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Smear campaign against Shahid Buttar smacks of racism
“The Democratic Socialists of America San Francisco are about to ruin the political career of a Brown Muslim man based on no evidence at all because a bunch of mediocre Karens complained he was mean to them.”
— Gloria Berry, Chair, S.F. Democratic County Central Committee, Black Lives Matter Committee, in an Aug. 4, 2020, Medium post
When I worked at Apple during college it was not uncommon to see people go into the office of CEO Steve Jobs and come out in tears. Despite his reputation as a “mean boss,” Jobs is still considered by many to be the greatest CEO the world has ever known. Yet in far-left San Francisco clubs like the Democratic Socialist of America (DSASF), the SFBerniecrats and the Harvey Milk Club, unsubstantiated allegations of being a “mean boss” were enough to pull their support from progressive congressional candidate Shahid Buttar against establishment incumbent Nancy Pelosi — that is, after allegations that he sexually assaulted a white woman over 20 years ago didn’t pan out.
In 2020, Buttar, a Muslim immigrant, artist, and Stanford-educated constitutional lawyer, became the first Democrat since 1987 to face Speaker of the House Pelosi in a general election. Though he garnered just 22.4 percent of the votes, that was more than any other Pelosi challenger since she assumed her seat, and he was the first candidate to pass the 20 percent mark against her since 1990. His message resonated with progressive Democrats, and he likely could have come even closer if it weren’t for the false accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and office misogyny lobbed by the very same far-left Democrats who once passionately supported him.
On July 12, 2020, Washington D.C. comedian Elizabeth Croydon tagged renowned Black philosopher Cornel West in a cryptic tweet that read, “I’d like you to know that Shaid [sic] Buttar sexually harassed me and is friends w/ the ‘ex’ ‘gang banger’ who threw me into a wall disabling me for years…” In what seems like the oldest movie plot of all time, staffers who had parted ways with Buttar’s campaign reached out to Croydon, and on July 21 Croydon published an account called “Shahid Buttar Repeatedly Sexually Harassed Me.” Croydon claimed the harassment took place over 20 years ago when they lived in a communal home in D.C. for freelancers in activism and the arts. She goes on to say Buttar “cornered her in the kitchen,” “brushed against her,” and that he chided her for choosing celibacy, on one occasion screaming, “Don’t worry Liz, we’ll find someone to fuck you.”
Based on the tweet and Croydon’s account, in late July, DSASF circulated a draft resolution moving to rescind their endorsement and calling on Buttar to participate in a “restorative justice process” with the club, of which he and several of his current and former staffers were members. The resolution accused Buttar of “a pattern of abuse including but not limited to sexually inappropriate behavior with his staff and volunteers.” Local media outlets including the San Francisco Chronicle and Mission Local covered the effort without confirming the accusations. Buttar is currently suing the Chronicle.
The Intercept, a news outlet funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar in 2014, also covered the sordid tale, but did slightly more research into Croydon’s claims, later stating in an update that they were “not able to corroborate Croydon’s allegations and [had] interviewed multiple sources who recounted having disturbing interactions with her that caused them to question her credibility.”
During this same time, on July 25, 2020, blogger Jaqueline Anne Thompson published the first in a 6-part series about “Elizabeth Croydon’s ever-growing list of victims.” Thompson says after her initial post, more victims came forward. In each subsequent chapter, she helps another person tell their story about Croydon’s bizarre behavior. Each account is frightening, but the most terrifying of all is the account of a woman named Stacey Haines, a fellow comedian who let Croydon stay with her in Los Angeles and then could not get her out. In the beginning, Haines says things were fine. She even felt comfortable enough to tell Elizabeth the reason she had chosen to be celibate was because she was a sexual assault survivor. What was supposed to be a short stay, however, dragged on, with Croydon gradually taking over the apartment. When Haines was at her waitressing job, Croydon went through her personal belongings, including her journal. Finally, the landlord, who had run-ins with an erratic Croydon as well, changed the lock and told Haines to put Croydon’s things in the hallway, which she did — but that wasn’t the end of it.
