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Bush vs Clinton 2: How two political dynasties captured the American people

Is America so shorn of fresh leadership and ideas that it is rerunning old elections?

It was the one question Jeb Bush knew was coming and would keep coming. Would he, like his brother, have invaded Iraq? Yet it took Jeb – the third Bush to make a run for the White House – five stabs over four days in May to come up with a coherent answer. He glided from telling Fox News that he’d have ordered US troops into Iraq even ­knowing what we know now, through ­claiming to have misunderstood the question, to admitting that “mistakes were made”.

Eventually, he settled on a final answer. “Knowing what we know now . . . I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq,” he said. This was not how it was supposed to be in the lead-up to the launch of Jeb’s campaign for the presidency on 15 June. He had expected to be cruising towards the Republican nomination and a showdown in November 2016 with Hillary Clinton. But a series of embarrassments, including the revelation that he once falsely claimed he was of Latino origin, and a headstart by Republican rivals, has left Jeb scrambling to reassert his claim to be the party’s inevitable candidate.

Hillary, too, has had to grapple with setbacks of her own making. But a Jeb-Hillary showdown for the White House next year is still the most likely outcome of the tortuous primary season. And it is a prospect that both excites and depresses Americans.

Some see it as evidence of the bankruptcy of US politics. Of a country so shorn of fresh leadership and ideas, and so disillusioned with the failure of the present resident of the White House to deliver on hope and change, that it is rerunning old elections. Political pundits groan that it will alienate young voters even further.

Then there’s the disturbing whiff of dynasty in a republic. If Hillary or Jeb is elected, there will have been a Clinton or Bush as the president or his deputy in every administration over the four decades to 2021 – with the exception of Barack Obama’s eight years. (And Hillary was still firmly on the scene then, coming close to securing the Democratic nomination in 2008 and serving in Obama’s cabinet.)

Even Barbara Bush, married to one ex-president and the mother of another, has spoken against a third member of her family taking a shot at the White House. “I think this is a . . . great country and if we can’t find more than two or three families to run for high office, that’s silly,” she told C-Span, the cable and satellite channel covering Congress, early last year. “I think that the Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes – there are just more families than that.”

Adding to the hint of dark comedy is that the Bushes and Clintons have become so close – George W calls Bill his “brother from another mother”; Bill reportedly regards George H W Bush, president for a single term from 1989, as a father figure; and Jeb presented Hillary with a freedom medal last year – that the race smacks of an inter­familial spat.

 

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Hillary, 67, has the significant advantage of a historic effort to become the US’s first female president. She is already a well-known public figure who has the advantage of a popular husband – Bill’s presidency is regarded favourably by two-thirds of Americans, particularly because it was a time of economic prosperity – and has established herself as a political force in her own right. The family name also carries with it remarkable fundraising capacities.

Many Democratic voters feel she has earned the right to be their party’s presidential candidate after losing out to Obama in 2008. The polls suggest that Hillary is in a stronger position to take the nomination than she was eight years ago. Although she was touted as the front-runner in 2008 until Obama crept up, polling shows her commanding much greater support among Democratic primary voters now. The socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, has launched a rival campaign which is already shifting the debate within the Democratic Party and dragging Hillary a little to the left. But she retains a commanding 45-point lead over him.

Like her or not, and Hillary elicits unusually high “very unfavourable” ratings, few question her intellect or political nous. But her sincerity is open to challenge after four decades in which she has repeatedly shifted position with the political winds. More than half of those questioned in a Quinnipiac poll on 17 June in Florida – a crucial state in the election – said they do not regard Hillary as “honest and trustworthy”, whereas the majority trust Jeb.

Hillary was in favour of the invasion of Iraq, against gay marriage and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, until she changed her mind on those and a slew of other issues. She angered progressives in the 1990s by supporting her husband’s cuts to welfare and was seen as far too close to Wall Street after she was elected a senator for New York in 2000.

The image of elitism has inconveniently persisted just as income inequality is becoming a political issue. Last year Hillary complained of being “dead broke” after she and Bill left the White House, even though they were soon pulling in millions of dollars. The couple, like the Blairs, have not shied away from the opportunity to rake in cash. Hillary has been forced to deny that the large sums of money the Clinton Foundation accepted from foreign governments, notably Saudi Arabia, had an influence on her decisions as US secretary of state. What should have been an asset – the foundation is involved in a range of causes, from combating Aids and promoting education for girls to economic empowerment – has become a political embarrassment.

