Twitter is fast, and sometimes (not often percentagewise since I tweet so much) I’m too fast for Twitter—meaning I’m too fast for my own good.
Usually it’s a matter of tweeting or retweeting before all the facts are in, like if suddenly someone is trending because of reports of his or her death and it turns out to be prior to confirmation or worse, a prank. Or the time a few weeks back when I fell for a fake report that Colin Kaepernick was getting signed to Buffalo or somewhere—because I wanted so much to believe it.
I had an itchy Twitter finger Monday, and after a retweet, unknowingly proceeded to make an unusual series of mistakes culminating in an amazing revelation that didn’t fully sink in until I’d already begun writing this piece.
It all started with my retweet of Chely Wright.
I retweet Chely all the time. I’ve known her and loved her since meeting her in Nashville in 1994, the year her debut album Woman in the Moon was released. The Academy of Country Music named her Top New Female Vocalist the following year, and she had a No. 1 hit two years later with “Single White Female.”
Then, in 2010, Chely became one of the first major country music artists to come out as lesbian, and published a moving memoir, Like Me : Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, released simultaneously with a terrific Rodney Crowell-produced album, Lifted Off the Ground.
On Twitter, she’s gay, liberal, Christian, kind, and fearless. I’m always looking at Twitter trends to see what’s going on, and when I clicked on “Monkey,” Chely’s tweet was one of the first I found:
“Let’s be clear here—@realDonaldTrump heard clearly that someone in his audience yelled out ‘MONKEY’ when he mentioned @BarackObama. Trump says, ‘Let’s be nice’ and then makes a joke about it. This is where we are. Racists are emboldened by this president. VOTE.”
Chely’s tweet was also a “quote tweet” in that it accompanied and built upon a retweet, in this case one from Ken Olin, another prolific and influential liberal tweeter.
This was Olin’s quote tweet: “After @realDonaldTrump mentions @BarackObama’s name someone yells, ‘monkey.’ A few seconds later Trump laughs and makes a joke. It’s inconceivable in 2020 that a despicable comment like this would be treated lightly. The President is sickening.”
I saw the Chely/Ken Olin combo tweet, assumed it was accurate—why wouldn’t I?–and didn’t think twice before retweeting it and copying it on Facebook.
Returning to Twitter maybe an hour or so later, I saw I’d received a notification, meaning someone had liked, retweeted, or commented on one of my tweets. Sure enough, it was a comment on the Chely/Olin tweet, from someone identified only as Byron, and with a profile picture showing a young man in camo uniform next to another guy who was casually dressed and wearing a ball cap.
Byron was replying to my retweet of Chely’s tweet/quote tweet, which may sound confusing if you’re not on Twitter, but will seem pretty clearcut compared with what’s to come.
“Yes. Let’s be clear,” Byron tweeted. “I heard him yell spygate.”
Taking Byron at face value, it did seem clear to me that his “Let’s be clear” was a sarcastic response to what Chely wrote—which wasn’t a big enough deal for me to get worked up over.
But I did get worked up enough over the next sentence—“I heard him yell spygate”—because I wrongly–no, very wrongly–didn’t realize that he was honestly commenting, that he really did hear someone yell “spygate.”
I figured, entirely mistakenly, that this was just another right-wing nutjob (RWNJ) who was mocking Chely and me by taking the opportunity to hurl the totally fake-news construct “spygate” as a means of promoting common anti-Obama RWNJ racism, much in the same manner as yelling out “Benghazi.”
So I did something I rarely do. I responded.
“As would any racist,” I tweeted back at Byron.
Like I said, I rarely respond. It only opens the floodgates for RWNJs.
I remember one time in particular, years ago. I don’t remember my tweet that started it, but I got scores of insulting RWNJ responses, the worst one being, “You look like Bozo the Clown!”
I didn’t hold back.
“What a vile, disgusting thing to say!” I tweeted back, then apologized to Bozo the Clown.
Like most RWNJs, this Bozo not only hadn’t use his real name, but put up a phony profile pic as well. I could only presume now that Byron was my new guy’s real name, and that one of the two guys in his pic was him.
