Brett Kavanaugh's accuser is getting death threats — inside the 'psychology of trolls'

Korin Miller
Writer
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Photo: Melina Mara/Washington Post)

It’s been just a few days since Christine Blasey Ford came forward as the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, but things have already turned dark for the professor of clinical psychology.

Since making her name public in the Washington Post on Sunday, Ford has been subjected to “vicious harassment and even death threats,” all of which have been detailed in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to the New York Times.

Ford’s email has been hacked, she’s been impersonated online, and she and her family have had to relocate from their home, her lawyers say. “While Dr. Ford’s life was being turned upside down, you and your staff scheduled a public hearing for her to testify at the same table as Judge Kavanaugh in front of two dozen U.S. Senators on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident,” the lawyers wrote. The hearing “would include interrogation by senators who appear to have made up their minds that she is ‘mistaken’ and ‘mixed up.’”

President Trump has spoken out against the allegations, calling them “very hard to imagine” and stating that the mere mention of them is “hurting someone’s life.” Lawmakers have echoed his concerns, as has Kavanaugh himself, who called Ford’s claims against him “completely false.”

But the motion to dismiss the allegations has done little to curb the harassment Ford is facing.

The death threats have gotten so severe that a professor from Georgetown University started a GoFundMe campaign on Wednesday for Ford’s security costs. The fund had already surpassed its $100,000 goal by Wednesday afternoon, and is continuing to trend upward. It includes an update saying that Ford is aware of the campaign and both “needs and accepts” the assistance.

Ford said in her interview with the Washington Post that she was hesitant to come forward with her allegations because she was worried about public backlash. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she said. The professor is now working with private security to address the death threats, one of which reportedly reads: “6 months to live, you disgusting slime.”

Although it’s one thing to try to refute an individual’s story, death threats are a whole other level. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time a victim has received them. “People make death threats out of a root cause, of ignorance,” licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “That is not to say that they have a low IQ, but they have an ignorance of the issues behind the person’s actions they are so vehement about.”

People who make death threats “are typically very passionate about their cause and this is at the expense of anyone else’s rights and feelings,” Mayer says. They also often “feel that their actions will make a difference and that they can change the outcome by their aggressive statements and actions. Sadly, they are often correct.”

Still, there’s “likely not one reason” for this, Gail Saltz, MD, a psychiatrist and host of The Power of Different podcast, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s the psychology of trolls,” she says. “People feel emboldened to release their innermost worst sadistic selves from behind a computer. They’re not looking at the person, don’t know the person, they may likely be angry about many things and feel helpless in their situation to do things that they feel angry about. This is a vehicle of aggression.”

Death threats are a “type of bullying behavior” that “works,” Mayer says, because few people feel comfortable putting their life in danger. They also happen “with such a frequency that it feels safe for people to make these threats,” Saltz says.

Even though some of these threats can be empty, others may not be. “It’s hard to say,” Saltz says. “Even if you had the person who did this in my office, it would still be hard to say. It’s very hard to predict who will be violent unless they have a history of violence.” Still, “threats are the precursor to more violent behavior, Mayer adds. “We have to always take threats very seriously.”

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