but they also posted the amount of her mortgage. I occasionally freelance as an audiobook reader, and I had just gotten cast to read a book about Terri Schiavo, a job which would pay me around $1000. The wingnuts contacted Terri’s relatives through their website and told them that I was a horrible liberal and that I should be fired. I actually got a call from the producer of the audiobook, who came very close to firing me – until I was able to convince her that these emails were just from some random nutjobs and that I knew nothing about them. They signed me up for dating sites, for porno sites, for mental health websites, and I was kept busy contacting the webmasters and shutting this stuff down.

And, all this time, I was in contact with the WW supervisor, who told me constantly that she couldn’t do anything about it. I was told that politics wasn’t an acceptable topic for WW; that the message boards were solely meant for conversations about food, exercise and weight loss. I called shenanigans on that, because, according to that rule, all the threads posted by fans of scrapbooking, cat lovers, horse lovers, dog lovers, dance lovers, sewing and knitting were also unacceptable topics – not to mention the conservative thread, which was still being posted every single day. So, if my liberal political thread was unacceptable and was going to be pulled, then so should every single stinking thread about scrapbooking and kittens. And the ugly conservative thread, where I and everything I said was the main subject of their conversations every single day.

And then, there was the death threat. One of the posters on the conservative thread told me that he “knew where I lived,” that he was “going to send me a surprise” and that I ”should be afraid to open my door.” Perhaps some of you might pooh-pooh this as being silly, but after all the other over-the-top snooping, spying and threats I had received from these people, I wasn’t going to take any chances. I reported this poster to the police. I also reported the stalkers to the security people at my employer, just to be on the safe side.

Aside from the serious threats, there was also the absurd ones. One of the women threatened constantly to report me to the Department of Homeland Security for what she called my “threats against the president” (which mostly consisted of my calling for him being tried for war crimes, convicted of said war crimes and then executed by a firing squad). This same nutjob woman told me that she put my picture up on her refrigerator next to those of the local child molesters. I never could figure out the point of that or where she got my picture; maybe she thought I was going to show up in Wyoming and turn her children into <gasp> liberals. She also told me that she saved everything I ever posted and had it all catalogued by topic and date. I told her that she had way too much time on her hands, and was probably off her meds. They also managed to find out my Ebay username, and every purchase I made was critiqued on their thread.

All this time, I continued to try and work with management at Weight Watchers. I also tried to involve their legal department, because, like I said, I firmly believed that what was happening to me on the message boards involved criminal stalking, and I further believed that Weight Watchers was being seriously negligent about my safety by refusing to permanently ban the perpetrators or even attempt to rein them in. Keep in mind that most of this happened in 2003, 2004, and 2005, and internet stalking had not really gained status as a crime. I found that out when I tried to find an attorney to file suit against Weight Watchers for their gross negligence when it came to protecting me from stalking on their message boards.

We did fight back in our own way, by adopting their tactics. Once they declared war on us, we beat them at their own game. They knew my name – so I found out theirs. I tracked down about a half dozen of them, and let them know that I knew who they were and where they lived – I sent them all Christmas cards one year. I believe this strategy is called “mutually assured destruction” – and it was a very effective way of neutralizing their tactics. I still chuckle at some of the ways I managed to beat them at their own game. They knew my Ebay username? I found theirs. I sniped a pair of earrings one of them was bidding on – and then I mailed one earring each to two of them. The guy who sent me the death threat posted about his church – so I tracked down his priest and sent the good Father an email detailing the death threats his parishioner had been making – and would Father X please counsel him….? In a way, turning the tables on these people was a lot of fun.

Now, I could have stopped this whole thing in its tracks very easily by simply giving up posting on the WW message boards. In fact, that was the option most often suggested to me by the management at WW – why didn’t I stop posting? That would solve all the problems. You see, their attitude was that I was the problem – because I posted things that upset the bullies, and it was far easier to try and get rid of me than it was to get rid of the bullies. I was the problem, because I upset those poor rightwingers – shame on me, and I should just stop making so many people so angry, you know, just like an abused woman should stop pissing off her abusive husband.

Well, reader, if you have perused any of my posts on this blog, or followed any of my tweets, you must know by now that it is absolutely not in my nature to let the bullies win. I have a stubborn streak a mile wide when it comes to being bullied. I am intimately familiar with bullies, as my parents were the first bullies that I experienced in my young life. So, as an adult, I absolutely, categorically, will never ever give in and let the bullies win. It’s not going to happen.