The sense that Hillary is not trustworthy and has something to hide was compounded by the revelation in March that she set up her own server to store emails as US secretary of state. It also plays into the impression that she is an elitist who regards herself as being above the rules. Ultimately, Hillary comes across less as an inspiring leader than as a brand to be managed.

 

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For Jeb, the path to power is trickier. The Bush dynasty attracts influential support, but the name is also a drag, associated not just with the Iraq debacle and economic turmoil but, for many Republicans, with the betrayal of conservative fiscal values.

Moreover, the Republican field is much wider than the one for the Democrats. Even before Jeb declared, ten other candidates had jumped into the race, including two repeat offenders, the Texas ex-governor Rick Perry and the former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Jeb is unlikely to lose much sleep over them, but he will worry about the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, and the Florida senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban American who can steal his thunder on his home turf.

With the Bush family political machine behind him, Jeb has a large campaign chest, said to be close to $100m, a crucial asset in a long contest. But he faces the prospect of a politically bloody showdown just to get the nomination. He got a taste of it at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in February when he was booed by grass-roots activists who dismiss him as “too moderate”.

Republican candidates on the hard right, such as the junior Texas senator, Ted Cruz, also pose a threat because they are likely to shift the debate to issues, such as immigration and education, which turn many Republican voters off Jeb.

Yet far from shying away from the confrontation, Jeb, 62, appears to be setting the stage for a showdown that could make or break his presidential ambitions, and his party, in 2016. In December, he said that Republican candidates must be willing to “lose the primary to win the general” election – a forthright challenge to the conservatives and Tea Party voters who turn out in higher numbers in the primaries.

“It’s going to be a challenging primary but he’s going to run unafraid to lose,” says Jorge Arrizurieta, a close family friend in Miami who served in George W’s administration and shares office space with Jeb. “What he’s saying is we’re going to have to accept that there are positions and issues that we have historically embraced that are not going to make sense to continue to ­embrace. And we’re going to have to change the messaging and the tone if we’re going to win the next election.”

To the Republican establishment, Jeb – who is married to a Mexican, speaks impeccable Spanish and was governor of heavily Hispanic Florida for eight years – offers the enticing promise of dragging his party out of its cul-de-sac of ethnic politics to win enough of the rapidly growing but alienated Latino vote to decide the election.

His home state, the third most populous in the US and the most closely fought of the swing states, will loom large through the contest. Florida’s electoral college votes form 10 per cent of the total any candidate must secure to win the presidency. Victory in the state’s tainted ballot 15 years ago put George W in the White House. Obama took Florida in 2012 with a majority of less than 1 per cent of the vote in the state over Mitt Romney. The Republicans must reclaim Florida next year to win the presidency.

Jeb may be the Republicans’ best shot to do so. The Quinnipiac poll of crucial swing states gave Hillary a substantial lead over most potential Republican contenders in Florida, but showed a much tighter race against the native sons Jeb and Rubio.

Yet Jeb faces the formidable challenge of escaping his brother’s legacy. Running against a Clinton somewhat offsets the dynasty issue, but there will be no escaping the pressure to renounce an array of George W’s policies, from economics to Iraq.

“He has to show people why he isn’t just ‘the next Bush’. He’s going to have to prove he isn’t Dubbya,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Centre for Politics. “How exactly does Jeb Bush attack Hillary Clinton on economics when the obvious retort is ‘your brother left the country in the worst recession since the Great Depression’? It tends to discredit your economic ideas.”

 

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Jeb has not helped his cause by appointing George W as a top foreign policy adviser and surrounding himself with many of his father’s and brother’s foreign policy and security aides, including Paul Wolfowitz, a neocon architect of the Iraq policy, two former homeland security chiefs and two former CIA directors.

As Jeb seeks to define himself less as the swaggering Texan cowboy than the culturally attuned idealist naturally at home in melting-pot Miami, his views and experience are already coming under scrutiny from the Hillary camp and Republican rivals. He left Houston because of the racism his wife, Columba, endured and found a home among the conservative, business-minded anti-Castro Cuban exiles who came to remake Miami’s culture and politics.

Florida is the one place where Jeb Bush is already unequivocally regarded as his own man. He remains one of the state’s most popular politicians after his eight years as governor, not least for his competence in confronting a series of hurricanes, in contrast to his brother’s bungling of Katrina’s 2005 assault on New Orleans.

