Content warning: rape and death threats
On the evening of April 6, a horrific highway crash occurred on Highway 35 in rural Saskatchewan. The crash would take the lives of 16 individuals on the team bus of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.
The loss of life is tragic, and in its aftermath, there has been an enormous outpouring of support for the families, including the largest-ever GoFundMe campaign in Canadian history.
Loreto’s connection to the tragedy began unremarkably enough. On April 6, the day of the crash, and on April 7, Loreto tweeted about how brutal and terrible the crash was:
Those tweets got hardly any reaction.
But the next day, on April 8, as the outpourings of support for the Humboldt Broncos community came in from around the country and around the world, Loreto posted a tweet thread that, a day or so later, would garner a huge wave of attention and outrage:
In the thread, Loreto makes clear she wanted no less for the families and survivors of the crash, who had received condolences from across the nation, and $4 million in a GoFundMe campaign by that time (it is over $11 million now).
This did not cause an immediate reaction. That would come later.
Just before this thread Loreto had tweeted that, “At least 15 people, mostly women, have been killed on Ontario alone in 2018 in cases of domestic or sexual violence.”
This got little attention. It is a simple statement of fact that those 15 deaths – and Loreto’s tweets about them – did not receive the same public response as the Humboldt crash.
Loreto, who had clearly stated the crash was a tragedy, went on to comment on the highway safety news and analysis of what led to the crash:
Loreto was clearly disturbed about how normalized the loss of life on highways is in Canada, and how this tragedy could have been prevented by better road safety:
After these tweets, the reaction to Loreto’s earlier observation started picking up. Isolated from the rest of the thread, people began sharing the tweet “I’m trying to not get cynical about what is a totally devastating tragedy but the maleness, the youthfulness and the whiteness of the victims are, of course, playing a significant role,” and expressing their anger at the decontextualized thought that Loreto was presenting.
In response, Loreto added a tweet to her original thread to make clear that her comment was not “a horse race.”
Loreto then also commented that the site of the Broncos crash was the location of six other deaths.
She commented on the pain two families endured when crash victims were misidentified:
It is after these numerous comments from Loreto were made that it appears the virtual attack on her really took off:
The vast majority of responses on Twitter expressed outrage and hostility that Loreto had made an observation on the uneven distribution of grief and support. The messages to Loreto were especially violent and graphic, and, it seems, mostly from white men:
But where was the outrage being coordinated and amplified from?
Organizing the outrage machine
A reddit post from April 9 on /r/metacanada, a subreddit clearly for people working to get Doug Ford elected premier of Ontario, was one area of coordination. Loreto is incorrectly identified on the post as First Nations.
The next day, Ontario Proud, another organization stumping for Doug Ford and for right-wing causes in general, took one of Loreto’s tweets out of context, describing her as trying to “divide based on how we look” – a stretch given she was calling for equal support for victims of tragedies, regardless of their identity.
The right-wing tabloid the Toronto Sun got in on the action as well, selectively picking bits of Loreto’s thread of tweets:
The article’s author, Adrienne Batra, goes so far as to say Loreto was “smearing the members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.”. But at no point does Loreto say anything about the moral character of any member of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.
That same day, the subreddit for fans of Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto psychology professor and darling of Canada’s alt-right movement, drew attention to Loreto’s isolated tweet:
The deluge of vitriol aimed at Loreto picked up and kept going:
Alberta politician Jason Kenney, leader of the right-wing United Conservative Party, joined the fray, attacking Loreto to make a political point.
The responses Loreto received were both white supremacist…
Somehow, one freelance journalist’s observation had been taken out of context by the right and drawn an astounding amount of attention:
There were campaigns to get her fired from everywhere she had written. Most did not know that Loreto is a freelancer at these publications, so it is not really possible for her to get fired from a position. Nonetheless, many, many people attempted to persuade media outlets to blacklist Loreto. Briarpatch received numerous emails and Facebook messages in this vein.
Two Twitter accounts, @OutlawTory (Patrick Ross) and @brianneamira were among those especially active in replying to Loreto’s tweet, helping bring attention from those mourning the Humbolt tragedy to Loreto’s tweets by including hashtags such as #cdnpoli, #WeAreAllBroncos, #HumboldtBroncos, #PrayersForHumboldt, and #PrayForHumboldt.
As a result, Maclean’s, part of the Rogers media empire, issued a statement on April 12 distancing themselves from Loreto, bowing to the pressure and calling Loreto’s comments “incredibly inappropriate.” (Despite the fact that, as others have pointed out, Maclean’s hasn’t issued a public statement denouncing the racist and neo-colonialist writing of some of their other contributors – some of which has been published by Maclean’s itself, rather than simply on contributors’ personal social media.)
On April 12, there were hundreds of posts on the 4chan board “/pol/ – Politically Incorrect” calling for attacks on Loreto, including death and rape threats against her. 4chan is notorious for being an incubator of far-right hate speech. Many of the posts directed their vitriol based on Loreto’s Jewish heritage, which had nothing to do with her commentary.
None of Ontario Proud, Jason Kenney, nor the Toronto Sun have condemned the horrific threats and attacks against Loreto.
A handful of right-wing opportunists, enabled by their associated platforms, have successfully misrepresented Loreto’s simple observation and call for equity to whip up their receptive audience into attacking her personally and professionally. By representing Loreto as the embodiment of a politics this group so despises – a politics conscious of the power dynamics of race and gender – these ringleaders have tried to destroy her livelihood and safety.
The people whose typical crusade is the defence of “free speech” – namely, their right to publicly spew racist, misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic sentiments – are the same ones telling Loreto they hope she is raped and/or dies for her observation. Calling Loreto’s comment “hate speech” – when she said nothing ill of the the Humboldt hockey players or others who died – is a gross misrepresentation, and a transparent attempt to silence and sideline discussions of disparities of power. It’s chilling that simply pointing out that race and gender change the way our society reacts to tragedies invokes such a vicious response. We need to defend the right to think critically and make observations about power.
The families of the victims the survivors of the terrible crash deserve support from our society. What certain people did was to intentionally frame Loreto’s comments to make it appear that she did not care about the victims and their families, which is clearly not the case. That is the real insult; that there are people who would try to convince grieving families and friends that they were being maligned, where they were not.
Loreto, for her part, has remained on Twitter despite the sustained attacks, and has continued sharing news items and commenting on a range of topics.
April 16, 2018:
A previous version of this article stated that tweets by
OutlawTory and brianneamira were apparently intended to make Loreto’s tweet go viral. Briarpatch cannot infer the intent of these two Twitter users, and we have replaced the statement with screen shots of their interactions with Loreto on Twitter. It also made a claim about @brianneamira’s past online behaviour that we cannot confirm the accuracy of at this time.