Over the years, as the harassment continued, most of my friends eventually gave up posting on the liberal thread; I can’t say I blame them. It is very difficult to be the focus of so much concentrated, active and even dangerous hatred and vitriol day after day after day. It gets hard to have to be prepared for battle at all times, because they still stalk me. I posted about one of my stalkers in another blog post. She is one of the original group of women who started in on me back in 2003, believe it or not. So, yes, there have been plenty of times when I have been tempted to give it up. Why have I not given it up? It’s only a stupid political thread on a message board for fat people, right? How important can it be?

I’ll tell you, reader. I have posted a variety of news articles every single day now for going on 10 years. I post news and information that you will never see on “the liberal media.” I do this because Americans, for the most part, are appallingly ignorant of what is going on under their very noses, the lies they are being told by the Republican party and FOX “News.” I became aware that even the local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates have a subtle bias; it’s all in the words chosen to tell the story, and most of the time, the stories told about Democrats and liberals are not flattering, or even totally accurate. I believe America desperately needs a real, genuine “liberal media” – and I resolved to be a part of the real “liberal media” and I’m proud to say that I have been since 2003. I have been posting truth; I posted about the Downing Street Memo. I posted about the fake yellowcake from Niger, the fake aluminum tubes, the lie that the inspectors had been kicked out of Iraq by that villain Saddam Hussein and the lies told to the UN by Colin Powell (who should have known better) and by George Bush, who didn’t give a damn. I posted about Blackwater. I posted about Scooter Libby and Valerie Plame and Dick Cheney. I posted about Pat Tillman and about Jessica Lynch. I posted the lies about 9/11, and I asked why the tough questions were never asked.

I continue to do so every day.

The fight continues on the Weight Watchers message board. You may wonder what brought all this on, so I’ll tell you. Someone pulled my thread from yesterday; the entire thread is gone, and there was no solid reason for it. It may be that the battle is heating up again, because we still get wingnuts berating us for being un-American, Muslim-loving communist-Marxist-socialist lazy mooching traitorous thugs who hate Christians, decent people and Jesus and the flag and apple pie.

If you are minded to, please feel free to look me up on the Weight Watchers message boards. I post my thread every day on the “Making Connections” board, and it is titled “Progressives/Liberals/Sane People” – and I’ll be there, posting the news of the day and calling out the teabaggers on their hypocrisy and their lies. I will keep posting my thread every day for two reasons:  1) it pisses off the wingnuts no end, and 2) there are lurkers – people who are afraid to post on the thread and open themselves up to being attacked – who read every day. I do it for them. And I do it for you. And finally…I do it for me.

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18 responses to this post.

  1. You give new meaning to the phrase, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

    Keep giving ’em hell!

    Reply

  2. I guess you noticed I stole your picture from facebook. 😀

    Reply

  3. Posted by bethkoz on September 1, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Thanks for telling this story, Annie. Keep it up! More ‘Feisty’ is needed in this sad, sad world!

    Reply

    • Posted by Leftside Annie on September 1, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      Heh. I was afraid people would think it was silly – unless I told the whole story. There’s a lot more that I didn’t tell – I had a brain tumor in 2004, and you would have been completely horrified at the things they said to me. They accused me of making it all up to get attention, and called me “Tumah”…etc. Horrible people.

      Reply

      • No, not silly at all. The right-wing hate is very real (see my longer reply below), and their pattern of behavior seems to be the same.

  4. Excellent as always.

    I was the target of a couple of right-wing nutjobs on a board (that’s now defunct). My story was similar to yours in many ways. The board was more about sports than anything, but some of us in the early 2000’s time frame focused more on politics. The board operators only asked that we keep the political discussions on the “politics” board he had set up and not clutter up the other boards. Fair enough.

    Things took a turn for the worse when a guy named Paul started to show up on the threads (all threads, not just politics) with the intention of just attacking another one of the posters (who happened to be a board friend of mine). No one knew who Paul was until one day a milquetoast named Brian slipped up. He wrote a hate-filled Paul post, but forgot that he was logged in as Brian. So Brian was Paul and he created the alter-ego so he could be nice in one login and could be mean and nasty in the other.

    We all of course called him on it, but then he actually claimed he wasn’t Paul, he just wanted to see what it was like to write a hateful post. BS we all called, but his Paul alter-ego came to the rescue and turned his sites on the rest of us.

    Like your situation he combed through the archives looking for bits of information. One such tidbit was that I had once admitted that I suffer from Panic Attacks.

    Then came the never-ending onslaught of calling me mentally ill, saying I should take meds, etc. He was also able to eventually find out my real identity (not that I’d ever been super secret about it), but like you said piecing together little bits.

