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What to expect when a WikiLeaks dump turns you into an Internet folk hero

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Pablo Manriquez is the kind of former DNC staffer who shows up to an interview wearing an RNC baseball cap. Manriquez, the 32-year-old former booker for the Democratic National Committee, became something of a viral phenomenon online this summer after WikiLeaks posted 20,000 leaked internal emails from the embattled organization.

The leaked emails were embarrassing and damaging for the DNC, forcing the resignation of chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and several senior officials, right as the party was preparing to nominate Hillary Clinton for president. Manriquez came across in the trove as someone who was having a really bad time working at the DNC, a guy who was slowly running out of you-know-whats to give.

“My cellphone started blowing up with messages from strangers from all over the world,” Manriquez said in an interview this week, characterizing the vast majority of the messages as weird but supportive. “Very snarky, very witty people. If I was totally ignorant of Internet trolling I couldn’t imagine anything more confusing than that.”

In one now infamous exchange, a colleague told him to “f— off” after Manriquez sarcastically responded to a last-minute, internal request to try to move a scheduled CNN appearance by Wasserman Schultz.

Manriquez left the DNC in May and now works at the nonpartisan U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, along with Albert Morales, who used to lead the DNC’s Hispanic affairs office.

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“I had the awareness immediately that this was going to be really hard,” Manriquez said. “Having to be dragged back through your previous employer while starting a new job? That involves a lot of hustle.”

Manriquez was just weeks into his new gig when news broke that the DNC’s emails had been compromised. Once the emails actually dropped, right in the middle of the 2016 conventions, “fans” started texting him within minutes. Like many staffers, his contact information (including his personal cellphone number) had been made available to anyone on the Internet. The first fan text Manriquez can recall read: “Pablo, I’m with you. Work sucks. Also, can I have some feet pics?”

Instead of staying quiet, Manriquez decided to participate in his viral phenomenon as a way of controlling the message and making the most of the sudden attention. “I just got on Twitter and started rapid responding,” he said. “People were tweeting ‘f— off Pablo, f— off Pablo,’ but it was really positive.”

From @Pablo_DNC, Manriquez retweets praise and positive press about his emails. And after noticing that Redditors were in the middle of a big debate “about whether I was grossly insubordinate or not, or if I was a hero,” he fired up his old Reddit account to start answering questions there directly.

At this point, Manriquez has been Internet-famous long enough to have caused drama: namely, when he went on the main Donald Trump subreddit, hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) and used it to endorse Hillary Clinton. The subreddit now refers to him as “Pathetic Pablo.”

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We talked with Manriquez this week about his weird Internet fame. Below is an edited, reordered, and condensed version of that conversation.

On how he knew his emails had been compromised:

It was a news story that was being passed around. As soon as I knew that, I knew that there is nothing I could do about it. The DNC isn’t a place where you can go there and ask for your emails to look through.It would be nice if you could, in good faith, sit down and put some keyword searches in there to make sure I didn’t say anything absolutely catastrophic. Which I don’t think I did.

That was my first instinct: I need to see my emails. And that sucked. It was like the last betrayal of an institution that never did right by the people who really crush it every day.

When the emails actually leaked:

I was in the car on my way back from Cleveland, and the first text from a stranger came through. And it said something like “Pablo, I’m with you. Work sucks. Also can I have some feet pics?” And I was like “Okay, it happened. And my cellphone’s leaked.” Within like a minute, two minutes, bing bing bing! all these numbers start calling me.

I was in the car with another guy, a current employee of the DNC. Everybody’s cellphones are comprised; they couldn’t communicate very well right then. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel. And I was so nervous. I decided, I’m going to eat first and then deal with this, because I know I’m going to be dealing with this for weeks. I knew it right then. And it happened. I’m beat, I’m totally beat.

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We order the food, and I kid you not, it was a moment of just, like, my food comes down, and I get a text from a reporter. And it’s just a link to a document that says WikiLeaks.

I see this reporter’s text, and that’s when I realize what this is gonna be. Anytime I see anyone, you’re running back through your head. Did we ever argue online? Did we have a relationship that’s overly bro-y? Did we have an inside joke that, if taken out of context, is really heinous? And that’s just exhausting.

I called my mom, I called my family. I said, “Have you heard what’s going on in the news? I’m in 1,300 of these. If you get a call from a number you don’t recognize, if you get a text from a number you don’t recognize, don’t answer it. We might have exchanged emails. They might have your email, too. They have my cellphone. I might have to get a new cellphone.”

Did he?

No. The texts are all positive. People were really into me for some reason.

Why did his former colleagues tell him to f— off?

It was a really unfortunate case of someone who was always really good to me not wanting to get up that early for something I’d promised. She was looking at the wrong page in her calendar. Totally innocent mistake; CNN doesn’t care.

I’d told CNN as an exclusive: We’re gonna make news; here’s what we’re gonna say. I booked this show, and as a result of what they knew we were going to say, they’d booked four guests to respond. If you mess that up, it’ll be a while before you get back on.

A booker wrecks your schedule. You might have a fundraising meeting, you might have a dinner, you might have a nap. My job is to book.

On why he has talked so much about this online:

This was not what I intended, but I did to the DNC what Trump did to Jeb in the broadcast sense. I went on Reddit, did an Ask Me Anything on the DNC Leaks subreddit, said whatever I wanted to, and then upstaged myself by walking into the Trump subreddit.

With the leaks now, you know, I worry about my colleagues. The younger DNC employees are letting me know how scared they are, and they’re telling me what they would say.

How he was treated by the Trump subreddit during his AMA 

The Trump people at the Trump subreddit? It was really kind of heartbreaking what I did, when I endorsed Hillary on there. I wish I hadn’t approached it that way. They’ve been really cool … ever since threatening to kill me all night.

They thought of me as some kind of folk hero who represented an anti-Hillary rebellion within the DNC. Not as a Washingtonian who picks a winner. They thought of me as like, “when Trump gets into the White House, this is the kind of guy he needs to have on his team.”

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The #ImWithHer when it dropped? It was like the hopes and dreams of this Pablo myth were jeopardized. But I’ll be back with them by the weekend.

On whether he’s worried about the content of any future email leaks. 

I don’t know what every email I sent was, but I know the themes. And I know some of those themes are pretty heinous. They don’t put anybody in a good light, except for the victims who stood up for themselves, and the people who stood up for the victims.

We did that very well as Hispanics at the DNC; there were very few of us. We spoke Spanish face to face internally. That made other people, I’m sure, very uncomfortable.

I hope the rest don’t leak. I just want mine. I will gladly just take mine, read through them real quick, and just put them on Reddit. I don’t have kids right now, I’m not married. I’m not going home to a family that’s just freaking out over this. I want this out. I want this over.
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