Not only did Croydon stalk Haines at her job, but at the comedy club where they both performed, Haines says on several occasions Croydon mocked her for remaining celibate and yelled out, “We need to get Stacey fucked! Who will fuck Stacey? Anyone?” Haines says Croydon also started a rumor that she wasn’t a woman. “Elizabeth claimed I had a penis and that I cornered her and rubbed my breasts and penis up against her on a regular basis.” Haines was shocked to see Croydon describe her encounter with Buttar in the same way, as well as use her story about celibacy, writing, “she stole my experience as her own.”
After the story ran, Croydon herself confirmed it in a tweet — and went even further: “Stacey Haines is accusing me of sexual harassment /career sabotage in defense of Shahid Buttar. Stacey is related to Nazis-Her grandfather was an SS pilot. She also tried to make me touch her balls.”
Thompson said by the time she was done with her series, over two dozen people had contacted her to say they, too, had been victims of Croydon’s lies and harassment.
Patricia Brooks, founder of earned media firm MatchMap Media and a current Buttar campaign volunteer, says she and Buttar did overlapping work on the East Coast. “I lived in the D.C. area for 17 years and was pretty well known in those circles, and people from those circles came to me and said Liz has done this before. It was 20 years ago. Usually there are others who come forward — these things rarely happen in a vacuum. But no one did. Instead people came to me with concerns about Liz and not Shahid.”
‘A PRETTY BAD BOSS’
Apparently, the DSASF and other far left clubs that distanced themselves from Buttar couldn’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, but even without the damning accounts of other victims and Croydon’s own off-the-rail tweets, the story quickly fell apart. Shockingly, not one club acknowledged it nor apologized for pushing the resolution, pivoting instead to a new story — that Buttar was a bad boss.
“The only thing more alarming to me than being the target of racist accusations was watching the fragility of ‘progressives’ and ‘socialists’ in San Francisco lead them to double down and shoot the messenger even after the lies were exposed,” Buttar says.
Brooks, who is herself a survivor of sexual assault, was deeply concerned about members of the SFBerniecrats using the #MeToo movement to attack a Brown Muslim man. “I was a Bernie Sanders supporter way before he got in the race. Their group is part of our revolution, which is national. I decided to testify at their hearing about Shahid with my Bernie perspective,” Brooks says. “I told them if it was about treatment of staff, they should unendorse Bernie because way worse things were said about him being sexist.” SFBerniecrats then-Chairman Brandon Harami told Brooks she was “speaking nonsense” and told her to “get a life.” He also called her a “harasser” and deleted her post from a public forum. “I was trying to tell the truth,” Brooks says. “They don’t care about survivors. They don’t care about anything. It’s just a political game for them.”
Harami refused my Twitter invite to tell his side, instead taking to Medium in a post titled, “Seriously: The Left Doesn’t Need to Die on this Hill,” which confirmed his role in the Buttar rumormongering. “I heard it from multiple staffers that Shahid was a pretty bad boss for some time but bit my tongue because I had worked on campaigns before and know how stressful it is and because the staffers asked me not to say anything,” he writes. After agreeing “the sexual assault accusations were questionable,” Harami says the club “voted by a slim majority to recommend rescinding Shahid’s endorsement on the basis he operated a toxic work environment.” Still, a toxic work environment is a long way from sexual assault. “This is someone’s life. You can’t just call them a sexual predator and then say, ‘oh it’s false’ but we must move on for the sake of the movement,” Brooks says. “I have worked with Shahid very directly as a woman on the team for a year and a half. I like working with him. He is not a bad boss nor a sexist one, in my experience.”
In fact, there has been no credible evidence that Buttar ran a toxic workplace — not to mention, during the pandemic, meetings were held over Zoom. What does emerge is a portrait of immature, inexperienced former staffers conspiring to destroy his campaign — with a little help from the media.
PROGRESSIVE PRESS PROBLEM
Another disturbing element to this story is the way San Francisco’s so-called “progressive press” handled it: they ran with the Croydon and “bad boss” stories apparently without doing any research. You could give them the benefit of the doubt and call it laziness or assign a more sinister motive: complicity with the leaders of San Francisco’s Democratic socialist movement.
“To believe any of the various lies fabricated about me to mislead voters and insulate a corrupt establishment required journalists to ignore whistleblowers, disregard evidence, and overlook conflicts of interest among sources who were rewarded by the party establishment,” Buttar says. “Every local writer did exactly that, while several of them appear to have been getting paid under the table by a former tech executive with his own conflicts of interest that remained unreported for the past two years. These lies were concocted by a small number of self-serving political careerists, but ultimately, the entire party made itself complicit.”
