Rep. Abigail Spanberger laments incivility in politics, by Republicans and members of her own party. But one of her campaign speechwriters has spent months trolling Republicans on Twitter, often using personal attacks and vulgar terminology.
Spanberger, D-7th, told about 300 people at a July town hall meeting in Chesterfield County that fighting on Twitter wasn’t a good solution, saying she wanted to help bring politics back to a place where people who disagreed could have dinner together without the discussion devolving.
“I think we are better than what we have seen in recent years,” she said.
Her calls for civility began during her successful campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Dave Brat in central Virginia’s 7th House District, and have continued since she took office in January.
This week she publicly disassociated herself from her former speechwriter’s decidedly uncivil Twitter account, a week after being alerted to the account by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
A Twitter account run by Spanberger associate Gordon “Max” Heyworth is riddled with profane attacks and vulgar references to Spanberger’s opponents, Republicans and others. Among the top recipients of Heyworth’s attacks is state Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, a conservative freshman and potential 2020 challenger to Spanberger.
In Twitter posts trolling McGuire, Heyworth called him “a mindless cretin without any sense of service to your country,” “the worst type of American,” “a sniveling, brain-dead propagandist,” and a “f---ing dullard.”
“How does such a tiny little fella like you get to be such a great big asshole?” Heyworth tweeted to McGuire in June, also telling McGuire, a former Navy SEAL: “You have effectively negated any service you ever thought you did this country in uniform.”
Spanberger declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.
She and her campaign manager did not respond for a week to Times-Dispatch questions about Heyworth’s account. On Wednesday, Spanberger campaign manager Bettina Weiss emailed this statement from Spanberger:
“I was deeply disappointed to learn about these tweets, which do not reflect my values in any way. Now that I have been made aware of these tweets, my campaign won’t be accepting Mr. Heyworth’s volunteer copywriting services in the future.
“Now more than ever, we need to build bridges across our political divides, not widen them. I remain committed to working with Republicans and Democrats to address the challenges facing the diverse constituents of Central Virginia, who I am honored to represent.”
Answering follow-up questions by email, Weiss on Friday said Heyworth had been informed that “we no longer welcome his volunteer assistance” and said Spanberger does not authorize, approve of, or condone such online trolling.
After inquiries from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Spanberger’s campaign Twitter account unfollowed Heyworth, who used the handle “Woke Mr. Plow.” The account was deleted on Friday.
Spanberger’s Washington press secretary, Connor Joseph, also was following Heyworth’s Twitter account until recently.
Although Heyworth, an unpaid volunteer, usually didn’t identify himself on the Twitter account, in 2012 and 2015 he signed tweets as “Max” and once tweeted that his last name was Heyworth. He described himself on the account as a friend of Spanberger.
Heyworth works at EAB, a consulting company. Spanberger worked with him there from 2014 to 2017 after she left the CIA, when the operation was called Royall & Co.
On his LinkedIn page, Heyworth said he joined Spanberger’s team in 2017.
“I helped develop an early communications and fundraising strategy in the first days of the campaign, established the candidate’s voice and style for various platforms (web, email, social media, etc.), worked with then-candidate Spanberger to craft position statements, and assisted with virtually all forms of outreach,” he wrote on LinkedIn.
He wrote that he was the primary writer of her Democratic nomination and general election victory speeches, helped coordinate the campaign’s social media during her debate with Brat, and continues to assist her team “as needed.”
Heyworth did not respond to two voicemails offering a chance to be interviewed.
Here are some examples of Heyworth’s tweets to McGuire:
- On March 8, after McGuire posted a tweet calling for people to disagree about politics with civility, Heyworth replied, “You’re a small man with a small mind filled with small ideas. ...”
- In May, McGuire called for people to put aside their differences and work as a team, posting photos of pro bono training his fitness company provided to a group of Atlee High School students. Heyworth replied, “Put aside our differences? This coming from the talking dildo who showed up at the Blexit rally with bells on?”