“The country has low expectations [of Jeb],” says his family friend Jorge Arrizurieta. “A large number of Americans think they know him and they don’t. But that could be as much an opportunity as a challenge in this election. He ended leaving office with one of the highest approval ratings of any former governor in Florida.”

Arrizurieta, whose office wall is decorated with pictures of generations of Bushes as well as Ronald Reagan, treads delicately around the perception that Jeb is the brighter of the brothers.

“If I were to distinguish them, I’d say it’s the obsession on preparedness [sic] and the obsession on being knowledgeable. I’m not suggesting that President Bush [George W] is not interested in being knowledgeable or is not prepared but I don’t think that it’s to the level where Jeb’s at,” he said. “Jeb is as firm, as clear, as unequivocal as George W Bush might be accused of not being.”

Indeed, his opponents generally pay tribute to his intelligence and intricate grasp of policy issues. “Anybody who underestimates Jeb Bush does it at his own peril,” says Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who ran Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign in Florida. “He’s an exceptionally bright guy.

“He’s a policy wonk. He knows his stuff. If you talk to people that worked for him as governor, he had staff but he viewed himself in many ways as the smartest person in the room. He probably frequently was the smartest person in the room.”

But Florida also lays bare a depth to Jeb’s ideological conservatism to which most Americans are yet to be exposed, including, ironically, those on the right of the Republican Party who accuse him of being too moderate, or a Rino: a Republican In Name Only. Hillary’s backers are already starting to shine a light on parts of his record that suggest he is a more deeply ideological conservative than much of America realises.

In 1994 Jeb lost the race for Florida governor against the Democratic incumbent, Lawton Chiles, following a campaign in which he described himself as a “head-banging conservative” ready to “club this government into submission”.

“He ran that election not only as a head-banging conservative but almost an off-the-tracks conservative,” says Dan Gelber, who became a high-ranking Democrat in the Florida legislature during Bush’s tenure as governor. “One of his primary criticisms of the governor was he was not signing death warrants fast enough, that Lawton Chiles wasn’t executing people quickly enough for him. That’s a pretty right-wing view to use as a campaign position. He made ideological issues like abortion touchstone issues that are the right wing’s bread and butter.”

Jeb said that women receiving welfare assistance should “get their life together and find a husband” to support them. He ­objected to legal protections from discrimination for gay people, arguing that “we have enough special categories, enough victims”, and said the proposed legislation endorsed “sodomy”. He also had the catering staff at a fundraiser remove Aids ribbons because they were a “political statement”.

Perhaps the remark mostly likely to return to haunt him was his response to a question about what he would do for African Americans as Florida’s governor. “Probably nothing,” he replied. Not only did he lose, but he did so in a year when Republicans swept the board in other parts of the country and seized control of the US House of Representatives.

 

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John “Mac” Stipanovich was Jeb’s campaign manager in 1994. Stipanovich drew national notoriety six years later for advising Florida’s then secretary of state, Katherine Harris, on the “hanging chad” vote recount that put George W into the White House instead of Al Gore.

“George W was running for governor in Texas at the same time, so to differentiate Jeb – in effect brand him – we were very specific about any number of issues that were important at the time, and Jeb was very conservative,” says Stipanovich, who also ran the Reagan-Bush presidential campaign in Florida in 1984. “By being so specific, what it also did was enable our opponents to lash out at him, chip away at what we were doing, and ultimately they were successful.”

The lesson that Jeb drew from the campaign was to shield his less palatable views from voters.

“I’m making the numbers up but back in ’94 Jeb believed ten things very firmly and all of them were very conservative,” Stipanovich says. “Let’s assume for a moment that the people of Florida only agreed with him by wide margins on four of those things. What he learned between ’94 and ’98 was, he didn’t change his position: he just didn’t talk much about the six. He talked about the four.” Still, the candidate showed the extent of his conservatism after he won election as governor in 1998, following a far less ideological campaign. “He was a hyper-partisan, hyper-ideological governor,” says Schale, the Democratic strategist. “The irony of this national brand of Jeb being this moderate, ‘get along, go along’ kind of guy is that’s not who he was as governor at all. He was very much a ‘my way or the highway’ politician. Very much ideological, almost libertarian. Democrats were weeded out of the state government, they were marginalised by the governor.” As governor, he scrapped affirmative-action programmes and oversaw the passing of the notorious “stand your ground” gun law, which two years ago got George Zimmerman off in Florida for shooting the teenager Trayvon Martin. He pushed religious initiatives, including a faith-based prison.

