For more than a decade, Baird has been known on Twitter as @individual1.
“I was looking for a user ID I could use for kind of anything and reflects me,” Baird said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’m kind of an individualist.”
Without context of what was unfolding more than 8,000 miles away, Baird was perplexed. He wondered, “Why is @individual1 coming up so much now?” Soon, he read the news of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, pleading guilty to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate deal his client was eyeing in 2016 when he was close to clinching the Republican nomination. The nine-page filing made numerous notes about “Individual-1,” whom Cohen later identified in court as being Trump.
To put it lightly, Baird received a few more notifications that day. In the weeks since “Individual-1” has become a commonly used nickname for the president as well as the subject of innumerable memes, Baird has gone from a relatively anonymous user to owner of one of the most coveted names in the Twitterverse. The volume of mentions and notifications has been so high, he said, that he needed to put a disclaimer in his Twitter bio: “NOT Donald Trump — I had this Username 1st!”
“I felt like, okay, this is not what I intended,” Baird said. “I would have never thought of this when choosing the name. Eventually, I will have my name back.”
Baird said he wasn’t sure what to expect when his username of choice became the president’s newest unflattering nickname. He’s read every mention of his handle — too many to count. But he’s also been surprised by the thoughtfulness and empathy shown toward him on Twitter in a time when toxicity and trolling tend to dominate and divide, he said.
“What has happened on Twitter is entertaining since he’s such a Twitter nut,” said Baird, referring to the president. “Every now and then, a comment will come up to the effect of, ‘Really sorry for the guy who really has @individual1.’ The ones who are thoughtful and empathetic are kind of nice.”
The majority of Baird’s mentions have come as a result of tweets directed at Trump suggesting that he change his Twitter handle to @Individual1.
Others have wondered why Baird hasn’t taken more advantage of the moment.
“I really wish you would take your twitter handle more seriously,” one user urged, “this is your time to shine.”
Baird, who consults with companies and governments across Southeast Asia on “public policy affecting the adoption of technological innovation,” isn’t keeping the name for the attention. As he states in his bio, he had the name first and he isn’t giving it up. He’s also kept his sense of humor, telling The Post a version of a joke he’s heard on the late-night circuit: “Trump is probably taking [the name] better than if he were named, ‘Individual 2.' He’d run around screaming, ‘Why am I not Number 1?’ ”
At first, while living so far away from Washington, Baird said he initially had a hard time understanding why everyone found “Individual-1” to be such a humorous nickname. According to Justice Department policy, language such as “Individual-1″ is necessary to not name people who are listed in an indictment but are not being charged for a crime.
But then he saw the late-night comedians offer their takes on the name.
“It’s all very funny to me,” he said. “I watch these late-night guys, especially [Stephen] Colbert, and to see it come up that way, it does feel like they’re talking about me. And that’s because I’ve had this name for a long time.” He added: “The funniest thing about this is I now see ‘Individual 1’ in this other context — this Trump context. I feel self-aware.”
Perhaps most amazing about Baird’s unexpected Twitter connection to Trump is that he knows his way around Capitol Hill. After 13 years of working as a recording engineer in California, Baird went to law school and became an adviser for the Environmental Protection Agency in 1995. He knew he ultimately wanted to get involved with politics, remembering how his family would hold fundraisers for Democratic congressional candidates at their home outside Seattle.
He’d go on to work for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and then-Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), focusing on technology-related public policy. All the attention surrounding “Individual-1” has left Baird thinking about whether he should go back to the other username he used when he lived in Washington: “Fiasco.”
“It is much more descriptive of D.C. now than it was when I was there,” he said of the ironic handle.
On a Skype call from his home in Hong Kong, Baird said he doesn’t know how much longer mentions of Trump will continue to flood his Twitter feed. It might get old after a little while, but he’ll keep reading them. He does see at least one case where he would still be all right receiving all those notifications.
"If this goes on for two years and it’s because ‘Individual-1’ is impeached, then I’m there for it. Sign me up,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy to be in that discussion.
“But I might start using ‘Fiasco’ a little more.”