We’ve seen politicians use hyperbolic and incendiary language to fire up their followers on social media for years. Whether it’s about immigration, policing, criminal justice, or inclusion, many politicians have opted for language that gets them clicks. They say things they think their followers want to hear – not for their constituents at home, but for their virtual mob on the internet.

Enter Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY). Like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Torres attacks (or blocks) anyone who calls him out for punching down or simply asks him a question. While MTG and BoBo are ignorantly inflammatory about any issue you throw in front of them, Torres has become a single-issue attacker. That issue is Zionism.

To Torres, it seems as though any conversation that doesn’t involve justifying the slaughter of innocent Palestinians is reason enough for him to label someone antisemitic and try to unleash his online mob on them. He ignores the well-documented damage false accusations do to the Jewish community and is seemingly unaware of how obvious the Islamophobic nature of making such claims is.

And while these tactics are common among the average online provocateur, they should still be considered unbecoming of an elected official.

Virtual Pitchforks and Torches

Torres’ followers highlight social media toxicity. They repeat his baseless claims and try to affect people’s personal lives. They don’t seek valid evidence. They do it because Torres said so. On Sunday, however, Torres and his followers crossed a line. A line that many other politicians have been criticized for crossing. Including former president Donald Trump.

He targeted a Capitol Hill reporter with manufactured assertions and tried to jeopardize that reporter’s relationship with a media outlet he works for. That reporter is Pablo Manríquez.

In just a few years, Manríquez has become somewhat of a legend to marginalized communities on Capitol Hill. He asks the questions so many are asking thanks to his connection to the streets (the real world) outside the DC bubble. Like me and so many others, he sometimes struggles to make ends meet and doesn’t have health insurance. He started Capitol Press and brought me in hoping we can change that about our lives. Manríquez is a good dude.

All of that is reflected in his reporting to the ire of many who lack such a genuine and widely relatable perspective. This is why I enjoy working with him. He’s not afraid to ask the questions other reporters think could cost them access to politicians. His approach has instead fostered connections with some of the biggest names in Congress.

What others are afraid to do helped him create professional relationships on both sides of the aisle. While most reporters worry about losing access, Manríquez isn’t sweating it. Some have criticized him for referring to certain issues as culture war issues when asking lawmakers questions. But asking them about things for what they are, it turns out, gets their attention.

Politicians are largely responsible for creating culture wars around what should be no-brainer issues granting marginalized people equal and equitable rights. Pablo simply lets them know how the public sees them and lawmakers take it rather well (most of the time). I’ll be the first to tell you they’re not always easy to talk to. I’ve listened to tons of Manríquez’s interviews at the Capitol and getting a politician’s attention in person isn’t always so simple.

Frankly, in my opinion, it’s a pain in the ass (no offense). But Manríquezmakes it look easy.

Don’t Start Nothin’ Won’t Be Nuthin’

As a protest calling attention to the atrocities in Gaza unfolded at the White House on Sunday, some Capitol Hill staffers joined protesters. Torres denounced social media accounts affiliated with some staffers called Dear White Staffers (DWS) for referring to what Israel is doing in Gaza as genocide. He then unleashed his followers when he attacked Pablo for allegedly retweeting a post from DWS using the term. And that’s where he and his followers crossed a line.

He not only targeted Pablo, he also targeted one of the outlets Pablo works for.

Torres went on the attack because of a supposed retweet which is not unheard of for a journalist to do. Some of us do that for myriad reasons. Sometimes there’s commentary in a Quote Tweet and sometimes there isn’t. But for Torres, who has seemed to have gone rabid with Zionism, that’s enough to fire up the virtual pitchforks and torches to go on the attack in what highlights everything wrong with political discourse today.

How can anyone expect civility when elected representatives act in such a way?

“I am a committed Zionist to the core. It is a belief that I hold deeply and I’ve held consistently for about a decade,” Torres told City & State.

Additionally, Torres claims to be the target of hate and harassment because of his stance on Israel and we have every reason to believe that. Social media can be unfairly relentless like that. But, if true, it would behoove the representative from New York to be aware of his actions and the impacts they can have on others, their careers, and/or their families. Instead, it seems Torres damaging someone’s personal life is the point – his way of making others pay for disagreeing with his views on Israel.

“There’s no issue on which I get more hate, harassment, and death threats than on the subject of Israel,” Torres said. “My office has been flooded with hate calls. There’s a concerted effort to intimidate elected officials like me from supporting Israel. And there are elected officials who allow themselves to be browbeaten into silence and submission” – Torres told the Times of Israel in April

Despite the attacks, Manríquez appeared unbothered while clapping back at Torres through art on social media.

