Twitter & Sam Brownback’s Fearful Authoritarians

If you think state government should bully high schoolers for exercising their right to free speech, that it has a right to poke through the medical records of women who’ve had abortions, that there shouldn’t be a separation between church and state, and you’re A-OK with the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity’s effort to wipe out just about all functions of the federal government that benefit anyone other than the obscenely rich, but you only hold those views when your party is in power, than your dream job is working as communications director for Kansas Republican governor Sam Brownback.

A few days ago an 18 year old Kansas high school senior, while at a Kansas Youth in Government event, posted this tweet:

Of course hardly anyone knows about that tweet because they were following Emma Sullivan on Twitter. In fact, when she posted the tweet she had only 61 followers. But now she has thousands, because the “offending” tweet was spotted by one of Brownback’s taxpayer-funded government staffers, who took a screenshot of the tweet and sent it to Sullivan’s principal.

Sullivan had not, in fact, told Brownback he sucked. But that didn’t matter to Brownback’s commissars for regulation of speech and veneration of the great leader:

“That wasn’t respectful,” responded Sherriene Jones-Sontag. “In order to really have a constructive dialogue, there has to be mutual respect.”

Brownback’s brief speech to the students encouraged them to “be active in their government, community and public service,” Jones-Sontag says.

The tweet was the only one brought to her attention that day, she says, and it was passed along to the Youth in Government program, which organized the students’ visit to the capital.

“It was important for the organization to be aware of the comments their students were making.” Jones-Sontag says. “It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet.”

Coming from Sherriene Jones-Sontag, those comments are both chilling and absurdly comical. Jones-Sontag, after all, left a career as a local TV news reader to eventually be the propagandist for former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, infamous for his attempts to sieze the private medical records of women who’d had abortions. His office even subpoenaed the records of a motel near the office of since-assassinated George Tiller to try to determine the identities of adults who had brought minors for legal abortions.

While working for Kline, Jones-Sontag–she hadn’t started using the last name of her husband, the director of the Kansas chapter of Koch’s Americans for Prosperity–exhibited little concern that Bill O’Reilly had obtained the medical records of women who’d had abortions. When her boss ran an ad against his opponent about a 15 year old allegation of sexual harassment that was dismissed by the court, she told the opponent “prove to Kansas voters that you didn’t do this,” which seems a bit at odds with that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing.  And when reporters were given an email by Kline laying out how to use churches for his reelection campaign, she not only defended the memo but alleged (with nothing to support the claim) that someone had hacked Kline’s personal computer.

That a tweet by a high schooler has become national news shows that Jones-Sontag really, really sucks a lot at her job. But it also reveals a consistent pattern of authoritarianism. Despite being in bed with the supposedly libertarian Americans for Prosperity, Jones-Sontag is actually yet another example demonstrating that most conservative Republicans aren’t conservatives, they’re authoritarians:

On the left, there are significant numbers of ideological-driven activists, thinkers and voters who put ideology before partisanship.  And many on the left claim as a make of pride their aloofness from parties or in-groups. (Whether they really are separate from in-groups is another story.) But on the right, there are few who put principle above party.  Most activists, thinkers and polemicists–as opposed to “average” Republican voters–are partisans seeking to push the party in their desired direction, and some have deeply held policy beliefs on issues like taxes or the relationship between government and family.  But few hold deep political or philosophical beliefs about the constitution of government, the relationship between government and society, or the protection or advancement of liberty.  With the exception of some nativists—most notably Pat Buchanan—the American right is motivated more by partisanship than principle.

The politics of those on the American Right are not defined by a love of liberty and a revulsion against tyranny, as was the case with most of the Founding Fathers (at least as it concerned white men).  There’s not much that’s a universal principle driving their politics.  Their politics are informed and motivated by fears that they personally would fall under the control of, to quote Dinh, “ the people who would destroy America and her people.”  For the faux conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Committee convention, principles are very malleable, and largely defined by whether their authoritarians are in power or they are out of power and in fear of those they believe “would destroy America and her people.”

Jones-Sontag probably isn’t willfully and knowingly sinister. She’s probably no Bond character, reveling in her venality. But that what makes appratchiks like her more dangerous, because they’re not informed by sound principals and they’re motivated by fear. Jones-Sontag probably thinks it’s a threat not just to her job, but to the social and moral order that someone like Emma Sullivan has the temerity and insouciance to mock Sam Brownback. After all, it’s “on the internet,” and Jones-Sontag is evidently very concerned about the evils of the internet, since prior to working for Phill Kline she was “Internet Safety Director for the Kansas Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, helping train  children about safe internet use.”

