There’s a good piece by Terence Blacker, who lived next door to Twitter death threat loon Frank Zimmerman. It is, as Blacker says, an interesting story and kind of sad. Zimmerman comes off as a bourgeois family man who went off the rails. Blacker knew him in the 1980s when he was trying to set up a consultancy. They lost touch, until Zimmerman called him up a few years ago.
If I remember rightly, he was in search of professional advice. He told me that he was writing now – people had often told him he had a talent for comedy. His voice was as chirpy and confident as ever but, as the conversation progressed, it became clear that something was awry. He spoke of his friendship with Charles – Prince Charles. He had been left several million pounds in Princess Diana’s will, he said.
I didn’t. Frank said he would ask Hugh – Hugh Grant – next time he played golf with him. He was living in Provence, he said, and when I asked where, he said, ‘Hang on. Darling, where do we live?’ He was living with a young French girl these days, he explained. She was called Marie-Claude.
So it went on. He was writing a lot now, and liked to contribute to message-boards. He mentioned that he had had his say beneath Hugh Grant’s ‘The bugger, bugged’ piece in the New Statesman, both under his own name and, amusingly (he thought) under the name ‘Henry Root’, the enraged fictional letter-writer created by the late Willie Donaldson. I checked later, and there were his messages – angry, feebly facetious, but not that different, to tell the truth, from others on the same board.
Later, Blacker got the same kind of death threat emails Louise Mensch received. He recognised Zimmerman’s style, and alerted Mensch. Police raided Zimmerman’s home, which was apparently in a state of some disrepair.
Zimmerman had emailed Louise Mensch and said, this:
Subject: You have been HACKED 😀
Louise Mensch, nee Bagshawe, the slut of Twitter.
We are Anonymous and we don’t like rude cunts like you and your nouveau riche husband Peter Mensch. You have been hacked!
We are inside your computer and all your phones, everywhere … and inside your homes.
So get off Twitter.
We see you are still on Twitter. We have sent a camera crew to photograph you and your kids and will post it all over the net, including Twitter. Cuntface.
You now have a Sophie’s Choice. Which kid is to go? One will, count on it cunt.
Have a nice day
From all of us at MIT 617-253-1000.
Zimmerman was convicted this week and got six months, suspended. He was also banned from contacting Mensch on a restraining order which also named various high profile figures including General Petraeus, who commanded the US Army in the Iraq ‘surge’ phase.
It’s always a moment of deep dismay when you realise that someone close to you has gone delusional – there’s a lurch in your heart when your friend starts talking about mercury poisoning or a certain email sent to members of a certain ethnicity on a certain day in September 2001.
Blacker’s article is a well written human story.
However – and maybe I’m reading too much into this – the note of sympathy in the piece grated with me.
We always imagine that internet haterz are lonely and bitter people. Or young thugs on council estates. That’s not necessarily true. They could be respectable men of the shires with families and businesses behind them. Blacker is right to say that there are plenty of Frank Zimmermans out there.
Clearly Zimmerman had some real disappointments in his life. He does claim to be an agoraphobic and apparently ordered all his groceries online. Unfortunate. But I don’t like the assumption that any criminal act can be rationalised by past troubles, or traced to the ‘root cause’ of mental illness. I was agoraphobic for a year and a half and at no point did I threaten to kill anyone’s children, or send inappropriate tweets to female politicians. What annoyed me about the ‘racist tram woman’ case was people saying ‘Oh, she must have terrible mental health problems.’ A remaining myth about the mentally ill is that we are all potentially violent sociopaths who could ‘snap’ at any second. The liberal argument on crime directly undermines the liberal argument on mental distress.
Perhaps my hangover is getting to me or perhaps it’s true that you do get more conservative as you get older. Perhaps I’m just tired of Britain’s self pity culture.
I just think people should take a little more personal responsibility.
We all have disappointments and sadnesses, traumas and reversals.
It’s how we react to them, that counts.