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Is Jane’s Revenge for Real?

Pro-abortion-rights activists vandalize locations in the United States. Right-wing activists and politicians are pretending that these acts of vandalism were at work on their side.

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Jane’s Revenge, a secret pro-choice organization, has gained prominence recently with a brief flurry of strongly worded “communiqués” that threaten murder. The first of these claims was made in early May, not long after a draft of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to the media. It was posted on a radical-leftist blogging platform. “Your city is where we are. We are everywhere,” it declared. The phrase “passive enemy” does not apply to medical imperialism.

Right-wing media sites have covered this new threat extensively, and pro-abortion lawmakers have asked that the government take action to stop it. The group’s practical significance, though, is still up for debate. How significant is Jane’s Revenge? By now, it has claimed responsibility for acts of vandalism and damage of property in 16 different American cities, including the firebombings of a pro-life medical facility in Buffalo, New York, and the headquarters of a Christian fundamentalist lobbying organization in Madison, Wisconsin. “We are not one group, but several,” has been highlighted in two of its announcements. However, nothing to date suggests that the anonymous blog entries’ authors have any direct involvement in the events they mention. For what it’s worth, the group’s “high-handed and ambitious” language reminds Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, of the early announcements made by the ethereal hacker collective Anonymous.

Regardless of who is responsible, Jane’s Revenge is now a well-known bogeyman on social media. (I sent an email to the author or writers of the communiqués but got no reply.) A research assistant at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center named Erin Gallagher began keeping track of the online discussion in June after the Jane’s Revenge blog threatened to incite a national “Night of Rage” whenever the Dobbs ruling was announced. Major hubs of activity were discovered by Gallagher at the Twitter accounts of Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (who later proposed legislation to punish members of “militant leftist groups like Jane’s Revenge” for damaging pro-life facilities) and right-wing journalist Andy Ngo (who in a lengthy Twitter thread linked incidents to Jane’s Revenge). In other words, Hawley and Ngo are among the individuals who influence conversation the most. When public figures are prominent in the topic, Gallagher recently told me, “I believe it’s good to understand which voices are dominating a specific conversation on Twitter.” “Content about their ideological rivals acting evilly is probably quite successful.”

[Read: Why even use abortion code words?]

In recent weeks, pro-abortion demonstrators have committed acts of vandalism, and the blog articles connected to Jane’s Revenge publicly support this behavior. But that does not mean that there is a sophisticated, planned out campaign of violence. According to sociologist and author of the 2020 book American Antifa, Stanislav Vysotsky, “Looking at the way in which the moral panic around antifa operated throughout the Trump years is a really fantastic way of understanding what’s going today with the Jane’s Revenge activities.” Fox News is exaggerating the threat and the sense of danger in response to something that is only partially real. Although there are some self-declared antifa chapters of activists at the local level, antifa does not have an official organizational structure or membership list. Even less apparent is Jane’s Revenge, and according to Vysotsky, it isn’t even a “organization.” He suggested that the moniker may be nothing more than a “tag” that can be attached to any action with a certain style and aim based on the dispersion of random “Jane’s Revenge” graffiti that has been published on Twitter in recent weeks, in bathrooms at fast-food restaurants and big-box stores. He claimed that other activists’ mentions of the “Earth Liberation Front” and “Animal Liberation Front” serve the same purpose.

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According to Patrick Love and Alisha Karabinus in their book Platforms, Protests, and the Challenge of Networked Democracy from 2020, antifa became “a foil for alt-right protestors and activists” when right-wing media started talking extensively about them five years ago. It would appear that Jane’s Revenge plays a similar role. According to Brooking, “playing with perceptions and exaggerating violent acts is frequently a method to delegitimize much larger political groups.” “I believe what we witnessed was the anti-abortion movement using a helpful frame,” It’s important to note that anti-abortion zealots have in the past committed bombings, kidnappings, and murders in support of their cause.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were encouraged to designate Jane’s Revenge as a terrorist organization in June by House Republicans in Congress. Although White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did state that President Joe Biden “denounces” Jane’s Revenge action, that request was unsuccessful. According to reports by The Intercept, Facebook has put the group to its list of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations,” a classification that the site uses to make choices about content moderation of online accounts that can cause harm in the real world.

Vysotsky warned me that a concentration on “Jane’s Revenge” could ultimately aid in its spread. Similar circumstances arose with antifa: Right-leaning media sites continued to discuss the group after Donald Trump’s victory and the outbreak of violence at the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, raising its popularity within a particular demographic of supportive listeners. According to Vysotsky, all that publicity helped increase support.

Among mainstream pro-abortion activists, certain lines from the “Jane’s Revenge” communiqués have been making the rounds. For instance, the Women’s March official Twitter account, a well-known symbol of mainstream feminism, has recently invoked the “Summer of Rage” in a number of postings, which may be a reference to the “Night of Rage” that Jane’s Revenge had promised but never materialized. It’s a clever choice of words that demonstrates how the very notion of this group’s existence could influence abortion politics in the coming years. Whether or whether Jane’s Revenge was “real,” it has evolved into a story, and both sides of the conflict are following it.

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