CONCORD, N.H. — A Laconia legislator who came under heavy criticism at a hearing Tuesday for creating a misogynistic web forum told a House committee reviewing his online activities that he “never hated women” and meant no harm in posts that have been widely viewed as sexist and degrading.
“I have never hated women,” Fisher told the panel. “I know that is what has been alleged. I will say that some of the views that have been alleged here are certainly not reflective of what I stand for and what I have done in my time here in Concord.”
“This is a lot of convenient reporting to play into partisan politics, and I’m disappointed that that’s where it’s gone,” he said.
Fisher has been under fire since April 25, when The Daily Beast initially reported that he was the moderator of The Red Pill, a self-described “men’s rights” message board on Reddit.com. In 2008, Fisher posted on The Red Pill, “Rape isn’t an absolute bad because the rapist, I think, probably likes it a lot.”
State Rep. Robert Fisher at Tuesday's House Legislative Administration Committee hearing.
State Rep. Robert Fisher at Tuesday’s House Legislative Administration Committee hearing.
Explaining the explosive comment in a statement two weeks ago, Fisher wrote: “It was a debate about absolute truth that was recurring on my forums dating back in ’08. The default position for most on the aptly dubbed ‘gripe corner’ was devil’s advocate, which made for lively debate.”
About a dozen lawmakers and members of the public criticized Fisher in testimony before the committee.
Amanda Grady Sexton of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said that last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that showed New Hampshire has among the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation.
She said that by suggesting in one post that men videotape their sexual encounters with women in case they are later charged with sexual assault, “The representative is promoting the false narrative that victims are liars.”
Grady Sexton called Fisher’s comments “unconscionable, and make him absolutely unfit to hold public office.”
The committee will meet again next week to decide whether to recommend to the full House whether Fisher should be expelled from the House, censured, reprimanded – or that no action be taken against him. It will then issue a report, with the full House scheduled to vote on the committee recommendation on June 1.
The House has the authority under the state constitution and Mason’s Legislative Manual – recognized as the official parliamentary authority of many state legislatures – to regulate the conduct of its members and discipline them to the degree it considers appropriate.
When the House voted last week to have the committee conduct its review of Fisher, it also voted to have the committee conduct a separate review and hearing of controversial comments about white men made on Twitter by Rep. Sherry Frost, D-Dover. The committee will hold its hearing on Frost on Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, although Fisher has said he is no longer involved in The Red Pill, a new story by The Daily Beast posted on Monday alleged that he changed his online identity and continues to make insulting comments about women, including up to recent days.
That new allegation is key because the legislative committee, acting on instructions from the full House, is limiting its review to comments posted by Fisher only since the beginning of the current legislative session in January.
Fisher, testifying under oath, flatly denied new Daily Beast allegation that he continues to moderate The Red Pill. He said he is not the new person behind the new username identified in the Monday night story.
The Daily Beast used “slippery words” and “conjecture” to reach that conclusion, Fisher charged.
The Daily Beast reported that it used cybersecurity experts to trace websites to Fisher through his email accounts. But Fisher said Tuesday that he is a reseller for a web posting company and has hosted “a lot of different websites,” including sites for a Christian summer camp, an LGBT group, and an “avant garde painting store.”
“I don’t really pay attention to what’s on them,” he said of the websites. “Being a reseller, it’s not in the purview of my job. I don’t care about what on the site.”
Overall, he said, he holds views that should be construed as supporting inclusiveness.
“I’m an outsider in my own party on a lot of the social issues. I’m one of the few who stands up for rights in the pro-life pro-choice debate. I’m certainly 100 percent pro-LGBT,” he said.
Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, issued a broad criticism that went beyond Fisher.
She said he contributes to and is a “purveyor” of a “rape culture” that is pervasive in the New Hampshire House, as well as the state and the nation.
“It is our responsibility in this body to work with vigilance to eradicate this vile scourge from our ranks and from our state,” she said, calling for him to be censured by the House. She explained to WMUR later that she believes that asking for expulsion would be unrealistic, but that censure is a level of punishment that might be acceptable to the full House.
“Rape is not a philosophical exercise in absolute truth,” Altschiller said. “Rape is devastating and evil.”
“We should not try to make this go away by patting ourselves on the back for holding a hearing. We need to take clear and concise action that speaks to our state and the nation, whose eyes are upon us because of the shameful behavior of Representative Fisher.”
Fisher said he stands by the written statement provided to his hometown newspaper, The Laconia Sun, last week.
“I made some injudicious statements about women and my frustrations with dating,” he said. “It was clearly not my intent for my words to harm anyone.”
“Fighting over out-of-context comments from five to 10 years ago is a poor use of our time and I hope that we can quickly get back to the important work that we have to do.”
“I have never been, nor am I going to, condone rape,” he said. “It is such a strange concept to me. It’s so foreign, the idea that anyone could.” He said he assumes that anyone who condones rape “is mentally ill.”
As he left the hearing before its conclusion, Fisher told reporters the hearing has been fair, and, “I believe the truth will be found today.”
The committee chairman, House Majority Leader Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, opened the hearing by saying, “I think everyone can agree it is incumbent on all elected officials to conduct themselves with dignity and respect.”
But he cautioned, “This is not an investigation. This is not an interrogation. It is for us to follow the charge provided by the House vote last week to ascertain the merits of the allegations.”
State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, said, “It is difficult to override the vote of the citizens, but I think in this situation, that is something that should be seriously considered because doing nothing or not taking the most extreme action, we suddenly become complicit in what he has chosen to say or do.”
David Muse of Portsmouth noted that Fisher reportedly “systematically started to delete his posts and his accounts” and “cover his tracks” after being contacted by The Daily Beast for its stories.
“This issue isn’t just about Rep Fisher,” he said. “It’s about the state of New Hampshire and how we’re seen by the businesses we’re trying to attract and by the young families that we’re also trying to attract. It’s also about common decency.”
Brian Harlow, a Concord resident, said that although Fisher dismissed some of his own comments as insignificant because they were posted many years ago, he saw no evidence that Fisher has reformed.
“I didn’t see or hear any contrition. I saw no empathy, I saw no compassion,” Harlow said. “In 10 years, I would have hoped there would have been a shift.”
He said friends from Ireland and Canada have contacted him, asking, “What’s going on with your state?”
“I expected better,” he said.