The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Doxxed Trump donors have an unlikely defender in this Democratic congressional candidate

Brianna Wu felt so aggrieved by President Trump's victory in November that on Inauguration Day she launched a 2018 congressional campaign in Massachusetts' 8th District.

“If this were just another Republican president, someone like Mitt Romney or John McCain, I'd take the loss in stride,” the 39-year-old video game developer wrote in blog post announcing her candidacy. “But we all know the truth: Donald Trump represents a unique threat to the American system.”

Now, however, Wu — who is challenging incumbent Democrat Stephen Lynch — is defending the donors whose money helped put that “unique threat” in the White House.

Since December 2015, the automated Twitter account @EveryTrumpDonor has been tweeting, one by one, the names, hometowns, occupations and employers of people who contributed as little as $200 to Trump's campaign. Each tweet follows the same formula: “I'm [name]. On [date] I gave $[donation] to @realDonaldTrump. I work as a [job] at [company]."

Donors' personal information is publicly available from the Federal Election Commission. Journalists often use the FEC database to identify high-dollar donors and to spot trends — a gusher of cash from Wall Street bankers flowing to one candidate, for example.

But it is unusual to call attention to random individuals who are not political power players. The @EveryTrumpDonor Twitter account caught the attention of former FEC chairman Michael Toner this week.

Wu thinks the intent is obvious. She is calling for Twitter to suspend the account. Twitter declined to comment.

“It is very clearly doxxing and harassing small-dollar donors,” Wu said in an interview.

The term “doxxing” refers to a kind of online harassment in which personal information is posted to encourage and facilitate threatening activity. Wu knows plenty about doxxing. In 2014, she was targeted by a group called Gamergate that sought to terrorize female video game developers. (I covered her ordeal in the Boston Globe at the time.)

“I would have people telling me they were waiting in the bushes outside my house to stick a drill in my neck,” Wu recalled. “They found information about me in public databases and used it to intimidate me. That same playbook is what's happening to Trump voters here.”

The creator of the Twitter account, a Chicago software engineer named Adam Kraft, defended his project as “valuable for a number of reasons.” He said it makes campaign financing more transparent and noted that he posts “just straight-up facts sourced from the FEC.”

Publicizing the names of Trump donors helps counter the billionaire's misleading claim that he self-financed his primary campaign, Kraft added, and could even improve perceptions of Trump backers.

“Some people say that Trump supporters are stupid and uneducated,” Kraft said. “However, according to the bot’s tweets, many of them are doctors, lawyers, and even NASA engineers.”

Kraft did program a parallel Twitter account, @EveryDemDonor, that posted personal information of contributors to Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders. He disabled that account after Election Day; it has not tweeted since Nov. 8.

The @EveryTrumpDonor account, however, continues to tweet the name of one of the president's supporters every couple hours.

In general, Trump backers often report feeling attacked for their views. In one high-profile episode this week, a Republican student group at the University of California at Berkeley was unable to host pro-Trump conservative commentator Ann Coulter, due to the threat of a violent protest.

“There's a real sense — that we have to get past on the left — that every person who voted for Trump is evil,” Wu said. “I'm in District 8 in Massachusetts, and I talk to Trump voters all the time. And the truth is many of them have very legitimate frustrations with the American government. They feel like Congress is no longer representing them. They see the American Dream slipping away from them.

“I don't hear racist concerns; what I hear most of all are economic concerns. And I don't think it helps the left to bully people when they have donated money to Trump.”