Janet Reno, the first female U.S. Attorney General, died today at age 78 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. Reno held her post between 1993 and 2001 during former President Bill Clinton’s tenure.
Even though she was well-known around the globe, having been the public face of several high profile cases — including the Unabomber and Cuban refugee Elián González — her work as attorney general is not the reason why Argentina’s Twitter community lamented her passing.
Reno’s face was used as the avatar of one of the most controversial and offensive Twitter accounts in the country’s political world: the so-called Dra Alcira Pignata.
— TN – Todo Noticias (@todonoticias) November 7, 2016
— Escuela de Peronismo (@DePeronismo) November 7, 2016
If we had to come up with one word to describe the content of this anonymous account’s messages, fascist would surely be at the top of the list. Ever since its debut in 2010, the account garnered instant popularity on the social network due to a rhetoric so right-wing, so xenophobic and so racist that Donald Trump would probably tell her to take it down a notch.
Under the cover of anonymity, the user behind Pignata insulted everything and everyone: minorities, religions, immigrants, gays while strongly supporting the last military dictatorship: “I support the military dictatorship because you wouldn’t get killed on the street as happens now,” Pignata said in an interview with La Once Diez radio.
But nothing compared to the hatred the accounted directed at its main target: Peronism, especially the Victory Front (FpV).
Básicamente las maestras les enseñan a los niños a ser peronistas: negros que venden basura y se quejan si el Estado no les da plata.
— Dra. Alcira Pignata (@drapignata) May 26, 2014
El gobierno le baja al precio a las motos. ¿Quién anda en moto? Los negros.
— Dra. Alcira Pignata (@drapignata) May 22, 2014
The posts were offensive, sure, but they were so irreverent that they were almost a parody in themselves. Did the account make fun of minorities? Or did it make fun of the people who think like her? So meta.
Whatever the reason, the account was hugely popular but in 2014 Pignata transcended Twitter and the fake character was suddenly embroiled in a very real controversy. The National Institute Against Discrimination (Inadi) launched an investigation to determine if the account was run by the then City of Buenos Aires Culture Minister and current Head of the Public Media Network Hernán Lombardi.
The suspicion arose in April 2014 when Pignata’s account posted a tweet that was clearly meant for Lombardi’s account with a link to the public official’s Instagram. Allies of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner quickly accused him of hiding behind a fake Twitter account to spread anti-Kirchnerite messages.
Lombardi never took the accusations very seriously and it was never cleared up whether he was the one sending the messages or someone on his team.
“My first reaction … was to laugh at something so absurd, but then I started to worry. I’m concerned that a state organization, tasked with being a watchdog against discrimination, wastes taxpayer money in going after humorous expressions,” said Lombardi about the investigation.
Some accused Luis Pablo Pérez Correa, a Lombardi aide, of being behind the account. Lombardi always denied this and other accusations of the kind — generally coming from Kirchnerite officials following a particularly offensive tweet — and sought to tone things down arguing it was only humor.
Pignata’s run came to an end in August when all the account’s tweets were erased and replaced by the famous photo of former presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner hugging during a rally with the caption “this fascist account now belongs to the people.” Moreover, its profile picture was replaced by one of Juan Domingo Perón and Eva Perón.
There was an immediate attempt to revive the character. Under a new handle, Pignata called herself the first “Recovered Twitter User” — making reference to the grandchildren recovered by Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo — claiming she had sought refuge in San Isidro, one of the wealthiest, right-wing suburbs of the province.
Despite garnering almost 15,000 followers, the account stopped tweeting mere days after it launched. Ever since, some accounts tried to pick up the baton, but none even came close to its initial success. Offending so many so often requires creativity and the numerous images and messages following Janet Reno’s death illustrate the long-dormant account managed to achieve the almost impossible on a platform that is ephemeral as Twitter: legendary status.