Nunes’ law­suit against Twit­ter par­ody ac­counts gives them more clout

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY KATE IRBY [email protected]­clatchy.com

Rep. Devin Nunes in a re­cent court fil­ing re­ferred to the par­ody so­cial me­dia ac­counts that taunt him on Twit­ter as a “weapon.”

His law­suit against them gave them even more am­mu­ni­tion to turn on him and other Repub­li­cans.

They’re us­ing it.

In re­cent weeks the anony­mous au­thors of par­ody Twit­ter ac­counts known as Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mom have em­ployed their now­mas­sive fol­low­ings to pro­mote Demo­cratic can­di­dates around the coun­try and to so­licit cam­paign dona­tions through the Demo­cratic fundrais­ing ma­chine known as Ac­tBlue.

They could be­come for­mi­da­ble as­sets for Nunes’ chal­lenger, Phil Ar­ballo, too. In fact, the cow has al­ready en­dorsed the Fresno Demo­crat.

An­drew Janz, lo­cal pros­e­cu­tor and a Fresno may­oral can­di­date who ran against Nunes in 2018, said he be­lieves the par­ody ac­counts will have a “huge” fundrais­ing im­pact for Ar­ballo’s cam­paign, cap­tur­ing both lo­cal and na­tional ap­petites to boot Nunes from of­fice.

“I think if these had been around dur­ing my elec­tion it ab­so­lutely would’ve boosted my fundrais­ing fur­ther,” said Janz, who raised more than $9 mil­lion in his 2018 cam­paign. “This is just a political stunt by Nunes, and I think we’ve cap­i­tal­ized on it.”

Nunes in March filed a law­suit in Vir­ginia that ac­cused the two par­ody ac­counts, Repub­li­can political strate­gist Liz Mair and the so­cial me­dia gi­ant Twit­ter of de­fam­ing him in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elec­tion. Nunes won the con­test against Janz by 5 per­cent­age points.

Nunes is su­ing Mc­Clatchy, the par­ent com­pany of The Fresno Bee, in a sep­a­rate law­suit he also filed in Vir­ginia. Mc­Clatchy has not yet been served with the com­plaint. The com­pany in­tends to fight the law­suit.

Nunes also is su­ing four Cal­i­for­ni­ans in Tu­lare County Su­pe­rior Court al­leg­ing they con­spired against him last year by chal­leng­ing his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of him­self as a farmer in ma­te­ri­als sent to vot­ers.

HUGE IN­CREASE IN TWIT­TER FOL­LOW­ERS

His law­suits swelled the so­cial me­dia au­di­ences for the anony­mous ac­counts he’s su­ing. The one that jok­ingly calls it­self his cow, @Dev­inCow, gained about 619,000 fol­low­ers since the fil­ing. It had only 1,000 be­fore Nunes named it in the first law­suit.

The other anony­mous ac­count that calls it­self the con­gress­man’s mother, @NunesAlt, gained al­most 50,000 fol­low­ers.

Nunes got a boost from his law­suits, too. He’s rais­ing money for his re-elec­tion cam­paign in 2020 at a fast clip, pick­ing up about $350,000 in dona­tions in the 13 days fol­low­ing his fil­ing of the Twit­ter law­suit. Nunes’ of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest seek­ing com­ment.

About 22 per­cent of adults in the U.S. use Twit­ter, ac­cord­ing to sur­vey re­sults by Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­leased in April 2019. Twit­ter users tend to be younger, are more likely to iden­tify as Democrats, are more highly ed­u­cated and have higher in­comes than U.S. adults over­all, ac­cord­ing to Pew.

It’s unar­guably an im­por­tant political space. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweets out poli­cies and per­son­nel de­ci­sions and it’s dif­fi­cult to find a cam­paign or mem­ber of Congress who doesn’t have a Twit­ter ac­count. Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-New York, has taught a class to other mem­bers of Congress on how to use the medium ef­fec­tively.

The par­ody ac­counts’ au­thors de­clined to dis­close their iden­ti­ties to Mc­Clatchy in re­sponses to ques­tions by email. Nunes in court doc­u­ments has spec­u­lated that they are con­nected to Mair, although Mair says they are not.

