I’ve written at length over the past couple of months about how Worcester City Council member Michael Gaffney, chair of the Republican City Committee, funds Aidan Kearney’s Turtleboy Sports blog. Gaffney has been too cowardly to actually respond to the question of how he feels about supporting financially things like the explicit description of sexual acts Kearney imagines the 13-year-old “catch me outside” girl to partake in. But we know that Gaffney does support Turtleboy sports. The question is why.
Why would Michael Gaffney support a blog that denigrates the city of Worcester, that sexualizes children, that leads groups of Internet trolls to bully private individuals? What does he get out of it? The answer is straightforward: Gaffney sees it as politically useful.
Gaffney dreams of being mayor, and he hopes that his faction of the Republican Party can become a force in the city; this is why he’s running so many candidates in the municipal elections. The problem for him is that most Worcester voters like the mayor we currently have, and most Worcester voters approve of the direction the city is heading. If you walk around Worcester and engage people in conversation, most will tell you, in some way or another, that they feel as if they’re living through a renaissance. Everyone has their gripes about this or that issue, but we generally believe that the city has finally found the footing it lost during the dark years of the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, when was the last time you heard someone joke, “Will the last person to leave downtown Worcester please remember to turn out the lights?”
While most of us are happy about good feelings for the city and our elected and appointed leaders, they don’t bode well for Gaffney and his faction of the Republicans. If people are happy with their city, how do you get them to vote to change its direction? You have to convince enough voters that things are actually going really badly. For Gaffney, that means trying to get about 9,000 city voters to believe that things are pretty bad, and that it’s because of the elected leadership.
This is where Turtleboy Sports comes in. If you read the blog or watch its live show, you are presented with a nightmare vision of Worcester and Massachusetts (Gaffney likely has aspirations beyond the city itself). Instead of an inclusive and welcoming city reclaiming its glory, transforming itself daily, you are presented with an alternate reality, where the land is ruled by the incompetent and corrupt, a city where the leaders actively conspire against their constituents. You find a city where everyone is addicted to drugs, or is “ratchet.” The heroin epidemic gripping the northeast and most of America is, if you trust what Turtleboy tells you, a simple problem: they see it as a mix of local “scumbags” and leaders enabling them. In Gaffney/Turtleboy world, anyone who points out that poverty, or racism, or sexism exist, or that drug addiction really is hard to fight, is simply a “social justice warrior” trying to enforce some liberal orthodoxy – “PC” – on the city. For Turtleboy fans, these “SJWs” include most of the city council, especially because of their support for our immigrant community.
In Turtleboy Sports world, slippery streets aren’t the product of a big snowstorm mixed with a far more complex road system (how many private streets are there in this city? How many miles of road per capita?) than any of the nearby towns; instead, slippery streets are a result of corruption carried out by the ruling “crime family.”
In Turtleboy/Gaffney world, a church that cannot afford to repair an old building or find a buyer for it is part of a shadowy conspiracy to defraud the taxpayers. The list of hysterical claims goes on.
This dystopian, fantasy city, of course, cries out for real leaders. Turtleboy Sports presents Michael Gaffney and his faction (the unofficial Republican slate for city council) as the people who can right these perceived wrongs.
In sum, the role of Turtleboy Sports is to convince its readers that Worcester is a city in chaos, a chaos caused by poor leadership and bad people. Further, the implicit argument is that electing Gaffney as mayor and his allies as city council members can fix the city. Of course, Aidan Kearney, the cowardly ex-teacher who runs the blog, doesn’t likely get all of this; he’s just (since Gaffney loves to talk about communism, I’ll use the term attributed to Lenin) Gaffney’s “useful idiot.”
Obviously, you can’t convince most people of things that are simply not true. But Gaffney doesn’t need to do that: he’s only hoping for the 9,000 or so needed to win a mayoral race, and to pull a few of his allies onto the council. Are there 9,000 people in Worcester who actively read and believe Turtleboy? That’s unlikely, but there could be a couple of thousand, and that would be a nice chunk for Gaffney. (Most Turtleboy readers are from out of town.)
Turtleboy Sports and Gaffney also cultivate their readers. If you read through the Facebook group, you find a very
cult-like atmosphere. Followers refer to themselves as Turtleriders, and, in true Soviet fashion, immediately turn against anyone who shows the slightest sign of disagreement with “Turtleboy.” Look at the Facebook group, and you’ll see this in action. There is a constant assertion and reassertion that the “mainstream media” (Worcester Magazine, the Telegram and Gazette, etc.) are old, outdated, liars, etc. Readers are exhorted to trust only Turtleboy, and are told that they are part of a “revolution.”
I encourage you to look through the Turtleboy Sports page on Facebook to see the dynamic in action.
The constant berating and bullying of private citizens, some of them children, builds up a group solidarity amongst “turtleriders,” a belief that “we’re better than them.” This works to create a group cohesion. Again, this is not likely designed by Kearney, but something he stumbled into, and which Gaffney happily exploits for political purposes.
Turtleboy Sports has been called racist, sexist, anti-poor, etc. It is all that, but it is also anti-Worcester and anti-Massachusetts. For Gaffney and his faction of the Republican Party (not all Republicans), Turtleboy’s job is to build up a core of voters who believe that Worcester is a horrible place, and that electing Gaffney and his allies can fix it. They think they can do that, because that is exactly what Trump did in 2016: he and his allies portrayed America as a living hell created by “corrupt” officials from the “establishment,” and convinced enough voters, though not a majority, to believe him.
On a sidenote, it’s ironic that Michael Gaffney portrays his enemies as communists and collectivists. Everyone knows the Soviets ruled based on lies, and they used their press and state-run media to convince citizens of the party’s worldview. Indeed, this is exactly what Gaffney hopes to do with Turtleboy: it’s his Pravda.
It is our job to make sure that Gaffney’s vision is not realized. In November, we have to defeat those who would denigrate our beautiful city and its residents for their own personal ambitions.