US POLITICS

Bernie Sanders Supporters Are Pumping Out Conspiracy Theories

Saboteurs, moles and and a meddling presidential husband—is there something sinister behind the Sanders slump?
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(illustration: Tara Jacoby)
Mar 22, 2016 at 11:50 AM ET

There have been whispers of conspiracy from the Bernie Sander’s movement ever since the inspirational curmudgeon senator announced his candidacy for president. After all, the crusade is fueled by anti-establishment anger. But now that their momentum is slipping in the primaries and polls, those murmurs have grown into a roar and Berners are taking to social media and creating petitions to fight what they see as a corrupt system that is suffocating their revolution.

Reddit, Twitter and Slack have been integral platforms for the Sanders campaign, allowing young, enterprising supporters to galvanize and organize. But lately, those same forums that once festered with optimism and visions of a political utopia overshadowed by discussions about malevolent forces at play. Four theories in particular have become de rigueur in the last few weeks.

Theory 1: Hillary Clinton supporters have infiltrated the Bernie ranks

This theory picked up steam this weekend as a Reddit post suggesting high-level Sanders staffers who have ties to Clinton are sabotaging the campaign was upvoted nearly 3,000 times on r/politics. The post focuses largely on Aisha Dew, North Carolina state director for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and her alleged attempts to impair the campaign by cancelling events, neglecting bills, ignoring endorsements, removing ads and wrongly informing voters about precinct locations. The president of North Carolina College Students for Berne Sanders, Niko House, has been the most vocal about these allegations and has inspired a witch hunt against Dew, as several others have joined the investigation.

One Sanders supporter documented his detective work on the community blog caucus99percent. The online sleuth, Steven D., concludes,”it seems that there is more than enough smoke regarding Niko House’s allegations of misconduct to suggest there very well be a fire burning within the highest reaches of Sanders’ staff, and not only in the North Carolina campaign headquarters, but possibly other states as well that have not yet voted.”

Similar theories have developed around campaign efforts in North Carolina, Nevada, Michigan and Washington.

Theory 2: Hillary Clinton supporters are protesting and blaming Berners

The recent spat of riotous protests—like the one at the Chicago Donald Trump rally—seem to be organized largely by pro-Sanders activists. These media-grabbing disruptions have divided Sanders supporters and might have even slowed down Sanders’ momentum. On the berniebuilder Slack channel, where thousands of grassroots supporters organize and discuss the campaign, a few members have suggested that it was, in fact, the Clinton camp was behind the violent anti-Trump protest in Chicago.


This allegation is similar to a theory that bubbled up in August after a Black Lives Matters protestor took the mic from Bernie Sanders during a rally. “After seeing that supposed black lives matter activists have sabotaged two speeches by Bernie Sanders I can’t help but think that these so-called activists aren’t actually protesting at all,” redditor boonpoodle wrote. “I sincerely believe that these women are agents provocateur meant only to divide the left in an attempt to keep a self described socialist out of the White House… It’s possible they’re in the employ of Hillary Clinton or they may be on the Koch payroll.”

Theory 3: Bill Clinton is personally blocking the vote

After the Massachusetts caucus, Sanders supporters accused former President Bill Clinton of violating Massachusetts polling laws by visiting a polling station in Boston. The state statute prohibits campaigning within 150 feet of voting location. Veronica Wolski, a Sanders supporter in Chicago created a petition on Change.org calling “for the immediate arrest of President Bill Clinton for clear, knowing and egregious violation of the campaign laws to swing an election in a significant way.”

The petition has drawn more than 117,000 signatures. A similar WhiteHouse.gov petition was signed more than 81,00 times

Sanders supporters discussed the legalities and technicalities of Clinton’s visit in an extensive Reddit megathread, where some redditors went so far as to check the exact latitude and longitude of Clinton’s positioning in videos and photos from the event. Within that thread, several redditors also suggested that Clinton caused traffic that prevented Sanders supporters from voting and redditor nvrmind_tht_was_dumb encouarged others to spread the message with the hasthtag #MoveBillGetOutTheWay. That hashtag soon started trending and is now used whenever Sanders supporters think Bill Clinton is going to interfere with polling.

Theory 4: All-out voter fraud

Perhaps the most popular theory is that Hillary Clinton is gaming the system. A Vocativ search of the of the March 15th Primary Election Results Mega Thread alone turned up dozens of mentions of election rigging.


There might be some truth in that last post.