In the wake of the scandal that broke here Tuesday linking City Council candidate Zareh Sinanyan to a large volume of obscene comments on various websites, additional prominent political leaders have rescinded their earlier support. In addition to Congressman Adam Schiff, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, and Paul Krekorian have also all retracted their endorsements. To Sinanyan’s credit, he has promptly removed references to them from his official campaign website. The ongoing scandal has since been covered in the Daily News, Glendale News-Press, LA Observed and LAist.
Most importantly, it was covered in this agenda item for this Tuesday’s City Council meeting (PDF), where the City Council will inquire into whether Mr. Sinanyan authored the comments. Mr. Sinanyan serves as a commissioner at the pleasure of the council, so if a majority of the council believes it’s likely he is responsible for the comments and that it is damaging to the reputation of the city to have him continue as a Community Block Grant commissioner, they are free to remove him from his appointed position.
Among Zareh supporters in the comment section on my previous posts (first post, second post) there there have been five main defenses against the allegations. As it is impractical for me to respond to each individual comment, here are the main defenses I've heard and a detailed response to each one.
**warning: many of the image links below contain offensive content**
1. It was a smear campaign by an anonymous source/shady political operative/Turkish Intelligence!
While I’m sure Mr. Sinanyan does have political enemies, and the timing is potentially damaging to his City Council campaign, these observations do nothing to challenge the volume of third-party evidence that shows that he is very likely to have said was is alleged to have said. As I documented in my previous posts, I did not publish any information from the original anonymous e-mail that was sent to many in Glendale without investigating it myself, verifying the links between the account that made the comments and Sinanyan's confirmed accounts and describing my process. The Glendale News-Press also investigated the claims and came to similar conclusions. Every bit of information alleged in the initial anonymous e-mail was verifiable by third party sources with no stake in the election, including the cached files of several of the world’s largest and most secure tech companies. The technical skills required to uncover the comments initially weren’t hacker-level ninjitsu - anyone who has ever used a search engine could find them just as easily by simply typing the candidate’s name into Google or Yahoo. It would be a smear campaign against Mr. Sinanyan if the allegations weren’t true, but as one commenter noted, using someone’s racist and vulgar statements to portray them as being racist and vulgar isn’t a smear; it’s accountability.
And yes, I did get a comment blaming it on Turkish Intelligence, as well as numerous anonymous comments decrying the anonymity of the original tip with no apparent sense of irony.
2. He was only attacking people who were denying the Armenian Genocide.
This was claimed by the highly partisan Asbarez Armenian newspaper. They are correct that some posts were on videos and comment threads that discussed the Armenian genocide, in which the Ottoman Turks are well documented to have killed 1.5 million Armenians between 1915-1920; but many of the disturbing posts were on videos and topics unrelated to the horror of the genocide, including MMA videos.
3. The comments weren’t really so bad! Who hasn’t gotten into a heated argument online?
I certainly have. But not like this, this or this. Especially disturbing are the numerous posts referring to Muslims as “raghead cockroaches” and wishing them death. I have many, many more examples of these comments that will singe your hair. The sheer volume and inventiveness of obscenity is stunning. If you think this is acceptable language for a candidate for higher office, so be it, but it would be far-fetched for Mr. Sinanyan to claim that he didn’t know that city commissioners and candidates for elected office would be held to a higher standard of behavior than the average Youtube flame-war participant.
4. Perhaps Sinanyan wrote the comments, but an anonymous hacker got into his home computer and made them public! That hacker should be prosecuted!
The allegations in the initial anonymous e-mail had nothing to do with linking the comments to a specific computer or IP address; the allegations are linked to Sinanyan via his Google account, which he could log into from any computer he had access to. The comments themselves were openly published online and didn’t require any “hacking” to view - they were all freely visible under Mr. Sinanyan’s name. Additionally, the connections shown between the Youtube account and the Google account were all made using information that Mr. Sinanyan himself had chosen to make public in various online profiles, no special access or “hacking” required.
5. He didn’t write the comments at all - he was hacked by an impostor!
This is the big argument that keeps coming up, so I've written a post with an analysis of why a "hack" of the necessary scope and duration is highly unlikely.