One last thing. This is something else I found on the internet, from 1996:

My name is Sherriene Jones and I am a junior at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  I am currently working on a research project about freedom of speech in Latin America, in particular, in Argentina and Brazil.

I am interested in learning about the relationship between the Argentine government and news media.  How do people view the relationship?  Does the government have any affect or power over news media?  Do news media affect the government? Are the any experts who study this relationship?

I would like to hear your views and opinions of this relationship.  Please feel free to e-mail directly at

Thanks for taking the time to read this message and letting me know your thoughts.

Sherriene Jones

I’d love to read the paper she eventually wrote. I’ll bet it was a spirited defense of Argentina’s policy of “disappearing” those who disagreed with their government. If Twitter had been around in 1976 to 1983, a high school senior who tweeted that their ruling military junta “blows a lot” might have been dropped from a helicopter to her death in the Atlantic Ocean. And the events leading to their death would have been started by a fearful, authoritarian-loving informer, who may have shared a lot of similarities with Sherriene Jones-Sontag.


*Disclaimer: in 2010 I managed the campaign of Brownback’s Democratic opponent. I did not meet or have any communication with Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

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14 Responses to Twitter & Sam Brownback’s Fearful Authoritarians

  1. Joe White says:

    Funny that a student who identifies herself as liberal was the one to use a homosexual slur to try to insult someone.

  2. Dana Houle says:

    Funny that a lot of conservatives manage to see everything as being about “homosexual” sex.

  3. Pingback: Governor Brownback Needs To Fire His Communications Director – Big Think « Communications

  4. Janice Bradley says:

    You are correct about their authoritarianism. Brownback’s apology over the tweet scandal rings hollow in the context of the media blacked out suppression at Brownback’s Town Hall on Childhood Poverty, in Wichita, Nov 16. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, was paid taxpayer funds to propose marriage as a solution to women and children in poverty.
    Here is a Kansas Free Press article from a participant, Vickie Stangl, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

    Here’s my op-ed submitted to the Wichita Eagle on Nov. 18, edited and resent today:

    Censorship and abuse at Governor Brownback’s “town hall” on childhood poverty
    The scandal over a high schooler’s Twitter tweet is not some mistaken blunder. Suppression of freedom of speech is ostensibly the Brownback administration’s modus operandi. On Nov. 16, Occupy Wichita protested Brownback’s taxpayer financed “town hall” on childhood poverty, which only allowed taxpayers to speak at tables with facilitators on predetermined questions, swaying the discussion to a faith-based marriage, social engineering project funded by $6.6 million federal funds. This occurred at the taxpayer financed, newly renovated, Broadview/Drury hotel.

    Occupy Wichita’s First Amendment rights were suppressed by the Brownback/Siedlecki staff and the Wichita Police Dept, who threatened occupiers with removal for handing out a quarter- sheet flier outside the doors of the “town hall,” and inside to two State Legislators and a Wichita Eagle reporter at tables long before the meeting began. Referring to the flier, SRS policy advisor, Michelle Shroeder, said, “There is no protest allowed here.”

    Brownback, Siedlicki and Rector represent the 1% against the 99%. Siedlecki is closing SRS offices, slashing Medicaid benefits and services, cutting mental health, services to the elderly, nutrition programs and imposing penalties for parents who fail to take part in work-preparation programs or meet other new agency requirements. These penalties will ultimately hurt children in poverty.

    Brownback returned a $31.5 million federal grant to set up health care exchanges. He tried to eliminate Early Head Start. He signed four bills restricting women’s reproductive rights and services. His government initiatives boil down to putting more money into the already stuffed pockets of the rich and their corporations, with tax exemptions and gradual elimination of the state income tax and corporate income tax, leading to higher sales and property taxes, which hit the working and poor people much harder.

    Many factors keep families trapped in an endless cycle of poverty but there is nothing more devastating than low wages. Parents work full time and still cannot provide a future for their children because their employers pay such pitiful wages. We call for a “living wage,” where anyone who is willing and able, can work to earn a wage that allows them to raise their children with honor and dignity.

    No speaker was interrupted. Occupy Wichita members stood up quietly, with our backs toward the speaker during particularly offensive portions of Rob Rector’s Heritage Foundation propaganda. Rector promotes Cinderella solutions in the face of increasing economic inequality and massive long-term unemployment in Kansas and the country as a whole.

