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This is a kind of blood-curdling story I just learned about this afternoon. Zerlina Maxwell is an acquaintance who I’ve watched from a distance as she builds a media career as a progressive pundit and activist — succeeding to an amazing degree while also getting a law degree. I met her for I think only the second time in person at my birthday party last weekend. I just found out that since an appearance on Hannity on Tuesday she’s basically been under an escalating online assault filled with racist epithets and threats of rape all for stating what I think is a fairly straightforward opinion on the intersecting issues of guns and rape.

Here’s a post Zerlina did at the feminist blog Feministing on this on Thursday while things were still heating up.

Now, I think we all realize that the Internet is not a representative medium and it tends to bring out the lowest common denominator types across the political and cultural spectra. But this strikes me as being in a more extreme category.

First, here’s the segment in question.

The question at issue is whether women should carry or have the right to carry firearms to protect themselves against rape and sexual violence. The gist of Zerlina’s argument was that it should be on men and the culture in general to make rape and sexual assault unacceptable rather than on women to arm themselves to not be raped. In other words, don’t put it on her to carry a gun any more than you tell her to dress a particular way or anything else. The underlying point of debate was whether rape is just something like murder or robbery — something that will always exist to some, hopefully limited, degree — or something that is bound up in and encouraged or discouraged by our culture. In other words, whether men can be taught not to rape.

As you’ll see if you watch it, Zerlina reveals in the segment that she is herself a rape survivor.

The pros and cons of the specific argument about guns speak for themselves and Zerlina makes it better than I can. What I’m interested in focusing on is the sort of digital lynch mob, seemingly churned up by a post on the segment at The Blaze and other sites, the segment generated.

Zerlina sent me a few examples of what she’s been on the receiving end of …

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I’ve been on the receiving end of really vicious online attacks before, most recently centered on this post. And it’s difficult to describe — even though it’s just words — what the experience is like. And I’ve never been on the receiving end of stuff like this. I don’t really have more to add than my ability to shine a light on this.

[Ed.Note: I should note that in the argument he made in the segment above, Hannity was … well, Hannity. But there was really nothing he did or said to encourage these kinds of attacks. And Zerlina tells me that off camera he was very compassionate and supportive of her decision to discuss her own rape as part of the segment in question.]

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