When Ferris teacher Mandy Manning received the National Teacher of the Year award earlier this month, she shook President Donald Trump's hand. Three times.
But that didn't stop a right-wing clickbait farm from acting like she'd snubbed him — sending her a torrent of hate mail, sprinkled with a healthy helping of death threats.
Manning isn't a huge fan of the president, to be clear. As a teacher of refugee and immigrant students, the last year and a half has been a challenge. She's an advisor for the Ferris Gay-Straight Alliance. She's had transgender students on her basketball team.
So when she was invited to the White House as a National Teacher of the Year, she wanted to user her platform to stand up for her students. She brought letters that her immigrant and refugee students wrote to give to the president, to share their stories. She wore pins championing transgender and gay rights issues, intending to show that she was supporting them.
She wasn't going there to be a jerk.
"I was very focused. I've got to make sure that people listen to me, so I can't be totally rude," Manning says at a Pivot Story Slam storytelling show last night. "I was very careful. I was the very best person I could be."
So while she didn't applaud when the president came in the room, she shook his hand as he handed her the letters backstage.
"I said, 'Here are the letters from my students, and I really hope you read them," Manning says. "And he said he would read it. He also said it was very nice and I asked if maybe he would come to visit. So maybe one day he'll come to Spokane!"
And then she shook his hand again before they parted backstage.
She shook Trump's hand again during the public ceremony.
"I was really trying very, very hard to be gracious and polite," Manning tells The Inlander. "There’s a lot of pictures of me out there, and smiling directly at him as he’s giving me my award."
But a right-wing clickbait site called IJR Red put out a different take on Facebook. The video, titled "Teacher of the Year Meets Trump — But Bashes Him the Entire Time," scored to intense violin music, accuses her of outright refusing to shake hands on "multiple occasions."
The video is edited to show a clip of Trump shaking the hand of the teacher next to Manning, to make it look like she refused to shake the hand of Trump.
"Manning didn't clap when President Trump arrived and refused to greet him," the video says. "Later she didn't shake his hand... Despite their differences, President Trump thanked her for her 'incredible devotion."
Generally, Manning says, the last thing a teacher wants to do is to go viral. That usually means they've done something dumb or embarrassing.
But this deceptive video went viral. Today, it's racked up 11 million views. The video was also shared by the Washington Post, generating more than 22,000 angry-face reactions. And nearly 48,000 comments, many with reactions like these: "If this is the best teacher they could find we are circling the drain for sure. My dog has more class and better manners than that woman."
And that comment got nearly 800 reactions.
Plenty of viewers decided it wasn't enough to make their disdain known on the video post. They wanted to get in touch with Manning personally. Some found her school employee email, or contacted her on her blog.
More commonly, they looked up her public Facebook profile and started to make comments there. For two days, everything was busy enough that she hadn't glanced at her Facebook. When she finally did, it was a mess. Her fellow teachers rose to her defense, noting she'd shaken Trump's hand and was polite and gracious. Eventually, Manning increased her privacy settings to try to stem the flow of hateful messages.
But that hasn't stopped angry people from expressing their outrage over Facebook messenger contact requests.
"The internet is so easy to manipulate and then to anonymously attack one another," Manning says.
Even on Wednesday, three weeks after IJR Red published its video, she received 12 angry messages. The more polite ones — the ones that seem open to listening — she'll talk with them, try to help them understand that they were misinformed.
This apparent death threat has been blurred to conceal the Facebook user's identity.
But others were scarier.
"I have a hunting trip this year to Spokane," writes a stranger with sunglasses and an "I support the Second Amendment" banner on his Facebook profile. "See you soon bitch."
For Manning, the experience has made her think of the level of vitriol other people, like the Parkland students speaking out about gun control, must be dealing with.
"If this is what I am facing, I'm sure these young people who are standing up and speaking out again and again have to be facing the same thing," Manning says. "Here I am, a 42-year-old woman, I’ve lived a lot of life. I have confidence. I’m secure. I’m a teacher."
But what about when the angry internet mob comes for those who don't have her support network?
It's a symptom, not only of how ugly online commenter can be, but of media outlets that cynically whip up anger to get clicks.
“There are very liberal sites that have spun it as ‘Mandy is amazing and Trump was a total jerk,’” says Ryan Brodwater, Manning's husband. “And that wasn’t the way it was at all.”
Indeed, IJR Red has a counterpart run by the same company, aimed at delivering clickbait to Democrats. It's called IJR Blue. They're essentially what parody site Clickhole is mocking with their dueling "Patriothole" and "Resistancehole" tabs.
IJR Blue's take on Manning, by contrast, casts Trump as a naive dolt and Manning as a savvy resister.
Manning wants to be clear that the reaction hasn't all been bad. Far from it. She's been flooded with positive messages and postcards as well, and she says all the positive support far outweighs the ugly stuff.
"It’s really, really important to me that I focus on the students and their messages and not on the bad things people do," Manning says. "The more importance that we give to it, the more empowered people feel to be hateful."
In her story last night, Manning pointed out that it actually all worked out, in a way.
"Because a conservative propaganda machine decided to make fake news out of me, I have been able to share my kids' stories on CNN, and on Democracy Now, and on countless podcasts, and on the radio," Manning says.
"And my kids are out there. Because immigrant and refugee kids are kids. They're human beings. Gay, transgender, Transgender, LBTQ+? They're people. They're human beings... So fake news? Bring it on. Bring it on."
A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...