When Julia O'Donoghue, a political reporter for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Louisiana, first saw the tweet from an anonymous political account called LA Conservatives, she had to walk away from her computer to calm down.
Just hours after a gunman had murdered five journalists and their coworkers at the Capital Gazette, the Times-Picayune shared messages of support for the Maryland paper — and LA Conservatives replied, “You guys have been flaming the flames for over a year… what did you expect was going to happen!”
"One of the more upsetting aspects of this is that it is likely this account is run or funded by someone I've met in person," O'Donoghue wrote. "What is wrong with people?"
Spurred by outrage, it didn't take long for local journalists in Louisiana to track down the author behind the notorious account. Turns out the man behind LA Conservatives is a player in South Florida conservative politics. His name is Damon Ryan Roberson, a Miami Beach-based social media strategist with ties to the Florida Republican Party. Roberson is currently running social media operations for Rep. Debbie Wasserman
Reached by New Times, Roberson denied that he'd personally sent out the offensive LA Conservatives tweet and said he had shut down the site amidst the furor in Louisiana.
"I have taken the site down until it can be decided what to do with it going forward," Roberson said in a written statement shared with other reporters. "We hope
Roberson — who has degrees from Northwestern State and Louisiana State — has worked in GOP digital circles since 2006, according to his LinkedIn bio, when he interned with the Republican National Committee. He also worked for several Louisiana Republicans in DC before launching his career as a social media expert.
According to the Bayou Brief, the site that eventually dug up Roberson's identity, Roberson registered a now-defunct site called LAPolitics247.com in August 2013. That site was tied to the LA Conservatives Twitter account, which was notorious in local political circles even before the Annapolis tweet.
"This was not the first time that @LAConservative_ had published an incendiary and hateful attack, nor was it the first time the person behind the Twitter handle had been "publicly criticized for publishing outrageously offensive commentary," wrote Lamar White Jr., the author of the Bayou Brief's story. "In the past five months, he was particularly prolific, unusually confrontational, and threatening toward news publications and journalists (I had been the target of his ire on countless occasions)."
Bayou Brief uncovered another troubling tie to the consultant: Since 2012, he'd also run a site in Louisiana called the Cenla Report, a page that published "almost exclusively a constantly updated stream of mugshots of people arrested in Sabine and Vernon Parishes."
"Roberson, it turns out, is in the business of public shaming," White wrote. "What can someone do if they were arrested for a crime they did not commit, only to find that their mugshot was shared on a Facebook page followed by nearly 15,000 members of their community in rural Louisiana? Well, fortunately, they’re in luck. Send an email to the person who publishes the page. It just so happens he is a professional reputation manager."
(There's no evidence that Roberson charged people to remove the mugshots, and when asked by New Times, Roberson denied doing so. Last year, Florida passed a law barring websites from charging to take mugshots off the web.)
It's not clear exactly when Roberson moved his operations to Miami, but he started his first Florida-based business, the Miami-Dade Republican Business Club, in 2015, along with three other people. He ran a firm called Florida Digital Media Group, Bayou Brief
He is still the treasurer for the Miami-Dade Republican Business Club, according to their website. And he's listed as the registrant for the Miami-Dade GOP website, though Nelson Diaz from the Miami-Dade GOP says Roberson does not currently work for them. In January of this year, Roberson founded an LLC in his name with a Miami Beach address, according to a filing with the secretary of state.
Until this week, though, Reyes — who is taking on Wasserman Schultz — still listed Roberson as his media contact on press releases on his site. The Fort Lauderdale attorney and GOP candidate
"He’s helping us with our social media work," Reyes says of Roberson. "Someone said he’d be very helpful. He’s very astute."
Asked whether he was troubled by the LA Conservatives tweets or the Cenla Report publishing mugshots, Reyes declined to comment and says questions would be "more appropriately directed to Mr. Roberson."
Roberson responded to questions by sending a statement previously shared with the Bayou Brief. Roberson says he did not write the tweet implying Capital Gazette journalists should have expected to be shot. “I didn’t personally send that reply," he wrote. "The site is not curated by me alone. However, as soon as I became aware of it, I immediately deleted the reply. It was wrong."
When asked who did send the tweet, Roberson wrote he would not “throw my young guy under the bus.. in addition to tens of thousands of tweets... LA Conservatives never once
However, it's worth noting that the offensive tweet does mimic Roberson’s unusual writing style, visible in both his written statement and text messages, which frequently uses ellipses in the middle of sentences and ends with an exclamation mark.
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It's not clear whether the Louisiana journalists work outing Roberson as the man behind LA Conservatives and the Cenla Report will have any impact on his conservative consulting work in Florida. But Louisiana journalists felt some measure of justice in tearing the anonymous mask off the account.
Though he hesitated to expose Roberson at first, White now says he has "no reservations about publishing Roberson’s association, particularly because he was a paid political operative."
"It’s important to remember that the Twitter account was prolific and that the tweet to the Times-Picayune was one of many that were offensive," White says.