I had read stories of internet bullying as we all have. But I had never really studied the phenomenon as it had never touched anyone I loved—until internet bullying, carried out blatantly on Chess.com, nearly killed Liz.
Afterward, I found this internet site.
I was appalled to discover how many of these internet attacks led to death. Murder, in my opinion, though the perpetrators were rarely charged or even rarely identified.
But look at the pictures of the victims.
People, young attractive people mainly, would be bullied until they couldn’t take it; and then finally, driven by despair, forced onward by the bullying that never stopped, that was always there when they turned on their phone or started their computer, that was there in the whispers at school and at work, when there seemed no one to turn to—then these young people died by their own hand.
The bullies were always someone they knew; classmates, coworkers, hiding behind internet anonymity, but always watching.
The goal was always the same: to humiliate to the point of death, usually for something astonishingly trivial: unusual hair color, dating the wrong boy, just being too pretty. Here’s a typical example:
“Rachael Neblett, a seventeen-year old high school student from Kentucky began receiving threatening emails through her MySpace account, in the summer of 2006. The anonymous emails were of a stalking terroristic nature. Rachael’s parents brought the emails to the attention of the principal of her high school. As the emails included details of her movements during class and after school, it was obvious that the bully was another student at the school. In October Rachael received an email stating ‘I am not going to put you in the hospital, I am going to put you in the morgue.’ After receiving that email, Rachael did not want to go to school or go out with her friends. On October 9, shortly after receiving the threatening email, Rachael took her own life.”
It’s so easy to bully now. Bully on the your iPhone. Bully on your computer—bully on Chess.com. No one will stop you, not a high school principal and certainly not Chess.com owner Daniel Rensch. Chess.com has rules about polite discourse on the forums, but if you laugh about a woman being raped, that’s fine. If you call the truth of a woman’s past abuse “rubbish” that’s fine too. Fine for Danny, anyway.
Not so fine for Liz.
How did we get to this horrible place?
As noted in the last chapter, one of the owners of Chess.com, Danny Rensch, gave permission to run an appeal for my wife Liz on Chess.com, with a link to our GoFundMe site.
This appeal was extremely popular with the Chess.com community; Liz and I felt overwhelming support, with virtually no negatives at all. Pledges shot up until they were coming in once an hour or faster. Kind words from the chess community that was our life were like food to Liz; even though she couldn’t eat, the thought that this overwhelming wave of support was coming made her imagine that her mother’s abuse would finally be stopped. Made her hope that she would get the operation, that most of her pain would be gone, and that she would be able to have her dream: to live a normal life and play chess.
And then for no good reason that is possible to discern, Daniel Rensch, in secret, shut off my blog in 1984 style, and tried to eliminate all mention of Liz Taylor on Chess.com.
He did this 36 hours after the campaign started, just as we were barreling along on a wave of pledges and good will.
Liz was devastated. I was devastated. Rensch’s action was both morally indefensible and inexplicable. All he had to do was do nothing for a couple of more weeks and we would have made the goal. As we would soon discover, Chess.com had run appeals for chessplayers before, and Rensch had been a big supporter.
And he was a big supporter of Liz at first—and then suddenly, he became an implacable foe, doing everything possible to deny Liz the medical help she so desperately needs.
His reasons made no sense, even to him, as his story kept changing in the emails he sent me. Because of sexual content—oh, abuse, not sexual, right … uh, because of fraud—oh, fraud not possible either … ah, because we’re a business??
He failed to explain how abusing an already abused woman, acting in secret to destroy his good name and that of Chess.com with no purpose other than to cause pain, to drive members to quit Chess.com in protest, to double cross a fine chessplayer who desperately needed a break was good business.
But it was effective.
When my blog and appeal for Liz was pulled without a word, people began to wonder. No doubt, many believed that if Chess.com had pulled it, there must a reason. The fact that there was no reason (as mentioned above, not even Rensch could come up with something remotely reasonable—remember, he approved my blog in the first place, and had run appeals for chessplayers on the site before) was not something most people considered.
So pledges just about stopped cold. Now I have only run one previous crowdfunding appeal (this was “Win the World Senior Championship,” also on GoFundMe, with the idea of raising funds so I could compete in that event) and what I learned from that experience, which didn’t succeed, is that you either have momentum or you don’t. At one point, I had a little momentum, then it died down, and it never came back.
