She Slayed Her Gamergate Trolls — Now She Wants To Bring Her Fight To Congress

Photo: Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe/Getty Images.
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Brianna Wu is best known for battling vicious attacks from internet trolls during the Gamergate controversy. Now, the game developer wants to bring her fight to end harassment and sexism online and IRL to Washington.
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Wu, 39, is challenging longtime Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch in a Boston-area congressional district. The outspoken activist, podcaster, and prolific tweeter is the underdog in the race. But to her, that’s part of the appeal.
“I think any woman standing up and refusing to sit down has so much power for all of us,” she says. “And that’s what I want to be in this race: a candidate that stands up and says, you pushed me too far. We’re going to have a fight now.”
The Democratic candidate spoke to Refinery29 about her bid and what she wants to change in the nation’s capital.
One of your slogans is “she fought the alt-right and won.” What connection do you see between the political alt-right and that online gaming community you went up against?
“It’s exactly the same group. This group is taking angry white male resentment and trying to turn it into a political force. The FBI had Gamergate members that confessed to their crimes, and they declined to prosecute them. There’s no consequence for telling someone you’re going to kill them or murder them, which is why this behavior is so widespread now.”

The only thing we can do from here is change policy. I did everything right. I handed [law enforcement] the case on a silver platter, and they did not give a damn.

Brianna Wu
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How do you put a stop to all that?
“The only thing we can do from here is change policy. I did everything right. I handed [law enforcement] the case on a silver platter, and they did not give a damn. Representative Katherine Clark has two bills that are just no-brainers in terms of prosecuting these things. One is an anti-doxxing bill. The other is making “swatting” a federal crime. If this male-dominated Congress doesn’t consider it a priority, I do. And I will pass it.”
Representative Clark has put these issues forward, but they’re not getting traction. How do you change that?
“You change the Congress. I don’t see Nancy Pelosi out on the House floor talking about this stuff. The truth is, if it’s not a priority, they need to go.”
Does that disqualify Pelosi from being Democratic leader, in your opinion?
“Considering that I might be working with her in 2018, I’m not going to blast her publicly.”
What about the private sector. Are there changes you want to see from tech companies and social platforms?
“My goal is to hold hearings on sexism in tech — bring in Reddit and bring in Uber and bring in some of these video game institutions that refuse to hire anyone who is not white, straight, and male, and have them explain themselves before Congress.”
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First lady Melania Trump has said she wants to make cyberbullying a priority. Would you work with her on it?
“If Melania Trump called me tomorrow, I would happily fly to Washington, D.C. and talk with her. It’s part of being a leader. But I’ve never seen anything from her that makes me feel she really understands the issue.”
On the topic of working across the aisle, I read you switched parties in your 20s.
“I grew up in Mississippi, in a hyper-right family. I went to church three times a week and went to private Christian schools until 10th grade. I changed parties when I was 23. I’ve always felt it made me a better candidate. I don’t think people on the left who have always been leftist genuinely understand conservative thought. I consider this an advantage. I can talk to people I disagree with with respect because I used to be one of them.”

Do you think my opponent can go out there and swap out the parts of his manual transmission? I don’t believe he can.

Brianna Wu
So would you say you understand Donald Trump’s voters and the movement that led him to being elected?
“I beyond understand it. I grew up in the poorest state in America. I understand the resentment that Trump feeds into that makes him so wildly popular with those people. There used to be someone at my company who went to Harvard. He pulled up [at my house one day], and I was up underneath my car, changing my own oil. He was like, ‘Why on Earth would you do that?’ This blue-collar skill was disgusting to him. That is an unconscious bias that a lot of liberals have. It is part of why red state people don’t feel respected. We have to push back on big issues, like racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism and Islamophobia. But looking down their nose at people who like NASCAR is so counterproductive. Frankly, it’s obnoxious.”
How does that inform how you’re running your campaign?
“The district I’m running in is very blue-collar. If you look on my Twitter feed, I have a lot of stuff on there about restoring my 2001 Audi, a very classic sports car. Do you think my opponent can go out there and swap out the parts of his manual transmission? I don’t believe he can.”
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You also sent a tweet saying the false narrative that running for office is terrible is meant to discourage people from entering politics. What’s it really like?
Straight talk about running for office: 90% of it is going out and talking to voters. It is an honor and it is unbelievably humbling to get to hear the stories of people who are being failed by policies. There’s BS, certainly. I don’t like the increased death threats. I don’t like it when far-right blogs go after me. But any job has its static, and almost everything I do is fun and inspiring.”
Dealing with those threats must be hard for your family.
“It’s very stressful for my husband, and it’s stressful for our marriage. But he supports and believes in what I’m doing”
I know other women who’ve struggled with the idea of putting their family through a campaign. What can be done about that?
“One of my very top priorities is going to be to change some of the Federal Election Commission laws that don’t allow you to draw a salary from your campaign while running. It makes it impossible for almost anyone who is not very privileged to run and win. We can survive financially with me doing a campaign. But these FEC laws they are written with a paradigm that almost assumes the person running is a millionaire.”

I don’t like the increased death threats. I don’t like it when far-right blogs go after me. But any job has its static, and almost everything I do is fun and inspiring

Brianna Wu
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I’ve heard young prospective candidates question whether they can afford to run. But how would you guard against fraud in that scenario?
“Think about this: We talk so much about diversity. What about diversity in Congress? There’s no way a single mother could run for office. Also, running for office requires meeting so many people: I don’t think an introvert would particularly enjoy this. The system excludes so many people. It makes you that much more convinced that you have to have public financing of an election.”
Another big part of running for office is fundraising. Your first quarter fundraising reports are due soon. How much have you raised?
“I can’t say. We started working with ActBlue and some other people. We’re really going to hit fundraising next quarter. I’ve got to raise a few million dollars to be competitive. The extent of my fundraising work has been to send a few tweets and emails. I haven’t done enough work there.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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