Jake Rush is a conservative Republican candidate primary-ing first-term Congressman Ted Yoho for Florida’s 3rd district in Congress, a northern part of the state just west of Gainesville. It’s unlikely Rush would have ever flown across my radar if not for the bizarre idea of what “opposition” has meant in this race.
It’s not an affair, a bag of narcotics, or even a call to reveal tax returns. Apparently Rush’s great crime is that he’s done awkward nerdy stuff while Live Action Role Playing (aka LARPing).
And in their eagerness to smear as many conservatives as possible, Gawker picked up the story and threw a huge segment of the geek community under the bus to do it.
Jake Rush is active in the Mind’s Eye Society, a national network that brings role players together to organize games set in the World of Darkness created by White Wolf Publishing. These games can be played via LARPing or table-top (with dice, like Dungeons & Dungeons). He likes getting together with other people to – in its most fundamental form – put on a vampire-themed improv game that takes place in another world with rules and well-developed characters. Rush most frequently plays under the name “Chazz Darling.”
On April Fool’s Day, Peter Schorsch from SaintPetersBlog posted about Jake Rush’s involvement in LARPing White Wolf games. Presumably excited to jump on any invocation of the word “rape” in relation to a conservative, Gawker picked up Schorsch’s story with the headline “Florida Man Runs for Congress, Embraces His Cosplay/Rape Fantasy Past.”
Rape fantasy? This theatrical claim stemmed from Schorsch’s interpretation of a now-deleted set of photos from “Kindred of Gainesville’s” Camarilla Wiki page. The group is categorized under “Gainesville, FL Requiem” (suggesting that Jake Rush plays Vampire: The Requiem). Apparently most of the photos contained stock art, some Occult-looking things, and a lot of goth-stuff. Here’re the “ritualistic scenes of the occult, book burnings – even a succubus” posted on the Wiki page (that Scorsch himself shows and captions in a slideshow):
Seriously? Schorsch is really pushing it here.
Gawker’s resident uber-hack, Adam Weinstein instead focused on a deleted photo from 2009 captioned “Put on my Rape Face.” He doesn’t produce this photo. Even if he had, Rush is still just a geeky guy who took a photo and put up some awkward caption. Gawker went on to present a Yahoo message board post signed by a “Chazz Darling,” which included some odd NSFW stuff. Nonetheless, it’s abundantly clear that someone is role playing in a creative universe.
The Rush campaign stated they received an e-mail from Lee Synder who said the the post was “being erroneously attributed to Jake Rush,” and claimed authorship. The Chazz Darling comments “were made using a shared account, which had several users.” Even if Rush posted it himself, this doesn’t justify Gawker‘s ultimate summation of his character:
Chazz Darling is a dark vampiric gamer with a penchant for rape fantasies. Also, Jake Rush is Chazz Darling. Chazz Darling is the new Carlos Danger.
Gawker succeeded in making it a quiet national news story. ABC News, Fox News, and Vanity Fair all reported on the statement Rush’s camp put out in response, which confirmed his ties to Mind’s Eye Society and involvement in role playing games. He talks about his old theater resume too. He released the Flash featured photo on this piece. His camp was probably ready for this. Even Slate‘s Dave Weigel admitted “I’ve got to admire how Rush is spinning the story.”
The thing is, what’s there to spin? The initial SaintPetersBlog article cuts down a wing of the geek community, portraying LARPers and table-top gamers in an extremely negative light.
Does anyone really think that Gawker would have picked up on the story if Rush were a Democrat?
It’s no secret that Gawker takes great pains to perpetuate the “War on Women” narrative — and if it had been a liberal candidate who “put on his rape face” in a LARPing context, we likely would have seen Weinstein celebrating said candidate’s “creative outlet.”
It’s worth pointing out that White Wolf games are pretty popular too. White Wolf games — and LARPing in general — cut across political lines. LARPing does not entail some particular set of beliefs. Role players come together with an entirely different purpose. Gawker jumped all over Rush’s LARPing because they had an excuse to paint an otherwise squeaky-clean GOP candidate as a dude with rape fantasies.
Bear in mind, the guy Gawker cited for their ridiculous representation of a LARPer is a bit ridiculous himself. Schorsch interprets conventions and trade shows as “a church (or cult)”. He translates the Wiki photos as “waver[ing] between utterly childish and truly unsettling[.]” He inserts notes of horror and intrigue with “Rush is certainly living a double life, one that would rival the fictional Jekyll and Hyde – except it is all too real.”
This is the guy that Gawker cited to ridicule a LARPer. They presented a quirky story as a signal to a dark id “because conservative.” It’s a weak attempt to stir fear and resentment among a particular set of readers. “This guy with an ‘R’ after his name used the word ‘rape’ five years ago!”
It’s surprising that there haven’t been accusations of anti-geek bigotry from some liberal sects of the political community, albeit one did show up in the comments section of Schorsch’s piece:
Let geeks geek on – even the ones who are conservative Republicans.
LARPing a vampire game is far from sinister. It’s sad that Gawker will literally demonize anyone — even geeks — to advance the idiotic “war on women” meme when it’s just a regular guy who was just having fun.