The au­thor be­hind the cow ac­count has known Nunes for some time, the writer told Mc­Clatchy. “He has al­ways been higher on him­self than is healthy,” the Twit­ter user known as @Dev­inCow wrote in an email.

Although their iden­ti­ties re­main con­cealed, the ac­counts are open about their de­sire to help one of Nunes’ chal­lengers un­seat him.

Both said they cre­ated the ac­counts be­cause they dis­liked Nunes and wanted to insert a dose of hu­mor into a chaotic on­line dis­course.

NunesAlt would tweet about be­ing em­bar­rassed by her “son” and write dirty jokes. Dev­inCow also cre­ated a char­ac­ter as a dairy cow sup­pos­edly on Nunes’ fam­ily’s farm in Iowa. It would fre­quently tweet puns and re­fer to Nunes as a “trea­sonous cow­poke.”

Dev­inCow has re­tained the puns, sign­ing ev­ery email with the hash­tag #BeBut­ter and pep­per­ing se­ri­ous re­sponses to ques­tions with the oc­ca­sional light­hearted ref­er­ence to a pas­ture, dairy, or moo­ing. The writer refers to the ac­count’s fol­low­ers as “The Herd.”

NEEDLING MITCH MCCON­NELL, LIND­SEY GRAHAM

After the law­suit, the anony­mous au­thors said they felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity to hold elected of­fi­cials ac­count­able.

“Sud­denly we could shout louder,” the cre­ator of the Devin Nunes’ Mom ac­count said in re­sponse to emailed ques­tions. “We both fo­cused a great deal on Nunes’ dis­trict ... We am­plify the voices of his vot­ers, who can­not ac­cess their rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Congress un­less they have a $2,700 check in their hands.”

The Devin Nunes’ Mom ac­count has had sev­eral tweets link­ing to a site to con­trib­ute to Ar­ballo’s cam­paign. “There IS a con­spir­acy to re­move @Dev­inNunes from of­fice, or as we like to call it: a free and fair elec­tion. Fol­low @PhilAr­ballo2020,” one such tweet reads, link­ing to Ar­ballo’s cam­paign Twit­ter ac­count.

Both ac­counts have tweeted sup­port for Amy McGrath, who is chal­leng­ing Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky; Jaime Har­ri­son, who is chal­leng­ing Sen. Lind­sey Graham, R-South Carolina; and op­po­nents of Sen. Su­san Collins, R-Maine, among other Democrats. Dev­inCow has tweeted the phrase “wel­come to the re­sis­tance,” and fol­low­ers of both com­monly ref­er­ence the re­sis­tance.

The Devin Nunes’ Mom ac­count has pushed for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Fran­cisco, to start im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Trump. They also tweet against Trump or Repub­li­can poli­cies such as sep­a­rat­ing chil­dren from fam­i­lies at the bor­der and lack of ac­tion on in­creased gun reg­u­la­tion.

The writer be­hind the Devin Nunes’ Mom ac­count wrote in an email that the two do not know each other per­son­ally. They have a joint fundraiser on GoFundMe for their le­gal ex­penses, rais­ing more than $15,000 of their $20,000 goal so far. The page re­minds peo­ple that the au­thors may be anony­mous, but they are real peo­ple with real le­gal ex­penses and a real need for at­tor­neys.

Fol­low­ers of both ac­counts say they en­joy the hu­mor of Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mom. They fol­lows also say they dis­like Nunes, and ap­pre­ci­ate the fac­tual in­for­ma­tion the ac­counts share.

It’s more dif­fi­cult to gain a fol­lower than keep a fol­lower on so­cial me­dia, and many credit their ini­tial fol­low­ing to Nunes’ law­suit.

“I fol­low Devin Cow be­cause it’s an act of de­fi­ance. When Nunes tried to sue a bunch of par­ody ac­counts I de­cided they must be worth a fol­low,” one Twit­ter user called @An­gel_ pon­ders wrote.

ALEX BRAN­DON AP

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tu­lare, rank­ing mem­ber of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee ques­tions for­mer spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller as he tes­ti­fies be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee hear­ing on his re­port on Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, on Capi­tol Hill in July.

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