Then I did something I almost never do. I blocked Byron—after clicking on his Twitter page and looking at his tweets and deciding that while I couldn’t be 100 percent sure that he was in fact a right-wing nutjob (they did seem to lean conservative enough), he still seemed to have attacked me with the bullshit “Spygate” epithet.
And that probably might have been the end of it, though I did notice for the next hour or so an increasingly bad taste in my mouth. So when I returned to Twitter and saw that “Monkey” was still trending (now joined by “Spygate”) I reopened my own personal investigation and soon realized that there was in fact a faction that was certain that it wasn’t “Monkey” that had been yelled out, but “Spygate.”
If this were true, of course, it changed everything, and put me in a hot spot should I have cared–and I did care.
I scrolled down a ways until I found video evidence, i.e., tweeted tape of the moment in question. I gave it repeated listenings, and sure enough, I could hear it both ways. But I surely would have ruled in favor of “Spygate.”
If it was “Spygate,” obviously, Trump was no less racist. But just as obviously, Byron could not be called racist at all, and I was absolutely wrong in my response to him. I immediately dug into my Twitter settings and unblocked him. What I should have done was apologized outright then and there, and that probably might have been the end of it.
So I just let it go, though I felt bad enough that I decided that I was going to write this piece. Just a few graphs. I didn’t know then how far and long it would take me.
Now I haven’t mentioned that when I went to Byron’s Twitter page the first time I found that he was following me. I get unfollowed and unfriended all the time—always a likelihood when you’re honest and outspoken. But I really hate pressing that button myself, especially when it’s a Twitter follower—though I had no idea why, based on my meager understanding/misunderstanding of his politics, Byron would want to follow me.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke up yesterday, checked Facebook, and found a direct message from one Byron Lee Bess…, a profile pic beneath his cut-off surname in the small lower right-hand corner message box showing a handsome young man holding up an adorable baby.
“Call me a racist?” the message from Byron Lee Bess… read. “You know nothing about me. I hope you figure out one day how judgmental you are.”
This had to be before coffee. It took me a moment to realize it was Twitter Byron. And I’m not sure I clicked on his name to go to his page to learn anything further about Byron Lee Bess…—though I would later.
“My bad,” I quickly messaged back.
“No grudges held,” Byron Lee Bess… came back just as quickly. “Debates lead to results sometimes.”
Pretty decent, I thought, especially since I’d clearly struck a nerve.
Technically, of course, I didn’t call him a racist, not directly. But he certainly could have interpreted it that way, and I certainly suggested it.
Again, that probably might have been the end of it. But a few hours later I got another Twitter notification.
This time it was from someone who liked a tweet I was mentioned in–a tweet from Byron that I somehow hadn’t seen.
“Its all good,” he had tweeted, presumably as part of a response and thread.
“We have to stand up to it. @JimBessman blocked me and called me racist. Happens all the time. They just can’t see past their own hate, to be able to see what’s real and what isn’t.”
I was just about to start writing this roundabout mea culpa, and now I had this new notification to consider. I was going to take off the gloves and defend myself thusly: “Since I’ve been called out publicly now, I admit to being hateful—as it relates to bigotry, injustice, white supremacy, nationalism, religionism, militarism, inequality, desecration of the planet and its human and nonhuman inhabitants…and I do not love any who support and promote such behavior.”
But I caught hold of myself this time, knowing that if I had posted, there probably might have been no end to it.
I did, however, post this: “As I told you elsewhere [meaning Facebook], I was wrong–though it was an honest mistake. As you told me elsewhere, you don’t hold grudges. I made an incorrect assumption based on your tweet. Now you’re doing the same. I also unblocked you. I’m not the only one with a problem.”
I did have another problem, though, in that I without any doubt owed Byron an apology.
But now came the shocker.