- In June, McGuire posted a tweet congratulating a class of Deep Run High School seniors who graduated that day. Heyworth responded, “A guy who publicly fellates a mean-spirited brute like Trump and promotes deception campaigns like Blexit can take his pleas for #kindness and shove them all the way up his tiny little ass.”
- In August, McGuire tweeted that white supremacy “has no place in the world.” Heyworth replied, “Shut. The f---. Up. You braindead parrot. You roll over like a f---ing labrador for Grand Wizard Trump. Your words ring as hollow as that cavernous goddamn head of yours. Seriously, f--- you and all those like you.”
- On Aug. 17, McGuire tweeted that his legislative campaign was gearing up, and posted a photo of supporters, including Dana Smith of Henrico County, who had asked Spanberger a question about so-called sanctuary cities at a town hall meeting in February.
Heyworth responded: “Is that Dana What’s-His-Name on the right? The hateful, sawed-off little woodlouse screaming about sanctuary cities at Spanberger’s Goochland town hall? Figures he’d be out carrying water for a Trumpsucking shit-for-brains like you, Johnboy.”
A recording of the town hall meeting made by The Times-Dispatch shows Smith asked the question in a calm tone.
Heyworth found other Republican targets, including Cameron Cox, the college-age son of state House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who tweeted in December about the need to turn arguing into productive conversation. Heyworth replied: “You’re a f---ing pussy, Cam.”
Such trolling on social media poisons the environment for others, according to experts.
Exposure to incivility creates distrust and more incivility in an unhealthy cycle, said Leslie Caughell, a political science professor at Virginia Wesleyan University.
“Merely being exposed to incivility lessens citizens’ trust in government and their respect for opposing viewpoints,” she said in an email, when asked what effect Heyworth’s responses to McGuire could have on other social media users. “As important, research indicates that seeing incivility makes people more likely to engage in incivility themselves.”
Heyworth also made personal attacks on state Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania; Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper; and Trump supporters.
“Mr. President, I’m using this opportunity … to call you — and everyone who supports you — an irredeemable, white trash piece of shit,” Heyworth wrote in March.
He told Freitas in January that he was “the worst form of citizen this country has to offer” and that Freitas’ core voters were “dim-witted, frothing-mouthed, servile, unevolved, knuckle-dragging dumbshits.” In July, Heyworth tweeted that “all remaining Trump supporters are racist white supremacists. Every last one of them. No exceptions.”
Heyworth’s role in Spanberger’s campaign is described in a new book titled “See Jane Win: The Inspiring Story of the Women Changing American Politics,” by the journalist Caitlin Moscatello. The book describes Heyworth as a friend of Spanberger who was with her and her family on a tense election night in a suite at The Westin Richmond in Short Pump. Spanberger edged Brat 50.3% to 48.4% in a district that had been in GOP hands since 1971.
Heyworth told Spanberger he had also written a concession speech, according to the book, and said: “I am planning on it dying with me.”
The book reported that Spanberger first told Heyworth she wanted to run for Congress in February 2017 and that Heyworth spent a month writing and revising her victory speech.
Tina Ramirez, who is vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Spanberger in 2020, said she found Heyworth’s Twitter feed “disgusting” and said “it says a lot about what [Spanberger] really thinks about civility.”
“You don’t attack people. You address issues, and that’s not what’s happening here,” Ramirez said. “It lacks dignity and respect for the person and that’s the problem I have with it.”
In a statement, McGuire — the state lawmaker who was the subject of many of the attacks — said Spanberger turned a blind eye while a campaign associate spread vitriol online.
“If there is one thing voters can’t stand about politicians, it’s hypocrisy,” McGuire said in the statement.
In 2017, Democratic activists discovered that a paid campaign consultant to Brat was sparring with liberals on his Facebook page, using an account in which she did not identify herself as a Brat staffer.
Brat, in an interview at the time, said that the staffer’s role was to clarify issues and explain his views, and his campaign manager said at the time that the staffer’s paid status on Brat’s team was disclosed on Federal Election Commission reports.