No, I’m Not That David Hogg
My fascinating and terrifying glimpse into the hatred of the alt-right
Valentine’s Day 2018 seemed like a perfectly normal day.
By the time I went to sleep, my world had gotten a little weirder and a lot uglier.
When there isn’t a global pandemic, I’m a freelance sportswriter. On the 13th, I covered a Red Wings-Ducks game for NHL.com and on the 14th I was scheduled to write about the Pistons and Hawks for the Associated Press. There had also been a Pistons game on the 12th, so this would be my third straight night at Little Caesars Arena.
Nothing unusual about that, but I hadn’t been sleeping well, so I decided to take a nap before heading downtown again. Just before I fell asleep, I starting seeing tweets about a school shooting in Florida.
I read what little information was available and made a tweet asking how long our country was going to accept a society where kids were getting killed for the crime of going to school. Sadly, it was a question I had asked many times in the past.
I’m a verified Twitter user and I had about 10,000 followers at the time, so the tweet got some attention. I’m very politically active on Twitter — Donald Trump had blocked me in June 2017 after the tweets quoted in this story — and gun reform was a very important issue for me.
By the time I woke up, it was obvious this was one of the worst school massacres in American history. I returned to Twitter and pointed out we are the only country in the world governed by a gun-manufacturer lobbying group. I also retweeted posts by some of Twitter’s best-known gun-control advocates, including Shannon Watts and Alyssa Milano.
I didn’t stay online long, because I had to get ready for work and then deal with rush-hour traffic heading to the Pizzarena. It’s not nearly as bad heading south, but at least an hour had gone by before I looked at my phone again.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably guessed what happened next. I had several messages from people who had just heard my name on the news, including a couple who had only heard a bit of the story and were worried I had been shot. My wife was also getting frantic messages asking if I was OK.
That’s how I discovered the existence of David Miles Hogg of Parkland, Florida. Over the next few hours, while trying to pay attention to the Pistons and Hawks, I learned how my namesake had filmed what he feared would be his final moments, doing an impressive job as a journalist. Later that night, I saw his interviews with the media and tweeted that, while I hadn’t known he existed until that afternoon, I was proud to share a name with him.
I’ve been through some crazy times as a journalist, including a campus bombing and the most famous riot in American sports history, but this was a 17-year-old speaking powerfully hours after an incomprehensible tragedy.
Over the next days and weeks, I was stunned by the impact David was having along with Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, Sarah Chadwick, his sister Lauren, and so many other Stoneman Douglas students. These were teenagers standing up for themselves against some of the nation’s most powerful elected officials and their paymasters at the NRA.
At the same time, a lot of gun nuts and militia members were finding a verified user on Twitter named David Hogg who tweeted about gun control, was blocked by President Trump, and knew Shannon Watts and Alyssa Milano. I don’t want to give them too much credit — my bio said I was a sportswriter in Detroit with a wife and daughter — but a large number of them jumped to the wrong conclusion.
Things turn ugly
I probably got my first death threat within 24 hours and it only grew from there. At its peak, almost every tweet I made — and I tweet a lot — would get replies ranging from insults to expressions of disappointment that I hadn’t been one of the victims.
I changed my Twitter bio to say I was a sportswriter from Detroit, not a high-school student from Florida, but it didn’t make a difference. I’d tweet something unrelated to guns or politics — something about the weather or the game I was covering — and the first comment would be someone saying the world would be a much better place if I had died with my friends.
I usually blocked them without a reply, but I did occasionally answer the people who said I was a crisis actor.
“You got me. I admit it. I wasn’t there.”
“I knew it! They paid you to show up! You don’t even look 18!”
“I really don’t. My beard is getting too gray. Besides, I’ve never been to Parkland.”
“Well, you were there after the shooting to talk to the media…”
“Not me. I’ve been to Florida, of course, but never south of Sarasota.”
“But you were there…”
That’s about as far as it ever got before someone would ask him — it always seemed to be a him — if my profile picture looked like a high-school student. It would get nasty at that point and I’d block him.
Literally the least I could do
People often asked me if it bothered me to get that kind of abuse, and my answer was always “no”. Getting death threats intended for someone else isn’t nearly as disturbing as getting one intended for you — that’s a story for another day — and I’d already been blocked by Trump for pointing out his lies. I didn’t have any popularity on the far right to lose.
There’s another reason. I figure every minute someone spent trolling me was a minute my namesake didn’t have to deal with it. It might have meant he got 99.7% as much as abuse as he would have otherwise, but I hope it helped a little.
Last year, someone asked me if I was still getting hate tweets directed at David, and I said it had taken about 18 months for it to really fade away. One of the kids — I think it was his sister Lauren — saw my reply and apologized for disrupting my life. I told her I didn’t mind, that she and her friends gave me hope for the future and I was happy to deflect any heat I could. David liked my reply.
That’s the answer to a question I get all the time, by the way. Have we ever interacted on Twitter? Yes — he liked one of my tweets. That’s it.
These days, I might get one misguided tweet every six weeks or so, but there was one last mass confusion event. This one was entirely my fault — I overestimated Twitter’s capacity to get a joke.
When he got accepted to Harvard, I got a couple of nasty messages asking who I had bribed to get into an Ivy League school. Without thinking it through, I quote-tweeted one of the snarky comments.
I thought I would get a few unpleasant replies. Instead, my notifications exploded with messages of congratulations, many of them including lovely sentiments about the work I hadn’t done since I wasn’t nearly killed.
I felt horrible — this was the first time people who liked my namesake had gotten confused. Meanwhile, all my friends were laughing and asking why I had blown up my own account.
Irritating the right on my own behalf
The courts forced Trump to unblock me in the fall of 2018, and I’ve gone back to pointing out the lies in his tweets. I’m also trying to elevate BIPOC voices and keep people informed about the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Michigan.
I’m glad to see David has been doing many of the same things, including his loud calls for people to wear masks — a subject important for my immunosuppressed wife and my diabetic self.
It has been more than two years since the Parkland shootings, but I’m still highly impressed by my namesake.