This post has nothing to do with atheism. All of us at Rock Beyond Belief strongly believe in social justice and that it is an integral part of the liberties we have fought for as members of the U.S. Military. This story took many weeks, months in fact, of investigation on behalf of all of us here. Many of the volunteers here hold a certain amount of fear about the backlash that will come as a result. Because of that fear I will not be divulging the individuals who took part in this investigation. I did not author this in its entirety but I take full responsibility for the contents of this post.
- Paul Loebe
Rock Beyond Belief
The Friday after Christmas 2013, senior citizen Mrs. Vrotsos began receiving threatening calls. They started all at once and escalated in nature, as anonymous callers told the 82 year old to “get her affairs in order” and made threats on her life. One female caller, hearing Mrs. Vrotsos’s obvious terror at the abusive phone campaign, calmed down long enough to explain why she was calling—she was trying to reach Mrs. Vrotsos’s daughter, Janet , who earlier that day had “posted an inflammatory remark” on Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage Jr.’s Facebook page;
attacking him and other disabled veterans, calling them worthless taxpayer burdens and wishing death on them, and Kolfage in particular. When a screencap of the post, along with Janet’s personal information broke on the rightwing blog Patdollard.com, it spread like wildfire across the conservative blogosphere and incited readers to a rage that would lead them to begin a systematic harassment of Janet, her former workplace, her family, and many of her friends.
There was just one problem, though. The post was a photoshop job! and the story was a hoax created to spur the over 65,000 members of Brian Kolfage Jr.’s page to attack the admin of a rival Facebook page that was mistakenly identified as Janet Vrotsos.
The story first caught the attention of Rock Beyond Belief when a link of the Patdollard.com blog was posted in a debate group. The message was distasteful but the doxxing of private details as punishment for free speech more so. We reached out to the Facebook group the blog mentioned—Republican Family Values—in an offer to organize a protection detail for the doxxed woman. The admin was quick to respond, saying that the group had no affiliation with Vrotsos, who indeed, was not even a fan of the page, and pointed me in the direction of several users who were investigating the story and subsequent doxx. It became apparent over the next few weeks that Vrotsos was wrongly identified as an admin of Republican Family Values, a satirical Facebook Group and rival of Airman Brian Kolfage Jr.’s facebook page (think the Stephen Colbert of Facebook groups) who had earlier that week posted a satirical meme poking fun of the Airman’s father, Kolfage Sr., in response to a meme he had posted. This is where it gets interesting.
A Skype meeting was conducted with the admin of RFV, (who is most certainly not female), who gave a little backstory on his group. It started out as a joke—posting messages and links in a Poe-like manner to poke fun at typical Tea Party doctrine, and grew very quickly to over 35,000+ members. The admin, overwhelmed, brought in one more individual to manage the page—but this was several years ago. The group also attracted the attention of actual Republicans and Tea Party members, and developed a practice of creating memes to honor some of the funnier quotes from dissenters. One such meme created fired back against Brian Kolfage Sr. after he posted a picture of President Obama’s face photoshopped into the body of the Kool-Aid Man, with the quote, “Keep drinking the Kool-Aid, folks.” In reaction to the post, members of RFV began appearing of Jr’s Facebook page, mocking him and his father’s posts and commenting on some of the more radical articles he posted. Kolfage Sr. took offense to this on his page, and began encouraging his users to report the RFV page in order to shut It down.
The RFV page did what it usually does in this case—it created a meme. The image was a combination of two photos taken from the Kolfage Jr page, and are considered public domain because Kolfage Jr is listed as a Public Figure and in accordance with Facebook Terms of Service, a public figure’s images are open to satire and parody (much like President Obama, Justin Beiber and other public figures are subject to parodies in their image.) In the meme, Jr, with wife and child (the image taken directly off Jr.’s Facebook banner) is captioned as saying, “Daddy, a Facebook page is being mean to me! Waaaaa!” with Sr, whose head is photoshopped onto a picture of a man painted to look like the Kool-Aid man, responds “No worries, son. Daddy Kool-Aid to the rescue.”
Tacky, but harmless. It sent Sr. into a rage, however, and he in turn accused RFV of violating Facebook’s TOS by using the images without permission. He called on followers to report the meme, but Facebook refused to take it down because due to Jr’s status as a Public Figure, the photos were public domain for the purpose of satire and didn’t require permission to be used.
When getting the meme removed failed, Kolfage Sr tried a different tactic—one he has since publicly admitted to. He created a fake RFV page using the same name and userpic, and began attacking members of the original page in order to draw out the admin. He would curse, insult, and respond with threats to any post or comment left on the Republican Family Values page, and this is how he ran into Janet Vrotsos.
