New Hampshire State Lawmaker Accused Of Online Misogyny Faces Expulsion

Originally published on May 11, 2017 10:38 am

The New Hampshire state Legislature is deciding whether to discipline one of its members for his role in setting up a misogynistic online forum.

Two-term Republican Rep. Robert Fisher, 31, was identified last month by The Daily Beast as the creator of the Reddit community The Red Pill, which champions so-called "pickup artists" and blames feminism for societal woes. (The forum takes its name from a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix in which Keanu Reeves' character, Neo, is offered a choice between a red pill, which represents reality, and a blue pill, which represents illusion.)

Testifying before a state House committee Tuesday, Fisher argued that his online statements revealed by the Daily Beast investigation — including comments deriding women's intelligence, detailing ways for men to dodge rape accusations and questioning whether rape itself was wholly bad — have been misreported and misconstrued.

He has never "hated women," Fisher assured the Legislative Administration Committee and criticized the journalism that brought his comments to light.

"A lot of convenient reporting, to play into partisan politics, and I'm disappointed that's where it's gone," he said. "But I'm more than happy to get back to work and concentrate on what matters, not wasting everyone's time on this."

Citing a work obligation, Fisher left about halfway through the two-hour public hearing. But he was in the room to witness plenty of testimony from his fellow lawmakers and private citizens, all of it negative and some of it sweeping.

Democratic state Rep. Debra Altschiller, who works with an organization that supports survivors of domestic and sexual violence, cast Fisher as a particularly glaring example of the misogyny she says is too common in the state Capitol.

"I am here today to not only assert that Rep. Fisher not only contributes to that rape culture that we experience here in the House but he is a purveyor of rape culture in our state and in our nation," Altschiller said. "It is our responsibility to work with vigilance in this body to eradicate this vile scourge from our ranks and from our state."

Most of the lawmakers and citizens who testified against Fisher were women. But Concord, N.H., resident Brian Harlow told the committee what struck him about Fisher was a certain coldness.

"I didn't see or hear any contrition," he said. "I saw no empathy. I saw no compassion."

The Legislative Administration Committee must now choose among four disciplinary options: no action, reprimand, censure and expulsion — and make a recommendation to the full House.

Fisher has rejected calls for his resignation, including from Gov. Chris Sununu. As he left Tuesday's hearing, Fisher told reporters he was confident, saying, "I believe that this hearing has been fair, and I believe the truth will be decided, found."

The committee has until next week to make a recommendation. The state House will vote on the committee's decision June 1.

Copyright 2017 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the live-free-or-die state of New Hampshire, the state Legislature is wrestling with how much free speech may be too much for its members. This is all because of revelations that one lawmaker is the founder of The Red Pill forum. This is a misogynist Reddit message board. New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Until he was outed as The Red Pill founder by The Daily Beast, Representative Robert Fisher cut an almost non-existent figure at the New Hampshire State House. The Republican chose not to sit on any committees and skipped half his floor votes. But now the 31-year-old Fisher is front and center.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROGER FISHER: The way I would describe this is that I have never hated women. I know that's what it's been alleged.

ROGERS: That was Fisher defending himself this week during a hearing looking into his social media activities. As detailed by The Daily Beast, Fisher's posts derided women's intelligence, detailed ways for men to dodge rape accusations and even questioned if rape was bad. Fisher chalked those up to injudicious comments following a bad breakup, cherry-picked by the media.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FISHER: A lot of convenient reporting to play in - into partisan politics, and I'm disappointed.

ROGERS: The disappointment is widespread in Concord. The governor and scores of lawmakers have told Fisher to resign. Representative Debra Altschiller called Fisher a purveyor of rape culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEBRA ALTSCHILLER: It is our responsibility, in this body, to work with vigilance to eradicate this vile scourge from our ranks and from our state.

MARTIN: That decision will be up to Fisher's peers, who are also looking into a democratic state rep who angered Republicans with politically barbed and occasionally profane tweets. House Speaker Shawn Jasper says lawmakers can censure Fisher but says expulsion is almost unheard of.

SHAWN JASPER: In the few times it's been done in the history of the Legislature, it's been for criminal acts.

ROGERS: The last time that happened was in 1913, well before social media. The crime was bribery. For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.