In Liz’s appeal we gained momentum with every hour after my blog ran on Chess.com. By the fatal 36th hour we were pulling in pledges about once an hour and getting better! We were on track to make the goal!
Then the secret attack on Liz came, utterly without warning or reason, as Rensch pulled the appeal.
And the momentum died just like that. It looked like Liz had no hope.
Then two good people (yes, two people who gave real name pledges as we saw in Chapter 4) whom we had never met refused to lie down and accept this injustice. Feeling Liz’s pain, and knowing in their hearts that all my words about her were true, as they are, they fought to keep the appeal alive.
These two heroes are Laurent Selvi from France and David Wade from Florida. They started forums designed to help Liz and keep the links open to our GoFundMe site. Soon the Dan Heisman Learning Center (recall again—the Good!—two real name pledges) and Dan himself promoted Liz’s cause (see more in Chapter 8).
And the forums that David and Laurent set up were a success. Remember the general sense of Chess.com was that we had overwhelming support. So the fact that these two guys—real name guys, with no connection to Liz except that we are all chessplayers—stood up for Liz gave us a real boost! So much so that pledges started again! Not like before, but a tentative beginning.
And then the first hater appeared. Since his screen name did not link to any real name (unlike with Laurent or David) and I don’t even know if he or she is male or female, I will just call him Hater #1. He would soon be joined by Hater #2 and Hater #3. And that was all: three haters out of 8 million members on Chess.com.
About Hater #1: he didn’t seem to be a chessplayer. He said stuff like he didn’t know what an International Master was, referring to me, and obviously completely unaware of both my reputation and the facts of the case, pronounced our whole fund raising efforts a “scam” a “fraud” and predicted that I would be put in jail for “internet fraud”! This from an anonymous hater and liar! It was hard for me to take him seriously. And the attacks on me slid right off. Internet bullying, or bullying of any kind for that matter, does not work against me. I have played World Champion Magnus Carlsen, Victor “The Terrible” Korchnoy and the great Bent Larsen. I stopped being afraid a long time ago.
I assured Liz this was just trash, told her not to read it, and I kept busy, and I was very busy indeed. I was trying to put out fires every moment. People asking what had happened with Chess.com, and I was answering everyone who wrote me. And I was desperately trying to find another large chess site, since our only hope of raising the funds was that place where I had been known my whole life, the community that Liz had chosen to join, the chess community of the world!
Also, with Liz not being able to help much because of the terrible pain she was in (though she would have liked nothing better than to pitch in) I had to do all the Dad stuff, get our older son to school, make sure toilet training was still working for the younger, feeding the cats, doing the dishes, etc.
And while doing that I think I wrote every chess site in the world, or at least it felt that way, but nothing worked. Chessbase came close (and they have run medical appeals for chessplayers before) but I saw that Rensch wrote Frederic Friedel of Chessbase and maybe he wrote the others as well—anyway, no chess site would help Liz.
So I was busy, and then, thanks to Dave and Laurent and Dan, pledges were coming back! The lone hater wasn’t getting anywhere!
What could Rensch do to destroy Liz?
At this point I have to use the line from the old Dragnet TV show: “Just the facts.”
How did Daniel Rensch turn, in less than two days, from a friendly supportive person to a vicious hater and abuser? I simply don’t know. I have some ideas, and I’ll speculate a little later, but I want to say right now I simply don’t know why he did what he did.
But the facts are that he joined with the haters to continue Liz’s abuse. Remember the title of our GoFundMe site was “Defeat Abuse! Save Liz Taylor’s Jaw.” Our aim was to show that abusers don’t have to win. That even the most vicious acts can be turned around by people of good will. And we used Liz’s full name in the title, to show that she was standing tall on principle, she was not hiding in the shadows. And we wanted, and still desperately want to save Liz’s jaw so that she can eat and speak normally.
In short: on one side, “defeat abuse, stand up on principle and act in the open, and save Liz’s jaw.”
Now Daniel Rensch was on the other side. By killing the campaign, he joined the abusers; by killing the campaign in secret, he showed he had no principles; and by killing the campaign, Liz’s jaw is in terrible risk, as already pointed out in Chapter 2.
Going back to the situation I was chronicling, thanks to the efforts of real name supporters, the vicious nonsense of a single hater was not working. Pledges started again, slow, but gradually increasing.
