A few days afterArlington's now-outed Reddit troll Michael Brutsch
sat for an interview in a Fort Worth hotel room with CNN reporter Drew Griffin, the rest of us finally got to see it. It's a bit of a trainwreck.
CNN's first shot of Brutsch shows him fidgeting nervously as he licks his lips and overgrown goatee. He looks shrunken and embarrassed as Griffin leads him through a series of questions about jailbait, rape jokes, and what the hell he was thinking.
"All I can say is I'm sorry," the 49-year-old Brutsch tells him. "I have made mistakes. I understand that Reddit encouraged and enabled this sort of behavior and I shouldn't have been a part of it. Nobody on Reddit really had anything to say about it at all. Since then I have come to understand there are situations where things are inappropriate."
Brutsch explains that he started off posting mostly softcore porn, which he separated out into various subreddits based on characteristics like skin color (the "Women of Color" subreddit) or breast size ("Boobies.")
"I saw it as folders to file things in," he says. Things.
But over time, he says, he realized it was fun to piss people off. "[There are] hot-button topics you can make a comment about and just enrage people, and sadly for me, I enjoyed that," he says. "I liked going in and making people really mad over what amounted to meaningless things... I treated Reddit like a game. Apparently I have a gift for pushing buttons."
Brutsch also repeatedly refers to his screenname, Violentacrez, as "a character."
"I am to some degree apologizing for what I did," he says, adding quickly, "I was playing to an audience of college kids. Two years ago, when all of this was at its height, the audience was appreciate and supportive of the sort of gallows humor I put out there." "The biggest thrill" of the whole thing, he says, "was those meaningless internet points."
Brutsch says he's lost his job and his health insurance, and that he'll soon lose his home. He anticipates that he and his wife will move in with her family in Arkansas. "I really don't see myself being able to get a job," he says.
He's done posting on Reddit, he says. " There's no point anymore. No one's going to buy into the Violentacrez mystique anymore. It's gone." And with some of the subreddits, he adds, "I have come around over the last few months to understand that some of these things can be harmful to other people."
Meanwhile, over on Reddit, Brutsch continues to post under his "clean" screenname, mbrutsch, where he declares, "CNN was a huge mistake, which I will not repeat."
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Redditgate has also served as an opportunity for cable news talking heads to blather about the nature of "free speech."
"Free speech is free speech as long as you're saying it out loud with your name on it," Drew Griffin tells Anderson Cooper, ridiculously. "This guy was hidden away anonymously, posting stuff, trying to tick people off."
Actually, there's no First Amendment requirement to sign your name to the stuff you're saying on the Internet. Nor should there be. Brutsch can go back online tomorrow and continue being obnoxious and gross. But as many people have pointed out in the wake of his unmasking, free speech doesn't mean freedom from the consequences of that speech.
Brutsch can post as many degrading images and comments about women, teenagers, Jews, dead children, African-Americans and rape victims as his heart desires. And if he ever truly goes silent, a thousand more trolls will spring up to take his place. Free speech isn't always pretty, and it isn't repercussion-free, but it's definitely not dead just yet.