Two Detroiters say they’ve been doxxed and threatened since the contentious Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting to certify local elections. Board chairperson Monica Palmer and member William Hartmann have been vocal about the harassment they faced, yet state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Detroit, and Ned Staebler, a Wayne State vice president, say they also found themselves at the center of a vicious online attack.
“I was in shock. I didn’t even know what doxxing meant,” Aiyash told BridgeDetroit about the moment he saw some of his personal information posted online.
Doxxing is sharing private information including phone numbers and addresses on digital platforms to harm victims.
Aiyash’s past employers, credit report and social security number were made public in the online attack. Even the type of car he drives was shared in an attempt to threaten the newly elected state representative.
After Palmer and Hartmann said they would certify the votes in all of Wayne County other than Detroit, emotions ran high at the five-hour meeting and outraged Detroiters and Wayne County residents including Aiyash spoke up during public comment. Aiyash accused the GOP members of perpetuating racism.
After the meeting, Aiyash who is Yemeni, said he received more than 1,000 calls and messages saying, ‘‘You’re gonna pay,’ ‘Muslim pig,’ ‘Terrorist,’ ‘Go back to your country,’ and ‘We’re watching you.’
Appealing to a moral compass
Aiyash was born in Hamtramck, home to a sizable community of Yemeni, Bengali and Polish immigrants. A longtime activist and organizer in the Detroit area, he announced his candidacy to succeed his friend and mentor, Rep. Isaac Robinson, who died in March.
Aiyash’s district covers much of Detroit’s Midtown, New Center, North End, Boston Edison, Virginia Park, and all of Hamtramck, which is why he was frustrated when Detroit was “singled out.”
“It’s no secret that Detroit is the Blackest city in the United States of America,” Aiyash told BridgeDetroit. “These things are not accidents, they’re not coincidences: They were clear and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise and steal the voice of so many Detroiters by denying them the right to have their vote counted and certified in the election.”
He made a public comment to appeal to the chairwoman’s moral compass so she would “not set an example of leading with prejudice and bias.”
“You, Ms. Monica Palmer of Grosse Pointe Woods, which has a history of racism, are deciding to enable and continue to perpetuate the racist history of this country,” Aiyash said at the meeting. “And I want you to think about what that means for your kids, who probably go to Grosse Pointe North, and when they see all their Black classmates and they know that their mother, or their grandmother, their aunt, decided to say,… ‘I’m going to be comfortable sleeping at night knowing that I silenced the votes of so many people.’”
After the meeting, a shortened clip of Aiyash’s comment was shared on Twitter by Fox News writer Kyle Becker with a caption that claimed the state representative was threatening Palmer’s children. The clip, eventually marked as “manipulated media” by Twitter, was retweeted on President Trump’s account and has been viewed more than 1.6 million times.
“The fact is I wasn’t aware whether or not she had children or how many children she had, whether she was a grandmother, an aunt,” Aiyash explained. “It was just an appeal to think about the next generation. I would never ever encourage or condone the threatening of any person or children.”
‘A complete lie’
Aiyash wasn’t the only one accused of threatening Palmer..
In an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, Palmer also accused Staebler of “repeatedly” doxxing her. She alleged that Staebler posted her phone number, home address and email address online, and “encouraged people to stop by” her house to express their anger.
Staebler denied the claim.
“It’s a complete lie,” he said. “I have never had any of her personal information. I have never sought any of her personal information and I have never shared any of her public information. Nor have I ever encouraged anyone to go to her home.”
Staebler’s attorneys reached out to Fox News after the segment was aired to deny Palmer’s accusations. While Ingraham did not retract the story, she posted a short clip stating that Staebler denied the claims and Fox News was “unable to corroborate” Palmer’s accusations.
“When I called her out on her racism, she said that was a threat,” Staebler told BridgeDetroit. “That’s not a threat. It’s just a fact.”
The damage is done
The videos and Palmer’s accusations led to an onslaught of vicious threats and harassment aimed at Aiyash and Staebler and their families.
Some of the threats have been specific. A “DemDox” flyer with Aiyash’s photos, his address and phone number was shared on the dark web and sent to him. The flyer encouraged people to “hang him” and included a photo of his sister.
One person sent a message to Aiyash saying, “Winter is coming. Roads are icy. You better get your brakes checked. Brakes develop problems in icy conditions especially when you harass people that you should not.”
The Islamophobic attacks and hateful rhetoric hasn’t stopped and the legislator is still dealing with the aftermath. He’s had to leave his home for his own safety and the safety of his family. Aiyash hired private security and reported the threats to the Wayne County Sheriff and Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office.
Nessel’s press secretary Ryan Jarvi confirmed that the Attorney General’s office is investigating threats made against members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers but did not mention the threats made to Aiyash or if they were being investigated.
Staebler, the president and CEO of Tech Town, said he’s also reached out to his local police department and the FBI. “Much like the state rep., I have been subjected to thousands of unwanted contacts via email, text message, phone and U.S. mail from people who have threatened me and my family in one way or another,” Staebler said.
Aiyash reached out to Democratic leaders for support but says they were “very dismissive” and told him to keep his head down and “let it pass by.”
“I can’t just let it pass by when my family is at risk,” Aiyash said.
When asked about how she would be supporting the state representative, House Democratic Leader Christine Greig said he should report the threats to authorities.
“Unfortunately, Michigan House Democrats along with elected officials throughout Michigan are experiencing an increase in threats of violence and intimidation against us and our loved ones fueled by the hyperpartisan and divisive political rhetoric of this election cycle,” she said. “All of our caucus members—including Rep. Aiyash—have been encouraged to report all threats to the law enforcement authorities and follow the security protocols and guidance provided to them.”
Aiyash said Rep. Rashida Tlaib and other local “brown” officials have reached out to him. He said he’s also received support from grassroots organizations.
“Rashida gave me advice because she’s unfortunately been in the center of smear campaigns and Islamophobia but unfortunately I’m being accused of threatening and inciting violence towards a white woman — and it’s not true,” Aiyash said.
Aiyash said he believes this is an attempt to distract from the continuous effort to “deny Detroiters their democratic right to their voice and their vote.”
“I am here to advocate and orgazine on behalf of my community. … I would do it 20 times over to protect the will of the people.”
This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.