So Rensch, on the other side now, “had to” act. He pulled the forums that David and Laurent had started. 1984 style, without a word. He killed not just Liz and my campaign, but the kindness of our new friends!
Beyond vicious, morally indefensible—and very very hard to understand. The reason behind his actions is still unknown.
Pledges, which were shaky but improving, plunged to nothing once again. The little bit of momentum we had collapsed.
Undaunted, David and Laurent started new forums! Bravo! But now Hater #1 was joined by Hater #2 and Hater #3.
When I think of it now, it still seems hard to believe: three “people” (I speak very generously here) with no real names and no known connection to the chess community, apparently non chessplayers—on a chess site!—had such a terrible impact.
Despite the overwhelming support of the chess.com community in general, this tiny minority of three haters were able to do so much damage!
Let me stop here to mention that while I took a look from time to time, I was not reading this garbage. I told Liz not to read it. I could see how nasty the haters were getting, and they were getting worse. But I didn’t realize that Liz, bedridden now for about 23 out of every 24 hours, was reading every hateful word on her computer. She was absorbing the hate, reverting to the abuse victim role that she had been forced into for 26 years, what had been “default mode” of her nature: that she was only on earth to be abused.
Of course she had gone past that; she was the brave survivor now—but no one who has been abused ever completely loses that feeling of helplessness. That knowledge that your screams are like music to the ears for your abusers. That nothing you can do will stop them.
I never had that experience, so I’m a “tough guy.” I can’t be bullied, and I won’t run from a fight. But the real tough person here is Liz. She could feel the haters pushing her back into the world of abuse, pushing her toward death—and she found the strength to resist.
Going back to the haters: How did they have such an effect? First of all, they had high level help. Everything they were doing was against Chess.com’s rules. Vicious personal attacks on an already abused woman. Rape jokes. Abuse jokes. Yes, they found our weakness: don’t go after me, their words bounce off; go after Liz, and the words sink in to old wounds. Hate her, hurt her with words; try to kill her.
Rensch could have revoked the memberships of the three haters. But he let them continue.
Liz, desperate, often alone in our bedroom, reading the hate messages posted before her eyes, called on the one person she trusted totally besides me, the one person who also knew the whole story of her abuse: Jan Hunsinger, the “kind older woman” I mentioned on GoFundMe who took Liz in after she escaped at age 26, the only real mother figure she ever had. Jan is now retired, living on Social Security in Ecuador. But she rose to the challenge and confronted the haters with her real name and the truth (yes, of course Jan was also a real name pledger, see Chapter 4, the Good).
Now Laurent and Dave were defending Liz the best way they knew how. Two very different ways, actually. Laurent tried to make the three haters see reason. But they didn’t want to see reason! They were enjoying themselves! They wanted to see blood, not reason.
Dave tried another way: he tried to get the media interested and I tried the same in Los Angeles (but no one in the media ever contacted us in return). When that didn’t work, he put himself on the line. He gave his name, his address, his phone number, he even offered his house if our appeal turned out to be a scam! This is a true friend, and he was someone we had never met! Liz and I talked to him on the phone, and thanked him … but the haters weren’t stopped. They didn’t care about Dave’s house. They wouldn’t give him their real names as he did.
They just wanted blood.
But Jan went right after them. She defended Liz like a true mother fighting for her child. She knew Liz’s story. She lived with Liz for years. She told the truth.
When I sent an email later, thanking Jan for her tremendous effort, and pointing out that her straightforward counters were the only effective antidote to the haters, she answered succinctly: “I know evil when I see it.”
The internet battle raged, and just by a little bit, Jan, exhausted, turned the tide. We got a few new pledges—so of course Rensch stepped in. He pulled this forum as well.
Now if you want to see the horrible attacks on Liz, or find out the screen names of the three haters, you can’t. In 1984 style, Rensch simply deleted everything. At one point I had a link to the forum; but now it comes up to the general Chess.com page. No evidence. Rensch was working overtime.
The very few pledges stopped again.
Jan was exhausted. Liz was at the point of no return. I was stretched beyond my ability to cope. And we had two boys to raise. Laurent and Dave, staggering, started the forums again. Jan was too tired to help out. The haters piled on, emboldened now, laughing particularly at Liz being raped.
That was fun to them.
