Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A campaign sign for Carrie Pasquarello along Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Two candidates for City Council are named as the focus of a rally planned for Sunday to “oppose bigotry” in Cambridge. The city’s branch of the Democratic Socialists of America have organized it to express concerns about challengers Robert Winters and Carrie Pasquarello.

Attendees are expected to meet at 4 p.m. in Inman Square – chosen by the DSA, organizers said, because it’s the same time as a celebration for Pasquarello, Winters and nine other candidates endorsed by a group called the Cambridge Citizens Coalition.

Late Saturday, Winters said he became aware that the rally would march from Inman to where the coalition was celebrating. Police have been notified, he said, and without knowing the DSA’s intentions, the location for the event might change.

“In all my years in Cambridge, I have never seen anything like this,” Winters said. “I am bracing for even greater attacks against me and my property.”

Robert Winters listens to former city councillor Nadeem Mazen speak June 6, 2022, in Cambridge City Hall. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A signup sheet from the DSA shared with Cambridge Day confirms the outlines of what Winters learned about the Sunday rally but says only that attendees would march to the event.

“Hate has no home here in Cambridge, and we will not let CCC celebrate candidates who don’t support all of us here in Cambridge regardless of our race, religion or gender identity,” according to the online signup sheet.

Winters and Pasquarello “have written and liked right-wing, racist, Islamophobic and transphobic tweets,” the document says, and “CCC and their endorsed candidates have made no statements condemning the rhetoric.”

A look for motive

Winters, a math lecturer and longtime politics watcher who runs the Cambridge Civic Journal website, ran unsuccessfully for the council four times in the 1990s. Pasquarello, who owns a security consultancy, is a first-time candidate.

A voice mail was left with Pasquarello that was not immediately returned. In an emailed response to questions by Winters, he said that the “substance of the assertions, they are all misrepresentations.”

“Several people, including some of the other candidates, have informed me of some of the chatter” about his social media presence, and fellow council candidate Dan Totten – a democratic socialist who is endorsed by the DSA – confronted him after a Tuesday political forum at Harvard to say “that he was going to go after me and anyone who didn’t join in with him,” Winters said. “This is Totten’s handiwork – the innuendo, the false assertions.”

Winters wondered at other factors for the conflict, such as Pasquarello’s sons being police officers or his own “disdain for DSA in addition to the animosity between me and Totten.”

Totten and DSA respond

Totten, who was texted Saturday with an opportunity to respond to Winters, said any reading beyond what was stated – concern about bigotry – was false. “It is pathetic that he is trying to escape accountability by attacking one of the only openly queer candidates in the race,” Totten said. “He is fuming in embarrassment now that a light is being shone on his hateful content.” Totten also clarified that he has not been in DSA leadership since 2021, and said that at the Tuesday forum it was Winters who interjected himself into a conversation Totten was having with someone else.

A DSA representative said the organization would be talking about Pasquarello and Winters “regardless” of Totten’s membership or his candidacy.

“These are some pretty virulently Islamophobic, racist, transphobic tweets and likes that these candidates have put out, and the public deserves to be aware of it so that they can make an informed choice,” said DSA organizer Willow Carretero Chavez, a resident of Somerville and an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A letter to Cambridge Day received Saturday from resident Ari Ofsevit went over much the same ground about Pasquarello and Winters, which Winters believed was a “parallel email campaign initiated by Totten to disparage me.” Carretero Chavez said the DSA had no public-facing email campaign on the topic. Separately, Totten also said he was unaware of any letter-writing campaign.

Raised at Tuesday forum

In packets of screen captures of social media posts and likes, an account identified as Winters’ hashtags Black Lives Matter as #stupidlivesmatter and makes quippy replies to posts making fun of a plus-sized mermaid or saying resigned U.S. attorney Rachael Rollins is headed to “professional wrestling.” He was asked about his social media presence by an audience member during the Harvard forum, with the Harvard Crimson quoting a question about “posts on Twitter that oppose trans rights, including one that calls transgenderism like a pedophilic ideology.” (Pasquarello didn’t attend the Harvard forum.)

