His campaign slogan is not “Make America Rape Again.” He made a punny joke.
And although he has qualms about what he calls an out-of-control obsession with rape culture, he is not, and has never been, pro-rape.
“This is just an online discussion that got a little bit wacky, its all academic,” he said in a Facebook message to The Washington Post. He declined to be interviewed by telephone, saying his words had been mischaracterized by other news organizations. “It’s an online argument. Everyone has been apart of one of these and most of the times they turn out ugly, just like this one did.”
The conversation started on Sept. 30, when Bata’s (now former) Facebook friend Jess Roscoe posted a Buzzfeed article about a woman’s explanation of the term “consent.”
The Buzzfeed story was about a Twitter thread that compared giving consent to giving someone $5. There’s only one real way to give someone $5, the argument goes; everything else is stealing.
Roscoe thought it was a “very cool way to explain consent to people who might not understand it or understand why it’s such a big issue now…It was just a casual post.”
Not for long.
The first person to reply was Bata, who taught physical education to Roscoe’s younger sister. Bata and Roscoe had exchanged political banter before.
His reply: “Rape culture is a myth [social justice warriors] created.”
The social media downward spiral was on.
Bata brought up the Duke lacrosse and University of Virginia rape scandals. In both cases, the accusers were found to have lied.
“Gender activists created the Duke lacrosse, UVA, and other false rape scandals. Making it harder for actual rape victims to be heard. … How hard is it for some men. Do you really think the US, men or college campuses are pro-rape or promote immunity for rape?”
“I love hearing different perspectives, and I think he does, too,” Roscoe said. She leans left. He’s a Libertarian, espousing a political philosophy that is generally skeptical of political and economic systems. “We usually just have good political conversations. He’ll say these are three reasons why you’re wrong, I’ll say here are three reasons why you’re crazy — things like that … This is the first time things really went negative.”
The problem, Roscoe said, was not Bata’s opinion. She and her Facebook friends took issue with what they saw as his flippant dismissal of the crime of rape. Friends who have been victims of sexual assault have been approaching Roscoe for weeks, telling her Bata’s comments burned.
Perhaps the worst comment came nearly two weeks after the initial post. Bata had been going back and forth with a man named Juan Carlos Gomez and a few others for days.
“Why are you so dead set against seeing the reality women live through on a daily basis?” Gomez asked. “Is the reality that women you care about go through this too much for you to handle? Or can you be so arrogant to think that only your life experience is valid?”
“Make America rape again,” Bata replied shortly after.
A day later, Bata’s opponent for insurance commissioner, Ruth Buffalo, seized on his comments and put out a news release.
“The people of North Dakota deserve an Insurance Commissioner who has an appropriate temperament for the office, and who is compassionate to victims of sexual assault. These comments are completely unacceptable. We call upon Mr. Bata and the Libertarian Party of North Dakota to apologize and recant these statements.”
The Libertarian Party did not return phone messages left Saturday.
The comment was made while the “Make America great again” candidate Donald Trump is at the epicenter of a growing national discussion about consent. The Washington Post published a 2005 video of Trump bragging to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush that he could grope and kiss women without their permission because he was a celebrity. A few days later, during the presidential debate, he told Anderson Cooper he had never touched a woman without her consent. Since then, a series of women have come forward saying yes, Trump had.
In a Saturday tweet, Trump called the allegations “100 percent fabricated and made-up charges, pushed strongly by the media and the Clinton Campaign.”
Prompted by the controversy, thousands of people have shared stories of being sexually assaulted on social media using the hashtag #NotOkay.
Roscoe said that’s why she went public about Bata’s acerbic comments on her Facebook page — because he’s asking people to elect him to a public office.
“I think the voters need to know about this,” she said. “It speaks to a temperament and a perspective. I’m not endorsing or demonizing him, but this is the thing that should be looked at when you’re thinking who to vote for.”
He said he believes the attention is overblown for what amounts to a Facebook comment.
“I made that comment as an individual. This has nothing to do with the party,” he said. “…I regret that we live in a society that is so worried about not offending anyone and less interested in intellectual inquiry and diversity of opinions.”