Last night, feminist commentator Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a planned talk at Utah State University after threats of a mass shooting surfaced. Sarkeesian, who talks, writes, and vlogs about gender in video games, has been targeted by these kinds of nasty misogynist threats for a long time. Her trolling and persecution mostly now comes from the #GamerGate conspiracy theorists — she even had to leave her home at one point.
But a number of things made last night’s incident newsworthy (major papers picked up the story), and even more frightening. First of all, some of the threats came from someone who dubbed himself “Marc Lépine,” the name of the perpetrator of a mass misogynist shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnqique in 1989. In that notorious massacre, Lépine killed fourteen women, blaming feminists for ruining his life — much like the people who threatened Sarkeesian and her audience. “I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America,” one threat allegedly read.
This is terrorism. It is the use or implication of violence to achieve a political end. And as in so many other instances of terrorism (harassment of abortion providers, for instance), aimed at women, the government is not protecting its citizens. You see, the shooting threat itself, and its specific chilling message, would not have deterred Sarkeesian alone. She planned to carry on. But Utah’s concealed carry law stopped her. As she later tweeted, police weren’t willing to do any sort of weapons check at the door, threats or none — claiming the law simply did not allow it.
As the Guardian noted, the concealed carry permit costs $46 in the state of Utah and is given to anyone over age 21 with a basically clean record.
Something about the confluence of the awful, specific threat leveled against the speech, the overall #GamerGate mess that has hounded Sarkeesian in different iterations, and the refusal of law enforcement to help protect the attendees point together to something totally and horrifyingly broken, something deep and systemic.
“It’s not hard to draw a line between yet another attempt to silence Sarkeesian, a mass shooting threat at a university (historically male territory), access to guns (associated with masculinity), and rape culture,” Chanel Dubofsky wrote this morning. She’s right that there’s a lot of connections to be made. In fact, it’s hard not to look at the broader #GamerGate brouhaha and see a confused group that has enabled this kind of pernicious violence — and silencing — by its continued existence and claim to legitimacy. Those in the so-called-movement who now crying, “But hey, not all of us are violent fanatics,” (#notallgamergateadherents?) are long past the hour where they have to deeply, deeply reexamine their association.
Concealed carry laws, unhelpful law enforcement, and online pseudo movements that tacitly enable misogyny — it’s funny how these very different things are all allegedly in existence because of “freedom.” And yet in truth they are are the opposite of freedom-enhancing. Instead, they each serve in practice to insulate the dominant group, largely white men, to protect that group’s dominant status, and to prevent women and marginalized groups from speaking in public and claiming their deserved space.
Again, because of the combination of online hate and pro-gun laws last night, the audience at Utah State missed a chance to hear the speech they planned to hear, and were filled with genuine fear, not of challenging speech but of real violence. What kind of freedom is that? At this point, whether you’re a legislator in the pocket of the NRA, a security official shrugging your shoulders, or a dude on the internet feeling personally affronted by the mere existence of feminist criticism, the reality is the same: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.