GOP operative behind ‘fire Tom Hassan’ Twitter campaign
By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News
Ryan Williams, who has worked for GOP campaigns and advised the state party for years, confirmed to the Sunday News on Saturday that he created the “firetomhassan” account on Twitter.
But Williams insists that his social media campaign to get School Year Abroad to fire the governor’s husband is “deeply personal,” not political.
From 2009 until last year, Tom Hassan was principal at Phillips Exeter Academy, where a police investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by faculty members expanded last week.
Hassan’s handling of reports by former students in 2011 and 2015 about sexual misconduct by a PEA teacher decades earlier has come under fire by some alumni and others in the community.
And the controversy has become a political issue in Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign to unseat Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH.
Last Wednesday, the Twitter account “firetomhassan” appeared with this post: “Tom Hassan covered up for a sex predator. He should not be the next president of School Year Abroad.”
And for two days, the page hammered the same message, repeatedly posting side-by-side photos of Hassan and Bernard Cardinal Law with the tagline: “Hassan and Law covering up for sex predators.” It urges people to “contact School Year Abroad & tell them disgraced liar Tom Hassan SHOULD NOT be its next president!”
Hassan is set to become the president of School Year Abroad in North Andover, Mass., a high school study-abroad program, on June 1.
Williams is senior vice president of communications for FP1 Strategies in Washington, D.C., “a Republican public affairs, media relations, digital communications and advertising firm specializing in political and issue-based campaigns,” according to its website.
Williams told the Sunday News his anonymous Twitter campaign is “a personal project.” He said he’s thrusting himself into the middle of the Phillips Exeter Academy scandal because he has seen firsthand how covering up sexual misconduct can destroy a community’s trust in institutions.
Williams grew up in Weston, Mass., where his childhood parish priest was the Rev. John Geoghan, one of the worst offenders in the Catholic Church clergy abuse crisis that exploded in the Boston Archdiocese in the 1990s. Geoghan was defrocked by the church, convicted of child molestation and murdered by a fellow prisoner in 2003.
“There are direct parallels between Tom Hassan’s leadership at Phillips Exeter and what occurred in my hometown,” Williams said.
Hassan, he said, “failed the school community by covering up for someone who had already admitted to sexual misconduct and letting him stay on campus.”
Asked about the likelihood that to many observers, this effort will look blatantly political, Williams insisted it’s personal. He said he is not being paid to conduct his social media effort against Hassan and is not working for any campaign.
Asked why he did so anonymously, Williams said he planned to roll out a social media campaign publicly later this week.
But another Twitter user, “Granite Hacker,” is threatening to “out” who’s behind firetomhassan if the page is not taken down by Monday.
While firetomhassan had only three followers as of Saturday, Ryan Williams’ official Twitter account has more than 17,000.
Williams was Mitt Romney’s deputy national press secretary during the 2012 presidential campaign and worked in Romney’s office when he was governor in Massachusetts.
He previously served as communications director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee under former Gov. John H. Sununu and worked on Sen. John E. Sununu’s 2008 re-election campaign, according to his company’s website.
The Ayotte camp on Saturday distanced itself from Williams’ Twitter campaign.
Liz Johnson, spokeswoman for Sen. Ayotte, issued this statement in response to a query from the Sunday News: “Ryan Williams has never worked for Senator Ayotte and does not speak for her. She believes the focus should be on protecting students and supporting the victims, and she is confident that the Exeter police will conduct a thorough investigation of these disturbing allegations.”
Asked about Williams’ Twitter campaign on Saturday, Gov. Hassan’s campaign spokesman, Aaron Jacobs, referred a reporter to the state Democratic party.
Melissa Miller, press secretary for the party, responded: “It’s deeply disappointing that Kelly Ayotte’s Washington allies are trying to use sexual misconduct involving students for political gain.”
Jennifer Horn, chair of the state Republican party, issued this: “Ryan has served as an outside adviser to the party, but he is not a party staffer and he is free to voice his personal opinions on issues that are important to him.”
Tom Hassan has issued only one statement since the PEA controversy erupted, saying in part that the 2011 report that Schubart had “sexually victimized” a student was “one of the most heartbreaking situations I dealt with as principal.”
In an email on Saturday, Jacqueline Kane, spokesperson for School Year Abroad, said, “We have discussed the situation at Phillips Exeter and recognize its complexities, and we will continue to closely monitor it.
“School Year Abroad is committed to the safety of all of our students and the importance of continuing to maintain the respectful, healthy community we have built across all of our schools,” she said.