Jeb also played an instrumental role in winning the release from prison of Orlando Bosch, a right-wing Cuban exile to the US convicted of mounting a terrorist attack on a Polish ship and strongly implicated in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane which killed all 73 civilians on board.

Furthermore, the Hillary campaign is likely to make much of Jeb’s decision to wade into a years-long family legal battle over whether to turn off the life support for a woman in a persistent vegetative state in the early 2000s. Terri Schiavo’s husband wished to let her die; Jeb backed her parents’ effort to keep her alive.

When the courts ruled in 2003 that life support could be withdrawn, he encouraged the Florida legislature to take the extraordinary step of passing legislation permitting him to override the courts. He then had the state police remove Schiavo from a hospice and taken to a hospital to have a feeding tube reinserted. The move caused uproar and Florida’s supreme court ruled his actions unconstitutional.

Despite this track record, Jeb finds himself on the back foot with the right-wingers who turn out in large numbers in primary elections. They haven’t forgiven George W for betraying a promise to shrink the government and taxes, and they baulk at anyone backed by the party establishment, scorned for suggesting compromise in order to win elections.

Jeb has riled conservatives over another issue that infuriates the Republican base but that is largely based on a misunderstanding. As governor, he enthusiastically promoted Common Core, a set of national education standards cooked up by state governors. The conspiratorial end of the Republican right has latched on to the idea that it is a secret attempt by the federal government to take over education – a purview of individual states – and has taken to calling it ObamaCore, even though the White House played only a marginal role.

In the face of this, Jeb’s challenge is to persuade the Republican base ahead of the primaries that he is indeed an authentic and deep conservative without scaring swing voters in the general election. “The irony about this is his opponents appear to be trying to peg him as the moderate, which is almost laughable,” says Stipanovich. “I don’t think he’s changed his mind about much in 20 years but the Republican Party sometimes stampeded to the right of us.”

 

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Jeb says he is up for the fight. Two years ago, he warned the Conservative Political Action Conference that Republicans are too often associated with being “anti”. “Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party,” he said. The perception of the Republicans as anti-immigrant matters in a country where what to do about the 11 million-plus illegal migrants, predominantly from Mexico, is an open political sore and possibly a decisive issue in 2016.

It lies at the heart of a factor that appears to favour the Democrats – demographics. Younger people, white women and minorities all voted strongly in favour of Obama. But the Democrats in general, and Clinton in particular, struggle with one demographic: white men.

“One of the challenges the Democrats have is, even with a more diverse electorate, my party has to be concerned by the fact that we have to do better among whites than we’re doing, particularly white men,” says Schale. “You can run up the score among blacks and Hispanics but if you’re only getting 30 or 35 per cent of the white vote, the math gets really hard. If you’re getting 40 per cent it gets a lot easier.”

That is particularly true in Florida, where seven out of ten voters are white but the number of Latinos on the rolls is rising. They account for more than 10 per cent of the electorate and in parts of the country that play a critical role in the election result, including Florida, their votes are often up for grabs between the parties.

Jeb is popular with the Hispanic community. His party is not popular, however, in large part because of the debate over illegal migration. He has described the matter as “toxic” and said it cost the Republicans half of their support among Latinos at the last presidential election.

Hillary and the Democrats are pushing a “path to citizenship” for millions of illegal immigrants who have lived in the US long enough. The Republican right describes that as “rewarding lawbreakers” and regards any form of legalisation as “amnesty” and akin to treason.

Jeb bluntly laid out the problem in his 2013 book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution. He warned that Republicans “cannot win future national elections without increased Hispanic support” and that this is jeopardised by the poisoned debate over the matter. Mitt Romney’s attempts to formulate an immigration policy acceptable to the right wing of his party during the 2012 primaries descended into farce as he latched on to the widely ridiculed concept of “self-deportation” – the illusion that millions of illegal immigrants would go home of their own accord and wait years for a US visa to allow them to return.

Hispanic support for the Republicans plummeted from 44 per cent in 2008, when John McCain was the party’s presidential candidate, to just 27 per cent for Romney, and helped deliver Florida for Obama. Jeb said his party’s position on immigration “hung like an anvil around [Romney’s] candidacy”. “The toxic rhetoric of ‘self-deportation’ suggests that certain groups are not wanted,” he wrote in his book.

