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What it’s like to be blamed for Trump’s candidacy: an interview with Russ Steinberg

Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images

SB Nation contributor Russ Steinberg tweeted a prescient joke at Donald Trump three and a half years ago, and now some strangers are holding him accountable for the Republican presidential nominee.

Steinberg’s exchange was simple enough:

The original conversation could by itself be considered a funny and unintentionally prescient series of tweets, but trouble came when popular meme accounts began sharing screenshots of the exchange.

dammit russell

A photo posted by + karina (@cranksideoftumblr) on

Now, Russell’s receiving the same well-intentioned joke over and over until it seems like there are no other words in the English language but “this is all your fault Russell.” But worse, he’s also being bombarded by truckloads of tweets blaming him for America’s current political predicament, and it’s unclear how many of the tweets are sincere (though many of them include death threats and suggestions of suicide).

I spoke with Steinberg this afternoon to see how he’s handling his sudden notoriety.

Who first dug up this exchange?

This actually started back in the spring, when a reporter from Now This retweeted it. It blew up a little bit from there I did a video with them because I thought it was funny. For a few days it was a lot of people tweeting at me, “How could you do this?” “It’s all your fault,” etc. It was all in good fun, whatever. It slowed down until about a week ago. I think it was an Instagram account [note: The first Instagram mention seems to be from a clothing line’s account, but the post has been deleted] that posted the screenshot of it first.

It just blew up and it hasn’t stopped. Really now for over a week there’s just constantly people in my mentions, mostly saying the same things as before — “It’s your fault” — thinking they’re funny. But also a lot of people [are] making death threats or telling me to kill myself, and a lot of anti-Semitic people because of my last name. So it’s been a lot to sift through. I’m someone who’s typically on Twitter most of the day anyway, so it’s been really disruptive.

Do people genuinely think you’re the reason Donald Trump is running for president?

It sounds dumb to say, doesn’t it? I can’t figure out how many people actually think that and how many people think they’re being funny by saying “haha, oh look it’s all your fault.” Which, okay, fine I guess, but if you’re getting that five or six times every minute it can get pretty annoying. The tweet is something you can actually see, so it’s something people can point to because [it happened] three years ago, and say “This is what started it all.” Even though it’s really not. I don’t know how many people actually feel like I’m the one who created [Trump’s run for president].

Why not delete the tweet?

I’ve come very close to deleting the tweet many times and decided not to each time. The first reason is because there are tons of screenshots — so what’s it really going to do? The other is that all of these people who are telling me to kill myself, hang myself, whatever, would then see the deleted tweet and their tweets would just change to “Oh you deleted it, you coward. Kill yourself.” I don’t see it making much of a difference, I figure I’ll just have it out there. And I can’t delete Trump’s response either, so I don’t really see what purpose that would serve.

This election has been a boon for the internet alt-right. We see them cropping up to support Trump all over the place and this is the type of behavior you would usually associate with that movement. Are these people anti-Trump? Liberal? Just the purest form of apolitical troll?

The vast majority are anti-Trump, but there are a few Trump supporters who come in and say “Oh, thank you.” I do find that kind of funny. There are a lot of just trolls. A lot of people who are doing this are just high-school-level trolls with Twitter accounts who know that they don’t like Donald Trump, don’t really know anything else, and see this as a fun opportunity to bash someone they don’t know. I get it. I’ve been in high school, I understand that.

You’re not a Trump supporter?

Correct.

It seems like you can’t possibly be the only person who’s tweeted that at Donald Trump?

I’m not! There have actually been a few people who have pointed out other people tweeting similar things at him three or four years ago. And those things have gotten a few hundred retweets — probably their friends think it’s funny, or whatever — but haven’t had the impact that mine had. Probably because Trump actually responded to me because I did it while he was in one of his tweet storms. I guess I was just the lucky one.

A selection of tweets telling Donald Trump to run for president, just a few of about 50 from the month of December 2013.

Do strangers stick up for you at all?

There are actually a few who have jumped in when someone has told me to kill myself and said “Wow, that’s a really messed up thing to say.” Or, there are people who say “Your mentions must be awful,” and stuff like that. It’s really nice to see. But to be totally honest, I’m not losing sleep over this. This started, like I said, about a week ago, and around that same time I got the flu and now I have pneumonia. So, I’ve been concerned about my personal health in the past week. I don’t care about this at all.

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