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Put down the torches and pitchforks in Virginia Beach

Selective outrage over social media has become all the rage lately, and I don’t have to go very far to point out just a few examples of it even in Virginia Republican circles.

I’ve written on this topic before a couple of times [1], and my argument has always been the same – it’s ridiculous to waste time being outraged about someone’s comments on social media, no matter how dumb they may have been. If you spend even a small amount of time on social media, you are going to say something that offends somebody. Knowing this, it makes little sense for anybody to raise a mob against someone for a comment on social media.  It makes even less sense when the person you’re complaining about is just a private citizen.

Even so, that apparently isn’t stopping folks from doing it.  Right now, Bruce Meyer of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach and 2nd District Congressman Scott Rigell are in the middle of yet another attempt to eject James “Turbo” Cohen from the Republican Party of Virginia Beach City Committee.

This is the second time, after an abortive attempt last May ended on a technicality. As expected, pre-printed petitions were circulated at last night’s RPVB City Committee meeting to remove Turbo, as was done last May. And, like last May, it appears that the witch hunters have enough signatures to force a vote on Turbo’s membership at next month’s meeting.

If you don’t know Turbo, you probably haven’t been involved in Republican politics very long. He’s a fixture in Virginia Beach, and is well known for his activism for a variety of candidates. He also runs the Virginia Beach Republicans Facebook group, which has over 1,000 members from across Virginia Beach and the rest of the Commonwealth, including me.

Nobody is going to call Turbo a shrinking violet, and he’s never been afraid to speak his mind. He’s put up with a considerable amount of bullying over the years, and he’s never been one to back down from a fight. Whether it was his vocal criticism of Eric Cantor or Mayor Will Sessoms or his support for a primary over a convention during the recent SCC kerfuffle, Turbo has been in the thick of most of the controversies in the Party, both in the Beach and around Virginia.

The charges against him are laughable. Essentially, the claim is that he made disparaging anti-Semitic remarks against Eric Cantor during the recent unpleasantness. Ignoring the fact that Turbo is himself Jewish, I’m not sure why these comments, made by a private individual who holds no other position besides membership in his local party committee, rise to the level where a petition to remove him from said committee is necessary. While the comments could easily be viewed as over-the-top by an objective observer, given the context – made after Turbo was physically threatened during the slating fiasco by a paid staffer of a Cantor backed pro-slating group – they are explainable.  We’ve all said things we’ve ended up regretting on social media, and when tempers are running high, it’s easy to let something go that you wouldn’t otherwise say in cold blood.

What’s truly frustrating to me, however, is the selective outrage being employed here.

We have an RPV Chairman who was accused of making an anti-Semitic joke, which according to Turbo was not even remotely anti-Semitic, that garnered national negative press attention. Was he removed from his committee? No. In fact, he got promoted. We had an RPV Treasurer who mistakenly used a derogatory swear word instead of the nonsense word he thought he was using about a candidate for Congress, that also garnered Commonwealth-wide press coverage. Was he removed from his committee? No. He waited months after the comments were made to resign while denying he had done anything wrong.  In both situation, these folks were elected party officials who arguably made mistakes that brought negative press onto the Party. They weren’t forced out of their local unit committees.  Yet here we have a situation that nobody – until now – has even addressed outside an RPVB meeting, and it’s being treated like Watergate?

So what, exactly, is the point of all this nonsense?  Obviously it’s not immediate outrage about the comments Turbo made, as those are months old at this point.  If anything, this appears to be more a clash of personalities and the antisemitism charge an excuse to settle a score with an opponent. That’s not really a good enough excuse to go after somebody, given how often folks have looked the other way at similar behavior.  Add the fact that we’re not talking about an elected or a party official and this is just pointless.

Why Congressman Rigell is getting involved in this is anybody’s guess. Frankly, I’m scratching my head about it. I can’t honestly remember a time when a sitting elected official, especially one as senior as a member of Congress, went after a Republican activist in this way. It certainly hasn’t happened in Northern Virginia in my experience.

Regardless of what Turbo said and how distasteful it might be, he’s a private citizen and it’s simply unacceptable to eject him from the RPVB as a result of this issue. If we ejected Republicans for poorly expressing their opinions in what could be considered offensive ways on social media, we’d literally have to kick out everybody in the Party who is on social media.  This kind of selective outrage about “offensive” comments needs to stop, because in this business, we’re all living in glass houses.  Nothing Turbo said is going to cost anybody an election. It’s unlikely even to make much noise unless those who are pushing this petition drive follow through on the veiled threats to go to liberal media sources to spin up this story into something it isn’t at this point.

We don’t have time for this. At best, this is a distraction.  We are four months from state and local elections, where our attention needs to be fully on holding the Senate and expanding our majorities. This type of blatant score-settling is a waste of time.

Enough nonsense. Let’s get back to the real business at hand.