Immigration might be an issue for Hillary, too, given Obama’s track record. He has deported record numbers of illegal migrants and failed to follow through on promises of reform made in his first year in office, when the Democrats controlled Congress. But he has stolen back the initiative with executive orders providing de facto amnesty to several million immigrants smuggled in to the United States as children and to adults with children who are US citizens.

Hillary strongly backed the move and has positioned herself to reassure Latino families she will defend it as president.

The Republican response has been to seek to alienate Hispanic voters further by denouncing Obama’s moves as an abuse of power and trying to cut off funding for the scheme. Jeb demonstrated the bind he is in as he tries to woo primary voters and Latinos in the general election by joining in criticisms of the president’s actions, suggesting that Obama had “overstepped his executive authority”, yet saying he backs legislation that would have much the same result.

Arrizurieta says that Jeb’s greatest asset in overcoming the immigration question is simply to show who he is.

“For Jeb, it’s really not that hard. Married to a Mexican lady, his kids are about as American as anybody else but they kind of look Hispanic because they’ve got their mother’s genes,” he says.

“When you’ve created a family that is multicultural and you’ve experienced the culture by living in Miami for 30 years, the issue comes first hand. That’s a huge asset in a general election. It’s more of a challenge in the primary.”

Schale said Jeb probably poses the greatest threat to Hillary’s bid for the presidency because of it. “He does have, and Democrats shouldn’t underestimate this, a fairly significant well of support among Hispanics. He’s spent a lot of time building relationships and trying to be accessible.

“Florida’s a hyper-competitive state and Jeb gives the Republicans a lot more chance of winning it than, say, Rand Paul or Ted Cruz or Scott Walker, but I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion.”

Arrizurieta would agree with that. He acknowledges the pitfalls for Jeb but sits back and enjoys the idea of a man he regards as one of his own in the White House.

“They used to refer to [Bill] Clinton as the first black president. I can assure you, if we’re fortunate enough to get there, Jeb Bush will be the first Hispanic president,” he says.

This article first appeared in the 26 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Bush v Clinton 2

Mike Lombardo via @moreMiLo
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“I was almost brainwashed by him”: How male YouTubers get away with preying on young fans

A multitude of YouTube stars have been accused of taking advantage of young fans, but little is being done to tackle the problem.

In June, a 24-year-old YouTuber named Austin Jones was charged with two counts of producing images of child abuse. Court documents allege that the internet personality – who has more than half a million subscribers to his YouTube channel – solicited explicit videos from two of his young female fans. According to the criminal complaint, Jones asked one of the teenage girls – known only as Victim B – to dance for him, and said: “Bounce again and smile at the camera while you bounce. And while you bounce, say ‘I’m only 14’ 3 times throughout the video.” Jones has been released on bail and is awaiting trial. Jones’ attorney Gerardo Solon Gutierrez points out that the singer is “innocent until proven guilty”.

A few weeks later, a YouTuber known as Durte Dom was accused of filming a 15-year-old girl from behind while she danced at a party, without her consent. “He filmed my ass dancing,” the girl wrote anonymously on Twitter. Dom responded to the allegations via the social network, writing: “the party was 18+, the girl snuck in. don't fool yourself.” He says he will now “start having people sign release forms” before he films them.

These allegations are not isolated. In 2014, a Tumblr user called Olga accused the YouTuber Tom Milsom of coercing her into sexual activities when she was 15 and he was 21. Milsom did not comment publicly on the accusations and was never charged. Only a month earlier, a YouTube musician, Mike Lombardo, was jailed for five years on child pornography charges after soliciting explicit photographs and videos from 11 of his underage fans. 

These events set off a series of other allegations. Vlogger Alex Day admitted to having “manipulative relationships with women” after 14 women and teenage girls accused him of manipulation and abuse. One anonymous 15-year-old wrote on Tumblr that Day had sex with her knowing she was underage and “didn’t listen to me when I asked to stop”. Day denied any sexual relations with underage girls, and none of his alleged victims pressed charges. Another YouTuber, Ed Blann, admitted in a now-deleted Tumblr post that he “manipulated” an of-age fan into sex even after he was “repeatedly told to stop”. Like Day, Blann never faced any charges, but, also like Day, he apologised for his actions.  