    The MO was pretty much the same as you described, and started with a cryptic post by Brian (he often mixed up his personas). “I found some pictures to post. But someone may not like that.” I checked the logs of my personal website, and sure enough there was a spike in activity particularly in my photos area.

    I simply started to ignore him, completely. And every day, while posting about sports in a thread, somehow he’d always manage to “accidentally” post links about Panic Attacks. He did everything he could to get me to post.

    I finally cracked on the way back from my dad’s funeral. I was using a hotel lobby computer to check e-mails and posts. There had been concern about my absence by my board friends, but Brian/Paul was declaring victory and just continuing to malign my character.

    I finally responded to him, and (more for the benefit of the others) to mention that I had just been dealing with the loss of my dad. The others, of course, wished me well. But Brian (posting under both his ID’s) just began a torrent of vile hate toward me. Called me a liar about my dad dying. I called that bluff and told him that since he claimed to know my name – and he must have based upon my personal website traffic – to Google the obituary. He claimed he did and couldn’t find it. I was a liar of course in his eyes.

    And so began a couple more years of even more intense hatred directed toward me, which I largely ignored. My fellow board friends and I would routinely debunk his feeble attempts at political discourse (funny he once claimed on another thread he hated politics, until he seemed to notice that’s where I would always hang out).

    The board finally went defunct, and I was happy to be rid of this internet pest.

    But it’s interesting to me that in my case, yours, and others I’ve read about, the MO is almost always the same. They threaten you, they just get so downright mean, nasty and hostile. And they’re almost always right-wingers.

    Reply

    • Posted by bethkoz on September 2, 2011 at 4:38 am

      Remember the side story that the right wing was paying people to troll left wing websites? I’ll bet dollars-to-doughnuits that Brian/Paul and Annie’s nemesis was a paid stooge!

      Reply

      • We often speculated that the boards owners were behind it, but we could never connect enough dots to prove it. To this day, I’m not 100% sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

      • Posted by Leftside Annie on September 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm

        I thought perhaps that my experience was somewhat unique; I find it somewhat disturbing to hear that I was wrong…

  5. Posted by bethkoz on September 2, 2011 at 4:39 am

    (That would be ‘dollars-to-doughnuts’. I hate it when I hit the ‘publish’ button before I’ve read my own post!)

    Reply

  6. I am in awe both at your courage and determination and also at the violent vitriol spewed by the teabaggers and their ilk. The joke that they are isn’t funny anymore and it has become frightening.

    Reply

    • Posted by Leftside Annie on September 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks for your comment – believe me, I appreciate it. I began to feel like Cassandra at times during all of that sturm und drang. Now, to my everlasting joy, I know better.

      Today, I discovered hilariously, that my stalkers have found this blog – and they are NOT amused. I hope they choke on it.

      Reply

  7. Bravo for you!
    My husband got so disgusted at the vile right-wing garbage on the local newspaper comments that he started responding. He’s a trial lawyer, so he knows just how to seem extremely reasonable and understanding while gutting a poster. In a week or so, the comments became sensible, related to the news article, and even interesting. I don’t know how he and you do it—because I can’t—but keep up the good work.

    Reply

    • Posted by Leftside Annie on September 5, 2011 at 11:37 am

      Thank you for your kind comment! Sometimes, it is difficult. Even this as late as this morning, a fingerwagger showed up and told me how rude I am. It’s funny, somehow, that they never seem to find their way to the conservative thread, isn’t it?

      Reply

  8. Posted by Msfino on September 10, 2012 at 4:35 am

    This is unbelievably scary that they are that STUPID!! I realize that there are people of lower intelligence in this world, but they seem to be the vocal majority!! Where are the intelligent people, and why don’t they stop this?? I admire your candor, and your wit to shame them all. It seems that WW’s is part of that mindset, and is it possible that they also are part of your problem? They have moderators that post as “people”, you know, corporations are people too, my friend. Just a thought. I don’t think that I would give them another “red” cent!

    Reply

    • Posted by leftsideannie on September 10, 2012 at 8:09 am

      Msfino – I’m no longer a paying member; although this time around it has been because of my financial situation. I wish I could afford to go back to meetings, but with my limited income…well, it’s a non-starter. And yes, you’re correct – WW wanted ME to leave – it was their idea that I was the problem because I made these nutjobs mad, but I fought them just on the principle of the thing. I refuse, and I have always refused, to let bullies dictate my life. :o) And the fact that I’m still able to piss them off after more than 10 years is a bonus.

      Reply

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