Christopher Rufo talks about threats that led him to drop out of council race
When Christopher Rufo first declared his candidacy against incumbent Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien in September for the 2019 race, he painted himself as the anti-ideologue, with a focus on solving the city’s homelessness crisis.
“I’m a firm believer that when you have a robust debate, where all ideas are represented … the best ideas win, and eventually the best policies win,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “That was really the frame of the whole campaign.”
In Seattle, though, he feels that the limits of ideology have driven too much policy in recent years, at the expense of residents’ safety.
Rufo said that seeing the crimes that are becoming more and more frequent in Seattle convinced him that he needed to throw his hat in the ring to change city policy.
“Over the last few months, just within a few blocks of my house in the kind of Ballard-Fremont area, we had a man camping directly behind a daycare arrested for armed robbery; we had a 4-year-old girl pick up a dirty needle on the Burke-Gilman Trail; we had a man set another man on fire; and we’ve had just countless thefts, car break-ins, car prowls, robberies, assaults,” he said. “And frankly, we’ve seen no response … There’s no sense of urgency, no sense of determination, there’s just kind of a sense of willful blindness on the behalf of our leadership.”
But less than two months after announcing the campaign, Christopher Rufo made the decision to withdraw from the race. He told his supporters in an email that bullying and harassment from a group of extreme activists — harassment that included racist, sexist vulgarity against his wife — had forced his hand.
I had hoped that this would be a campaign of ideas, but I quickly discovered that the activists in this city have no interest in ideas. Since the campaign launch, they have harassed and threatened my family nonstop. I was prepared to take the heat, but unfortunately, they have focused their hatred on my wife and children. They’ve made vile racist attacks against my wife, attempted to get her fired from Microsoft, and threatened sexual violence. They have even posted hateful messages to my 8-year-old son’s school Facebook page. I know that as the race progresses, the activists will ratchet up their hate-machine and these attacks will intensify significantly.
“There is a hard-core set of activists that are willing to do anything,” Rufo told Dori. “And they’ve weaponized our common values of tolerance, diversity, and compassion as tools to destroy people. And it’s absolutely wrong, and as a city, we can’t stand for it.”
Rufo explained that his wife immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand as a child and experienced racism growing up on the East Coast. She came to Seattle because she felt that the city would be more tolerant toward people of other races. However, Rufo said, as the couple began to develop political views that leaned more moderate and even conservative, the tolerance level shifted.
“The whole time that people are tolerant of you as an immigrant, a woman, a minority — if you disagree with them politically, all of that goes out the window, and they’ll come at you with racist attacks,” Rufo said.
He said that people sent his wife links from white supremacist websites, and even told her that as a person of color, she should be ashamed of herself. One message, reportedly, told his wife to “get [expletive] bent.”
“The same people who say, ‘believe all women’ were calling her story into question,” Rufo said.
One person purportedly wrote that they knew where Rufo lived, while others left hate messages on the Facebook page of his son’s school, which he believes is “completely out-of-bounds.” The offensive messages were deleted by a moderator before Rufo saw them, he said.
“There were some very threatening, very aggressive messages, and just hatred after hatred after hatred,” he said.
Rufo, who identifies as a social liberal and fiscal conservative, believes that society is unwilling to accept anyone who is not firmly on the left.
“What’s happened in our discourse is that if you are in the center, right of center on anything, you’re a fascist, you’re a Nazi, you’re a white supremacist,” he said.
Not only do these attacks chase potential candidates out of the political arena, Rufo said, but they also trivialize the very real problems of white supremacy and racism by throwing those labels around too casually.
Rufo explained that he and his family made the decision not to file a police report after a police investigator told them that the screenshots would become public record. Rufo and his family did not wish to expose the names of the alleged harassers.
“One thing that I really wanted to do is take the high ground, and I don’t want these folks subjected to the same kind of harassment that they subjected my family to,” he said.
The withdrawn candidate is not totally giving up the idea of getting back in the race, but said that the experience has opened up a whole new set of political issues on which to focus.
“I’m going to keep all of my options open, but really I just need to take some time to decompress and to sort through some of these issues,” he said, explaining, “I ran the campaign, I lost the campaign to fight for better policies in the City of Seattle. That was my goal. But since then, I’ve learned that there’s a much bigger fight against this culture of intolerance. And I think that’s something really important, and that’s a fight that’s worth having, and that’s a cause that is just.”