 In September 2014, a 19-year-old woman accused the YouTube prankster Sam Pepper of raping her, and another woman filed a police report accusing him of rape. Pepper denied the accusations, was never arrested and charges were never filed. He did, however, apologise for YouTube pranks that included pinching women’s behinds while wearing a fake hand.

A Tumblr post set up to track emotional and sexual abuse in the YouTube community to date features allegations against 43 YouTubers.

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Social media revolutionised the concept of celebrity – and celebrity-fan interactions. YouTubers are both incredibly adored and incredibly accessible. Products they design sell out overnight and their live events fill arenas. At the same time, fans are often just a few clicks away from engaging in private, one-on-one conversations with their heroes.

“I feel like I was kind of blinded to the whole situation, like I was almost brainwashed by him,” says Ashley LaPrade, a 16-year-old who claims that when she was 15, Austin Jones coerced her into creating sexualised videos on the messaging app Kik. She posted screenshots of their conversations on social media after the news of Jones’s arrest broke.

“It was kind of casual at first and he asked me to model his merchandise for him... so I did. I took a couple pictures and I’m a gymnast so I was trying to like impress him and I did like splits and stuff,” she says. She alleges that Jones asked her to film herself from behind while bending down or dancing. “I didn't want to upset him and make him not like me,” she says.

LaPrade explains that as a young 15-year-old fan she “looked up” to Jones and was initially excited by his interest in her. After she began to feel uncomfortable with his requests, they stopped talking, but she continued to listen to his music and go to his concerts. She says that she only realised the severity of his actions after his arrest.

Many young fans like Ashley are initially unable to comprehend that anything wrong – legally or morally – has happened to them. Neesey Pathan is a 20-year-old student and YouTuber who claims she was sexually harassed by Sam Pepper when she was 15. In 2014, she posted a YouTube video of her allegations, showing screenshots of alleged conversations with Pepper in which he asks her to “do a naked a dance” and show him her cleavage.

“As a young naïve 15-year old girl, I just wanted to keep talking to him because I was a huge fan,” Neesey tells me. “When he started to get inappropriate with me, at the time that made me feel uncomfortable but I didn’t understand how serious that was, because of how young I was.

“I wanted him to stop being inappropriate with me but I didn't want him to stop speaking to me.”

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Since the concept of celebrity was invented, nefarious individuals have used their fame to manipulate and take sexual advantage of young fans. In the 1970s, Lori Mattix was a “baby groupie” to musicians – alleging in a Thrillist article that she lost her virginity to David Bowie aged just 14. When the guitarist Ted Nugent couldn’t legally marry 17-year-old Pele Massa, he became her guardian instead. Anna Garcia met Prince aged 15 and began a relationship with him aged 17. “I guess it’s kind of a dream to a young girl of 17,” she said in the Nineties. “You can be influenced very easily and stuff like that because he’s 12-13 years older than me.”

It now seems as though a slew of YouTubers have taken advantage of this imbalanced fan-creator relationship, and have deliberately exploited the naivety of their young fans. Ashley and Neesey both claim they were emotionally manipulated.

“I think I put him on this pedestal, which put him in a position to very easily manipulate me and get what he wanted,” says Neesey. “I was just so excited to get to speak to someone who I had looked up to for a long time.”

Ashley claims that when she wouldn’t film increasingly explicit videos for Jones, he treated her coldly. “He went on about how he was in a bad mood now and he didn’t want to talk any more,” she says. “If I did something wrong to him, like if I didn’t blow a kiss or something, then he would make me redo [the video].”

In 2015, Jones was first accused of asking his underage fans to film themselves twerking. In a video entitled “Setting The Record Straight”, he admitted to asking for the twerking videos and said he became suicidal after this news became public. “I’m a pretty insecure person... I began researching different suicide methods. I started planning my suicide. It’s something I was very, very serious about,” he says in the video. 

“A lot of times when we were talking he was talking about how he was going to therapy so I kind of felt bad for him and that’s why I didn't really say anything [to the authorities],” says Ashley.

The American National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines on its website that threatening suicide can be a form of emotional abuse. “If your partner regularly threatens suicide, particularly whenever you’re not doing something he or she wants you to do, or when you’re trying to leave the relationship... this is a form of emotional abuse.”

According to Neesey’s screenshots, Pepper flippantly mentioned he was “suicidal” when she refused to show him her breasts. In Olga’s blogpost about Tom Milsom, she alleges: “he’d like sob and cut himself in front of me he threatened weird suicidal shit a lot”.

