Young, attractive, ambitious, conservative, and black, Nadia Naffe should have been a right-wing operative’s dream.
For a time, she was. Naffe served as a campaign coordinator in Florida for George W. Bush’s re-election effort, hobnobbed with conservative superstars like Andrew Breitbart, and joined the production team of James O’Keefe, the shock-videographer whose pranks humiliated NPR and made ACORN a dirty word.
A divorced businesswoman whose politics veered from those of her Democratic parents, Naffe was concerned about the future of her country. She was idealistic and, by her own admission, naïve — qualities that made her an exemplary undercover agent for O’Keefe’s clandestine operations.
Within weeks of meeting each other, O’Keefe and Naffe were teaming up to ambush progressive politicians and academics from coast to coast — raising gobs of money from some of the conservative movement’s biggest donors.
And then, in a single night nearly two years after they first met, Naffe’s life became a nightmare. She says O’Keefe took her to a barn and drugged her, then turned on her — setting off a campaign of intense harassment. For bloggers like Breitbart and his followers, hounding Naffe became a crusade. “RUIN HER,” wrote one commenter on a right-wing blog, in just a small example of the flames fanned at Naffe over the past year and a half. “Burn her f*cking world to the ground, and salt the earth as you leave. Make the wasteland a memorial to all who would consider pulling that kind of bullsh*t.” Indeed, Breitbart hounded Naffe to the end of his life. On the day of his death, one year ago this week, his final tweet was a snide jab aimed directly at her.
That one evening in O’Keefe’s barn kicked off a chain reaction in the tightly knit — and tightly wound — conservative blogosphere. When we think of America’s ideological battle between left and right, we often imagine a deadlocked Congress — or Fox News versus MSNBC. But Naffe’s story shines a spotlight on an even uglier crossfire: the one between the slanderous sewer of right-wing smear culture and its doppelganger, a reactionary band of left-wingers that’s equally willing to kick below the belt. Located just beneath the surface of our polarized political system, this unceasing, underhanded war — encompassing dozens of lawsuits and hundreds of petty feuds, fought by hackers and journalists, wingnuts and activists, lawmen and billionaires, attorneys and ex-cons — serves as a proxy, simultaneously feeding on and fueling the circus that passes for our civic life. Even for mature web pedestrians who are acquainted with the barbaric buffoonery of online discourse, the depravity that’s been on display during Naffe’s ordeal is enough to turn an iron stomach. In the belly of this beast, the traditional lines of right and left are grossly distorted, as are the boundaries between right and wrong.
Nadia Naffe could have been a part of the Republican party’s future, symbolizing the appeal of conservative values to new constituencies. Instead, at every turn, she was insulted, abused, abandoned, and ridiculed. This is her story.
NEXT: A look back at Naffe's first harrowing experience as a conservative operative after college . . .