Liz, tougher than I’ll ever be, did something magnificent. She got out of bed in her pain. She refused to watch one more hateful word spill out like blood on her computer screen. She told me she was suicidal and begged me to save her life and end the abuse.
I did the only thing possible. I wrote to Dave and Laurent and asked them to take down the forum. They agreed that it was now doing more harm than good. The haters, sensing blood, had overwhelmed Liz’s supporters. No one else had their murderous energy. This time, my friends asked Rensch to take down the forum.
And Rensch did his master stroke. He didn’t take it down. Didn’t take it down because now the haters were winning. He “locked” the forum, so everyone who might think of helping Liz would see practically nothing but hate. Chess.com sanctioned hate.
And of course, Danny did it in secret. All of us collapsed in exhaustion. And the hate stayed on screen, and Liz and I, and Dave and Laurent, didn’t even know until the next day. Dave fired a barrage of messages at Rensch, and he finally took it down.
But his side: the hater side, the abuse side, the side he switched to, had won.
All our momentum was gone. Evil had won again. Abusers had won again. Pledges dropped to nothing. A few good people did pledge, sometimes one in three days, when during the 36 hours, we were getting a pledge an hour.
The campaign was dead in the water.
Well maybe not quite dead, but limping. We staggered onward without much hope, with Liz’s pain increasing, with the end of the campaign approaching fast, nowhere close to our goal.
And at this point we were attacked again.
The following three emails are presented exactly as received, not edited in any way. The first is from GoFundMe. The second is my reply. The third is GoFundMe’s reply which clears up the matter.
Here are the emails, with my comments in between each.
Urgent message from Go fund me
##- Please type your reply above this line -##
Jocelyn (GoFundMe Customer Happiness)
Nov 04 09:54 pm (PST)
We’re reaching out to inform you that there have been complaints regarding the authenticity of your page located at: http://www.gofundme.com/4vjs5w
Could you please confirm that the information you’re presenting on your GoFundMe page is 100% true and accurate?
Failure to respond to this inquiry within 48 hours will result in the termination of your account.
I was stunned and shocked and absolutely furious, but I was also grateful. One reason we went with Go Fund Me is their excellent reputation. Unlike Rensch and Chess.com, they did not kill my page and my campaign in secret! They went to me openly and gave me an honest chance to respond.
And I responded immediately. It was early morning, but I wasn’t about to wait a minute.
Here’s what I wrote.
- GoFundMe Customer Happiness
There has been a concerted attempt to undermine our campaign from Daniel Rensch at chess.com and some other “people” who post anonymously there. It is appalling to me that vicious people should try to prevent one suffering woman from getting the medical relief she needs.
I hate to release this, but attached you will see two recent x rays. One shows Liz’s mouth from straight on. You will see she has no natural regular teeth, as a result of abuse suffered when she was 16. There are two wisdom teeth that came down later. The second shows the name of our dental surgeon, Dr. Jay Grossman, who is generally considered to be the best dental surgeon in Los Angeles. You can look him up on many sites. He has personally examined Liz and I have accurately described his evaluation of her case, which I must add is critical, as her jaw could go at any moment, and there is just enough bone now to do this very costly operation. His website is http://drjaydds.com/ which is already given on my main fundraising page. You may contact him directly.
Liz is on complete disability from Social Security. As you probably know, this is given only rarely, and only for severe long lasting injury: as for example, in this case, no teeth, and chronic pain from multiple wounds from past abuse. Liz is asleep right now, which is her only release from pain. Her pain is absolutely off the charts and I’m not going to wake her up right now, but I believe she has the letter from Social Security (and we get the payment each month) or we can go to the Social Security office and get a printout. Hopefully you can just look it up, as it’s difficult for her to walk as the pain has spread throughout her body and we have no car, but we will absolutely get this if you feel you need more proof.
Liz’s therapist is Cynthia Henrie, again a very distinguished person in the therapeutic community who specializes in trauma survivors such as Liz. While anything in the sessions would be confidential, I have no doubt she would vouch for the general outlines of Liz’s abuse. http://www.theravive.com/therapists/cynthia-henrie.aspx is a link to info about her. Again, you may contact her directly.
We have nothing to hide! We are real people, using our own names and pictures, with a medical emergency!
I certainly hope this is enough! I understand that you are doing your job, but the viciousness of these people who, essentially, want to abuse Liz again is beyond belief!