“Obviously, if someone is saying to you that they're suicidal, you want to help them, because obviously they don't mean it but as a young person you think they do,” explains Neesey. “And you don't want to be held responsible for them hurting themselves and you maybe care about this person because you’ve been watching them for so long. So you’re manipulated into carrying on contact with them because if you don’t, what will happen...” 

***

To date, Lombardo is the only YouTuber who has ever been jailed for sexually abusing his fans. There are a multitude of reasons for this. Some victims are too afraid to press charges, fearing backlash from a YouTuber’s fandom. Many victims are unable to see the severity of their abuse until they are older. More still are manipulated into silence. Parents can’t comprehend YouTube stardom, and fail to understand what is happening in their children’s lives. Some victims simply don’t know which authorities to turn to.

“I'm kind of steaming about this whole issue,” says Michelle LaPrade, Ashley’s mother. “I can’t even look at a picture of the guy. It makes me want to punch him.”

At the time, Ashley never told her mother about Jones’s behaviour, but Michelle overheard conversations about it between her daughter and her friends. “I feel like a bad mother. I never even really investigated it. Because I know girls and their drama and you know, [they] overreact sometimes.”

After Jones’s arrest, Michelle wanted to report his interactions with Ashley to the authorities, but she found her local police department unhelpful. “I don't know who to turn to,” she says.

Many more victims are unaware that a crime has even occurred. “When I was 15 I didn't see how problematic it was,” says Neesey. “I knew it was a bit strange, and I did feel uncomfortable, but I didn't realise that he was actually sort of committing a crime in terms of asking a minor, as an adult, to do these things...

“It wouldn't even have crossed my mind to go to the police.”

While the UK has the large-scale Operation Yewtree into sexual abuse by celebrities, there is no equivalent for YouTube. Despite the multitude of allegations spanning half a decade, there is no single helpline or dedicated investigation into YouTube abuse. When questioned on this, a Home Office spokesperson said:

“We cannot allow social media platforms to be looked upon as a safe space for predators to target our children and share indecent images. It is vital that communication service providers have easily identifiable reporting systems for people to flag inappropriate or illegal content – and that they are clear about what is and isn’t allowed on their sites.”

A YouTube spokesperson said: “We have clear policies against harassment and we enforce these policies by removing both flagged content and comments that break our rules as well as terminating the accounts of repeat offenders.”

Sam Pepper is still on YouTube, where his channel has over two million subscribers. Alex Day returned to YouTube in December 2015, and now has over 80,000 subscribers. Austin Jones’s YouTube channel remains live, though he is not allowed to use social media before his trial.

***

“I feel like it is really hard to be taken seriously,” says Ashley. On social media, people are prone to victim-blaming Ashley and other alleged victims, saying that they should have stopped replying to the YouTubers harassing them. “Yeah, we did send stuff back but it was... we were being pressured into it and we didn't want to upset him or anything like that,” Ashley says. Her mother tells me she is glad Ashley “took the high ground” in not sending overtly sexual videos to Jones.

Unsure which authorities to speak to, many victims turn to social media to discuss their abuse. Accusations play out on Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube itself. Ashley tweeted screenshots of her interactions with Jones, while Neesey created two videos about her conversations with Pepper. Although this is an effective, and unprecedented, way for victims to get their voices heard, many online are distrustful of complaints that didn’t go through the authorities. Many more leave misogynistic and hateful comments.

“People will just be absolutely horrible to you and call you demeaning things... I got called a flirt, I got told it was all my fault because I continued speaking to him...” says Neesey, of the reaction to her videos. “I think that's a lot of the reason why people sometimes don’t come forward, because they don't want to go through all that stress again. They’ve already dealt with the situation; why would they want to deal with the stress of people being horrible to them about it?”

Some commenters criticise Neesey and other victims who have made YouTube videos and claim they were doing so for attention. “No one in their right mind would do it for attention because the attention you get is negative,” Neesey says. “I honestly don’t believe that someone would sit down and accuse someone of doing something if they didn’t mean it. So I really think it should be taken seriously.”

Whether it makes sense to those outside of the community or not, many victims' first recourse is social media, not the police or authorities. The accusations about Durte Dom – the YouTuber who allegedly filmed a 15-year-old dancing – were publicised by another YouTuber, Elijah Daniel, on his Twitter page.

