Bernie Sanders' online supporters are an irate mob of sexist trolls is the smear that just won't die, no matter how many times it is disproven. Bill Clinton, of all people, joined the fray on Sunday, accusing the Bernie Bros of "vicious trolling and attacks that are literally too profane—not to mention sexist—to repeat."
That's right: the former president—who has been the subject of numerous sexual harassment allegations over the years—now says the real sexists are the people criticizing his wife's policies.
Fully committing to the patently false idea that Sanders' supporters are uniquely nasty, TIME reported on Clinton's recent New Hampshire speech thusly:
Clinton also called attention to a collection of male Sanders supporters dubbed 'Bernie bros' who launch vitriolic attacks on Clinton supporters online in solidarity with the Senator's cause. Though the Sanders campaign has distanced itself from the "bros," Clinton suggested that Sanders supporters made it difficult for women to speak freely about his wife's campaign online.
Bloggers "who have gone online to defend Hillary, to explain why they supported her, have been subject to vicious trolling and attacks that are literally too profane often, not to mention sexist, to repeat," Clinton said Sunday.
It's true that some pro-Sanders social media users are trolls—there are troll-ish members of every online political movement, fan community, and social group. Some are better, some are worse, but there's very little to suggest that Sanders' people—dubbed "the Bernie Bros"—are notably awful. In fact, many of the most prominent examples collapsed under scrutiny. One of the comments made by a Bernie Bro—and held up by the pro-Clinton media as an example of Sanders-on-Clinton harassment—was actually the work of someone impersonating a Republican troll. Another anti-Clinton comment was made, not by a Bernie bro, but by a flesh-and-blood woman, which is hardly surprising, given that Sanders is doing much better with female voters than expected—he is actually beating Clinton among young women.
Matt Bruenig notes that the Bernie Bros media narrative has shifted over time: at first, the bros were merely thought of as overly enthusiastic, then they began to draw scurrilous sexism claims, and eventually they were accused of outright misogynistic harassment. At no point was the evidence particularly compelling. Bruenig observes:
The problem with shifting explanations and shifting descriptions is that they are usually signs of motivated dishonesty. When you tell me someone is bad because he did A and then later you say he didn't do A but he did B, and then later again you say he didn't do B but he did C, the natural inference is that you just don't like the guy, but that you aren't being forthcoming about why.
It isn't surprising that Bill Clinton doesn't like Sanders—he wants his wife to win. The same can be said for Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, who have recently criticized young women for backing Sanders over an actual woman (Steinem later walked her comments back a bit). These people are all, unsurprisingly, in the tank for Hillary. But they are wrong to pretend that women who make a different choice are traitors to their gender, or that men who make a different choice are all angry misogynists.
Perhaps it's even the case that some of Sanders' supporters are turned off by Hillary's long history of taking Bill's side over his numerous female accusers. Maybe that's not quite the pro-woman record Hillary would like to pretend it is.