The inside story of an alleged victim of "cancel culture"

The concept of "cancel culture" is a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing in popular usage around 2017. The idea is that groups of people, sometimes pejoratively referred to as the "woke mob," demand punishment of individuals that offend their sensibilities. 

Those who decry the existence of "cancel culture" do not provide data to prove it is a cultural problem. Instead, they rely on anecdotes of people who are unjustly punished to persuade and outrage the public. These anecdotes have convinced some of the country's most prominent voices — from Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) to former President Barack Obama — that "cancel culture" is a real issue. 

A prototypical anecdote was featured on Tucker Carlson's show on Fox News on June 18. Carlson highlighted the plight of Melissa Rolfe, the stepmother of Garrett Rolfe, the former Atlanta police officer who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks. 

Carlson told millions of viewers that Rolfe was fired from her job as an HR Director at a mortgage broker because her stepson, a police officer, was charged with murder. 

Until today, his stepmother, her name is Melissa Rolfe was the HR Director at a place called Equity Prime Mortgage in Atlanta, Georgia. But today, she was let go. She is no longer in that role. Apparently, she was fired, and her only crime was being Officer Rolfe's stepmother.

According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to this program, Rolfe was promised that her job was safe. But today she was told, and we are quoting, "We have to terminate our relationship with you." No other explanation was offered, and honestly, no other explanation was needed. It was obvious what happened.

Rolfe has already been scrubbed from the company's website, wiped away as the Bolsheviks did with those who lost favor with Joseph Stalin. That will keep happening until lawmakers decide to resist the mob and protect ordinary people from its predations.

That night, Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA) embraced Rolfe's cause, claiming she was fired for the actions of her stepson. "The 'Cancel Culture' and political correctness mob must be stopped before it destroys our country," Collins said.

On June 30, Carlson invited Rolfe to be a guest on the show. She appeared with her lawyer, David Guldenschuh. Carlson asked Rolfe if she knew of any other possible reason for her firing, other than the actions of her stepson:

CARLSON: Had you been in trouble with them? Was there any indication that they were going to fire you before you received the message saying you were terminated?

ROLFE: No. I had received full support from the President and from my Direct Manager that my job was not in danger.

But that does not appear to be the whole story. 

A defamation lawsuit filed this week by Rolfe's former employer, Equity Prime Mortgage (EPM), alleges that Rolfe "repeatedly violated company policy and created an uncomfortable and hostile working environment." The complaint accuses Rolfe of making hostile, sexual, and "blatantly racist" remarks. All of the conduct allegedly took place prior to Garrett Rolfe's shooting. 

EPM accuses Rolfe and Congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) of organizing a "smear campaign" against the company, resulting in "death threats, a boycott, and enormous reputational and financial harm to EPM."

If the allegations in the complaint are true, it suggests that Rolfe was exploiting the concept of "cancel culture" to cover-up actual wrongdoing. Rolfe did not respond to a request for comment sent to her through her attorney. Another attorney representing Rolfe and Green, Lin Wood, called the allegations against Rolfe in the lawsuit "damnable lies." 

The complaints against Rolfe at work

Rolfe claims she was fired because she stood up for her stepson, police officer Garrett Rolfe, who shot and killed Rashard Brooks. But the complaint alleges misconduct that began well before the June 12 shooting. 

Rolfe started working for EPM in February 2020. EPM says, less than a month later, on March 19, "Rolfe was reprimanded because she had made inappropriate jokes via text message about conducting rectal temperature checks in the office." On April 23, "Rolfe was reprimanded again, this time for referring to employees as “savages," according to the complaint. 

On June 11, Rolfe was reprimanded a third time by EPM CEO Eddie Perez. According to EPM, "two employees reported Rolfe for calling employees 'fucking bitches,' saying an employee had only been hired because she had 'big boobs,' and making racist comments.”

Popular Information obtained a document from EPM memorializing the meeting between Perez and Rolfe. The "Employee Warning Notice," dated June 11, cites Rolfe for "gross misconduct." According to that document Rolfe responded by "saying that she doesn’t see color, but that some people are 'idiots.'" EPM says that Perez ended the meeting after Rolfe became upset but told her he would continue investigating. 

The next day, Garrett Rolfe killed Rashard Brooks, and Melissa Rolfe took a paid leave of absence. But according to EPM, the investigation continued, and employees came forward with claims of "wildly unprofessional and hostile conduct" by Rolfe, including:

Rolfe told an employee that another employee was a “dumb bitch” and that the only reason a man would be interested in her was because she “must suck dick really good.”

Rolfe told a Black woman who dates Black men that she needed “to get outside the box and upgrade [her] standards.”

"We terminated Ms. Rolfe because, while in the workplace, she repeatedly made inappropriate and hostile comments to and about other EPM employees, which violated company policy, created an uncomfortable working environment, and resulted in a loss of confidence that she could perform her job as an HR director," EPM told Popular Information.

The involvement of Republican congressional candidate and conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Green

The lawsuit filed by EPM also names the campaign of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican running for Congress, as a defendant. Greene won the Republican nomination on Tuesday night. She has gained notoriety for her embrace of QAnon, a conspiracy theory that claims liberal Hollywood actors and Democratic politicians are running an international child sex-trafficking ring, and Trump is the only one who can stop them. Facebook has removed several of Greene's advertisements for making violent threats against Black Lives Matter protesters. 

EPM's lawsuit notes that Greene repeatedly claimed that Rolfe was fired because of the actions of her stepson. 

The lawsuit alleges that Greene "coordinated the planting of a false story with Tucker Carlson Tonight," but does not provide evidence to support that allegation. Greene has appeared previously on Carlson's show. 

On August 6, EPM sent Greene and her campaign a letter demanding a retraction. Greene responded by posting again on social media, claiming Melissa Rolfe was fired because she defended her stepson.

What Rolfe teaches us about cancel culture

Do we know why Rolfe was fired? No. That will be determined in a court of law. But we know enough to say the simple story presented on Tucker Carlson was reductive and misleading. 

It suggests we should be more cautious making broad conclusions about societal trends based on one-sided anecdotes. Another anecdote that has been widely embraced by critics of cancel culture is the firing of David Shor. We are told that Shor, a 28-year-old political data scientist, was fired from his job at Civis Analytics for tweeting a research paper that concluded race riots reduced Democratic turnout in the 1960s.

This claim is repeated again, and again, and again. If Shor was fired for tweeting an academic paper, that seems unfair. 

But neither Civis Analytics nor Shor, who signed a non-disclosure agreement, has confirmed he was fired for the tweet. "These rumors are incorrect and unsubstantiated. Civis was founded on the principles of free speech and the pursuit of truth through objective scientific research, and that has not changed. This is an internal personnel matter, and out of respect for our employees and alumni, we won’t be commenting further," Civis Analytics told The Atlantic

Do we know why Shor was fired? No. But an unconfirmed anecdote is not evidence that our society has been turned upside down. 

This is important because the concept of "cancel culture" is being used to argue that "protests for racial and social justice" have gone too far because they have created "a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity." We are told that "institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms."

Many people are treated unfairly. But there is little evidence that unfair treatment is now disproportionately impacting, for example, supporters of the police rather than minority groups. Free speech is a bedrock principle of American democracy. But free speech is not inconsistent with being held accountable for your words and actions. 

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