Damon Fizzy is a YouTuber who called out Austin Jones after the initial accusations in 2015, and continues to do so on Twitter now. Although he agreed to speak with me, he was unable to find time to do so over a series of weeks.

For many YouTubers and their victims, social media is more important that the traditional media. Perhaps this makes sense – when the Mail Online covered the arrest of Lombardo, the YouTuber who solicited child abuse images from 11 underage fans, they added inverted commas around the word “star” in their headline. If the media and the authorities can’t take YouTube seriously, how seriously will they take accusations of YouTuber abuse?

***

In the past, YouTubers have often been good at self-policing. Hank and John Green are American brothers who run the YouTube channel Vlogbrothers, which has over three million subscribers. They own a record label, DFTBA, and run the annual YouTube convention VidCon. Lombardo and Day were DFTBA artists, and were dropped from the label after the accusations emerged. The Green brothers also banned Pepper from VidCon.

After the storm of accusations in 2014, an enormous number of popular YouTubers made videos in response. Hank Green explained consent to his audience, while the comedy YouTuber TomSka created a guide to YouTube gatherings. The popular YouTube duo Jack and Dean even made a music video about consent. The community came together to exile those who weren’t being punished in other ways. The subscriber numbers on the accused’s channels dropped dramatically.

Yet within a few months, many disgraced YouTubers can return to the platform to harness a new generation of fans, many of whom might not be aware of the accusations.

“YouTube still allows them to create content and make money off it, and that to me is just communicating that the behaviour is just not that bad. It’s sort of equivalent to a slap on the wrist and it doesn't convey the extremity of the situation of what they’ve done,” says Neesey. “I think they should be completely ostracised from the community, and have their status stripped from them, and I think YouTube should support that. Because they’re criminals.”

On Twitter, YouTuber Damon Fizzy claims he received backlash from Jones’s fans when trying to speak out years ago. “It’s crazy the backlash I received versus now. I was literally treated worse than the person who uses his underage fans for sexual gain,” he wrote.

And it’s true that YouTubers’ leagues of adoring fans can make it difficult to speak out about abuse. It is hard for many adults to understand how consuming being a young fan can be, particularly when manipulation is involved. When I ask both Ashley and Neesey what they would say to young female fans who start talking to YouTubers, they both say this is fine. Neesey warns that when a youngster becomes uncomfortable, they should end communication, but both she and Ashley feel that safe, normal fan-creator interaction is fine, indeed desirable.  

Sapphire Putt is a 20-year-old who claims a YouTuber coerced her into filming videos of herself dancing when she was 16. When I ask if she thinks it would be OK for the YouTuber to return to YouTube, she says she would be “cautious” but “wouldn’t throw the possibility of maybe giving him a chance again”.

“If he actually shows that he’s learned, you know, I would give it a chance and if he would mess it up again then that’s it, you know.”

When I ask Ashley what she would say to people who remain fans of Austin Jones she says: “I’d say that I probably understand... but they also need to understand that what he’s doing isn’t right and no one should be treated the way he is treating people.”

***

The NSPCC is currently calling for an independent regulator to scrutinise internet companies and fine them if they fail to keep children safe.

“We want the government to draw up a list of minimum standards that internet companies must observe to protect children, and children should be automatically offered safer accounts that protect them from grooming and harmful content,” an NSPCC spokesperson says.

“We know from our Childline service that online sexual exploitation is increasing so it’s vital that more is done to protect young people from abusers who use social media to target and manipulate them.”

For now, Ashley is simply glad things didn’t go further. “It's scary not knowing what could've happened, knowing that I was brainwashed like to believe it was OK, and I'm just happy he's not able to message other girls at this point,” she says.

Neesey hopes that schools will get better at teaching consent. “As a young person, I knew I felt a bit uncomfortable but I just thought that I was being dramatic... so I think people need to be educated, for sure.”  She says education needs to be improved not just in schools, but in the media.

“Unfortunately, people are sort of used to it now, after quite a few YouTubers, so it’s sort of like, ‘Oh another one.' People aren’t talking about it as much – not that it’s old news, but it’s not as shocking. People aren’t giving it as much attention as it needs.”

The NSPCC advises that if a child is worried about an online situation they should talk to a trusted adult or contact Childline on 0800 1111. Parents can find out more about talking to their child about staying safe online by searching Share Aware or visiting www.nspcc.org.uk

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Bush v Clinton 2