Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders suggested Wednesday that online attacks attributed to his supporters, known as “Bernie Bros,” might be the Russians trying to “divide” Americans.
Sanders made the argument during the Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas after taking criticism for not doing more to prevent his supporters from attacking others online. (RELATED: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Blames ‘Internet Culture’ For Violent, Sexist Attacks From ‘Bernie Bros’)
“We have over 10.6 million people on Twitter and 99.9% of them are decent human beings, are working people, are people who believe in justice, compassion and love,” Sanders began, adding that the vast number of attacks and ugly remarks could really be attributed to a very small percentage of people.
“I disown those people, they are not part of our movement,” Sanders continued, noting that his own campaign staffers were not immune from attacks. “Let me also say — what I hope my friends up here will agree with — is that if you look at the wild west of the Internet, talk to some of the African American women on my campaign … And find the vicious, racist, sexist attacks that are coming their way as well. So I would hope that all of us understand that we should do everything we possibly can to end the viciousness and ugliness on the Internet. Our campaign is about issues. It’s about fighting for the working families and the middle class. It is not about vicious attacks on other people.”
Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg interrupted then, saying that while he believed Sanders did not direct any of the attacks, he also felt that the campaign should probably be doing some soul searching in light of the number of attacks coming from people who claimed to be Sanders supporters.
“But at a certain point you’ve got to ask yourself, why did this pattern arise? Why is it especially the case among your supporters?” Buttigieg asked.
“I don’t think it is especially the case, by the way,” Sanders replied.
“That’s just not true,” Buttigieg protested.
Sanders the turned the topic to Russia, adding, “Let me say something else, not being too paranoid. All of us remember 2016. And what we meant — what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our election. And divide us up. I’m not saying that’s happening. But it would not shock me.”
Buttigieg pushed back again, arguing that the acts of the followers could potentially be traced to inspiration in the campaign. “Leadership isn’t just about policy. I think, at least in broad terms, we’re largely pulling in the same direction on policy,” he concluded. “But leadership is also about how you motivate people to treat other people. I think you have to accept some responsibility and ask yourself what it is about your campaign in particular that seems to be motivating this behavior more than others.”