Laconia lawmaker testifies before state legislative committee
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia, has denied any continued involvement with a misogynistic online forum he created and said he finds it more effective to debate his colleagues in Concord.
"I have been far too busy between work and Concord to spend time with internet debates with strangers," Fisher said after attending a hearing that may determine his future in the New Hampshire House.
The state Legislative Administration Committee met Tuesday morning to hear testimony on his role in the online Reddit forum "The Red Pill" and whether it disqualifies him from serving in the legislature.
Top Republican leaders, including Gov. Chris Sununu and House Speaker Shawn Jasper, called for Fisher's resignation after The Daily Beast published an exposé identifying Fisher as the creator of The Red Pill. Many local officials, however, said his comments, however distasteful, were irrelevant to his work in the House, and should not disqualify him from serving.
Speaking at the hearing, Fisher said, "I have never hated women. ... Some of the views that have been alleged here are certainly not reflective of what I stand for or what I have done in my time here in Concord."
Fisher has said his comments "from five to 10 years ago" were taken out of context, and he denied a subsequent report by The Daily Beast that connected him with more recent statements using a new pseudonym.
"It's starting to look like a zany conspiracy theory by a liberal rag to me, but I'll give you guys the scoop: It's false," he said in an email to The Laconia Daily Sun prior to Tuesday's hearing. He said he is eager to "get back to the important work we have to do," and called the hearing "a poor use of legislators' time."
The new Daily Beast article, posted on Monday, alleged that Fisher, using the alias Pk_atheist, had claimed to have retired as moderator of the Reddit forum, while actually creating a new online identity as redpillschool. The change came about after Fisher lost his first campaign for a House seat, when he had run as a Democrat.
Relying on security and intelligence firms capable of tracing online registrations, The Daily Beast learned that redpillschool, along with other identities and websites, were connected with Fisher's personal email address.
"This suggests that Fisher fabricated a passing of the torch — and indicates that, as redpillschool, he has maintained control of the forum for the last four years, growing its followership to over 200,000 users and dedicating over 80 hours per week to the forum's upkeep," the article by Bonnie Bacarisse and Brandy Zadrozny stated.
If true, Fisher's online comments would be relevant to the legislative probe, since a legislator can be held accountable only for actions taking place during the current term.
"I wasn't there long," Fisher said of his involvement with The Red Pill. "I left The Red Pill when it was under a hundred users."
Explaining his use of the pseudonym Pk_atheist, Fisher said, "On many blogging or forum websites, it is the norm to use a pseudonym. On some sites such as Reddit, they actually have a policy against discussing personal information. The reasoning for it, I would guess, is to avoid every individual from having to go through the gauntlet of threats and harassment that my loved ones and I have experienced in the last month. Everybody risks being misinterpreted, quoted out of context, or worse."
Fisher denied being redpillschool, explaining the connections to other identities and websites by saying, "I am a reseller for a web hosting company. As a defender of free speech, I give out low-cost and free hosting accounts to a lot of people, many of whom I've never met. I am not responsible for the content on these sites, nor am I endorsing anything on them. ... My email address was the default for DNS records when somebody didn't provide me a different address."
He said, "This is clearly a malicious attack on my character, based on fabrications and lies. It's injuring my ability to not only do my job in Concord but also to earn a living."
Aside from his unpopular ideological stance that drew angry residents, politicians and advocates to testify before the committee in Concord on Tuesday, Fisher's attendance record also has been an issue.
Fisher has cast votes only 46 percent of time this year, missing 58 of 126 votes, according to the House website. Of the missed votes, 44 were excused absences, while 14 were unexcused.
"One of the most obvious differences between me and many of my colleagues in the House," Fisher said, "is that I am not retired, and in fact work full-time to afford rent and groceries. When we have multiple session days a week, I do my best to either attend both or prioritize votes that are at risk of going in the wrong direction. I coordinate with other representatives to keep track of expected votes. I have been open about my schedule each time I ran, and I believe my constituents understand and even appreciate having a representative who has personal experience in the job market of today."
He cited an example of the service he is providing in Concord: "I'm very happy with the work I've been doing to find relief for Eversource customers who have recently received what I consider unfair disconnect notices. While we are still working on language that all parties can agree to, Eversource took notice of the problem and relaxed their policy right away. I'm also very happy with work I've been pursuing to bring relief to bar owners who don't feel they're getting a fair shake with the liquor commission's appeals process."
He also cited his work on behalf of the transgender community.
"One of my most recent debates was on the controversial transgender bathroom bill, which I very publicly supported. I wrote about it, submitted to papers and did radio interviews in hopes to convince my colleagues that this bill was pro-liberty and did not put anybody at risk, as was commonly purported."
He sees the complaints about his participation in the forum as attacks on free speech.
"I think, in order for the First Amendment to mean anything, it must necessarily protect speech that some may find unpopular or unsavory. Anyone who understands the difference between free speech and hate speech can see that we should not condemn words or debate, but the actors who pervert those words to justify harming others.
"I think in the recent years, I've noticed there are many with a political agenda that want to blur that line, conflating any disagreeable speech with an actual threat to harm somebody. A great example of this is the quote floating around about rape. It's been suggested that it condones rape, and that it's hate speech. That simply isn't the case, but the truth isn't going to get more clicks. Not liking a discussion doesn't make it hate speech."
As to his support for men's rights, Fisher said, "I have spoken with many men who have been through terrible experiences, not limited to false rape accusations. I've seen men struggle to survive unfair treatment by the family courts, falsely accused of abuse or neglect. It's a problem that the world doesn't want to hear. I've gotten postcards over the past week mocking the idea that men even need rights at all. I think that common attitude is why it's difficult for men to speak out about issues they face."
Among those testifying at the hearing on Tuesday was Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of the advocacy group Granite State Progress.
"What we would like the committee to focus on," Hawkins said, "is that Rep. Fisher, when confronted with his actions, took two steps that are unbecoming of an elected officer of the state. First, he lied to the public and media about his role with the Red Pill. Second, he took actions to cover his trail, thereby admitting guilt in the process... These knowing, willful and purposeful acts of deception which were taken by Rep. Fisher during his current term in the Legislature bring dishonor and disrepute upon the New Hampshire House of Representatives and are by themselves sufficient to justify action by this body."
"As a public official," Fisher said, "I don't think it's unfair for the public to want to know if this stuff is my actual position. But when a partisan blog publishes misquotes without context, it does mobilize a lot of people to take action against my family and me and lets them believe they're totally justified. I don't think there's any justification for anybody to be harassing my girlfriend or family, but they are.
"If I've learned anything from the past election year, there's a vocal minority in our country that expects the discussion to end once they take offense. I've watched national media and social groups conduct what amounts to witch hunts against a lot of people simply because they disagree, were falsely accused of something, or crossed a special interest group. And right now, these types of attacks hold a lot of power. They don't care about me; it doesn't matter if I were still involved or if their misquotes were even correct. They want to send a signal to others. Don't discuss male issues or we'll do this to you."
The Legislative Administration Committee will be making a recommendation to the full chamber next week on whether to reprimand him, expel him or take no action. Any action would require a majority vote of the House.