Please replay ASAP!
So then some hours went by (I suppose the GoFundMe staff made some phone calls, and checked out my information—Rensch could have done the same!). Then I received this email from Kevin at GoFundMe.
GoFundMe Customer Happiness] Re: Urgent Message from GoFundMe
##- Please type your reply above this line -##
Kevin (GoFundMe Customer Happiness)
Nov 05 06:38 am (PST)
Thanks for sending that over. Your page will remain live on GoFundMe. We will follow up if we have any additional questions.
All the best,
GoFundMe has been nothing but kind and supportive ever since. They handled the situation correctly and honestly. But what is extremely interesting is what Kevin, in the final letter from GoFundMe, does not say: He does not reply at all to my line, “There has been a concerted attempt to undermine our campaign from Daniel Rensch at chess.com and some other “people” who post anonymously there.”
Kevin doesn’t ask, “Daniel Rensch who?” Doesn’t ask, “Chess.com what?”
So I think it’s at least 99% certain that Rensch and the gang of haters were the people behind what Jocelyn calls, in the first urgent letter, the “complaints regarding the authenticity of your page.”
Why would Rensch do that? One imagines the haters were still after blood, so made another attempt to drive Liz to suicide, but Rensch seems to be involved too.
So why? The campaign was dead in the water anyway at this point, and indeed we limped to a close and got the “nothing” part of “all or nothing.”
And who were the three haters?
I can only speculate. When Hater #1 appeared, he didn’t appear to even be a chessplayer, as I’ve already noted. So my first thought at the time was that he was one of Liz’s past abusers. Remember, in the stories listed at the puresight website referred to in the beginning, the bullies, or at least the chief bully, was always someone the victim knew. Who else would have the energy to continually attack, just like Hater #1?
The big question is why Daniel Rensch turned from being Liz’s supporter to Liz’s abuser. How did this happen? Again, one can only speculate. My guess, and of course it’s only a guess, is that simple thing: “money changes people.”
I think Rensch was sincere when he first started out helping Liz and me, then he was bribed and he took the money. And somehow this changed him.
Bullying doesn’t work with me, and bribery doesn’t either. Over the years I’ve been offered bribes to throw games, and I’ve always abruptly refused. I just don’t play that way.
But perhaps Rensch was susceptible (again, this is just speculation). Then in order to “earn his pay” he does all the things we saw (and these are all facts) such as kill Liz’s campaign in secret, allow the haters full access to the chess.com forums in defiance of chess.com’s own rules, lock the forum when the haters were winning to humiliate Liz, etc. It’s possible he just did it for money.
This would explain why he tried to sink the already pretty much sunken campaign at GoFundMe. Why would he do this on his own? By this point Liz’s campaign wasn’t running at all on Chess.com. Virtually no pledges were coming in. One would say he had accomplished his mission.
But the abusers, the haters, wanted more. They wanted our base campaign on GoFundMe taken down as well, in order to get cover for themselves. Imagine, if you were a past abuser of Liz, you wouldn’t just want to defeat Liz’s campaign, you would like to destroy her reputation for honesty as well. So you would try to destroy the basic narrative, the bedrock history of abuse related on GoFundMe. In other words, destroy the witness!
Now the abusers couldn’t use their real names to make a protest, and my guess is GoFundMe did not respond to anonymous complaints.
So in my theory, the abusers needed Rensch again as a real name complainer. I imagine Rensch trying to get out of it, and the abusers saying, “Hey, you took the money: we own you now.”
So if my theory is true, Rensch did as he was told, and complained to GoFundMe.
But it didn’t work. Because GoFundMe is a legitimate company that doesn’t pull campaigns in secret, they contacted me as noted above, I responded with the facts, they investigated and confirmed the facts.
So on a very small battleground, I defeated the abusers on behalf of Liz, the brave survivor.
The campaign stayed live, and it is still up for reference on GoFundMe, though no one can pledge there anymore, as the time allotted for the campaign has expired.
A small victory.
But evil won the big one. The campaign to Defeat Abuse: Save Liz Taylor’s Jaw, going so well for the magic 36 hours on Chess.com, was defeated by Daniel Rensch and three haters.
Liz is in terrible pain, we have no money for the operation, and we are running out of time even if the operation can still be done.