Alan Graf, who started writing a column on current issues for The Floyd Press this year, found himself victim a target of those who don’t like those who express opinions that might differ from theirs.
Graf is not a fly-by-night writer of letters to the editor or random poster of tirades on social media. He’s an attorney with a strong career on issues that matter to a lot of people, a teacher on public matters at a local school and one of those involved in activities protecting the First Amendment which is supposed to guarantee freedom of speech in America.
His columns are thoughtful, based on common sense and a strong knowledge of the law and public rights.
Someone who doesn’t like differing opinion and cogent thought sent him an anonymous letter after one of his recent columns. It was typed, in a plain envelope with no signature, no return address and no identifying author. It offered offensive language and threats.
“It told me a few choice things, called me an ’emplant’ and directed me to ‘go back from where I came from,'” Graf wrote on Facebook Monday. “I guess some folks can’t handle differences of opinion.”
Graf says the letter is now in the hands of the Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Sheriff’s Department.
I’ve spoken to Graf’s class in Floyd. We agree of more than a few things about what is, and is not, happening in Floyd, America and the world and I know a lot about hate and hate mail.
Writing about issues brings strong, angry and hateful reactions.
I first ran into hate mail and angry public reactions in Prince Edward County in the 1950s when I took a photo of a Ku Klux Klan rally on a dark night in a field near Farmville, Virginia. The late Ben Bowers, then city editor of The Farmville Herald and later at The Roanoke Times, published the photo along with an essay I wrote about being a 10-year-old child who didn’t understand the hate, bigotry and racism that led to closing the public schools there and opening a local government supported all-white institution.
Bowers passed it on to other publications. That didn’t sit well with some.Some students at that white school beat me up the day after it was published. For a while, my mother considered sending to live with my grandparents in Florida.
After moving to Floyd in 1961, I went to work for The Floyd Press while attending the new consolidated county school and I wrote about what some considered bad conditions and pay of the student school bus drivers at the time. Some of the angry drivers cornered me in the school hallway until assistant principal William Davis intervened. School Superintendent Alonzo Monday tried to suspend me from school until English and Journalism teacher Ruth Hallman intervened.
After high school graduation, I became the youngest full-time reporter with The Roanoke Times while attending college and the paper gave me a weekly column to focus on younger readers. I wrote about a teenaged high school girl, pregnant from a date that got out of hand, who underwent an abortion — then illegal in Virginia.
The paper and I received several angry, mostly anonymous letters, about “promoting immorality” and “killing of an unborn child.” Someone keyed my car and slashed my tires.
Another column about teenage sexual activities brought anger from parents and ministers but most of them signed their names.
In the 70s, The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, gave me column with the assignment to write and comment on “whatever issues you feel need attention.” A column about what I felt was hypocrisy by a local minister led to a lot of anonymous hate mail and a rock through the window of our house. Another about racism in Alton led to cut brake lines on my car.
This kind of angry response continued during our 23 years in Washington. I wrote op ed (Opposite Opinion) columns for newspapers and did photos and stories about often controversial issues for magazines. After returning home to Floyd in 2004, Wanda Combs of The Floyd Press asked me to photograph high school sports, then added requests to cover Circuit Court and the county board of supervisors.
I write opinion articles for Blue Ridge Muse and political columns for Capitol Hill Blue, a national news political web site, along with pieces for other news outlets. Any column that questions the actions of any President brings angry email, nearly always anonymous. The level of hate and threats have increased since Donald Trump became President.
I get angry phone calls and emails from those who don’t like the fact that I wrote about someone’s legal problems in Floyd County Circuit Court. Some feel writing about an appearance in court is not public record. It is.
A former candidate for local office, who lost, questioned my legal right to carry a concealed firearm because I suffered a brain injury in a motorcycle accident in 2012. He raised the issue just when my existing concealed carry permit came up for renewal. Judge Marc Long renewed it.
Ministers call me “sinful” and “atheist” and worse when I write about their open involvement in political issues in a nation where a supposed “separation of church and state” is forbidden in documents that define our nation. At least most sign their names.
Newspapers used to require identification for letters to the editor in their print editions. Now anonymous comments are allowed on many news websites. Just about any news or opinion article in the Washington Post brings hate-filled responses from those whose post tirades under names like “Patriot” or “true American.”
I don’t allow posts or comments that use obscenities, threats or promotion of violence on any website that I control. I also verify the email address of anyone who tries to post a comment. More than 80 percent of those who try to comment fail that simple test of authenticity.
My email address is widely known and the inbox included a dozen or so anonymous invectives this morning. One said I would “burn in hell” and another told me to “watch your back, asshole.”
As a rule, I ignore hate mail and threats. I don’t bother turning them over to any law enforcement authorities. They have more important matters to worry about.
I have lived with anger and hate from those who don’t like what I do for more than 50 years. If someone, using their name, criticises me, I respond and it sometimes leads to a calm discussion on an issue.
My phone is listed and I’m not hard to find around Floyd on just about any day and if someone wants to get into an argument over one thing or another I try to listen. More than once, it has led to a discussion, not a shoutfest.
When they shout or scream obscenities, I thank them for their opinion and walk away. Anyone has their right to an opinion. They don’t have a right to threaten me or my family.
That line, if crossed, brings a response and action.