    Suppressed from sharing our written expression, Occupy Wichita protesters waited until Rector had finished and called out, “Mic check.” We spoke in unison about real solutions to poverty with the people’s mic while the staff called a short break. Many attendees stayed through the break to listen and they applauded in support when we finished. We were leaving when the police started bullying.

    Occupy Wichita women members suffered bullying abuse by the police as they were leaving the hall and one required a visit to the ER for her injuries. Two women were arrested, one was charged. This is all about denying the Constitutional rights of freedom of speech of the little people in the 99% against the 1%, which the governor and SRS secretary represent.

    Our flier began with a quote from ML King, “Our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about things that matter.” Brownback, Siedlecki and Rector offer no realistic solutions. They are blaming and punishing the victims of poverty. Occupy Wichita believes that childhood poverty matters. We refuse to be silenced.

    • MerriAnnie says:

      Janice, your post makes me know that our country is not the place I used to be so proud of as a kid in the 50’s. I thought the USA was the grandest place on earth, and I still think it was to some degree. But as I grew older I realized that its greatness could only be seen from certain vantage points. If you were black… not so great. If you were a woman… not so great. But, as a country, we worked through many of the problems and I thought things were getting better.

      Now, this. I’m disheartened more than I can say.

      And confused.

      Isn’t it the conservatives who yell the loudest about communism? How is that, now, they are the ones who repress voices in brutal and ugly ways? The ones who now fear freedom of speech for others?

    • Maxcat1 says:

      All is not lost: fully 50% of the registered voters in Kansas did not vote in the last election, that is 860,000 voters. The good governor was elected with just 530,000 votes while having 308,000 votes cast against him. It is the time now to start to energize those 860,000 voters that did not vote to energize them to get involved, (intellectually if not physically) and that is truely the one and only way that we 99%’ers have at our disposal to affect that kind of changes that need to be made in order for us to wrestle our government away from the 1% elites.

  5. bp says:

    Well said. Conservatives only support freedom of speech when they approve of what is being said.

    • Kevin Groenhagen says:

      What’s your opinion of the case where a woman and her husband were arrested and detained by the Secret Service after she yelled “You suck” at Bill Clinton in 1996? In this case with the student and Brownback, no one was arrested, no one was detained. and no one was punished.

      • MerriAnnie says:

        Kevin, I don’t necessarily doubt your story, but can you give us an url to the story? I tried to find it online and all I found said the POLICE, not the Secret Service, arrested her after Clinton left. Not during his speech. And there was nothing in the article that talked about Clinton’s response to it. Nor did it talk about whether the woman did anything else that might have caused the police to detain her.

        However, if the story is as you say, (as I said, I’d like some proof) then the police were wrong to arrest her. It happens in this country a lot. A driver flashes his lights to warn traffic of a speed trap. He gets arrested for interfering with a police officer. And yet a court in 1996 said it is free speech – or it is our right to do that.

        This woman’s husband, according to the article I read, yelled at her that she could get a lawyer, or something to that effect, and they arrested him, too. Which seems wrong, on the face of it, but the site I read this at was anti-liberal, so who knows what the real truth was.

        That’s why I ask. How do you know that what you posted is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Inquiring minds would like to know. Or should I say, Reluctant Minds. I’ve come to the point that I need proof on most things online these days.

  6. MerriAnnie says:

    “Does the government have any affect or power over news media? ” — Sherriene Jones

    Effect, Miss Jones… effect. Not affect. Effect is a noun and affect is a verb. That’s the general rule, with a few exceptions, none relevant in that sentence.

    I hope Ms Jones-Sontag has since figured out when to use effect and when to use affect.

    If I were going to have any sympathy for Ms J-S, I just lost it. (Not that I was.)

    affect – verb
    effect – noun

    Yes, I know I am anal about it. I can’t help it. I’ve seen big corporate presidents misuse these words. It’s not funny to me.

    I could maybe be persuaded to have another cup of coffee and chill, if someone would bring it to me here at the desk.

  7. Kevin Grroenhagen says:

    “Disclaimer: in 2010 I managed the campaign of Brownback’s Democratic opponent. I did not meet or have any communication with Sherriene Jones-Sontag.”

    And you claim that “Jones-Sontag really, really sucks a lot at her job”!!! LOL. I have never seen a more poorly managed campaign in Kansas than (learn the difference between “than” and “then,” Poindexter) Tom Holland’s.

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