Kiah Morris was the only Black woman in the Vermont House of Representatives, until she resigned from her position in September, after enduring years of racially motivated harassment.
At a news conference on Monday, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said his office would not seek to prosecute anyone connected with the harassment including the white nationalist who showed up for the announcement wearing a Pepe the Frog t-shirt.
Max Misch refers to himself as a white nationalist and he has trolled Morris online. Misch was sure to sport a symbol that has become associated with the alt-right and white supremacy.
“The online communications that were sent to Ms. Morris by Max Misch and others were clearly racist and extremely offensive,” Donovan said.
“However, the First Amendment does not make speech sanctionable merely because its content is objectionable.”
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Donovan also released a 10-page report, detailing the messages Morris and her husband, James Lawton, received from Misch and others. The content Misch sent wasn’t just “objectionable,” it was racist and threatening.
In August 2016, he had tweeted at her with “a caricature of a Black person saying a profanity-laced comment about representing white residents of Bennington,” according to the Burlington Free Press.
The same year, a Vermont Superior Court Judge William Cohen ordered Misch to stay away from Morris and her son on the basis of the tweets. The no-stalking order would last a year.
“I just found it incongruent that you have an African American woman representing a 96 percent white district,” Misch said in court, according to a recording of the hearing. “It’s a joke, your honor. It’s a troll joke.”
The population of Vermont is just over 94 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and slightly more than one percent Black.
In July, Lawton called authorities to report that Misch was harassing his wife again on Facebook and Twitter.
“By this time, the one-year Protective Order against Mr. Misch had expired,” the report states.
“One of these tweets said, ‘You will never silence me. Every time you attend a political rally at the Four Corners or another local venue and I’m aware of the event, I will troll the hell out of you and the other subversives there. Maybe I’ll bring a friend or three with me too.'”
Donovan said on Monday, before Misch’s interruption, “For people in positions of power in Vermont, who are white, mostly male and mostly from a Christian background, we have to acknowledge that the lived experience of people of color and other backgrounds and heritages are different. We must listen to their lived experience.”
Misch showed up to taunt Morris once again.
“I like trolling people, it’s fun,” he told the Free Press.
According to Vermont Public Radio, Morris said the harassment was rooted “in a legacy of white supremacy, misogyny and inequity.”
“We did everything that we were told to do,” she said. “Reported as we should, held nothing back, and trusted in a system that in the end was insufficient, and inept at addressing and repairing the harm done. In the end we were told there was nothing to be done. Essentially our current legal system told us that what was happening was acceptable.”
It was the years of racial harassment, and also, concern for her husband’s health, that prompted Morris to resign. She said, in an interview with Seven Days, published on Oct. 3, that Lawton’s difficulties “are absolutely caused by that chronic stress and that level of alarm we’ve lived under for the last few years … We need this time to heal and to come back stronger than ever.”