Without warning, Twitter recently shut down the account of Brace Belden, a local writer and punk singer who made headlines after he went to Syria to fight ISIS with a Kurdish Militia.
Social media served as Belden's lifeline to the west during his six-month stint battling the Islamic State, and because of his crass-yet-witty take on the chaos he faced, his Twitter account @PissPigGranddad* garnered global attention. Stories about his tour of duty ran in Rolling Stone, the Washington Post, New York Magazine and others, and there was even talk of a movie being made about his experiences.
But early last week, Belden logged on to Twitter and found that his account was suspended.
"I don't know if it's suspended or deleted," Belden said Monday. "I either got suspended by horny racists or (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan's dogs."
Before leaving for Syria last fall, Belden managed a local boxing gym and freelanced for publications like Willamette Week and Maximum Rocknroll. He also was a member in the bands Wild Thing and Warkrime. A dedicated Marxist, he signed up to help the Kurdish militia People's Protection Units (YPG) establish secular democracy in the war-torn country, despite having no military experience. He also brought his phone with him so he could stay in contact with the western world.
The attention that came from his tweets, which consisted of politically-themed one-liners and pictures of him holding homeless puppies or machine guns, was both positive and negative. The news coverage brought attention to the militias fighting in Syria; Belden, who saw his follower count jump to over 30,000 during that time, became a left-wing hero of sorts. He was a featured guest on the popular "Dirtbag Left" podcast Chapo Trap House, and a group at Glasgow University started a campaign to have Belden elected to their school's honorary rector position.
But he's also received a lot of ire from the alt-right on Twitter. (The tweet below came after Belden participated in the protests against the Trump rally in Berkeley on April 15.)
One week after his account was shut down, it's still unclear why. There's a small group of followers demanding Twitter reinstate his account, but nothing has come of it yet. But he's also made a few enemies, even on the left. Also, other notable Twitter users known for polemics have been suspended recently, like former Million Dollar Extreme host Sam Hyde's (@Night_0f_Fire).
Still, Belden wants answers, and much more.
"In regards to Twitter, I demand that my account be reinstated and for Twitter to give me a ride in Gravedigger," Belden wrote in a Facebook message. "Gravedigger is the monster truck."
*The Twitter handle, Belden says, comes from something he saw at the Folsom Street Fair.