While on vacation last month I received this note from a reader who frequently writes letters to the Open Forum. He gave me his name, but I’m withholding it here because, well, I didn’t want him victimized again.
Here’s his message.
Just wanted you to know what happens when you publish a letter in the paper. I received this in the mail.”
Note the image included here on the right. The note was sent to the letter writer by an anonymous person. It’s blunt, nasty and cowardly. I’m no attorney, but I also I think it constitutes at least a form of harassment. Someone with some stones would write a letter in response and engage in real debate on our pages.
Not this person.
I wish I could say this is the first time it’s happened. I got wind of a spate of these a couple of years ago. I suspect the same person to be the culprit. Repetitive use of the word “dumbass” is a giveaway. It’s the second common thread in the notes sent to writers then and apparently now. The targets of this anonymous harasser are conservative letter writers. No liberal letter authors have told me about receiving similar notes. And I hope it doesn’t happen to them, either.
I wrote back to our letter writer.
… “I’m truly appalled. I have seen one or two of these over the years — but not lately. Where was the letter postmarked?
Again, I apologize that you received this. I hate to hear when our letter writers are harassed.”
He responded quickly.
Thanks for your prompt and sympathetic response.
I did check the envelope to see if there was any return address (there wasn’t) and the postmark only read “Piedmont Triad Area.” It was dated June 28th.
Like you, I am appalled that someone would respond in such a manner, but in recent years I have come to accept the fact that so-called “progressives” have no limit to the invective and tactics they will employ to try and inhibit free speech and attempt to silence any voices with which they disagree.”
I understand our letter writer’s frustration and angst. It’s unnerving to have mail like this follow you home. Online message and commenting forums are one thing — someone taking the time to make up this card, look up an address and purchase a stamp is quite another. And while this harasser picks on the right wing writers, I will note that similar bullying is done by conservatives targeting those on the left. It does more commonly happen online. Using the U.S. Mail goes another very troublesome step.
I asked friends in the newspaper business if similar incidents had occurred in their areas. One told me the paper she works for in Virginia had this issue crop up. They advised letter writers to contact the authorities. A former colleague in Jacksonville sent me a link to a story they produced about a writer there who was swamped with magazine subscriptions by someone apparently irked by his editorial leanings. When I was in Jacksonville I also recall a similar incident involving users of an online message board.
Again, I hate to hear about our opinion page contributors being targeted in this way — no matter the political leaning. The vitriol cuts both ways, I can safely say as the referee for this particular part of verbal and written mud-wrestling thats an epidemic today. I’m not sure much can be done to stop it, though. I’m pretty sure police won’t think this particular piece of mail very threatening — just a pain in the rump for its target.
It’s still a shame.