Saturday morning at 10:23, a terrible email showed up in my business email inbox.
I am not going to reproduce it here because it is unspeakably horrible. It includes the words maggot, jew, pedo, shoot, and family.
It was jarring and awful. My heart rate increased, I felt like I was going to stop breathing, and then I shed giant tears of fear and frustration. My hands shook as I screen capped it, sent it to my boyfriend, then shared it in an online community I trust for advice.
The email came to me as a result of a highly peripheral, tangential connection that a certain group of conspiracy theorists made between my business and a basementless restaurant in Washington D. C. It’s important that the restaurant has no basement because a key premise of the conspiracy theory was that democrats were trafficking children from that imaginary basement.
My business is called Adipocere Soap. My whole schtick is that I use only plant-based ingredients, and no synthetics. When called on to describe further, I say “handmade products with creepy, anachronistic sensibilities.”When someone first drew my attention to the connection between my business and this conspiracy theory, I was amused. Kind of flattered, even. I received some strange requests for information about where I source my adipose, but I ignored these and laughed about them with friends. Someone who can only google adipocere but not vegan left a ridiculous review on my Facebook page which a customer reported as nonsense.
I’m wrestling the impulse to provide credentials that I’m not, in fact, by any stretch, involved in any kind of trafficking of children or otherwise. Of course I’m not. I do not need to prove anything. I have done nothing wrong.
However, we see over and over again that an absence of wrongdoing doesn’t really mean anything for a lot of us. And I’m not taking this all the way lightly.
Apparently there was a real retraction late in March, under threat of legal action by the owner of the DC pizza restaurant.
But even after that retraction, the nonsense waves reverberate. Here are some things that happened as a result of this death threat:
- After I could not get anybody on the phone on Saturday, A police officer at the station on Monday morning responded to me with sarcasm and annoyance when I explained I’d received a hate email with a death threat. He did not ask “what did you do to deserve that?”, but that was his subtext. Of course, as soon as I named the conspiracy theory, he could take my word for it because he’d spoken to a man about it previously.
- I had to invite other police officers into my place of business. The officers who took my report were conscientious and kind and affirming, but I had to talk to other people in the complex that houses my business; I had to warn them, explain why the police were coming, show the email to others, involve my community, possibly connecting them to this madness.
- I had to face the following truth: I am embarrassed about all of this because as a woman in America in 2017, despite how much I know it’s not true, on some level I am conditioned to believe I am asking for it anytime something unpleasant happens to me.
- A well-meaning person suggested I rebrand. Adamantly. And while I understand the intention of the suggestion was oriented toward my safety, it reveals a cultural impulse as strong as my own embarrassment about this: I have done something to bring this senselessness upon myself, and I have the power to change it, so I should.
- I have considered contacting the FBI. Ironically, several months back I reported a suspected child trafficking victim that I observed at my place of employment. So I have a card for a local FBI person; I believe this email I received constitutes a terroristic threat, and I am certain that FBI person would be happy to connect me with the appropriate department.
Will I contact the FBI? I am still deciding.
Am I unsafe? I do not think so. Even in the original forum where the connection between me and the conspiracy was made, some believers said (I’m paraphrasing), “uh, those folks are harmless, man. they’re just weirdos.”
Though I still reported it to the police, to Google, and kept a record. I will eventually have a police report, too. Just in case.
Do I plan to rebrand?
If I rebrand, the terrorists win.
If I rebrand, I will lose clients who buy my products *because* of the branding.
Rebranding would mean redesigning all of my labels, getting a new business name and URL, redesigning my website, newsletter, and all signage. It would be time-consuming and expensive, and the only way I’m doing it is if I want to for reasons wholly unrelated to this madness.
Rebranding is starting from scratch in an already-saturated cottage industry. In a market where my branding is the only obvious thing that sets my products apart from any of the 6 other handmade body care companies in this town.
Rebranding is confessing that this IS my fault, and giving people who do not deserve any of my thoughts a lot of power over me.
To rebrand is to betray the pieces of myself that are woke, the growing bits of my psyche that believe there’s no shame in being a strong, powerful, ambitious woman, that believe the resounding truth women are not asking for it. That I am not asking for it.