Attorney General Maura Healey knew she would get blowback for trying to close a gap in the state’s assault weapons ban. She expected a run on the guns, modified to get around the law, immediately after her July 20 announcement. And since everybody knows the gun lobby and its devotees are well organized, energetic, and seem to have a lot of time on their hands, her office was braced for pushback from Second Amendment absolutists across the country.
What nobody was prepared for was how vile, sexist, and homophobic so much of that pushback would be.
Much of it is unprintable — ugly tirades full of antigay slurs, mysogyny, and profanity, including the c-word, slung over and over. Callers shout obscenities and hurl names at the junior staffers who work the AG’s hotline. On YouTube and
Facebook and Twitter and gun-lover websites, haters are all over Healey for daring to fulfill the spirit of the law, signed in 1998 by Republican Governor Paul Cellucci.
“Hey witch . . . did you ban pressure cookers too?” somebody wrote, referring to the devices used in the Boston Marathon bombing.
“I hope you get throat cancer,” posted another.
“Another [expletive] woman passing laws based off emotional bias this is why woman[sic] should not have leading roles they’re emotionally to [sic] weak,” wrote a grammatically challenged charmer.
They’ve called Healey ugly, her agenda satanic, and taunted her for being gay. One person tweeted that he’d like to hire a homeless man to rape and disembowel the attorney general alive. A commenter on a gun nut blog tracked down her home address and posted it.
“I’m just going to leave this here,” added Anonymous (of course).
“Road Trip???” replied another pseudonymous coward. “Who wants to be a hero?”
It is so appalling, and so stupid. And, with more and more outlets for haters to lob bombs and scurry back into the shadows, it seems to be growing more common.
They don’t attack only women, of course.
“A day doesn’t go by that I am not called the worst kind of Jew on the planet,” said John Rosenthal, the longtime gun control activist. “I’m ‘a Jew faggot,’ or I ‘should have been killed in an oven.’ It’s disgusting.”
“This is what they do,” he went on, “because talk is cheap.”
It’s cheaper than ever this year, when the narcissistic name-caller at the top of the GOP ticket has given cover to haters of all kinds. My inbox is full of disgusting invective, some of my tormentors firing off sexist and anti-Semitic two-fers.
Oh, good grief, you may be thinking, Can’t you just ignore them? These are just fringe-dwelling fools. They can’t even spell. The thing is, the fringe is wide. And when somebody sends you a note threatening you with rape and murder, it can get to you, even if you’ve grown inured to garden-variety torment.
You’re not supposed to admit this, of course. You’re damned if you call these cretins out — it gives them oxygen, makes you seem like a victim — and damned if you don’t, because they just keep doing it. The world, especially online, is replete with men who straight-up hate women.
For her part, Healey has opted for oxygen deprivation, declining to comment on the torrents of misogyny. She did say she was determined to keep fighting to control the spread of weapons designed to mow down as many people as possible. Which guarantees further abuse.
“I am not going to back down,” she said. “I believe this is right and appropriate and lawful and something we need to do.”
Healey was calling from Philadelphia, where Thursday night brought a historic moment: For the first time ever, a woman accepted a major US party’s nomination for president.
“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” Hillary Clinton said, in one of the most affecting moments of her address.
But that beautiful image comes with an ugly underside. Clinton has risen higher and endured more hatefulness than anyone.
Even with that sky within reach, we still have so very far to go.
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at email@example.com.