Targeting the Innocent
Janet Vrotsos will be the first one to admit she is not particularly computer savvy. In interviews she has given to Rock Beyond Belief and others, it becomes clear that she is not a frequent Facebook user. She mostly uses Facebook to “play Bejeweled, talk to friends, and look at pictures.” She had, however, been following the story of Delaney Brown, an 8 year old girl diagnosed with leukemia. When a friend of Vrotsos shared a link from RFV about the child’s death, it appeared on her timeline, and she posted a sympathetic message, “I have been following her story too[..]I am so very sorry for your loss…[S]he and you are in my prayers[..]I hope you find some peace,”. This comment appeared on the RFV page during Sr.’s attack, and he responded with a plighty “Go fuck yourself, Jan.”
Addressing the attack like any sensible person would, she clicked on the fake RFV page, reported it, and then left a message, “Stay off my page…I have reported you.” Kolfage Sr. took this, somehow, as an admission from Vrotsos that she was the admin of the RFV page. He then used her open Facebook page to phish for information, purchased a background check on her in order to collect even more information, and then he prepared his doxx.
The Inflammatory “Post”
The admins of Rock Beyond Belief cannot admit with 100% certainty that the post Brian Kolfage Sr claims is from Janet Vrotsos was manufactured by Sr or one of his followers. However, we can claim it is with enough certainty that we’re willing to put our necks on the line for saying it. All the evidence points to this being a hack job and the motive is there. The post that Kolfage’s people leaked to the writer of the Patdollard.com article, Jeff Rainforth, is grainy, yes, but especially pixelated around the name and text of the post. The triangle separating Vrotsos’s name and the group name also looks misaligned. I am willing to publicly state with my reputation on the line, that the post is fraudulent. Why? Because the facts do not add up.
Let’s pretend, for a second, that she did post this message to the Airman page. Why would the admins just screencap it, then take it down? Why not leave it up as proof and let others comment on it? Furthermore, if she made the post in the first place, why bother with the systematic attack on RFVs in order to discover the identity of the admin…who they claim just happens to turn out to be Vrotsos?
No, because the motive for Kolfage is to manufacture outrage for his followers in order to hit the RFV admins where it hurt when Facebook refused to take down a picture Kolfage Sr. found potentially embarrassing to his family and his cause?…
From a business standpoint, it looks like a great way to generate buzz and publicity for his side—invent a scandal that is rage-inducing and outrageous in general, ensure it is picked up by other blogs so that it goes viral, and then enjoy the benefits that come from the viral exposure. Had Jan been a sock puppet instead of a real person, the incident would have been referred to as brilliant marketing strategy. However, Jan is real, and in Kolfage Sr.’s haste to steamroll over an innocent victim in his quest for “truth”, “justice” and “the American way” he actually committed several glaring crimes.
This entire scandal has left victim Jan Vrotsos in a precarious situation. She received several hundred terrifying emails, phone calls, and snail mail missives, and, before she was forced to shut down her page, Facebook messages daily. For weeks. The union she retired years ago from also received threatening messages along with promises to picket, forcing them to temporarily halt business matters in order to deal with the harassment, make a statement, and then finally conduct an interview with the victim. Jan has been sent magazines she didn’t subscribe to, including one about military history, forcing her to contact these companies one by one and cancel the subscriptions manually. She has had to hire a private investigator, to the tune of thousands of dollars, to begin building the case for her to take Kolfage Sr to court, and to try to get to the root of why she was framed and how. She has had to change her phone number as well as her mother’s, a process that involves time and money. Veterans and civilians alike still send her messages daily, months later, vowing to kill her and her dog, disparaging her looks, questioning her morals, and frankly scaring the wits out of her.
Since this story broke, we have been able to uncover numerous sock puppets of Kolfage—so many, it leaves even us confused. From sock puppets that are under different names (Ben Overlue’s account, which has since been deleted but had a vanity URL of BGKSR, Brian G____ Kolfage SR, anyone? ), to counter-troll accounts used to infiltrate pro-Vrotsos groups, to fakes of their own page they created to defame themselves for sympathy, to truly ugly pages targeting victims’ dead relatives.
These are not the actions of innocent people inundated with anti-military messages. They are the actions of internet bullies who attack, without provocation, anyone that disagrees with them or is perceived to disagree with them, by means of manufacturing reasons for their many followers to hurt the victims offline, in their private lives. Furthermore, the refrain in almost every call to vengeance Sr. issues is “How dare you attack a hero.” While Rock Beyond Belief never seeks to discredit another service member’s valor, we are disgusted by a service member’s father’s glee in capitalizing and piggy-backing off of his own son’s war injuries as a method to bully others that he perceives to disagree with him. His son may be a hero, but he is not. And using his son’s images in memes he creates to go after people who disagree with him is tacky beyond words.
