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Reddit's pervert troll: Victim or villain?

His name is Michael Brutsch, and he’s just lost his job.

If you’ve spent any time on the social media juggernaut Reddit – and given that it’s one of the top 1,000 websites in the world, there’s a good chance you have – you know Michael Brutsch by another name: “violentacrez” (pronounced “Violent Acres”). The reason the site and the man are inseparable is the same reason the top query listed on Alexa’s page for Reddit is “jailbait.” Michael Brutsch is widely regarded as the most notorious troll ever to have used the site, and this is thanks to his penchant for posting filthy, provocative and vile content that skirts the edge of legality.

The 49-year-old Texas man has been posting to Reddit for years. According to Gawker’s Adrian Chen, so did his wife and teenage son, who were not only fully aware of his online habits but (at least in his son’s case) seemed to support them unreservedly. The Gawker piece that outs Brutsch’s identity quotes Brutsch admitting to various tawdry disclosures, posted “anonymously” on Reddit under his pseudonym (before Chen put a real identity to the violentacrez account).

Brutsch has been likened to an unpaid staff member of Reddit, trusted with moderating the many not-safe-for-work website areas where he posted violent, racist and sexually offensive pictures of everything from underage girls to corpses. Cozy with the site’s ownership and those running its infrastructure, he was the closest thing the site had to a celebrity. News outlets and personalities have already taken notice of Brutsch’s “jailbait” subreddit (a subdirectory of content on the site). They have named “violentacrez” specifically in taking Reddit to task for permitting what is, ultimately, largely legal content.

“Somebody somewhere is looking at sexually suggestive photos of your teenage child,” Andreson Cooper said last year on “AC 360.” He went on to include Reddit in “one of the most respected publishing empires on Earth” before taking the site and its ownership to task for allowing such subreddits as violentacrez’ “Creepshots,” “Misogyny” and “Incest.” Many more of the subreddits have names so offensive they cannot be reprinted here.

For whatever reason, Gawker’s Chen decided to expose Brutsch’s real identity. To that end, he phoned Brutsch, originally intending only to compare Brutsch’s voice to a Reddit-related podcast on which “violentacrez” spoke. The two ended up having a candid hour-long conversation in which Brutsch pleaded with Chen not to reveal his real name to the Internet.

Chen says Brutsch told him, “My wife is disabled. I got a home and a mortgage, and if this hits the fan, I believe this will affect negatively on my employment.”

Brutsch’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Chen published the article, which included the litany of “violentacrez” many offenses against propriety and good taste, but also included the story of Brutsch’s contributions to Reddit, his close relationship with its staff and the time he spent mentoring its members. Interestingly, the original exposé does not include the name of Brutsch’s employer – First Cash Financial Services in Arlington, Texas. But Brutsch seemed immediately to realize that his employers would find out about his Internet hobbies and that this could hurt him.

Reading between the lines of the original article and Chen’s follow-up (“Reddit’s Biggest Troll Fired From His Real-World Job; Reddit Continues to Censor Gawker Articles”), it looks like Chen discovered where Brutsch works after digging up his online resume, then called him at the office.

There’s an uncomfortable reality at play here: Michael Brutsch has not, in fact, broken the law. If he used a work computer and violated his employer’s IT policy in posting his vile smut, then his employer is well within its rights to fire him. But if he posted only from home, he has been fired not for doing anything illegal, but for doing something unpopular. (In point of fact, what he did was tremendously popular … if only with a certain vile segment of Reddit’s users.)

Brutsch has started accepting online donations because, he says, he has less than a month’s income saved and his wife is disabled. His racist and sexually violent posts about minorities and domestic violence, not to mention the appeal to pedophiles of his shots of girls under 18, are certainly objectively wrong and unquestionably immoral. But are they objectively punishable?

Adrian Chen (whom one online denizen describes as “hated by Reddit with the force of a thousand suns”) and Gawker are now feeling the backlash at Reddit. Gawker’s links have been censored among several of the site’s areas. (Banning links is the most common form of reprisal at Reddit.) To expose Brutsch is apparently far worse, to some of the site’s users, than to post images of dead teenagers or covertly taken shots of women’s underwear. Comments on Chen’s Gawker profile call him a “sociopath” and a “low-life, miserable, envious hypocrite.” One poster told Chen, “You should commit suicide today,” while another asked, “Is it ever justified to ruin someone because you think he is a jerk online?”

“I can’t overstate how infuriating it is,” reads one of the comments on Gawker’s follow-up piece, “that Adrian Chen and his supporters in the Gawker commentariat have compelled me to sympathize with this vile man, but that’s exactly what has happened.” The poster goes on to call Chen a “vigilante” and a “bully,” saying, “you [therefore] have no defense against those who disagree with you and seek their own revenge.”

Whether Brutsch is remembered as victim or villain remains to be seen. If reader Gregory Butler’s opinion is typical, the moniker “Reddit’s most notorious troll” will follow him for some time … and there may yet be serious repercussions for his behavior.

“Michael ‘Violent Acres’ Brutsch is a degenerate incestuous pervert,” comments Butler. “A pedophile enabler and a blight on the Internet. … I do hope he faces some kind of civil liability for all the images that he sexualized and put on the Internet without the consent of the women in the pics.”