As the Swedish media examines the climate of hatred towards women in the public eye, editor and author Åsa Linderborg recounts what happened when her newspaper Aftonbladet decided to blow the lid on Sweden’s far-right websites.
”Can’t that disgusting whore Linderborg just lie down and die?”
“She is such a whore, that bitch seems to be completely deranged. Lock the hooker in an mental asylum and throw away the key.”
“Swedes hate you, you feminist communist asshole.”
Then came the threats.
“It wouldn't surprise me if this whore ends up with a price on her head soon.”
“Åsa Linderborg should be taken out of action. Permanently.”
”It’s happened before that a propagandizing cockroach or a pig who’s hostile to Swedes has been recognized on the street or in a department store”.
(Editor’s note: Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was gunned down and killed in the street in 1986. Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was stabbed in a Stockholm department store in 2003 and died from her wounds.)
Yet another person writes that it’s not difficult to find me, before posting my address: ”This is where she lives.”
It is November 30th, 2012. The culture pages of the tabloid Aftonbladet, which I edit, have just begun publishing a series of investigative reports into far-right websites in Sweden.
The threats start coming.
My bosses tell me to go home and pack my bags. I tell my son we can’t live at home for a while. We take one bag each and head off. I leave my son with his father, I continue to a friend’s house.
That night, I dream that my son has been butchered. He is sitting in an armchair and I’m picking up his severed limbs and putting them back together, hoping they will melt back into place.
It is not the dream that wakes me, it’s an SMS from an untraceable pay-as-you-go mobile phone: ”Seriously sweetheart, when was the last time you got yourself off?”
I go check out the sites we at Aftonbladet have been investigating. There are hundreds upon hundreds of comments: “I hope a Congo negro rapes and murders you, you little c***. You're worth less than a silverfish on the bathroom floor.”
Someone else writes that it’s time to blow the Aftonbladet headquarters to smithereens.
Our head of security tells me what I already know. The people who leave comments, who email me, who call me, who SMS me are not the people I need to be afraid of. They never act on their threats. It’s the ones who say nothing who might act.
It makes it impossible to judge whether I’m in danger for real.
They install security windows at my home. I work for a newspaper that has the resources to protect its employees. It would be different if I were a freelancer.
My mum calls. She’s been in on the sites too. Some of the commentators even mention her and say, because she lives in the countryside, that they hope she’ll be gobbled up by a wolf. She laughs. Yet, she’s been identified.
That night I receive another SMS: ”I hope you’ve shaved down there because I really want to come over and f*** you hard in your fat ass and wrinkly c***.”
There are days when I cannot bring myself to talk about the threat, because I feel a bit silly and I don’t want to make myself out to be a martyr.
Then there are days when I need to rant and dissect my anxiety over the fact that I’m still separated from my child, who has stayed on with his father. My anxiety over people wanting to hurt us. Over people maybe hurting us.
To calm me down, and maybe to quell their own fears, my friends say there is no need to be scared of those kinds of people, because they’re not very smart.
I answer that I don’t want to categorize people in terms of intelligence, because that kind of argument contains an element of class scorn. Violence as a political tool has never been a question of education level, nor of social background – it’s about strongly held convictions.
There aren't many people who believe violence is the answer, but they can cause huge damage.
I know that the people who are threatening me don’t think “the communist c***” is important enough to risk going to jail for.
My friend trawls the sites. He doesn't show me most of the comments but threats of violence have to be reported to the police.
“In Russia we also had a journalist like this,” one of them writes. “Her name was Politkovskaya. Now she is dead. Killed by patriots.”
I am yet again awoken by an SMS: ”I assume it’s been a while since you got a bit of c*** as you’re so old, but let me know if you want me to come over and f*** you properly.”
I have another dream about my child. We are walking along a snow covered road towards a tower block. One floor is broken, exposed, with plants growing down from the ceiling. “This is where I live now,” my child says.
We are sad that I can’t follow him upstairs but we don’t say anything. It is what it is.