A Pattern of Abuse
When Rock Beyond Belief and the group of individuals I am lovingly calling “Team Jan” began investigating her story in depth, more victims came forward. Most were gun shy and did not want to talk to anyone about their experiences because they were unable to trust anyone reaching out to them to help. The majority of them gave us a quick statement: they made a harmless comment of contrary opinion to a post of Kolfage’s that one of their friends linked to, and that showed up in their feed. They commented a dissenting opinion, forgot about it, and were only made aware that they had been targeted when the real life harassment started. Almost all that came forward have the same things in common—the story was linked through a friend, so a friend shared it from Kolfage’s page to their own; it showed up in the victim’s live Facebook feed because the sharer was a friend; the victim commented once and then put it out of mind, and then woke up a day or two later to find their personal details shared with an angry mob of people out to harass them.
One victim was targeted after he commented on a friend’s post linking through to Kolfage’s page. Because he disagreed with the original post, Kolfage tracked down a satire page the victim had made years ago to protest a local elected official running for office. The victim, Louie Caponecchia, had used the page to play a Poe—an exaggerated characterization of the politician he meant to satirize—but Kolfage took it seriously, and used it to doxx Caponecchia, demand he be harassed and investigated by a fake-veteran watchdog Facebook page, Stolen Valor, for forging his military service (and since then, Stolen Valor has conducted no investigation and multiple sources including Rock Beyond Belief have verified Caponecchia to be a legitimate service member) and created multiple accounts to attack him, make allegations that his parents have disavowed him, and threatened his nephew. Just in the last few days, they have still persisted in harassing him and recently made a fake page on behalf of Caponecchia’s mother. Kolfage has commented upon places where Caponecchia’s family lives, indirectly threatened him and his loved ones, and gone so far as to impersonate them. This was an earlier attack of Kolfage’s—no fake message was constructed in order to incite followers to attack Caponecchia—and instead, Kolfage unsuccessfully attempted to use another well-populated Facebook page to do his dirty work for him. Few took the bait. And as a serial killer evolves in his murder techniques, so does Kolfage. He would not make the same mistake again.
The second victim that came forward asked us to withhold his name. However, he has submitted multiple screencaps of the abuse, which we provide below. He told us that after a friend posted a link on their own page linking through to Kolfage’s page (seeing a pattern? I am) and it showed up in his feed, he responded. He commented something as simple as,
I hope [Kolfage] pulls his head out of his ass
and forgot about it. He started receiving phone calls the next day. (This was in June.) Kolfage had photoshopped a message from the victim in the same vein as the one he designed for Jan. This one, however, was less sophisticated, perhaps because Kolfage Sr. had less experience in trolling and doxxing. It was simply text on a picture, with no attempt to recreate a Facebook message screencap, but some of his readers still took the bait.
Since December, more victims continue to come forward, most with the same story. Kolfage refuses to stop stirring the fire, and continues to post things about the victims on occasion. The police have gotten involved, and are finally granting a subpoena from Jan’s service provider for the IP addresses of some of the more threatening messages she has received, and even now, the threats and terror continue. Make no mistake: Jan is a victim.
What Does it All Mean?
Are there consequences for Kolfage Sr.? Possibly. He can be brought up on charges, and he can go to court. While freedom of speech isn’t a crime, providing personal details of someone in order to encourage others to commit acts of harassment and violence against someone, let alone an innocent victim, is a federal crime.
The admins of Rock Beyond Belief are almost as disgusted by Kofage Sr. piggybacking off his son’s military service, and subsequent disability. Every single post, every single attack or counter-attack he begins all centers around the audacity of some people to attack the political positions of a man with a disability. However, Kolfage Jr.’s disability or military status does not protect him from dissenting opinion, and it certainly does not protect his father. Furthermore, even as a veteran, both he and his father skirt a fine line, legally, when using his military and disability status to raise funds, profits, or general awareness. The fact that he is disabled protects him from much of the backlash that other soldiers like Lt. Chuck Nadd, who is being called a Spotlight Ranger, and an attention seeker. Kolfage’s disability status means that we cannot make these same assumptions about him, publicly but it doesn’t mean he’s not guilty.
Kolfage Clan: stop using your military status as a bully pulpit to harass and attack those who disagree with you, or worse, innocent victims. Civilian reporters may not feel comfortable calling you out on your behavior, but we are fellow soldiers, Marines, airman and sailors, and we have no compunction.
We’ll be watching you.
My aside. I went onto Facebook and created a brand new account titled “Brian Kolfage”. I then took this account, visited the Rock Beyond Belief page, and left a disparaging comment. Let’s examine a comparison.
That took me less than 2 minutes. I’ve already deleted the account as well as the comment but I know how that game is played.
- Paul Loebe