A resolution condemning a persistent deluge of antisemitic and homophobic attacks targeting state Sen. Scott Wiener, and urging technology companies to do more to control hate speech online, passed unanimously at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.
But hours later, in a move that shocked and exasperated Wiener, his staff and the resolution’s advocates, eight of the 11 city supervisors withdrew their support. They cited, among other things, the resolution’s narrow focus on one elected official’s experience, and its proximity to an upcoming election.
“I cannot imagine why anyone would pass up the opportunity to condemn antisemitic and homophobic slurs,” Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who introduced the measure on Sept. 15, said in a statement to J. “As San Franciscans we must stand together in the face of hate and denounce it wherever it occurs.”
The resolution, “Condemning Antisemitic and Homophobic Attacks on Senator Scott Wiener,” was greenlit early in the meeting, sailing through alongside a resolution urging the governor to extend eviction protections, and one recognizing a “national week of remembrance” for lives lost to Covid-19.
But in the ensuing hours, a tough debate over the city’s $14-billion budget transpired, during which Stefani criticized the budget proposal and ultimately voted against it. She was the only supervisor to do so. Stefani could not “in good conscience” support the plan and called it “irresponsible,” according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Supporters of the resolution, including Wiener, suggested that the board’s rescinding of the earlier vote was motivated in part by political payback for Stefani’s tough stance on the budget.
The supervisor, who represents District 2 encompassing the Marina and Presidio, often is the lone dissenting vote on the board, according to Chronicle reporter Trisha Thadani, who covers City Hall.
But the eight supervisors who moved to table the measure say they did so after questions were raised about its focus on a single official, and said they wished to expand its scope to condemn other forms of bias, such as racism and misogyny.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who is Jewish, spearheaded the measure to rescind near the end of the hours-long meeting conducted over Zoom.
“I’ve struggled with this,” Peskin told the board, resulting “in me making this late-in-the-evening motion.”
Peskin, who sparred with Stefani during the budget deliberations, according to the Chronicle report, described attacks on elected officials as commonplace.
“I have been and can produce any number of remarkably hateful, antisemitic attacks by email, in person, and on the street,” said the supervisor, who represents District 3 encompassing North Beach, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square. “After 20 years, I know how to suck it up, and hang with it,” he said.
“But when we’re in the middle of an election cycle, and it’s being applied to one candidate for one office, and not another candidate for another office, both of whom are proud Jewish people — I actually would like my name added,” Peskin said.
Wiener, a state senator since 2016 who served on the Board of Supervisors himself for five years, today finds himself facing a tough primary challenge on the left from Jackie Fielder, a young Democratic Socialist.
Supervisor Dean Preston, also a Democratic Socialists of America member who won his seat representing District 5 in December, mentioned Fielder in his vote to rescind the earlier tally and table the resolution until next week.
“If one had come forward with a resolution around the numerous attacks launched on Jackie Fielder, who’s a candidate for office [and a] Latina, queer, indigenous person… I think that would likely not be appropriate,” he said, adding that he remained unsure.
Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer of District 1 also voted to rescind the earlier vote, advocating for the resolution to be amended to include other forms of bias.
“Could we also include racist attacks?” she said. “Quite frankly I’ve been subject to that, as the only woman of color on this board.”
Wiener, a gay, Jewish man who told J. he has experienced public and private attacks throughout his career, said recently they have become “dramatically more intense.”
The text of the resolution describes “more than 10,000 hateful attacks” pouring into Wiener’s inbox and social media accounts since August (including some sent to his elderly parents, his office said). He’s received “more than 1,000 death threats,” the resolution states, many of which Wiener has referred to state police.
Screenshots of the messages show vitriolic anti-gay and antisemitic slurs, including from supporters of the QAnon conspiracy network and the Boogaloo Boys, an online anti-government group. In May, one of its followers, 32-year-old Steven Carrillo, ambushed two security officers in Oakland with gunfire, killing one.
In the messages, nearly all of them anonymous, Wiener repeatedly is called a “pedophile”; one calls him a “gay jew” trying to “normalize pedophilia,” and many depict Wiener with anti-Jewish cartoon stereotypes. One Twitter message sent to the state senator reads: “this is why holocausts happen.”
The outbursts began after Wiener introduced legislation to allow more judicial discretion in pedophilia cases, so heterosexual and homosexual crimes would be treated equally. The bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month, but not before capturing the attention of fringe right-wing websites, as well as more mainstream conservative news outlets including Fox News and Breitbart.
All published inflammatory, often misleading headlines, such as a recent one from Breitbart: “Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Bill Reducing Penalties for Sodomy with Minors.”
Popular right-wing political figures such as Rush Limbaugh, Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr. trumpeted similar narratives to their millions of followers.
In a statement to J., Wiener shared his disappointment that this week’s measure did not pass as written and attributed its delay to petty political infighting.
“It’s important for San Francisco to be unequivocal in its condemnation of homophobia, anti-semitism, and death threats against public officials,” Wiener wrote.
“It’s disappointing that a simple resolution affirming that core value was tanked due to political retaliation against a budget vote. I’m deeply grateful to Supervisor Stefani for stepping up to defend our LGBTQ youth — and to end their criminalization — and to call out QAnon for the avalanche of death threats I’ve received.”
He said he was grateful to board president Norman Yee and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for standing with Stefani in voting against the motion to rescind.
During the Tuesday meeting Mandelman, who is also gay and Jewish, rebuffed Peskin’s argument that the resolution should be broadened to include any supervisor who had come under attack.
“With all due respect, my straight colleagues are generally not called pedophiles,” Mandelman said.
In a phone call with J. on Wednesday, Wiener communications director Catie Stewart, who is Jewish, said the failure of the measure to pass was shocking to her personally, and dispiriting; she has spent hours reading the vicious attacks sent to Wiener on a daily basis.
“Frankly it’s hurtful having to spend all this time sorting through these death threats against him and his family. They’re endless,” she said. “They couldn’t even pass this [resolution]. All the equivocating on this — it’s really gross.”
Peskin and Fewer did not respond to requests for comment in time for this article. A spokesperson for Preston told J. in a statement that the supervisor “condemns the anti-Semitic and homophobic attacks on Senator Wiener,” but “the timing of this resolution — two weeks before ballots drop in Sen. Wiener’s election campaign — raises obvious questions. We have asked [the] City Attorney to advise what board rules allow in this context before we vote,” the statement read.