The former tech executive Buttar mentions is William Fitzgerald, founder of The Worker Agency. On the website, Fitzgerald says he started the company after 10 years of public policy and corporate communications at Google. Fitzgerald, who handled PR for Buttar’s campaign, left in April of 2020 after his contract ended, only to become a quotable source for negative Buttar missives in the progressive press. In a July 21, 2020 article by Joe Eskinazi of the blog Mission Local, Fitzgerald said, “It felt to me, as a white guy, he listened to me a lot more than the women members of his team.” Of course, he didn’t give any examples and Eskinazi didn’t ask for any. The fact Eskinazi chose to quote Fitzgerald rather than Brooks, who took his place in the campaign, also seemed odd to Buttar and his supporters. They fired off a detailed list of factual errors to Eskinazi. “The reporting violated basic standards of journalistic ethics by failing to verify facts,” the letter states. “We did share further information with Mission Local that could have added to the public discussion but was unfortunately ignored.” The campaign also pointed out the odd timing. “Shahid was asked to respond to an embargoed press release that he never saw within an hour, yet somehow Mission Local was able to collect interviews with numerous staff and a PR firm in that time.” They asked for a retraction, which Eskinazi curtly refused.
Even more disturbing is Fitzgerald bragging on Twitter about paying people off for coverage: “The fear-mongering study is funded by Google. When I worked there, I funded studies like these all the time. Complete fabrication. Give a few hundred thousand dollars to a ‘think tank’ and they print whatever you want.”
In a highly unusual move for a PR firm, Fitzerald made donations to local news blogs including Mission Local, 48 Hills, and BrokeAss Stuart. “Thank you SOOOO much for all your support!” Stuart Schuffman gushed in a tweet about Fitzgerald’s donation. Schuffman later rescinded the BrokeAss Stuart endorsement of Buttar and promised to return the “unspent ad buy” money from Buttar’s campaign (though the campaign has no indication that Schuffman ever returned the money).
In another ethically questionable move, Fitzgerald hired Sasha Perigo, a former staffer who had been quoted in the press and loudly speaking out on social media. Though she only worked for the campaign briefly, Perigo went from enthusiastic supporter on Twitter (“I’d strongly encourage my comrades to *sole* endorse Shahid in this race!”) to frequent detractor (“While I didn’t experience or witness any sexual harassment on the campaign, I can confirm that I experienced a toxic workplace perpetuated by Shahid himself.”). If her name sounds familiar, in August of 2021, Perigo very publicly accused Jon Jacobo, an aspiring politico and member of the Latino Task Force, of rape (on Twitter).
I reached out to Fitzgerald for comment, but he never responded.
On Aug. 4 during a virtual meeting, DSASF passed a resolution removing the accusations of staff mistreatment and alleged sexual misconduct, simply stating they had “lost confidence in the management” of Buttar’s campaign “and in Shahid Buttar as a candidate that represents our values.” More than 40 DSA members, including state senate candidate Jackie Fielder and Supervisor Dean Preston, signed it.
“Among the many people who smeared me, none disappointed me quite as much as Dean Preston,” Buttar says. “I did as much as anyone to put him in office: I mobilized dozens of volunteers for him on more than one occasion, promoted him in media appearances, and even distributed his campaign literature on his behalf — yet as his constituent, he publicly accused me of serial misconduct without any attempt at discerning facts, and has never had the decency to either apologize or even acknowledge the whistleblower … Even DSA couldn’t stand behind the document that Dean Preston and Jackie Fielder signed, yet neither of them have ever explained themselves.”
Earlier that same day, Buttar’s former campaign manager, Jasper Wilde — who admitted to writing the original resolution — penned a Medium post claiming the campaign ended due to “allegations of sexual assault.” That was the first time the word “assault” was used, and it took the rhetoric to another level. Though she later changed “assault” to “harassment,” after someone “alerted her to the mistake,” the devil is in the details.
“I can go line by line through Jasper’s piece and point out lie by lie, each time hurting other women. She used her white lesbian status to mobilize LGBT club leadership toward racism,” Brooks says.