Dear White Staffers also clapped back and highlighted Torres’ problematic behavior using several Capitol Hill staffer’s testimonials

Torres Silences Jews

For the most part, in news media, editors sometimes don’t want you to call a thing a thing because if you do, you’re likely to appear biased to readers. Because of this, you’ll see much softer terminology such as far-right activist instead of neo-Nazi or racist or xenophobe. Most also won’t refer to bigoted policies as what they are for the same reasons. Instead, they’re referred to as controversial decisions or laws.

People like Pablo don’t do that.

This is where we have to be honest with ourselves. Softening the ideas promoted in today’s politics reeks of some Klan-like shit from the 1950s to disguise what defines a racist (or a fascist). Donald Trump, Project 2025, MAGA-centered hate groups, and so much of the Republican platform are fascist and everyone should finally start calling it what it is.

Softening their images and ideas makes their behavior more palatable.

It also has the effect of making someone like Torres – who isn’t as bad as MTG, BoBo, or Trump – start acting in the same way as the worst Republicans out there because we live in a world where “well, he’s not as bad as…” logic rules the day. We recently watched Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) do the same thing. While not as bad as the other guy, Fetterman was elected as a progressive too. Torres, like Fetterman, seems to have abandoned his constituency in favor of trolling for a foreign government which has clearly become a priority for him.

Fetterman and Torres’ political shift to the right is seemingly based on a single issue: Islamophobia. It’s somewhat expected for a guy like Fetterman who once grabbed a loaded shotgun and chased a Black jogger in a predominantly Black neighborhood. His Islamophobia is nearly as apparent as his unchecked anti-Black prejudice.

But for Torres, it’s a bit of a surprise to see him not only attacking members of marginalized communities who try to bring attention to an atrocity but also his constituents. This makes the inherent Islamophobia behind his motivations even more obvious. Especially when he goes as far as denying Jewish members of his community a seat at the table to try and explain to him why his position whitewashing what’s happening in Palestine is wrong.

He even referred to those Jewish constituents of his as fringe and hate mongers.

Clickbait Politics

In May, investigative journalist Jacqueline Sweet posted an image of Torres being hosted at the home of far-right Trump supporter and PR exec Ronn Torossian. Torossian was arrested in early May for harassing a pro-Palestinian student encampment in Syracuse. Torossian was also outed in 2021 after he was found to be in New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ inner circle. In 2008, Torossian’s comments placed him firmly to the right of even Benjamin Netanyahu in what Jeffrey Goldberg called the lunatic fringe in The Atlantic.

“I think we should kill a hundred Arabs or a thousand Arabs for every one Jew they kill,” Torossian told the Atlantic in 2008. “If someone from a town blows himself up and kills Jews, we should wipe out the town he’s from, kill them all. The Israelis are suckers. They should have destroyed Jenin.”

Torossian writes op-eds for many news outlets and his hyperbolic language is quite similar to what Torres espouses on his personal X (formerly Twitter) account.

Which brings us to the question. Is the inherent Islamophobia that is typically behind false accusations of antisemitism what drives Torres to attack people with fraudulent accusations? If the old Spanish adage that says, “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are” holds, then yes, it would seem that is precisely what’s driving Torres.

It’s also likely that his growing association with people on the far-right is what inevitably drove him away from the Progressive Caucus. Many of his constituents have questioned his integrity and loyalty to his community ever since. For Torres, it seems massive donations from donors are more important than the people in his community. Rumor has it, that he thinks he could be president one day. But with his attitude, I highly doubt it.

It’s become clear that Torres does what he does for clicks and attention from people who can’t vote for him because they’re not from the Bronx. Instead, it seems like he’s trying to build a national base. But his attacks on his constituents, Jewish people, Arabs and Muslims, and now, reporters, show that his character isn’t much better than so many far-right shitheels.

It is that rabidity makes Torres like MTG and Trump more than anything else. Even more so when his followers fall in line behind him and copy his actions. His tactics are not new and he, like the rest of us, knows the impacts they can have. In other words, he knows exactly what he’s doing to people for disagreeing with him or calling him out. And despite the far-right normalizing the behavior, it is still unacceptable for lawmakers to target reporters with lies.

No reporter should be intimidated or have their careers threatened by elected officials. Ritchie Torres owes Pablo Manríquez a public apology.

The Antagonist Magazine is a project made up of journalists, activists, and writers focused on amplifying the stories of marginalized communities. The goal is to educate the public by sharing narratives focused on independent voices. Born of an online community in 2019, our platform operates independently; free of corporate influence. Please consider supporting the work of dozens of writers from various communities.

Arturo Dominguez

Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. He writes educational and informative material about systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice.

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