A man who harassed Vermont’s only black legislator until she resigned from office will not face any charges, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced in a press conference Monday.
Kiah Morris, a statehouse representative from the town of Bennington, had reported that for the past two years, she had received harassing messages online and found swastikas carved onto trees near her property. The harassment left her and her husband in a constant state of anxiety, she said, and she would report unknown vehicles or people loitering outside her home to authorities out of fear. She also believed break-ins into her car and home were racially motivated. But after a months-long investigation, the attorney general’s office concluded that the main perpetrator of the harassment, an avowed white nationalist named Max Misch, could not be prosecuted because investigators could not link him to the burglaries—and his speech was protected by the First Amendment.
In 2016, Morris had been granted a one-year protective order against Misch, at which point the harassment largely stopped. But in 2017, when the order expired, it began anew. In November, Morris announced she would resign from the House of Representatives, citing harassment and threats online.
In Monday’s press conference, meant both to announce the results of the investigation and to discuss the problem of racism in Vermont, Misch made an appearance. As the Washington Post described it:
[S]uddenly [Morris] stopped talking. She took a breath and then grimaced as everyone turned to find a man in a black shirt emblazoned with Pepe the Frog — an adopted meme for the alt-right — standing in the back of the church.
The whole room seemed to recognize him. Some gasped. Morris backed away.
“No, no, no!” one person in the audience yelled. “Out!”
“This is not safe!” yelled another.
According to the Burlington Free Press, Misch said he had arrived to “tell his side of the story” but later admitted he had arrived to provoke the room: “I like trolling people, it’s fun,” he told the paper. The crowd reacted by shouting him down and singing and holding up coats around Misch to form what the Free Press described as a “makeshift barrier.”
According to the attorney general’s report, Misch had not just been racist in his online harassment but was borderline threatening. “Every time you attend a political rally at the Four Corners or another local venue and I’m aware of the event, I will troll the hell out of you and the other subversives there,” he once told her. “Maybe I’ll bring a friend or three with me too.”