Did Steve Pearce Extinguish a Political Fireball?

Divisive Twitter account locked down as new press secretary is hired

Just as Rebekah Stevens started a new chapter in her career as the press secretary for Republican US Rep. Steve Pearce this week, questions about whether she was a partisan online bully are emerging.

While a representative from Pearce's office wouldn't confirm or deny that Stevens was behind a Twitter account and blog that insulted the state's reporters and politicos on a regular basis for more than a year, SFR has confirmed through several sources that Stevens is at least one of the voices of @PolitixFireball.

“That wasn’t anything we got into a detailed conversation on,” says Chief of Staff Todd Willens when asked whether Stevens was behind @PolitixFireball and a blog called PolicitalFireball. “However, the only thing that matters to me, whether it’s that site or any site, it’s made clear to her and other employees [that] there’s probably a conflict of interest and they just can’t do that.”

Stevens, a Grant County Republican Party official, hasn't returned SFR's email asking whether she ran the account and blog. And @PolitixFireball refused repeated requests from reporters at various outlets who asked for the name of person behind the handle.

The progressive advocacy group ProgressNow New Mexico—whose Executive Director Pat Davis was a frequent target of the account's attacks—called @PolitixFireball's messages "racist, xenophobic, and defamatory tirades against everyone from public school teachers to respected journalists to political campaign consultants to President Obama himself."

Before Pearce's office announced the hiring of Stevens on Tuesday, the @PolitixFireball Twitter account status changed to "protected"—meaning users couldn't access the more than 68,000 messages it sent out to more than 40,000 followers. ProgressNow saved some of its messages.

"In her tweets, she also makes light of the holocaust ('Jews went up in smoke'), says all Muslims are 'blood-lust' conquerors, equates slavery to abortion, compares political reporters to war criminals," writes ProgressNow, "and compares President Obama to Hitler." 

The bio for the anonymous Twitter account describes @PolitixFireball as a "Christian Republican. Conservative."

"Peace if possible," it reads, "truth at all costs."

Truth, however, was absent from some of the account's messages.

On several occasions, @PolitixFireball factually misrepresented SFR's reporting in its public tweets, accusing SFR of fabricating coverage and even going so far as suggesting that SFR broke the law and stole emails from the governor's campaign accounts—which had been leaked to the media. 

Justin, you shouldn't have stolen private property. Thou shalt not steal,”

reads one tweet from @PolitixFireball.

Other attacks against journalists were more personal—and potentially malicious—in nature.

PolitixFireball referred to current Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Milan Simonich as Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian and Yugoslavian president charged with war crimes, writes ProgressNow.

SFR's former editor, Alexa Schirtzinger, was "Baghdad Lexa"—a potential reference to the former Iraqi politician Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, or "Baghdad Bob." SFR staff writers Joey Peters and myself were "Beavis and Butthead"—nicknames we went on to embrace. 

Twitter frequently suspended the account.

“My Twitter account which just reached 24,500 followers today has been suspended,” PolitixFireball wrote on Facebook on May 23, 2013. “This is my fifth suspension and the last one was at least nine months ago.”

PolitixFireball wrote extensively about being put in what it called #TwitterGulag. "The cruel reality is that the liberals are determined to silence us and they obviously do not have plans to stop," PolitixFireball wrote on Redstate.com "They want us off of Twitter. They won't stop at minimizing our voices, they want total domination of the social network."

Followers interpreted PolitixFireball's messages in many ways: offensive, defamatory, racist and just aggressive partisan advocacy.

"Dems tell me I give them nightmares," states a previous version of @PolitixFireball's account bio.

However you read them, they might be extinguished for now.

Willens, the Pearce chief of staff, stopped short of saying he knew Stevens was behind account, but he did say this:

“And she took the job knowing that that stuff—if she was behind it or any employee was behind it—they can’t continue doing that,” Willens adds. “It’d be an employee of the House of Representatives. So as far as going forward, I have no concerns whatsoever.”

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