While Harami and fellow Berniecrats chair Brandee Marckmann claimed they didn’t take up the Croydon issue during their meeting, a Twitter post tells a different story.
Buttar’s most vocal detractors, including Wilde, Harami and Marckmann, embody the “white privilege” stereotype they rail against in their attempts to move up the political ladder. They spend hours on social media like a diabolic Mickey Mouse Club, bullying those who disagree with them while simultaneously and unironically claiming their movement listens to women and uplifts the voices of Black and Brown people.
Gloria Berry, an Afro-Latina grandmother, Navy veteran, and the only non-slate member elected to the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), says her voice was ignored by the leaders of the SFBerniecrats, Harvey Milk Club, and others. Berry says Raya Steier, a former Buttar field organizer and fellow DSASF member, was the one who called Croydon and reported back to the club. “Raya made it her business to say at that first DSA meeting, ‘Brown men rape.’ She suggested on the SFBerniecrats Facebook page that we use a mediator she knew who specialized in rape. Throwing the ‘R’ word around is not cool. We know when you want a dog whistle, these types of words are used.”
Steier, whose last name was Sarkar in India, first gained attention after listing the personal information of nearly 100 teachers at Indian universities who allegedly sexually harassed or assaulted students and, Brooks points out, “were Muslim men.” Despite the false narrative Steier pushed about Buttar and her claims about Muslim men in India, David Campos — former District 9 supervisor, vice-chairman of the California Democratic Party, and current state assembly candidate — later hired her. Wilde, meanwhile, was rewarded with a board membership position at the Harvey Milk Club.
Since the progressive press wouldn’t listen to her concerns, Berry wrote several well-documented essays about her experiences. In one disturbing instance, former finance director Emily Jones told Berry they “couldn’t support Shahid anymore,” going into details not yet made public about the Croydon accusations and alerting her that a Medium post by Croydon “would be coming out Monday.”
As if to bolster Croydon’s claims, Jones then told Berry that Buttar had asked her five times to get the number of a “blonde volunteer,” but in a series of text messages that volunteer says more than once “That’s false” as Jones tries to get her to say otherwise. “I’m not jumping on a smear campaign bandwagon,” the volunteer says. “And all of you pedaling these stories are biased ex-employees mind you. Check your bias.” Berry says the volunteer went to the press to expose the lies after they were published, but she was also ignored.
All of this has left Buttar stunned. “I grew up in rural Missouri, as part of the only immigrant family within 11 miles in any direction,” Buttar wrote on Twitter, “but the worst racism I’ve ever encountered was in 2020, right here in the proud progressive bastion of San Francisco.”
In the end, it was not Buttar who created a toxic environment, but a bunch of politically ambitious nobodies desperate for attention within their own fractured party — and who ultimately were too afraid to go against a mainstream force like Pelosi. For Steier and Wilde it worked out; for Harami, not so much. He lost his bid to become a California Democratic Party delegate, but later received the equivalent of a participation trophy from Campos, who appointed him Bay Area vice chair of the California Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus. He continues to attack Buttar and his supporters, including Berry. “Brandon hit me with the homophobe thing. I was livid. I also got hit with transphobe, and I’m not [either] of those things,” Berry says. Despite attacks from Buttar’s critics, Berry says she won’t back down. “I really got involved in this because I had a first-row seat and knew a lot of players in this, and I couldn’t stand by anymore … I don’t understand why no political clubs will publicly admit that they discovered the smear to be doubtful in official statements like the ones they put out amplifying it … nor do I understand why they always throw in ‘but’ when admitting their mistakes to redirect at other lies that have also been exposed. Shahid deserves an apology without any reservations for slandering his name, and voters deserve an apology for being targets of disinformation favoring the party establishment.”
As Harami said of Buttar, “the Left doesn’t need to die on this hill,” and he’s right. Instead, they are dying on Hypocrite Hill, letting false accusations about a Brown Muslim man sexually assaulting a white woman hang in the air, all the while standing by a gutted resolution that helped dismantle a historic congressional campaign. DSASF members boast about lifting Black and Brown voices, but they clearly don’t practice what they preach.
Email; firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Susan and the Marina Times on Twitter: @SusanDReynolds and @TheMarinaTimes