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Backstory: Weirdest Comments on a Story

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Luis Lázaro Tijerina - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • Luis Lázaro Tijerina

Luis Lázaro Tijerina assured me he wasn't a Russian troll during a September interview at a Burlington coffee shop.

The 72-year-old Vermonter wrote for three Russian publications — which the New York Times linked to Kremlin interference in the 2016 U.S. election — as a creative outlet, he said.

When Seven Days published the story about the unfortunate connection, it prompted a barrage of unorthodox comments defending Tijerina on sevendaysvt.com.

The commenters offered stilted, and often scathing, critiques.

I was characterized as a "naïve, sensation seeking journalist" and "not only out of time, but also flatly ignorant."

The article was "such an stupidity."

Using his own account on the site, Tijerina posted comments that were "signed" by others from around the world.

One of those, from Nasir Khan, who said he was from Norway, suggested that I was "a third-rate hireling of some American secret service." Another, from Mexico, suggested that I had written the story out of envy of Tijerina, "perhaps looking for a fame that she has not."

Once I got past my initial defensiveness, I was baffled — and then amused — by the feedback.

Other online readers offered theories about the criticism. "Look at all these Russians showing up in the comments," someone noted.

"This is the most bizarre comment section I've ever read," another wrote. "Where are all these people coming from?"

Had I discovered a secret underworld of Russian-supporting weekly newspaper readers? Or had Tijerina just solicited supportive comments from his friends?

"Do you think I should change my passwords?" I asked an editor.

One email, which earned a spot on my bulletin board, came from Abilene, Texas, with the subject line "ALL HAT AND NO CATTLE!!!" It was also submitted to Seven Days publisher Paula Routly as a letter to the editor.

"If there's anything 'absurd and inflammatory,' it's your article," wrote Chuck Selnik. The "alleged aspiring reporter" — me, that is — wasn't "smart enough to discern a friend from a foe," he said. The lengthy rant concluded: "Shame on you all."

When Routly telephoned Selnik to confirm his identity, as is the paper's protocol, Selnik let go his lasso. He said he didn't want his letter published after all.