“I actually don’t remember if I put a like on something I thought was funny or something,” Winters said, according to Crimson reporters Muskaan Arshad and Julian J. Giordano. “That is certainly possible, but I certainly don’t remember doing anything particularly controversial in that regard.”

When audience member Aanchal Manuja followed up by saying it wasn’t just one liked tweet, Winters said, “I don’t agree with that,” the Crimson reported.

Candidate and politician reactions

The DSA document links to unhappy reactions by candidates and sitting councillors: Totten, Ayah Al-Zubi, Burhan Azeem, Marc McGovernVernon Walker, Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler and Quinton Zondervan. In general, those quoted are also aligned politically. On Saturday, candidate Ayesha Wilson added her name to those disturbed by questions raised about Pasquarello and Winters. Wilson is a School Committee member seeking to move to the council; she is also endorsed by the groups A Better Cambridge and the Cambridge Residents Alliance.

“Every candidate should join the seven of us who have condemned this abhorrent behavior, and the CCC should immediately cut ties with Robert and Carrie,” Totten said.

Winters said Saturday that he would reply at length on his website to the accusations of transphobia and hate.

Responding to Winters’ answer Tuesday about liking a tweet he thought was funny, Carretero Chavez said: “He thinks that trans people are a joke, which to me as a trans person is infuriating, just because of how afraid I am right now. I’m lucky to be in Cambridge, which I have until now experienced as a pretty welcoming place. But just seeing somebody running for Cambridge City Council making these points, flagging queer events in Cambridge to an account that can be characterized as inciting terrorism is just really jarring to me, and quite frightening.” A screen capture shows Winters’ account engaging with the group Libs of Tiktok, which the Anti-Defamation League calls a “popular anti-LGBTQ+ Twitter account” that puts attention on individuals, events and organizations that frequently then become targets of “harassment, threats and violence.”

Concerns were raised previously

This isn’t the first charge of Winters promoting transphobia, “hatred against the LGBTQIA+ community” and hate groups online: Loren Crowe, himself a controversial figure in Cambridge politics but now a New York resident, posted on the topic in June 2022 with a different set of screen captures purporting to show likes and comments from Winters’ account. “Liking tweets by alt-right Pizzagate conspiracy theorist and InfoWars host Mike Cernovich is more than a red flag. It’s an air raid siren,” Crowe said.

Some of the material can’t be found now among Winters’ online history. His account on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, is now mainly Wordle game shares, animal videos and sports and Hollywood trivia.

“I have not scrubbed any posts,” Winters said. “Some have suggested that I should do so, but I do not believe I have made any statements that can in any way be interpreted in the manner in which Dan Totten and others are doing.”

Pasquarello’s social media

Screen captures of likes by Pasquarello, according to the images supplied by the DSA, show follows of far-right personalities such as Jack Posobiec, whom the race justice group the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an anti-democracy activist “known primarily for creating and amplifying viral disinformation campaigns.” Other likes are for tweets by Andy Ngô and Ian Miles Cheong, who have similar reputations. A tweet of her own from June 3, 2020, warns about “The horrid situation in communities around our country” as “These Democrat-led areas are sinking into the sewer,” according to screen captures provided by the DSA – an interesting remark made by the resident of one of the richest cities in the country with some of the highest real estate costs, but where 91 percent of voters chose Joe Biden in the 2020 election and only 6 percent chose Donald Trump.

That tweet couldn’t be found Saturday in a search of Pasquarello’s profile, but it has become less reliable since the site’s purchase by right-wing billionaire Elon Musk. A similar search also couldn’t find Pasquarello’s own pinned tweet.

The CCC was the only civic group to endorse Winters and Pasquarello. A message was left Saturday afternoon with president Suzanne Preston Blier to learn if the group was familiar with the allegations against their endorsed candidates and had a comment on them, but there was no immediate reply.