Rep. Joe Kennedy III says he has repeatedly received personal threats during his Senate primary campaign against Sen. Ed Markey.
And while Kennedy and Markey have themselves agreed that vitriolic attacks have no place even in an increasingly contentious inordinately online race, the Massachusetts congressman’s campaign wants the incumbent senator to do more about it.
In an email Monday morning to Markey campaign manager John Walsh, Kennedy campaign manager Nick Clemons called for “a personal and public statement from Senator Markey himself instructing his followers to immediately end the attacks on Joe’s supporters, the threats to Joe and his family’s life, and the destruction of Kennedy for Massachusetts campaign materials and property.”
“At the end of the day, the buck stops with the candidate and his or her campaign,” Clemons wrote to his fellow campaign veteran.
In response, Walsh dismissed the email as nothing more than “crocodile tears.”
With just over a week left in the race, the Kennedy campaign has increasingly amplified complaints about a pattern of “toxic” behavior and cyberbullying in the “Markeyverse,” the zealous band of Twitter users supporting the 74-year-old Malden native, whose re-election campaign has won over the support of the online left.
The email Monday, which copied a number of reporters in order to “encourage accountability,” highlighted dozens of tweets — ranging from simply crude to bullying — directed at the Kennedy campaign and their supporters over the past three weeks, including several that graphically referenced the assassination of Kennedy’s great-uncle, President John F. Kennedy. Clemons said the campaign has had to report death threats to U.S. Capitol Police “on a near daily basis.”
The congressman’s wife, Lauren Birchfield Kennedy, also accused the Markey campaign of condoning tweets evoking her husband’s death.
This young widow would be me.
— lauren kennedy (@laurenkennedyMA) August 24, 2020
While many of the accounts in question have no apparent association to the Markey campaign, Clemons cited several examples from the senator’s supporters and volunteers. The email also included links to a photo of a vandalized Kennedy campaign sign and a video of a self-described Markey supporter throwing away Kennedy campaign door hangers.
“The death threats and assassination references are beyond the pale,” Clemons wrote. “But it is the petty and personal attacks on our supporters that we find most disheartening. Reasonable minds can disagree about who to support in this race, between two progressive candidates who undoubtedly share deep political values. But no matter what side you fall on, we should be able to agree that those who volunteer their time, talent, energy and passion to help drive the democratic process should be commended and celebrated — not disparaged, ridiculed, or attacked.”
While condemning the attacks, Walsh suggested Monday afternoon the Kennedy campaign was engaging in a late-stage political “stunt.”
In an interview with Boston.com, the former Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman noted that, unfortunately, trolls and threats have become commonplace in high-profile political campaigns. He also noted that the Markey campaign has had to deal with harassment themselves.
“I am disappointed that as someone I have known for years you are choosing to end this campaign with crocodile tears,” Walsh tweeted in response to the email by Clemons.
Senator Markey has condemned all vile and hateful speech surrounding this race – and you know it. The Markey campaign has put up with non-stop Kennedy-campaign supported harassment, including… 2/x
— John Walsh (@JohnEWalsh14) August 24, 2020
“Senator Markey has condemned all vile and hateful speech surrounding this race – and you know it,” he continued. “The Markey campaign has put up with non-stop Kennedy-campaign supported harassment, including a pick-up truck spewing negative attacks literally every day at our campaign events attended by families and young people. We don’t whine or complain about your ridiculous campaign-supported stunts because we are focused on our campaign’s positive message and supporters.”
A local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has endorsed Kennedy in the race, took credit for the disruptive truck on Monday, citing the effects of the 1996 telecommunications bill authored by Markey on their workforce.
Walsh told Boston.com that the truck often drives by during Markey’s speeches on the campaign trail, beeping and shouting references to the senator’s travel records, which he recently released.
hey @Johnwalsh14 😢 that’s an @IBEW103 truck 🚚. We wouldn’t need it if @EdMarkey stood with @ibew workers 🛠 over #CorporateGreed 💰 Telecom ☎️ jobs have been eliminated by the thousands bcuz of Ed! 🤮 He is No “Telecom champion.” Be seeing you 👀 Beep beep 😂 #TimeForAChange
— Lou Antonellis (@LAntonellis103) August 24, 2020
Kennedy’s campaign say they’re not complaining about barbed criticisms of Kennedy’s record or policy positions, but draw a distinction between that and family attacks. Emily Kaufman, a spokeswoman for the campaign, told Boston.com that trying to draw an equivalence between the two was “one of the most tone-deaf things I have ever heard.”
Before the race even officially began, Markey personally apologized to Kennedy after one of the senator’s top advisers shared a tweet saying that the congressman should instead “focus on his family’s considerable mental health issues.” The adviser, Paul Tencher, subsequently left the campaign, albeit with a $40,000 payment for his consulting work. In July, the Kennedy campaign blamed “cyberbullying” by Markey supporters for the cancellation of a Broadway fundraiser. And earlier this month, the Boston Herald reported that the Kennedy campaign had reported “dozens of death threats” to Capitol Police.
Still, Markey has made clear that the threats are not coming from anyone connected to his campaign.
As the down-to-the-wire race has turned increasingly personal, Markey first condemned the online attacks against his opponent’s family during a heated debate on Aug. 11 as “completely unacceptable,” after Kennedy confronted him about tweets suggesting Lee Harvey Oswald “got the wrong Kennedy.”
“I obviously would never at any time accept anyone saying that about your family,” Markey said. “And no one affiliated with my campaign would ever say anything like that.”
Kennedy also pressed Markey on the subject during a debate last week, saying there was “a line that was crossed that should haven’t been.”
“My family has faced negative attacks from Senator Markey’s campaign and supporters, again, through campaign emails, through digital videos, through supporters who have targeted me in ways, again, that are not appropriate for this audience, but obviously include threats on my safety — repeatedly.”
“I don’t think the congressman wants any of his supporters — I certainly don’t want any of my supporters — to be engaging in any of that negative conduct,” Markey said.
“Agreed,” Kennedy replied.
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.