About a week ago accusations against Alex Morse surfaced that he had engaged in "inappropriate [sexual] behavior." The attacks that followed had all the vibes of pre-90s homophobia, or a Victorian-era sexual moral panic, but for the fact that the people leading them were Zoomers, not Boomers. And they're Democrats.

That's a pretty weird start, right? It gets weirder.

The article that got the shame train to leave the station: College Democrats allege inappropriate behavior between Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and college students

Everyone attacking Morse (who was the first openly gay mayor of Holyoke, and also the youngest, elected at 21, and is currently running a super progressive campaign for Congress) was using social justice language as their cudgel.

Tweet linking to the Daily Collegian article with the caption: Disqualifying, pure and simple. I'm sorry to the survivors of this misconduct.
Pure and simple.

Immediately, people took to the internet to denounce Morse, using "believe survivors" rhetoric to amplify the attacks, and go-to social justice dogma (SJD) phrases to shut down any questions.

Tweet reading: My heart hurts for survivors who are being retraumatized tonight as we watch people who purport to share our values defend Shahid Buttar and Alex Morse. As a survivor who organizes in different spaces, I have seen how easily  ppl use "the cause" or "our goals" to silence survivors
People who "purport to share our values" silencing survivors would not be good.

Organizations that had previously endorsed Morse withdrew their support. The local chapter of the Sunrise Movement – general a shining light of young progressive climate activism – issued a statement with the following quote:

As a movement that stands for justice and a livable future, we know that rape culture runs deep in our society. We believe the students that came forward about the inappropriate nature of Alex’s actions - as we believe all survivors. There is no justice without survivor justice.

The national org amplified their statement, saying they were suspending campaigning for Morse, which is a big deal because in the same statement they  described Morse's opponent, Neal, as "one of the biggest obstacles in the House to meaningful action on the climate crisis," adding:

Thank you to the young people who have spoken out and shared their truth.

But there were a lot of questions.

Who are the supposed victims here? All the language in the original letter was vague, broad, capacious. They said it was "written at the direct request of those affected by Morse's behavior," but that's as much as we know.

And what, exactly, was the offense? Reading the letter, and the original story reporting on it, one was left with the only wrongdoing being Morse (in his 20s at the time) having had a TOTALLY consensual sexual relationship with another 20 year old, who also happened to be a university student?

(Sorry for yelling, but that consensual part, for whatever reason, kept getting lost in the telephone game of rape culture and assault and believing survivors.)

"But it was his student, right? That's pretty messed up," a friend replied to me, when I told them about this.

"No, just a University student. Not his," I clarified. Whenever I talked with someone about this, I had to constantly bump them back from totally reasonable assumptions they were making, escalating the severity.

"Then what's the problem?" they asked. I was trying to figure that out.

Parts of it read like a borderline-homophobic sexual hysteria. Language of "grooming" and "predator" and questions of consent and power abounded.

It also led to a ton of openly homophobic backlash. This was something the College Dems who made the accusation addressed, but didn't apologize for, even saying, "The Mayor's sexuality in no way excuses his behavior," which is a nice SJD preemptor (i.e., a great way to stave off people supporting the Mayor because of his targeted sexual orientation).

Other parts read like cynical political manipulation. Details emerged highlighting the group's relationships to (and support of) Morse's political opponent, incumbent and all-around-non-progressive-Democrat Richard Neal, and the possibility that this was an amateur production of House of Cards loomed.

When asked if the Neal campaign was aware of the letter, a spokesperson replied, “No. The College Democrats independently came forward, and our campaign commends these courageous students."

(Note the "courageous students" part, and how this, again, dovetails into rape culture and sexual assault aphorisms.)

Which would be worse? Homophobic sex panic or political closed-door conniving?

Like with the Wall of Moms debacle, I almost wrote about this a few days ago but thought better of it. Even though all of it felt off to me, I decided the worst outcome of all would be me using my platform to silence survivors (or even be accused of doing so).

I decided to wait, see if more information emerged corroborating the "survivors" stories. Maybe this was the tip of the scumbag iceberg, and Morse really needed to be canceled for the good of the land.

My patience was rewarded: An article published today exposes just how fucked up this whole situation was.

Read this reporting for the rest of the story: College Democrat Chats Reveal Year-Old Plan to Engineer and Leak Alex Morse Accusations

The verdict? It's worse than either of my suspicions: it's both.

A Poisonous Concoction of Cancel Culture, #MeToo Manipulation, and Social Justice Dogma

If you read that Intercept article, the most likely story here becomes the following:

  1. A dude wanted to sink a candidate he didn't like.
  2. Because of the climate we're in right now, they knew all they needed to do was piece together a vague accusation with some true things and a lot of room for lurid imagination that would fall under a large #MeToo umbrella.
  3. After issuing the accusation, they attacked anyone who questioned it (as did countless people duped into doing their bidding) as silencing "survivors," a slaying a sacred cow level SJD offense.
  4. People ran with it, seeing Morse as yet another wolf in sheep's clothing, putting him through the Cancel Culture motions without a second thought.
  5. And for about a week it worked, doing who knows how much harm to Morse's campaign directly,  to actual survivors of sexual assault and rape indirectly, and to the legitimacy of movements for justice.

And it's still going. People are doubling and tripling down, even after this reporting – not even rejecting the truth of the reporting, just saying they don't regret jumping into the fray against Morse anyhow.

I was texting with a friend of mine (gay man who "also lives in the middle of nowhere Appalachia"), before the Intercept piece broke, and he said,

"Do these kids not realize that this was the literal playbook of conservatives most of my life? Do they not know how fucking hard it is to get a date with a cute guy in fucking Holyoke without all of this? This is College Democrats????

Today, I sent him the link, and he replied, "Wait they did it on purpose???" And I'm not sure they did, at least not in the way he's implying.

That hits at one of the other potent ingredients in this toxic cocktail: a lack of historical perspective informing this "activism." To an older Millenial, Gen-Xer, or Boomer, there would be no doubt in our mind that vague accusations of sexual impropriety leveled at a gay man (let alone in a rural setting) is a powder keg.

But these students weren't thinking of it that way (I believe, and they said so themselves): they just saw the levers of Cancel Culture, #MeToo, and knew they had what they needed to "sink his campaign."

And those levers were yanked.

People were running with it so far they even saying things suggesting they knew "about this" [fabricated controversy] long before the letter came out – it became a hipster social justice dogma version of one of those Jimmy Kimmel videos where they get people to talk about their favorite aspects of made up bands.

Screenshots of tweets of people saying things like "one of my extremely close friends had similarly negative experiences with alex morse" and "I never thought alex morse's behavior would come to light and I'm so happy it finally did"
When social justice dogma is so powerful it Inceptions memories into your psyche (Alternatively, these people are just members of a fandom and know this is solid way to be a good fan)

That's a red flag, folks.

Reading those tweets, having read today's article, has me – a person who I thought couldn't be any more concerned about what dogma is doing to our movements – even more concerned about what dogma is doing to our movements.

Journalist I love and all around smart cookie, Mark Joseph Stern, wraps this up perfectly:

You saw my receipts for that purchase above. I'd be curious to hear if you have different ideas.