I’m given an alarm to carry. Almost all political violence takes place in or near the home. Björn Söderberg (a trade unionist) was murdered in the stairwell of his house. Someone placed a bomb in the car parked outside a journalist couple’s home. Four years ago, in Stockholm’s southern suburbs, a family had to climb from their balcony to the neighbours when someone threw a smoke bomb through their mail slot. Arsonists torched the independent cultural centre Cyklopen because it was branded a hangout for “culture Marxists”.
In contrast, my big byline picture means I enjoy a degree of protection. These people only attack journalists and trade unionists who are plodding away outside the limelight.
The police encourage me to remove my son’s last name from the letter box, because sometimes these people follow kids after school. They’ll say something pedestrian, like giving the child a compliment for their nice backpack, then tell them to say hi to their mother once they get home.
Or they post the child’s photograph online.
I have several colleagues who live with these threats, but we don’t talk about it much. We carry it silently with us, as we don’t want to stick out. None of us is Salman Rushdie or Roberto Saviano.
Or Anna Politkovskaya.
Maybe we also keep quiet because we don’t want to appear weak. Nor do we want to open up about the guilt we feel about putting our children in danger.
Sure, journalism is a macho profession, but we are still fragile vessels.
We think the hatred and the threats are part and parcel of the job. But they don’t affect only us – the threats made against journalists and against politicians are a threat to democracy.
One day, I receive an anonymous letter, posted from Malmö: ”When will the Swedish people hear about the first murder of a Swedish journalist?”
I’m taught to take different routes to and fro work every day. I can’t have a drink when I’m out with friends. I’m advised not to speak on the phone when I’m out walking. Told to sleep with my windows shut..
I move home for a trial period. Yet again, an SMS wakes me up in the middle of the night. Yet again, the message is sexual.
I get up and go to the bathroom to pee. I am plagued by a feeling that my private parts no longer belong to me, that they’ve been hijacked and turned into a stage where violent nationalist fantasies are played out.
It’s ironic that these people, who day out and day in use the nationalist forums online to express their conviction that immigrants are responsible for most rapes, are now obsessed with tearing my body to shreds.
The site Avpixlat starts a counter-campaign to Aftonbladet’s 30-day review of the nationalist sites. They say they are going to set up a register of every last one of what they call “politically correct journalists.”
With their us-versus-them rhetoric, they write about us as though we are a cohesive group, yet I miss a strong counter-movement to the right-wing activists whom humanists and democrats should not take lightly.
I don’t understand why people are not more worried about fascism living off social conflicts that no parliament has shown itself capable of tackling. These tensions are becoming all the more common in Sweden.
Maybe the passivity about social injustices is due to the fact that they don’t afflict any of Sweden’s well-paid opinion-makers.
My son returns home. We look at the new windows. They look like normal windows. He learns how to switch the alarm on and off.
We talk about the courage to be a radical even when it can be dangerous.
Aftonbladet's articles keep on coming, as do the threats. They contain vivid images of tying me up, cutting me up with a blunt knife, airlifting me naked into the Congolese jungle.
Fury finds me. Then tears. My family and I are becoming desensitized by all the threats.
In addition to calling me a feminist and a communist they say I am betraying my “race”. These are the words of Breivik. These three terms are being tied together - feminist, communist, race traitor - into a linguistic weave that has become all the more familiar to us all. Soon we’ll be used to it.
Our investigative series concludes. I gather all the comments that could be grounds for racial incitement investigations and prepare to send them to the Justice Chancellor (Justitiekanslern
Yet another SMS: "I’m rock hard and want to pump your a** to pieces. You game?"
I peer through the blinds, out into the winter darkness. There are no footprints in the snow.
Åsa Linderborg is Aftonbladet’s cultural editor and the author of the best-selling autobiographical novel Nobody Owns Me (Mig äger ingen).
The original version of this article was published by Aftonbladet in December 2012. Translation by Ann Törnkvist