If you logged on to Twitter after the Cubs’ World Series Game 6 victory over the Indians last night, you might have seen what looked like the aftermath of a classic Twitter witch-hunt—one of those ritualistic crusades in which the outraged digital mob shames the villain-of-the-hour for the most heinous and unforgivable crime any person can commit: Bad Tweets. “Losing followers because I posted picture of my wife wearing jersey Cleveland Indians gave me for Halloween,” tweeted longtime Cardinals broadcaster Rick Horton. “If you believe in being arrogance, [sic] judgmental, critical.take a hike [sic],” he continued.
Here’s something that you may be interested to know, though: the Great Rick Horton Twitter Witch-Hunt of 2016 did not actually happen. Nothing remotely like it happened. Here’s what did.
On Monday—i.e., Halloween—Horton tweeted a photo of his wife wearing an Indians cap and jersey, both of which featured Chief Wahoo, the appallingly racist Native American caricature that the team itself finally began to “minimize” this season by removing it from its primary cap. A single Twitter user, Daniel Miller, replied to Horton’s tweet describing the logo as “so racist” and using the hashtag #NotYourMascot, a popular slogan among those who campaign against offensive Native American imagery in sports logos and team names.
Miller, a law student at the University of Illinois—which has itself been the site of a long-running controversy over a Native American mascot—tweets often about these issues from his account. “I am very passionate about fighting racist sports names and logos,” he told me, “because they promote harmful racial stereotypes in a very visible way. We would never put up with any other race being stereotyped and disparaged in this way, so why should we when Native Americans are concerned?”
Almost 24 hours after Miller sent his tweet, Horton tweeted this:
Half a dozen people replied to this tweet and sympathized with Horton. He replied to one with a tweet calling his critics—who at this point included Miller and no one else—“young,unaccountable [sic] and judgmental.”
Shortly thereafter, another Twitter user named Matt Sefried replied to Miller’s “so racist” comment with the following: “When you grow up perhaps you will actually know what a racist is.” Horton appears to have somehow interpreted Sefried’s tweet, which was obviously a rebuke to Miller, as another accusation of racism, because ten minutes later he tweeted this:
He received another wave of near-unanimous support. “Twitter clowns attack me [sic]?” he asked.
At this point, two things happened. Some people, including yours truly, mocked Horton for imagining a witch-hunt that anyone could quite clearly see wasn’t happening, and playing the victim with regard to an issue that involves actual, real racism directed at an actual, real minority group that has actually, really been brutalized and persecuted for centuries. Others tried to gently broach the subject of the logo’s offensiveness with Horton; “Not saying you’re racist at all,” tweeted well-known Cardinals Twitter user Alex Fritz, “but Chief Wahoo is really bad.”
Horton didn’t respond. As the night wore on, he continued to call his critics “trolls and judgmental cowards,” continued to receive the support of dozens of sympathetic followers, and appears to have simply blocked anyone who tweeted a dissenting opinion at him. Close to 2 a.m. Central Time, he replied to Miller and called him a “judgmental punk.”
At no point did anyone tweeting at Horton call him “racist” or, as some bizarrely began to claim, attack him or his wife. As anyone looking through his mentions can see, the harshest criticism he received was this: “I’m not calling you racist, just ignorant and ill informed.” There was no witch-hunt, no ritual shaming. It was literally just five or six people who were either accurately calling the Chief Wahoo logo racist or mocking Horton’s self-victimizing response.
Which is not to say there wasn’t hysteria and outrage! There definitely was. It was supplied entirely by the dozens upon dozens of people who rushed to signal their fiery indignation over the nonexistent campaign to malign Rick Horton’s character. “Omg stfu you sjw.” “Horton’s mistake was responding to the bullshit. Never gonna win fighting the almighty self-righteous keyboard racism police.” “I’m not racist. But…” “Some people are just nutjobs of the highest caliber.” “She’s scum man.” “This is insane. Don’t let that incoherent troll get to you Rick.” [T]he continued woosification [sic] of America.” “I can’t believe people actually think this way.” “[Y]ou’re just losing idiots and that’s never a bad thing.” “What a bunch of BS.” “[P]eople need to get over this PC stuff.” “Ignore ignorant scum tweeters.”
You might look at all this and wonder. You might wonder why a group whose central complaint is that people are too sensitive and easily offended seems so…sensitive and easily offended. You might wonder why their sense of proportion is so out of whack, why they’re so unable to judge the relative amplitudes of a few isolated notes of dissent and a massive cacophony of bitter like-mindedness. You might wonder how desperate some people are to avoid conversation about the ways we can be kinder to each other. You might wonder if this desperation isn’t ultimately a byproduct of fragility and insecurity and maybe even guilt. You might wonder how any of this is ever going to change.