I went back to Byron’s Twitter profile pic—the thumbnail of the young man in camo next to the guy with the ball cap. This time I clicked on it, bringing me to his Twitter page—and a slightly enlarged pic. I clicked on it once more, and voila!, the guy with the cap was now recognizable as Gary Sinise, a fine actor, big veterans supporter, and a Reagan/McCain/Romney conservative Republican who refused to support Trump in 2016—by today’s standards, a RINO, and one I can respect.
But it was the guy standing next to him in uniform—U.S. Army combat uniform, urban camo, its nameplate all caps, now enlarged enough to read: BESSMAN.
Stunned, I clicked over to Facebook, and Byron Lee Bess…’s message from early morning. This time I clicked on his profile pic in the little box, which took me to his page…and there he was, Byron Lee Bessman, Jr. Dallas, Georgia. Born September, 1984. Lovely wife and kid.
I guess seeing “Byron Lee Bess…” in the little box that morning before the coffee kicked in had gone right past me. Or maybe I thought it was some Facebook trick to get through to me, though I have seen the “Bessman” name pop up on Facebook now and then, that was neither mine nor my sister’s. I even saw another Jim Bessman on Facebook some years ago, though this was an impersonator using my name and profile picture.
Coincidentally, I discovered all this last night while watching New York’s Metropolitan Opera stream of Verdi’s Il Trovatore, the historic 2015 production featuring the late Siberian legend Dmitri Hvorostovsky in his triumphant return to the Met, in the role of the villainous Count di Luna, following treatment for the brain cancer that would shortly take his life. The plot revolves around the abduction of the Count’s brother by a gypsy when both were babies, and I switched between it and a modern tragedy, the Republican Convention.
I didn’t mistakenly kill my brother as in Il Trovatore, though I symbolically offed my Facebook impersonator by informing Facebook authorities. Recalling this, I suddenly remembered I did also once find a James Bessman–who wasn’t me–from somewhere down South, maybe a relative of Byron’s, who was deceased.
Bessman isn’t a common name, but I doubt I’m any relation to Byron, for I think I would have known. He’s a religious person, which I’m not, but he might like my Facebook page photo with my Southern gospel luminary friend Bill Gaither, also the one with Kris Kristofferson, a Christian and true living saint.
I’m not a militarist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and support the military. Byron might also appreciate that my father was a retired Army officer who earned the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II and also served as a Marine in the Second Nicaraguan Campaign of the early 1930s, when the U.S. occupied the country while fighting the revolutionary guerilla leader Augusto C. Sandino. (Sandino was assassinated in 1934, thereby paving the way for decades of ruthless dictatorship—his name living on in the Sandinista movement that eventually ousted the dictatorship in the late ’70s.)
I was well into writing this piece last night when I had one final Twitter exchange with Byron Lee Bessman, Jr.
“No grudge held,” he wrote, replying to my preceding post, which in all honesty, now seems rather petty. But this is all about being honest.
“That was right after you blocked me,” Byron continued. “So more of a reaction, than a grudge. I’ll delete it if you’d like.”
“No, man, you’re good. I figured that,” I replied. “You may not know that I’m a writer and I’m writing this whole thing up, part explanation, part apology–which I definitely owe you. The weirdest thing is, I got started on it, but had to go back and look everything up…and only then discovered your last name! Hope you’ll enjoy it, but it definitely is apologetic. An honest mistake, but definitely my mistake.”
“Much appreciated,” Byron responded. “I’ll definitely read it. You’re as much entitled to your opinion on everything as the next person, and I respect that. Keep doing what you do. Thank you for following back up.”
I thought he was being too good about it.
“As are you, of course,” I said. “It really stems from my innocent misunderstanding. All best!”
Yes, it was my innocent misunderstanding, and not one of my better Twitter moments. I wish I could promise it won’t happen again, but I know myself better.
I’m glad Byron is so gracious. There are a lot of people on social media who wouldn’t be.
Having begun this with my friend Chely Wright, I’ll end with another friend and a classic song he wrote and performed during a contentious time much like this one.
Here’s the great Jim Post, and the song he wrote and performed in Friend & Lover.
“Reach Out of the Darkness.”