Over his many years as an investigative reporter for 9News, Jeremy Jojola has grown accustomed to stirring the passions of viewers, and he understands that some negative responses to controversial stories are inevitable. But the ugliest reactions to his recent series about hate groups and neo-Nazis in Colorado exude "a different tone," he says. "You have people who are blatantly racist saying some pretty alarming things."
To illustrate this assertion, Jojola references a pair of tweets from Joshua Michael, who has been widely identified as a member of the alt-right organization known as the Proud Boys; his Twitter handle is @proudwolf13. Michael recently tweeted: "@jeremy jojola works at 9news and is a communist propaganda creator working against America dig into him go to his job go to his home go to his child's daycare treat these traitors the way they treat us and we will take the fight out of their fingertips."
A followup from Michael to Jojola contended: "You are the enemy of the American people we will bring this to your home your work your child's school. The way antifa does to us. You fucked around now find out. The fury of America is upon you and your communist friends."
Of course, broadcasters in Denver and beyond are frequently the targets of online ire, and given the popularity of 9News and the outlet's embrace of social media (anchor Kyle Clark is an acknowledged master of the form), it's no surprise that station personalities have had some unpleasant experiences of late. In December 2018, morning show co-host Gary Shapiro caused a tweetstorm after muting those who made claims of fake news about legitimate reports they simply didn't like; the next month, amid another fusillade of Twitter nastiness, he announced that he would stop tweeting about anything other than the most benign topics. Then, in March, forecaster Becky Ditchfield publicly called out a troll for body-shaming her during her pregnancy.
As for Jojola, he says his late-November stories about hate in Colorado were an attempt "to put things into context. First, we looked at the actual numbers of hate crimes in Colorado. Everybody feels there's this kind of intensity of hate here. You can see it, you can feel it — and that's how we rode into the piece. But we also wanted to show what the numbers say, and it's pretty clear from the FBI and the CBI [Colorado Bureau of Investigation] that our hate crime numbers are reflective of a problem the state has."
The sequel "probably got the most attention," he continues, "because we showed our viewers the fact that a prominent neo-Nazi, James Mason, lives in the heart of Denver," as Westword first reported way back in 1993. That piece predates our online archive, but Mason is a central figure in the 1995 article "Double Exposure: Underage Girls, a Nazi With a Camera and Partying Cops — What's Wrong With This Picture?"
He characterizes the reaction to the stories as "phenomenal. It's been quite a ride on my social media feeds in the wake of this."
Here's how Jojola responded:
The Proud Boys are angry I put them in my story about Hate. They knew what was coming. I was upfront with them. And this is how they respond. pic.twitter.com/CsMRpYAlyN— Jeremy Jojola (@jeremyjojola) November 26, 2019
Not everyone who shared their views about the stories was this angry. "I would say 90 to 95 percent of the response to our reporting has been extremely positive," Jojola calculates. "People have reached out and said, 'This is needed. This is the type of reporting we need right now.' But we also had a lot of people telling me, 'Be safe. Because of what you're doing, you're swimming in waters that are toxic, and they could be dangerous.'"
The other 5 to 10 percent of the replies "are downright disgusting," he allows. "These are people who are clearly racist. Some of them are using anonymous accounts, but some of them aren't. Some of them aren't afraid to own their views. And I've gotten emails saying things like, 'I hope you get justice soon.' They're kind of vague, but pointed at the same time."
Jojola considers such commentators to be "broken people. I think they use their hate to eclipse their own personal failures and insecurities. They use hate to make themselves feel better, because I think, in the end, they really hate themselves."
Jojola has banned numerous individuals of this sort from his social-media pages, because he wants to protect other followers from their vitriol. But he doesn't shrug off the messages as empty gestures. "Alan Berg was assassinated here in the 1980s," he says of the outspoken radio personality. "A group of white supremacists killed him because he was outspoken in his views."
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If the haters are hoping that Jojola will stop covering such topics as a result of their attacks, he wants them to know they'll be disappointed. "I think the response begs us to keep at this," he stresses. "By no means am I intimidated. If anything, this emboldens me to continue what I'm doing."
There's no shortage of material for future pieces about prejudice and bias in the Mile High City. For example, Jojola has made note of videos from the 16th Street Mall showing people "screaming out from their cars that Jews did 9/11 while dressed up as Hasidic Jews."
New reports about such matters are likely to appear in the new year, he suggests. In the meantime, he compliments 9News for its willingness to take on challenging subjects and notes that "the station is making sure I'm safe. They've taken a lot of the responses we've received seriously, and I feel confident in what they're doing."
He adds: "I believe most people in Colorado are good. But there's a small but growing minority who hate and are racist and are emboldened to wear their beliefs like a badge. And I hope the good people of the state will push back on that behavior. I knew we'd get some responses like this, but it's been ten times worse than I expected."