I can't say definitively that Todd Kincannon, former director of the South Carolina Republican Party, is the worst person on Twitter, but based on my own sample of racists, nitwits, and half-literate goons with an @ symbol in front of their name, I would hazard to say he's in the top 10.
Today, after years of watching Kincannon's relentless trolling, I learned that his Twitter life had caught up with his real life. According to a lawsuit Kincannon filed in a federal court Monday, the South Carolina Office of Disciplinary Counsel has been investigating complaints made against him for his use of social media. Kincannon is currently suing the state agency for allegedly depriving him of his First Amendment rights.
You might recognize Kincannon's name if you read the outraged "You won't believe what this Republican leader said today" articles that have become daily fodder for certain left-leaning news outlets. Huffington Post even has a story tag devoted to Kincannon's name. And when the man says things like this on a regular basis, it's no wonder why:
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At the risk of feeding South Carolina's biggest troll, I arranged an interview with Kincannon last month to find out what makes him say the things he does. In the interview, he made a lot of the same arguments he'll likely be making in court soon.
I lead off by asking whether he's said anything on Twitter that he lived to regret. "I've said plenty of things that in hindsight didn't entirely capture what I was trying to get to," Kincannon says. "I have regret in the same way that a comedian regrets telling a joke that nobody laughs at."
To Kincannon, much of what he does is comedy — "purely satire, some self-parody," he says. I had often wondered whether he wasn't just a racist, unfunny version of Andy Kaufman, stoking everyone's rage for laughs and strutting around claiming to be the King of Tennessee. But instead he mentions George Carlin twice in the interview, as if, like Carlin, he were pushing the limits of discourse and barbecuing our sacred cows.
"We've gotten to the point where racism is now defined as saying something bad about a black person," Kincannon said. "People with good-faith political disagreements should not be accused of harboring some bias against the person who's opposed to them just based on who that person is. I'm sick to death of that, and I think part of my Twitter account is to show how insane some of that can get. So I'll tweet something that's a little edgy that's racial but not racist, and everybody will accuse me of being racist for hours and hours and hours.
"By the way, all of this is pretty entertaining to me."
I also had to weigh his relative importance in the political landscape. Kincannon is not an elected official, and he hasn't held a position with the South Carolina GOP since 2010, when he served two months as director of the state party before stepping down (he previously served as a legal counsel to the party from 2004 to 2010). Besides, Kincannon's internet buffoonery is almost par for the course in a state where the Democratic Party director once told reporters that Sen. Lindsey Graham was "light in the loafers" and compared Gov. Nikki Haley to Hitler's mistress Eva Braun.
Still, I decided an interview with Kincannon was worth a few minutes of the internet's time, if only to provide a look into the mind of a man who earned 67,000 followers by being a jackass on Twitter.
Kincannon practices law at his own firm in Columbia, specializing in consumer law and debt defense, and he says he spends about an hour a day on Twitter, firing off tweets while waiting at stoplights or sitting in on conference calls. He says tweeting helps him overcome writer's block in his law practice. But he also describes what he does in terms of highfalutin political science.
"I don't know how much you ever dealt with political theory, but there's something called the Overton Window, and the Overton Window says that the political consensus of a body politic moves based on the movement of the extremes," Kincannon says. "So I'll give you an example. Back when you had klansmen running around, even in the 1920s and '30s, the Ku Klux Klan was considered extreme — but they weren't considered as extreme as they are now. And so the Ku Klux Klan gave cover for Jim Crow."
Yes, he just compared himself to a klansman providing cover for workaday racism. But maybe he only knows how to express himself in extreme rhetoric anymore. Kincannon describes himself as "a pretty standard conservative Republican with a libertarian flair to me," but he says he espouses radical views online as a way of providing cover for more moderate conservatives. If he followed up every crass comment with "I'm only kidding," he says, the effect of the "dark satire" would be lost.
"This is something I do that a lot of people haven't figured out," Kincannon says. "I'll oftentimes set myself up as a lightning rod to take whatever the nastiness is from the left to give more people on my side cover so that they don't get the nastiness."
Earlier this year, Kincannon's original Twitter account @toddkincannon was suspended, and rumors spread that he had finally said something that got him in legal trouble.
But I knew better. The man is a lawyer; he would never dig a legal pit he couldn't climb out of. "I didn't delete anything," Kincannon says of his old Twitter account. "This is so ridiculous. It's just fascism, basically." Exploiting a weakness in Twitter's abuse-reporting system, a bunch of left-wing "brownshirt types" ganged up and reported his account for abuse en masse, causing the site to automatically suspend his account, Kincannon says.
He resurfaced shortly afterward as @Todd__Kincannon and resumed what he calls "a study in media bias." And the media sure do hate him. On the rare occasions when news outlets ask Kincannon for a comment, he invariably defends himself and never apologizes.
What about that time when he said transgender people should be "put in a camp"? He says it was an example of misunderstood sarcasm, written in response to someone who claimed he wanted to kill all transgender people. "This is a good example of how left-wing media with an agenda tries to mischaracterize people," Kincannon says.
And that time he called Nancy Pelosi a c**t? Would he say that to her face? "Oh hell yes. In a heartbeat. She's a horrible person."
"The fact is that this guy was using a god-awful tragedy to score political points, and most people on the right are not able to respond to that kind of stuff because they will have everybody in America calling them some kind of a name," Kincannon says.
If that was what Kincannon meant, then perhaps the nuance was lost on Twitter, where it looked for all intents and purposes as if he were making a joke out of a real tragedy in real time.
Kincannon says he has received a few death threats over the years, including a few that he reported to law enforcement, but to date, no one has cold-cocked him in a bar or called him out in the street for a fight. To him, the unending Twitter skirmishes aren't personal; they're war.
"I'm a propagandist. I make no bones about it," Kincannon says. "The reason that I do that is I'm trying to move everybody in the direction I want to move. But to get there, I have to engage in some level of propaganda. I wish people weren't susceptible to this crap, but they are. And until everybody out there that votes and thinks starts actually doing the George Carlin thing, which is critically thinking for themselves, then this is the only method by which political warfare is going to be carried out."
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